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.

Art Lab for Kids :: Reverse Color Underpainting

The kids and I have been making our way through the book, Art Lab for Kids. This week’s featured lab: reverse color underpainting. (Check out the Art Lab book review post).

a kid's painting of a seaside using reverse color from art lab

R’s landscape painting. He used the reverse color underpainting technique.

Underpainting

According to Jerry’s Art Arama, “underpainting is a first layer of paint applied to a canvas or board and it functions as a base for other layers of paint. It acts as a foundation for your painting and is a great way to start your painting off with some built in contrast and tonal values.” For a more advanced explanation, see how the old masters used this technique.

The masters used oil-based paints, but my kids use acrylic paint and watercolor paper. They are practicing, so there’s no need to have a stack of canvas boards laying around! I like how Susan Schwake (Art Lab author) showed a completed example for this lab. My oldest son wanted to do something similar, but it was up to us to figure out what colors to use for his underpainting.

a picture of a boy sketching from a picture on the ipad. Inspired by the book Art Lab for Kids

We found a landscape picture online which looked similar to the example given in the book.

All told, this was a fabulous art lab. He learned a new technique and created some cool art. Plus, he had to wait between layers, so it reinforced the idea that art can (and should) be a multi-day project. There’s no need to complete a piece in one sitting.

a picture of a boy painting with acrylic paints. Inspired by the book, Art Lab for Kids

Since we didn’t print out the picture, R write down the colors he wanted.

Of course, now I want to add some Chibitronic LED stickers to this landscape. Wouldn’t it look great with a flashing buoy in the distance?

a kid's painting of a seaside using reverse color from art lab

Free to Make : Cardboard Box Cars

While I was working, the boys were left to their own devices. This meant they had a full morning free to do whatever they wanted, provided there was no power tool usage or video game playing. (The “new to us” band saw requires Dad’s supervision, and video games are reserved for the afternoon heat). Thankfully, we had some recent Amazon deliveries. Cardboard boxes! Woo!

a picture of an 8-year-old boy creating a car from a cardboard box.

C, age 8, is hard at work on his cardboard vehicle.

I’d like to tell you they were inspired by this book from the library, Out of the Box: 25 Cardboard Engineering Projects for Makers. But they weren’t. We didn’t even check that book out until AFTER these contraptions were built. Rather, these boys have always been fascinated with boxes. (As in, give that kid a box…instead of the toy). Thankfully, their projects have gotten more sophisticated as they’ve gotten older.

Made by R, age 11.

Cardboard Box Cars

Their favorite things to make are cars. Obviously. If you can’t drive a real one, there’s something satisfying about making your own. I am especially fond of the computerized system in my 11-year-old’s. I think he has too much Tesla on his mind.

a picture of a boy's cardboard car

An all-electric vehicle…complete with its own ipad.

Cardboard, Free Time & The Maker Movement

And in a somewhat coincidental twist, I finished reading Dale Dougherty’s Free to Make as they were working on their creations. Dougherty is the founder of Make Magazine and one of the people behind Maker Faire. I am very drawn to the maker movement, not just for myself and my children, but as an educator.

I was pretty familiar with most of the content, although it was interesting to see a slim chapter on how schools are incorporating “making.” I am looking forward to more educational research on the maker movement. I just wish we could combine “making” with environmentalism. Right now “making in schools” seems to incur a lot of waste.

I think we just need to find a way to recycle tape. For a short time, tape was banned at my house since it’s not recyclable. We still consume it in limited quantities due to the waste factor. Oh, the things my kids could make with more tape (and free time)!

C’s car has a working accelerating pedal. (His words, not mine).

Book Review – Art Lab for Kids

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 art lab for kids book

Art Lab for Kids by Susan Schwake.

Target Audience: Art teachers, parents, homeschoolers & kids, ages 7 and up
Schwake, Susan. Art lab for kids: 52 creative adventures in drawing, painting, printmaking, paper, and mixed media for budding artists of all ages. Quarry Books, 2012.

Art Lab for Kids

You could say I have a thing for books.

You could say my kids have a thing for books.

