Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. ~Twyla Tharp

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Summer is upon us here in the middle of North Carolina and when I say summer, I'm not kidding.  The last week has seen record breaking temperatures often over 100 degrees and it has been muggy.

I also ended up having a sinus infection and a nasty case of bronchitis so my summer hasn't been off to a great start.  I have taken this week to sit quietly and fold laundry and get all my photography gear in place and ready.  I'm planning on doing a lot of wandering this summer and need to have my camera by my side.  I also purchased a couple of new batteries because the original battery isn't holding it's charge as long as it did when it was new.  Along with the packs, I purchased a battery grip as well. I've never used one before, even when I had my old Canon slr, but I like the fact that if I need to, I can use double A batteries in it.  I have been told however, that rechargeable double A's are better and don't drain as fast.

All this camera and photography talk has me really wishing that I could teach a photography class.  The problem is cameras.  Most of my students have smart phones and I am wondering if there is a way that I can use what the students already have available to them in a visual literacy project.  It might have to be a partially in - partially out of class assignment where they are tasked with taking different kinds of pictures, which we can then manipulate in class and then write about.  I've always been a proponent of visual literacy and interpreting signs and symbols.  I also think that images that we create ourselves are easier for us to write about.  It's still early in the summer so I have some time to think about this.

I wonder if my students are getting bored yet?  I hope not, but here is my annual summer drawing challenge if any of them are interested.  I can't take credit for most of the challenges as I gleaned them from more than one site, made some up and changed some to be regionally appropriate.  

If you are bored, get creative! 
I promise to take lots of pictures and I'll try to post them often.

In the meantime, enjoy your summer!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Kellise and the Giant Pencil

It's almost the end of the school year and at this point, I usually start getting teary eyed thinking about my 8th graders leaving me and heading to high school.  The difference in them from when they walked into my classroom as 6th grade children to now, when they are ready to walk out into the very different world of high school as young adults is phenomenal.  I feel so lucky to have been a part of their lives for the last three years.  This year is going to be particularly rough as I stand on the Bulldog saying good bye to so many kids that I have grown to love.

One of those students in particular is Kellise.  The funny thing is, that I haven't taught her at all except for this last semester of her middle school career.  She is one of those kids that has just gotten under my skin.  I have an art history calendar that was given to me as a Christmas gift and she never fails to ask me what the art of the day is.  Every day we connect, even for just a few minutes, which isn't always easy in a room full of kids demanding attention, not to mention the other-you-don't-belong-to-me-right-now-but-you-know-I'll-do-anything-for-you-kids pouring into my room on an almost daily basis needing string, or construction paper, or a pencil or can I please use your hole puncher or can I have some lotion and a band aid?

So, today's blog is not so much about what art we are doing in my class right now (for the record, we are finishing kaleidocycles and about to start a quick Robert Indiana lettering project) but a little exchange that Kellise and I had the other day.

I need to preface this post by explaining that I have a lot of STUFF in my classroom.  I have a shelf behind my desk that is full of art books and art projects of students past and photographs and artist puppets and colored pencils made out of branches and treasures that I have been gifted by students or that I have picked up here and there over the years.  And things that I just don't want in my house (and holy cow what am I going to do with all this junk when I retire?) My students are drawn to this stuff like mosquitoes are drawn to a porch light at night.  They are always messing with my stuff.  I really need to relax because it's kind of there for them. And it makes my room fun.  One of my most fascinating treasures is a giant pencil.  I got it at a now defunct (in my part of the world, at least) store called Space Savers about 15 years ago.  It's a real, working pencil with a real, working eraser, except it is about a foot and a half long. My kids love to write their names and draw little pictures with it.  I tell them that I don't use it much because, duh, I don't have a pencil sharpener that big.

