Last week my 9yo, 4yo, and I went to Trustom Pond National Wildlife Refuge–a favorite spot of ours, and close to home–for an early Autumn nature walk. Our visit is highlighted today at Mud Puddles to Meteors as part of their Hitting the Trail series. It was fun for me to walk around with camera in hand, looking for things to share with the wider world. We really love where we live and it’s always a treat to talk about a favorite local spot. Go check out the post, and stay a bit to explore everything else this new nature site has to offer! You can also find all the photos in my Trustom Pond Flickr set.
I feel incredibly fortunate that I have a good friend in Florida who gave me her guest room for a long weekend. I felt wonderfully relaxed right up until it was time to come home, and I slept really well there too. Everybody needs a break from routine now and then. We had a great balance of time together and time for me to explore a bit on my own, too.
My kids gave me their opinions on which of the many photos I took to share here…
On Saturday my friend took me to a local nature area, the name of which I never did write down, and she said we did quite well for birding given the time of year. My kids thought I should share this picture of a black-bellied whistling duck, which nicely posed for several photographers, not just me. My camera is a small point-and-shoot, so I did the best I could with farther-away birds. This one, though, was right up close and easy to photograph even with my so-so camera.
Later that same day we visited the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, where I took a picture of this lovely jolly Buddha. Just as we finished walking the gardens and entered the museum, the skies let loose with a Florida downpour. Great timing! I enjoyed Morikami inside and out.
On Sunday my friend took her boys to a kid birthday party, so I took myself to the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach. Lovely! I really enjoy art museums. This one had many silver gelatin prints of black & white photographs, and a good black & white photographic print just takes my breath away. The tones, the grain, the paper and print itself, the composition, knowing what it takes to frame a good photograph, develop the film, and print it, the care and time and eye…I do miss it. Some of the happiest hours of my life were spent inhaling darkroom chemicals.
This museum also had three O’Keeffes on display, and I can’t recall if I’ve ever seen any in person before. If so, it was long long ago. I photographed this one (it was allowed, without flash) because my daughter likes bones. This shows a pelvis bone.
They also had an exhibit of world skyscrapers re-created with LEGO bricks. I took photos of each of them for my LEGO-loving kids. This is the Flatiron Building in NYC.
Before I left the museum, I took a self-portrait of myself outside.
I promised my oldest I’d try to get a picture of a lizard, since we don’t have any up here. I told him they run around the streets and under bushes just like squirrels do here. I finally found a lizard who cooperated with my goal.
I did other things here and there, but that’s quite enough photos! One last one, though…beach-combing finds to share with my kids. I found many shells (and coral!) that we just don’t get this far north.
And now it’s back to life-as-usual…my boys are feverish, plans for the day (karate camp) have been cancelled, and I have work goals that need to be gotten to this week. I thoroughly enjoyed my few days away, though, and getting to spend so much time with one of my oldest friends. I’ll try not to go so long between visits next time.
One of the best, unexpected things that happened once I made art-making a priority for all of us is that my kids became accustomed to bringing sketchbooks on day trips and outings. This is as simple as it sounds; when packing for the day, sketchbooks and pencils go into the bag along with snacks and water. Why do I like having our sketchbooks along?
* Inspiration is everywhere! Sometimes you just need to draw your idea when you see it.
* It’s a balancing activity in a busy day—a time to focus and settle and look closely.
* It adds another layer to remembering the day. We have not just photos and memories but drawings and notes.
* If we’re learning about something in particular, those drawings and notes are part of project work.
You don’t need to go to a museum or tourist destination to take your art somewhere new. We take our sketchbooks into the yard and on nature walks too. Take them on a city walk or on your daily errands. Sometimes the kids ask for them at certain points, and sometimes I ask if anyone wants to join me in drawing something. Sometimes ours don’t come out of the backpack at all during an outing; that’s okay, too. I’m not trying to force them on anyone, rather, just make sure they’re available.
