Saturday, November 11, 2017

Surrealism in Space!

I came across a really cool post on the Italian blog Arteascuola, and decided to adapt the project to use with my after school DragonWing Arts students.  Thank you to blogger Miriam Paternoster for her great idea!  You can find her post, HERE.

There were three parts to creating the final project.  But before we even started, we discussed surrealism and and looked at images by various artists.  We noticed that many of the paintings created a sense of space and depth by using perspective.  So of course we had to discuss what linear perspective is!  Then we were able to start.

Step 1 was creating the background, and outer space sky.  We painted with black ink, and let it dry.  Then we painted on some glittery purple paint (it was a free sample I was given at a convention, and the consistency is rather thin and jelly-ish and doesn't cover well at all, but it create a nice effect great over black).  We also splatter painted some white tempera paint.  When it was dry, metallic and glittery markers and colored pencils were used to add some planets and stars and such.

Step 2 was to create a simple room interior on a separate paper, using one-point perspective.  We used the vanishing point and our rulers to create a checkered pattern on the floor, and also to place some doors and windows.  The rooms were painted with liquid watercolors, and salt was added as desired o make a funk textural look to the walls and floor.  When the paint was dry, some details were added with Sharpie, and the windows and doors were cut open.  Some were cut out completely, and others were cut so that they could open and close.  The ceilings were completely cut away. 
Here we are, ready to cut out our ceilings and doors.  
The Sharpie embellishments haven't been added yet.
Step 3 was assembly and magazine collage.  The parts were glued together, and students picked images to put in their rooms and skies.  I was originally planning to cut a window flap in the skies, and take and print photos of the kids so they could be entering through the window.  Thank goodness I didn't tell the kids about this plan, since we ran out of time and never got to it!  The pic below shows the work created in steps 1 and 2, ready to be assembled.

The pics below are the finished pieces, after the magazine collage was added and everything was glued together.  (We used Elmer's Glue-All applied with a paintbrush.)   The pic at the top of the post is another of the complete pieces.

I have just 4 kids in the class this fall, which sometimes makes an odd dynamic.  I had great expectations for the kids putting things like giant hamburgers or ice cream cones or insects or tubes of toothpaste in the room or in the windows, or a fish flying through the sky, and so on. I made an example with a giant foot coming through a door, and a large hand reaching in a window, as well as a huge eyeball and a lizard, and a chocolate chip cookie.  I had loads of magazines - nature, home, and more, and so I was very surprised at the odd choices the kids ultimately made.  I've been teaching a long time, and usually kids would have been intrigued by my example but these kids had other ideas, decidedly different from my expectations.  But I think they are pretty cool, nevertheless!!!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Ugly No More - Family Heirloom Restoration Project is Complete

The lamp formerly known as the Ugly Lamp is complete and has a new home on a corner table in our lakeside cabin.  It seems happy there.  Since the last time I blogged about the lamp, I purchased the white shade, and after debating whether to paint the shade, I finally glued beaded trim and polka dot ribbon on the bottom edge, and a narrow ribbon near the top edge.  I'm happy with the result.  Meanwhile, my sweet husband wired the lamp so that it would actually work.  This is it, below, just after we turned it on for the very first time after being wired.  It hasn't been illuminated in decades.

When I first began the restoration process, more than two years ago, the lamp looked like the left-hand pic below.  On the right, you see it with some of the layers of paint removed.  I blogged about the history of this family heirloom, carved by my grandfather, and how it came into my possession, in the blog post you will find by clicking here.  You can also see more photos of the restoration process there.

After working on the lamp, I've decided the lamp was probably a gift from my grandfather to my grandmother when they got married.  The carving isn't as sophisticated as much of his later work, and it has engraved, on the three sides of the base, the following: a Jewish star; a menorah; and an entwined 'H' and 'R', the initials of my grandparents, Harry and Rae.  There is no such personal symbolism on any of his other pieces that I know of.   You can see the entwined initials in the images below, which show the lamp turned off and illuminated. 
 For more information about my grandfather and his wood carving / sculpture, including the story of the missing totem pole, check out the following links on my blog:
My grandfather's carvings, part 1
My grandfather's carvings, part 2

Monday, October 16, 2017

Papier-Mache Recipe

I've gotten a request for the awesome papier-mache recipe I mentioned in my previous post.  I had a link saved on Pinterest, but the link seems somewhat fussy.  I'll post it HERE, but I'm also copying the recipe at the bottom of this post, just as it is written on that link, in case you can't access it.  

