Author Archives: ArtisanEducation

Book Review :: Musical Inventions

In an effort to utilize my librarian background, I review books. It keeps my librarian skills sharp, and I love talking about  – and analyzing – books. These reviews cover science and art education books, for and about children, as well as reality-based children’s books for a Montessori lifestyle.

a picture of the book, Musical Inventions, by Kathy Ceceri

Make has such pretty books these days. All of Ceceri’s books have been printed with color pictures.

It always takes me a long time to review a book. I need to let it sit on my desk for awhile. I want the information to turn over in my head, which allows my brain to make connections to my prior knowledge. I hate shallow reviews. I understand that time is often, of the essence, but it’s difficult to trust a person’s word if they’ve only had the book for a week or so. I mean, how can you know if the book is any good if it hasn’t sat with you for awhile? I have let Kathy Ceceri’s latest book, Musical Inventions, sit on my desk for quite a few months. All in the name of authenticity…

Musical Inventions by Kathy Ceceri

While there is some truth to the above statement, there is also a funny set of events that contributed to its floundering on my desk beneath an important set of papers. It started with a bit of bad timing. When this lovely book arrived on my doorstep in May, we had one foot out the door, in anticipation of a wonderful three-week vacation (which included Washington, DC, Pennsylvania and Quebec). When we returned, I immediately began teaching at summer camp. Following that madness, the Fall semester began at the college where I work…and thus, I’m just now publishing this review.

It’s a long-winded excuse, yes? Sigh. In some ways, it is. I was hoping to get the book reviewed earlier, but I also wanted to try out more of the projects. It seems there’s never enough time to do all of the projects – just a few. Ha! As if I needed a fun, hands-on book to tell me that my life is full.

Plus, I have to confess a little secret: music isn’t really my thing. Oh sure, I love singing along to Hamilton as much as the rest of my family, but when it comes to sound, noise and music, my guitar-playing husband is the one who brings such beauty to our home.

So I did what any sensible, non-musical person would do: I handed the book over to my husband and asked him to try out some of the projects with the kids.

DIY Instruments to Toot, Tap, Crank, Strum, Pluck and Switch On

Ceceri, Kathy. Make: Musical Inventions: DIY Instruments to Toot, Tap, Crank, Strum, Pluck, and Switch On. Make Media: San Fransisco, 2017. Target Audience: science, music & homeschool teachers; parents of upper elementary, middle and high school students.

As with all of Ceceri’s Make books, this tome includes a lot of fun, hands-on projects coupled with real-life connections to individuals and scientific concepts. It only took a few pages before I was hooked. In the first chapter, she mentioned the discovery of a 42,000 year-old flute, found in a cave in 2012. It was made from the tusk of a woolly mammoth. That is so cool! People have been making music for thousands of years. Art and music have always been a part of our culture. Just like the cave art in Lascaux.

After a brief description of the history of music, she goes on to describe how sound works, in addition to the basics of music theory and notation. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that this is a simple book. It’s not. Although the projects are for beginners, there is some heavy teaching going on within these pages. I could definitely see a middle or high school teacher using some of these projects to demonstrate physical science concepts.

Packing Tape Bass Drum

a picture of a hand-made drum from the book, Musical Inventions

A little bit of tape and some popcorn makes a nice drum set.

Since I handed the book off to my musically-inclined husband, all I had to do was sit back, quietly observe, and wait to snap a few pictures. During a long weekend break, my husband pulled out the book and proceeded to test out the “Packing Tape Bass Drum” project. It was the perfect time for a project: the kids were restless and we had all of the materials on hand [clear packing (or masking) tape, a can opener and two round cans (or plastic cups)].

They easily made the drums, which were happily taken home by our neighbor, a girl who lives across the street. She also has a musically-inclined father and I hope they played a duet later that evening.

a picture of two homemade drums made out of tape and clear plastic drink glasses, from the book, Musical Inventions.

My hubby improvised with some of the materials, but the result was the same: homemade drums.

My husband also messed around with the “Turntable Water Glasses” project, but I was too slow to capture it on camera. All told, this book could keep a family busy for days. It would also be a great start for a new science concept, or a way to cap off an in-depth project-based learning physics course. For me, I found the projects on circuit bending to be the most interesting…and hope to mess around with those in the future. If you are impatient, or want to try out one of her projects before grabbing the book, check out her tutorial on creating a low-tech music box.

