Monthly Archives: May 2011

Iris Study

Materials: Flowers in bloom (yay, spring!); clipboards; decent-weight drawing paper (I’ve been really happy with this in the 160gsm weight); media of your choice–we used, amongst us, sketching pencils, colored pencils, chalk pastels, and gouache

These beauties are in bloom right now.

We’ve been watching them get taller and taller, we watched the buds emerge, and yesterday when we went outside, there were a couple of blooms. Today, a riot.

So I cut some of our drawing paper in half so it would fit on a clipboard, and we brought a bunch of art supplies outside. V wanted some sort of paint that was thicker than liquid watercolors but not quite tempera. I’d been thinking the same thing, so I brought out the gouache. According to DickBlick, gouache is an opaque watercolor. I like it quite a bit. But, having never worked with watercolors in a tube before, V needed some instruction (not something he enjoys) and some practice. It’s hard to get the hang of a new material.

I love that picture! Kids outside, making art. G joined in, looking at the flowers and trying out all the materials. N decided to go up the hill to another patch of irises–less crowded if we spread out.

(The cape, by the way, is from his teacher. It’s a multi-age classroom. Last year she made all the kids crowns for their birthdays, and this year, capes. So by the time you’ve gone through both years with her, you have a set. N just received his cape on Friday since his birthday is this weekend, and he’s been wearing it constantly. He has a wonderful teacher!)

N liked the chalk pastels quite a bit.

V worked with the pencil and gouache. He was initially very frustrated with mixing the colors and getting the right amount of water, but he ended up with some beautiful purples.

This is what I managed in fits & starts–under some duress, I might add.

(I was using the back of my car to lay out the finished work so it wouldn’t blow away. Mine is resting on our traveling art box.) I haven’t used gouache in a while either, so I was reacquainting myself with its characteristics.

What’s in bloom where you live? What can you get outside to draw or paint?

Traveling Art Box

Quite a few items live in my car during the summer–beach toys, picnic blanket, long-sleeved shirts (just in case), wet wipes–and at some point during the busy week that just passed I realized we need some art supplies in the car too. Not for keeping busy during long car trips, but in case we want to make some texture rubbings at the playground or draw the tree next to the library. You know, impulse art. I’m sure we’ll be packing more specific art supplies for particular destinations–we live, hands down, in one of the most beautiful parts of the world during the summertime–but this is what I decided we needed to have with us, at minimum.

The brown and blue at the bottom is a folder, and inside is regular copy/printer paper and some heavier drawing paper. I have a package of basic sketching pencils (no erasers, though!), and inside the pouch are some ultra-fine Sharpies for drawing and a set of colored pencils. My daughter arranged the crayon cakes, which we made the other day to use for rubbings. Just because they’re so pretty, here’s a closer look:

We’ll be making more of these so we have some at home, too. It’s the basic recipe of melting peeled, broken crayon pieces in an old muffin pan for about 15 minutes at 250 degrees, letting them cool, then popping them in a freezer for a few minutes so they slide right out.

With these supplies, we can make rubbings and draw in either color or black and white. I’m going to throw a couple clipboards in the car, too. The case, by the way, I found at Joann’s, and I chose this one because the handle was on the top, rather than the side, so the paper can lie flat when we carry it. I’m sure we’ll be bringing nature journals, pastels, and paints to other destinations as well. (I have this paint case on my list of possible supplies.)

So what would be on your bare minimum list? Do you keep an art kit in the car?

(And can you believe my kids have another month of school? It’s killing me.)

Random Monday

We had a really busy weekend, so here’s a few random things for a Monday morning.

1. I’m hosting a giveaway on my craft blog. Head on over there for a chance to win this pretty little handmade book.

2. I’m on Twitter now, so that’s another choice of how to get notified that there’s a new post here, if you prefer.

3. I’m signing my boys up for a week of summer camp at a local arts center. Why? Why spend that money when I’m capable of doing all sorts of art activities here at home? A few reasons: One, I want to support the arts center so we have a successful arts center in our community (well, it’s not quite in our community, but close enough). Two, because it’s valuable for the kids to be exposed to other ways of seeing, other ways of doing, and other ways of teaching besides mine. Three, because they can be inspired by and inspire their fellow students. Creativity requires interaction–not at all stages, but it’s hard to innovate and create in a solo little bubble.