Needless to say, we bring home a lot of library books, every week. Often, I am enthralled with my latest non-fiction choice and Susan Schwake’s Art Lab for Kids is no exception. It is well-organized and easy to read.  The accompanying photographs (done by her husband, Rainer) contribute to a simple, but informative format.

But, that’s not the only reason I feel compelled to write about this book. Since we do check out a lot of “how-to” books from the library, many of these books…well, they just get read. We don’t bother with the projects — even if we enjoy the content. Sometimes, it is a time issue. We might be in the middle of a busy work season or everyone is deeply involved in other projects , but often the format looks too messy (for me), or complicated (for the kids). I’m happy to say that Schwake’s book is welcoming and inviting.

There’s something about Schwake’s book that made us jump in and create. In fact, rather than sitting and thumbing through the pages, we’ve chosen projects from her book to complete. Lots of projects.

landscape drawing project from the book, Art Lab for Kids

C (age 8) is sketching a landscape.

Art Labs

Each project is styled as a “lab.” Schwake has divided the book into six main units: making art, drawing, painting, printmaking, paper, and mixed media. Each two-page lab spread includes a picture of the project, detailed instructions and more pictures of some in-progress projects (all done by kids). Most of the labs have a call out which highlights an artist using a similar technique. The profiled people are current artists, and you can find more information about their work with a simple web search.

Art Techniques

I can’t figure out why this book has settled so firmly into our household. After all, we’ve brought home The School of Art, and a number of other kids’ drawing books. We’ve enjoyed reading through those books, but other than Ed Emberley’s drawing books, my kids are not going to sit down and draw from any book I bring home. I know because I’ve tried a lot. Maybe, it’s because this book shows a sample project? They don’t feel so overwhelmed? There’s enough flexibility to copy the project, but also add their own spin to it?

C’s in-progress landscape acrylic painting.

There’s a fine line between teaching, dictating, and facilitating. We need to have room to be creative, but also learn key techniques. I think if we want our children (or ourselves) to become deep learners, we need to ask them to replicate a certain technique correctly. Then, they can add their own creativity to the project. Sometimes, I let my kids do their own thing first, but in a later lesson I will ask them to do it “my way.” Occasionally, they grumble, but I have seen their hard work pay off in later projects – whether that’s in writing, math, or art.  I don’t want to stifle their creativity, but I do want to try something new. At our house, it helps to have an adaptable project to follow.

That being said, we are embarking on an Art Lab project series. It’s a good way to keep the kids’ interested while fostering my own desire to make some art.

a picture of an acrylic landscape painting project from the book, Art Lab for Kids

C’s completed landscape painting.

Florida Blueberry Picking 2017

Florida blueberry bushes

A beautiful Florida blueberry bush from Southland Farms.

Florida Blueberry Picking

What does blueberry picking have to do with art and tech?

Well…I could point out that I took these pictures with my cell phone; that wasn’t possible twenty years ago. One could also argue that current Florida blueberry picking is the result of technological breeding advances.

Or I could mention that we were notified about the ripe blueberries via technology. Though, it wasn’t digital technology. Instead, last year’s handwritten postcards are mailed as soon as the u-pick season opens. Organized mail delivery was a new technology…back in ancient times!

a picture of a boy picking blueberries

Technology vs. Nature

But, really? Does everything have to be about the latest and greatest digital tool? Blueberry bushes — and farming in general — could be considered living art. Besides, it’s good for the kids (and us) to experience nature, as much as possible. And those blueberries were darn tasty. If you live in north Florida, the next set of blueberry bushes will be ready for picking in a few weeks. Maybe, there is a farm near you.

a picture of a boy holding freshly picked Florida blueberries

Impressionist Art With Kids

The Florida weather has been gorgeous, but it won’t be long before it’s stifling and humid…at nine o’clock in the morning! Taking advantage of the cooler temperatures, we grabbed an old table and took our painting outside. We were practicing painting – en plein air – a perfect compliment for our study of Claude Monet (the last artist from the Meet The Masters series). After watching the slide show, I knew we were going to do some impressionist-inspired art. However, I was a little hesitant since this lesson wasn’t my favorite (too simplified). Thankfully, the art activities stretched my kids’ abilities. It forced them to think like impressionists.

