Trust the Muse

This project combines two of my very favorite things. Writing and drawing. I think the 3rd grade kids at the parochial school in town did an outstanding job. They remind me of my first success at writing and illustrating in Miss Knoll’s 3rd grade class. She had us take a nom de plume, a pen name, and mine was Miss Ster. She thought I was so clever but I was just flailing around and could not come up with a good name so I just picked something out of the air. Trust the Muse.

Here are a couple examples.

the cookieThe Cookie

cookie2Once upon a time there was a cookie…

cookie3who lived in a little cookie house with three big pearl sprinkles.

bogbeastThe Story of the Bog Beast and Mia and Milo

bogbeast2Once upon a time there was a bog beast who lived near a big swamp. He had three hats on that he stole from a man. Since that he was a monster all people hated him. Well, not everyone. A girl and a boy named Mia and Milo. They both started this story.

bogbeast3One day they went to the big swamp and saw the beast. A bog beast sang. It was a girl. The boy one fell in love. She fell in love, too. Guess what happened next.

Let’s Face It

Kids are the original and preeminent artists. The younger they are the more fearless they are. In this little project I’m working with preschool age children. I thought the colors came out vibrant and unsullied and the drawings energetic and expressive. So often adults create mud. Kids know when to stop.

We started with a drawing in sharpie pen and then we colored it in with brushes using ordinary watercolor paint. I was so impressed. For the record these are works from the talented little kids at St. Joachim School in Madera, CA. I have been teaching art in the Madera Unified School District and for the Golden Valley School District since last Fall and enjoying it very much.

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Kitty and a rainbow. Six legs? Why not? Maybe it’s running fast.
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A cat of many colors
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Another Paul Klee in the making.
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I love the expression!
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A castle surrounded by a moat. The blue pops off the page.
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When they fill the page I am so delighted.
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Cat jumping over a rainbow. Extra legs seem important.

Found Art

 

A couple days ago I went to one of the elementary schools where I teach. The kids are great. Elementary school kids restore my faith in humanity because they are polite, eager to please, willing, attentive. Junior High kids are a whole different kettle of fish. I’ll address this some other time. Suffice it to say, I can’t figure out exactly why there must be such a profound change in such a short amount of time. Recently we had to get out the Big Guns in the form of Miss Montez at the Junior High where I teach After School. Miss Montez is the head of the After School Program. Miss Montez got game. She got the Power. Another blog. Another time.

Let’s go back to the Elementary school.

So I asked for volunteers as I usually do. And as usual nearly all the hands in the class shot up. I’m amused to see that they want to volunteer almost more than they want to do the project. So I picked a couple kids to pass out the newsprint. Everybody gets one sheet I said. In two minutes one of the kids came back and showed me this.

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In amongst the newsprint they were passing out here was this unfinished drawing I had done. Apparently, I completely forgot about it. It was pretty good. I held it up and then the teacher glommed on to it and decided he needed to put it up on the wall. It’s big. Like 24 inches by 36 inches. I was a little embarrassed but I decided to make it a teaching moment to show how shadows don’t have to be Black. I showed them how I made the shadows out of a combination of brown and purple. How cool colors recede and warm colors come forward. That’s enough. They’re third graders, by gum.

I like to show people who would normally think literally and show them that they can think outside the box. I hope this leaks over into other areas of their lives.

Seeking Inspiration

My elementary school kids have been having a lot of fun doing “cave paintings”.

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I told them not to use scotch tape on their drawings but some of them didn’t listen. Hey, Picasso didn’t always use archival methods for his masterpieces. So I let it go or peeled it off where I could.

The other day I couldn’t sleep after the election. I laid awake in bed worrying. How would I deal with my Junior High kids? I live in a predominantly Hispanic area. As a matter of fact, I was going to write a blog about how it feels to be a minority. I felt this long ago when I first went to Hawaii from Iowa and in my World History class in a huge auditorium I sat in the back. Before me was a sea of black haired people. In Iowa one would never see this. We had a handful of Jewish, one black family and one Chinese family. In Hawaii that was all upside down with Chinese, Japanese, and Pacific Islanders.

Here in Madera it’s the same. In the classes you have all Hispanic except for maybe one white kid.

So I laid awake. Finally I figured out that it was me who needed help the most. And by helping myself maybe I could deal with the uncertainty. I decided that we would draw heroes. I decided that I needed to remind myself that we’ve been here before. And we’ve had people who stand up in the avalanche in the hopes of slowing it down. All is not lost. And there is work to be done.

I found Muhammad Ali, Malama Yousefzai, Martin Luther King, Dolores Huerta, Mother Teresa, Anne Frank and a host of others.

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The kids appreciated it and it sure was good for me, too.

It Works Pretty Well

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I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving week. There’s no school and I have a bunch of drawings I would like to work on. I want to have all brand new stuff for the show in March 2017 at the Orland Art Center and I need to get going. In the meantime I have been talking about things like limited palette, washes, tone, value and resist in my after school and day time art classes.

