Facing Faces

This March we spent the entire month exploring the art of a self portrait and the value technique called grisaille. The Oxford Dictionary defines as, “Grisaille (/ɡrˈz/ or /ɡrˈzl/; French: gris [ɡʁizaj] ‘grey’) is a term for a painting executed entirely in shades of grey or of another neutral greyish colour.” I think we all know what a self portrait is. 

Anyways my idea was that in order to teach about painting with more emphasis on value and less on color matching we would begin with a grisaille painting and finish it in color.




I also took photographs of each girl in a pose she was comfortable with, with raking light moving across her face. This gave them more depth in the values they were working with. You can see them holding the photos as they work for reference. Unfortunately there is a lot of natural light in my room. Unfortunately? Well anyways it is near impossible to recreate lighting arrangements because the skylights fill the room with light i a myriad number of ways on any given day, and due to the nature of our rotating block schedule we meet at a different time each day of the week. So I made the executive decision that instead of working from mirrors (like we had with our sketches and drawings in previous lessons) we would work from photographs.








Only once they had finished their gray could they move on to color. This was an prodigious success, because it prevented them from flattening their faces and making them one solid shade of beige or brown, like I had seen in previous models of this lesson. I would highly recommend this technique for teaching value to an advanced high school art class.

















Foundations Unit One: Light and Color

In Foundations of Studio art we are beginning the year with a unit on Light and color, as you’ve seen the past two years. This year I would like to do something different and break down my units by day. Please feel free to use the comments section and let me know what you think.

Our Light and Color unit is a study of the color wheel, color families, color mixing, light vs. pigment, an introduction to the elements and principles of art and design. Students start by making a color wheel poster in small groups, and then a logo in Adobe illustrator. Finally, they use their color mixing techniques and color theory to create a beautiful still life painting. We also take a closer look at Photorealism from 1968 to the present, and artists like Mary Pratt, Robert Bechtel, Charles Bell, and Chuck Close. We focus on the elements of color and value specifically, and work with the principle of contrast. 

At the end of this unit students present their still lifes and are asked to reflect on how they have used their color wheel skills, captured light, and how light is interacting with their object. The final piece here hopes to connect this project with the study of the electromagnetic spectrum and the study of visible light that they are beginning in their Physics classes.

Also, just so you can get an idea, the classroom time is broken down into four or five parts depending. We begin each class with some form of quiet reflection in the form of a Visio Divina, a method of meditation I picked up this summer at a catholic teachers conference. Or we have another form of warm up. Then I move into a demonstration and explanation period. Afterwards we usually have work time, which is followed by a reflection period on days when time allows, or we have finished a project and are presenting. Finally I allow at least ten minutes for clean up. It is important to keep our room neat and organized so that our students feel empowered to find and use the art materials. This structure also helps students monitor their own use of time.

Breakdown of Warm-Up and Daily Activities:

Day 1

-We reviewed the Syllabus, wrote down the Elements and Principals in our brand new Sketchbooks! Which I also handed out that day.

Day 2

-I introduced Visio Divina, a method of meditation I picked up this summer at a catholic teachers conference. 

-We also began our color wheel assignment  https://docs.google.com/a/stoneridgeschool.org/document/d/1e-4Is1wCn5ex1EQLvPksjkn2Fm8GMLeTG86tG7liu5g/edit?usp=sharing 







Day 3

-Visio Divina http://picklemethis.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Smears-of-Jam-Lights-of-Jelly_MP_071_RGB.jpg

-Color Wheel Assignment was finished and presented. See google doc for presentation questions. 



Day 4

-Visio Divina https://sophieelliston.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/logos-all.jpeg

-Introduced Color in Design:  https://docs.google.com/a/stoneridgeschool.org/document/d/1Gd8e7ejKBLzZrrO1DUbQxxeA6jQsk30P4N8E7Tbtsqc/edit?usp=sharing

-Invented imaginary companies and begin logo design with colored pencils.

-Reminded students to bring in special objects for still life paintings.


Day 5

Reviewed color contrasts

-Began Logo Designs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vmilq3KDJio (Emphasize meaning in color, list adjectives)

-Began designing logo on illustrator.


