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I am the studio teacher in Zach's Place Studio, an AMS Montessori teacher, an artist, a mother and much more.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

week 13

The studio was a hive of activity this week. The students are excited by the many holiday preperations that are swirling around with cooking projects and gifts exchange. The students enjoyed exploring the water soluble oil pastels introduced last week in combination with liquid water colors. There were several other activities as well, including: adding the last details to our second fall mural, several fall compositions, drawings and block building.
The daily drawings continue to provide a peaceful transition from class to studio and a welcome respite from the often busy feelings surrounding the season.
Happy holidays to all of you and have a lovely winter break. We look forward to seeing you in the new year.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What a busy week! With winter break fast approaching the school is buzzing with activity, cookie baking, gingerbread houses, wreaths made of cranberries and popcorn and more. Amidst the hustle and bustle we celebrated our new murals with a special unveiling celebration for the artists...our students and Tony Ortega. Kathryn made some incredible sugar cookies with the afternoon class, employing colors inspired by the murals! The students shared their culinary treats with Tony during a wonderful, song-filled assembly.In the studio we continued many of our existing activities and added a few more. Some of the older students began exploring a new medium, water-soluble oil pastels. We talked about composition and introduced the process of blending. The students are eager to keep experimenting.
I introduced charcoal this week and we had a fun conversation about its origins. Some students announced that charcoal was used to fuel trains, others thought in was inside chimneys and others expressed more fantastical ideas of its origins. We talked about the many tools we get from nature and how charcoal is left over from a fire, pressed and formed for us to draw with. This led to some eager, messy explorations. The student pictured here spent twenty minutes meticulously transforming a white sheet of paper into coal black (with intermittent hand washing).
Watercolor has an increasing appeal. We are exploring wax resists with white oil crayons and liquid watercolor on the easel and there are large cake watercolors set out on a work table with pencils for continued exploration and expression.
We have added a large block building area to the studio, which has been received with enthusiasm and lots of collaborative structures and demolitions.

Next week is shortened due to Winter-break. We plan to continue many of the same activities for indepth exploration.

week 12- scale

Every day in the studio I am surprised by the artistry and innovation of the children I serve. I typically invite students to begin a visit to the studio with a daily drawing. I will occasionally offer a provocation like, "Think of something that happened this morning and how you would like to draw a story about it". It is a nice way to transition from the classroom environment and it is a great conversation starter. This student began with a drawing of "Me kicking my brother". His drawing was beautiful with clean lines and strong shapes. When asked how he felt about kicking his brother, he smiled and said, "good". He seemed to be really interested in his drawing. I asked if he might be interested in making a larger one. He eagerly agreed.He took a black pen and drew the same image but larger on another sheet of paper. Still interested, he eyed the laminates for the projector. He stood up and brought back a tray with clear laminates, a dry erase marker and a cloth. He began to draw the picture again.Next, he placed his drawing on the light projector, asked for another sheet of paper and transferred the image again in larger scale.
When complete, he smiled and said, "I like my brother", obviously at ease. It is inspiring to see how the many languages of art can help each of us process our emotions and the events of a day, in a rich and fulfilling way.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

week 11- Grandparent's Day

We have a wonderful tradition at Children's Garden of celebrating grandparent's on a special day devoted especially to a visit from them. The children were excitedly preparing for this visit all last week, making pumpkin pies in anticipation. Once the grandparents arrived students busily showed off their favorite works and classroom activities. Many of them trickled into the studio throughout the day. We had a simple activity prepared for creating a gratitude tree. This tray features the prepared the materials: cut tags of hole punched paper, black pens, colored pens and pencils. Next, families were invited to choose a tag and write or draw something that fills them with gratitude or joy. When that was finished they fastened their gratitude tags to a bare branch, waiting to be colorfully adorned.
Some families continued to explore the studio further, trying out some familiar activities, here grandma and grandson are composing on mat board with natural materials.
It was a beautiful day sharing our school with the families who support it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

weeks 9 and 10- A visit from Tony

Tony Ortega spent five days, spread over the past two weeks, working with our students on two beautiful murals that will soon adorn the walls of our school. His technique with the children is lovely to watch. The children have truly painted the murals themselves, with Tony acting as a guide. The effect is amazing but perhaps even more lovely is the feeling of ownership that each child displays after having worked on the murals. As they pass the paintings, they pause and point out the areas they painted, with enthusiastic pride.

Here's a quick review of the process:

Tony began by introducing himself to the students during morning circle time and answering a few of the children's questions.