The other day, I was helping Kellise glue her kaleidocycle together when she picked up my giant pencil off the shelf.  (Seriously can someone please invent a glue stick that will actually stick heavy, folded paper together without too much force or pressure or complaining or frustration.  That doesn't cost a fortune?  Please?) Kellise asked me the usual questions about the pencil that I have heard about a thousand times: Where did you get it?  Does it really write?  Can I use it?  But then, she said...

Wouldn't it be neat if you could write your life, like you have been living it, and if you made a mistake, you could take the eraser and erase your mistake and rewrite it?  You could just decide that you don't want to do something or say something and erase it and rewrite it so that it is better.  

That would be awesome, Kellise.  Indeed it would. You really have no idea how awesome that would be.

And then she said...but you would have to charge the pencil.

At first I thought she meant that the pencil would charge a price for rewriting your life.  That you would have to pay the pencil back for every mistake that it fixed, for every unpleasant moment that it rewrote.  But she meant that it would have to be some kind of electronic pencil in order to work.  But I told her my idea...that you would have to pay the pencil, some way, for every moment that it took back and changed.

She liked my idea.

So we decided that for every moment that the Giant Pencil rewrote, you would have to sacrifice a moment at the end of your life.  (but you would still have to plug the pencil in, because, electronics you know)

And then I showed Kellise the Giant Green crayon that sits on the file cabinet behind my desk.  Kellise smiled and said that you could draw a lot of pictures to change your life with that one.

After her class leaves, I have a short planning time and as I sat there trying to get my end of the year act together, I thought that I might just need to incorporate more writing + art in my classroom next year. (What?  Thinking about next year already? Noooooo!)

But, that moment that Kellise and I just had would not be one that I would erase and rewrite.  For sure.   How lucky am I to be inspired by my kids as much as I hope that I inspire them? 

The Giant Pencil itself!

And a giant green crayon.

Did I mention the giant (non-working, for show only) scissors.

Aaaaaaaaand the giant calculator.  I think I may need a giant supplies intervention.

The Shelf of Intrigue.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Sharpie Shoes and Art Club

I have had an art club for about half the years that I have been teaching Middle School.  I enjoy it and recently, most of the students that join me are 6th graders, primarily because there aren't a lot of other after school activities for them to participate in and band students.  Band students, because of the nature of our schedule, don't get the opportunity to take art.  Band is a year long, every day of the week program and as it turns out, those kids are also some of the most creative, so I am glad to be able to offer them a visual art outlet and get to know them on a deeper level.

This year we did some fun activities that I have been wanting to try.  I had on and off about 10 dedicated students that came every week and a few more that came every now and then.  As happens, the last couple of weeks, I have been inundated with meetings and had to cancel art club for the week with is always met with boo hoos from both the students and myself.  I have one last project planned for my kiddos this year and I'll get to that in a minute.  Before I do, I want to share the latest project with you.

Because of the nature of art club, I can do things that I can't really do with my regular classes.  I can do bigger things on a bigger scale.  There are less of us.  Storage isn't as much of a problem and supplies aren't either.  I've been lucky to have had things donated, been able to purchase things with the small ($5.00) fee that I charged and have kids bring in items to use.  That was the case with the latest project.

If you look on the interwebs, you will see that 'Sharpie Shoes' are a thing.  A simple Google search yields millions of image results.  The first thing that we did to prepare ourselves and get inspired was to look at some of those images and sketch some of our favorites.  A couple of my cuties have their own pinterest account (be still my heart) and saved their favorites there.  Had I been using my head, which often doesn't happen until it's about a day late and a dollar short around here, I would have searched "sneaker templates", which I obviously did after the fact and come up with this. As a side note, fast finishers in my class are loving designing their own sneakers using print outs of these shoes.  It's been fun for them to do as they are finishing up projects and need to find something creative to do.

A few more of my students have to finish up their shoes but we will be starting a new project on Monday since we only have 4 more meetings until End-of-Year testing starts and I want to squeeze justonemoreproject in before we say our goodbyes for the summer.

