Saturday, April 4, 2015

Asian Art Study: Russia

I realize that I have posted some of these projects before, but in looking at my schools' Artsonia galleries, I am so proud and happy with the way this year went that I thought I would break up the year into the units of countries that we studied. If you don't already know, I decided to focus my teaching on one continent each year starting this year. I chose Asia to start with and honestly, I think I could have spent all year just in Japan! The curiosity and genuine interests the students have shown in each country has been remarkable. Here is the first country we "flew" to; Russia. 

This was my kinder's second project of the year, and their first time painting with me. They learned about Kandinsky, concentric circles, and watercolor painting techniques along with my painting expectations, and how to clean up in the art room.

After completing their Kandinsky paintings, my kinders used strips and squares of paper to create these Russian tiger collages inspired by an image I found on Pinterest. The full lesson is found here
First graders did two projects in Russia. This is their study of landscape and the focus of the lesson was foreground, middle ground, and background. For full instructions to teach this lesson, visit my inspiration here
First grade's second project was Babushka (aka Matryoshka) Doll Drawings. We looked at a set of dolls my parents brought me from Russia and noticed how they get smaller, that most of them are holding something and there is a lot of patterns on them. I got out a variety of sizes of bottle caps for them to use to trace the heads and gave them pointers for drawing the details. Students were asked to use at least three different drawing media to color their dolls. The full lesson can be found here.   

Second graders looked at Russian architecture and compared their traditional buildings to what they see in Wisconsin. They noticed the elaborate designs, dome tops, and bright colors. They then drew their own version of a Russian building and were asked to color it with crayons, colored pencils, markers and oil pastels using their "artist brains" to choose the best medium for each portion of their building. They then watercolored the sky.
Third grade looked at the art and life of Russian artist, Marc Chagall. They learned that his paintings are dream like interpretations of stories of his life in Vitbesk. They wrote a story with four parts and then illustrated it using four different perspectives and at least three different drawing supplies. 

Like first grade, fourth grade looked at Babushka Dolls. They created clay versions using two pinch pots and connecting them to make the hollow "peanut" form and then painting them. While the clay versions were drying and being fired the also created a drawing using colored pencils. They were allowed to use the drawing as practice for the sculpture, or to design the two project differently. 

The fifth graders learned about Kazimir Malevich. They looked at the progression of his art from realistic to Cubist to the creation of Suprematism. Next I tried my hand at a modified choice project. I allowed students to either create a Cubist image using oil pastels or a Suprematist collage. Regardless of the media, students were asked to show movement, balance, unity, shape, line, and color in their composition. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Youth Art Month

Although Youth Art Month is not until March, our State show was moved to an earlier date, sending our Regional show into February. It works well for me, as the old date used to overlap my daughter's birthday which made it hard to be a good mom and a good art teacher. Here are some pictures of my students' work hung in the Regional show which is held at the WITC in New Richmond through the 19th of this month. 

I decided to give the kids a personal award to recognize their achievement as well. A colleague gave me boxes and boxes of old gift certificate holders that I'll be using to present these awards to the students. I personalized each artist's award with their chosen artwork, name, and grade. I plan on printing the YAM logo onto oval shipping labels and putting them on the outside of the gift certificate holders for added pizzazz. 

Stay tuned! For YAM you can look forward to a week of "drawing challenges" which I plan on sending home with kids over spring break and three weeks of "mystery artists" for the weeks we are in school.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Indigo in Elementary

Last week at one of my schools I did Shibori (Japanese Indigo Dying) with first through fifth graders. It was only two days of art classes, and ten classes. True Shibori is done with Indigo, which is extracted from the Indigo plant. There are many ways to bind fabric prior to dying it to create different patterns on the finished piece. My favorite part of teaching it was reliving the wonder of the process every time a new class came to art. When a fabric is dipped into the vat, it comes out green. A weird, ugly, puce-y lime green. As it oxidizes, the oxygen turns it blue before students' very eyes. I love the "oooh!" I heard around the room all day when demonstrating. One dip will leave the fabric a very light shade of blue, and each dip and oxidation after that will make it a shade darker. 

I had two vats going. It was so much fun, but also very messy and stinky! I thought I would take a moment to share how I apoached the project and what I will do differently when I do the same project with my other school after Winter Break. 

