Category Archives: community

In Kindred and On Process

blossoming

blossoming

The contributor list for the third issue of Kindred was announced today, so now I can share that I am included! I decided several years ago to stop submitting writing for publication, so it’s a bit of a surprise that I ended up dong just that. Amanda made the process so inviting and simple, though, and I’m delighted to be included in her gorgeous publication. (It really is. You can pre-order issue three here.)

Revision is a big part of my writing process. I’m not sentimental about my words; if they’re not doing the work I need them to do, they’re gone, replaced with something better or just tossed aside. When writing something other than a blog post, I write, let it sit, read, and revise, and I go through that sequence many times. (Blog posts are often written and revised in my head several times.) With this piece, when I thought I was close, I sent it to Michelle. I first met Michelle via an online writer’s group almost seven (!) years ago. Her feedback helped me clarify my beginning. I usually find my beginnings a couple of paragraphs in, by the way. That’s one of the things I’ve learned about myself as a writer. I’d already found it, but she helped make it better.

Once it was submitted, Amanda’s edits made the piece better again. I struggle with endings, even after all this time. I find it hard to wrap things up neatly. (As in writing as in life, hmm?) I really enjoyed working with an editor who, well, edited–who made suggestions and strengthened my words. How wonderful.

I never stopped thinking of myself as a writer while I wasn’t pursuing anything beyond internet pieces. I process through words; oftentimes I’m not even sure what I think until I sit down at a keyboard and let my brain empty out through my fingertips. (One reason I think art-making is so vital to my well-being: it gets me out of the verbal for a bit.) At this moment, I’m a writer looking forward to seeing my words included in a gorgeous journal, surrounded by others’ words and photographs, curated, collected, and distributed; at this moment, I’m thinking about what I might like to write and submit next.

ICAD 2013

I am rather quietly joining in with Tammy’s Index-Card-A-Day Challenge, for as long as I keep it up, I suppose. I don’t have a theme. I’m not trying to do daily collages or prints or drawings; I’m just trying to look at an index card–3″x5″ for now because that’s what I had downstairs–and put something on it, using whatever mark-making tool I feel like at the time. On Day One, I decided to try to get more comfortable with my watercolor pencils by drawing one of the irises currently blooming in my yard.

The next day–evening, really–I grabbed a jar of Sharpies and doodled.

Although “challenge” is right in the name here, I’m not looking to challenge myself, not really. I’m looking to provide myself with 20 minutes or so (maybe more, maybe less) to just play in this small space. I’m not thinking about it too much. It is, I suppose, a little bit of art therapy. I won’t post them all here, but I’ll try to add them all to my ICAD Flickr set.

Are you joining in with ICAD? Or maybe something else? Are you looking to challenge yourself, or comfort? And hmm, can both be accomplished at the same time? Things I am pondering…

Week’s Work (Making + Listening)

I began this week determined to get some things done. And I have. I’ve been making lists, making plans, and making embroidery transfers from drawings. I’ve cut fabric in the half-hour increments I’ve created during the day. I’ve carved stamps and printed.

stamping fabric

I’ve made brown.

mixing screenprinting ink

My set of screen printing ink has the primaries, white, and black. You can make a good brown with red and a smidge of black.

I sneak downstairs, plug in my phone, and play Pandora–listening to something keeps me moving. I have a variety of stations and I always put it on shuffle, but I’ve noticed after 7 pm it plays me more blues than anything else. That seems about right for the evening hours.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve made this week is time. Without deliberately putting it into the schedule, it doesn’t happen. After lunch today I told my two younger kids, “Give me a half hour to cut fabric, then we can go outside for the rest of the afternoon.” They did, I cut with a purpose–having made a list so I could make the best use of my time–and then we went outside.

What have you made this week?

Joining up with Dawn once again…

Tips for Art-Making With Various Ages

Making art together, January 2012 (ages 3, 7, and 10)

Making art together, January 2012 (ages 3, 7, and 10)

In the comments to the last Art Together post, Sunny said she faces challenges trying to do art with all of her kids given their age range of 4 through 9. I can relate; my kids are 4, 8, and 11, and we began really making a habit of art time together when the youngest was 2. I wanted to share some things that have worked for me in trying to juggle the different needs of three kids, and I’m hoping others will share their experiences and what has worked for them as well.