Here's a few pics of our finished sharpie shoes:

Cage and his creation. I'm not sure of the theme here but he seemed happy with them!

Emma loved hers, put them on right away and has worn them several times.

Preston's design.

Hayden made these for his little sister.  I might have to have him make a pair for me since I am a fan of Hello Kitty!

I should have taken a picture of Alyssa's face when she finished.  She was so proud of her shoes!

When the rest of the kids finish theirs, I'll edit to add those pics.  I also need to take a picture of our band directors sharpie shoes that she created over Spring Break.  In a fit of jealousy a moment of creativity, Miss A designed an awesome pair of Minion Sneakers that she has worn to school a couple of times already. She is a big fan of the minions (who isn't, really?) and she has musical instrument playing minions all over her shoes.

Our next project is going to be a 3D paper mache' letter.  Shhhhhh!  Don't tell anyone but this is kind of what we are going to do. I love paper mache' but ohmygoshthemess and don't even talk to me about storage... 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Non-Objective art and a simple foray into printmaking...

We've been talking about non-objective art for the past couple of lessons here in mizzsmiff's art room.  Normally, I don't usually camp out on one kind of art for very long as I like to mix things up but it just seems that my brain has been drawn to abstract colors and shapes lately.  I shared the oil pastel drawings that we did in my last post and I have to tell you that I have them on display in the hallway near where I have afternoon dismissal duty and they make me smile whenever I see them.  I love the bright cheerfulness that they bring to the gray walls in the hallway. 

I am so fortunate to have colleagues in my district that I can count on for inspiration, support and the sharing of ideas.  Being the only person in your school that teaches a subject can be rough.  No one understands you like a fellow art teacher.  There are only 4 middles schools in my county so it's not like there are that many of us to start with.  I know that I can always shoot Tammy an email over at North with a cry of desperation for inspiration. So, at the end of the last quarter, I was looking for a quick project that we could do in the few days that were left before fourth quarter started.  (Can I get a hallelujah for fourth quarter, teacher friends?) Tammy mentioned that she had recently done this project and it took all of 2-3 days.  I was pleasantly surprised by the results.  

As with many most of my projects these days, this was found on Pinterest from this link over at Artsonia. The original called for crayons but I let my students use watercolor since they had been begging me to paint.  

We talked about Wassily Kandinsky and I showed my kiddos lots and lots of his artwork.  I am generally amazed by their reactions to art and artists and I love nothing more than showing them something new that they may never have seen before.  We also discussed the many types of printmaking and how found object printmaking is the most simple of them all.  I have another printmaking project that is a little bit more difficult planned for later in the quarter. 

Here's a link to my little iMovie Gallery Crawl for this project:  Kandinsky Printmaking. 

Once again, I love the results. I love how they are all so different even though we followed the same parameters. 

We are currently working on another non-objective drawing that is being done with colored pencils.  We are just 2 days into the project and I am starting to get really excited about this one.  I think they are going to turn out beautifully.  The kids are excited about it too, and I can tell they want to do their best.

I can't wait to share the results with you!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Oil Pastels and Sacrifice

Confession.  I HATE oil pastels.  With a passion.  The only other thing that is dislike more is chalk pastels.  I hate the texture. I hate the mess.  I hate the residue that they leave on my hands.  I hate them.  But I do it anyway.  

I haven't done an oil pastel project in probably 5 or 6 years and I thought that it might be time to break them out.  I think that the kids might be getting tired of markers, colored pencils and water color paints.  I have a big sculpture project planned for when it gets warmer but we probably have a few more weeks before we will get into that. Unfortunately, the supplies are getting scarce this year for some reason, so I am having to be a little more creative than usual.  

