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Artistic Behaviors - Persistence

Masking tape requires serious concentration.Masking tape requires serious concentration.So...... what are the underpinnings of this method of teaching art? We call it "Teaching for Artistic Behavior." Identifying just what those behaviors are is an important part of setting up the studios for our work. We spend lots of time, especially when a new studio is set up, talking about what artists do there and how to use, clean, and It's part balance, part scissor work, and part sticky.It's part balance, part scissor work, and part sticky.store the tools that are specific to that media. With nearly 500 students using the studios over the course of our eight day rotation, the logistics of keeping things in order is important shared work.

We can almost hear the wheels turning.We can almost hear the wheels turning.As important as organization is, though, other artistic traits are just as essential for successful learning. The physical mindfulness is the bedrock upon which we base the rest of our exploration. "Doing" art the way that studio artists do is very physical but includes many cognitive processes, too. What are the behaviors that we cultivate in our art journey? How will we know them when we see them? This post is intended to be the first in a series that will give you a picture of the specific trait that make our studio experience so rich. Knowing the author as well as I do, it's likely that we'll do a little birdwalking along the way, but that's how learning works.Four whole art sessions were devoted to this mosaic collage of a volcano and plume of ash.Four whole art sessions were devoted to this mosaic collage of a volcano and plume of ash.

Persistence is important to artists because of the way we learn. Children are instinctive artists and those of us who are fortunate enough to spend our days with them appreciate the attitudes they bring to their art. Following a project through to its natural conclusion might result in a product of some sort - like Jose's giant black whale that's crafted from several scissor-cut pieces of black construction paper.Another sign of persistence is standing to work.  An artist has to be fast on his feet to get the right effect.Another sign of persistence is standing to work. An artist has to be fast on his feet to get the right effect.

Persistence also shows up in other kinds of mindful practice that young artists choose. I was a little worried about the kindergärtner who slowly and purposefully filled an entire 11x14 sheet of white paper with black watercolor strokes. When I asked her about her painting she said, "I like the shine before it dries." When I nodded to show I understood, she added, "And I'm practicing my outlines." A volunteer confided that she takes all the black pots out of the watercolor sets in her kindergarten Sunday school class. Each picture was selected with care.  "See my farm?"Each picture was selected with care. "See my farm?" I pondered doing the same thing for a short time and decided that painters needed to see what a large puddle of black looked like. It's along this pathway that shades of gray are discovered, too, both in the rinse water as it darkens and on paper when the pigment is diluted to just a whisper of color. Many painters spend whole sessions mixing, painting, and re-mixing colors. One question that is guaranteed to *never* receive an adult answer is, "What do I mix to get ____?" (Insert color here.) Even if one of the three primaries is the color in the blank, I always try to ask, Meet the world's most carefully constructed bear - pattern first, fleece cut with care, whip stitching, buttons, twine, and pride.Meet the world's most carefully constructed bear - pattern first, fleece cut with care, whip stitching, buttons, twine, and pride."What will you need to find out?" Yes - color wheels are available, as is a gorgeous hard-board copy of Mouse Paint, so there are a few other ways to get the information, but oftentimes the advice from a peer - cross checked with appropriate puddles of paint - is more valuable than the words of an adult.

Persistence shows up in the folder of a child who's in the middle of a grand project of collecting as many magazine photos of baby heads. "I'm going to make a collage, Ms. J. All these babies will be smiling, I think. I don't know why they don't take pictures of babies when they cry, which is most of the time." Good question. Unhappy babies don't sell disposable diapers?Valentines make sense this late in February if an artist has just now perfected them.Valentines make sense this late in February if an artist has just now perfected them.

Persistence shows up in the patient practice of a favorite car shape, repeated renditions of faerie queens in long, flowing dresses, and the fifth pony bead bracelet in a series. ("Today is the day for green, Ms. J. It's my mom's favorite color.")"Don't do cleanup yet - she's almost a princess.""Don't do cleanup yet - she's almost a princess."Princess detail-note the blur in the fast coloring right handPrincess detail-note the blur in the fast coloring right handA certain sign of intense persistence?  A set lip with the tip of a tongue peeking out.A certain sign of intense persistence? A set lip with the tip of a tongue peeking out.