a picture of kids doing impressionist art with kids

Everyone has a space, but still need to share water…

Impressionist Art with Kids

We skipped the “make a color wheel with crayons” activity; instead, we chose to jump right into making an impressionist painter’s palette – using only red, yellow and blue.

a picture of completed painted impressionist art with kids

These are my samples from the provided “Meet the Masters” lessons. I got the kids started and then finished after they were done. I noticed they were looking at my colors and just copying, so I gave them a chance to think about it on their own.

This was a great activity for my youngest (who just turned eight), as he was a little shaky on the difference between primary and secondary colors. For my oldest, it was a great way to stretch his thinking by asking him to create “mixed” colors – without mixing them! Impressionists tried (try?) to lay their colors side-by-side so one gets a wide variety of color with very little formal mixing.

Final Project – Impressionist Watering Can

a picture of a kid drawing amidst a table covered with paint supplies.

C starts his watering can painting – with a pencil sketch.

We never made it to the formal, final lesson in this series. I think it was a impressionist re-creation of some flowers. Instead, I asked the kids if there was something they might like to try and paint  – in the style of an impressionist. My oldest (age 11) chose to do his own realistic painting, but my youngest was open to trying something new. He looked around, and simultaneously, both our gazes locked onto the plastic watering can that resides at the front of the house.

We brought it to the table, and he quickly sketched its shape. Then, he began painting. He asked for some black paint (to make gray), but we talked about how the impressionists didn’t use black…how was he going to compensate? Would he imagine it in a completely different color, such as bright pink? Would he try and make a mixture of white and blue – to replicate the soft gray? I was so impressed with his willingness to try something new – especially since he couldn’t quite imagine it in his head.

a picture of an impressionist-inspired watering can - doing impressionist art with kids

Drawn, painted and imagined by C, age 8.

Learn More About Claude Monet

Like I said earlier, Monet was the last artist left in our subscription for the Meet the Masters series. However, we dragged our feet on undertaking this study…I think because we felt we already knew his work. Two years ago, a Monet exhibition came to our university’s art museum and we did an entire study of Monet.  We read books (Linnea in Monet’s Garden & The Magical Garden of Claude Monet), and dabbed paint onto our canvases. We visited the museum and saw real Monet paintings. It made quite an impression (ha – I couldn’t help myself). Regardless, we thought we knew all there was to know about impressionist art for kids.  I’m glad we were wrong. Everyone picked up something new with these lessons. Plus, it reinforced the brain connections from our earlier study. (For those without access to the Meet the Masters series, try this lesson from The Getty Museum).

Reviewing the Meet the Masters Series

Back in November, I purchased “Track A” of the Meet the Masters series of artists. This track included Vincent Van Gogh, Mary Cassat, Piet Mondrian, Pablo Picasso, and Claude Monet. I have been both impressed and disappointed with the accompanying activities for this series. (I bought ages 8-9). Sometimes, they seemed too simple, but often they were completely appropriate. I really liked the slide shows and the breakdown of artistic activities, but next time – I’ll be purchasing the curriculum for ages 10 and up.

Combining Art & Tech

On a final note, we took our impressionist study just a bit further with the use of the app, Chatterpix. While attending FETC, I participated in a session given by art and tech teachers from a Colorado charter elementary school. They were presenting past school projects that combined art with tech. Chatterpix was one of the apps they mentioned, and I downloaded it that evening.  It’s funny, goofy, and yet easy enough for my eight-year-old to use on his own. Of course, the teachers used it for hand-painted portraits of historical figures…but I’ll work with what I’ve got: a talking, impressionist-inspired watering can. Art is subjective, right?

FYI – I am not compensated for my opinion of Meet the Masters; it’s just a curriculum we’ve used for the last five months. When trying to decide how to spend my limited homeschool budget, I prefer reviews that are comprehensive (rather than shallow overviews). It’s my hope this review will be helpful to fellow art teachers and/or homeschoolers.