From the art room..., From the classroom...

Old And New…

Some time ago I had a last minute idea that involved students making art to decorate the gym for a concert.  Last minute ideas often end up being executed with last minute supplies, and this one stayed true to that rule…

  

I rummaged through the art room cupboards to find, in a dark dusty corner, some old forgotten rolls of mismatched wallpaper samples, ends of gift wrap rolls and some odd shaped scraps no one else could find a use for. What could they become?
  

I had two weeks and over 100 students (ages 6-10) to work with.  Some of them were eager to be artists, and others came at the process with great reluctance. What, and how, could we create?

  

In the end I chose a different theme for each grade, gave them basic instructions for shapes, and let them create their pieces using the materials at hand. 

 

The end results were as creative and diverse as the students themselves. No two were alike, even with the simple repeated constructs, and every  picture captured the personality of the artist. Amazing. 

  

  
None of these materials you see was originally intended for the purpose of “art”. They had all been relegated to the back of the closet as relics of another time, unable to fulfill their design destiny (brown floral wallpaper anyone?), but with a little bit of imagination and the right tools they became not just one but many new things…
       

  

Going in to this activity we didn’t have a picture of what our efforts would produce, but we had curiosity and enthusiasm for sure. The “doing” part was messy. The “engagement” part was awesome. And the end results were as unique as the sticky fingerprints all over my resource room floor. Hmmm. 

  
  

Thinking about the explore-connect-create process in this context reminds me of an artist’s quote that caught my attention at the Vancouver Art Gallery this past summer: 

“The possible does not have to be justified by the known.” (Wolfgang Paalen)

In other words, we might not know where we are going. In fact, we probably don’t. But that shouldn’t stop us from exploring and doing as we discover what possibilities await…

  

  

Looking back at these pictures of the creative and highly individual found-art project, I am seeing them with the eyes of an “old” teacher exploring the “new” curriculum. For me they make an interesting metaphor: familiar materials, imagination, open ended exploration and guided structure to create something new and ultimately more personal. Is that kind of what it looks like to you?

  

  

The teachers here in BC are well into the implementation of the “new” curriculum by now, but we are still really only at the beginning of understanding the shift in thinking, teaching and learning that is required of us as we move towards discoveries in a world that is evolving faster every day. It feels unsettling, to be sure, but we shouldn’t forget that we already have many of the essential tools in our supply cupboard…

    

  

Watching children create is the thing that inspires me most as a teacher. It reminds me of the passion and enthusiasm that set me on this path to a life in education so many years ago. It encourages me, especially on the difficult days, to remember what is really essential in education. 

  

  

Curiosity, creativity, opportunity, affiliation… 

These things we must have, regardless of what the current theme of the curriculum may be. If children love learning and playing and making – if they have the opportunity and the encouragement and the guidance – then they have everything they need to do great things. 
  

Wherever you are, I hope these things are part of your daily life too…

“To see a World in a grain of sand, And Heaven in a wild flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, And Eternity in an hour.…”

(William Blake, from Auguries of Innocence)


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From the art room..., From the desk of...

Falling…

Last year, just about this time, I wrote about my new route to school each day and the beauty in the colours around me as the leaves changed to richer and more complex combinations day by day.  Sometimes a change in routine (or route) is just the right thing; “a change is as good as a rest” my grandmother said…

This year has brought a great deal of change to the Martini family home – some of it slowly and some of it fast,  some of it welcome and some of it worrying, but we are learning to live through the changes as they come and to accept the beauty of each moment.

“Life belongs to the living, and he who lives must be prepared for changes.” (Wolfgang von Goethe)

If you have been reading along with me for awhile you will know that the hardest change has been the death of one particularly wonderful friend.  She loved the autumn leaves (and wore their colours brilliantly), using the inspiration of the changing season to add colour to the lives and homes of her students and clients…


I miss her everyday, as does everyone who knew her, and especially the easy way she made us all feel important and welcome in her world. She lived through so many difficulties, but never let them change the way she shared so much of herself and her life with others. 

As I have been driving the winding way to work and back each day this month I have been watching the gradual colour change with mixed emotions. This autumn, the first one that she won’t witness with us, seems like a gift from her directly. In her absence I am looking for her in the colour and feelings of the fall all around me.

The trees are so lovely in their ever changing coppers, rusts and golds. They stand like torches against the darkening fall skies, lighting the horizon and  their impending change with courage and resilience.  

