Thursday, December 3, 2015

Power of the X

I watched as he sorted through the direction sticks and all the markers and created a map. He stood, hands on hips and turned his head slightly this way and that as he checked his work. He announced that now he would need paper, turned on his heel and walked to the table collecting an index card on his way. 

The only chair available was positioned so that his back was turned to the map he had made on the floor, so he would turn, look, then turn back, draw a line, and then repeat the whole sequence line for line. After a time, he got up with his card and held it above the map and said, "I can't get this right." I suggested that he stay close and look for the shapes that he had made with the direction sticks and markers. The x was not hanging him up, it was the path. The x is easy. He has been drawing that for months. X marks the spot. X is for danger, it is to cancel out bad guys, to stop the witch from coming inside, and it shows you where to look for the treasure. Once you have the x though, you will soon have the rest of the story.

The direction sticks take you from the purple school around and through the forest, over the bike bridge, past the dragon tooth rock, and eventually the blue house. At the top of the photo, you can see his drawing of his map. It begins with the x.

Other works that begin with the x and move into line and more importantly, story.

In the photograph above, the illustrator tells me that the figure at the left is the Superhero Dad. This Superhero Dad has x-ed out the Gobbledygook there on the right. The Gobbledygook is not happy about this situation because his dinner, the figure in middle who is the Superhero Son of the Superhero Dad, was pulled out of his slimy grip. See the slime? Rescued, but still slimy, hence the grimace. The Gobbledygook is trapped by the x. He will never be free.

Knowledge about the x is not just about drawing. Think about how the x is used in other places as well. For instance in this construction. The leaning branches of the den are in an x! 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Color Reactivity: Science and Art

Let's talk about human bodies, specifically blood, muscles, veins, and skin.

Each year, the four and five-year old children paint layers on paper silhouettes that represent the internal bits of their bodies starting with their organs and moving to the outer layers of skin, facial features, and hair.

Each year, when we arrive at the muscle and vein layer, we talk about how the books we are looking at will take creative license with this by showing arteries and veins in shades of blue and red. Blood itself is further dissected in its visual representation in book illustrations to show red and white blood cells, etc. Muscles are are shown in reds and whites. This last is probably more accurate than the rest, but mostly as children always cut right to the chase in everything they do and look to their own bodies for evidence of the discussion, they will tell you that veins (and blood) are blue-ish, green-ish, and therefore blood can obviously be blue and red. Obviously.

Each year, this is further supported by parents with highly developed ideas for the children's evidence-based observation. The most common one is that once a vein or blood is "oxidized" or exposed to air, these will turn red and that contained inside a body these are indeed blue and green. In real life, blood is either bright red or dark red it is not green or blue. Ever. Unless you are a zombie or a mummy as one of the children told me this year.

This is the thing about color studies using the thing in front of you (your eyes looking through your skin at something) and transferring these to a visual medium (a printed book or painting) layers change things below. The layers of skin and fat change the thing beneath and this year, the children are experimenting with how to use paint in the same way.

So in previous years, the children add that last layer of muscle and veins and then move right to the skin color. What is different with paint is that when a new layer of tempera is added to an already dry layer of tempera it will reactivate the paint beneath. In other words, the skin layer will reactivate the muscle vein layer and our lovely shades of browns and beiges become tinted with deeper shades of red from the previous layer.

This year, because of this discussion about how the layers of skin and fat will change the appearance of the things beneath we added a new layer. We added a layer of fat. Now why I never included this important layer in previous years, I have no answer. The layer of fat we all have is actually quite important and useful -- "Every part of our body takes care of other parts of our body," one very insightful almost 5-year old observed.

This fat paint layer, in reality, will add a buffer for that reactive process and because I want to not only teach how paint works, but also how color shades work, the children used a light shade of yellow-green as the paint layer.

Now fat is not yellow-green in real life I reminded the children, but as any good make-up artist will tell you (or in my case, a really good drag queen taught me) greens will overcome or neutralize reds. Our mission is to neutralize the red layer so that the skin shades will be as true to original mixture each child creates. This is why the children had those pale yellows and pale greens to mix together. This should neutralize all those dark and light reds underneath.

We spent a lot of time observing how that lower layer was reactivated when the children moved the yellow-green paint across it. Will it be enough of a neutralizing tone as a base for the skin colors? Only time will tell. Have we started a new misunderstanding similar to the "is blood blue or red?" by making the fat layer yellow-green? Only time will tell us that as well.

Lots of adventures in store!

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Trickster Collages

These kinds of collages are few and far between and by far between, I mean that these were created by 3 and 4-year olds in 2010 and we haven't done anything like this since then. The reason for this is that a parent had given me a handful of World Wildlife Fund calendars and I had enough large format African and North American animals for the children to work with. It was a kind of perfect storm -- supply could meet demand PLUS the animals included in the calendars are all featured in the trickster tales we read with the children. When you have a large class, resources become a leading factor in imagining the completion of a process.

There were sixteen of these finished pieces and I only have a handful photographed and didn't photograph the process at all. I hope the description of how these were created will help. Please let me know if you have questions...
Lion Trickster and Starry Moons
Zebra Gets Her Beauty
To begin, I folded 18"x12" sheets of construction paper in thirds. We talked about how there would be three sections of paint to represent the sky at the top, the ground at the bottom and the middle distance or horizon line at the middle. All of these are pretty consistent with the books we had been reading, especially those written by Mwenye Hadithi and illustrated by Adrienne Kennaway of which Lazy Lion (see below), Hungry Hyena, and Crafty Chameleon are favorites.

Even with the folding, I found that the horizon line was not that distinct division of sky and land that you would see with the big sky country featured in the trickster tales we were reading. I worked with the children to cut the painted papers into two strips. The children then used random pieces of landscapes cut from National Geographic magazines that the older children from the Summer Art sessions had collected and not used in their own collages to further indicate "land" in the collages. The sun/moon/star circle shapes were left over from yet another project.

We teach a glue wash and brush technique for most collages. This process creates a flat surface for collage pieces to adhere to and when a last layer is applied to the top, this seals the entire construction and gives the weight needed to balance the shrinking of the various thicknesses of the papers used.

If you look at the eagle collage below, you will see where the glue brush and glue lifted the finish off the calendar print in torn bits revealing the white paper below. Happy accidents. No big deal. Over time the children learn to calibrate their use of the brush and glue. It is a great fine motor builder and crossing of the midline exercise. Imagine moving a great puddle of glue across a sheet of paper 18-inches wide. It requires just the right effort.

Eagle Helps Take Fire From the Yellow Jacket Sisters
After the collages were dry, the children gave them titles. The titles evoked the very tales that they had been reading. In this, we are able to see the connection these tales and their collages share.

Boulder Rolls Down Hill
Big Kicker
Bear Helps Out at Night