4. I’ve included a Manifesto as a page up top. It explains a bit more of what I feel my role in my kids’ creative process is, and why you won’t find step-by-step craft instructions on this blog. Over the past six months of posting here I’ve discovered I’m really, really passionate about providing kids with a chance to explore a process and direct their own creativity. It’s not always easy to do this with my older kids–they’re in school, so I need to make our art activities a priority on weekends (I’m so looking forward to summer!). While books and the Internet contain many resources for open-ended exploration with younger children, I’m often tweaking and researching and just plain brainstorming for activities that I can stretch to include all of my children. But it’s so satisfying, for all of us, in so many ways–which, perhaps, is a longer post for another day.

Squeeze Bottle Paint

Materials: Squeeze bottles, salt, water, flour (we used rice flour because I have celiac; it worked fine), food coloring, card stock

Not too long ago, G fingerpainted with some Crayola fingerpaint in tubes, but what she seemed to like most about the whole process was squeezing more (and more and more) paint out of the tube. So I figured we needed to do some more squeezing activities. First, I needed some squeeze bottles–I picked up these small travel-sized ones at Joann’s because that’s where I saw some–and then I needed something to put in the bottles. I saw this over at Irresistible Ideas for Play Based Learning, and we were good to go!

We started by mixing 1/2 cup each rice flour, salt, and water in a bowl.

I separated the mixture into two separate bowls so G could add food coloring. Here she decided to mix yellow and red. “Orange!”

We needed to make some more to fill our third bottle, so we mixed our ingredients again, using only half as much. Here are our three bottles of green, orange, and blue paint.

(The green is in a green bottle, which may have affected G’s color choice. But she really wanted a green bottle in the store!)

These bottles don’t have a flat bottom, so I had to put them in something so they were right-side up, so she could go from color to color without having to close them in between. If I were to do this with a group of kids, I’d make an effort to get condiment-style squeeze bottles, but these worked fine for just us. Once the paint was in the bottles (this required a funnel), she began squeezing.

The colors blended really beautifully. G began putting one color onto another color quite deliberately, and this fuzzy mixture thing began to happen.

After a while, she said, “Me mix up with my hand,” sort of checking in if that would be okay. “Absolutely,” I said.

“Handprint.”

Since this is basically a more watery version of salt play dough, I put the leftovers in the fridge for another day. It washed right off her hands, too. This activity was about process, exploration, and being a part of the preparation. Plus, G loves those squeeze bottles.

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Earlier in the day, G was able to help finish making a set of beanbags for us to play with. Although it was a dismal, rainy day, we had lots to keep us occupied!

If You Give a Girl a Spray Bottle

Materials: Spray bottle filled with colored water (I used watered-down liquid watercolor); sense of humor

If you give a girl a spray bottle…

…she’s going to have a hard time staying on the paper.

It’s just so irresistible.

So you go outside, of course!

She’ll realize the blue doesn’t show up so well on concrete…

…but the white garage makes a fine canvas.

It’s hard to see the blue water on the blue chair…

…but when she sprays the red chair, she’ll shout, “Purple!!”

You can’t see the blue on the grass, but the painted step shows it nicely.

If you give a girl a spray bottle, you’re in for an adventure!

Printmaking With Hot Glue

Materials: Hot glue gun, acetate (we used this), paper, blockprinting ink, brayer, some sort of palette

Last week, we used Scratch-foam to make prints. The lines we carved into the foam stayed white, while everything else was inked. This week, we were adding to our plate by using hot glue. When the lines of hot glue dried, they were hard and raised, so theoretically the lines would get inked more than the surface.