Some things to keep in mind:
* If you’re visiting a museum or other institution, make sure to check their visitor’s guidelines before bringing your sketchbooks. Most art museums, for example, list restrictions on what type of drawing materials are allowed, and some limit the size of your sketchbook, too.
* If you’re going someplace where guidelines don’t apply, consider bringing along more than just drawing pencils. Experiment with watercolor pencils, watercolors, and colored pencils. A water brush makes using paints and watercolor pencils even easier. This shows you how to make your own.
* Clipboards can be really handy for loose sheets of paper.
* If you want to be ready for anything, consider putting together a traveling art box for the trunk of the car.
The more you and your kids keep a sketchbook with you, the more it will get used. I keep this as rule-free and simple as possible. At minimum, I have a pencil pouch with a variety of drawing pencils. If the destination allows, I’ll bring my pouch of drawing pens and markers, too. We all have more than one sketchbook going, and the kids bring whichever one they want. (It would be more organized to fill one completely before starting another, I know, but I have problems doing that myself.) It’s nice to date the drawings and make a note of where you were and what you were looking at. And that’s about it.
Take it Further
Brainstorm a list of where you might take your sketchbooks. Is there any place on your list you go regularly—daily or weekly? Challenge yourselves to take your sketchbook and draw in the same place more than once. Do you notice anything new the more you visit? Does your drawing habit force you to look more closely?
Take your sketchbook to the zoo or a farm and try to draw some animals. How is your child’s approach different from yours? Which animals are easier or harder to draw? I find chickens really hard—they never stop moving! They force you to practice gesture drawings.
I love this little post of Lori’s from several years ago, showing her and her son’s drawings of a place they pass often.
There are numerous books full of sketchbook inspiration.
Clare Walker Leslie focuses on nature sketchbooks. If that’s what you’re called to sketch, you’ll enjoy looking through her books for inspiration.
Artist’s Journal Workshop is just gorgeous to page through and has information on materials as well.
Drawn In: A Peek into the Inspiring Sketchbooks of 44 Fine Artists, Illustrators, Graphic Designers, and Cartoonists is on my wish list, so I can’t tell you exactly what it contains. But I suspect, by the title, it covers a wide range of styles, reinforcing that a sketchbook is whatever you want it to be.
If you’re drawn to cityscapes, you may find inspiration in The Art of Urban Sketching.
Truly, a few minutes searching Amazon for “sketchbook” or “art journal” will bring up so many choices…I could spend all day browsing there.
Share Your Work
Reminder, if you have any photos of art-making going on at your house that you’d like to share, feel free to join the Flickr group.
This post is not really about what we did at the MFA Boston. It’s more about how we ended up there. You see, in project-based learning, the child is leading the way. The adult is mentoring. My job is to help the kids get where they want to go, not by drawing the map and marking the trail but by helping them draw their own map. I’m not picking a theme and setting up activities. They’re picking the theme, and they are figuring out what they want to do to support their learning. Right now my kids’ projects are overlapping. My eight-year-old hasn’t quite settled on one topic right now; he is researching various topics with Ancient Egypt that interest him. I’m keeping track of what he mentions and reminding him of what he’s said he wants to do or learn. My daughter has been diving into mummies, mummification, and Ancient Egypt’s ideas of the afterlife and the importance of mummification to these ideas. So in this regard, field trips are simpler because they’re bound, at this point, to apply to both projects.
However, it’s not my job to plan the field trips. No!! I simply make sure the kids know that I am able and willing to take them places to support their research. My son got onto the computer a couple of weeks ago to research real-life Ancient Egypt resources.
(All photos in the post are small cell phone photos, because that’s how I take project documentation photos, so I can upload them into Evernote. Right now, this is my method because it is convenient and easy and thus more liable to get done.)
After quite a bit of research, he had a list (which I wrote down for him) of places he’d like to go to support his study. This list isn’t constrained by distance or budget; everything is allowed.