To begin, I purchased Indigo kits from Sax. At the school that has already done this, I have about 230 kids, and we used two kits; one for each vat. I also added some gloves that I got from the nurse because there is only one set in each box. However, I told the kids they only needed one glove, and only if they were using the marble technique. 
Next, I decided on which Shibori techniques I wanted to teach the kids. There are so many to choose from, I decided to limit it a bit and showed them three. First was using rubber bands to hold marbles in the fabric. It doesn't matter if they are actually floral gems, which aren't round and won't cause students to be running after rolling marbles all class period. When dyed and rinsed, this technique leaves white circle/square shapes on the fabric. 

I also talked about using clamps. I explained that a Shibori artist would have a variety of shapes and sizes to chose from and showed examples of different ways to fold the fabric to get different results. We used clothespins as clamps.

Finally, I knew I wanted to do Irashi. It's my favorite type of Shibori. A month or so before the project I sent out a request to parents, asking if anyone had any scraps of PVC pipe they'd like to donate. I wasn't expecting results, but a dad brought in a grocery bag of pipes! I was (and still am!) completely excited about it. I showed the kids different ways to fold their fabric and how to wrap it around the pipe and scrunch it down, emphasizing that the tighter they wraps the string the more defined the white lines would be in the end. 

All in all we used clothespins, rubber bands, floral marbles, string, and PVC pipe for binding the fabric. I kept these in a Rubbermaid style bin that is designed to go under a bed-it was perfect with how long it was. 

Now that you have your supplies, consider your room. Indigo vats are stinky, messy, and have to be kept in an air tight container when not in use. I dug around in our storage area and found some empty containers. The ones with lids were just too big to use as the vat and the smaller ones didn't have any lids. Of course. So I created the vats in the smaller containers and stored the smaller containers in the larger ones with the lids. I just put all the binding supplies in another container and stacked them all in the corner for the two days I was not at that school (I share a room at that school and wanted them out of the way for the music teacher). 

While considering your room, consider how you will direct traffic to minimize mess. I only have one sink in each of my classrooms, so unbinding at the sink was not an option. There was enough of a buildup of people just waiting to rinse. I put an empty tub next to each of the vats and instructed the kids to transfer their bound fabric to the empty tub and unbind them in the tub, leaving all the wet binding materials in the tub. They then should give the fabric another good squeeze over the vat before moving to the sink. 

Next consider how to protect your room. I bought a cheap plastic dropcloth and taped it to the counter and spread it out onto the floor. The vats and tubs for unbinding were on these counters and then they moved to the sink in the photo. The rinsed fabric then got put onto a laundry drying rack that my principal donated, as my drying rack has too big of holes between the wires for these pieces. I was diligent in talking about how to make sure there was no dye left in the fabric before putting it on the rack, and also with wiping under the rack throughout each class. 

My classes are all back to back, so my final challenge was figuring out how to unload the drying rack between classes-especially as one class is typically waiting to come in as the last one is leaving. I solved this by having a clothing iron in the room. By the time the first few pieces were done oxidizing I had finished helping the kids that needed additional support with binding and I had some kids finished with the project. The kids that were done were now my "experts," and were available to help the kids that had questions dying while I kept an eye on the drying rack. As pieces turned completely blue I pulled them off the rack and ironed them. They were still a little damp, but were dry enough to stack and keep off the drying rack. As a bonus, the kids loved seeing what theirs looked like after it was ironed!

Now that everything is in place, as soon as you set the dates for dying, inform parents! I didn't think to do this until it was too late, and has a few upset (but very supportive, "don't change your teaching!") parents. I have already sent out the dates we will be doing Shibori with my other school, and it isn't until January. I requested that they make note of the dates their children will be dying and dress them in clothing that would not be upsetting to stain. I also have aprons, but they never seem to cover enough of the kids' bodies to make much of a difference-and they're cloth too so sometimes things just go right through them. I asked our office staff to put the dates in our school newsletter, emailed the classroom teachers the dates and asked them to put them in their class "peek of the week" letters and sent out an Artsonia newsletter. When we get back from Winter Break, I will also put the dates on my art class Facebook page and my school class pages. I figure I'm covered with all these communications.

It was a fabulous project. I loved how when the kids would enter the room all I would hear is comments about how it smelled. But every single class answered the same as they left and I asked, "well, was it worth the smell?" Every class unanimously yelled, "YES!"

