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!






The Final Concept(ualism)

Continued from last week:

After we created our concept maps last week students begin sketches of their own Frank Stella inspired piece. They were asked first to answer the following questions after looking at Frank Stella’s artwork: 1. What kind of shapes represent you title? 2. What kind of textures represent you title? 3.What kind of colors represent you title? 4. What makes Frank Stella’s art unusual? When they were done they created THREE sketches in their sketchbooks of potential designs for their artwork. Each student was encouraged to focus on our three main elements: shape, texture and color.

On Day three we used our foam core and careful cutting skills to create our shapes. I reminded students that shape was an important element of this project. We also began to prepare these shapes for painting by covering them in gesso. This was because our foam core supply (left over from this years art show) is mostly black and is hard to paint over without a white base coat. On day four and five students were painting, decorating, and putting together their final pieces, and on day six students presented their works of art. Their presentation consisted of a description of why and how they chose each element of their work of art (shape, texture and color), and what principles helped to guide them. I also reminded students that in conceptual art the main idea is the most important aspect of their work of art. So they were required to explain their thinking behind each choice.

Check out some pictures of the projects below.













Scratching, Mushing, Adding, Subracting

This is an example of my ceramic students hard at work. Here you can see students working in pairs at the slab rolling station. Using communication and asking each other “are you ready?” before they begin, we learn that some art takes team work and more than two hands.

We used tools to add and subract from our tiles. When students came in each of them had a pre-rolled tile that was theirs to practice with before they began decorating their final tiles.

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.

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:

Gambian Masks

Every week we travel to a new place in my “Art Around the World” after-school class, that I teach for Private Picassos.  Ever since I can remember African mask making has been a constant go-to for art teachers everywhere. (O.K. maybe not in Africa, I would have to check) My only problem with this is that since I am stamping my students passports every week with the actual name of a country. Stamping “AFRICA” seemed a little bizarre because even if my students don’t know better I know full well that no one visits an entire continent all at once, nor does one have “EUROPE” stamped into their passport as soon as they arrive in say, England. So I thought I would pick and stick with a country in Africa. I had no idea where to start so I decided on Gambia, because my good friend Ami is from Gambia. After some light research I realized that Gambian does have a tradition of mask making. I felt better about having chose a specific country and from there I began my lesson planning.

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