When we’re in the studio all together, we have several choices:

Same activity, same materials: This choice is pretty straightforward. If we’re using materials everybody can use and doing an activity that works at all levels, we don’t really need to do anything differently. This doesn’t mean everybody is working at the same level. When we’re creating observational drawings or paintings, there may be a huge difference in skill level, but as long as the atmosphere is supportive of this, it shouldn’t be a problem. If younger kids are feeling less confident next to older ones, or older ones are feeling competitive, this doesn’t work well. In that case, I’d step back and set expectations beforehand, both for one’s own artwork and how to talk about each other’s artwork. (Is anyone interested in a post about talking about artwork, both to and amongst kids?)

Same activity, different  materials: You could choose to give a younger child different materials than an older child; for instance, tempera paint instead of acrylic, or oil pastels instead of chalk pastels, but you’re all heading in the same direction as far as the activity goes. Sometimes, my kids choose different materials anyway, because they’ve spent time exploring them and often know what they’d like to work with or experiment with to get a desired result.

Same materials, different activity: Perhaps a younger child is still at the point of exploring a material, while an older child wants to use it for a more directed purpose. If you can tolerate the messiness that is bound to accompany a toddler or preschooler’s exploration, this can work out well. My daughter began using charcoal at age two; she got a bit dusty. My middle child still most loves charcoal for the way he can smear it all over the paper with his hands. It does wash off skin, so this doesn’t bother me too much.

Different activities, different materials: This, of course, is the most difficult set-up for the facilitator (that’s us, the adults!). Sometimes we just all want to be in the studio together but we’re doing different things. My daughter might need paint, my son is using watercolor pencils, my other son is drawing with Pitt pens, and I have paint out, too, but different paint. Or I present a bunch of ideas and they each pick something different (as described in this post). We’re still all together, but I’m hopping a bit more to make sure they all have what they need.

Same activity, tweaked for age level: As much as possible, I try to adjust the activity so all the kids can participate at whatever level they’re currently at.  So, when we tried our hand at a Matisse-inspired collage (an activity chosen from a book), the youngest joined in by cutting and gluing.  When we carved stamps, the boys used the carving tools with my supervision, but my daughter, who was a bit past three at the time, made her stamp using craft foam and scissors. It definitely takes some creative forethought to tweak activities, but I have found that most open-ended art activities can be adjusted for various ages and stages. It’s simply going back to the idea of starting where you are.

Have a helper: If I’ve planned something more complex, it helps to have another adult around. The first time we printed with scratch foam, my husband was around to assist as well. Having an extra set of hands during a more intensive activity makes it so much easier to help anyone who needs it.

So it really depends upon the specific activity—but flexibility is key to facilitating art-making as a family activity with multiple ages. If anyone else has tips to share, please leave them in the comments! It will be helpful to us all.

Getting Ready: Local Habitats Class

In the spring, when our co-op was figuring out the fall schedule of classes, the organizer mentioned to me that they could use something else for the 5-8 year olds. Hmm, I said. I could do…how about something on local habitats? Basically I scrolled through my own background and experience and pulled something outside-ish out of my hat. I’d already signed on to teach an art class, and that pretty much covers my areas, unless we add in a writing class (and truly, I’d love to take that on! ooh, or a book club…).

I feel like my environmental education jobs were a few lifetimes ago, but I was fairly certain I could gather my resources and my own imagination and pull together a class that covered local habitats and some animals that live there. In this case, the “local” is southern New England. I’ve loosely drafted a plan based on learning about one habitat each week, leaving time at the end to go further in depth (this, of course, requires the kids’ input). The first week will be an introduction to the concept of habitat and an overview of the habitats we’ll be looking at. My but that sounds dry. Take a look instead.