Be aware, this is a flour-based recipe, so it should NOT be used if anyone in your class has a wheat/gluten allergy.  My little class of four students has nobody with a wheat allergy, and neither do I.  But be warned, and be careful. I'm a big proponent of using "Art Paste" for papier-mache in a regular school program because it is not a wheat product and has no allergy concerns, and also because it can be stored indefinitely.  But this stuff is definitely stronger.  Since the kids' structures were somewhat complex and our time is very limited, I did not want them to have to do multiple layers.  So using a strong flour-based paste was definitely preferable.  We used up all the goo I mixed so I didn't need to worry about storage. 
On the day that I mixed the papier-mache for my little DragonWing Arts class, I could NOT open the link with the recipe, and could not find my saved copy of it, so I just sort of invented based on memory.  It turns out that my memory is not so good; I didn't remember the baking soda and salt, nor the proportions of rice to wheat flour, and as a result, my mix was a bit gritty/lumpy, as you might be able to tell in these two photos of my girls being goofy.  Luckily, while not as creamy as it should have been, it seems to have held the projects together just fine!!!  Following the recipe would have been the better alternative, though! 

So without further ado, here it is, the recipe for the "Best Creamiest Papier-Mache Recipe Ever":


  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 tbsp rice flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup cool water
  • 2 cups boiling water

1. Mix the dry ingredients.
2. Mix in the cool water with a fork or whisk, adding the water a little at a time to keep it as smooth as possible.
3. Stir the flour mixture into the boiling water.
4. Allow it to boil for two or three minutes.

Options: After a night in the fridge just stir it up with a fork. It's even nicer if you heat it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Totally Twisted Taxidermy, Part 1

Yes, finally, after a lapse, this is an art project post, and papier-mache is underway.  My DragonWing Arts students have been back in session for 4 weeks, but I didn't want to share their projects until there was more to show.  But today I'll share the progress on one project.

The theme of our 7-week session is Surrealism, 'Cerealism', and Space.  I wanted to do a papier-mache project with the kids, and so we are creating "Totally Twisted Topsy-Turvy Wacky Tacky Taxidermy Wall Mounts".  A lot of words, I know.  Hopefully they will somehow go with the Surrealism theme. 

Anyhow, we started by creating a wire loop to hang the projects on the wall when done.  I punched two holes in a cardboard backing, and twisted a piece of wire through the holes to make a loop.  The right-hand pic below is the back, and the left-hand pic will be covered by the wall mount creature. 
 We discussed ideas for our creatures and I shared various supplies they could incorporate in their armature, the bones and flesh of their   creations.  We had everything from toilet paper cardboard tubes to disposable champagne glasses.  There were Styrofoam balls, and some junky fake gourds, as well as tin foil, newspaper and tape.  We talked about how to attach the parts and the kids jumped right in. 
 Below is an example I am making.

 Then we started papier-mache.  I wanted them strong so that we wouldn't need to do lots of layers, so I checked that nobody had a wheat allergy, and then I made a boiled paste of wheat flour, rice flour (for extra creaminess), and water.  And the kids got to work, using newspaper. 
Today we added a second layer of papier-mache using white newsprint instead of newspaper, to make it easier to add color without having to pre-paint a layer of gesso.
We only meet once a week, so you'll have to wait a couple of weeks to see how they turn out!  So far, I think the kids are doing a great job. 

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Ugly Lamp - restoring a family heirloom part 2

More than two years ago I acquired a family heirloom known as the Ugly Lamp, and got the go-ahead from my family to repaint it however I desired, since NOBODY wanted the lamp.  I shared pics of it "as is", and told you all about the lamp and why/how I acquired it in a blog post, HERE.  As of today, after some minor touch-ups, the painting of the lamp is complete, and I want to share it with you.  I'm calling the color scheme "demented circus" though the original inspiration was designer McKenzie Childs.