It might be hard to read; it says: King Tut’s treasure, Egypt, Oriental Institute-Chicago, Yale Museum-New Haven, Met Museum of Art-New York (Sphinx of Hatsheput), RISD Museum, MFA Boston. I told him that three of these destinations were reasonable day trips for us: New Haven, Boston, and RISD (which is in Providence). He’s been to RISD many times before, actually; it’s the closest. We brought the Egyptian collections at all three museums on the computer, and he compared them to decide where he wanted to visit first.
He originally thought he’d want to go to New Haven, because he’s never been to that city, but after viewing collections online, he decided to visit the MFA in Boston first. (Link to their Egyptian collection page.) The next decision was how to get there–we could drive or take the commuter train, which is newly present near to us. It only runs all the way down here on weekdays, though, so that factored in.
He definitely wanted to take the train (as did his sister), so the next step was to figure out how to read a train schedule, which I showed him. Which stop did we need to get off at in Boston? I suggested that the MFA’s site might have that information for us. Together, we navigated the site to find out all he needed to know; he needed less and less of my guidance, and eventually he knew where we had to go, what time the trains came, whether we could sketch in the museum (yes), with what materials (just pencils), if we could bring in a backpack (no), a stroller (yes, but we didn’t), and if there was a place to leave our lunch bag while we toured the museum (yep). Together, we talked about which days of the week were possibilities given our other commitments, and he decided upon a day. Finally, he emailed his dad at work to see whether he could take the day off and come with us and/or be available to meet his brother’s school bus if his brother decided he’d rather go to school than come with us.
Eventually, it was decided the whole family would go. My daughter was elated about the train ride.
The MFA has an entire room of mummies–my daughter was quite pleased. My son, who has a strong interest in rocks (so much so that geology was a possible project topic, too) was thrilled to see alabaster in person. I suspect this will open up a further area of study and his interests might converge to provide that focus that’s been missing. He’s also interested in the gods and goddesses, though, and brought a list of names with him to the museum. We saw many statuettes of gods and goddesses, and we’ve talked about using our air-dry clay to try to make some.
Because he’s mentioned hieroglyphs, I purchased a poster of hieroglyphs and a hieroglyph stencil in the gift shop (along with all the postcards of Egyptian pieces they had–only four, alas). Tonight he mentioned making a cartouche with the clay. And we came across something in the museum that we hadn’t in our books–false doors, which allowed the ka to pass through. This will surely lead to further research.
In other words, our trip to view the Egyptian galleries at the MFA Boston was not the culminating event. It is part of the process of the kids’ research, and we came home with more interests to pursue, more leads to follow. And most importantly, this field trip wasn’t something presented to them, already planned, already decided. They both had a hand in planning it (my son more than my daughter, but she was involved as well). They have ownership of this learning.
I have so much more to share about their projects, but I’m not always able to blog by the end of the day. But I’ll do my best, because how else to get across how amazing this type of learning is to witness?
Last weekend we took a day trip to visit Dinosaur State Park, which is not too far south of Hartford, CT–about a 90-minute drive for us.
The main attraction is the dinosaur trackway. The Connecticut River Valley had great conditions for preserving dinosaur tracks, but not at all good conditions for preserving fossils. We’ve seen tracks before, at the Amherst Natural History Museum, at the northern end of the Valley, which boasts the largest collection of dinosaur tracks, many collected locally. But these tracks are right where the dinosaurs left them. It’ll give you goosebumps, if you think about it.
The trackway is complemented by additional displays, which were all interesting to the adults in the family, too. In fact, we went on my husband’s birthday, and he chose the destination. He’s a big dinosaur fan. Isn’t it amazing that during our lifetimes, the dinosaur-bird link progressed from a crazy, derided theory to fact? The exhibits mentioned this as well, because one of the first people to examine these tracks when they were discovered was Yale University’s Dr. Ostrom, who revived the dinosaur-to-bird evolution theory.
This is a fossil of a fish (obviously!).
The explanatory text said that the arching of the neck and back indicated the fish entered and died in toxic waters.
