Saturday, October 24, 2015

Starry Night on Planet X

This week’s workshop was titled a “Starry Night on Planet X”. The main art knowledge I wanted to impart with this lesson revolved around the color wheel, the Post-Impressionist style, and creative thinking.

For an introductory activity, I started out by showing the girls a picture designed to create an “after-image”. To see the after image, stare at the black dot in the middle of the yellow circles for 10-15 seconds. Then quickly move your eyes to the black dot in the middle of the white square. You should see the image of the circles in the white square, but the opposite color of the one you first stared at. For yellow, this would mean, nine purple circles.
Josef Albers “Color Diagram VIII-2”

The point of this activity was to talk about color and color relationships. We also talked about this painting by Richard Anuszkiewicz (“All Things Do Live in Three”).

Would you believe me if I told you the background was the same red color all throughout the painting? My students didn’t. But once I explained the effect, everyone thought it was pretty neat that the color changes in the circles made the entire background seem different throughout.

We talked about primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, as well as complementary colors and analogous colors.
We discussed Post-Impressionism, Vincent Van Gogh and his painting “Starry Night”.

At the end of our informational slideshow I asked how many students had written an essay. I told them that our lesson today was like an essay, but the answer was going to be an art project instead of writing.

Here was my art essay question:
What would Van Gogh have painted for his nighttime sky if he had lived on a different planet? 

Here are some of the answers I got:

Of course, there was a little more to it than just whipping out these awesome drawings/paintings.

I inundated them with possible imagery. Including revisiting some of our Rock and Ball Space artists from two lessons ago.

  As part of teaching for artistic behaviors, I want the girls to learn some of the processes that artists use. One process is preparatory sketching. In my ideal lesson plan, I wanted the girls to each create three possibilities for their alien landscape and select the best one. In reality, I knew that the process of sketching three drawings would take way too much of our time, and we wouldn’t get to the final steps of the project.

Instead, I had the girls begin by drawing a sketch of their alien starry night on tracing paper. This way they could make any corrections or changes without ruining their black paper with excessive pencil lines and eraser marks.
Then they learned a trick for transferring their drawings on tracing paper to the black construction paper.

I did a brief demonstration on how to make small marks to mimic Van Gogh’s painting style. This was my example below. I had this hanging up as a reminder of mark making, medium possibilities, and color schemes. (From left to right: chalk pastel/primary colors, oil pastel/analogous colors, acrylic paint/complimentary colors.)

I also pointed out and discussed the motion of the paint--the visual rhythm you can see as your eyes follow his marks. I was really proud to see some girls making a conscious effort to create rhythm in their drawings!
As usual, the speed at which everyone works is very different. Some girls didn’t finish their drawings because they were very cautious and detailed with their sketches. Some girls finished early. We still have things from previous workshops to wrap up, so there is never a lack of things to do.

Girls that finished early worked on painting their paper mache planets, finishing their rubber cement galaxies, and I worked on hanging everyone’s work around our space so that the girls and I could easily see all the things they had made thus far.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Galaxies Galore!

This week’s workshop was about galaxies.

Two girls were missing this week, and not knowing when/if they would arrive, I waited about ten minutes before really getting started. While we waited, the other girls worked on a few different things (keep reading to find out what).

When we got started we talked about the different kinds of galaxies, how they’re made of a few thousand to a hundred trillion stars, and how scientists believe that there may be black holes at the center of most galaxies-- including our own!

It may have seemed unrelated at the time, but we also talked about and viewed some work by Jackson Pollock and talked about the technique of “drip painting”.
(Blue Poles, Jackson Pollock)

Then to transition into the idea for our project, I showed the girls a video of a neutron’s star motion through space as tracked by the Fermi telescope: Vela’s Motion. Some girls said that the motion of the star reminded them of a Spirograph.

