Monday, July 13, 2015

Soap Sculptures Inspired by: The Dictionary!

Hello! For this entry I would like to share with you a lesson that I taught to my 3D Design II class, but it could easily be taught in 9th – 12th grade. The project is Soap Sculptures! This is a tiered lesson that is an excellent form of differentiated instruction because it provides students with multiple ways to meet the objectives based on the students’ interests and learning needs. Students can challenge themselves based on the word they choose, and or how they design and create the sculpture.

Objective: To explore subtractive sculpture techniques in the design and creation of a sculpture in the round using a word from the dictionary as the sculpture’s subject.
Essential Question: How can I interpret a word to create a sculpture in the round using subtractive sculpture techniques?
Time Frame:  7 - 10 forty-two minute classes. 
Assessment: This project is formally assessed with a rubric using the following criteria: Design and Composition, Creativity, Utilization of Techniques, and Craftsmanship. Presentation.  Each criteria is worth 25 points for a total of 100 points. I also informally assess students each day as I circulate around the room to provide feedback.
Materials: Bars of Soap, butter knives, index cards, T-Pins, clay carving tools, ribbon tools, water/bowls, needle tools, scissors, Dictionary pages.
Sequence of Action:
1).  As students enter the room, pass out pages of the dictionary to students at random. Direct students to highlight or circle 3 – 5 words that interest them.
2).   Have students pair and share with a partner to discuss the words they picked; have them explain to their partner why they chose these words and not others.  
3). Introduce project by passing out project outline sheet. Demonstrate how to sketch ideas for project, showing a concrete idea and an abstract idea. Direct students to create a minimum of 2 sketches in their sketchbook using the words from their randomly assigned dictionary page as inspiration for the sculptures subject. Students can create 2 sketches with 2 words, or 2 sketches with 1 word shown in 2 different ways. Students work hands on sketches while teacher circulates to coach students in small groups and one on one.
4). Demonstrate how to create a template to use to transfer their sketch to the soap. Demonstrate by placing bar of soap on index card and tracing around the soap. Revise the shape and add details to sculpture by drawing inside the soap tracing. Cut out template with scissors. Place template on top of soap and use a T-Pin to transfer the design using a “Connect the Dots” approach. Students work hands on to create templates and transfer template designs to soap. (1-2 days)
5). Demonstrate how to carve basic shape of soap by using a butter knife and larger clay tools. Stress that students should work gently and cautiously so they do not split or fracture their soap. Also stress that students should be looking at the sculpture from 360 degrees. Students work hands on to cut out basic shape of soap sculpture while teacher circulates around the room to coach students. (1-2 days)
6). Demonstrate how to add fine details using clay carving tools. Stress that students should continue to look at the sculpture from 360 degrees and that they should also continue to work cautiously as they carve. Students may also use water to smooth out rough edges or attach pieces using scoring techniques, similar to clay. Students work on adding fine details and textures to soap while teacher circulates around the room to coach students. (2-3days)
7). Have students write dictionary word and its definition on an index card. Place sculpture and index card together for Praise, Prompt, and Polish critique. After critique, students will work hands on to put finishing touches onto sculpture and turn in for assessment. (1-2 days)
8). Assess sculptures. Type up words and their definitions. Put sculptures on display with words/definitions.
·         Ask your school librarian for an old dictionary. Pre-view and scan pages (front and back) and cut out pages with a good variety of words.  I find that this project was successful because I used an actual page from a dictionary and I did not just allow them to pick their own word at random, it makes the project more enchanting. Additionally, this provides for part of the tiering of this assignment. Students could choose nouns, verbs, adjectives, or adverbs based on the learning needs and interest. I find if you think a student isn’t challenging him or herself, encourage he or she to try something more difficult.
·         Use flat bars of soap. Curved bars of soap like Dove were much more difficult and slippery to work with because of the curve in the soap’s shape. I purchased bars of soap at the Dollar Store in packs of 3 for a $1.00.
·         Try to choose soaps with light scents, as the room will quickly begin to smell like soap.  You may work on these outside if you are able to.
·         Soap shavings are incredibly sticky! Have students work on top of newspaper when working; have a few good scrapers on hands to help remove stuck on soap from tables. Soap cleans up best when dry, not wet.
·         When you display these sculptures, include the student’s chosen word next to the sculpture to help viewer’s understand the soap’s subject.
·         Soap can be extremely tricky to carve; emphasize slow and steady with gentle pressure as students work.
·         To store soap sculptures in between classes, line a few copy box lids with scrunched up tissue paper to create a cushion.

