Wednesday, March 12, 2014

In the Art Room: Teaching Good Craftsmanship

Patterned painted plates by one 2nd grade class after 2//30 minute sessions. These will serve as our looms for an upcoming circle weaving lesson.
SooOOooo, I've not really shared with ya'll an art lesson recently. Kinda cuz we're in the middle of, like, a billion (one 4th grader girl actually said to me, "Mrs. Stephens! We CANNOT start ANOTHER project until we finish at least one!" as the rest of the kids proceeded to list all the projects we've started and yet to finish. "But kids! There's just so much we need to cover!" which got me a bunch of arm-crossing and head-shaking). I've also not posted any art happenings in light of my last "In the Art Room" post. After writing about my (very wishy-washy) thoughts on choice-based teaching, I've been questioning many of the teaching practices in my art room. One of them being craftsmanship.

Can you teach good craftsmanship in the art room?

(Me about a month ago):  Like, duh, is this a rhetorical question? 

(Me all I-just-don't-know-anymore-ish): I dunno, am I somehow gonna kill some kids' creativity and be responsible for his therapy bill in about 15 years?! 
After seeing how the amazing art teacher behind Shine Bright Zamorano lists his student goals and expectations on the board, I totally did the same. I absolutely love that dude's blog, ya'll should go check out the incredible work of his students. Oh, and if you happen to see any spelling errors, not my fault. My white board lacks autocorrect. 

As an art teacher, we've all been there. You see a student working on a beautiful masterpiece that'd make Picasso all goosebump-y. So you turn your back for a second (to tend to the kid that's decided that magenta paint is just the right shade for nail polish -- oh, but wait, RED would be so much better, lemme just lick this other color off -- STOP! WHAT. ARE. YOU. DOING?!) only to find that when you return to said Picasso, she's decided, in a last moment of kid genius, to dash off a smeary smiley face right smack dab in the middle.

What do you do?

You gave directions! You chatted all what constitutes a pattern: lines and shapes that repeat! You gave out what you've dubbed The World's Smallest Paintbrushes so the kids could successfully create detailed-ish patterns! You always allow plenty of time to finish in following classes so that if said Smiley-Face-Painter wanted, she could created a whole pattern of smileys the following class! Yes I'm screaming because that Smiley Face is smirky and arrogant and saying to me:

Hey! Picasso wanted to paint a Smiley Face not some stinkin' pattern! Get over it, she's the artist!

Oh, boy. 

Touche, Smiley Face. Touche.
HooOOOooowever. The expectations where clearly stated (patterns, people) and the level of craftsmanship was demonstrated and set (paint slowly, carefully and thoughtfully). Now I know my friends in the 7/8 year old set are different kids with different tastes, levels of patience and ability. And I keep that in mind while they are creating. But my job is also to push them. To show them how to go beyond what they even imagined they could do...isn't it? Or is expecting them to go above and beyond taking them too far away from "well, I know it doesn't have patterns but {brace yourselves, you know you've heard this before} I wanted it to look that way."
Okay. But...

But what?

It wasn't what I expected? It wasn't what I wanted it to look like? 

Should it really be?
I really don't know.
 This internal art teacher debate (I seem to be having a lot of these lately) brought me back to my thoughts on choice-based teaching. I am certain choice-based teachers expect certain levels of craftsmanship even when their students are choosing the materials and subject matter, right? But how often is work that is beneath a students' ability allowed under the statement "that's how I wanted it". 
What I have found, when I hear that statement (which to my art teacher ears sounds like a cop-out) is that my students need a little more of a nudge. I have them walk around the room and check out the awesome work of their friends. I have them tell me what it is they are working toward because I've often found the cop-out was due to a failed attempt. At which point I usually do a little one-on-one demo on my own project to help, hopefully, motivate. Then I try to make myself scarce to see what my little artist friend can make happen on their own.