Maker Movement and Learning

I have long been a fan of Ceceri’s work. As a former homeschool mom, she has created lots of interesting projects that connect learning with real-life applications. Science (and history and writing) are fascinating, but only if a student can make those connections. It’s only stimulating if a student is interested. I think the maker movement gives students a reason to be excited. I hope that every parent considers purchasing one of these books for their child’s teacher…and offers to provide some of the supplies, as well.

I received this book in exchange for my honest review. If you’d like to see my other (non-compensated) reviews of Make titles, check out Making Makers, Making Simple Robots, and Tinkering.

 

Programming Art with Scratch :: Sunset

This past summer I repeated my role as Scratch programming instructor. I was flattered to hear  I had a number of returning students. Unfortunately, that meant my standard plan of activities needed to be enhanced for those experienced students. I needed some new assignments! For this course (Create with Scratch), I focused on art and music, rather than video game creation. Therefore, I needed projects that combined programming art with Scratch, the icon-based language designed for kids.

It’s fun thinking of new projects, but I wasn’t sure I’d have enough time to create an example (or find some child to create one for me). Often, a teacher-created example can intimidate students. I usually try to have student examples, like this volcano.

C's animated volcano in Scratch

I uploaded C’s volcano animation. Check it out: https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/108661198/

For my recent project addition, I didn’t have a chance to obtain student examples. My family and I were traveling this past summer and we only got home a few days before camp began. I decided to do the creating – in class – while the students worked on their own animations.

Setting Sun Art Animation — Scratch

After a few days of introductory lessons, I asked the students to make an animated volcano  (which we did last year). Since I focused more on the art of animations, I wanted the students to make another complex animation. I suggested a setting or rising sun. I showed a few sun examples from the Scratch web site, and I set out to create my own.

A few students made simple animations while others spent multiple class periods getting their pictures “just right.” It took me a few class sessions to finish my initial animation, especially since I was needed to help other students. I went back and “fixed” it during the second round of classes.

I hope my students watched as I made mistakes and went back to change my programming. It certainly demonstrated the value of revising one’s work. If anything, they picked up a couple of new art and programming techniques to use with Scratch. Finally, I hope they had fun creating their own animations and were inspired to make others.

Mondrian Sewing Project for Kids

First, I should tell you this Mondrian sewing project was a bit of a failure. Yes, you heard that right. I’m going to show you a project that wasn’t very successful.

Wait! Don’t stop reading.

I have a point, I promise.

Although this project didn’t work in a classroom setting, it might work for you and your children. It certainly worked well with my eight-year-old — at home. I always have my children test my sewing projects before I present them to a class. It took him awhile to complete, but his final project turned out rather well.

C, age 8, is almost finished with his Piet Mondrain-inspired wall hanging.

Combing Art History & Sewing

I thought I was being a clever teacher – creating a project that combined sewing (fun) with art (fun). I even did a little presentation on Piet Mondrian since most of the students weren’t familiar with his work.

My middle grades students (rising 5th – 9th graders) were good sports. They all worked on the project for a couple of days. Our class periods lasted for an hour, but it still wasn’t enough time (for most of them) to complete this project. And that’s when I realized it was a little too advanced for most of them. That’s why it took so long…and why most of the completed squares didn’t look that great. It required more precision than was appropriate for a beginning sewing class. That’s okay. I’m glad I realized it during the first session because I didn’t repeat the project with the second session of students.

Creative Sewing

In addition to the advanced nature of the project, there was another reason my students didn’t care for this wall hanging. They said all of their projects looked too much alike. They weren’t different enough. Even though I asked them to choose a blue, red, white and yellow cloth, there were a variety of fabrics to choose from. However, they were correct. Most of the projects looked pretty similar and they didn’t like that. It’s hard to argue with good reasoning.

Initially, I was inspired by this wall hanging tutorial by Kids-Sewing-Projects, but I adapted it for my needs and subject.

Mondrian Sewing Project for Kids

Here’s the good part: I created an instructional PDF of my Mondrian-inspired wall hanging.   Please download it for your personal use. Perhaps, you are looking for a Piet Mondrian-inspired wall hanging to go in your modern, abstract bedroom. Maybe, you are studying the artist and want to learn more. Either way, I hope you give this project a try.

