Or hang, as the case may be. In the four previous years at Evergreen Elementary, I've tried several different methods of displaying kids' artwork. One major challenge is the wall surface. Instead of a bulletin-board style surface, the long walls on both sides of the hallway outside our studios are a regular sheet-rocked surface. The building is relatively new and is still beautiful because careful care has been taken and because our custodial partners, Sue and Porfirio, are fanatics about their jobs. Thumbtacks, push pins, or staples? I think not.
In other years, therefore, I tried large swaths of colorful butcher paper, suspended by a short million dots of "sticky blue stuff." Depending on the brand, SBS is either sticky or not. It responds to temperature and humidity changes by letting go at inopportune times. To remain pliable, it has a high oil content, so when it's time to change out the displays, smudgy spots remain from previous pieces.
Another issue is balance. I surprise myself when elements of severe control freakitis show up in my personality, but there I'd be, trying to pretend that measuring each piece with a yardstick and double checking placement with a carpenter's level is normal behavior.
The last challenge is climbing. After three hip replacements, step-stools aren't my favorite toys. It's not impossible to clamber up and down, but it's not fun, and the need to be careful resulted in fewer changes to displays.
As I pondered the challenge and had fun imagining some kind of revolutionary display system that was both cheap and easy, I thought about how we display artwork during our annual show. There, large metal livestock panels in groups of three support artwork that's suspended by unfolded paper clips through punched holes. My first idea, chicken wire, was rejected because of its weight and the problem of child-poking wires on the ends of the display. I went to the hardware store and wandered through the gardening department. There was my solution, masquerading as bird netting for fruit trees! It met all the requirements - light weight plastic, safe for inquisitive fingers, and its composition - one inch squares, would be perfect for suspending artwork. One quick check to get permission to use picture hangers for suspension (and promising to fill the tiny holes left by the nails when it all comes down) and we were on our way.
I'm happy and the kids are happy. When they have a completed piece of work they choose to display, it's an easy task to get it mounted, punched, and hung outside. I think we'll get lots more work hung for public enjoyment this year. Stay tuned!
Here's your challenge: Take a look at these clever students and make a list of what they're looking for.
Active learners need quality tools. Spend your money wisely, but find the highest quality artists' materials you can for your students. Crayons and markers need to be vibrant, true to color, and fresh. Eight colors are never enough. Order a complete spectrum. That doesn't mean you'll always put all the colors out because inventing your own colors is a cool part of being an artist, but make sure the possibilities are there. Take the time to teach how to use Mom Scissors (those lovely, honking, huge things that really cut) and make sure we use the correct names for the tools. Brayers, triangles, protractors, rotary cutters, and linoleum knives aren't mysteries if they're in common use by all the artists in the room.
Anticipate questions and make sure the answers are developmentally and second language learner appropriate. When I introduce the tools in the drawing center, I'll demo colored pencils, pass out hand sharpeners and have the kids compare the shavings with those of a graphite pencil. They'll be able to feel the waxy texture and understand why colored pencils kill off electric sharpeners. We'll practice borrowing and lending pencils in Spanish and English, setting the tone for a respectful classroom with please and thank you.
I LOVE thinking about the next project, planning for materials and thinking about how I'll put something together. So do my kids. Their job is to show up at art, alert and ready to work. My job is to assemble the materials they need, provide the lessons that their interests have shown me they need, and get out of the way. Artists need to be able to experiment, to try new ideas, and to fail. The coolest learning comes from rescuing a construction disaster, discovering a new texture in a puddle of wandering paint, or watching how a friend solves a similar problem.
Kids might argue with this one, because learning how to keep an art studio clean and making it ready for the next group of artists is a bit of a pain. It's complicated, because cleaning lessons are part controlling chaos, part doing one's share of work in the studio, part learning to be a part of a learning community, part using resources wisely, and part planning for the next session. Couple that complexity with the reality that some artists are tidy and some are pack rats, (this is *not* the place to make a comment about the teacher) some have families that teach responsibility to little ones and some don't, and there are varied systems in their regular classrooms. No matter the habits that artists bring to our shared studio - we all gain a sense of pride when we learn to work together.
All of us have snug areas of comfort with our art schema. Symbol drawings (hearts, rainbows, puffy flowers, and even symbols like Kilroy) have been shared and practiced whenever people gather since people started making marks on their world. We learn about symmetry, patterns, and replicating detail when we practice our favorite symbols. There's a real sense of community when children teach a special pattern to each other and a sense of accomplishment as its honed and practiced over and over. The tricky part is creating a safe place to try something other than those favorite patterns. That's one of the most important art teacher jobs - sharing a wide variety of materials and techniques designed to pique a child's interest. Yes, we have lots of choice in what to make in studio. No, it's not OK to make your fourteenth pair of binoculars with cardboard toilet paper rolls. You can trust me to nudge you into trying other things.
Learning about pattern, color, sequence, engineering, and properties of matter while playing with paint, clay, fiber, beads, and melted crayons - what could be better? Developing organizational skills, forming friendships and practicing a second (or third) language while stacking blocks, making books or researching animals for drawings is endlessly entertaining. Children are naturally curious and love acquiring new skills. An art studio is one of the best places on the planet to grow.
We'll be seeing you around!
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.