Working on this project was a lot of fun! Students were mesmerized by the idea of using soap as a sculpture medium. Caution: this project is much more difficult than you may expect! Although it does have some obstacles to overcome in terms of figuring out what the medium can and can’t do, it is significantly cheaper than many of the sculpture blocks and clays found in art supply catalogs. Additionally, it is something that can also be done at home, as supplies needed are generally very basic, so students who enjoy this project could make more sculptures at home for fun.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, June 19, 2015

School Beautification: Library Mural


This year I worked with the Freshmen Class Council to plan, design, and create a mural in our school's library. The students collaborated and brainstormed different ideas related to library. The class council then divided into 3 groups, each coming up with a design and sketch. We submitted the sketches to the librarian who made the final decision on which mural to create. We then created a final sketch on the computer using Photoshop and projected it onto the wall using an LCD projector. We decided to paint the mural on an unused bulletin board in the library so it could be moved easily if the librarian decided to move furniture. We stretched a piece of canvas over the bulletin board and primed it with gesso. We then used paints that I obtained for free at a local paint company and began painting. It was a lot of fun and it gave the Freshmen another opportunity to do some school beautification and community service. If you take on a project such as this I recommend working with multiple small teams instead of one big team or else it becomes difficult to find room to paint (size permitting of course). This completed mural measures approximately 6 ft. X 9 ft. From start to finish approximately 30 hours went into creating this mural. Great job Freshmen Class!

AP 3D: Tips

Today I would like to conclude my reflection on AP 3D by offering some 'tips' when lesson planning and preparing for the class.

Summer work is EXTREMELY important to the success of this class. At the end of each year I hold a meeting after school to go over summer work for students who have signed up for AP 3D in the upcoming school year. During this meeting I hand out a well-organized folder with all the documents and directs they will need to complete summer work. The summer work should be meaningful, helpful, and it should be able to be completed with accessible materials. For summer work this year I directed students to do the following:  A) Buy a sketchbook you LOVE, B) Start collecting 'junk' in preparation for the assemblage project, C) Create a cast of your hand using Plasterwrap/Vaseline and turn it into a sculpture, and D) Brainstorm, research, and explore possible concentration themes; arrive to class with a minimum of 12 ideas/sketches and a web to use for our first class critique. Summer work allows students to stay creative over the summer and take advantage of those 2 months off. It expedites the first week of class and it is super helpful to have 1 breadth artwork already finished. The added bonus is the extended time that students get to work. I could never do the Plasterwrap Hand sculpture in class because my classes are only 40 minutes. However, at home, students can wrap their hand, put on a movie while it dries, and then get a parent to help them cut it off with medical scissors. For materials I send students home with an big envelope of Plasterwrap and I also have a few kits with Vaseline, extra Plasterwap, and medical scissors available in the guidance office for students to sign out at their leisure. Summer work also gives students an added sense of pride and excitement about the class. All summer work is due the first day of school. In August I post on my Teacher Webpage "Open Studio Days" that I will be available at the school for students to come in for help or materials if they need it.

At my school, students enrolled in AP Drawing and Painting, AP 2D Design, and AP 3D Design are required to complete a minimum of 10 studio hours per quarter. In all honesty, most students end up completing more than 10 because A) they need more time to work and B) they love what they are working on. Studio hours can be completed during study hall or after school. This year I kept my art room opened until 6:00 PM from March - May on Wednesdays to help students complete work. Students really appreciated the long time frame to work uninterrupted. This also helps them get a feel for what a college art class would be like.