These are 3rd and 4th grade kids so whatever I talk about I have to show as well. Hey, one picture worth a thousand words, right? At this age I feel it is still important to Just Have Fun so in between Fun I sneak in Ideas. I remember a horse trainer, Brian Neubert, giving me advice about how to teach my daughter when she was just starting out with horses. I think this advice applies to many things in life including art. He said get the best baby sitter horse you can find and then let the kids have fun. It worked with his kids. They’re all outstanding horsemen.

So I apply this with grade school kids. Let them have fun. The skills get into their bones just by the doing of it.

The junior high kids are more adept. So I give them projects that make them think and work with more discipline. I gave the kids gray paper the other day and white and black charcoal pencils. I said Draw a Hand. See how you do. Remember the shapes. Translate what you see on to the page (magic). Use the gray paper as the mid-tone. See the highlights and shadow.

A simple sketch. It works pretty well.

Having a Blast

I’m getting more and more involved with my Madera School District art teaching. Madera Arts Council asked me to take on daytime teaching in addition to the after school teaching. So I did. Daytime is different from after school. Daytime is structured just like an ordinary classroom while after school is unstructured.  We’re relaxed in afterschool. I teach the same concepts but it’s not in the context of a specific project.  After school kids are exhausted from a long day and they just want to chill. So we chill. We sit around and draw animé or manga subjects, for example, because they’re really into it anyway and I insert pointers, ideas and philosophy as the need comes up.

In daytime classroom I have a structured project that I have to accomplish start to finish in one hour. I decided to have the 4th graders make their versions of cave paintings. It was a rousing success.

My kids loved their first lesson and can’t wait for the next. We were short on paint brushes, but I was able to find some of my old ones in my cabinet. All in all, the kids had a lot of fun with Renée.

Mindy Ruz, 4th grade teacher, Madison Elementary

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I start by showing pictures of real cave paintings from Spain and France and we talk about them a little. Remember, I don’t have much time. I say we’re going to talk about the first artists, the first artist studio and spray paint. We look at the paintings and I ask the kids what they see.

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They all yell out “It’s a buffalo!”

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It’s a horse!

They’re all more than eager to speak out which is terrific. I wish I could just have them make comments because all the comments are so good. But we move on. I tell them don’t ever let anyone tell you art is not important. Just think. 30,000 years ago people thought art was so important that they sought out quiet places, the first artist studio, to make their art. I tell them you can see that art has been important for a long, long time. Then I tell them about spray paint. I tell them we aren’t going to do this in class but that I want them to know how that silhouette of the hand (of a person a lot like us 30,000 years ago. Imagine that!) was probably made. Probably the artist took a bunch of muddy liquid in their mouth and spurted it out in a spray. They all grimace. I say it wasn’t toxic but it probably didn’t taste very good.

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Our ancestors

So we begin the project. It’s controlled chaos and they’re all into it. When we’re done 55 minutes later and it’s time to clean up they’ve done a  real good job. I’ve had to get out my favorite admonishment maybe only once. Can’t do it? That’s ok. I’m OK with you saying that. But I want you to add a word to that sentence. I want you to add the word “yet” as in “I can’t do this… yet.” Art takes practice and, trust me, when I was your age I drew just like you. But I never gave up. That’s what it takes. So give yourself a break and..

let me see what you’re doing and how we might make it more to your liking.

My favorite part comes when I say now I want you to do something with your almost finished drawing. I tell them to hold it up. A little suspense does not hurt. Then I demonstrate. I wad the drawing up. I revel in the shocked expressions on their faces. I tell them. No worries. Just carefully unwad it and see how it now looks more like “rock” when it’s all crinkly.

We’re expanding minds here, folks. Let’s think outside the box.

It’s a good project that I came up with. I didn’t really know if it would work or not but turns out it does. The kids learn something and they’re having a blast. Isn’t that the best way to learn something?

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I’m Still Learning

 

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Oh Boy. I have not been doing any of my own artwork lately. I took a job. I’m teaching art to elementary school and junior high school kids. I got the job through the Madera Arts Council and I’m teaching in the Madera schools.

It’s a big job and it’s given me a whole new respect for teachers in general. We do a lot of work outside of class that we don’t get paid for. But the kids are wonderful. Oh sure they act up once in a while but they’re all really sweet and some are really talented and the others just like to draw whatever I set before them. What’s not to like about Art Class, right?

What I’m Really Teaching

I have had to introduce the concept of “yet”. As in “I’m no good …. yet”. I do not believe in letting those mind games take over so I tell those kids that I don’t like it when they say This is Ugly or I Can’t Draw. I say let’s think about it another way. Why is it ugly? Maybe ugly is not the right word. Maybe it’s This isn’t what I had in mind. Or It isn’t what I wanted. Those things are curable. I tell them I’ll help you fix it. Sometimes I quote Georgia O’Keefe who said no one is good at the beginning. Practice practice practice.

So “I can’t draw” is out. “I can’t draw… yet” is in. We never stop practicing. I’m 65 years old and I’m still learning.

Sometimes our project is doing scratchers. The paper is coated and you scratch off the surface to reveal what is underneath. It’s not as easy as you might think. You have to plan ahead because once you’ve made a line you can’t erase it. When that happens I say well how can we remedy this? Maybe there’s a way to camouflage the mistake.

I’m hoping that once I get my chops down and a repeating curriculum set I will be able to go back to doing my own drawings. I’m thinking November.