And, usually, the one who is most surprised by what they create is the artist themselves.
Like the artist behind this plate. After working more patterns into his piece (after some gentle nudging), this little dude was so proud, I saw him quietly take his buddies over to the drying rack to show off his work. When we were standing in line to leave the room, he kept turning around and looking at his plate like he couldn't really believe what he'd painted.

And that's super important to me.

Would he have been as proud without that extra nudge, without an expectation of good craftsmanship? 
My gut feeling is telling me no. But I did have a bean burrito for dinner so I'm not totes trustin' my gut feeling right now.

What are your thoughts on this issue? 

We should teach good craftsmanship, I think we can all agree on that. But to what degree? 

Where do we pause, hold our tongues and allow the artist to exclaim, "that's how I wanted it," even if it doesn't meet expectations? 

I'd love to hear your thoughts. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What I Wore #92 and Back to the Drawing Board, er, Sketch Book

When Everyone in the World Gets a Snow Day But You: You wear a sad-looking puppy sweater, smear read lipstick on your face and make the most of the day. Granted, we did get Monday off...but Tuesday we had to return. Meanwhile, the rest of ya's slept til noon (or later, how glorious!), ate bonbons and got caught up on Days of Our Lives. Jelly! sweater: Old Navy; dress: Francesca's a million years ago; crinoline: Amazon; boots: Lucky Brand; tights: dunno; leopard scarf and headband: gifts
Hey, kids! I hope there's some super happy sunshine in your neck of the woods as we are finally seeing some blue skies here. This weekend, I've spent time outside drawing and painting and the sun felt like heaven on my skin. Wouldn't it be so super rad if spring just decided to kick winter to the curb and make herself at home? I'd be down with that. 

Since the weather is so divine's mah burfdey!...Ima gonna keep this post short with just a little of What I Wore and what I've managed to draw for the Artsy Book Club. However, I do wanna throw out a coupla questions to ya'll:

1. Are you going to the NAEA conference in San Diego at the end of the month?

2. I wanna have a meet up! Would anyone be interested in a little Crazy Art Teacher gathering? I know, the whole thing is One Big Crazy Art Teacher get-together, but I dunno. I'd just love to meet ya'll!

3. I'll be presenting! -Ish! I'll be presenting on a panel titled Elementary Division Carousel of Learning and Advocacy (side note: there will not be any actual "carousel" at the presentation. I already asked) on Sunday, March 29th from 9:30 - 10:20am in the Hilton Hotel/Indigo 2014B/Level 2 (you got that? Because I'm pretty sure I'm gonna need your help finding the place when the time comes). I plan to have a couple gifty-surprises for the first 20 folks that make it to my panel. Yay!

Alright, that's all I got. Off to roll around on the floor, eat copious amounts of cake and cookies and holler "it's my birthday, I'll do what I want!" to the cat and hubs. Have a great week!
So a couple of years ago, I took a pastel class from this seriously fun and kind dude named Paul DeMarris. Not only is Paul a fabulous teacher and artist, he is also the creator of his own line of oil sticks. They are like working with butter saturated in the most glorious of colors. He's recently branched out into the "crayon" market (I use that term loosely as they were more oil pastel-esque than waxy crayon). He sent me a sample of the primary colors and white to play with...and I cannot stop using them. They blend beautifully and when layered they almost have the appearance of oil paint. You should totally contact Paul (he's honestly the nicest and most friendly dude!) if you'd like him to lead a class or are interested in his sticks.
Blue Willow Pottery Wednesday: My art teacher BFF (Hi, Mallory!) did this amazing art lesson last year on Blue Willow Pottery. I borrowed pretty heavily from her lesson, especially telling the kids The Legend of Blue Willow Pottery. To set the mood, I went with this blue willow-wannabe dress. sweater: vintage, thrifted; dress: vintage; shoes: Anthro; tights and necklace: Target
Having worked for days on my sushi hat/dress ensemble, I had a hankerin' for the stuff. I picked up this lovely tray at the grocery and it was a battle of willpower to draw it before devouring it. I actually had to lock myself in my sewing room to draw this as the cat could smell it and kept pounding on the door. This drawing was also created with Paul's sticks.
Let's Go to the Art Museum Thursday: I had an inservice after school on Thursday that involved seeing an Asian art exhibit. I decided my sushi ensemble would be appropriate. Surprisingly, I was the only one wearing sushi that evening...what's wrong with people?! hat, dress, shoes: DIY by me, go here; bag and sweater: thrifted; tights: Target
The last two days have been this lovely. I seriously could have sat outside and soaked up the sun all day. This is a little watercolor meets Paul's crayons.
Thanks, Mom! Friday: So I may have dropped some not-so-subtle hints to the mom that I needed this skirt in my life for my birthday. And it managed to come in the mail just in time for me to wear on Friday which was perfect because I almost didn't have a stitch to wear (ha, I kid. I have enough clothing to blanket the state of Tennessee. Sometimes it gets cold). Thanks, ma!! pencil skirt with pencils skirt: Anthropologie; sweater, blouse: thrifted; necklace: The Paper Source; shoes: Dolls by Nina; tights: Target; palette pin: gift from a friend (thanks, Paul N.!)
So, I may or may not have a shoe addiction. Here are a couple that I love (despite what my feet say). These were such fun to draw that I might actually have to sketch some more from my growing shoe collection. This was drawn in crayon.