Bouquettes for Ballet

Caroline Tangang


Cecilia Hornyak Logo


Jillian Perry

Logo Beyer Bulard

Day 6

-Warm-Up: Drew Nats Logo from memory, then revealed. Many students were suprised at how accurate theirs were.

-Finished Logo design, and present.



Shira Nash

Day 7

-Visio Divino of Mary Blair http://www.cartoonbrew.com/wp-content/uploads/maryblairtreasurybook.jpg https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/ae/d6/7a/aed67a2287c931adc14675c7fd165750.jpg

-Quick, fun, simple collage on bristol board folded in half. (This is a ONE DAY assignment) Created  collages on cards, employing color schemes or groups, and color contrasts, inspired by the work of Mary Blair. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qMIYrtaDALA (Los Colores de Mary Blair, video)

-Reminded students to bring in Special Objects!


Day 8

-Visio Divino Mary Pratt https://www.google.com/search?q=mary+pratt+realism&espv=2&biw=1183&bih=678&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0CDAQsARqFQoTCNKZw6_v9sYCFcxrPgodijEGhA

-Intro to painting (How much, what brush, from where, what colors)

-Painted Ground on canvases

-Constructed light boxes

-Begin backgrounds

-Ended early for introduction to clean-up (Brush cleaning, storage etc.)




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Day 9

-Short Visio Divino (Robert Bechtle) w/ reflection in sketchbook http://www.meiselgallery.com/LKMG/imagesDB/Bechtle_73Malibu.jpg (an example of analogous color scheme)

-Intro to photo realism w/ article (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/05/09/parked-cars)

-Began sketching objects in charcoal


Day 10

-Visio Divino (Charles Bell) http://www.meiselgallery.com/LKMG/imagesDB/Bell_KandyKaneRainbow.jpg


-Intro to acrylic mediums: Slow Dry, Glazing, Gel etc.

-Began painting objects.

Day 11

-Article on Chuck Close w/ reflection in sketchbook http://www.nytimes.com/2004/02/22/nyregion/following-the-light-and-making-faces.html

-Worked on Paintings






Day 12

-Visio Divino (Chuck Close) https://emmastevenson.files.wordpress.com/2015/10/a6d3d-lyonsbarr144-145.jpg

-Finished Paintings


Day 13

-First half hour for finishing touches

-Presentations (*see requirements below)

-Rubrics Graded

-Homework for the semester handed out:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1oa2pcLjCWsoy3SHvkfTP4FNrTD-QLPlqPkmhKnFAW_o/edit?usp=sharing 

*Below are the final works of art hung up and on display in our school gallery space. You can see some of my new colleague Tom’s student work from his section of Foundations of Studio art. Notice that they used pastels and more than one object. It is nice to see another art teachers perspective on this assignment, and the variety adds to the look of the show. (You can also see a few Ceramics 1 pieces in this first photo.)












Final Presentation Requirements: Did your color wheel influence your final painting? How? How has your understanding of color changed, or has it? What color scheme or group did you use in your painting? What color contrasts did you use? Did you use value to create the illusion of a 3D object? Finally, since you are learning about light in physics, please explain how the light is interacting with your object. For example, is it going through your object? Reflecting? Being absorbed by your object?

Rubric: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1lV7r83htKWwV1t-a1dATCpkt720cw4zEwaT9sezKUNM/edit?usp=sharing

Physics Connection: Electromagnetic Spectrum, Light Interacting with Objects. 

Looking Back

What drives me crazy every year is the conflict between my compulsion to document and the impossible task of doing so. It is not feasible for me to record, and keep track of, every single wonderful thing that happens at my wonderful school. But I try. To fill in some of the gaps here is a quick look back at this past school year.

I skip some months, but don’t think it’s because they weren’t full of happenings.