One of the difficulties encountered in this class is the massive amount of artwork, plus all the tools and materials that students use to create the artwork, that seem to be everywhere in the room. This is especially true since my students this year were in my room constantly, which was great, except that meant materials and artworks were out constantly. Plus, sculptures are a lot more difficult to store than drawings. To help with organization I would recommend that you designate an area for finished artworks and an area for unfinished/in-progress artworks. This coming year I am going to ask students to provide a plastic bin to help organize their in-progress artworks. Copy paper boxes work well for completed artwork because they are sturdy and stack well. If you have a cabinet that you can use for students to organize and store sketchbooks, binders, and tools it is extremely helpful.

This year I e-mailed parents frequently. First I sent them an e-mail commending their son or daughter's summer work efforts. At Parent Night I created a PPT with each student's photo and concentration idea and used it to help explain the concentration section of the portfolio. I e-mailed parents frequently to update them on student and class progress. I also included them in a few "tricks" I had up my sleeve to surprise the AP students. I received so much appreciation and support. Parents really liked being included and were more than happy to help out. Plus, it helped parents generate discussion with their teenage children at home about what they were doing in art class. I continued to do this in my other classes and also got a lot of positive feedback!

This class is a lot of work. A LOT of work! By March, I noticed my students needed some extra motivation, especially since March is  a long month for them - no days off, no major school functions, and it's not quite spring so the weather is usually less than pleasant. To jump start their artwork efforts and to re-motivate them I held "Breadth Boot Camp." For the month of March we completed 1 artwork a week for the breadth section. Artworks that students completed were highly experimental and process-based. This alleviated the stress of planning four artworks throughout the month. I welcomed the students on the first day with Army Bandanas/Headbands with the theme song of "Rocky" and "Eye of the Tiger" playing in the background. I was dancing around getting "pumped up" and even had black charcoal under my eyes. Believe it or not, my students enjoyed the theatrics of it all. Each week I did something different with the students that was "boot camp" themed. The second week I made dog tags with their names on them and handed them out at the beginning of class. The third week was my favorite week because I involved parents. I contacted parents and asked them to write a "letter from home" with encouraging words and messages to their daughters or sons. Parents e-mailed me their letters (many wrote more than 1 and involved other members of the family), I printed them out on fancy papers and put them in envelopes, and attached them to a small "care package" that had granola bars, gum, water, and other small goodies in it. Students were so surprised to receive their care packages and letters from home and a few even teared up at the beautiful letters that were written to them from their families. One of my parents told me that this was the "coolest" thing he has ever been asked to do by a teacher. At the end of the fourth week students received a Certificate of Completion for Breadth Boot Camp Graduation.

In our school, students enrolled in AP classes get 1 day to participate in AP Review. This day is spent with their AP Teachers preparing for the AP test. Since AP art students do not take a test our review day was simply a studio day. Students spent the entire day in my room working on projects. Having an extended amount of time was extremely beneficial. It is also helpful for students to have a "testing period" scheduled for AP Art classes. This testing period is not spent testing, but rather uploading and submitting photographs to the AP Board in preparation for submission. The submission process is not difficult, but rather time consuming. so having a block of time to be used exclusively for submission would be helpful.

The AP 3D Portfolio is submitted via digital images of artworks that are then uploaded to the CollegeBoard's submission website. I would highly recommend that you set up a photography area that is easily and always accessible so that artworks can be photographed as they are completed. What worked well for me was a counter space with a window. I covered the window in tracing paper and covered a piece of foam core board with heavy duty aluminum foil. When it was time to photography we turned the overhead lights down, turned a spotlight on, and photographed the artworks from multiple vantage points. Getting high quality photographs is extremely important because it enhances the overall quality of the artwork and makes the student and his or her artwork more professional. After photographing, students choose their best images and then upload them to PhotoShop to change the size and enhance contrast and tone. We used a digital SLR camera and it was so helpful because we could control the shutter speeds and aperture sizes based on the artwork's needs. DON'T WAIT UNTIL THE END TO PHOTOGRAPH! This process is very time consuming and after the photography occurs there is still work to do to re-size the photos, sort through them, and to upload them. Additionally, if something gets broken before the end of the year, a photograph will prevent the student from having to start over.