Friday, March 7, 2014

DIY: Sushi on my Head, Sushi on my Feet, Sushi EVERYWHERE

So, I managed to score Snow Day this week, ya'll! Which, in Tennessee, means a coupla things:

1. It probably won't snow but it might snow so get yourself to the Winn-Dixie, buy all the beer and bananas that'll fit in your buggie* and drive like a crazy fool on the slightly slick roads, ya'll! 

2. Your TN friends will be blowin' up your Facebook with photos of their kids creating the World's Smallest Snowmen (complete with copious amounts of dirt and gravel), making snow angels in 1" snow (dirt -n- gravel angels to match the snowmen) and sledding. Again, in dirt and gravel. Cuz in the South we like to say, "You get whatcha get and you don't pitch a fit." This apparently applies to snow-dirt-gravel.

3.  It will more than likely be a lovely 70 degrees in just a matter of days (because TN weather is moodier than me after sobering up from a Beer/Banana Cocktail {see first footnote to understand my only slightly humorous humor}). So, for that reason, a Tennessee Snow Day is Sew-a-Sundress Day!
Since we are currently learning about Japan in art class, complete with my 1st grade friends creating a sushi collage, I thought it was about time I stitched up a Japanese-themed dress. I actually have a couple Asian-themed dresses in the works but they were placed on the back burner for my Artist of the Month dresses...which got put on the backety-back burner for my Valentines' Day number and my Dress Like a Book Character frock. Whew! Too many burners goin', ya'll! Story of my life.

For this here dress, I used the same vintage Vogue (or "Vague" as I like to call 'em) dress pattern as I did for my Crayon Dress. It's a pattern that honestly has hardly a whisper of directions, just arrows, diagrams and comments like "sew this to that and make sure it fits."
Even with those lame-o directions, this snowed-in seamstress was able to stitch it together (my apologies for the creepy speaking-in-third-person-ness). Speaking of snowed-in, that dusting of white stuff on the ground which kinda looks like I dropped a super small sack of flour? That's what we in Tennessee call SNOW. Yessur, that thar got me a day off from school and a two-hour delay the following day. Don't hate.
In my latest What I Wore post, I shared with ya this Sushi Hat that I wore for Wacky Hat Day. I had seen several images of "sushi hats" online and they looked simple enough to make. Turns out they were so easy-peasy that I even made some Sushi Shoes. Because what's better than Stinky Feet? Stinky Fishy Feet, that's what!
So just how did I make this, you ask (well, more than likely you are probably asking, "WHY did you make this" or maybe "WHY do you think I wanna know, I ain't makin' this!" to which I would respond, if you don't  have a handcrafted sushi hat and matching shoes, you just ain't livin', my friend). 

