En Plein Air

When it was safe to say that spring had sprung my Studio II class so we escaped the confines of the classroom and explored a small bike path and creek by our school. Unfortunately, there was not enough time to finish our paintings, but the experience was worthwhile and something I highly recommend.

*One disclaimer is that in order to paint outside with acrylics, which is what we did, a painter needs to add a significant amount of slow-dry acrylic medium, as well as have some extra on the palette.  This will keep your paint from drying up immediately.








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!



La Grande Finale!

Now that our school year has come to a close, I finally have time to brag a bit about the amazing success of my classes final exam. Each student was given the task of designing their own projects for themselves, setting goals, and sketching out a plan for action. They were asked to draw from skills they picked up during the year, and they were limited to using only the materials we had explored in class. As I suspected a lot of my girls returned to painting. (Which is why finishing up with the collaging-for-paint’s-sake assignment was, albeit accidentally, BRILLIANT!) However, many of them chose other mediums and mixed them in un-expected ways. I am especially pleased to see that so many of my girls were comfortable with returning to photoshop and digital photography.





20150511_083420^Works in progress

in classroom


cloakroom^Digital meets hand drawn cartoon masterpieces!



20150520_083434^A Series of watercolor emotions.

20150520_083227^Digital Photography altered by hand.

20150520_083106^Three Studies of the Potomac River.

20150520_083031^The Eastern Shore.

20150520_082944^A Brilliant Sunset.

20150520_082848^Exploring light and a love of New York City.


20150520_082725^Detailed studies of the human face.

20150520_082646^A girls best friend.

20150520_082555^This piece is an extrodinary piece of work. This is done in sharpie and acrylic paint, and it is an expansion of a series of notebook doodles. What I love about this piece is that not only did my student spend more than 8 hours finishing it, but she accidentally began what could very well be an AP portfolio concentration.

20150520_081615^Gorgeous sunset.

20150520_081600^An Indian Elephant.


20150520_081539^A life sized mixed-media painting of a movie star type, in a real fabric dress.

20150520_081528^An impressive close-up of an eye.

julia photoshop 5

bridget photoshop 4

bridget photoshop 2

bridget photoshop 1^A series of Digital imagery altered in photoshop.

2 yellow and pink edited final

6 edited 4 final

4 eye pic final^A colorful photoshoot, inspired by color runs.




Pop! Goes the Summer

I am taking on a summer course at Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart. It is called Multi-Dimensional Studio. My explanation of the course for our school website goes as follows:

“An exploration in the decorative and fine art, Multi-Dimensional Studio will challenge students to find new meaning in art through studio work and museum visits.  The course is designed to introduce various art mediums, techniques and styles including acrylic paint on canvas, soft sculptures, mixed media collage, recycled/upcycled art, charcoal drawing, digital photography and film.  Multi-Dimensional students will study the basic elements and principles of art and design, and use these elements and principles to guide and assess their work.  There will also be multiple field trips to area museums including the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries, as well as the National Gallery of Art and the Hirshorn.  Students will develop their critical thinking skills while they assess their own artwork as well as famous works of art.”


As I suspected things have started off brilliantly! I am teaching to a small class of three young women, and they are a lovely and quiet bunch so far. However, if years as a summer camp counselor has taught me anything, they wont be quite for long…

To begin with we are taking a look at Pop Art from Great Britain and the United states. We will be exploring art through the movements and working our way back in time. This backwards investigation will find each movement and it’s inspirations and origins. This will guide our backwards travel through time. And what better place to start than Pop Art?

On our first day we took a look at the “father” of pop art Richard Hamilton and his famous definition of Pop Art,



and some of his early ironic social commentary collages. We then used his work as inspiration to make our own ironic collages, inspired by social commentary. I say “we” because I made one along with them. While irony and social commentary were our themes, I challenged my students to focus on two elements and two principles of art. In this case I asked them to think about shape and color (elements) as well as movement and unity (principles).

20140617_104025^ “America the Brave”

20140617_104044< “Every Girls Dream”

20140617_104006^ “Experience the Wild”

20140617_103950< “Fighting for Peace”

Egyptian Prints

We went to Egypt this week in my Art Around the World class at P.S. 154. The class began with a rowdy group of children, a missing parent volunteer and one boy kicking another one. Sometimes you just have days like this. While I did have a parent volunteer last week I should have suspected it was too good to be true. She didn’t show up this week, and I’m sure she had some other motherly obligation so I can’t complain. Her help last week during the French magic garden making was invaluable.

I decided that kicking and crying and fidgeting meant we had to start out with the activity I had plaaned for close. Dancing! I put on some Egyptian belly dancing music and we all danced around, waved our arms back and fourth, then squatted and eventually sat down cris-cross apple sauce ready to hear our story of the day.

After our story we talked about using symbols to replace word, like the Egyptians did with hieroglyphics. My example was to express how I love spring, so I made 3 exclamation marks and a sail boat: I Love Spring! Everyone used corrugated cardboard and bristol to make their own hieroglyphics.

Then using red, white and blue tempera paint and spongy brayers we printed.

And this next picture is so hilarious, because I want to protect the privacy of my students, but the little stars that they are, my artists insisted on a group photo.

Irish Fairies, Elves and Goblins

We read a traditional folk tale about a small elf and a lonely boy getting his wish to have a friend. It was one of the short stories in the Golden Books Treasury of Elves and Fairies, by Jane Werner. It was a very old copy that I had found while digging around in my Grandmothers basement. I think it might have been my mothers. I absolutely love collecting childrens books, and to add a few Vintage ones to my collection is absolutely cool.

So after attempting to go to Spain last week and being ransacked by Pirates we attempted to hop on a plane, but due to unexpected turbulance we had to make an emergency landing in Ireland. We landed in a small town out in the Irish country side, filled with fairies, elves and golbins! (I am now on a mission to see how many countries I can put between us and the order of air dry clay I am still waiting for i.e. Spain) So once we read our story it was time to become the magical creature of our choice. I wasn’t surprised that the boys became goblins and every girl wanted to make wings. This week we focused on using a stencil and cutting out our traced shapes along the line. I eventually put our crayons then watercolor, because I had plans for us to use it again the following week.

What was most important was getting our shapes well traced and cutting along the lines we had drawn. There were wings and masks with pointy ears that students could choose from to trace.

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.

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!

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