 

 

Creating Mind Maps to Learn

In my paid job (yes, I need to make the distinction), I teach a couple of classes on how to be successful in college. As the instructor, I introduce students to effective note-taking methods, growth mindset principles and library research skills, among other topics. Although I like to write and take notes by hand, one of my favorite activities is to make mind maps. It’s just the right combination between art and writing. Creating mind maps is a generative process. Creating mind maps to learn means developing a deeper level of understanding.

A picture of a mind map for the book: The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

My completed mind map of the book, The Magic Words by Cheryl Klein.

Creating Mind Maps to Learn

When you are forced to synthesize the information you are reading or hearing, your brain forms new connections to that material. It’s connecting the information you know with the new material you are learning. I wouldn’t recommend it for initial lecture-based notes, but it’s great for going back and really learning the material. It forces you to organize the information so that it makes sense. In effect, you are “studying” the material, but you get to do some art at the same time.

Step 1: Take Notes

A really good mind map starts with written notes. I teach my students to use the Cornell Method for taking notes since it provides an easy way to quiz yourself (and research shows that quizzing yourself is one of the most effective ways to learn the material).

These aren’t in Cornell format, but I don’t need to quiz myself on the material…I merely want a reference for later.

Step 2: Pick out the Key Points

As with most books, typically, you don’t need to memorize everything you read. Pick out the key points that you want to remember. It could be key dates or relationships. For my book, The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein, I wanted to remember some of the many tips she gave for crafting a successful children’s book. She has so much useful information, one could do a mind map on each chapter. I want something inspiring to hang over my desk. To nudge me when I get stuck.

Step 3: Complete a Rough Draft

Now that I have the information, I need figure out how to organize it on piece of paper. Plus, I want to think about how to draw some visuals to go along with it. Visuals tend to stick in our minds better than words. According to Sketchnote Handbook author Mike Rhode, you don’t have to be an artist to make your notes more visually appealing. But since I like to draw, I’ve added in some sketches. For my first draft, I had to figure out how I was going to fit everything on the page. I knew I wanted to focus on the elements of crafting a good story, so I made sure to devote a large part of paper to those concepts.

A picture of creating a mind m ap rough draft

This is super messy and sat in my book while I gathered more notes, hence the creases.

Step 4: Use a Pencil

Since I like to change my mind a lot, I use a mechanical pencil to complete my final mind map. After I’m happy with the placement of information, I’ll use a variety of ink pens to outline the material. My current favorites are these Micron pens, purchased at my local art store. I like the variety of pens — each with a smaller nib. The 001 size was perfect for the fine writing I needed to include.

Here’s a close-up of my almost completed mind map.

Step 5: Add Color

Once I outline everything in black, I like to go back and add color. In fact, this is probably my favorite part. I love a good coloring project.

a colored picture of a mind map for the book, The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

I used Faber-Castell color pencils to complete the map.

Creating Mind Maps to Learn

Ultimately, this mind map took me a couple of months to complete (hey, I’m busy)! That wouldn’t be realistic for a college student. However, I could have made a map for each chapter, rather than trying to cover the entire book in one mind map. Use your judgement and decide how you want to use the mind map. For me, this map is the perfect size (11 x 14) to display over my desk.

 

The Brick Chronicles :: Lego® Crane

As the kids get older, they have more outside interests. They also have more at-home responsibilities. This has meant less free time to relax and build freely with LEGO bricks. However, after seeing the Art of the Brick, my kids have been inspired to work with their Legos®. Their rooms have been flooded with bricks and there has been some yelling as we, the parents, have stepped on them. Otherwise, let the building commence!

a picture of a boat and a cargo crane made out of lego bricks. A lego crane

Lego® crane made by R, age 11. The boat was pre-built, but he created everything else.

I’m not sure I will be restarting the Brick Chronicles series, but you can check out our past posts. Some of my favorites include: Ode to Crash Course, Mini Lego Cruise Ship, Articulated Lego Truck, Hinged Box, EV3 Conveyor Belt, Mini Lego Microscope, and the Feeder Machine.