The park includes nature trails, too, so after we explored the inside, we took a walk outside. We kept seeing this red dragonfly, and finally he posed quite nicely for me.
He’s not quite as large as his prehistoric counterparts, but still, quite pretty.
This trip included a lot of time in the car, but it was a nice day for a picnic lunch, and an interesting destination, with lots of information about local (-ish, to us) geology and the always-big pull of dinosaurs. Worth a day trip!
We took advantage of an absolutely beautifully mild February day during the kids’ break week and returned to the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. (Our first visit, in the summertime, is described here.)
This time, we made sure to find The Musical Fence, which we missed last time.
There was sketching again.
I knit a bit (ahem, understatement!), so my kids knew exactly what they were seeing. The trees were wearing sweaters!
Hands down, the kids’ favorite exhibit indoors was Capturing Resonance, which is new since our last visit. Photos aren’t allowed indoors, so you’ll have to click over to see. We called it the “glittery bits,” and then we discovered it created noise, too, with our help. So cool!
Have you taken any art-related excursions lately?
Yesterday we all visited the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum of Art for a family open house. Various activities were going on throughout the afternoon. When we arrived, a Tours for Tots group was just gathering. G noticed the assemblage of people her size and went to join them, so her dad went on the half-hour tour with her, and the boys and I headed to the classroom (which is right off a gallery, not isolated from the exhibits) to see what the day’s activity was all about.
Immediately upon seeing those books, I thought of How To Be An Explorer of The World by Keri Smith. (My husband did, too; we own a copy.) But this booklet was written specifically with the Museum’s current exhibit, Made in the UK, in mind. So the various explorations are keyed into specific works of art, asking us (of course I took one too!) to look closely at, for example, the Roger Hiorns sculpture (number 6 on this PDF image sheet). “What do you notice about the piece?”
Says N, age 7: It has pompoms. It is made up of sticks.
Says V, age 9: It is three metal poles. The blue is pom-poms, but far away it looks like flowers or torn-apart balls. The pom-poms look like they are hanging off strings. Crystals on pom-poms.
Says me: Looks like rock candy. Crystals. Rusty in spots. Coral. Organic. Upside down. Blue, green. Grown on wood? Looks grown, not made.
Turns out the artist dipped dried thistles in a solution that grows crystals, then attached the thistles onto the poles. (I found this page that explains more. It’s similar to what we read at RISD, but I wasn’t taking notes then!) I would say we were pretty observant in our investigation!
The green postcard in the photo above has tips for closer looking on the back.
It starts with “Look: What do you notice? Draw: Find a line within the artwork, trace it in the air with your finger. Draw: Draw that same line on your paper.” And it goes on from there. We didn’t have time to use the postcard today, but I think it’s fabulous.
I also think the construction of this book is fabulous. The cover is cardstock, a piece a bit longer than the page pieces, so that the back cover can be folded over a bit and stapled, forming a flap to tuck the front cover into. The pages are held in with a rubber band, and when we were finished exploring the exhibit, we went back to the classroom, where tables were set up with pieces of paper and tape so that kids could add more pages to their booklets. V added pages, plus a pocket.
(We love pockets in our notebooks.) The simple construction means this would be easy to do at home–in fact, think of the possibilities of creating one of these yourself, catered to your own surroundings. It doesn’t have to be for works of art in a museum. You could make an Exploration Book for a walk in the park or your neighborhood, with activities to help you and your children stop and observe (I definitely recommend the Keri Smith book for inspiration). Making some of these is now on my (long) list of Ideas to Try.
N was happy to find a selection of colored pencils back in the classroom, because he’d been a little frustrated about drawing what he saw in the gallery, using only a regular pencil. He was anxious to add some color.
He then went on to make a tape sculpture and several 2-dimensional tape drawings and then a drawing on vellum with pastels, because vellum is so cool (I think so too).
G, of course, knew exactly what to do with all that colored tape.
The colored tape we have is all the same width, and how exciting to have a variety of lines to work with! We might need to expand our supplies.