I’d like to find a picture book that relates to each week, and for the first week, I’ve chosen The Salamander Room. In this beautifully illustrated story, a little boy imagines creating a habitat in his bedroom for a salamander he found in the woods. Of course it’s not phrased like this, but the concept is there, as the boy’s mother asks how he’ll provide for various of the salamander’s needs.

On top of the book in that photo is some lengths of string and a magnifier (I’ll have one of those per child, hopefully) for a micro-hike, found in the classic resource, Sharing Nature With Children. My own copy is ancient and battered. Parts of it will seem dated if it’s new to you, but it’s still chock-full of good ideas and suggestions.

The colorful cards in the above photo belong to a habitat sorting game I put together.

The yellow cards have pictures of the habitats we’ll be looking at, the green have plants, and the blue have animals, and they are all identified by name on the back. Together, we’ll sort them out. They’re sorted by column in that photo, so, for example, the meadow sorts with Queen Anne’s Lace, the monarch butterfly, and the Eastern cottontail. The freshwater wetland sorts with skunk cabbage, the leopard frog, and the painted turtle. Can you tell I had fun putting that together?!

I’m really excited to guide a group of children (other than my own) again. I can’t wait to see what they have to tell me and what they’re excited to learn more about.

Ready for the Art Show

Both my boys wanted to enter the art center’s collaboration show, like they did last year, again. G also painted a canvas, but she’s not sure on whether she wants to let the art center borrow it for a whole month. We’re going to bring it along when we drop off the others, in case she changes her mind. Here they all are together (click to see slightly larger):

Each canvas has both sprayed watercolors and liquid acrylic, some brushed, flicked, or dripped on and some printed with various materials–wine corks, sponges, and the like. The top right one (my oldest son’s) also has some dripped black ink. This sort of painting is definitely out of his comfort zone; he likes things to be planned. Once he got into it, though, he even said (in an amazed sort of voice), “This is really fun!”

The top left canvas (my younger son’s) has a couple layers of workable fixative sprayed on. He really puddled the watercolor, and the canvas isn’t really made for that. Plus, it seemed to have a different sort of finish than the other two–same type of canvas, but a different brand. There were tacky spots that just weren’t drying, but the fixative seems to have solved the problem.

The bottom one, then, is my daughter’s. I have to admit, a layer or so back she had some sponge prints that are obliterated now by her brushstrokes, and I had to remind myself to bite my tongue and let her explore the process. She decided when she was done, and I like it now, too, although, again, whether I like it isn’t really the point. She likes it so much she’s not sure she can let it out of her sight for a month.

We’re excited to drop them off tomorrow!

Patterned Paper Bag Heart Banner

Since November, I’ve been decorating our big sliding glass door to the deck with a seasonal banner of some sort. Our thankful banner was even created from paper bags! So when I saw that TinkerLab’s paper bag challenge fell at the beginning of February, I figured it was a great opportunity to get the kids involved in creating this month’s banner—but with a lot of open-ended process to balance out the product.

Materials: Paper bags (I used brown lunch bags, which are thinner); paint; scissors; materials to create patterns (ie, sponges, cork, pom-poms…whatever your kids want!); heart template; glue or glue stick; yarn for hanging; mini-clothespins (optional)

First I cut open the paper bags and cut off the bottoms so we could lay them out flat. Then we painted them in layers. We covered them in a solid color and then let that dry before going back in to make patterns.

V used gesso on one of his bags because he wanted to use watercolors on the second layer, and we weren’t sure how the watercolors would get along with a layer of tempera paint. G added all her colors of paint pretty much at the same time.

Making the patterns was so much fun! I gave G one of the bags I painted so she could use the sponge to make sponge prints.

She also used the sponge roller to layer some more paint on her own bag. V dropped red liquid watercolors onto the bag he painted with gesso, and a really fun polka-dot effect resulted.

Both boys also used the sponge on one of their bags, and on his second, N made dots with a wine cork and a big pom-pom. We ended up with a pile of colorful paper!

Once the bags were dry, I cut a heart out of cardstock so that all our hearts would be the same size (more or less). We traced hearts onto our bags and cut them out.