Happy building!

an upclose picture of a lego crane made out of lego bricks

Shadows of the Eclipse

In north Florida we had a 90% solar eclipse. Ninety percent sounds like a lot of sun cover, right? Au contraire, my friends! This is Florida: the Sunshine State. Among my set of Florida homeschooling moms, the eclipse was compared to a cloudy, but rainy day. Nothing too special. Sure, it cooled off for an hour or so, but it was still pretty hot!

Thankfully, my husband is super excited about space-related things and compensates for my lack of interest. He brings his enthusiasm to our family discussions and sparks our curiosity.  He also works from home (lucky us), so he kept running out to check on the eclipse’s progress. I mean, every 5 minutes. He was that thrilled. Throw in two, free eclipse viewers from our local library and the great eclipse viewing was off and running!

Dad wondered if the kids were going to draw the eclipse…and the rest is history.

After a stern lecture about the perils of taking off the glasses, I let the boys venture out to watch the eclipse. I felt obligated to personally supervise my eight-year-old’s use of the glasses. Ahem. Burnt retinas are pretty bad.  And he’s eight.

Shadows of the Eclipse

While everyone was looking up, I took my husband’s advice and looked down…at the shadows.

At the height of the eclipse, the sun passed through the leaves of an oak tree and made crescent moons!

The colander produced some wicked crescent shapes!

Now, that sparked my artistic sense of wonder!

 

Visiting the Art of the Brick

Last weekend, my family and I met up with friends (and more family) to see the “Art of the Brick.” This free show, held in Tampa, displayed a number of pieces by artist, Nathan Sawaya.  The catch? All of the art was constructed with LEGO bricks.

A picture of a LEGO replica of part of the Bayeux Tapestry, made by the brick artist.

Sawaya’s work included replicas of 2D art, as well as original 3D sculptures. This is part of the Bayeux Tapestry ( a personal favorite of mine).

LEGO Art – The Art of the Brick

I have seen pictures of his work, but it was quite amazing to see it in person. The sheer number of LEGOS required for each sculpture was astounding! Most ranged in the thousands.

Obviously, we have a love for LEGO in this family, but I found Sawaya’s introductory video inspiring. He declared that art is not optional. In a world where we focus more and more on academic subjects and social media, art is often dropped from the school curriculum or brushed aside for more money-making ventures. Or worse, it’s turned into an academic subject itself — no creating required.

a picture of the sculpture of Degas Littel Dancer, made out of LEGOS by artist Nathan Sawaya

What if high school students had to collaborate (in math or science class) to make this? After learning about Degas, of course.

Well, art isn’t going to feed you.

I understand. We need people to clean up after ourselves. We need doctors and researchers. We need teachers. We even need a few lawyers to protect people, but I would argue that suing someone doesn’t adequately feed one, either. I am satisfied with my paid job, but I must create beautiful things.

What would happen if we, as a society, figured out our bare necessities (healthy food, safe shelter, attractive sustainable clothing, books/knowledge, and creative hobby pursuits) and eliminated the filler? Do I need to spend my time with people on Facebook? Twitter? Do I want to encourage the proliferation of social media for self-promotion’s sake?

All of us have wonderful things to contribute to our communities. Why is it so hard to do that well? The shy among us hope to get lucky in our creative careers, but unless we promote ourselves, we lose out. Imagine if we could wear the same thing for five days (all clean, of course) and spend the rest of our time making art (fully recyclable and sustainable art, of course).

I wish I was brave enough to wear the same thing everyday for a week. Of course, one could argue that fashion is a creative display of art. Ahem.

Creativity & Mental Health

There are some theories suggesting we aren’t creative enough and it’s hurting our mental health. We need to make things as young children (painting, drawing, building, playing music, reconstructing engines, etc.) to become productive adults. We need to lighten the social media burden. I choose to do that with visual art. I make my own art and I encourage my kids to do the same. Their chosen medium has been LEGO bricks (see The Brick Chronicles). It makes my heart smile to see the connection they make with a fellow artist. Art does matter — and I encourage you to support it.

a picture of the statue of liberty made out of LEGO bricks

In June, we saw this LEGO sculpture at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, DC. Check out this video on how it was constructed (not created, but actually put together).