When we start using oil pastels, I have the kids do a practice chart where they can try them out and practice different techniques, some of them for the very first time.  We fold our papers lengthwise twice and then in thirds, which is easier said than done.  I have them label the 12 boxes that result from the folds as follows: Light Pressure, Heavy Pressure, Light Blended, Heavy Blended, Highlight, Shadow, Sgraffito, Red + Yellow, Blue + Yellow, Blue + Red, Blue + Green and then a free space where they put their name.  It always tickles me when some of the more tactile kids (who are like me) ask to wash their hands every five minutes while others enjoy the mess that they are creating.

We talked about the differences between objective and non-objective art for this project.  For the most part, the kids enjoyed using this medium and I think that the projects turned out nicely.

While we were working, I heard a few comments along the lines of "I HATE oil pastels! They are so messy! Can I wash my hands?" and a few more "I LOVE these!  Can we do another project with them?".  I must admit that I felt a little bit guilty projecting my own feelings about oil pastels on the kids, but I am pretty sure that they saw it in my face when I was demonstrating how to use them anyway so I might as well be honest and upfront with them to start with.

If it were up to me, we would paint and doodle and make books and mixed media and do projects with lettering and type and words and do printmaking and learn about art history every day. Thank goodness it isn't.  So we have to stretch ourselves a little and sculpt and collage and do technical things like perspective and drawing on a grid and try charcoal and pen and ink and even the dreaded pastels.

The parameters for the project were: At least 3 geometric shapes.  They can be different.

Or all the shapes can be the same.  You can do more, but not less.

Have at least 3 lines dividing the page.

You can have more than 3 lines, but not less.

Show me blending of at least 2 colors.

Show me highlighting with white.

And/or shadows with black.

Love the intense colors on this one.

Love the balance in this one.

This student attempted a little bit of sgraffito!

This one has a soft water colory feel to it, I think.

I love the color choices that this student made.

So, tell the truth.  What materials do you hate using personally that you let your students use so that they  can experience the medium and make the love/hate decision for themselves?  Are there things that you gravitate toward that you seem to fall back on, with your art lessons, time and time again?  Do you have to push yourself to let your students create outside of your comfort zone?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Second Semester

Mid-Term, second semester is almost upon us.  While the rest of the (north) east coast is still digging out from a record amount of snow fall, we in the south east are preparing for what might be the only snow that we have this winter.  Last night, it was windier than I can ever remember it being since I've lived here.  I am pretty sure that something flew into the side of my house but I have been afraid to venture out too far to inspect any damage.  My garbage can blew over, several large clay pots are now fodder for mosaics and the little things that I had hanging on my house are now on the front porch floor.  It's sunny and 31° here in North Carolina today but the weather is supposed to turn blustery late tomorrow afternoon.  Further south in Atlanta, they have already closed schools, I am assuming to avoid last years disaster where students and teachers ended up spending the night at school because of road conditions.  Me?  I am hoping for an early release and a 2-3 hour delay, the holy grail of teacher (and student) days.  I enjoy the chaos, the change in schedule and the excitement that snow brings to the south.  And the no-make-up-days.  Which around here, are Saturdays when we are fresh out of teacher workdays.  I think that we have one or two left this year. 

I've been doing this art teacher thing for a while now and honestly, it should be easy.  I should have a stockpile of lessons so fabulous that I never have to find another lesson plan or project again. Whether I am teaching classes that are one quarter or one semester long, I ought to be able to pull out a file that says something like "Year 3 Rotation" and have my whole year planned.  I'm just not that kind of teacher.  I get bored easily.  Every year, my classes are different, even the grade levels that I have taught before.  My access to supplies changes from year to year and my motivation for doing certain projects ebbs and flows. Some kids are really into painting, some are into 3D, some would rather draw in pencil all day.  Some of my classes like those big crafty projects like paper making or print making or papier mache'.  This year, I bought some of these Straws and Connectors for the kids to use when they are done with their projects. I have been thinking of doing a STEAM oriented type project in the spring and thought that they might be a good exploration activity before doing one of those newspaper tower projects. I may have some engineers on my hands.  They can't wait to use them and some of the conversations that they have had when building towers that touch the art room ceiling (14') have been intriguing.  I am looking forward to spring when I can put them in groups, have them work together in teams and take them outside where the sky is the limit. Literally.
Lee and Adam hit the ceiling.

