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

Thursday, June 8, 2017

It's The End of the Year (and I Feel Fine)

People.  I know. I've been away so long.  I'm sure that all 2 of you that might follow my blog on a regular basis may have thought that I have dropped off the face of the earth but I alas, I have been here.  Still doing art projects, still taking pictures but being a really, really bad blog host.  It seemed like everything got in the way, coupled with the fact that the ease that I have felt in the past uploading photos straight from my phone to this blog has become an ordeal.  I apologize for the pics down there that are sideways but as they say (or do they?) better late than never.

These sneakers are one of the last projects that we did in MizzSmiff's art room this year.  It was kind of a culmination of several things that we learned this year and I think that most of the kids did a spectacular job.  This year, I showed my kiddos tricks that artists use to make their artwork better.  While a lot of it was tedious and I thought that they were going to kill me when I made them do value scales over and over, I reminded them that artists never stop practicing their craft just like athletes never stop practicing their sport.  I shared a lot of my own experiences when I was in High School and College...learning techniques and doing what my teachers and professors asked me to do  (Mr. Tepper, I am looking at you) in order to become a better artist.

Humility is not a trait that comes easily to most middle schoolers who think they know it all.  Just sayin'.

I shared a lot of art that friends of mine, artists in their own right, are doing.  Harry, you are a God among men.  My kids marveled at your pencil portraits and you made teaching them how to draw using a grid for proportion a little easier when I showed them that you still do it that way.  Tony, your amazing paintings of contemporary athletes and sports had my kiddos enthralled.  They learned that art is a viable career.  Tommy, your incredible background paintings opened up a new world to them that they had never considered and they are now looking for your name at the end of some of their favorite cartoons. Rada, I showed them your neo-expressionist paintings and portraits and well, I need to get you in my classroom next year.  They want to meet someone who had a dream and has done his life, his way, outside of the box.  I showed them work by friends of mine that are architects, interior designers, art directors and photographers.  I showed them pottery and textiles by folks that I have met along the way.

I hope that throughout this year, my kiddos have learned that art doesn't have to be just a subject that we have to take in school.  Art is a part of our lives that can follow us all the way through.  We can appreciate it or we can make art, long after we leave school and it makes our lives better for it.  I hope we learned that art has always been a part of society and that we can learn so much about our past by looking at the art that was done at the time.  I also learned that I have a lot of amazingly creative friends and for that I am truly blessed.

Tomorrow is the last day of school and as always, I let my kiddos come down to my classroom to collect all their artwork that they have worked on, and I have held on to, all year long.  Usually, I'll get one or 2 to come down and pick up their stuff, the rest of it being left to collect dust in my  closet because I mostly don't have the heart to throw it away.  Today, I had more kids come to get their work than ever before. I hope that says something about them appreciating and valuing what they do.  I found an oil pastel still life in the closet-from-Hades done by the oldest brother (who is turning 20 shortly) of one of my sweet 6th graders (she is the last in a long line of her siblings to pass through my classroom) and when she came down to get her work, I gave it to her to give to him.  I hope he gets a chuckle out of it.

So, these sneakers.  We started out drawing some simple pictures on a grid, just transferring them from one grid to another.  I had several pictures for them to try, from flowers to violins and showed them that, by using a little viewfinder (we called it a window) that had a small 1/2" square cut into it, we could block out the big shapes and focus on the small ones.  As usual, the whole ruler, measuring and drawing straight lines made me want to jump off a cliff, but once we got past that part, they learned that by isolating the components of a drawing, and focusing on tiny parts we can make a picture that is in scale and has a level of detail and proportion that is correct like nothing we have ever done before.  The look on some of their faces when they realized that their shoes 'turned out right' was priceless and made all the "No, that is the cm side of the ruler" and "So, okay, you kind of have to line the ruler up on those little marks you made so the line is straight" comments worth it. Once our sneakers were drawn, we isolated an area for emphasis and colored that in and then did the rest of the shoe and the background in shades of gray.

I think they turned out great.  I had to convince quite a few of them to let me save some of them to display in the office over the summer.  I promised they could have them in the beginning of next year.  Which I am not ready to talk about yet.

Have a great summer, y'all!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Regarding Art Club...

Winter Break is upon us.  We have two days to work next week and then we will be done until next year.

We usually have Art Club on Mondays, but because it's a short week, we won't be meeting.   Click here for the letter I sent home with students last week.

