Staging an art show is an interesting exercise. It's one part celebration, one part pulling teeth, one part planning, and one part total surprise. As our choice-based studios have matured at Evergreen Elementary School, we've taken on a bit more with our end of the year exhibition. Year one was an art walk. Our current PTSO president, Donna, contacted area businesses and arranged for display space. She has considerable artistic ability in her own right and the displays were well received in coffee shops, cafes, libraries, and utility companies. Artwork was chosen on the basis of variety and pithy artists' statements and Donna did ALL the legwork involved in hanging and retrieving the displays.
Year two (last year) was our first year staging a big show in a public space. Since our gym/cafeteria is used for so many purposes during the day and is also booked for athletic and dance practices in the evening, it wasn't a good idea to display our artwork there. Our hallways have some bulletin display space, but with active, innovative teachers, they're always full of children's writing and poetry, artwork, and science and math project work. Our experience with staging the show at our local Civic Center was a positive one, so we booked the big main room again this year. Only four blocks from our school, the two story "big room" lends itself well to weddings, big meetings, community events, and elementary art shows! The city offices that are there - police, court, and water payment offices result in lots of foot traffic and their facility manager, Mark, has a crew that is adept at setup and take down.
After I looked at the attendance data from last year I realized that having the show in the evening hours, alone, resulted in fairly modest numbers of visitors. We'd also attempted to gain larger crowds by scheduling the show during our annual Dia de los Niños celebration. Instead of bolstering attendance, that split the crowd. A brainstorming session with my specialist team (PE, music, library) started the planning for walking field trips to see the show. Grade levels would make the trek in pairs (K-1, 2-3, 4-5) with lots of adult walkers to help with safety and behavior choices. Our specialist time provides planning time for teachers but after presenting the proposal to the Leadership Team, people were willing to juggle their schedules for the day so that all children and staff could see the show. To help support the goals of my library partner we scheduled a book fair for the evening of the show in the school library.
Perhaps I'll track the amount of time it takes to mount 540 pieces of artwork on black construction paper and convert oral or written artists' statements from each child someday. This year's effort began last June, when the order for 18"x24" black paper went in. The April, 2009 show taught me that gluing enough 12"x18" paper to mount the number of large paintings we had was seriously time consuming so the larger paper size worked great this year. I talked to the students about the show early in September when we decorated our portfolio covers, promising that they'd enjoy the process of choosing a favorite piece when the show came along in the spring. A few children proudly announced, "This one is for the show!" when they finished a particularly satisfying piece of artwork. Others needed to be nudged a bit. Ours is a methodology that focuses more strongly on process than product, so many children prefer to try to "just do one more picture of X" to choosing a piece from further back in the year. After much shuffling of artwork, deep consideration of everything in the portfolios, and only a little bit of BossyArtTeacherStrongArming, works are chosen.
Artists' statements are amazing things. I watch adults and children alike sink into the fascination of listening to the artist's voice in print while their eyes look at the art. Some are tidy lists that highlight process. Others are rambling stories
that beg for more print space. Still others are almost too private - windows into that artist's mind. Younger students dictate their statements and they're dropped straight into a computer template. Older students do their own first draft and submit the statement when the art is submitted for the show. A few find it difficult to talk about their art (hence the earlier reference to pulling teeth) but I politely insist. You won't be there to discuss your work with your viewers. Share just a little about what you were thinking, please. This year's format was two statements: Share something about why you created this piece. Share something about how you made it.
Thank you notes have gone out to the volunteers who gave us their afternoon to help hang the show, to the maintenance men who transported the livestock panels for my display kiosks, and to the facilitator of the room, for being such a pro in how he deals with our wandering art hordes. Data from the surveys I distributed to staff are being collected to help in next year's planning, and the artwork from the 2009-2010 art show is safely posted on refrigerators all over town. Life is good.
Scribble a heavy black line on white drawing paper and fill the sections with bright colors. Open a new coloring book, take a deep breath to savor the scent of the cheap, toothy paper, and sink into mindless StayBetweenTheLining. Fill the margins of the electric bill with the same cartoony doodles that you've used since the fourth grade while negotiating on the phone. These are all the artistic equivalent of mac and cheese, meatloaf, or chicken noodle soup. None of them (or their fellows - don't tell me you don't have a long, secret line of similar activities) require any new creativity. They're more closely akin to the kinds of reflex actions we employ when washing dishes or driving a car than they are to Real Art. Still, there's a place for comfort in our art palette, just as the occasional dip into foodie comfort is also allowed from time to time.
Some days simply warrant a visit to the familiar.
Such an activity, for me, is reverse glass painting. I was exposed to it during my student teaching year when my eldest daughter's fourth grade teacher led her class through the project. Its most recent appearance was birthed from an overabundance of used frames at my favorite thrift store. The selection of frames had broken out of its usual leaning, stacked bins that are connected to old metal shelving. Odd shapes, garish colors, plastic and wood, sturdy and wobbly, filled with discarded (violently, in some cases, by the quality of the artwork) artwork and stock photos, frames wore some of my favorite prices. As I looked for something interesting, I flashed back to a project I'd done years ago with sixth grade students in a little town south of Albuquerque. I'd shepherded a whole double class full of ten and eleven year olds through a massive reverse glass painting project. My teaching partner, ever the sensible one, nearly had me committed. Oils with sixth graders? Where will you store all those pieces of glass while the paint dries? Are you mad? Yes, everywhere, and again, yes.
I no longer do projects that require money from children so I bought up all the <$2 frames that met the criteria: wooden, sturdy, removable "innards" and glass face intact. It only took three trips to the thrift store before I had an adequate selection for my fourth and fifth grade Art Club students. I also asked my local flooring store (Thanks, Tuppers!) for a couple of wallpaper sample books for backgrounds and hunted a few more thrift store shelves for small bottles of acrylic paint to add to my ancient collection. (Note: oils really give a nice effect, but storage during drying is a serious issue and the solvents necessary for brush cleaning are verboten at my level.)
I did a couple of examples to jog my memory on the process and offered the project up as a choice for my early Thursday kiddos. We had a lovely time and the kids were happy with the results.
- Sturdy frame with glass
- Acrylic paints or oils
- Variety of brushes
- Black India Ink (no substitute - trust me.)
- Artwork - animals, flowers, landscapes - even non-objective pieces work well. We used pictures from recycled Smithsonian, Ranger Rick, and National Geographic magazines. I know that examples of children's own work would work just as well and be closer to "real" art, but for this first voyage, we went with photographs.
- An adult should carefully remove the glass from the frame. It should be thoroughly cleaned and have its edges covered with masking tape to prevent cuts.
- Tape chosen artwork to one side of the glass, centering it if it matters.
- Using toothpicks dipped in India Ink, trace all outlines and details from the photo/picture. Consider extending lines if the photograph is too small for the frame (we called this "predicting the edges".)
- Apply paint after the ink has dried, mixing colors to match those in the original photo.
- Allow for thorough drying time.
- Choose wallpaper background and cut to fit the dimensions of the glass. That same trusty adult should carefully remove the masking tape and reassemble the frame.
- Hand finished work to student and catch pride with the digital camera you keep in your apron pocket.
Rinse and repeat.
Some of the teachers on the TAB Yahoo list were discussing different methods of remembering our students' names and keeping track of their artistic behaviors. I've posted a brief article on the topic. You may reach it either by clicking through the newest piece under Articles (top menu) or via
this link. Enjoy!