Zachary and Sa'Vion and their tower.  I apologize for the picture quality but apparently there was a filter on my iPhone camera and I didn't realize it until it was too late.
My point is that I am trying to come up with projects that spark the interest of my students.  That can be easier said than done when you teach middle school and everything is lame. (Is that even a word anymore?  Ratchet?  Sucks? [mizzsmiff frowns on this synonym] Lamesauce? I dunno.  Whatever.) Interest + curriculum + integration + materials = no easy feat. 

So far this semester, I did the same two projects that I did last semester but I am thinking that I am done with the rest of the stuff that I did the first half of the year.  It's not that the projects weren't good or successful, I am itching to do something different.  I tend to feel more "arty" (painting, drawing, teaching technique and methods) in the fall and more "crafty" in the spring (bookmaking, papier mache', experimenting with materials).  We have tomorrow off for a teacher workday...President's Day.  I'm still not sure what we will be doing on Tuesday.  Something will come to me, it always does.

But I'm kind of hoping for a snow day.

In the meantime, here is a short iMovie of the last project my first semester students did. We talked about line and movement and planning.  It was a quick art project that took just a couple of days but I think that the results were nice.  The project itself is all over Pinterest, but I found it here. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014


Holy Hand-grenades, Batman!  The last few weeks in the art room have been a flurry of activity!  Seriously, I need a break.  Good thing Thanksgiving is coming up fast. It's all been great and fun but we have been so busy!


I am very fortunate to work in a district that has implemented a 1:1 chromebook initiative with all the high and middle schools.  High Schools got theirs last year and thankfully, worked out some of the bugs and we got ours mid-first quarter.  At first, I was a little bit hesitant wondering what in the world I would be able to do with them in the art room, but they have turned out to be a great asset. 

I started out by creating Google Classrooms for each grade level and had the students sign in, using a specific code for their class.  Using Google drive, I can send out messages, assignments, photographs of examples, slide shows and any number of resources that students can refer to at any time.  The kids are so much more tech savvy than I, which is saying a lot because I really consider myself pretty darn good with technology and they have totally embraced using the chromebooks in not just my class, but most of their other classes as well. 

Working on the Art Scavenger Hunt in Google Classrooms

Neil found the information about American Gothic fascinating.

Google Classrooms and a chromebook in every student's hands makes leaving sub plans a breeze!

Art Club
The art club recently completed their first project. We meet every Monday afternoon for about an hour and work on some kind of project that I generally can't do on a large scale.  I had some old vinyl records donated last year and was hoping to get enough to do this project with a whole grade level but only got about 30 so I decided that it would be an art club project.  We took a couple of weeks and drew on the records using plain old crayola colored pencils.  

We drew lines and patterns and just colored them in until one side of the record was completely covered.

We took them down to what was, at one time, the old careers classroom that has a small 'efficiency' kitchen in it and boiled water in a shallow skillet.  I have to tell you that I was worried sick that 1. It wouldn't work 2. The designs that they drew on the records would wash or melt off 3. Somebody (me) would get scalded with hot water. 

Much to my surprise, IT WORKED!  We were all thrilled to pieces with our record bowls and took home our first (successful) project.  Trust me, MizzSmiff breathed a sigh of relief.

I created an Art Club classroom in Google Classrooms and sent them all a message to let them know that we wouldn't be meeting this Monday.  We only have 2 days this week before Thanksgiving and many of us will be out of town and busy with preparations for the holiday.  I took the opportunity to let them know that our next project will be a canvas painting.  They are so excited and want to know what it will be.  The truth is, I really haven't decided yet, but I have an idea.

The art club and their record bowls

 Field Trip
The 'Arts Department' at AMS (that would be me and the band teacher, ha) took the 8th grade art, chorus and band students on a field trip about a week ago.  

