CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio

CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio
CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Pleasures of Printmaking

Brayer Party

Tools and materials are set up assembly-line style. Students start in the "ink zone" and move down the line to the "Clean zone" before pulling their print. Printmakers always wear aprons (to wipe their inky fingers on!)
 Printmaking is always available in our studio, but to drum up business, I set up our spare table in an inviting "Art Trap" (and then I wait for artists to fall into it.) The table space is divided in half: "Ink Side" & "Clean Side." Artists ink up at the left, and then carry their inked printing plate to the right side, wipe fingers, choose paper, and use either a baren or the etching press to apply pressure before pulling their print.

The main attraction at the printmaking center may be this Charles Brand press left in my care when my brother up and moved to Japan

First try by "A," Grade 5

Printmaking is process-rich and comes with its own vocabulary. 
And students find out that a lot can go wrong! Some years ago a helpful student gave me this sign(photo below) to help others avoid the common pitfalls printmakers encounter - it now lives in the Printmaking Center in the studio
"What Went Wrong?" sign by "MM" many years ago!

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Place to Experiment

The Art studio is a place of possibility. Encouraging learners to direct the course of their study means allowing for experimentation and exploration. These behaviors are foundational for artists. The Studio Habit: "Stretch & Explore" defines this creative disposition.
We know that hands-on learning is powerful, and that sometimes making a mistake is the best way to understand something.  But it can still take considerable restraint on the part of the teacher, to let students learn "the hard way."

Recently a cohort of eighth grade clay artists discovered my secret stash of marbles and began to spontaneously conduct all kinds of experiments firing the glass into and onto their clay objects Mostly they dropped the marbles into slab bowls, and observed how the glass slumped and melted to become its own glaze. 
When I found the clay bowl pictured below on the ware shelf, I knew this artist was in for a surprise. Rather than taking her aside and explaining what would happen at 1580 degrees, I prepared the kiln shelf for what I knew (and she did not know) was coming. I placed her bowl up on a stilt, and used a discarded bowl to protect the kiln shelf and neighboring objects from what was to come. 
I'm sorry I didn't get a picture of the result, but this clay artist learned a little about gravity and melting!
6th grade "J" has an unusually large collection of slab-built and wheel thrown objects to glaze. Right now, she is the only dedicated clay artist in her class. Others have tried clay and moved on to other centers.
Experiments in the art studio are "low stakes." If something is tried, and it fails, there is usually enough time to try again. It is by trying again that students make use of the knowledge they have acquired through experimentation. Each artwork is a teacher that provides insight for the next attempt. Students with the opportunity to return time and again to a favorite medium or process build their own repertoire of skills and information to inform their work.
"J's" finished giant bowl

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Outstanding Teacher Award

Many thanks to Crossett Brook Principal Tom Drake for nominating me for the University of Vermont 2014 Outstanding Teacher Award.

From left: Fayneese Miller, Dean, College of Education & Social Services, Nan Hathaway,
Martha Allen, President, Vermont National Education Association, Luke Foley, 2014 Vermont Teacher of the Year 
 I am thrilled and humbled to receive this honor, and my mother, a retired art teacher is over the moon. For an Art teacher to receive this recognition, she notes, is worth an extra measure of celebration. Nationally and historically, Art often receives short shrift (one of Mom's favorite expressions); in budgets, in scheduling, and in recognition. Not so at Crossett Brook Middle School. Thank you to the Washington West Supervisory Union community: administration, fellow teachers, parents, community members, and students, for the strong and on-going support. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

TAB 2.0 Winter Gathering

It was cold, it was windy, it was Saturday...morning, and yet ten art teachers from as far away as Orleans county gathered in the CBMS art studio to talk TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior.) By meeting to share ideas, innovations, struggles, successes, and questions, these art teachers engage in creating their own professional development, targeted to their own needs. 