RISD is making a great effort to make families feel welcome and engaged in the museum. It can be a bit of a challenge for us to get there–it’s about 45 minutes each way, and parking is always tough in the city–but it’s well worth the effort. I’m still trying to figure out a way to get G to more Tours for Tots, because they end at about the same time I need to be picking up my big kids from school, but N and I are planning on taking a class together, which I think will be fun for both of us.
What sort of Explorer book might you create? Does your local art museum support families? If so, how? (And if not, could you suggest some ideas?!)
It wasn’t my plan to let three weeks go by without posting; my kids and I have been enjoying the last month of summer, spending lots of time outdoors, often at the beach. Today is the last day of summer vacation (a bonus day, thanks to Hurricane Irene), so I thought I’d post a few pictures from arts-related excursions over the summer that I didn’t post about.
Above and below are photos taken at the Firefly Projects exhibit by China Blue at the Newport Art Museum.
My two younger children and I visited in July. We all liked this exhibit quite a bit; you can read more about it in the Museum’s summer newsletter (scroll down a bit here).
That’s a photo of a tattoo flash book on display at Mystic Seaport in their exhibit (which closes soon) Skin and Bones: Tattoos in the Life of the American Sailor. All three kids and I spent a great day at the Seaport (we’re members, and I highly recommend the place), and we agreed that tattoo artists deserve the title “artist.” N especially loves dragons and asked that I photograph the above.
We also visited the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art over the summer. The studio project at the time was painting portraits. Look closely; you can see the other side of G’s face in the mirror she is peering into.
I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting as we (reluctantly) transition back into the school routine. I have some decisions to make about all sorts of things.
I’ve been wanting to visit the deCordova for a while now, and it’s on our summer list. (As a bonus, it’s free on summer weekdays, so if you’re anywhere in the area, now’s the time to visit!) This was my first visit, too, so all of us were exploring together. No photos were allowed inside, so you’ll have to imagine… we began on the third floor (because that’s where the bathrooms are!), so the first exhibit we saw was Ursula von Rydingsvard’s sculptures inside the museum. After we looked at them and talked a bit about them (some of them included cow intestines! except the intestines looked completely different in the two pieces–we figured it was the inside vs. the outside) the kids asked for their sketchbooks. We were the only ones in the gallery at the time, and we sat down on the floor, the kids looked at the sculptures, and drew. I really wish I could have taken a picture of them.
We visited all three main exhibits inside the museum. The focus is on contemporary art; I was disappointed that items from the permanent collection weren’t on display. One exhibit, Wall Works, had works inspired by items from the permanent collection, which were on display alongside. What a great opportunity to see how art and artists continue to inspire and inform each other.
The third exhibit inside is works by Andy Goldsworthy. He is best known, I think, for his land art. The museum is raising money to support Goldsworthy’s permanent installation “Snow House” in the sculpture park. The indoor exhibit included mainly photographs of his work with snow, as well as two works on paper that consisted of allowing large “urban, gritty” snowballs to melt on the paper, and then allowing the paper to dry. I predict that we’ll be experimenting with our own snowball art next winter!
The sculpture park is just fantastic. It’s such a wonderful thing to have a big open outside space when visiting museums with young children. We got to spread out a blanket and have a picnic lunch; the kids climbed a big rock for a while; we walked along a path outside with views of Flint’s Pond; and of course, we wandered around looking at sculpture.
This is Rain Gates. It’s sculpture you can walk around in:
Ozymandias dominates the front part of the park.
The kids took out their sketchbooks again. I’d also grabbed our traveling art box from the car.
Ursula von Rydingsvard also has a sculpture in the park, ence pence:
I liked this one, Apollo by Albert Paley, mainly because of the materials. It’s made of stainless steel and weathering steel, and N and I talked about how that means when the sculpture was first made, it would have looked different; it was meant for time and the elements to change it and weather it. We felt it to see how the steels were different in texture as well as in color.