We filled a bus with our students and headed to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.  G'boro is a little over an hour's drive from AMS in a car and we were expecting it to take much longer by old yellow school bus, but thanks to Ms. Watkins, we were there in record time. 

I know you aren't supposed to take pictures in museums but I couldn't help myself.  This was part of the 'Art on Paper' Exhibition.  I wish I would have written down the artist who did this piece.  I love it!  It was done by tracing shadows of iron gates, then cutting them out.

We saw an Opera, toured the school of music and the art students visited the Weatherspoon Museum of Art while the band students sat in on a practice session.  I have never been to the Weatherspoon before and was pleasantly surprised by their collection.  I was thrilled that the kids got to see art, in person, in a real museum.  They asked the docents a lot of smart questions and I think that they enjoyed themselves. By the end of the tour, they were tired and asking what we were doing next and when we were going home.  It was a long day with a lot of walking.

That all being said, I hate to admit that I think the highlight of the trip was having lunch in a real college cafeteria.  Can I just say that college cafeterias have been stepped up their game since I was in school back when the crust of the earth was cooling?  I'm not kidding.  It was overwhelming.  It was huge.  The kids didn't know where to start and what to do. We heard a lot of 'Can we have anything we want?' and 'We can go back for seconds?'.  There was a lot of wandering with plates out and eyes glazed over.  Apparently, the tater tots were amazing, mashed potatoes with a side of bacon bits make for the best lunch ever and cookies can be stuffed into back packs and the pockets of cargo pants for the long ride home.   

We also hit the bookstore up right before we headed back to the bus, I got wrangled out of 20 bucks for Starbucks for I don't know how many kids (did I really do that?) and we got back to school about an hour and a half later than we expected.  I really hope that we put a spark in their minds about what a large college campus looks like and what they can expect in just a few short years when they head off to college.

Teacher Artists
The next few pictures are of a 'Painting Party' we had in my classroom last Saturday.  This idea all started at the end of the last school year.  Usually, a bunch of us like to do something fun to commemorate the end of the year and thought that it would be fun to do one of those 'Wine and Design' or 'Paint and Pour' activities.  There was a Groupon out and as much as we tried, we just couldn't find a date that would work for most of us. Jennifer Walker, 6th grade science, assured me that I could teach a group of teacher to paint SOMETHING, but I really just wanted to go to an event to see how it was done before I tried to do it myself.  Fast forward to early October.  I'm not sure how it started, but someone, I think it was Heather, found a cute snowman painting on Pinterest and I exclaimed "OMG!  We can do that!  I promise!"  It started with about 5 of us. I ordered 5 canvases from Blick.  Then we said, We have to invite so and so.  And She needs to come! And I ordered 5 more canvases.  And we haven't seen Her in so long!  So, 10 more canvases. And it turned into a THING.  And I said "Eh, fuggedabout it." and ordered 10 more.  I realized quickly that no one had enough room in their house for 25 women, canvases and paint so I emailed my principal and said "Ummmm, Beverly, there are a few (a lot) of us that want to get together and paint a holiday painting on a Saturday and I was wondering if maybe we could use my art room and if maybe you could turn the alarm off so we could use the bathroom and stuff and you can come and paint with us too if you want."  

We had a blast.  And we didn't even have any wine with our design or pour with our paint.  AMS teachers, former teachers, former students, moms and friends came.  We are already thinking about what we are going to do the next time. 

I say this a lot and I know that I am not the only one on my staff that feels this way, but we are so lucky to work with people that we call friends.  We all know that teaching is a hard job and above all, we need to support each other.  Hanging out and just having fun with each other is so important.  

Staci and her masterpiece, pre snowflakes.

Heather,  working diligently.

Maureen.  Notice she put her flakes along the side of her canvas!
Kat adding her snowflakes.
Nancy, Jennifer, Chaundra and Brooke with their finished projects!