Most of the artists in Evergreen's art studio walk (dance/march/pirouette/boogie) into art class with an idea in their heads. I can see it behind their eyes some days - a kind of quiet focus that bespeaks of the pictures and planning that is going on in their heads. Some children trumpet their intentions, "Hey, Ms. J.! I'm gonna make a rainbow rocket today!" Others are less certain, or, because they come later in the choosing rotation that day, prefer to decide when they see what materials are available in the studio where they find themselves.
Collage offers an interesting view of a child artist's planning. Children walk around the table, sampling papers from the bins that are available. At the moment we have tubs of varied size with tissue paper, "beautiful papers" (recycled from the paint or print centers, these are brightly colored - think Eric Carle) a stacked plastic chest of paper drawers, separated by color families, a selection of small paper bags, rolls of wall paper and brightly colored cellophane, some greeting cards (I have them up high because they seem to kill creativity rather than encouraging it...) and one box of special paper - mylar balloon scraps, sparkly paper, fancy greeting paper and paper doilies. There is a tall bin of odd-sized cast off mat scraps from a local art gallery's framing business. Sometimes I have magazines and sometimes they are intentionally scarce. I want my students to balance the tendency to do simple collections ("Look! 35 cars!) with other aspects of color, layout, and balance in collage work.
When magazines are placed in the studio I control fairly tightly - National Geographic, nature magazines, sailing, sports, cars, Smithsonian and always, always "looked" first to cull images that are overtly salacious or that show too honestly the reality of war. Scissors? Yep. Straight, fancy edges, "Mom scissors," (I keep large craft scissors sharpened to serious edges and do LOTS of prep in their safe use) and multiples of kid scissors. For second grade and up, we have a couple of crimpers, too. I've gone through lots of How To Manage Glue Without Going Insane periods, and have hit on an idea I gleaned from a helpful colleague on the TAB Yahoo list. Glue pots are nothing fancier than cheap sponges cut to fit inside plastic containers with lids. I thin white school glue just a little and turn the kids loose with them. We've loved the result - far less mess, glue pot lids are finding their way closed during clean up and they stack neatly.
Back to our wandering artists... Children usually only take one turn through the materials before selecting a project and getting to work. Collage, more than any other medium, lends itself to arranging and rearranging elements before gluing things together. I'm intrigued with the variety of expression and simply love the peculiar personalities of some of the puppets that are born in this studio.
I have just spent a glorious day sifting through photographs from the past two years of TAB instruction in my classroom. In addition to being part of the natural cycle of reflection, sorting and filing photos of artists at work helps me to focus on improvements that need to be made in our art studio. In a traditional art program one would find benchmarks and references to projects in textbooks or teacher-made folders of projects. Lesson plans could be collected and consulted and standards and benchmarks would inform the art-making over the space of a year. By contrast, the studios at Evergreen Elementary reflect the kinds of artistic expression that begin with children. Artwork is generated by students who answer their artistic questions by exploring a variety of media and technique. Each clearly designated studio offers up menus of techniques that have been covered in tightly constructed demo lessons at the beginning of class periods. Menus might include lists of necessary materials for a watercolorist, short examples of line and texture for drawing, illustrations that detail how to warp and weave on a small loom, or details about how to attach materials to each other in a 3D construction center. The idea is to offer collective wisdom on the walls in such a way that inspiration is easily accessible. Menus, in tandem with the powerful influence of previous artwork from fellow students on display, offer concrete support for artists as they grow and create. They also help classroom volunteers and visitors negotiate the complexity of a TAB studio. Since this is a dual language school, I make sure that text is available in both English and Spanish.
One of the ideas that was shared this summer on the TAB list (thanks, Anne!) was to include a binder in each studio with ideas specific to that particular media. As a dedicated constructivist, I work hard to avoid providing examples of adult work for children. Rather, I prefer to share information about techniques and let children define their own process and product so that they don't spend their art time trying to make their artwork look like mine. Watching children who enthusiastically share special techniques they've discovered is a joy and it doesn't take long before the value of sharing is seen as a great tool by creative artists. Student artists are much like their adult counterparts - they'll find something interesting, replicate it carefully a couple of times and then change or add to the technique to make it their own. In a school that practices cooperative learning, innovation is celebrated. One of my primary teaching goals is to nurture the sharing and the support only found in a healthy cooperative group.
A binder of examples from other children is a grand idea and should lead to a wide variety of approaches to media. I've gone through my files to find examples of technique and am thrilled with the diversity the photographs show. I'll use my Open Office word processor (this is a Linux/open source household) to share the photos and some text with children and then drop the pages into plastic sleeve protectors. We'll add to the collection, of course, and I'll spend some time with my short artist friends linking our binders to a sort of pictorial brainstorming tool for them to use.
My new hip is just about ready for prime time and I'm itching to get into my classroom to begin getting things organized. I can't wait for school to start again!
Watching kids explore (rub out/beat on/taste/pummel/argue about/share/celebrate) art is an amazing thing. So much of their world is tight and controlled or precise and orderly that their art studio time feels like air being let out of a too-full balloon. Neat and tidy have their place, of course, and we work hard to make sure that we've put tools and essential art "stuff" back where it goes, but the inherent freedom in art is simply delicious.
A case in point: kindergartners were ready for some additional responsibility this week. (Read: MOST of the inside the room road races have slowed to a trot and we've all adjusted to a single session time of 35 minutes. Sitting (vibrating?) on the rug for "art talk" is working better all the time. TAB lore recommends slow, sequential addition of new things, bu,t invigorated by spring break, I decided to add three things at once. Most everyone is tall enough to reach the printmaking table, it was just "time" to start some paper weaving, and several of the ducklings have been begging for access to the melted crayon counter.
If you haven't been close to kinderpeople who are getting to try something new lately, rent or borrow some quickly. It's glorious. We had to put hands in pockets to curtail 274 different colored fingers (do the math - 26 kids circled around a table with four different colors of paint and rolling brayers!) but the demo of how to spread ink (tempera, but who's picky at this age) and use stamps and combs resulted in a giddy chorus of "Ooh! and Aaaaah!"
To demonstrate the safety cautions of the melted crayon warming trays I held one in front of my chest, showed the kids where the cool and the hot spots were, did some bright colored swirls to show how slidy melted wax can be, and then we all practiced licking on too-warm fingers and blowing to cool them down. ("This is what the big kids do when they get their fingers a little too warm.")
Paper weaving is a great prerequisite for weaving on our big loom, so we practiced saying "over, under" to my paper strips so they'd know where to go. Our kindergarten teachers do a fabulous job with early math activities so there was immediate crowing of, "I see a pattern!" and lots of descriptive language: "It's a checkerboard!" and "Mira! Una bandera de los carros!" There's such a range with little guys so some kids can "get" weaving immediately, but with a little help from an adult, it's a successful activity. After sides are glued, feathers or foamies or other fun stuff can be added from the collage area so the kids can see the possibilities for combining centers.
I smile every time a seriously precise, super neat child approaches something inherently messy like printing. With the first smudge on a finger, permission is requested to go wash hands. Most kids, though, will agree to waiting until all the printing is done before washing off the top layer or two. We don't just need permission to create, but to make messes on the way to good art.
I got lots of kudos for my "HowOnEarthAmIGoingToMakeAPrintHanger
OrSpendingMoney?" invention. Little fingers master big clips quickly and independent smiles abound as they take care of their own creations.
Cool stuff, great fun, and MOST of the paint went onto paper rather than children. Woo hoo!