The boys were very specific on which parts of their patterned paper they hoped to get on their hearts, so they mostly traced on the painted side. G isn’t quite up to cutting on a line yet, so rather than have her end up frustrated with this part of the project, we gave her the scraps and a heart paper punch.


When the hearts were cut out, we glued them together in pairs so whichever side you see, it’s patterned. Because the watercolor soaked through the bag, V decided not to paste those together—one side shows white with red, and the other is paper bag color with red. G, of course, could participate with the gluing. We thought about gluing the hanging yarn inside the middle, but with so many of us gluing, and at different times, in the end we decided it would be simpler to hang them off the yarn with mini-clothespins.

And what about the hearts G punched out with the scraps? I added some more to her pile and sandwiched them again, this time with a length of perle cotton in between, to make a sweet little hanging string of hearts.

If you’d like to add your project to the link-up, you can do that below. If you’d like to enter to win a $100 Visa gift card and 3-month subscription to Kiwi Crate, make sure to add a link to your project at either TinkerLab or the Kiwi Crate blog (all particulars can be found here). And be sure to visit these other creative bloggers to see what their kids created out of paper bags for the challenge:

Paint Cut Paste, Imagination SoupHands On: As We Grow, Child Central Station, Putti Prapancha, Irresistible Ideas for Play-Based LearningTeach Preschool, The Chocolate Muffin Tree, Nurture Store, Small Types,Make Do & FriendThe Imagination Tree, Toddler Approved, Red Ted Art, Kids in the Studio, Rainy Day Mum, Glittering Muffins, Sense of Wonder, Mom To 2 Posh Lil Divas, Come Together Kids, My Creative Family, Kitchen Counter Chronicles, A Mom With A Lesson Plan, Angelique Felix, The Golden Gleam, Clarion Wren, Living at the Whitehead’s Zoo, Let Kids Create, De tout et de rien, PlayDrMomCreativity My PassionKiwi Crate, Tinkerlab

Happy Valentine’s Day, and have fun!

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Create With Me, Winter 2012

Our family’s trip to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum (posted here) is included in the Winter 2012 issue of Create With Me, Stampington’s magazine devoted to parent-child artistic collaboration. Amber Demien, the magazine’s editor, interviewed me about our visit, and the write-up and layout are wonderful! It was a lovely surprise to be asked to contribute in this way to the magazine, and my kids think it’s pretty neat, too. I hope it inspires some new visitors to the deCordova, as well–it’s a fantastic place.

Painted Collages (TinkerLab Magazine Challenge)

Tinkerlab Creative ChallengeMaterials: Illustration board, old magazines, glue or paste, scissors (of course!), acrylic paint–the kind in tubes, not the liquid kind.

Once again, Rachelle at TinkerLab invited us to participate in a materials challenge, this time using magazines. So I brought it up with the kids, who are now 10, 7 1/2, and 3. Did they want to do something? Sure! So we brainstormed. Although there is a lot of making going on in our house, especially as Christmas approaches, my kids didn’t look at the magazines as raw material for some thing. I suspect this is because when we get together to do art projects, we are usually focusing on exploring and experimenting. It’s very much about the process.

So although my kids have used paper to make all sorts of items, from super hero rings to dice for homemade games (and since I always have to think really hard about making a cube out of something flat, this impresses me every time!), they viewed the magazine as canvas. The ideas they finally settled on, which we combined, were cutting and pasting the magazine, and painting right on the page.

We started, of course, by selecting and cutting. G’s cutting skills have really taken off lately, because she’s been happily working at cutting paper just about every day (her idea). As a result, she didn’t need my help at all while everyone was cutting. After gluing down the images and letting them dry, we moved onto painting.

Note the mug of coffee to the right; mama runs on caffeine!

V decided he wanted to paint his board first and then paste his images down, so he’s using tempera here.

The rest of us are using acrylic after having glued down the images and then brushing a layer of glue over the image, as well. We used Mod Podge paper with mixed results; I was hoping to get a good surface for applying paint, but I don’t know if we wouldn’t have been better off just using a glue stick.