The first step is to draw on the acetate with the hot glue. The boys and I made a pencil sketch on a piece of paper first, and then placed our sketch under the clear acetate so we could trace.

(The washing machine became our gluing station, so we could keep it separate from the inking and printing area!) It takes a bit of practice to get the feel for how the glue flows from the glue gun. It’s not easy. I suggested we all use simple designs, without a lot of detail, and not expect perfection.

With G, I pressed the trigger and she directed the gun. Here’s her plate.

Once the glue is dry, ink it with the brayer like any other printing plate. We used paper the same size as the acetate sheets, so we lined them up, pressed with our hands, and peeled. Here’s one of N’s. (Click to embiggen; these prints are much lighter than last week’s.)

And one of V’s.

You can see that a lot of the background comes through as well. This isn’t the best technique to use if you want a super clean line print, and V, especially, did not like this aspect. N was quite pleased with his prints. Both boys prefer the scratch-foam, but they agree we should try all the printmaking techniques we can so we know what’s at our disposal.

Here’s one of mine (top) and one of G’s (bottom).

G’s favorite part of printmaking, hands down, is rolling the ink-filled brayer on the plate. Perhaps I need to get her a mini paint roller…

We wondered later if it would have been possible to rub away some of the background ink with a paper towel before making a print, but it might be hard to “clean” the plate that way before the ink dried (water-soluble ink dries faster). When I used this technique with an actual press, the same thing happened with the background, so I don’t think we did anything wrong. It’s simply a different effect–and it’s good to know how to get various effects. The more tools and techniques we explore, the greater the chance that we’ll know just how to realize specific ideas.

One more picture–of the paper that was under the plate N was inking. I like how it looks!

We’re not done with printmaking yet. Stay tuned!

***

Do you have any favorite printmaking techniques?

Printmaking With Scratch-foam

Materials: Scratch-foam, water-soluble block printing inks, brayers, paper, palette of some sort (we used wax paper because I couldn’t find freezer paper, and the acrylic portion of a box frame); items to scratch into the board with

I recently took a two-day printmaking/boookbinding class (blogged about here and here), and while I took it for my own benefit, I of course emerged with all sorts of ideas for things to do with the kids. But I’ve had Scratch-foam on my wish list for quite a while, just waiting for enough other items to jump in the cart to make shipping worthwhile! So this is what we began with–a very simple entryway into printmaking, completely accessible (you could try other paints besides block printing inks), and, like all forms of printmaking I’ve tried, wholly magical and fun.

The Scratch-foam sheets are 9×12, and I cut them in half so we were working with 9×6 plates. This not only doubles the number of scratch-foam sheets we have, it also enabled us to use regular printer/copy paper. I wanted the focus to be on experimenting, not worrying about using up special paper. (And as you’ll see at the end, we used lots of paper!)

I also told the boys they’d get one piece of foam each for today. Why? Because I wanted them to focus on what they could do with printmaking, not draw a picture, make a print, and then repeat the process. One plate = lots of experimentation. So the first thing you do with these, obviously, is draw into the plate.

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V is getting quite involved with his drawing here! We looked around the studio for things to use and found the end of paintbrushes, pencils, the bone folder, a wooden tool that was blunt on one end and sharp on the other (it came in a set of clay tools), even fingernails.

After scratching, ink with the brayer. The ink should be a thin, even coat. Even a toddler can do this once you show her how.

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At one point, N got a bit painterly with his ink application.

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And G, as per usual, requested to use all the colors in turn (which made for some pretty wild and amazing prints!).

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Here, V will show you how simple the process is. Ink your plate, smoothly press your paper over the inked side of your plate using your hands, and then peel the paper away to reveal the print. (As with all photos, click to embiggen.)

steps

Even I got a chance to make some prints.

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(My husband served as photographer for this art-making session, which is why I had so many photos from which to choose!)

By the time we were done, we’d made lots and lots of prints.

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G didn’t always cover her entire plate, but her color combinations were fantastic.

