Expected, and Unexpected, Process and Product

“Would you come up with something creative we can do together at our next ELA meeting?” That simple question was the beginning of what would become, for me, a fabulous process and product!

It was a crazy time of year. We were all a bit stressed, with tons to do. “Perfect!” I thought. “Let’s take all that angst and struggle, and use it to make something beautiful!”

Our tools:

  1. sharpie markers (preferably black)
  2. old gift cards or credit cards
  3. acrylic paint
  4. canvas panel
  5. old magazines
  6. white glue
  7. bravery
  8. boldness
  9. openness
  10. joy

Our process:

  1. Think of all the things that are making us crazy, or cranky or stressed. As the end of the year approaches, that list can become very long. I encouraged myself, and my colleagues, to think of things from all areas of our lives.
  2. Write them down, in permanent, bold, black ink, all over the canvas. Be free! Write them one on top of the other. Make lists. Write big. Write small. Print. Write in cursive. Cross them out. Make them bold. Add lots of exclamation points. Curse if you like. LOL!
  3. Remember this is for you, no one else. No one gets to check it before you add the next step. No one sees it unless you choose to share. Be bold. Be brave. Be honest.
  4. When done, put the cap on the pen, and set it aside. Look at the canvas. Good? Anything else you want to write? Anything else you want to add? If so, pick up that pen again, and add it. If not, move on to number 5.
  5. Choose some colors. I like to be free, but mindful, in my color choices. Some colors become mud when blended. Sometimes muddy is good, but other times, not so much, hence the mindful part.
  6. Put  small dabs of the paints on a paper plate or tray.
  7. Using one of those old cards as a palette knife, pick up some of the paint and get it on the canvas. The card allows for a thick or thin paint application. Thick application can add texture or the possibility to completely obscure your words. Thin application allows for more layering of colors, and causes the texture of the canvas and the written word to be more prominent.
  8. Be free with the paint application. Don’t fret about mixing colors. Use only one card for the entire work. If you have too much paint on it, or want another color free from any other, grab a paper towel and wipe off the card. Experiment with thick or thin. (I like a thin application so the handwriting can be seen, but when it is your art, use your own preferences.)
  9. Flip through the magazines to find words or images that are the opposite of the words you wrote on the canvas. Find ones that inspire you. Search for beauty, peace, breath, love, laughter, or whatever else makes you say, “Oh, this is good!”
  10. Tear them out of the magazine! Experiment with different angles, with how much space you leave around the words, and with tearing in different directions. You might be surprised with all the variations you can get.  (If you must, lol, you can cut them out. But, if you can live with the possibility of ripping something wanted, and the less than perfect edges of the tear, then please, tear them. I promise, the results can be beautiful, and meaningful.)
  11. Once your canvas has dried, place these images and words on the canvas. Explore varying layouts. When you find one you like, use the glue to make it permanent. Be aware, if you haven’t cleaned your hands you may end up with some unexpected color. Don’t worry if that happens, there is one more step!
  12. When the glue has dried, add one more layer. Find or make a stencil and use it. Add color with your fingers. Grab a stamp and see what you can do with it.

Here is my final product.

2016-04-04 19.09.34

Or so I thought!

This is my product, and I love it, but it turns out it was not my final product. There was more. There was the unexpected process and product, and it was fantabulous!

As I drove home, my thoughts returned to the meeting, my colleagues, our process, and our product.  So many thoughts, observations and wondering. And then, my thoughts turned to my product.

“I wonder if I can read what I wrote? Maybe if I look really closely?”

There was definitely part of me that wanted to read them again. Hold on to them. Feel them again. Experience their power. Another part of me speculated it might have been better to have completely concealed my words under a think coat of paint. I resisted any urge to pull over and examine my canvas, lol, and reminded myself that the point of the process – outside of pure creativity and joy – was to let things go!

When I got home I pulled my canvas out of my bag, and spent some time with it.

I liked it. It wasn’t perfect, but it was interesting. It wasn’t flawless, but it was beautiful. And those imperfections and flaws? They added to its interest.

I couldn’t read my words, but I could see my writing, and I loved that! The writing added depth and texture to the work.

Then I had an aha moment … my final product (at least for now).