These colours are a gift to us. The leaves, in their final days, are fuller and more beautiful than they ever were in spring and summer greens. And the trees are not afraid to let go of what is ready to return to the earth. 

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” (Dan Millman)

It’s time to change. It’s time to let go. It’s time to let the season lead us to renewal and regeneration. In order to open ourselves to the possibility and newness of spring we need to let go and trust that the fall has a purpose. 

Letting go is scary. No anchor, no port, no steady branch to lean against – but trusting in the cycle of change gives us the freedom to become what we are supposed to be. The leaves are lighting the way. Their bold colours are a banner of bravery in the face of the unknown…

“There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky, and you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” (quote by Erin Hanson, but she might have been channeling Margaret, who always called me darling and who championed a life of bravery, choice, passion and adventure…)

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8)

Fly, lovely leaves, fly…
(Art by Miss G. & Gr.5…)

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From the art room...

Snow Scenes…

Inspired by our recent snowshoe adventure I went on my annual search for snowy art installations in the classrooms.  It does sometimes snow here in January, but this year we have had only the tiniest bit to tease us.  Maybe that wishing and hoping for snow has made us all the more creative with our own artistic renditions of wintery wonder – the art in the school halls this year is lovely…

First from Gr.5:   

    

“Snow provokes responses that reach right back to childhood.” (Andy Goldsworthy)

    
     

  Next up – from Miss G.s’ art class – 4th grade:

    
    

 “Snow isn’t just pretty. It also cleanses our world and our senses, not just of the soot and grime of a Fife mining town but also of a kind of weary familiarity, a taken-for-granted quality to which our eyes are all too susceptible.” (John Burnside)

   
   
 
 

From Gr.1:

  
  

“We build statues out of snow, and weep to see them melt.” (Walter Scott)

  
  
From Gr. 2:

  

  

   
 
From Gr.6:

  
    

“A snow day literally and figuratively falls from the sky, unbidden, and seems like a thing of wonder.”(Susan Orlean)

    

  

  …even our preschool has been playing with “snow”:

   

“One of the very best reasons for having children is to be reminded of the incomparable joys of a snow day.” (Susan Orlean)

   
    
 

“Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, 

Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields, 

Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air 

Hides hill and woods, the river, and the heaven…”

(Ralph Waldo Emerson)

  

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From the art room...

Halloween Again…

Maybe because I spend September dreaming of summer still, October seems to pass by in a moment. Suddenly the trees are half naked and the world is wet and grey, foggy and grey or just plain muddy grey.  (Side bar: Miss G. asked me today why the tree tops lose their leaves first. Any theories?  We guessed younger thinner branches mean less protection from the elements…)

So here we are at Halloween again, hoping that the torrential rain holds off for at least a bit of trick-or-treating… This will be the last time for awhile that we will see many of our neighbours! As always I am cheered by the decorations. As one of G.Jr.’s school friends knowingly told me today, decorations can make the party! She should know, she is a terrific hostess. Every year we work our way into the crawl-space storage to extract the dusty decorations bin and happily hang the various crafts we have diligently saved since preschool.

The rainy season is warmed each time by the memories and stories that go with every picture.


Perky pumpkins, haunted houses, crooked trees and skeletons…


  

The children start their crafting in the summer and pile up the pictures and paintings until I have time to hang them all in the hall…
  
Some of these decorations have been with us for close to a decade, and could probably tell a few stories of their own. In my day dreams they come to life and dance around for one Halloween night while we tramp through the neighbourhood looking for treats in layers of costumes and rubber boots…


We have decorations from the store too, here and there, but the children’s favourites are the ones they have made by hand over the years – I have written the artists name and year of creation on the back of each piece to help us remember the details…

With childlike inspiration for tonight, at least, we can all be brave with the magic of Halloween. We can laugh at things that might normally be worrisome, we can see the silliness in the scary.   We can celebrate light, life and joy in spite of the grey, wet and muddy…

Happy Halloween!

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From the art room...

Autumn Leaves…

Somehow in the flurry of back-to-school the season has definitely changed. I’m testing out a new route to work this year that takes me through a kilometre or two of two-story trees; watching the leaves change colour is a wonderful way to start each day…

Fall in all its variation has enough drama to distract me from my own daily.

No matter what is happening in the natural world, however, I never really feel like fall has arrived until the school bulletin boards fill up with autumn coloured leafy paintings… This year some of the most beautiful images are fluttering through our school halls.