For this magical feast for the feet, you'll need some stiff sparkly felt (yes there is such a thing. My life is now complete), pompoms, tooth picks and white felt. Oh and a pair of thrift shop shoes you don't mind permanently adhering felt sushi to.
Cut a 2" strip of felt about an 1" tall. Hot glue your pompoms of choice to the end, roll it up and glue it closed.

Cut some white felt about 6" long, 1" tall. If you snip the ends, the white felt looks more like rice once it's rolled up. Wrap that a coupla times around and hot glue into place.
Like so. By the way, in each photo I had to cleverly hide my pitifully peeling thumb. This weather has my fingers cracking and nails peeling. Which means my dreams of becoming a hand/foot model are pretty much ruined. Sigh.

Oh! To finish, wrap the "sushi" in a final layer of black felt for the seaweed and glue into place.
For the sashimi, I did do a wee bit of felting so show the little lines of fat in the salmon. That was then glued to a bit of rolled up white felt and wrapped in a strip of black. I had to add a felt bit for ginger and a green lump for wasbi. Toothpicks worked best for the chopsticks on my shoes. For my hat, I used small skewer sticks.
And now a word from my boss, The Cat...
"Don't you believe for one second that this crazy lady sewed this dress herself! While she was making sushi, which, by the way, she wouldn't even let me sample!, she locked me in her sewing room and demanded I finish the hem of her dress. As you can see by the look of focus on my seriously cute kitten face, I take my job very seriously. Despite my lack of recognition by said crazy lady. Humph!"

Ahem, whatever. Don't you believe a word outta that cat's mouth! She's convinced me on more than one occasion that I've forgotten to feed her and tricked me into doubling her breakfast! She's basically a con-artist in a cute kitten suit. 

And that's all, ya'll! I hope you have a super fab weekend and I'll chat with you again at week's end!

* So I was at the grocery just a day or two before the weather hit and I noticed that there were no bananas like anywhere. And then I saw buggie (yep, that's what we call 'em down here) after buggie filled to the brim with beer and 'nanas. Is there some sort of Banana/Beer Cocktail I'm not aware of? 

Monday, March 3, 2014

DIY: Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Dress

After reading the title of the book to a class of kindergarten friends, I asked, "Why shouldn't we let the pigeon drive the bus?" 

Kindergartener #1: Because he doesn't have arms, he just has feather-thingies!

Me: What are those "feather-thingies" called? 

Kindergartener #1: Bird arms!


 Kindergartener #2: He can't drive because he doesn't have a driver's license!

Me: Do you have a driver's license?

Kindergartener #2: {look of shock} What?! No!

Kindergartener #3: His bird legs are too short to reach the pedals!

Hmmm. All legit answers I suppose. But, kids, this pigeon has dreams! Can't we just let him drive the bus once?!

All of kindergarten{with a look of is-this-lady-actually-crazier-than-we-thought?}: NoooooOOOOOooooo!
Last week was Read-Across-America Week which ended on Friday with a Dress Like Your Fave Book Character Day. Last year, I was Mary Poppins and another time I dressed as Madeline (which was actually for Halloween but whateves, I was still bookish). This year I had no idea who I would be until I came across this fabric at a local fabric joint during their biannual sale. I walked into the place, saw it right away and started seriously flipping out. The cutting counter lady was all, "ohhh, people have been buying this to make curtains for their children's bedrooms" and I was all, "ohhh, Ima gonna make a dress!"

She looked up from cutting with a frozen smile on her face and a twitch-tilt of the head. "Huh," said she.

End. Of. Conversation.
 Eh, whatever. I'm used to cutting counter snobbery.

