CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio

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

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. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

"Can I come back during my free period?"

Students often ask to come to art during the last block of the school day, which for most, is a study hall. This is my "Planning Period," and while I could use the time in a quiet child-free studio, I almost always say "yes!"
Last block becomes a multi-age studio
Some artists return to the studio to finish up something they are working on during they regular art class. Some are here because their art class ended, and they miss it. Some are here because they would rather work with art materials than do their homework, while others have finished all their homework, and choose time in the studio over time in the library. 
A group of regulars - here nearly every day
Sometimes students come during last block to get a private lesson, on the sewing machine or potter's wheel, for instance. The understanding is: in order to come to art students need "a purpose and a pass." This assures that the sending teacher knows where their students are, and keeps the studio productive, if a little more relaxed (we often have music on last block).
Handmade paper from art class employed to "look old" for a Social Studies assignment
More and more, students appear to make "visuals" for their other classes. I can always tell when a big Social Studies unit is wrapping up, because the studio fills right up last block! When students elect to come to the studio for their own purposes, it demonstrates to me that they have a working knowledge of the materials and techniques I introduced earlier. Students can apply their knowledge from other subjects, and "show what they know" through art making. This is learner-implemented "Arts Integration." 
Clay bust made in support of 5th grade study of Greek Mythology - during free block
What has developed is a student-initiated art club of sorts. Or maybe it is more like an authentic community studio. In any case, it is a pleasure to sit at my keyboard and observe a quiet room of mixed aged students working on an assortment of projects they care about. 
To quote my friend & mentor Kathy Douglas, "this is the best (but not easiest) job in the world." Today it felt pretty easy though...
This Alligator worked out so well, 6th grade "Z" found he had to return to make another as a commission!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Even bananas reflect about their work

Students pausing in the making to reflect and share about their work
Every two weeks, rain or shine, banana or grapefruit, we pause in the making to reflect and share artwork. It is important for artists to learn to talk about their work and the work of others with respect and insight, so we practice. 

If an artwork is finished, students have the option of displaying their work, storing it in their portfolio, or taking it home (3D work goes home if not displayed). Displayed work is always accompanied by an artist's statement. 

Work-in-progress is acknowledged as a normal state of affairs. In our program, the student decides when a piece is finished - or if a piece gets finished. Not all work is brought to a finished state, although there is a persistent idea among adults that students need to learn to finish what they start.
Objects painted silver but then abandoned
There are many reasons why artwork does not always reach a finished state. I feel it is up to the artist to make this determination. 

"I'm done!" declared an 8th grade needle-felter.."No wait! it needs feet!"
 When I speak at Art Educator conferences around the country, one of my favorite questions to ask an audience of art teachers is "How many of you have work at home that is unfinished?" Most hands go up. Next I ask "When are you going to finish that anyway?" Sometimes I add "It's due Friday." They get the point. Not all work gets finished. That's an authentic artistic behavior.


Last spring three tall boxes arrived containing our new art stools. In true art-teacher-form, I prized the boxes as much as the stools, and stored them in the art closet all summer, waiting for kids to return to make good use of them.

 I offered these treasures to any artist or collaborative team who could provide a plan worthy of the box. 


A group of three 8th graders design the first (Outer space box).
8th Graders researching images for "Outer space Box"


Three 5th graders designed the next (Aquarium box) and a solo 6th grader designed the last (Robot box).
5th graders prepare their box with gesso

"L" (grade 5) created the sketch for her team's box painting, which wasn't complete until four cats were created to look over the top of the aquarium.

The 3-D paintings adorned the school atrium for a few weeks becoming an interactive exhibit for students to arrange and rearrange. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

No Grades: Follow-Up

"I loved the idea of no grades because my work was my own...It wasn't for a grade. It was for my love for ART and how art helps me become a better person." ~8th grade girl

For years now I have been polling students as they finish a term. First, I ask: "If you were grading yourself in art, what grade would it be?"
Then, of course, I ask "Why?"
After that, I inquire: "If there were no grades in art, how would this affect you and your work?"

21% think grades have a positive affect on learning & creating
  9% think grades have a negative affect on learning & creating
70% think grades have no affect on learning & creating  

 Based on the data I collected and my observations over several years, there are no grades in art this year. Strictly speaking, I am piloting this change and observing if there is any (change). We have just completed the first term in art, and students responded to this item on their final reflection: "There were no grades in art this year. How did this affect your work?"

The overwhelming majority of students replied that there was no difference for them, or it was better, because there was "less pressure" or "less stress" (I wasn't really aware of that much pressure or stress previously...but that is just from my point of view!) One student so far (out of 40) commented that he did not stay as focused, and another said that it made him "not so precise about my work." 
I look forward to collecting and compiling this new data set as the year goes on. 
"Out - In" handmade paper collage, by "H" Grade 8

 "The no grades didn't affect my work because I come with an expectation that I have something to do and I am going to do it even if I am graded or not." ~8th grade boy

Annotated handmade paper collection, By "J" & "C", grade 8
 "I think that having no grades did not affect my work this year. I think either way I would have done my best." ~Boy, grade 8
Needle-Felted Creature, By "A" grade
"I liked that there were no grades because I felt freer in expressing myself through my art." ~Girl, grade 8