I should explain, the lamp was carved by my woodcarver/furniture maker/sculptor grandfather Harry Levine, who I unfortunately never got to meet. Most of his carving work is much more sophisticated than this, and I'm hypothesizing, because of the intertwined initials and the crudeness of the sculpture, that perhaps he made the work early in his career, as a wedding gift for my grandmother. 
At the time of the original blog post, I had been cleaning the lamp in preparation for repainting.  I spent many hours washing and stripping it, first chemically, and when that became unsuccessful, using a delicate grinding tool to get rid of the old paint.  Finally, when I discovered a layer of what is called 'milk paint', I gave into my frustration and aborted the attempt to strip the paint.  I sprayed it with a coat of primer, took some photos of it, and used colored pencils on the photos to pick out a color scheme.  The pics above are the lamp when it first came into my possession, and after I started removing some of the paint.
I started painting the lamp, but I wasn't satisfied with the colors. I purchased more paint, and changed the colors several times.  Finally I gave up.  Almost two years passed and this August I decided it was time to get back to the project, and approached it with a fresh perspective.  And now I'm sharing with you the finished product!  The lamp is 3-sided, with a different engraving on the base of each side: a menorah (the top photo), my grandparents' intertwined initials (H for Harry, R for Rae; directly above), and on the third side, a Star of David (Jewish star) (pictured below). 
I don't know that my grandfather, Harry Levine, would have liked it, since his work was very traditional, but I think that my family is pleased with my renovation, and I'm pretty satisfied with it!  Here's the top, pictured below, not that it will be visible once it has a shade on it.
Now I've got two more decisions to make: first, I need to choose what to use for a final protective coat.  I'm torn between keeping the satin finish of the paint or possibly adding a hard gloss shine.  The second decision is the shade.  (My husband is going to rewire it while I figure this out.)  I've received suggestions to use a colored shade, such as green or yellow, but I prefer white because of the light quality.  I'm considering possibly painting some simple large spots of color on the white shade, using the same colors, or perhaps mimicking the shapes of the leaves with a line pattern or even a printed pattern.  So I will print a few photos of the base, and get out the colored pencils again, coloring my various options for lampshades.  I'll let you know what I decide and how it turns out!  (I may even turn to you for your opinions, not that I'll listen!)  Then the only other decision will be to figure out where to put the lamp, since it is rather substantial in size.  I may need to buy a table for it....

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Twisted - my "Aha!" moment

This is not an art post.  Or an education post.  It is actually a personal post about my recent "aha" moment, that for some reason I just want to share with you all.  I don't really have images to go with the post, so I'll take this opportunity to share some recent photos with you along with the post.  (I hope nobody is offended by the "dragonfly porn"!)  Before you read further, please know I'm not writing this post looking for sympathy, and I'm not writing it to complain.  I simply want you to get to know me better.
I've been going to a chiropractor for back pain for many years.  Maybe 10 years or more years ago, some x-rays showed that along with the suspected disc degeneration, I have scoliosis.  I have known for years that I have one leg shorter than the other, first brought to my attention by my podiatrist (foot doctor).  But I never thought about it in the context of the rest of my  bone structure.  I knew my mother always nagged me to stand up straight when I was a kid, but for some reason, I was never told I have "scoliosis".  I suppose my leg length is directly related to my spine, and I am guessing I must have had scoliosis all my life, which has gotten progressively worse, contributing to my chronic back problems.
This summer, I noted an increase in the discomfort.  One Saturday, severe pain had me panicking, and at an emergency visit to the health center, a young doc ordered an x-ray of my back to rule out kidney stones.  Luckily, there were no kidney stones.  I was gobsmacked when the doc looked at my x-ray and said "you have the worst scoliotic spine I've ever seen!".  (Thanks, dude.)  My chiropractor ordered an MRI, and after various doctor visits and some physical therapy, I had spinal injections for pain management. The injections have helped somewhat, and at my doc's recommendation, I'm starting a gentle yoga class tomorrow. 
But with all this going on, it wasn't until a couple of days ago that some pieces fell into place and I had an "aha" moment about how clothing fits and falls on my body.

For the last several years, I've been repeatedly pushing my bra strap up on my left shoulder after it has fallen down. Very annoying.  I have shortened straps with no success.  I really didn't understand it.  I would just push up the strap and keep moving, without thinking about why.  But the reality is, that as a result of my crooked spine, my left shoulder slopes downward at a sharper angle than the right.  If  you  traced my silhouette, you'd discover my left shoulder is about 2" lower than my right shoulder. So Duh!  Of course the straps fall down!
Also for several years, I've been frustrated by clothing twisting on my body as I walk.  Whether I'm wearing a  button-down shirt or zip-up sweater, or jacket, or whatever,  when I walk down a hall or street or wherever I am, within a few minutes the straight seam or zipper or line of buttons is twisted to the right at the hips.  The waistbands of skirts and dresses all pull to the right.  Totally frustrating, awkwardly uncomfortable, and annoying.  Two days ago, from out of the blue, it hit me: it's simply because my spine is curved. Why has it taken me years to figure this out? 
 Of course, now that I've figured it out, I still have no idea how to fix it, and I despise how the crooked clothing and drooping strap looks and feels.  But at least I understand the WHY of it!  (I was always too embarrassed to say anything about it, because I never saw clothing twist on anyone else, and I couldn't imagine what was wrong with me.)
So maybe you expected a more enlightening "aha" moment than one about falling bra straps and twisted clothing.  Sorry; this is it.  But my DragonWing Arts classes start again this week so there will be new artsy posts coming your way soon, I promise!  Meanwhile, thanks for stopping by!