Although we met for 2 ½ hours, it was not enough time to cover all the topics raised. Follow-up happens after; in emails, through online posts to the  TAB Yahoo Group, on  TAB Facebook and among peers back at our own schools. Here is the list of topics that were raised:
  • Teach Concept or Content? What % of each?
  • Do you have to be an artist to be an art teacher?
  • Fostering imagination through play - what do you think?
  • Talk/Show and tell - Career Screen! Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS)
  • Managing getting work up on display regularly
  • Quantity over Quality
  • Challenging Self
  • Overcoming Teacher Aesthetic Elitism 
  • Persistance (or lack of) - How to influence students who give up too easily
  • Stuck Students - only do one thing over and over 
We called this meeting TAB 2.0 because this time, we focused on issues of teachers who already have a measure of experience teaching in a Choice-Based setting. Next time, we will again open the gathering to all who are interested in learning and sharing about TAB at all levels.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Sewing in the Studio

We have two sewing machines in the studio. I am happy to show students how to thread them, how to sew a seam and make a corner – how to back stitch. I teach about sewing “right sides together” so that the seam is hidden inside. And that's about it. In the context of a busy art studio, I can't really teach sewing lessons (how to put in a zipper, how to set a sleeve) – this would take too much of my attention away from everyone else. 
This 8th grader taught herself to design & sew clothes. She doesn't follow written directions, but instead researches & cuts her own patterns.

"L" wore the dress she made yesterday to school today!

Students use the sewing machine to craft simple objects (pillows and their many “art-pillow” variations, for instance), and those with more advanced sewing skills use them for fashion design or other sewing projects, like quilt-making, perhaps. 
Day-Night Bear
By "L," grade 7, made as a gift to replicate a childhood toy belonging to her mother
Designing stuffed animals is a favorite choice. We've also used the sewing machine to bind books and to add texture to small drawings.
One from a series of Hogwarts Pillows

Sometimes a student learn to use the machine here in the studio, and then go home and dig out their family's old machine. Others have asked for a sewing machine for a special gift at Christmas or birthday time.

 In this day and age when more and more attention is diverted by screen-time, it is rewarding to observe students drawn to this traditional, versatile technology.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


"M," grade 6, used this reference as inspiration for her soft sculpture
Artists "Appropriate" when they take someone's work and "make it their own." There are rules about this. In the working world of professional artists, the resulting artwork has to be significantly changed - "transformed," or copyright infringement can result. Just ask Jeff Koons...
Does the student artwork above meet this test?
Does the Koon's sculpture (above)?
(Hint: Koons was sued and lost)
There is considerable leeway in educational settings, however, and the rules are not the same for students as for professional artists who profit financially from their artwork. It has always been common practice for art students to copy works of art in order to learn. I have a lovely book of paintings Pablo Picasso made inspired by other artworks (Picasso's Variations on the Masters) - didn't he "copy"? Is it okay? Isn't it ironic that so many  school art projects copy Picasso's paintings and style and then teachers warn students that they shouldn't "copy" from sources the student selects?
Modern and contemporary artists routinely appropriate imagery from pop culture (Warhol, Liechtenstein).  Brabara Kruger won a lawsuit against brought her, even though she blatantly used another artist's original photograph in her work (below).  
Art class is the perfect place to ponder this issue, to debate what is fair use and what is not, what is "copying" (a term students know well!) and what is referencing. It is a complex issue, full of nuance, just exactly the kind of topic from which students (and their teachers) can learn the most.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Develop Craft - A Potter Emerges

6th grade 'S' has a lot of work to do. Before winter break, she made over a dozen functional pieces of pottery. Now comes the glazing.

 Most of the time, this potter prefers to use the potter's wheel, but when the wheel "closed" at the end of the last rotation of turns, she switched over to hand building and used the slab-slump method.

I can recognize 'S's work on the clay shelf - she has a distinctive shape, as do many potters. But by any measure, this is a lot of work from one short nine week quarter! And it looks like an awful lot of clay, for just one student. Some may wonder how the program can support this luxury. The answer is that not everyone is as devoted to ceramics as 'S' is. If they were, we would be clay-bankrupt. But not everyone loves clay this way. 
While 'S' delights in clay, another classmate is over at the digital art center, teaching a classmate how to import photos for a stop action animation. Another young artist spends days and days weaving a rainbow colored pouch, and another just completed the most recent in a series of soft sculpture creatures (which will be featured in my next post!). The point is, when learners choose their work, they often "fall in love" with a technique or material or idea and dwell there until their work is "done." 
Unfortunately for 'S,' I suspect the quarter, which ends next week, will be "done" before her love-affair with making pottery ends.