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.