These first few images are “in process” from a recent afternoon I was privileged to spend with fifty first graders.  In a mad moment I thought it would be fun to paint. Turns out it was fun. And very, very messy.

We started out with muffin tins full of paint, clothes pins, sponges and pastels.


Then, we painted.

And painted… and painted!

 

I was inspired by how excited the children were about paint – it was hard to get pictures because they never stopped moving!  In some cases we had to physically remove paint soaked papers in order to preserve them. Completely messy, completely worth it.

  

It’s a little bit sad to imagine that most children never get the chance to do crazy things like paint all afternoon with reckless abandon…

Some innovative schools have integrated art therapy into their special education programs, but wouldn’t it be amazing if all schools had such amazing art programs that the need for “art therapy” disappeared? Just seeing the wild thick wet crazy paint explosion here is a kind of therapy for me…
  

When the paint trays were completely dry we knew we had truly painted…

I can’t have all the fun though- one of our Grade One classroom teachers made these amazing pictures with small groups of artistes

First they folded the paper in half, and then painted the tree trunks and grass. Then they squished. Next they painted one leaf colour at a time, squishing in between. After the paint was dry they washed only the bottom half in a watery blue, and painted the top half with a regular blue background. So lovely!

“O hushed October morning mild,

Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;

Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,

Should waste them all.

The crows above the forest call;

Tomorrow they may form and go.

O hushed October morning mild,

Begin the hours of this day slow.

Make the day seem to us less brief.”

(Robert Frost, from October)

I have to include these autumn leaf prints made by our Grade Five class…

            

…and just a few snapshots from kindergarten to remind us what is just around the corner…

I hope you find a moment in the messy madness to relish the smells and colours and shapes of this wonderful season. Unleash the child inside that wants to paint and pile up leaves…


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From the art room...

Looking…

We don’t spend a lot of time talking about “art” in our house, but we do spend a lot of time talking about how each of us sees things differently, and about how what we see and how we share that with others expresses both personal and universal parts of ourselves…   How we look at things and what we see when we look are so unique to each of us individually. 

With the beautiful summer weather we had this year we spent long hours outside – perfect for chalk art.  The featured image today is a chalk eye drawing by one of my nieces… The detail she captured inspired Miss G. to draw eye after eye for days. It became a circle of looking/drawing/seeing… 

  The eyes inspired an endless variation of chalk body close ups…

…which continued the process of “looking” and thinking about looking… just in time for an amazing and inspiring book to come along and make us take notice.

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This book – How To Be an Explorer of the World – was a birthday gift for Miss G. but had been put on the “when we have time in the summer” pile so as to be properly appreciated.  We have had several of Keri Smith’s books and they are all wonderful, but this one may be my personal favourite.  Right when we might have curled up in the hammock and whiled away the hours it gave us the inspiration to continue seeking art and adventure in our daily life…

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This book is like an encyclopedia of all the things we love.  We had to rise to the occasion.

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So much in the world can inspire us, and sharing our own way of seeing does a lot to inspire others… Look, see, think and pass it on!  The more we share, the smaller our differences are…

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From the art room...

Thresholds…

“…all the magical portals are allegories for works of art, across whose threshold we all step into other worlds. ” (Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby)

The end of the school year is an equally momentous occasion for teachers, parents and students. It holds significance for all of us in different ways, but some years are particularly notable. As I wrote yesterday, my baby is leaving preschool and the transition to kindergarten is a big step for him. My oldest is going into “intermediate” – the years when learning shifts direction and more responsibility will fall on her. When it comes to change she is cautious. The end of every school year is bittersweet for me, because we say goodbye to a group of students who are leaving us to go on to high school. Usually they are excited, sometimes they are nervous, once in awhile they are sad to go – but we are always sad to see them leave. Many of them have been with us for at least eight years and we have laughed and grown together as we learned…   This year is particularly hard for me, as many of the families moving on are the last of their line – they were a wonderfully committed and caring group of people, and I will miss them. They are on the threshold of some new adventure, and I hope they take a little bit of our world through the portal with them as they step over…

When I came across this quote from Rebecca Solnit last week I thought of the incredible art work created by these students to decorate for the farewell celebration we gave them.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. Each one is as vibrant and unique as the child that painted it, and each one is a window into the world waiting for them. I hope their futures are a bright and beautiful as their biggest dreams…

 

  
  

  

 

 




 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

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