Next, we invited students, two at a time to begin working with us in the studio. Tony invited each child to the paint mixing table and measured a few paints into a recycled plastic container, each time asking the child to "guess" what color might emerge. The student than used used a wooden tongue depressor to thoroughly mix the new color.With a thorougly mixed container of paint the student was ready to paint on the mural. We began by filling the various outlined shapes with blocks of color, often complimentary or secondary shades, to form the base of the painting (so faces were green and hair was purple). After the base coat of color was in place, we began using a dry brush painting technique to overlay a second layer of paint while maintaining some of the original color.Finally, students used pointillism techniques to add small dots and dashes of color to the painting.Then Tony finished the murals by adding black outlines and overlaying the whole piece with a UV retardent varnish. The entire process was an amazing experience for students and staff alike. Thank you so much to Tony Ortega for sharing his talent with us in a unique and inspiring way AND thanks to our families without whose support this wouldn't have been possible.

Please come by after Thanksgiving break to see the new murals installed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

week 8 - Tree Project- Angelina


How the tree project emerged.

While in the studio exploring leaves three weeks ago, a conversation emerged with three students from the morning Ward-Hobbs classroom. The students involved were Laurel (L) age 4, Amelia (A)age 5 and Joseph (J) age 5. The conversation proceeded as follows:

Angelina Have you noticed any changes happening in our trees outside?

J The leaves are changing colors. The leaves are dying because they are turning so hard and the rain is making them change colors.

L The leaves were a little bit changing purple. I saw some purple leaves on the ground and on the tree. I saw a leaf changing rainbow: orange, pink, purple and green. I saw leaves change turquoise. I think they’re all gonna fall to the ground. Can we make a tree of leaves? It would look like a real tree. We could glue leaves on it, then we need to make a big circle of brown paper.

A Yeah! We could make it out of brown paper.

J Real trees have wood.

L Can you get some wood Angelina?

Angelina Yes, but what kind of wood do you want?

L A branch, we could hang it from the ceiling!

J So it is standing up like a tree. We have to make the sky higher, cuz the sky is air.

A Water makes air.

L Really hot water makes air.

A Yeah!

Angelina What kind of leaves would you like to hang from your tree?

L These leaves! (points to the ones on the table)

Angelina Okay. These may change by the time we make our tree. (I show her an old leaf and how it is brittle)

L We don’t want breaking leaves.

Angelina Would you like to hang some of your drawn leaves on the tree?

(Amelia, Laurel and Joseph all say “NO!”)

(I told them about a technique where leaves are preserved in wax so they maintain their color and remain intact.)

L Do you have wax?

Angelina No but I can get some.

J YEAH! Then we will make our tree.

A With leaves falling down.

L Can we do it today?

Angelina We will have to wait for another day.

L Okay but you get wax and a branch

Angelina And you can start looking for leaves.


My sons and I went hiking and found an interesting branch near a creek bed above Morrison. I brought it into the studio and asked Laurel, Amelia and Joseph if it would work. They all agreed that it would. Next, I tried out laminating the leaves and found they retained their color well, while the veins and texture remained evident. I asked the three students involved if we could use laminated leaves rather than waxed leaves and they agreed that we could. I selected an open studio day and we made an appointment to meet.


Angelina What did you notice while making the tree project?

L I saw rainbow leaves!

J The colored leaves

L We glued them on with honey glue, (deep intake of breath) it looks like those big yellow trees (points at a cottonwood tree outside). Maybe they’re made with honey glue too!

A Yeah! Maybe we could make a tree outside now. We would do it just like this (pointing to the tree).

Angelina How do you think the leaves outside stay on the tree?

L They’re connected to the branches without any glue, they hold onto the tree branches.

A Their arms are really tired and that’s how they fall off.

L They let go like this and lay on a bed.

A Yeah, like an acorn bed.

L But flat like this (slaps her hands together).

A A smooshed acorn bed with mud.

Angelina How will they look differently in the winter?

L Maybe they will turn white.

A In winter we could throw snow on the tree.

J The trees are gray in winter.

Angelina Is there anything else you would like to say about our tree project?

L We hanged it up by string.

A But real trees spread up and POP! Spreading leaves, spreading trees! Growing!

J And I think we should bring more leaves in and stick them on the tree one we made.

