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.

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Studio/Classroom Space

Studio space can be something that either limits or enhances my lessons. Take, for example, the studio space that I have for my ceramics class. There is a double sink big enough for 4 students at a time, several huge table, 15 pottery wheels, and a slab roller for rolling slabs. This enables me to teach both slab building and throwing pottery. It allows me to let the students all clean up their own mess, without me having to do it afterwards.

However, a bad studio space or classroom can be extremely limiting. My classroom at P.S. 154 is small and it is also a fully functional kindergarten classroom that is occupied up until exactly 5 minutes before I get there. This is the least ideal situation I have ever had to work in and it presents many problems. Of the many, I don’t have time to set up. Additionally I have to stay afterward and re-stack chairs, move back the tables I’ve moved and sweep. Earlier I talked about the importance of having students clean up their own mess. In my Art Around the World class at P.S. 154 I do have students clean up their materials at the end of the lesson, but I never have them re-organize the room. It is not that I don’t want to make them it is that I already have them involved in setting up the room when they arrive that if I were to also have them re-set everything it would eat up all of our work time. So I stay after and that is that. It is what the space calls for. One positive thing I have discovered is that collabrative drawing are an excellent way to keep my students busy while I set out their materials.

Wrapping Up

We had our last Art Around the World class of the semester this week. To wrap things up we ended the semester using our drawing and paintings skills together in a watercolor resist project. Our country for the final week was Japan. We read The Beckoning Cat, by Koko Nishizuka. And then watched a slide show accompanied by Japanese music, that I had prepared on my laptop. The kids were so fascinated with the technology I didn’t have to pause once to quiet anyone down. Computers can be magical in the classroom, but more on that later. Here is one of the examples of artwork I included in the slide show:

So using crayons we drew trees in black, brown and dark dark blue. Then, as we went to paint in the leaves with watercolor we watched as the watercolor  “ran away from the crayon!” as Hudson, age 6, put it.

And below are my two project examples. One I did before and the larger one I did for my demo:

Finishing Up

This past week, December 4th, my Saturday Art School Ceramics students worked quickly and diligently to get all of there work ready for the final show, Saturday the 11th. Here you can see the two types of glazing options I gave these students. Just like the session before them we had buckets of glaze for all over dunking and plenty of fun underglaze colors, for them to paint on with brushes. Some how, by some miracle, everyone finished everything by the end of class. It’s not often you can get a whole group of students to work as proficiently as these guys did. I was really impressed.

^ Above from top to bottom: A student uses underglaze to add funky colors to her design. An amazing sculpture of a house sits on the table waiting to be glazed. A student dunks her polar bear in a bucket of glaze called “milk” that will, when fired, look… well, milky.

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!

Cleaning Up

Cleaning up can be a pain, for both the teacher and the students. Still, cleaning up is just as important to understanding the material as using it during work time. I recently made the mistake of not having the 4-5 year old students in my “Art Around the World” class clean up after they had finished a collage project. I realized later that this had been a huge mistake. First, because I had to stay after class much longer than usual in order to sweep up all the small pieces of paper, and second because I realized that I had robbed them of the complete collage experience. Collage is not just something you can start whenever you please, cutting and gluing willy-nilly. If one embarks on a mission to collage one must anticipate the mess. Cleaning up is always something I have incorporated into my lessons, but simply out of necessity (I can’t possibly clean 21 brushes and pallets) and principal (it is an important part of maintaining discipline and respect for materials). Now I realize that it has yet another purpose: education, and information about the material.

^ The photograph above is an example of how wonderful having a sink in the classroom can be. Here, my 10-12 year old ceramic students clean up their own materials after a day of glazing.

Glazing

Glazing can be a tricky thing to explain. Sometimes the color of the glaze is not the color it will be, and sometimes it kind of is. Sometimes you can mix colors together and sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you dunk and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes…

I decided that since I value the process of trial and error, and feel like learning from your mistakes is one of the most powerful ways to learn something, and remember it forever, that I was going to do my very best to explain which glazes did what and how to use them, but then just let the ten, eleven and twelve year old students I am teaching ceramics to, go ahead and dive in. I decided I was going to step back unless I saw someone who was about to do something totally disastrous or someone asked me for help.

Lucky for them I am not a cruel teacher, who revels in saying, I told you so. So, I did my best to make the glazing process fairly fool proof. I set out under-glazes in squeeze bottles (it basically is the color it says it is, and you can mix it with other colors) a bucket of solid yellow glaze for dunking (looks gray before it’s fired, slightly confusing) and a bucket of clear (looks blue before it’s fired), also for dunking.  I am excited to see the results next week.

I have my fingers crossed that the bottom of each piece is not currently stuck to the shelf of the kiln either. I checked and double checked the bottoms but you never know with glaze.

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