When students submit the portfolio they are expected to put their artwork in order based on overall quality, risk-taking, and growth. The AP Board wants to see students grow in their use of materials and mediums, concept/ideas, as well as growth in project execution. If artworks look the same or very similar one after the other it does not show good growth. Also the artworks should be put in order from least successful to most successful. As you can see, this is a lot to juggle. To help with this I created graphic organizers for each section of the portfolio and directed students to print out contact sheets of their artworks. Students cut out the small photos and put them in order based on the AP Board criteria. Afterwards, students looked over a peer's graphic organizer, completed a critique, and put the photos in order based on how they viewed and read the artwork. Having a fresh set of eyes  gave great insight into how someone else would view the artwork.

I know this may be difficult, believe me! Our art department was fortunate enough to receive a donation which helped in covering some of the cost associated with the field trip. What I learned is that most of my AP students had never been to an art museum. It was hard for me to believe! Senior students who were expected to produce high quality, professional artwork had never been to an art museum or gallery to see examples! Although field trips are high specific based on location and cost, I want to share with you our field trip for all of our AP Students. We traveled to Philadelphia for the day and stopped by 3 different art venues. We began the day at Magic Gardens to see the mosaic work of Isaiah Zagar. We then traveled to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art to see American artworks, particularly those of 2D nature that were both historical and contemporary. Afterwards we concluded the day by visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Annual Craft show. The variety of venues and works presented is what I think made this trip successful. I directed my AP students to bring their sketchbooks and encouraged them to take notes and jot down ideas when something struck them. They were also given an envelope to collect business cards and post cards from vendors at the craft show. Students also completed a Token Response sheet at the Craft Show with tokens such as "This artwork is my favorite," and "This artwork is too expensive," among other tokens. For each token they had to explain "why." I enjoyed reading their responses when they turned it in at the end of the day. On the way home students were asked to write a 1 paragraph reflection on their experience. All came home motivated, inspired, and ready to create!

Throughout the year we had many critiques. Critiques allow students to gain experience in explaining and presenting their artwork, providing both positive and constructive feedback, and gaining insight and ideas. The most successful critiques were the ones that were in-progress critiques because it allowed students to make changes more easily than at the completion of a project. At first critiques can be difficult to participate in because students are nervous about presenting their artwork for fear of negative criticism. Throughout the year I stressed that all critiques must be positive or constructive and that we were here to support each other and improve our skills and artworks.With these boundaries in place students were able to participate in critiques with comfort and confidence. I tried to vary the critiques by also providing different manipulatives to work with, such as Praise, Prompt, Polish sheets, KWL sheets, Token Responses, and Two Stars and a Wish critique sheets.

As you can see from this entry and the previous blog entries, the AP 3D portfolio is a massive undertaking. As a teacher, I felt that each class I was teaching 9 different classes because I had 9 students working on 9 different concentrations. Despite this obstacle, there were many successes throughout the year. I saw students grow in their art abilities, I saw students take risks to create highly original and professional artworks, and the coolest part is that I saw students become more confident in themselves and have pride in their artwork. As a teacher, this warms my heart and absolutely thrills me because it shows me that the students were invested, cared about their artwork, and felt good about themselves. Isn't that what education is about?

If you have any questions about AP 3D, please feel free to e-mail me. Thank you for reading!

Monday, June 15, 2015

AP 3D: Breadth Breakdown!


I would like to continue my reflection on my AP 3D Design class by sharing with you information about the Breadth section. In this blog entry I would like to share with you brief overviews of variety of lessons that I used to help students create artworks to build this section of the portfolio.

What is the Breadth Section of the AP 3D portfolio?
The breadth section requires students to submit 8 artworks (2 views each) that demonstrate their understandings of 3D space. When I explain it to students I explain that the breadth section should demonstrate their wide array of abilities in how they create 3D artworks. I stress in this section an exploration of the elements and principles of design. Additionally, artworks presented as breadth artworks should change and surprise the viewer as you look at it from multiple angles. For this section, I design the lessons and then allow students to interpret the objectives to create their own unique artworks. I also try to have students build upon previous skills in order for them to demonstrate advanced art making skills. I also encourage students to explore art mediums, techniques, and concepts that are not being investigated in the concentration section of their portfolios.  