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Graffiti Revisited

Graffiti...  Two years ago I wrote a blog post discussing whether graffiti art projects belong in the art curriculum, particularly in the elementary and middle school, which is where I have the most teaching experience.  You can find that post, "Does graffiti art belong in the art curriculum?" HERE.   As most of you recently started a new school year, deciding what belongs in your curriculum and what doesn't is probably forefront in your mind.  Perhaps it is time for me to be a little provocative.  So here goes. 
At the time of the former blog post, comments on the post were mixed in their opinions, but people in the Art Teacher Facebook group mostly disagreed with my stance.  One comment on my blog post went so far as to say "Shame on you" and went on to say that I "don't have the open, experimental artist soul that spearheads new art and change."  I always was very conscious of the fact that I worked in a public school, in a relatively conservative rural community, and I felt that as an elementary teacher I had a responsibility to be respectful of my community. So maybe in that context she was correct in her assessment of me; I don't know. 
Two years later, my opinions haven't changed much on the topic of graffiti.  I am personally opposed to giving precious time in an art curriculum to having students do graffiti art projects.  With the endless possibilities available for possible art projects, is it appropriate to teach students to design a "tag" of their name?  Note that I have NOT said that it is inappropriate to DISCUSS street art, and to discuss the ethics of it, and to discuss the difference between true street art and graffiti/tags, which is vandalism.  But I cannot in good  conscience approve of having young students do a PROJECT based on an illegal activity.  My opinion and I'm entitled to it. 
A recent walk to the grocery store on the local bike path prompted me to revisit this topic on the blog.  The photos in today's post are from this walk.  Much of the walk is through a wooded path that passes through neighborhoods and then heads behind these buildings pictured, and on to the grocery store, before crossing a bridge and heading back through more peaceful wooded neighborhoods.  Most of this graffiti in these pics is recent, at least to my knowledge, and consists of "tags".  One name, which says something like "SPUREE" (if I'm reading it correctly) was largely painted in several places on a few different buildings.  The buildings are the back sides of warehouse/industrial type buildings.  Are they attractive buildings from the back?  Not particularly.  But does this graffiti make them more attractive?  I would say no.  It appears invasive, uninvited.  And without the permission of the building owner to put the graffiti there, it is VANDALISM. 
Anyhow, I often see Facebook posts in one of various Art Teacher groups sharing projects where students have designed their own "tags" as a graffiti art project.  As I've already said, my reaction to these projects is the same as it was two years ago when I wrote the prior blog post, and I will repeat myself:  Tagging is graffiti, graffiti is vandalism, and vandalism is illegal. As a public school teacher for 36 years (now retired), I feel I had a responsibility to my school community to to model responsible behavior.  Since graffiti is illegal, in my opinion, teaching kids to design their names "graffiti-style" is not modeling responsible behavior and isn't an appropriate art project for kids.  Yes, the kids will think it is cool. But hey, there's a lot of things that kids think are cool that aren't particularly good ideas for us to be teaching, don't you think?  
Don't get me wrong; I repeat that I am not opposed to discussing street art and artists, particularly at the secondary level where dialogue about the ethics of street art could be provocative and enlightening.  Certainly this discussion can include defining the difference between street art and tagging/graffiti.  But having that discussion is NOT the same thing as simply teaching young kids how to design a "tag" because it "looks cool".  There's such unlimited possibility when it comes to designing art projects for your students. How do you make those choices?

I know I'm going to get disagreement to this blog post.  And yes, I've seen some beautiful, provocative, and even humorous and charming examples of street art, and like I said, the topic is deserving of discussion, but if you do, make sure you discuss the issue of legality.  Do the artists who created these pieces have the permission of the buildings where they were placed?  If someone did a large piece of street art on a building you own, without your permission or knowledge, would you approve?  What if you don't?  Is it appropriate to break the law sometimes, but not other times?  So many  provocative issues to discuss....  Have fun mulling this over!