Art Club hours have changed.  We will be dismissing at 4:00 pm instead of 4:30 pm.  Please make arrangements for students to be picked up at our new time starting Monday, January 9th

Our next project will be painted sneakers.  Each art club member will need an inexpensive pair of canvas sneakers to paint on.  Here are some great examples of what we are going to be doing.  The possibilities are endless!

I hope that everyone has a wonderfully restful break and a very Merry Christmas and the happiest of holidays.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

It's Second Quarter and Where Have I Been?

I don’t know what happened but I have been a total loser pants when it comes to blogging this year.  I promise I’ll try to be better in the new year.  We are already 2 weeks into the second quarter and I have only done one blog post this year.  It’s not that we haven’t done some amazing art, but it seems like this year kind of got the best of me.  So many of us have said that we have felt ‘off’ this year and while we can’t quite put our fingers on it, part of me feels like this year is just a long continuation of last year.  Many of my classes are the same make up of students.  In some cases, that’s a good thing, and in some it isn’t.  

We have to do ASWs this year.  For those of you not in North Carolina, ASW stands for Analysis of Student Work and is our state’s way of ‘testing’ those classes that don’t fall under the umbrella of regular end of grade or course testing.  Luckily, my county opted out of the method that the state came up with and has chosen to use an alternative way of assessing student growth and proficiency that was devised by another county.  This was explained to us in the beginning of the school year, but it is a little bit confusing and we are all kind of just flying blind with the process hoping that we are collecting samples and teaching our standards in a way that we can show our administrators what we have been doing in our classrooms this year.

That being said, I have been super impressed with my student’s work this year.  I have some super talented kids that love being in my class.  Some of their work has been extraordinary.  It’s so nice to work with kids that really enjoy art and are conscientious about their work.  We’ve done water color landscapes and 3D masks and we’ve collaborated with Social Studies.  We’ve explored new mediums and worked on our skills.  I have about 35 more classes with these kids and I am really going to miss them.

Below are some pictures of our latest projects.  The first set are inspired by Sandra Silberzweig.  We looked at her work and had some great discussions about different ways of portraying faces, uses of color and pattern.  The kids are on to me...they have definitely noticed that I am drawn to bright colors.  We used super big black construction paper and crayola color sticks on this project.  The second set was just supposed to be a quick project that I left for the sub when I had to go get a root canal.  I surely didn’t expect them to turn out as nicely as they did.  I wish I knew who to link back the ‘Silly Sandwiches’ project but it is all over the internet.  

We just realized that next week is Thanksgiving.  Where is the time going?  It’s going to be Christmas before we know it.  Here at AMS we are having our first Bonfire Night this evening.  It’s definitely that time of year.  

Sandra Silberzweig Portraits

Silly Sandwiches Sub Plan

Friday, August 26, 2016

We're Back!

Y’all.  Summer. Is. Over.  I don’t know about you, but the older I get, the faster they go.  We just finished a week and a half of professional days and our babies come back this Monday.  As far as opening weeks go, I’ll have to hand it to my principal because these were some of the least painful workdays that I have experienced in my 26 years of teaching.  Yes, I started teaching when I was 7. We had the requisite full day of back to school meetings on the first day, accompanied by a wonderful lunch of barbeque (I’m in NC.  It’s a rule) provided by our amazing PTO.  We had a ½ day, that was more like a couple of hours with the district one morning to talk about the ASW testing that we are going to have to do this year (more on that in a future blog post) and the middle school art teachers (all 4 of us) went to lunch and then back to my classroom to do a little planning that afternoon.  We had a ½ day of health and safety training and another ½ day of PBIS training but other than that, we were free to work in our classrooms.  What a treat!

Having all this time to get ourselves in order has been a blessing.  Did I mention that about a week before we got back to work I dislocated my elbow?  And by dislocated I don’t mean ‘Oops, my elbow slipped out of joint’, I mean full on bent backwards at 90 degrees and the most agonizing pain in the history of pain. I’ve been in a sling with orders to keep it immobile which is easier said than done.  It gets better every day and I think I’ll be okay but this wasn’t the way that I wanted to start my school year, when there is always so much work to be done.  With the help of my amazing colleagues my room is ready to go.  
So, this was the inside of my elbow.  The bruise eventually made it all the way down to my wrist.  With the help of some arnica gel, lysine and bromelain, the bruise is almost gone.

