CBMS Choice-Based Art Studio

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

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Star is Born

The project began sometime before September 7, the date on the photo at right – Now it is the end of October and there is a week left in art this quarter, and today – finally - “J's” soft sculpture is complete! 

“J” didn't work on it every day this quarter – sometimes the going was too frustrating and she would have to put it away for a while. 

Sometimes, the “new thing” in the studio was too compelling, and  the sewing project would be aside, for say, the potter’s wheel, or papermaking. But she would always return to it, day after day – putting it together and taking it apart; constructing and deconstructing. 

She made her way through the directions in a book that anyone would agree were not clear. Hers is definitely a story of the studio thinking habit “Engage & Persist,” if there ever was one. 
Welcome to the world little dude!
 And today, October 25th, The project is complete! What a triumph of will and skill! And what a delightful, whimsical payoff.
Congratulations “J” on a job well done! (I'm going to miss this little dude-with-no-name.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

“Every time I make paper I learn something new about color combinations”

The Papermaking Center just opened in the art studio – to replace the Clay Center, which just closed (in preparation for the end of the quarter.) For some it is a whole new, exciting experience, full of wonder. For others it is the favorite center, back at last, ready for students to pick up where they left off last year. The spiraling curriculum, in which ideas, methods, materials and techniques come around again, provides learners with an opportunity to experiment with novelty and “go deep” toward mastery.

“Every time I make paper I learn something new about color combinations”  - "W," grade 5
Paper makers are also colorologists – blending and mixing hues to achieve desired and often unexpected results. Art teachers are accustomed to teaching about color-mixing through paint, but my students are teaching me that the same concepts can be discovered and understood through the alchemy of handmade papers. “If you use opposite colors,” advises one, it will turn yucky.”

 Experiences and conversations such as these provide teachable “just in time” moments to suggest art vocabulary such as “complimentary colors” for “opposite” ones and “neutral color” for “yucky.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Late last week fifth grade artists finally gained access to the Fabrics & Fibers Center in the art studio. Each new center is opens in turn, and this is the last to open this quarter. It has taken us a little longer to get around to each center because this group of artists is extraordinarily self-directed and quite busy with way too many projects as it is. We are already mourning the fact that the quarter ends in three weeks – there is still so much to do!
Sewing in the morning sewing in the evening sewing at suppertime...
"W" is wearing the shirt she customized over the weekend

One creative, industrious student showed up on Monday wearing a shirt she customized over the weekend. Applying the sewing techniques that were introduced and practiced Friday, “W” sewed a striking design on the front of her shirt. She told me she was originally going for a bullseye pattern, but the resulting asymmetrical design pleased her even more.

Artists know that there is never enough time for making art. What a smart idea “W” had to optimize artmaking time by using both her home studio and her school studio.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Stencil Artist and the learner-directed classroom

"A's" skateboard graphic
“A” started making stencils in art last year. He is extraordinarily good at it. He can take a printout and translate it into a stencil, deftly cutting away parts with an Xacto blade. He can make a “positive” image, or reverse the process and create a “negative” image. Fast too.
One day I found this after class:
I asked “A” about it and he told me that his friend started to make a stencil of his name, but only got as far at the “M” when he gave up. “So I finished it for him.” Guerrilla art stencil-style?
The other day before school I found a big back stashed in the art studio – it was “A's” Skateboard and helmet – ready to receive a stencil design later in the day. This is a concrete example of an artist thinking about and planning for art outside of class. 

One of the strengths of the learner-directed studio is just that: a student can rely on the stability of the studio and can therefor plan their next project knowing what materials and tools will be available to them during class. This is a stark contrast to the way I used to teach, which I sometimes think of as an “art ambush.” In an art ambush, the student doesn't know what the teacher has planned for the day, and arrives ready to be told the assignment. The teacher expects the student to start right in on the project, without the benefit of incubation. In this construct, students often come through the door asking “what are we doing today?”
In our choice-based art studio, the question I hear instead is: “Can we get right to work?”

Art Machine Update

Several weeks ago I drove past a “free pile” (famous in my area) and threw this old bike into the back of my car. 5Th graders organized themselves to turn the sad old bike into “The Art Machine.” They discussed how to decorate it and who would do what, made a list and set to work. Soon everyone had finished their self-appointed task, and they were – done. I asked them if I could offer the bike to 6th grade artists to pick up where they left off. 

The 5th grade group was agreeable to this with these rules:
  • It's ok to embellish areas of color with pattern or other decoration, but no obliterating original work
  • No painting under the coiled bike lock cable, because that guards a little patch of the original bike color, which they want to preserve.
So yesterday the first group of 6th graders started in on it, and I will offer it to another group tomorrow. The plan is that each grade level will get a crack at it. 
Most think of this project as decorating a bike that they will get on and ride away - they do not see this yet as an "object d'art."
I will keep you updated as things go along.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012


By H and L Grade 8
 When I observe my students using text in the art, I sometimes reveal to them that once upon a time I strongly discouraged using “words” on art. “Real artists,” I would declare, “don't write on their art.”
How silly. Just look at Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer's Rhinoceros!

Albrecht Durer, 1515 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/D%C3%BCrer%27s_Rhinoceros
Using text in art is nothing new.
I think art teachers discourage “writing on art” because their taste dictates this. But a child's aesthetic is different from adults'. Teens especially find words very compelling and frequently incorporate words into their art.
Here, British painter John Walker struggles with this issue:
“In college, text was taboo to put in paintings. But I was looking around at what was going on. The first paintings with text that I noticed were David Hockney paintings. And then Pop art burst onto the scene....”

David Hockney, Pearblossom Highway, 1986, photographic collage (http://tinyurl.com/9tjhj5j )
Which brings me to the beautiful series of work underway by two 8th graders in my class. One girl started it – trying to get some feelings out one day she said. Another joined in and now the two are collaborating on several pieces. Some are paintings of song lyrics, they tell me. What is interesting to me is that the words themselves are functioning almost like art media – the paintings are being built from them. Selective use of color, scale and line-quality add to the richness of these paintings, as words are layered one upon the other until the work feels complete. 

So, text in art is nothing new - but it occurs to me that the word text has taken on a whole new meaning to teens.What impact will today's understanding of text and texting have have on artmaking I wonder?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Vermont TAB Gathering

On a way-too-beautiful Saturday morning recently, art teachers from around Vermont gathered in the CBMS art studio to discuss Choice-Based Art education and the concept of Teaching for Artistic Behavior.
Vermont teachers take over the CBMS art studio on September 21, 2012
 Each teacher brought a sample of student art from their classrooms, and together we created a “pop-up art show.” Tunbridge, Twinfield, Hyde Park, Waterbury & Georgia were some of the schools represented. Topics discussed included; nuts and bolts for organizing and maintaining choice-based classrooms, approaches to assessment, teaching about and using "artist's statements," new books and other resources, and digital portfolios.
Regional TAB gatherings are happening all around the U.S., organized at the grassroots level for and by art educators who value the opportunity to learn and grow from our collective experience.