People Wearing Kimonos-Third Grade

My third graders are starting to finish up these People in Kimonos that we created based on Cassie Stephen's blog post. We did them mostly the same as Cassie, with the exception of the backgrounds, which we used bubble wrap to print and some of my students added drink umbrellas as parasols. Other than that, Cassie has great info on her blog and that's where I learned most of what I taught my students, just click the link above. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014


This is my new favorite. I created a WANTED bulletin board for missing projects and assessments. I am working through our cycle, teaching the kids that when they finish a project first they clean their spot and second they check the WANTED board. If they see their name on the board, they are expected to find it, finish it, and put it in the IN box. Anything that I have graded will be listed on the WANTED board if I am missing the grade from the student. I am hopeful that this will make the students more responsible about completing older project prior to starting free draw. Today was the first day with it, but there were many kids that were working on getting off the board!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

First Grade Matryoshka Dolls

Last cycle my first graders had just a quick step to finish their first project and then they filled out an assessment and started this project. Based on Russian Matryoshka Dolls-also called Babushka Dolls or, in English, Nesting Dolls. They started by folding their paper in half twice to make four sections. Next, they folded one side to the center of the paper twice to increase to six sections, four are smaller than the first two. They sketched a circle at the top of the first section and then added a little neck and a body that went all the way to the bottom of the paper. Repeat those steps in the next section, a little shorter. Continue until there are six Matryoshka Dolls, all a little shorter than the last and all touching the bottom of the page.

This week, they will use assorted circles to trace a face on the head of each doll.

We'll talk about the Russian style of drawing the faces and add a pattern to the dress.

They'll look something like this prior to coloring.

Students will be cutting the excess paper off the top and fan folding on their fold lines so they stand up on their own.

They will be given markers, colored pencils, and crayons and asked to use at least two of these materials on each doll.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Russian Tigers

My students are still "in" Russia and I already found myself stumped as to what to do with my kinders. I have so many go-to plans that develop art concepts and fine motor skills but not necessarily Russian or Asian concepts.  I flipped through a children's book about Russian and discovered that tigers were nearly extinct there until the last 20 years or so when they began working to rebuild the species that was declining. While scoping out Pinterest I came across this image of a tiger and I found myself inspired. 
Click photo for credit link
I happen to have an adorable book called "It's a Tiger!" by David LaRochelle that I got at the school book fair last year, and it was a perfect link to Russia, literacy, and an art project that teaches fine motor skills (drawing, cutting, gluing)! The kids adored this book. Every kid had a smile on their face as they chimed in "It's a tiger!" on every other page. It's super fun to read aloud too.

 The project started by having the kids glue orange and white strips of paper in a pattern on a half (9X12") piece of black construction paper. I talked about A, B patterns and then asked them to leave a black space between each strip to make it a more complicated pattern. A, B, C, B, A, B, C, B. Sounds complicated, but they totally got it!

The first class they were also able to get an orange square and red trapezoid glued down for the beginning of a face. 

Student work.

Student work

Next class the students will take two orange and two white strips of paper and fold them in half and cut them. They'll take one half and repeat the process to get four small and two medium pieces of both colors. 

They'll glue only the center of their tiger face to the center of a 12X18" piece of black construction paper.

Next, they'll add the medium sized strips in a pattern above the tiger's head to create a body.

Glue down the top of the head.

Add two rows of strips in a pattern to create the legs.

Glue down the bottom of the head.

And here's my kindergarten (sample) version of the first picture. I should start having student projects to post on Wednesday (I think!). I'm so excited to see them done!
 I do have one special needs student in kindergarten, so I created a storyboard of the second day's steps. I was concerned that it might be a bit much for him and, really, all the kids benefit from a storyboard. I was already taking pictures to put in my sub plans for Thursday, so it fit to put them together for the kids while I was at it. 

Classroom Signs

I have had several teachers interested in different signs they have seen in my classroom, usually in the background of photos I've posted here or on my class Facebook pages. Always one to help out, I've created a Google Docs folder for them and opened it to anyone with the link to view it. I'll keep putting files there-they are typically just downloaded from the internet or compiled by me, so they are usually 8.5X11" signs. The photos of this post are examples of what you'll find there. Enjoy!