CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

"Going Deep"

What does "going deep" look like in a choice-based art program?
6th-Grader "M" at the wheel
Since students choose which "center" they will work in and what tools, materials and techniques to employ, they sometimes find they have an affinity for a certain medium or process and stay with it a while. When this happens, students have the opportunity to "go deep."
Family Portrait by"H" Grade 7

Sometimes specialization results in new innovations and other times in true mastery. I have seen this happen in the Clay center, when a student falls in love with clay, or in the Sculpture center, working with found objects. Printmakers who tough it out are rewarded with a unique experience only this technique offers. Students who stay with a line of artistic inquiry often become classroom experts and can offer advise or provide inspiration for others. 

Sometimes this happens in an "ah ha" moment, when a student realizes that they can accomplish something new. Other times, serendipity steps in, as when one material pushes up against another and passively suggests a new idea. 

 I am watching this happening with a new crop of 5th graders. One student has moved beyond the mere mechanics of the paper-making technique I demonstrated to all and is nudging this process toward the expression of ideas.
Paper scraps are sorted into color families, to facilitate color-mixing practice
Handmade paper, by "A" grade 5
Papermaking is a fairly mechanical artmaking process. It always surprises and delights me when a student jumps from being merely an alchemist, mixing magic pulp-potions, to being and artist who communicates an idea. That is what happened last week when a student moved paper from a 2D process to a 3D experience (photo above - featuring a 3rd-year papermaker), and again when the pages from a discarded children's book came in close contact with colors of the night sky.

Text and color used by this 8th grade artist to convey meaning

Conertible Art

The idea for interchangeable heads and bodies started with a classmate. Here, wood scraps are fashioned into figure-tops that slip into a base.
 The base holds one,
         or the other, 

                                          or both! 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

November is for the Birds

By L" grade 7
As we head off for Thanksgiving break, and in honor of Tom Turkey, I thought I would take a moment to highlight some of the feathered friends that have populating the art studio recently.
Newspaper, feathers and tape - by "G" grade 6
Tempera painting by "J" Grade 6 "I dream to do daring things in art."
"The Puzzler" by "D" grade 7

Friday, November 16, 2012

Mini Center: One Sock Doll

"Gift for my cousin" By "R" Grade 8

The art studio at CBMS is set up with several “centers” to facilitate autonomy and organize materials. There is the painting center over by the sink, the clay center at the back of the room, one for sculpture collage, digital art, drawing, printmaking and fiber arts. Students choose which center to work in after my brief demonstration or discussion at the start of class. These centers are always there – permanent fixtures for students to rely upon and plan for.
Then there are the ephemeral centers, ones that come and go, like the papermaking center featured in the previous blog post, or the bookmaking center which will come next. Later this trimester I will set up a mosaic center and then an encaustic painting center. Maybe a lantern-making center for the Waterbury Lantern parade?
And then there are the mini-centers, which I think are my favorite.

Mini centers are usually portable and contained in one box – like our little “One-Sock Doll” mini-center. We use a donated divided wooden box to hold everything artists need to create a tiny soft-sculpture creature. The materials are simple, as are the instructions. Given a few parameters, valued skills are learned, practiced and improved. Students need to know how to thread a needle and tie a knot, stitch a seam and sew “right sides together.” Embroidery stitches are used to add a face and other details. It takes some patience, practice and a measure of imagination to transform a little sock into an original sculpture. There is a lot of learning packed into this mini-center!

Thanks to Ellyn Gaspardi for introducing me to this project at the National Art Education Association Convention some years ago.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Paper Casting

Papermaking is a popular choice in the art studio this month. Unlike most of the centers available in the art studio, the papermaking center is a temporary one and will close soon. Students know that if they want a chance at it, they have to act now.
 Some students are new to the process and are learning how to mix recycled papers into their own custom formula, move down the line from blender to iron, arriving at the end with a new, handmade sheet of paper. Some students remember the process from last year and are ready to stretch and explore, discover new possibilities, and initiate daring innovations. 
One new technique students are testing is using a template to contain paper pulp against the background sheet of paper. Students have found that metal cookie cutters work well for this purpose.

One student wondered if he could put the fresh, pliable sheet of paper over his face, using his face as a mold to make a paper casting. It was quickly determined that unless he wanted to sit motionless in the art studio overnight, he needed to find something else to use as a mold. I remembered that I have a quantity of styrofoam faces in the art closet, so we tried these.
The idea of paper casting is new for us and is producing some interesting possibilities.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Too cold for spray paint!

If you follow this blog, you have seen this stencil-artist before.
“A” is amazingly fast at taking a design and rendering it into a stencil. He can visualize the positive-negative relationship and cut them faster than I can say “put a board under it – and don’t cut yourself!”  For his final project, he cut 8 or 9 new stencils to decorate his skateboard. Unfortunately, between cutting and spraying, we got our first snow and things have gotten downright unpleasant out the back door.
Undaunted, “A” completed his project, overlaying designs and colors as planned. He is preserving his stencils for future work at home. The next time I see “A” in class, he will be an 8th grader! Our time is art goes by too fast.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

An Eye for Local Clay

Is it clay or is it just mud?
A student delivered a small baggie of natural local clay to the art room the other day. He dug it up at the reservoir. Frankly, it looked like a little pile of mud – or worse. But “S” claimed it was clay, so I poured it onto a stack of paper towels and let it dry a little. When “S's” class appeared later that day, we talked briefly about where this clay was found, and then “S” set out to form it into something. We wanted to try a test firing. The clay was greenish brown. It had a few sticks in it. “S” made a small pinch pot and we left it to dry.

Pinch pot fired inside a larger pot in case the new clay melts in the kiln
 The next day, we checked the pot and it was holding together well. I explained to the class that we don't know what temperature this clay can be fired to – it could melt if it is fired at too high a temperature. The safe way to fire “S's” little pot would be to place it inside another pot made from our regular low-fire clay. That way, if it melts, the clay we know will protect the kiln shelf.

Finished pinch pot by "S" - Grade 5, made from clay from the beach at the Waterbury Reservoir
 Students predicted that the brownish-green clay would fire red, because I let slip earlier that a similar experiment with “playground clay” in Colorado started out mud-color and fired up red.
They were right! The little pot fired to a lovely terra cotta red.
There is something magical about this process. I hope more students dig up and bring in clay from our area. It will be interesting to see if there is variety in samples from different locations.