I decided to try the vintage pattern on the left for this dress. If you notice, it's a pattern by my long-time pattern nemesis Butterick (go here for my tales of Butterick woe). Turns out vintage Butterick #7201 is a pinch easier to follow, praise little baby Jesus. The bodice came together easily and I especially loved that the sleeves were raglan (because I also have a hatred for sleeves. Funny thing about that link, it also contains a cutting-counter-lady tale!). However, I didn't buy enough of the skirt fabric to create the circle skirt shown in the Butterick pattern. That woulda required some serious yardage. So I went with the gathered skirt pattern from Vogue #8571, aka The Crayon Dress.
I gotta admit, I think this is probably the cutest fabric ever. I love the color and Mo Willems' retro-inspired illustrations. The fabric is an organic cotton created by Cloud9 Fabrics. After doing a little homework, I found that Cloud9 is pretty rad and committed to some warm -n- fuzzy, feel-good kind of stuff. Here's a blurb from their website:

Cloud9 Fabrics uses only 100% certified organic cotton in the manufacturing of our base cloths and eco-responsible low impact dyes for printing and dying. We work closely with mills that are committed to ethical and responsible conduct.  This includes respecting the rights of all individuals, a devotion to sustained social compliance, and an accountability to the environment.

And to think some people just use this amazing fabric for curtains. Geesh.
Oh! But back to kindergartenland!

After reading the book to the children for the second time (I had read it that morning during our televised "morning announcements". When I went to read the book again to the class, one girl shouted out, "Hey! That lady on the T.V. already read that book to us!" Yeah, I said. That lady was me. Moving on...). Then we did a little (choice-based teachers, brace yourselves) guided drawing (did I just hear a collective choice-based, "Eeeeewww!"? That's what I thought.)

 I actually got the idea for this drawing/watercolor project from the super fab blog Mrs. Knight's Smartest Artists. It was such a fun lesson that the kids loved!
(Again with the paint-splattery tables! I actually took all ya'll's suggestions of cleaning the tables and put 'em to the test. Whoever said Greased Lightening and Magic Erasers, I thank you! They work {despite what this photo shows} and makes my room smell so pretty.)
My wee artists were told they could paint their pigeon in any ole situation but most didn't have the chance to finish before class was over. I loved their colorful beginnings. My kindergarteners have painted with watercolor quiet a bit this year and I daresay they have a better understanding of cleaning their brush between changing colors than my older students. Way to go, wee ones!
So many of the children dressed up for book character day that it inspired me to possibly do a themed-dress day with the kids leading up to our school-wide art show. Dress Like Your Favorite Artist Day? What do you all think? Have ya'll done a daily-dress day for an art occasion at your school?
One of my sweet and quiet 4th grade students really surprised me with her colorful and outrageous outfit for Dress Like a Book Character day. When I saw her, I said:

"Wow!! Look at you, girl! You look fantastic! What book character are you?!"

"I'm Fancy Nancy...or Mrs. Stephens."


Oh, and before I forget, I'd like to thank the ever-awesome Mo Willems for his fantastic books, particularly one called...DON'T LET THE PIGEON DRIVE THE BUS!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

What the Art Teacher Wore #91 and Works in Progress

Wacky Tacky Day (in celebration of Read-Across-America Week) which, in my world, is simply known as Monday: I actually had several parent volunteers in and outta my room on Monday...and not one of them commented on my outfit. Which can only lead to one conclusion: THEY THINK I DRESS LIKE THIS EVERYDAY! When I complained about this to a fellow teacher, they said, "Stephens, for you Wacky would be jeans and t-shirt. Maybe you need to step it up a notch." Hmm, point taken. sweater: Target; stripey shirt: Forever 21; skirt: thrifted, originally from Target; tights: dunno; shoes: thrifted, Crocs; necklace: The Paper Source; headband: gift from a friend

Like, wow, ya'll. That last blog post was a doozy, no? It was kinda like I drizzled gas all over the post, flicked a match and BOOM! So many passionate responses from all walks of art teacher, classroom teacher, home school educator life. I appreciate all of you that commented and sent me emails. I loved reading each and every perspective. I'm still sorting through my thoughts...but I'm so glad that we were able to have a thought-provoking and open-minded discussion. I think that just shows that as creatives, we are always open to ideas. I have plans for a follow-up post in the future. In the meantime, feel free to continue the conversation via comments or email. Muchas gracias.