An outside company was hired to strip our floors and when I walked into my classroom on day 2, all of my tables were up on end and my room looked like the hedge maze from The Shining.  Once our custodians got the tables, my desk, bookshelves and everything else in place for me, I needed HELP getting the rest of everything out of my supply closet.  Thinking about the rotten timing of my elbow injury and knowing that somewhere there was a reason for my suffering, I realized that I might need to be reminded how fortunate I really am.  It is SO HARD for me to ask for help.  I struggle with it.  It tortures me.  I’ll try to do anything in my power to not ask for help.  Pride?  Yep.  But also that feeling of not wanting to bother anyone with my troubles.  I had no choice in this matter because there was no way that I could do it all myself so I sent out an email asking for help and was richly rewarded.  Lesson.  Learned.  
See how shiny my floors are?  Still a little bit of fine tuning to do here but it's almost ready.

4 kids per table this year in most of my classes.  1 on each side.  I think that should work well.

My space in the background of the picture.  I might designate the round table as space for extra special' students.  It might be a nice reward.

My little reading area in the back.  The book shelf is full of art history books and artist biographies. To sit back there, you have to do a little bit of artist research or art criticism before you can relax in one of the comfy chairs and draw, read or color.

We had 2 open houses this week, one for 6th grade, which is always fun with the little ones coming into Middle School nervous and looking like deer caught in the headlights and one for our 7th and 8th graders.  Our ‘old pro’s’ came in with hugs and smiles, some looking like they grew a ½ foot over the summer.  There were also a lot new faces in the crowd of students that came to get their schedules and meet the teachers.  Some from the redistricting that was recently done in our county, but we also seemed to get quite a few students from neighboring counties and some as far away as the coast.  It’s always fun to meet new students and I hope that they will be able to get over their nerves quickly and know that they are a part of our family. I remember what it was like to be the ‘new kid’ when my parents bought a house in between my first and second grade years. I have a few things to do this weekend to be ready for Monday when the big yellow buses pull up in the driveway but I am looking forward to school starting back.  Even after all these years, the first day of school is filled with nervous excitement and anticipation.  I am wishing all my teacher friends out there a wonderful, successful school year!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Basket Weaving: Art vs Craft

One of the things that we talk about in my classroom is what the purpose of art is.  More times than I would like to admit, it is driven by a sullen middle schooler asking me why they have to take this class.  We talk about all the careers that are art driven, how art helps you think creatively, gives you a broad worldview and how learning about art helps us to learn about ourselves and other cultures.  We also talk about the function of art and whether or not it is purely aesthetic or if it can be functional as well.  For the last couple of weeks, some of my classes have been learning a basket weaving technique that people around the world, of many different cultures have been using for thousands of years.  

If you google yarn basket weaving, you will come up with hundreds of links that will teach you the process.  It’s a simple enough technique but I impose my own set of standards to make sure that none of us are taking shortcuts.  I introduce the project by showing them examples of baskets, both modern and antique. We spend some time talking about the sweetgrass and pine needle baskets made in coastal South Carolina and I share baskets with my students that I have collected from Senegal (purchased in an import store in Pittsboro, NC), Ethiopia (a gift from a former student who was there on a missions trip) and Charleston (bought on a recent trip).  We talk about how interesting it is that people who lived hundreds of years ago, thousands of miles apart somehow managed to create baskets using the same technique, but with the materials that were available to them.

I LOVE this project.  Once I get them started, which is the hardest part, and they understand the pattern, the atmosphere in the classroom is so relaxed.  We listen to music, talk about what is going on in their drama filled middle school lives and chat about art.  Can art be functional?  Is there a difference between art and craft?  How would you feel if you had to make a basket for everything that you wanted contained in your house?  We make lists of all the things that we keep that are in small plastic containers that you can pick up at the dollar store or bigger containers that we find at Walmart or Target.  It’s amazing to think that EVERYTHING was contained in a woven basket or a wooden box before plastics became so common.  We look around the art room  to see all the things that we keep organized with plastic containers.  I must have 50 things on my desk alone.  We find a new appreciation for our ancestors who didn’t have the luxury of picking out their Tupperware in a catalog so that they can neatly organize their pantry.

I only do this project once every 5 years or so.  The coil can be costly and I have to wait for my friends to clean out  their craft rooms for yarn donations.  It’s definitely worth the wait though.

Here are some pictures of our process and product:
Apparently, standing helps when starting baskets.

Sweet girls

Getting started is the hardest part.

Working hard

I think that this day was wear pink for breast cancer day

OMG Yarn monster.  I have a plan to take care of this.  Really, I do.

LilliAnn's basket

Xee's basket

Kylie's basket

Christian's basket

Courtney's basket

Moye's basket

Julius's basket

Payge's basket

Kaleah's basket

I am super proud of how nice these baskets are turning out.  These are by far the best baskets that have ever come out of MizzSmiff's Art Room!