Finally, to connect the different concepts, I asked the question: What do you think would happen if we dripped paint from a swinging pendulum? I asked the girls to predict what they thought would happen. Almost without exception (Sadie had watched me experimenting at home) the girls predicted the paint would drip randomly and make crazy marks.
So then we tested our hypothesis:

The girls all thought this was pretty awesome. We kept making these “drip galaxies” until we finally ran out of paint.

Since only one girl could use the pendulum at a time (and we had some time while we waited for our classmates), the girls alternated between working on painting their paper mache planets from our last workshop
....and making other kinds of galaxy images with rubber cement resist…
And marbling liquid watercolor in glue. 

With the rubber cement, the girls used salt to make “star” patterns in the watercolor. Experimentation seemed to be the word of the day. A few girls wanted to see what would happen if they mixed salt in with the glue while they marbled. I didn’t think it would have any effect at all, but I didn’t discourage them from seeing for themselves.

Other experimentation involved, mixing colors in our pendulum paintings (red and yellow here):

We also saw these awesome drip marks on our tarp that protected the floor:

So we wondered what would happen if we tried to make a print of our floor drips:

This was a busy day, full of activity. At any given time there was a lot going on. The girls didn’t finish painting their planets, which I thought would happen today. I think it would’ve been possible if not for all the other projects they were able to work on (and be distracted by).  Everyone was engaged though and working diligently on something. I think finishing up our planets will just need to be an activity that we focus on during the edges of classes when other lessons are finished early.

A lot of research and preparation went into the process of pendulum painting. The exact right height of the pendulum, how close the nozzle was to the paper, the kind of container, the size of the hole it dripped from, the consistency of the paint, the type of paper…every little variable changed the outcome. I went from terrible results, to mediocre results, to finally some decent results before I was ready to do it with the girls.

I think it was worth it, but it’s really true that sometimes things can look effortless only because of the many hours of work you didn’t see!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Workshop 3: Papier-mâché Solar System

This week’s workshop was about the planets of our solar system. I started out this lesson with a short activity the girls had to work together to complete. This lesson was all about working together on a collaborative project, so it was fun to start it out with a collaborative game. I realized afterward that this activity was a pretty good pre-assessment as well.

These girls already knew most of the information that was pertinent to the lesson, including the names of all of the planets and their order from the sun. They mixed two planets up when I had them number them by size, smallest to largest, but overall, they knew their stuff! I could have used more specific facts about each planet to make the intro activity more challenging for them if I had known they were already pretty knowledgeable about the basics!       

 As I went through my slideshow we did talk briefly about some of the different features of each planet; Jupiter’s red storm that’s been going for hundreds of years, Saturn’s rings, the discovery of flowing salt water on Mars, and the fact that Neptune and Uranus also have rings!

As part of the slideshow I showed a large image of each of the planets showing each of their colors and patterns in as much detail as possible.

These will be references for painting later, but for this lesson, I wanted the girls to use them to decide which planet they wanted to create.
This was another part of the collaborative process. I expected that two girls or several might want the same planet, and sure enough two girls wanted to make Saturn. In a collaborative project not everyone gets to do what they want, so learning how to compromise is important. In the end, one of the girls was willing to go with her second choice of planets.

 After a brief explanation of how I wanted them to blow up their balloons for their planets (keeping their balloon/planet size relative to each other so that Jupiter was the largest, Mercury was the smallest, and all was accurate in between) and a short demonstration of how to do paper mache, we were off!

The rest of the workshop was pretty quiet while everyone worked.
Pretty soon we had the beginnings of our papier mache solar system:
A few of the girls finished up early. I had some activities ready to go that relate to next week's lesson. Can you guess the topic of the next workshop from the photos?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Workshop 2: Moon Madness

For workshop two our lesson was about the moon. I didn’t realize the Super Moon would happen the week before my workshop when I planned it. So the relevance was a nice surprise.
To start, I was going to show the girls a slideshow of wholly unrelated artwork, except that the moon was an obvious feature in each and ask them to puzzle out what they had in common. I ruined the surprise, though, because when the girls were gathered, I immediately and excitedly pointed to the sample project to show them what we were going to do.