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V also mixed colors to get a series of really nice prints. (I got the starter set of block printing ink, so we had blue, yellow, red, black, white, and gold.)

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N was having some trouble with inking, pressing, and fingerprints–and perhaps a busy plate.

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I think that one is probably a ghost print (when you make a second print off the plate without re-inking). He was happy with the process, though, and with many of his prints. I like his painterly ones, too.

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One of my prints:

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That’s one of the ones I made using up some leftover ink on somebody’s palette. (Moms do that.)

The water-soluble block printing inks clean up super easily, although I don’t know if they wash out of clothing. (Amazingly, I won’t find out, either, because none of the kids got any on their clothes.) It rinsed off the brayers, acrylic palette, and plates with just water, and it wiped right off the table and hands (and forehead, in G’s case), too.

About halfway through, V said, “This is the best project! Usually I’m done by now.” There is just something about printmaking–the way you can use the plate over and over yet get different results, the freedom to experiment without worrying you’ll mess something up (you’ll still have the plate), the immediate gratification of peeling off that paper–it’s so exciting and engaging. And, as you can see, it can be as simple as scratching into some foam.

Mother’s Day

At the end of a trying day not too long ago, I sighed and said to my oldest, “You’re going to grow up and talk to your friends about your childhood and say, ‘You mean your mother didn’t yell?'” He looked at me with genuine skepticism and said, “Noooooo I’m not! I’m going to say, ‘You mean your mother didn’t do art with you all the time?'”

Here’s to recognizing our strengths as mothers! Happy Mother’s Day to us all.

Cardboard Box Challenge

PhotobucketRachelle at TinkerLab invited us to join her one-year blog party by participating in her cardboard box challenge. What could my kids do with a cardboard box? I asked the boys if they’d like to participate, and I’m glad they said yes. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person actively pursuing open-ended, process-oriented art with elementary-aged kids, but I haven’t yet been able to find anyone else blogging about it. So I’m happy to be part of this project with older kids. (And because all three of my kids participated, this is a longish post.)

So. We had about a week to do this, which means I had to accomplish the bulk of it last weekend, because school takes up so darn much time. At first, V (age 9) wanted to put all the boxes together and make one great big box that we could walk into, but the boxes we had on hand–three lunchbox-sized boxes and one larger one that had held three bags of cereal (all of which, serendipitously, arrived in the mail last Friday)–weren’t large enough for that plan. We talked about whether we could use a cardboard box to make tall paintings, but figured even with gesso, the cardboard wouldn’t hold up. Plus, I didn’t have any gesso on hand.

Given that my husband was also away this past week and procurement of further supplies on short notice would be difficult, the challenge became this: Pick one of the boxes we have. Given the supplies we have on hand (which is still a generous amount!), what can you do with it? Three kids. Three boxes. Three very different ideas.

The boxes before they got started.

Everybody at work in the studio.

The Toddler

G wanted her box taped shut again, and then she wanted to paint it, over the course of several sessions. She hasn’t done much painting on a 3-D surface or, now that I think of it, on cardboard, so while simply painting the box seems, well, simple, it’s new to her. When all the paint was dry, she asked for the colored masking tape so she could add some. A few hours after I took this photo, she began peeling it off. G’s box is obviously a dynamic piece.

The Nine-Year-Old

V also painted his box, after (sadly, I think) abandoning his idea to make a Super Box. However, first we took his apart so that he could paint it flat. He painted two base coats of blue tempera, followed by designs with liquid acrylics, so this also took place over several sessions, to allow for drying.

When the box is glued back together, it looks completely different; also different than a box that was painted while still a box. It allows for some interesting developments, don’t you think? Plus we all think it looks really cool.