What are Some Breadth Lessons?
In the past 2 years I have done quite a few breadth lessons. Below I will list my favorite 8 lessons and give a brief synopsis of each project. I have also included a photo for reference.

Assemblages Inspired by Repetition: collect found objects and then use those objects to create an assemblage sculpture using repetition. Repetition could be achieved by using the same object over and over again, by repeating a motif, or by repeating a specific form. I have students begin to collect objects over the summer. Students then share what they have collected and begin experimenting to see what they come up with. I would not recommend using heavy objects or glass for this due to the limitations and difficulties inherent in these materials. 

Book Transformations: students take a book and transform it into a sculpture; the book can be layered, pierced, stacked, or folded to create a representation or non-representational sculpture. Additional materials can be added. I love this project because it takes something that is normally so "2D" in how it functions and transforms it into something 3D. For contrast, you can also include a hand-made bound book using hand-made paper, marbelized paper, or paste paper with a binding technique such as Belgian book binding or Japanese stab binding for example. 

Slip Mold Ceramics Inspired by Texture: students create slip and use a mold to make a ceramic cast; once the clay object is removed and leather hard, students explore creating textures through carving or through impressing objects and adding ceramic details such as a lid, handles, etc. to make it more original.  Students may also explore textures through glaze mixing and application techniques. This is a great way to re-use dried out clay. Additionally, it is a pretty quick project in terms of clay construction. 

Plaster Balloon Casts Inspired by Form: students create a cast of a balloon using plaster; students fill balloons with wet plaster, squish and hold into place for approximately 5 minutes and allow to dry overnight. Once dry, balloon is removed, plaster is sanded and painted. For the project I would have students make multiple casts because the first few usually don't turn out as well as expected because it takes some practice with mixing, pouring, and casting the plaster. Also, having a rubber bowl to mix the plaster in is extremely helpful with clean up. Plaster water bottles with the bottoms cut off make great funnels for pouring the plaster into the balloon. This is a quick project that could be completed in 1 - 2 weeks. 

Inspired by Movement: students create an interesting shape by cutting a piece of paper, then use the piece of paper as a template to trace between 15 – 30 shapes onto foam core board. Shapes are then cut out and assembled by stacking, swirling, or joining with notches in the foam core board; arrangement of shapes is key to creating an interesting sculpture. Sculptures are then spray painted.   

Emotional and Exaggerated Caricature Sculptures: students design and create a sculpted portrait bust using an emotion as inspiration. The goal is to have students explore exaggeration to create an emotional, expressive response within the sculpture. It should be clear what the emotion is. This is a more time consuming lesson because it involves multiple steps. Begin with a blank styrofoam head. Build up the face with newspaper and/or modeling clay. Afterwards cover with Plaster Wrap and then paint. Additional media may be used to add props or hair. 

Action Shot Sculptures: students use armature wire to create abstract figure sculptures in the round; props and/or colored wire may be created to enhance action shot.

Jewelry Design: students use sawing, piercing, layering, linkage, and/or enameling techniques to create a piece of jewelry. I recommend when photographing jewelry to include a photo of the jewelry by itself and also one of it being worn. 

I hope you enjoyed learning about the Breadth Section of the AP 3D portfolio! These are just a sampling of the many lesson possibilities that exist! 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

What's the Scoop on AP 3D Design?


I wanted to take a moment to reflect on my AP 3D Design class. This is the second year that I have taught AP 3D Design. This year I had the privilege of working with 9 incredibly dedicated and hard-working students. I would like to use this blog to share with you our adventures throughout the year. In this entry, I will focus on explaining what AP 3D Design is, what the portfolio requirements are, and share examples of concentration themes and artworks.

What is AP 3D Design?
AP 3D Design is a course similar in design to AP Drawing and Painting and AP 2D Design. It is sponsored by the CollegeBoard and is designed to give high school students a college art experience. Just like AP Drawing and Painting and AP 2D Design, AP 3D Design requires students to submit a portfolio and artist statement in lieu of taking an advanced placement test. Don’t be fooled! Just because students aren’t taking a test doesn’t mean that this is an easier AP class. If students receive a score of 3, 4, or 5 on the portfolio they can earn college credit. The AP 3D portfolio is submitted online through photographs.