The first big event this year was that my name at school changed from Ms. Stevenson to Mrs. Cowan in October. 10616111_10154783096810182_6714591310601694360_n



Then, me and my favorite Physics teacher, Ms. Torbert, went with our Junior on their annual retreat. The Loyola Retreat Center is beautiful, and the spirit of the place really sets a wonderful tone. It was at this retreat that I gave my first witness talk, and I have to say, I think it went pretty well. I spoke about forgiveness, and withholding judgement through a story from my own life. I was so moved with how well it was received by the girls. Here we are enjoying the view of the rushing Potomac River.20150316_090158


Then it was time for months of behind the scenes work(A.K.A. lunches and after-school) to come to fruition. Our students, with the help and encouragement of faculty and staff, put on a TEDx event! My team of students, as you might have guessed, was in charge of stage design. 20150321_112241







March was a busy month… It ended with a trip to the National Art Education Association (NAEA) in New Orleans, Louisiana. I took my husband and his nice camera along for the ride. It was a wonderful networking experience, and the inspiration I gleamed from the hundreds (probably tens) of presentations I saw, is continuing to inspire my lesson planning. I’m still going through my notes even now.







April was a busy month as well. Starting with our Annual Spring Festival of the Arts. This year, unlike last year, we had performances, food, live painting, and interactive activities all going on at once and the opening day activities went on into the evening. This is a particualary amazing event because it comes together after months of planning. Each student has at least one work of art in the show, and parent volunteers help in mounting and displaying, so that the effect is a school just covered in art. It’s fantastic!20150427_073820









And that very same day we released a years worth of work in our literary arts magazine: Callithump! An English teacher, Ms. Whitmore and I are co-advisors to this publication. However, it truly is student run. For most of the year artwork and written works are collected, curated and then put onto pages by our student staff members. The result this year was breathtaking.





Then of course there was the yearlong collaboration between my Foundations of Studio Art class and Physics. We lined up our curriculum and shared a design process that encouraged our students t make cross-curricular connections. Ms. Torbert and I even presented our year of collaboration at the  National Coalition of Girls Schools (NCGS) conference: From STEM to STEAM, this June. We plan to continue our efforts next year with even more new and improved connections. Below are some photos of students putting their art skills to work building functional objects with the Arduino in their physics class. 20150506_132257



20150506_132308And then of course there was the yearbook… Did I mention that I am the yearbook advisor? It’s a lot of work, but luckily our yearbook is assembled during a class period and not after school as a club. (THANK GOD!) This year, our theme was “Change. It’s good.” This was inspired by new staff, new roads on campus, and the gigantic turf field that was being built in front of our school all year. The yearbooks looked beautiful this year, and they were a big hit!

Also, look at whose student was featured on the front page of our schools magazine! (It’s one of our amazing recycled art sculptures.)20150601_160024


And finally there was this! … This is why I teach, and this makes the whole year worth it!



Let’s Save the Planet!

What would you do if you were asked to make something 3D and amazing using at least 100 pieces of recycled materials? My students were asked this question, and as usual they blew me away with their amazing ideas.

As part of our bi-weekly social action program the students have learned about what it means to be good stewards of the earth. To get the ideas flowing I asked them to complete the following sentence: “I think we humans use way too much…..” We shared our answers and followed this with a class discussion. I asked, “could this be used to make a sculpture?” Obviously some things we humans use to much of are not easily recycled into sculptures like gas or electricity. One student suggested that candy wrappers were not recyclable, but they should be. So I asked the class to come up with ideas for a theoretical sculpture or work of art made with candy wrappers. Lots of great suggestion including a painting made with candy wrappers! (So really a collage, but it was an awesome idea, and one I will save for next Halloween.)

Each student was paired up with another girl in the class, and three weeks ahead of the start of this project they were asked to come up with a plan and begin collecting. Since finding 100 coke cans can be tough I wanted to allow them enough time to amass all of the materials for their sculpture.

After this I told them that we would be using this project, to spread awareness, and not just decorate the school. I suggested that they should be doing some research on why it is important to recycle their chosen material so that they could include a paragraph or two with their artwork, citing facts and explaining the importance of recycling. My goal was that each group would make an engaging work of art, that would spark curiosity, and that would then educate the viewer as well. We would be saving the planet one sculpture at a time!

To get inspired we looked at two very different 3D artists who are using reclaimed and recycled materials themselves. First we looked at the amazing Lisa Hoke, (who I will be hearing this March at the NAEA convention in New Orleans!) an instillation artist doing wonderful things with old packaging and color! Next, we learned about the artist Mike Rivamonte thanks to our apple TV and the PBS Sunday Arts program. He is an artist using recycled electronics from decades past to make nostalgic robots and toy-like sculptures.