The piece was just like my life. Multi-layered. Not perfect, but pretty fabulous. And those things that make me anxious, stressed or cranky? Endured, survived, embraced, laughed about, cranked about, talked about, prayed about, and released – even if they remain in some fashion – they make me better, more interesting, more awesome, more me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Beyond the page with Georgia O’Keeffe

rose“If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for a moment.” Georgia O’Keeffe

“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings and thoughts about flowers are impressive and thought provoking. Her thoughts suggest mindfulness and reflection.  Her paintings translate the small and easily overlooked, into something large that captures attention.

My students are always impressed with Georgia’s work. But, while they marvel at the size of her flowers, I  think they have a difficult time wrapping their minds around the changes she makes. In Georgia’s hands, flowers became larger than life – even larger than the canvas on which she painted.

I have done Georgia O’Keefe inspired art with my classes other years, and each time they struggled to use the whole page. They made lovely flowers but they made them small – in the center of the page – not covering the whole page. I encouraged and reminded, but still the flowers were smaller than Georgia’s. I loved watching them examine the flowers, but I hated the feeling of pushing them, and constantly having to say “Oh, can you make that bigger?” or “The whole page, use the whole page!” or thinking in my head “eee GADS, that’s not what I asked you to do.”

This year I tried a new method. I wish I could remember the lesson or book that contained the spark which led to this lesson, because I would love to thank them, and give you a great resource, but alas, I cannot. So, you will have to be satisfied with my lesson!

First we looked at her flowers and talked about what we noticed. One thing we noticed was that Georgia’s flowers often look like they go beyond the edge of her canvas. “Oh YES!” I excitedly exclaimed. “EXACTLY!” I told them I had never been able to figure out a way to help my students draw their flowers off the edges of the paper – until now! I told them I read about what other artists had done, and I found something I thought would work perfectly for us.

I explained that I had covered the tables with white craft paper so they would feel free to draw off the edges of the page. I told them their art piece would actually be the piece of watercolor paper I had taped to the white craft paper (I taped them underneath.) but I said they should imagine the whole white space as their canvas. “When you draw your flower, make it big. Make parts of it land on the white craft paper!”

They asked if they would draw a flower from memory. “No! I brought lots of flowers for you to look at!” I dropped many flowers on the carpet in front of them amidst “ooohs” and “aahs.”

“I want you to be like scientists. I want you to really look at the flower you choose and then create it on your paper.” I suggested they try to make their flower have a shape similar to the flower they chose, but told them they could be creative and change things up a bit. The most important things were to trust themselves as artists, really see the flower (like Georgia did) and to draw their flower big so others would see it too.

Armed with a sharpie marker, I chose my flower and began to  draw for them. I made the shapes simple – matching the flower in some ways and changing it in others. I commented that sometimes I changed shapes because it was a bit easier for me to draw, and sometimes I tried really hard to draw exactly what I saw.

They all wanted to know if we would add color. “Absolutely! But, we are going to use a new method.” I brought out a tray of sidewalk chalk, a cup of water and a paintbrush. I explained we would color with the chalk and then smudge it – just a bit – with our fingers. Then, we would use the paintbrush and water to create our a watercolor on the page. I cautioned them against too much water – “Squeeze the brush out like this before you use it. … There will still be plenty of water. Look!” I told them they might have to experiment with the amount of chalk they added and the amount of smudging they did. I showed them a few different possibilities and set them free – with my fingers crossed.

After carefully choosing a flower, and navigating how more than one might use the same flower, they uncapped their sharpies and began drawing. They were fantastic!!! All the girls made their drawings larger than the flower they observed, and all but one extended their flowers beyond the page. And, perhaps best of all, it was so easy for them!!!!

 GO collage5

They were incredibly engaged in every step of the process – choosing a flower, observing it, drawing it with the black sharpie, coloring with sidewalk chalk, smudging the chalk and turning the chalk into watercolor. I wish I could share photos of their faces with you. They were girls – 5 and 6 years old – transformed into intent, focused artists – easily mistaken for students well beyond their years.

GO collage3

As always I was impressed (and humbled) to be there for the “magic” that took place in that art class. Together, somehow, my students and I found that synergistic space where we were able to become more than … or perhaps just exactly … who we are.

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Two nice Georgia O’Keeffee resources:

http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/about-georgia-okeeffe.html

http://www.nga.gov/kids/scoop-okeeffe.pdf