Friday, October 29, 2010

the poetry of toddlers- Angelina

The poetic simplicity of toddler speech, united with the newness of experience and exploration, is art in itself.Noa
"Making a tiger
happy birthday to tiger,
making a house
"Paint body?" (motioning to a friends body)
I say, "No we aren't painting our friends. We are painting the canvas."
"My body?" (Pointing to his own chest)
No, paint is staying on the canvas today (pointing to canvas).
Hands in paint
Scratch surface
stare at mark
Revealed canvas.
Paint again,
Noa again
"PULL, PULL, PULL (dragging the paint down the surface of the canvas)
I wrote a "P", two "P's", not a "P" (Pointing at a third symbol drawn with brush).
I'm making a tiger (with fingers on wet paint)
I can make it like this...
or this...
or like this.
This is my finger, finger painting."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

week 7- leaf mural - Angelina

We have been preparing for a visit from Tony Ortega. He will begin working with our students on November 8th to create an original mural for our school. Tony uses a simple process when creating murals with young people outlined here. We decided to scaffold his approach by beginning a similar process with the students a few weeks prior to his visit.

I found three old hollow doors discarded on the side of the road recently. I patched a few holes and covered the surface with white primer. It was then propped in the studio ready to begin. We used the projector to translate some of the found leaves onto the door in a random pattern. Students then began tracing these leaves with pencil.
I black lined each of the leaves and the next day we began painting the leaves with Creatix acrylic paint (the paint Tony will be using). Next, the background was filled in primarily by this student who had an interest in preserving the leaf shapes that were disappearing beneath enthusiastic layers of paint.The next class applied paint in a random pattern using a dry brush technique. Finally, a few of our older students finished the mural applying a black outline around each leaf.This process continued to interest the students and several children continued projecting leaves, drawing them, then adding paint and a black outline.We have already begun plans for another mural on the opposite side of the door and will have that available next week for continued exploration.

week seven- Angelina

I have been documenting on blogs for years and one of the challenges of all documentation (blogs included) is the dependence on objectivity from a very human and subjective author. Which is to say that where the observer focuses becomes what the reader sees and hears about. As we all know, life is a complex web of movement, activity, experience and discovery. No matter how wide we train our eyes we are never able to fully track all of it and we are less able to impart some of it. As I work with children I watch for overlapping themes of interest. These string together and elucidate some aspect of how children learn and create themselves. These common threads are woven into blog entries, documentation panels and exhibit ideas. Yet, I am acutely aware that while attending to one thing, I am inclined to miss something else. For this reason I take lots of pictures and jot down pages of notes. I occasionally pass these pages out to my coworkers and together we read them, looking for intersects, like archaeologists sift through sand. It never ceases to surprise me, when something obvious rises to the surface that had been otherwise overlooked. The studio presently has an overt leaf project evolving that I will address in a later post, for now I would like to showcase some of the activities on the periphery. Those things that often go undisclosed, but may be the seeds of future projects, or simply an episode of discovery, beautiful in itself.

We have shelves stocked with a variety of tools: dot markers, oil pastels, markers, colored pencils, large crayons, etc. These tools are organized by color and available for exploration. There are pre-cut sheets of white drawing paper nearby. This student selected several dot markers and worked for ten minutes, carefully filling the page.This student made several paintings, this one he called "an evergreen on fire". His title was inspired by the palette of warm colors available, each brushstroke accompanied by an ongoing dialogue, a story emerging in color, line and paint.The light projector is a source of continuous intrigue. It has been in the studio since the start of the year and children are still somewhat shocked to see the image projected in scale. Many students stare at the bright surface of glass holding a leaf or stone and when their eye is directed to the translated image in shadow, they are giddy with excitement.Others are captivated by how it works. They examine the projector from all angles, exploring its mechanics with interest.This week, a child was moving the reflective mirror at the top and it snapped back on its hinge, shifting the light from the wall to the ceiling. She was amazed by what she saw. Soon several other students joined her, each eager to project a shadow on the ceiling. Light and shadow seems to be unanimously captivating to young children and continues to be a source of discovery in the studio. Another interesting evolution is an interest in the human body, particularly with the students in the 440 class and the extended primary students who have begun a study of the body, its parts and systems. This student arrived at school carrying a pencil sketch of a human skeleton that he had traced on the back of his brothers homework. He came into the studio and asked if he could "make it bigger". Of course, I said "YES!". He was deeply focused on this activity and continued drawing and painting for nearly thirty minutes. Those are just a few of the things emerging on the periphery of our leaf study. We will see how things evolve in the weeks and months ahead.