After getting pumped to make amazing recycled sculptures we began to discuss construction techniques. I showed them ways that we could fit pieces of material together like puzzle pieces using slotting or tabs. I showed them the different tools I had like staple guns and hole punchers, and then, of course, I showed them the glue guns. Glue guns can be great, and they are definitely the most popular choice of teenage artists. However, they can be messy, and they do not always provide the most secure connections.

Finally I had them draw up proposals, they literally drew them, along with make materials lists and lists of possible display sites around the school. I was extremely happy, and proud of my student’s variety in their solutions. What would they make with 100 pieces of recycled materials? The answers ranged from a pineapple made out of candy wrappers, to a miniature model of our turf field made out of bottle caps. From a dress made out of old jewelry and used fabric, to a tree made out of soda cans and magazines. We even had a clock being made out of old buttons and a clock mechanism left over from my ceramics project last year.

The only downside to this project so far is the ever growing trash heap in my classroom, but I am positive the results will be worth it.


You can see the materials we’ve collected, waiting to become something new and amazing.


Recyclables being given a new life.



The Glue guns after they’ve cooled, empty.




Lady Gaga would go ga ga for this dress!






Almost Perfect

This is an example of why it is important to spend time teaching 5 and 6 year olds how to clean up.

When I said, “put the scraps on this chair” I didn’t realize how may scraps we actually had… Oops. At least they were following my directions, and it is OK for teachers to make a small mistake every once in a while. After a super messy day I was really impressed at how well my second class of Art Around the World, cleaned up the whole classroom.

See here you can see that after a super messy day with watercolor painting, oil pastels and lots of cutting meaning lots of paper scraps, we still did an almost perfect job cleaning up. OK no one tucked in their chair, but the floors and tables have been cleared and cleaned and all the art work has left with its proper owner. All-in-all I would declare this an almost perfect day.

Canadian Colligraphs

Printmaking is inherently messy. Especially when you are conducting a printmaking lesson with young children. Young children are inherently messy even when there is no paint involved. This week, in my “Art Around the World” class, we embarked on a journey to Canada to make colligraphs. All I have to say about clean-up is that even though I had the children help me clean up, I still ended up staying twenty minutes after class was over. (See “Cleaning Up”)

We began class with the story Henry Walks by B.D. Johnson, which I choose because of the artwork. The illustrations are mostly of a bear surrounded by forest. The bear, the flora, and other fauna are all rendered using geometrical shapes. I would describe the style as cubism meets the Beranstien Bears. Since we were creating colligraphs using pre-cut, paper circles, triangles and squares, I thought this was very important as an inspiration for the kids. I wanted to show the students how one artist can use simple shapes to create an animal, which is what we were about to do.

Pinchy Animals

This project involves measuring out a  pound of clay and then creating an animal without ever detaching any piece. The objective for the student is to learn more about the possibilities of the clay and its physical properties and limitation. So what I did for this lesson was disguise the objective as a challenge to each individual student. I told them that they were being asked to make an animal as best they could without making any new attachments, only by pulling and pinching and adding texture, could they make their animals. I think they came out fantastic!

Pueblo Indian Pinch Pots

I am enjoying my day off this Veterans Day, and taking time to reflect on lat week’s project: Pueblo Indian Pinch Pots from New Mexico.

This was the first time my “Art Around the World” after-school class has made it back to the United States since we started our imaginary journey. (We’ve come close with Mexico and Cuba.)  We read the story Arrow to the Sun by Gerald McDermott. The artwork in this book is just absolutely amazing! And following the story I reviled that the Pueblo Indians are actually from… New Mexico! This was confusing for some of the children who asked me why we were still in Mexico, “didn’t we go there last week?” But, after some clarification it was exciting to tell the kids that this seemingly strange culture was in-fact that of their own country. Hurray USA! The air dry clay that we used to complete this project didn’t dry quite as fast as I had hoped but hopefully each student’s piece made it home safe and sound.

Here is a link to Wikipedia’s information on the Puebloan Peoples.

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