N and I enjoyed mixing the acrylics (the basic set of primaries with black and white) to get new colors, and we used a variety of brush sizes. He’s getting detailed in that photo.

G decided to paste down one full magazine page, with one tiny image glued down on top of it. Then she began painting.

Eventually she covered the entire image. Then she lifted some off using a cotton swab.

Here are N and G’s finished pieces (whoops, I photographed G’s upside down):

And here is V’s, although the images and text aren’t pasted down yet. He also has plans to paint the other side and glue down even more images. I guess I should have left one piece of illustration board full size!

He really likes Legos!

Thanks again, Rachelle, for inviting us to play along. Here is the full list of participating bloggers; click on the links for some more projects featuring magazines!

Child Central Station , Teach MamaThe Imagination Tree,Childhood101Teach Preschoolhands on as we growArtful ParentPaint Cut PasteA Mom With A Lesson PlanToddler ApprovedKiwi CrateArt 4 Little Hands,  Red Ted ArtThe Chocolate Muffin Tree,  Imagination Soup,Michelles Charm WorldMessy PreschoolersTinker LabMommy LabsPutti Prapancha, Sun Hats and Wellie Boots

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Peek-a-boo Paintings

Materials: Drawing and/or painting materials of your choice; drawing or watercolor paper, depending; acetate the same size as your paper (we used this); tape; paint for the acetate–this can’t be too watery–we found liquid acrylic and gouache worked well, tempera not so much

The first day of summer vacation dawned grey and misty, giving us the perfect opportunity to get into the studio after breakfast and add one more activity to the Eric Carle birthday celebration. Several folks have created beautiful painted tissue paper collages. We painted tissue paper many months ago, but my boys really didn’t want to cut their creations. We are acquiring a nice pile of textured, painted, and printed papers for collaging with some day, but meanwhile, I knew our Eric Carle-inspired activities would go in another direction. Earlier this week we were inspired by Dragons, Dragons, and today we looked to Mr. Seahorse.

Mr. Seahorse is another of our favorites. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it follows a seahorse as he interacts with other underwater species in which the males help care for the offspring. But what we really like about it is that some of the pages are transparent, so you’ll have a fish that’s hiding, and then you turn the clear page and see him in full.

From Eric Carle's Mr. Seahorse

I was reading it to N earlier this week and I thought, Hey, we could do that! As I explained the idea to the boys, though, I realized it’s a rather complex idea. You need to think about your artwork in layers–what will be underneath? what will be on top? It’s a different way of looking at it, to separate the full idea into parts. But the boys were ready to try.

We knew the top picture, on the acetate, would be painted, but we had to think about how to do the underneath. V wanted to do watercolor resist, but I thought oil pastels would smear against the acetate, so we used good old-fashioned crayons.

V decided to draw fish, and N wanted to draw a monkey–he used some of our story books as a reference.

After we worked with crayons, it was time to add liquid watercolors.

Then we let the bottom layer dry. Next, I placed a sheet of acetate on top of the first picture and used a couple pieces of clear tape to hinge it on whatever side the kids chose. This way, we could paint our covering picture while it was lined up with the bottom image–much easier that way.

Here, V is checking on his work in progress. He chose to use gouache paints on the acetate.

G joined us too, of course. She loves to paint. N, G, and I used liquid acrylic.

So as not to completely overload the post with photos, I put all our finished-piece photos together–click to embiggen. (And even though I didn’t use flash, the ceiling lights are bouncing off the acetate–so sorry, but it was wet outside!) From left to right, we have V’s ocean scene (seaweed for the top layer), N’s forest scene (that’s a big leaf), G’s, um, lots-of-paint, and my big flower.

And now the peek-a-boo: V’s fish, N’s monkey, my bumblebee, and G’s fish.

I completely loved this project, and I’m not sure why we didn’t think of it sooner, except maybe because we haven’t had the acetate in the house all that long. It was so much fun to do, and the results are pretty fun, too.

Check out more Eric Carle-inspired activities at the link below!

(Also included in the Read, Explore, Learn link up.)