And G likes trains, so this Mass Art Vehicle on tracks was right up her alley.
The deCordova website has a page devoted to visiting their museum with children. They also provide family activity kits that can be borrowed–some for outside, some for inside. We didn’t end up using any, because all the materials except the paper needed to be returned anyway (and we had plenty of paper), because we’re fairly good at talking about art by this point, and because I didn’t know if the clay/dough included in the kit was gluten-safe and, unfortunately, I have to consider that sort of thing. But it’s nice to know these resources are available, and the guards never once looked idgety about my children being in the galleries or drawing in sketchbooks. This museum is doing really well with making sure families and children feel welcome.
We weren’t able to see everything in the sculpture park–it’s so big! Which is just an excuse to go back again soon.
I saw in our local paper that a mill that now is home to many artist studios would be having Open Studio afternoons throughout the summer, so I thought I’d take the kids to see some artists at work.
Do you see the fish down by the baseboard, pointing the way? It’s made from reclaimed fence posts. That small studio, down at the end of a maze-like hallway, was crowded but exciting. Fence posts were strewn about the floor, there were large cutouts of seahorses, and the studio’s owner was “playing around” (her words) with mussel shells, a glue gun, and cardboard taped into a cone shape–she was making a Christmas tree. (“We have all those supplies,” I pointed out to the kids.) N noticed a painted piece peeking out from behind some other stuff leaning against a wall and wanted to know what kind of paint was used; he didn’t recognize it. It was spray paint. I told him in a couple of years I’d set him up with some.
Through that door we found a delightful painter who began to paint once he retired. He told me he’d always wanted to paint, but he’d never found the time, and also that he’s self-taught. His paintings were colorful and eye-catching and interesting for the kids to look at, and he was just as engaging as his work. He asked the kids if they were artists, too, and answered any questions they had.
The very first studio we entered belonged to glass-blowers. Between the broken glass on the floor, the hot ovens, and the numerous beautiful glass objects, I thought it best to hold G, so I didn’t get any pictures. But he gave us a tour and explained the process, including opening the 2500-degree oven just a crack to let the kids see how hot it has to be to melt glass. They were filling fall and holiday orders, or starting to–we passed lots of pumpkins and Christmas trees waiting to be shipped out. They also made long tubes of multi-colored glass, and around the corner, a bead-maker sliced them up and turned them into glass beads.
I won’t lie, parts of this adventure were very challenging. G didn’t want to hold my hand or stay with me; she wanted to touch all the pretty things she saw and run down the long mill hallways. The day we visited was only the second Open Studio of the summer, and it seemed clear that some people were surprised to actually see people, never mind children. There wasn’t really a contact number to call first to see if this was appropriate for children, and I suspect the answer, anyway, would be “it depends.” It really depends on the artist and the studio.
The instructor who teaches mostly middle school and high school kids was more than happy to see my kids, talking to them about the completely random things he had strewn about his studio (for drawing practice, I’m guessing). The studio where my oldest (who should know to keep his hands to himself) accidentally set off a staple gun, nearly giving me a heart attack–not so much for the children, clearly. And some were simply in between. I found the jeweler who learned his craft in his native Finland and does everything by hand to be fascinating, and while V looked sort of bored, I think he was pleased to discover, when he asked, that yes indeed, you can get jewelry made out of titanium.
Also, many studios weren’t open, because the artists weren’t there. But it was worth it to walk the hallways to the end anyway, because we got to see not only artwork hanging on the walls, but murals like this.
I think, all in all, I’d perhaps take another adult with me next time. But it was worthwhile to get a look at what a “real” artist’s studio looks like (in many cases, not so different from our room downstairs, but with better light and, sometimes, a coffee machine right nearby instead of upstairs) and observe that many of them use materials we use, too.
I want to demystify “artist” for my kids–I do think they consider themselves artists, and I don’t want that feeling to disappear as they grow older. There’s not this huge, staggering difference between the people making art in those studios and us making art over here, because we are all making art, and that’s the main thing.