 

 

CFK 2017: Sewing & Scratch Programming

Two weeks ago, I returned as a teacher for Santa Fe College’s CFK summer program. Like last year, I am leading a beginning sewing class and two Scratch-programming classes. I absolutely love sewing with young kids and they’ve kept me on my toes as I have created new projects for them to complete. We tackled a somewhat complex project that reinforced some of Piet Mondrian’s abstract art. More on that project in a follow-up post…

Art Lab :: Minecraft Paper Sculptures

As part of our ongoing series, the boys are testing projects from the book, Art Lab for Kids. This week’s lab: paper sculptures. They don’t have to be Minecraft-related, but in my house, Minecraft is always on the brain. The kids’ brains anyway, not mine.

Check out the past Art Lab posts: book review and reverse color underpainting.

a picture of a paper Minecraft sword. Inspried by the book, Art Lab for Kids

C, age 8, made a Minecraft sword. All of those cuts too him a long time….not to mention the stapling!

Minecraft Paper Sculptures

So…you may be thinking: Minecraft, eh? I thought they were learning about art!

Yes, it seems like they just made toys for this particular lab, but the concept was the same. They created a stuffed paper sculpture, but instead of a fish (the given example), they took a familiar idea and ran with it. Even though I do try to discourage consumerism and branding, this was a great pairing. (Besides, I may have a thing for Harry Potter and the Florida Gators…some branding is allowed, and possibly encouraged). Anyway, the boys were super excited about this lab, and they had to use the design thinking process to figure out how their sculptures were going to work.

 

a picture of a green construction paper being used for paper minecraft sculptures. Inspired by the book, Art Lab for Kids.

R (age 11) made a complicated creeper and had to sketch out his design ahead of time.

Crafting to Retain Information

It should be no surprise that we do a lot of arts and crafts at our house. What I find surprising is how much information my kids retain when they make something. Our crafting isn’t just limited to “art time.” Over the years, we have done a number of suggested crafts from our social studies curriculum, Story of the World. During the weeks when we “crafted,” the boys remembered the event much more clearly. I think it has something to do with the generative process of using information to create something new.

We are definitely one of those families that takes time to make things. We don’t cover as much material, but the topics are easily recalled.

a picture of paper sculpture Minecraft creeper and diamond sword

Creeper made by R, age 11. Sword made by C, age 8.

**This post was originally published on June 19, 2017. Sadly, it was deleted from the site when my server was switched. I have finally fixed the issue. (P.S. Don’t use GoDaddy for web site hosting. Their customer service is awful). **

Watercolor Practice – Big Ben

Last month, I started a Craftsy watercolor class with the fabulous instructor, Kateri Ewing. That being said, I’m only halfway through the course. I still have a lot to learn, but I’ve been wanting to work on a picture of Big Ben for the last six months. Let me emphasize that this is watercolor practice. I can see that I made a lot of mistakes. The completed picture doesn’t have the right “feel” to it, I think. I need to loosen up a bit, but I haven’t quite figured out how to do that!

a picture of a hand-painted watercolor practice picture of big ben

The reference image and painting prompt is from the book, No Excuses Watercolors by Gina Armfield .

Watercolor Practice – Knowing Your Materials

I had grabbed the random 140 lb watercolor paper that we had (probably bought for the kids), but it did not hold up to multiple water glazes. I think I wrecked the paper tooth in the upper right corner and I’m not even sure how that is possible…

I was also using a large (size 14) synthetic watercolor brush for the background and it was the first time I used it. Lesson learned. Test ALL of my brushes first. My other brushes are size 2 and size 8, both sable (or something similar).

Watercolor Practice – Drawing

For the past year, I have been returning to my ‘fine arts’ roots. I’ve always “made” creative things while sewing, knitting, or quilting, but it’s only recently that I’ve been dedicating time to drawing. Last year, I took a color pencil class through Craftsy which forced me to draw more. I discovered that I loved it…and missed it. A lot.

Since I wanted the drawing practice, I chose to sketch out Big Ben rather than copy the line drawing from the book. It was fun to figure out how to add the shading with cross-hatching. I think this is an area I can work on in the future.

a ink drawing of Big Ben, to be used for watercolor practice. Inspired by the book, No Excuses Watercolor

I love using ink and watercolors. I like it better than trying to replicate an exact picture.

I’m looking forward to tracing this Big Ben outline and trying again with a different approach. But, I should probably return to class. Or maybe not.