The Almost-Seven-Year-Old

N chose the largest box and began turning it onto a corner, trying to figure out how he could turn a box into a pyramid. He has a couple of the small Pharaoh’s Quest Lego sets, and apparently he wanted a pyramid to go with them. So we talked about the shapes we were working with. A box is made up of squares and rectangles, and a pyramid is made up of triangles. If he wanted to turn his box into a pyramid, we were going to have to do some cutting. (And Mama was going to have to do some algebra, which I’ve included at the very end for anyone who’s interested.) We realized the original box didn’t have enough cardboard for a pyramid as large as he wanted, so we used the original box for the square base and for inspiration, and we used another piece of cardboard–it’s been leaning against the studio wall for months just waiting for a purpose–for the triangles.

Once he had his four triangles and the base square for the floor, which I cut out using a utility knife and straight edge (not a 6yo’s job), he painted both sides brown, then added sponge prints of yellow on the side he’d chosen to face outside (the more corrugated side; we thought the lines might just mimic bricks of sand). So again, the painting took place over several sessions, with drying time in between. Then he described the kind of door he wanted, showed me where it should go, and I cut that out too, just scoring along the hinged side so it opens and shuts. We taped the triangles together on the inside, but left it so the pyramid comes off the base. That way he can set up a scene inside and put the pyramid over it. (Otherwise, you never know what the Lego guys will get up to in there.)

Thanks, Rachelle, for inviting us to participate!

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THE MATH

A pyramid is made up of equilateral triangles, that is, triangles in which all three angles are the same (60 degrees, to add up to 180) and all three sides are the same length. N wanted his pyramid about a foot tall. I didn’t do that–I didn’t figure out the full math until the next day, but we didn’t have enough cardboard for such large triangles anyway! His is about 9 1/2 inches tall which, he told me, is plenty big enough for Lego guys. However, I used the 12 inches as a starting point to figure out how big I should make the triangles. If the height of an equilateral triangle is 12 inches, the sides should each be about 14 inches long. Why?

Remember Pythagoras? In a right triangle, that is, one with a right angle (90 degrees), a2 + b2 = c2, with c being the hypotenuse, or side across from the right angle. So I realized if I cut my equilateral triangle in half by drawing a line from the middle of one angle to the center of the opposite side, I’d have a right triangle. The hypotenuse would be twice the length of the shorter side, and if I wanted a height of 12, then I know the value of the third side.

So the Pythagorean equation becomes
122 + x2 = (2x)2
or
144 = 4x2-x2
or
144 = 3x2
or
48 = x2
so x = 6.928, which is close enough to 7 for me. Remember x represents only half a side of the final triangle, so I wanted triangles with 14-inch sides.

(I suppose I could have just gotten a protractor and gone by angles. It probably would have been easier, but far less satisfying than conquering the math.)

The next day, I tried to think through how to start with the height of the finished pyramid and work back to the triangles that form it. The interior height at the apex can be seen as one side of a triangle, with the floor forming the second side and the third side formed by the height of one of the side triangles, leaning in towards the center. (And as you know from above, once you have that measurement, you know how big your triangles are.)

When I did all the math, I reduced it to this:

(desired interior height)2 + x2 = 3x2

So for an interior height of 12 inches, I would have wanted triangles with sides that were roughly 17 inches long and a height of about 14.5 inches. If anyone wants that broken down… let me know. :)

Messy Hands

Over the weekend, while the kids worked on their projects for the blog party of sorts that Tinkerlab is hosting on Friday, G asked for a sponge to use with her paint. Not long after that, I noticed she was making sponge prints on the art table, so I asked if she’d like a piece of paper.

My main job in the studio is Facilitator. What do the kids need from me to help them fulfill their vision, or explore their idea? G needed some paper.

What fun, making all those sponge prints! And such a difference from the first time I gave her a sponge to use with paint, when she used the sponge similarly to a paintbrush. Now, four months later, she’s clearly using it to make prints.

By the end of her painting/printing session, her hands looked like this.

I love seeing a kid get into her work. Hands are washable!

**

The big Tinkerlab reveal takes place Friday, when I get to show you how all of my kids fulfilled the challenge she set out. And my latest post is up at Kidoinfo, in which G’s hands get messy for the sake of product, not process, but all in the name of Mother’s Day. (She took control anyway; no worries!)