Once Upon a Bookmaking Project

Yes, her book *IS* bigger than she is!Yes, her book *IS* bigger than she is!The art of handmade books has a rich history. When talking to students about the possibilities for making books of their own the most serious problem is sticking to my desired limit of five minutes for a demo at the beginning of an art class. I'd been tinkering with some sample mock-ups to show the kids (and to share with teachers if they wanted to create some in class to support literacy efforts) when I was approached by a fifth grade colleague. Their students were going to be working on personal narratives and their traditional source of small, blank books Dr. Serrano and her lotus bookDr. Serrano and her lotus bookwasn't available this year. When she asked if I had any ideas for patterns they could use, I was happy to share my samples. I've collected several favorites over the years and had bought a copy of Making Books That Fly, Fold, Wrap, Hide, Pop Up, Twist, And Turn: Books for Kids to Make to experiment with. At a planning meeting with the three teachers, I shared accordion, piano hinge, slit, folding packet, circle, spiral, giant fold, and lotus-fold books. Wisely, my One excited authorOne excited authorpartners selected two models for their students to select from, and we planned for at least two full days of art time for production of the books.

One of my favorite quotes about change states, "The only one who welcomes change is an infant who needs a new diaper, and even he goes into it screaming." Shifting a large group of independent artists who have grown used to choosing their own media and projects to a single focus is a bit like herding cats - but the cats appreciate it more. Sea Side Tour authorSea Side Tour authorAfter the initial shock of our little change, students settled into the project. They were highly suspicious of my, "You're going to treasure these books - trust me" noise, but they were willing to give the books a try. We discovered that doing twelve "lotus" folds and keeping track of all the parts needed: cardboard covers, ribbon or yarn for closure took a bit of maturity and a LOT of organization. An extra pair of eyes and hands was provided by one of my colleagues, who went through the process with her students and modeled the writing process, as well, as she created a personal narrative of her own.

The opportunities for artistic expression were rich and varied. Some kids made stamps to make impressive borders and others used print, collage, or tempera streaks with which to decorate book covers. Hot glue (with safety gloves, of course) attached ribbons and yarn and colored pencils added pictorial memories to text.

One quarter of a magic carpet bookOne quarter of a magic carpet bookTime spent in the studio is always too short, and this project was no exception. Students worked with word processors on their homeroom computers and printed out the texts to glue into their books.

Four class sessions, one winter break (with four-day snow cancellation enhancement) and a return in January later, the books were finished. Their completion fell close enough to Read in Your Pajamas Day that children could share their stories with second graders. Second graders loved the event, too, and fifth graders enjoyed "strutting their stuff" with the little guys. PJ's and a great book!PJ's and a great book!

As for the collaborative process, I made notes for the next time we do something of this scope but really enjoyed working on my colleagues' annual project. As for the kids, the look in the eyes of each artist/author is all the "I told you that you'd treasure these" that I need. Fabulous illustrationsFabulous illustrations

A closeupA closeup

Whither, Amaryllis?

Working on a realism with temperaWorking on a realism with temperaWhither, Amaryllis?

Grandmother Lela, she of blue glass, strawberries and cream (literally - in front of game shows with our feet propped up on the recliner) and lilting laugh, loved amaryllis. I remember the shocking reds of the blossoms and the impressive size of the fast-growing stalks. I let the ancient bulbs she brought with her when we shared housing go long ago, but revisited the wonder of the flowers when the bulbs showed up in hardware stores in the fall. Flower loversFlower lovers Seven weeks is a long time for a short person (or for me, for that matter!) but I potted a good-sized bulb in a bright ochre pot on top of a filing cabinet and began watering it in early November.

Right on schedule, I had a tall, impressive stalk and two promisingly fat buds when we came back to school in January. Responses from the kids ranged from, "Hey - is that real?" to "My auntie grows those things. It's gonna die and you'll have to throw it away." to "Is it there so we can paint it?" I love it. They immediately see the possibilities. One of the Melted crayon - perfect for the subject...Melted crayon - perfect for the subject...ongoing themes in our studio is answering the question of where do artists get ideas from so I like to provide the bizarre and beautiful as options. We talked about what struck us the most about the blooms as they opened over the space of several days. We measured the height of the stalks and curved leaves with our hands and guessed how big the blossoms would be. Our flower didn't disappoint and neither did any of the students' renderings. Media included watercolor, tempera cakes, melted crayon, colored pencil, crayons and markers. With some classes I sat and sketched my own renderings and painted a little, but I'm careful because I don't want my ideas to overpower their own wonderful concepts.

We had as many different approaches as we had artists "taking on" the amaryllis challenge. I think they're incredible, and some of the smiles suggest that their creators do, too.Solitary flower artistSolitary flower artistThis is a beaming 5th grade version.This is a beaming 5th grade version.

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