The Wonder of Fossils

On Thursday afternoons at the Decorative Fine Arts camp, we gather rocks and leaves and bits of plants to bring back into the classroom. Then, with all the lights dimmed, I tell my students the story of how I found my first fossil while canoing down the Shenandoah River. It goes something like, “we all stopped for lunch on a beach made of rocks and when I kicked one over …what do you know! I found a fossil!” I then pass that around. I also pass around a fossil my mothers plumber gave me, another one that belongs to  the camp owner, and another piece of fossilized crocodile poo that my dad got me as a gag gift for Christmas. You can imagine the reaction I get to that one. It is always some sort of collective mix of “ewwwww” and “ahhhhhh” followed by “awesome!” and “gross!”

After we talk a little about how we think fossils are made I demonstrate how we are going to make our own. First we will roll out the clay, just like we did while making our clay tiles Monday. Then we cut out a shape, just like we did while making our clay tiles Monday, except this time we don’t cut a square we cut off a one inch border and set it to the side. (The border will later become a wall) Then we roll the impression of some leaves on using the rolling pin, and press in shells. Using our border we create a wall that will keep our “instant rock” in place while it dries. (Plaster of Paris)

Friday morning after we are done making our accordion books the children discover that a hard white object has covered up their designs on their slabs of clay. “What is this?” “Where is my fossil?” I love these questions because I can always say, “I don’t know, why don’t you peel all of that clay off and find out!” and then TA_DA! an inverted replica of their design has now been discoverd on the underside of the white “instant rock”. I normally don’t like being crowded by students saying “look! LOOK!” but I make an exception for this project. I am happy that I have added an element of discovery to the project.

More Carousel

These pictures illustrate the intense process that the middle school and high school students went through to make their amazing sculptures. For the large scale animals it was a day of wrapping chicken wire around the armatures and creating the form, followed by papier-mache and then paint. For the mini carouselers it was modeling modeling modeling and finally painting all the pieces of the carousel before it could be assembled with hot glue.

The beginning of the Carousel of Animals

This past week was a break from my 9 weeks of elementary aged campers and instead it was a week of large scale sculpture classes with 12-16 year old artists. This camp was called Carousel of Animals.

I had 17 students ranging in age from eleven and a half to sixteen going on seventeen. They arrived at 9am Monday morning, and right away I had them find a seat at the tables where I had laid out paper and pencils. Once everyone had arrived the camp director, Sinclair Hamilton, and I spoke to them describing the activities and possibilities available to them that week. They would either be creating a large scale sculpture of an animal using chicken wire and papier-mâché or they would be making a miniature carousel using modeling clay, dowels, and cardboard.

After our introduction we took them to the Carousel, Glen Echo Park’s only ride still working, built in 1921. The Carousel was closed for business Monday but we had previously arranged that a park ranger let us in. First, I had all of the artists draw the carousel animals from observation. They drew an entire animal, and then a portrait or close-up of one part of an animal. After they finished those drawings they began to draw an animal that they would like to make. Either for their small carousel or for their large papier-mâché sculpture.

Afterwards we had lunch, and student spent the second half of the day turning their sketches into large scale drawings. We only had three campers interested in creating minature carousels so they spent the second half of the day creating wire armatures for their modeling-clay sculptures.

Papier-Mâché Part 3

After all the campers hard work it is time for the bells and whistles. The pom-poms, and feathers. The customization that will add the final touches to their papier-mâché piece. I explain that there are 5 boxes of decorations for them to choose from. They can pick ribbons from the ribbon box, or marbles and googley eyes from the round objects bucket, or pipe-cleaners from the pipe-cleaner box, or feathers and pom-poms and old fake flowers and assorted beads from the assorted box, or tufts of tissue paper from the tissue paper box. The campers will come up as they complete their other projects, and select for themselves what they would like to add to their papier-mâché. Then they will walk over to the hot glue gun station where a counselor (one of my amazing 13-15 year old volunteers) will use a low heat, hot glue gun to attach their accoutrements.

Here is a great microscope:

Some feathers:

A submarine:

I absolutely love this next photo. It looks like a scene from The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Papier-Mâché Part 2

After we have let our papier-mâché dry it is time to paint it. With a little help from our 15 year-old counselors (pictures not available) we glue on extra cardboard bits to make legs and arms and noses and propellers or whatever is needed.

Then it is time to paint our papier-mâché. I quickly explain that we must all paint before we add ribbons, googley eyes, pipe cleaners and more jazz because we don’t want them getting messy. And off we go…

Papier-Mâché Part 1

I begin every paper-mâché lesson by asking the campers if they have ever had an adult put way too much sunscreen on them. Maybe it was at the pool or the beach? The answer is always a groaning, “Yeessss!” Then I proceed to explain that they should all keep this in mind as they work. I compare the wheat-paste that we are using to lotion and the newspaper to skin. You don’t want to see white streaks and chunks all over. All you need is a smooth shiny layer on both sides of the newspaper strips. After a layer of newspaper they will apply a layer of blank white newsprint (so they can distinguish the layers) and after that a third and final layer of newspaper. After a brief demonstration to explain the technique we discuss what our balloons could possibly become. I emphasize that their decision is never final and if they change their mind about what they want to make it is fine. After that all of my campers line up in two single file lines and we hand out balloons. We have long skinny balloons, weird bumpy balloons and regular large and small round balloons.

Frida and Friends

To learn more about Frida Kahlo and her artwork we read a childrens book (a bit on the sad side) about her life: Frida, by Jonah Winter and Ana Juan. It explains the story of Frida’s life and why she became a painter. The children actually loved it and inspired by the small creatures that follow Frida around in all of the illustrations and her imaginary friend in the story I asked my campers to create their own imaginary friends, using single sheets of construction paper that they had previously folded in half and cut randomly. I had them do this prior to the introduction of the assignment. Once these organic shapes had been glued down they set to work with markers. This project was an excellent way to fill in the final hour of our Wednesday afternoon.

*Depending on the combination of ages and personalities I have to have extra assignments ready or be prepared to pair down existing projects, depending on the speed at which my campers are working.

Amazing Free Paintings/Drawings

Since there is a lot going on during a six hour day at a week long camp with nothing but art (an art bonanza!) there is often downtime for a few of the students. Here are some super amazing free paintings and drawings I have captured.

This is a collaborative drawing made by two young men ages 7 and 9:

Here a young Japanese camper age 7 showed off her impressive free painting skills:

And here is the ever classic rainbow:

The sky is red and I don’t know why. I just love this:

How We Screen-Print…

The second part of our three part book making project is creating the beautiful silk screen prints that fill the inside of our books. Using the classic snow-flake-cutting technique my campers fold and then cut to create symmetrical stencils which we then use to create these colorful creations:

This is very permanent ink so it is important that everyone has there smocks on. It can get messy fast. The ink is very viscous, and spreads to everything it comes in contact with, and unlike tempera it dries much slower.

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