We went through the slideshow anyway, and talked a bit about the phases and mythology of the moon and the moons of other planets. We discussed how the moon is a satellite (really?) and how the Roman goddess Luna was thought to ride across the sky in her chariot pulled by bulls and how this is the origin of the words “lunar” and “lunatic”.

Then we watched a short Youtube video that showed how I wanted the girls to pull prints and some various techniques they could try. I also showed some examples of classic and popular moon imagery to help kick start their brainstorming for the prints.

I designed this lesson to dip my toes in the waters of TAB (Teaching Artistic Behaviors) choice-based education methods. I had planned two projects for the class, with centers for each activity. I told the girls they needed to create one “man in the moon” foil engraving and one lunar themed print. But after that they were free to make more pieces at whichever center they preferred. 
Overall, I think this went very well. This girls enjoyed both activities, they took it seriously and didn’t goof off when I was busy helping others, they didn’t struggle with ideas or seem confused about what to do, and they helped clean up at the end. 
I didn’t get any photos in process because there was paint involved. A lot of paint. Why is there so much paint everywhere? I didn’t even think about touching electronics. But here are photos of some of our finished moon profiles and prints:
This lesson went smoothly primarily because I had a small class of five students. If I had tried this with a larger group serious changes and accommodations would have been required. So even though I feel this went well for me, I’m going to list the changes that would be needed for a larger class.

First, both of these activities would have been too much in a larger group. Between the paint and the foil, there were too many supplies around, too many things going on at once, too much mess, and too little table space. It was an orderly kind of chaos with five students. But with a larger class, these projects would need to be separate.
For specific changes for the foil project: I wanted the girls to trace their profiles on cardboard using light and shadow. They had a hard time tracing their own profile. Between the hazy shadow line and the corrugated cardboard we were using for our backing it was difficult for unskilled hands to get a clean profile line.

In a larger class, me tracing the profile would not have been an efficient use of time at all. What I think I would do differently would be to take profile photos of the students and print them. Then have the students paste these photos onto their backing. They are still using the skill of tracing, but tracing on paper and it would save a lot of time.
I also ended up doing most of the hot glue for this project. Some of the girls didn’t want to risk getting burned, others just couldn’t make a non-shaky line with the hot glue gun. An alternative method that doesn’t produce as clear of raised lines, but would make the students responsible for the outline would be to use Elmer’s glue. Elmer's glue takes a long time to dry and, with this method, the students would probably have to wait until the next class to complete the foil step.

I don’t have a lot of changes I would make to the printmaking project. Two things stood out though. First, the craft kind of acrylic paint we were using was simply not very good for printmaking. It was too mucousy and runny. You can see in some of the prints that the girls had a hard time getting the paint to roll out nicely onto their surface. It kept pulling up in little rivulets. An interesting effect, but not desirable for this project. It made stamping techniques ineffective.

When I did my sample project at home I used tubed acrylic paint. A little thicker, more average quality, and it worked much, much better. Some girls got frustrated that their stamps weren’t showing clearly and one girl didn’t like anything she had printed. When I had them put their names on their prints at the end of class, I was disappointed to discover this girl had thrown away all her prints! 

Below are some of the samples I did with better paint. You can see they are not perfectly crisp but I didn’t struggle the way we all did in the workshop.

Second, I think the girls would have been happy to experiment with printmaking techniques the whole class, and I wonder what else they could have come up with with more time and better paint.

I was able to engage the students in a little more reflection this time as we cleaned up. We discussed some of the difficulties we had with the prints and the tracing. We talked about the different techniques they had tried and what had worked best. The girls seemed to be most proud of their moon profiles, but they claimed, unanimously, that they had really enjoyed both projects.
I’m heartily looking forward to next time.