What are the AP 3D Portfolio Requirements?
The portfolio is divided into 3 sections: quality, breadth, and concentration. Each section is worth 1/3 of the total score. Students may submit sculptures, installations, of crafts-based artworks in these sections. The quality section requires students to submit their top 5 artworks. (with 2 views of each artwork), which can come from the breadth and/or concentration sections. Even though the Collegeboard lists this as Section 1, we complete this section last because it requires students to identify their strongest artworks. I explain to my students that their quality section should reflect their 5 absolute best artworks based on execution, concept, and sculptural quality. The second section is the breadth section, which requires students to submit 8 artworks (with 2 views of each artwork) that reflect a wide variety of artistic abilities and their understanding of three-dimensional space. To make this clearer, let me relate it to Pablo Picasso. Picasso would have done exceptionally well on this section of the AP Portfolio because he could draw and paint, realistically, abstractly, and non-objectively using a variety of techniques and subject matter including still life, portraits, and landscapes.  In this section, I stressed to students that this is their opportunity to “show off” the variety of skills that they can do in 3D art. In terms of teacher planning, this is the section that I focus on creating specific lessons and projects for.  In the concentration section of the portfolio students choose a specific topic, medium, or idea to investigate through the creation of 6 – 12 artworks. This part of the portfolio is a little more open because it requires students to submit 12 images and some may be second views from another angle. Therefore, the minimum number of artworks that a student could submit would be 6 artworks, each with 2 views each, or anywhere up to 12 artworks, 1 image each. The concentration section also requires students to write a brief artist statement explaining their central idea. To make this section clearer, I will reference Claude Monet. Monet would have done exceptionally well on this section of the AP Portfolio because Monet focused on capturing changing light within landscapes. He made this his primary artistic pursuit, but went in depth in his investigation. In this section, students choose their topic of interest and I act as a guide and coach as they create the artworks. I stressed to students that their artworks should show progression, growth, and risk-taking of their central idea. Most of all, their concentrations need to be something meaningful, interesting, exciting, and important to them.

What Is the Concentration Section? What did Students Investigate?
The most exciting part of teaching this class is seeing students dive into an artistic investigation of something they love, are curious about, and/or want to learn about through the creation of 3D artworks. Each one of my students did something completely different for their concentration sections. Because of this, it was like have 9 different classes to prepare for. I loved watching their ideas evolve throughout the year as they brainstormed, sketched, and researched. Here is a synopsis and some examples of their work:

Concentration # 1 – Exploration of ceramic vessels and containers and our relationships with them.

Concentration #2 – How many sci-fi creatures can I create using a variety of mediums?

Concentration #3 – Research into musical genres to create sculptures.

Concentration #4 – Exploration of black and white and contrast in the creation of 3D artworks.

Concentration #5 – Exploration of traditional metal-smithing techniques to create a variety of jewelry.

Concentration #6 – Self-portraits of the artist.

Concentration #7 – Functional ceramics inspired by the sea.

Concentration #8 – How many different ways can I embellish a piece of clay?

Concentration #9 – Eyeballs and seeing as the subject of 3D artworks.

As you can see, each student chose something completely different from the other. Also each student chose something that inspired and interested them, which kept them motivated. This is important because students need to work on these projects throughout the entire year and if their hearts are not in it, then they will lose interest and motivation. Some students had a very clear idea of where they wanted to go with their artworks and some allowed the process to direct them. I even had one student who switched her concentration half-way through the year. One aspect that this class did exceptionally well in was their communication with each other through both formal and informal critiques. When one student was struggling with an idea or technique others offered encouragement and suggestions. Having fresh eyes and perspectives from others is important in the concentration because sometimes students spend so much time on an artwork that they overlook things. 

I hope you enjoyed learning about AP 3D Design. There is so much more to this class that I will share with you in the near future. If you are interested in starting an AP Art Class at your school, contact your AP Coordinator. After approval from your school board you need to write and submit a syllabus to the AP Board for approval. Once approved, you are ready to go!