Moving right along, did ya'll celebrate Read-Across-'Merica Week (a link to what I wore last year for the occasion)? It's my fave week as I have outfit-inspiration all week long! I thought I'd share that with you along with some of our latest works-in-progress. Enjoy and I'll be back with a DIY on my Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus dress soon!
My second grade create a circle loom weavings every year. Last year we made them on a CD which, if you are an art teacher on pinterest for, like, 30 seconds, you've seen. I loved doing it, but wanted to move back to weaving on a plate this year. After a brief chat about Kandinsky and his concentric circles, we painted our own on Chinet plates. You gotta use Chinet when doing circle weaving as they are super sturdy and make for a great canvas.
On the following art class, pattern was discussed and the kids were given the World's Smallest Paint Brushes to decorate their plates. They are so super bright and happy, I actually thought of leaving them as-is! But I know the how much the children love weaving. It's like this magical thing that reaches those kids who are more tactile learners. Like the boys. I hope to have them warping their looms by next week. I'll keep you posted.
Crazy Hat Day: Man, did I need a sushi fix by the day's end! I made the hat and matching sushi shoes...but failed to have my dress completed in time. Thankfully, a sweet friend of mine had scooped this lovely dress up at the thrift store for me (thanks, Ann!) and it fit the bill perfectly. dress: thrifted; belt: Pin Up Girl Clothing; shoes: thrifted, altered by me; hat: made by me
Once my dress is complete, I'll be sure to tell you all about my sushi hat and shoes!
When I glanced at the drying rack at the day's end, it looked like this. Painted plate looms by 2nd grade, sushi collage by 1st grade, cherry blossom paintings by 2nd grade, warm/cool watercolor paintings by 3rd grade, wet-on-wet and sumi-e paintings by 4th. It's bright cheeriness made me so stinkin' happy.
Words on a Shirt, er, Skirt Day: Pretty sure this was my get-up last year for R-A-A Week. It was so fun telling the kids all about how the skirt portion of my dress used to be my bedsheets as a kid. dotted tights and shirt: Old Navy; dotted boots: DIY, go here; Star Wars Dress: DIY, go here and see me chillin with Boba Fett. Seriously.
Wednesdays have become my new fave day of the week. Me and two absolutely lovely teachers work with a group of about 17 girls and boy (yes, singular. He JUST NOTICED last week that he was the only dude in the class as he's been so involved in his cross-stitch) teaching a hand and machine sewing class. The kids have been creating a sampler of stitches that ended with them cross-stitching their name. And adding buttons or a satin stitched shape of their choosing.
When they come in, they drop everything and want to start immediately. They are supposed to have snack first but most are like, "can we just skip snack and get started?!" I love their enthusiasm!
Most finished up their embroidery this week. These will be the front of pillows so they chose fabric for the back and were introduced to machine stitching this week as well. I can't wait to see how they turn out!
Whoops, sorry. Totes forgot to take an outfit photo on Thursday. My bad.
My school purchased some Gelli-Plates for me this year. They aren't cheap, about $10 each. I managed to get 10 and my first grade students played around with 'em this week. They thought monoprinting was just about the best thing ever.

These prints will be used for our sushi platter collage which I'll share with you soon.
Dress Like A Book Character Day!: Aw, yeah, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, ya'll! I do love this book (although, Pigeon Finds a Hotdog is my personal Mo Willems' fave). I had so much fun creating this dress. And, even though the zipper is an absolute nightmare (note-to-self: wine and zipper-sewing don't mix) AND I managed to back into a tray of red paint thus staining the hem (I'm determined to get that paint out: OUT, DAMNED SPOT!), I still love this crazy dress. DIY blog post to come, ya'll!
After reading the book to kindergartenland, they created and painted their own pigeons. I got the idea for this lesson from the always awesome blog, Mrs. Knight's Smartest Artists (thank you, Hope! I think you're rad!). Go there and be inspired!

And that's all, ya'll! I hope your week is a fantastical amazing one!