Helen Frankenthaler Inspired Paintings


For this entry I would like to share with you a lesson that I taught to my Color and Design class. Color and Design is a class made up primarily of freshmen. This class is an introductory art class that focuses on the elements and principles of design and the exploration of new materials and techniques. This year, my theme for Color and Design is American Artists. I chose this as a theme because normally when I ask students to “name an artist” I get the following responses: Van Gogh, Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Picasso. All have made significant contributions to art history, but none of them are American. I realized that exposure to American art and artists was limited for my students, so I decided to make it my focus for the school year.

I would like to share with you my lesson on Helen Frankenthaler. Helen Frankenthaler was an Abstract Expressionist painter who paved the way for the Color Field painters through her soak-stain technique. In soak-stain, Helen would pour diluted paint onto an unprimed canvas to create abstract landscapes.

Objective: To explore the soak-stain technique and non-traditional painting techniques to create an abstract or non-objective artwork inspired by a place.

Essential Question: How can I create a painting of a place using non-traditional painting techniques?

Time Frame:  5 – 7 forty-two minute classes.  

Assessment: This project is formally assessed with a rubric using the following criteria: Design and Composition, Creativity, Utilization of Techniques, Artist Statement, Presentation.  Each criteria is worth 20 points for a total of 100 points. I also informally assess students each day as I circulate around the room to provide feedback.

Materials: Unprimed canvas, laminated board (or board covered in wax paper), paints (latex work great!), Dixie cups, spatulas, comb, water spray bottle,  popsicle sticks, any unusual object to apply the paint with, newspaper, sponges, aprons.

Sequence of Action:
1).  Introduce Helen Frankenthaler via Scholastic Arts Magazine article. Students  read article aloud via popcorn reading, pausing for class discussion and teacher-guided question and answer. Students participate in art critique of artworks, evaluating via thumbs up and thumbs down responses.

2).   Teacher asks students to brainstorm as a class to identify different types of ‘places.’ Students choose a place. Teacher passes out a graphic organizer asking them to brainstorm adjectives used to describe the colors associated with that place, the feelings associated with it, textures, and its mood.

3). Students staple unprimed canvas to laminated board. Teacher demonstrates how to thin paints out with water and how to pour paint onto unprimed canvas. The goal is to create an artwork that is abstract (somewhat resembles place) or non-objective (doesn’t resemble place, uses lines and shapes to communicate ideas). Teacher also demonstrates how to use other tools to create textures and shapes. Students should not “paint” in the traditional sense, but instead explore designing a composition inspired by the colors, mood, textures, etc. of their chosen place.

4). Students begin exploring and experimenting with pouring, diluting, and spreading paint onto canvas to create their painting. Encourage students to go beyond the expected “Jackson Pollock drip” technique. This took 2 - 3 days. 

5). Teacher demonstrates how to measure mattes and cut with a matte cutter. Students work hands on to measure mattes, and rotate through using the matte cutter to cut mattes. While students are waiting to use the matte cutter, they begin to write their artist statement, which will be attached to the back of the painting. The artist statement directs students to answer the following questions: what place inspired this painting? Why did you choose this place? How does your painting relate to your place?

6). Add signature to matte board and tape artist statement to the back of painting. Add stickers to matte board that label the place that inspired the painting.  

7). Put on display!

Sample Artworks: 

·           Latex paint works extremely well for this project because it is very “plastic” in texture when it dries and it peels off a laminated surface easily. Call around to your local paint supply stores! Last year a local paint manufacturer had a canceled order for small jars of sample paint in every single color imaginable and they were giving them away for free! I went and filled my car up with 11 boxes!

·          Emphasize process! One of the enchanting aspects of this painting project is that there is no sketching or planning involved, so there is no “expected” outcome. Students really liked this project because it was so experimental.

·          Stretched Bars: If I could do this project again I would use canvas stretcher bars to wrap the finished paintings around for display purposes instead of matte board. Limited resources prevented me from doing this, but I am hoping to get scrap wood or order some stretcher bars for the future.

·        - Check out artist Holton Rower’s Tall Paintings– he is taking Pollock and Frankenthaler’s pouring techniques to a whole new level by pouring paint onto 3D sculptures. A few years ago a group of students came to me and said they wanted to try it out. They brought in leftover latex paint from home and we poured it onto a mini sculpture. Caution: you need a LOT of paint and it will spread IMMENSELY, even after you think it’s done moving. But it was a lot of fun and the kids will always remember it. Here is a video:

Thank you for reading my blog entry on Helen Frankenthaler – happy painting!



*** Note: This blog was originally posted in April of 2015 and was removed due to technical difficulties. It is being re-posted now that the technical issues have been resolved. Thanks for your patience! ***

A Differentiated Instruction Book Review

Book Review: Differentiated Instruction in Art

Differentiated instruction seems to be the “buzz word” in education. But what is differentiated instruction and what does it look like in an art classroom?
To find the answer to this question I recommend the book Differentiated Instruction in Art, written by Dr. Heather Fountain, published as part of the Art Education in Practice Series by Davis Art Publications. I had the pleasure of taking a differentiated instruction class with Dr. Fountain and I must admit it was one of my favorite graduate classes and what I learned I have been able to integrate into my curriculum and into my instructional methods very quickly, easily, and efficiently. I have become a better teacher for it.

This book not only defines differentiated instruction, but it also gives the reader a history of DI and provides rationale for why this is a beneficial art practice. I learned that differentiated instruction was a term coined by Carol Ann Tomlinson in the early 1990s to describe instructional practices that are designed to reach and engage students of varying learning styles. The purpose of differentiated instruction is to allow students to learn the same objectives, but in different ways. Teachers can differentiate by process (how students engage in the art lesson), by product (what is created to teach the objectives), or content (what the students are learning, such as topics, themes, techniques, etc.).

This book stresses the importance of understanding your students and their learning styles. Each student is unique in what he or she is interested in and how he or she learns. In order to better understand your students, Fountain suggests pre-assessment. Pre-assessment is the practice of identifying what your students are interested in and are skilled in before the teacher begins the lesson. This will allow the teacher to better plan the lesson and make preparations for what to teach and how to teach it. For example, if you as a teacher are planning on introducing a pinch pot lesson to teach traditional hand-building ceramic techniques, wouldn’t it be helpful to know if your students have already had experience with this? If the teacher finds out ahead of time that the students did a pinch pot in middle school, then at the high school the teacher can instead teach how to stack pinch pots to make more complex vessels, or show how to combine pinch pot with another hand-building technique such as coiling. This will keep students more engaged and interested while building their ceramic hand-building repertoire. Pre-assessment can take the form of questionnaires, surveys, and a variety of graphic organizers. The book provides excellent examples of each of these forms of pre-assessment and each is unique to art education.  A teacher can also have students take a test to help identify what type of learner they are. Fountain also recommends the Multiple Intelligence Test from the Birmingham Grid for Learning at This test has a series of questions focused on what a person enjoys based on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. At the end of the test it provides a pie chart that describes a person’s learning style based on the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. For example, I learned that I am a strong spatial and kinesthetic learner, but not a strong musical learner. The test only takes a few minutes to do and would be beneficial for both teacher and students.

My favorite part of the book is chapter 6 which focuses on curriculum. The chapter provides practical methods of differentiating instruction in the art room. Examples include choice boards, learning menus, tiering, learning stations, among many others. Not only does the book define what a learning menu is, it also provides examples of how it was used in a contemporary art room. This chapter also provides strategy guides on how to differentiate by product, by process, or by content.

Overall, I would strongly recommend this book to any art teacher who is interested in learning how to better incorporate DI strategies into their teaching strategies and curriculum. The book is written in manageable chapters, is organized clearly, and has many visuals and graphic organizers that are teacher and student friendly. A digital download copy of this book can be found at and costs $19.95. 

*** Note: This blog was originally posted in April of 2015 and was removed due to technical difficulties. It is being re-posted now that the technical issues have been resolved. Thanks for your patience! ***