Friday, January 29, 2016

18th century inspired eye miniatures

Generally I find that students are most intimidated by drawing the human form and face. So I am always trying to figure out ways to focus on small parts of the human form to bolster their confidence.

Yesterday I introduced a project to the teen class that focused strictly on drawing the eye. It was a nice tie in for Valentine's Day, which is just around the corner, and had an interesting art history story.

In the 18th and early 19th century, wealthy European lovers exchanged painted eye miniatures. This fad was supposedly ignited by King George IV when he had his eye painted, placed in a locket and sent to his love, a twice widowed Catholic woman he could not legally marry by law at that time, in place of an engagement ring. This gift convinced her to marry the Prince in secret and set off a frenzy of lovers exchanging eye jewelry that they could wear publicly without others knowing the identity of their true love...because affairs were common since most marriages were not based on romantic love at this time.

Hence coining the modern day term of these works being referred to as "Lover's Eyes". 

I am completely smitten with these works of art. I shared them with the teen class last night, who were also quite intrigued by the story and the artwork, which has to be the ultimate two thumbs up for an old lady like me.

The Salon website has a great detailed article on these if you are interested in learning more about eye miniatures.

Anyhow the girls giggled at the thought of giving their eyes to a boy, so we settled on maybe these being a gift to their parents as a symbol of their love. Whether they give these to anyone is a mute point because they all thought the idea of creating an eye was "cool".

I gave the students several options to use in creating their eyes and one settled on using Prisma pencil and the other on watercolor pencil.

13 year old, watercolor pencil

Using a mirror to study their own eyes, they began to create their works of art. Here is the one work finished last night, the other is still in progress. This was a great opportunity to really study and learn how to draw an eye, paying attention to shadow and light, the eye lid, and nuances of the pupil.

The girls truly seemed to enjoy this project and it seemed to really resonate with each of them and inspired them creatively. 

And I just fell further in love with artwork focused strictly on the eye looking at their finished creations.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

fairy capes

Sadly this was the last class of the month for the Preschoolers and it is always hard to say goodbye to this adorable group.

I wanted to do something special for the last class and the week before when I asked the three year olds what they wanted to do next week, they had all exclaimed, "Fairies!"

So I came up with a fairy project to end the art session.

A special fairy project thanks in part to my friend and Seymour Art Gallery curator, Sarah, who in the fall had given me the end bit of a canvas roll she had at her house.

I cut the canvas into large rectangles and with a few quick stitches, put some ribbon on either side so the girls could tie it around their shoulders to make a cape.

And just like that, the fairy cape project was created.

I pulled some fairy pictures I had collected from my reference files and asked the girls some leading questions, like where do fairies like to live?

The forest!

Do you notice who the fairies are friends with?

Squirrels, bugs, butterflies!

Are the fairies big or small? How do you know?

Small! The mushrooms and leaves are bigger than them.

Are the taller or shorter than the flowers?


My goal was only to plant a few seeds in their creative brains that may or may not come out in their artwork, simply a frame of reference when creating their own fairies on the canvas. 

(It was also a quick little delve into practicing observation skills in a fun way.)

I'm a firm believer with this age group that the main focus should be on exploration and discovery. So the project started with me giving them primary color only and a very big paint brush and asking them to mix colors and tell me what they discovered.

Although we have done this every week for the past four weeks, each new discovery of color still brings on squeals of excitement, like they are seeing green being made for the very first time. It is so stinking cute.

These colors became the base for their creations because the other thing I know leads to success when creating art with preschoolers is a project where materials are added throughout to build upon, build upon, build upon.

So once color was on their canvas, I handed each child some bubblewrap. I would of given them bubblewrap regardless of the day, but it just so happened to be National Bubblewrap day too!

With the bubblewrap, I put out some white paint and told them to have some fun painting the bubblewrap white and stamping it into their painting. Needless to say, they loved stamping bubblewrap and it made for some great clouds!

You'll notice in this work, white paint wasn't the only color used to stamp.

Then in hopes of letting the paint dry a little bit, I gave each child some styrofoam circles and a dull pencil. I asked them to make the circle into a flower by drawing into it with a pencil. They they added some white paint and stamped them on the canvas.

This did not work as well as I had anticipated and so the girls had the chance to go over the printed circles with a water soluble graphite.

With that same graphite, they drew in their fairies. The only thing I encourage when drawing people with this age group is to draw shapes, not lines. What shape is an arm, a leg, a finger?

That way they have something to paint.

Then they all mixed orange, added a lot of white, and painted their fairies.  Or at least that is how we started this part of the project.....

The children painted dresses

and wings

and skirts

in a multitude of rainbow colors.

Then I brought out some fabric crayons and they drew in hair and other details.

They dipped the fat water soluble graphite into water so they could make very dark lines to go over their fairies and flowers so they stood out too.

Then it was time to wash up little hands as their mothers and nannies arrived.

I did my best to get these dry enough with a blow dryer for the girls to wear home, which is why they are so loosely tied on in these pictures-just in case there was a bit of wet paint missed. 

How can you ask them not to walk out the door wearing their royal fairy capes they created? 

Not me.

Not their moms and caregivers.

The girls were thrilled at the end of class and I hope these beautiful capes bring them hours of fun when playing dress up. My hope is each time they wear don these creations, their confidence soars as they proudly remember their little hands made them.  All by themselves.

Or they just become a great jumping off point for lots of imaginative fun.

It was hard to watch these sweet three year olds and their capes walk out the door at the end of the last class session, but I look forward to seeing them again soon.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

drawing boats and learning composition skills

I have a little boy in the Friday drawing class who, well, loves to draw.

It is a joy to watch his enthusiasm as he immerses himself in his work. He has no fear. He draws with gusto and abandon. It is so inspiring to observe.

He is all of 7 years old. I think those artist, like Picasso and Basquiat, when they talk about children's art, must of been privy to spending time with a child just like this one.

He asked to work on drawing boats in class. I pulled off a few worksheets for him to study on boat drawing and then offered him some suggestions on how to draw a boat.

(not that he really needed it)

He studied and studied the worksheets and then just went for it. His first boat he created in charcoal.

7 year old, charcoal

Lovely, yes?

So building off the one point perspective from the week before, I introduced the importance of background, middle ground, and foreground in a composition. Building upon his desire to practice boat drawing, he created a composition with a boat in charcoal.

7 year old, charcoal

He was quite excited about his silhouette of the fisherman too. He did several of these practice drawings, working out different things. You can see here that he reworked his dock using the one point perspective exercise from the week before.

After several of these, he decided to pick up the pen and ink and create one last boat.

7 year old, pen and ink

A combination of everything he had worked on in the hour, it is a lovely little piece I promised to mount for him.

I am loving the organic nature of evolution in the Friday drawing class. I think the kids are really enjoying it too. A whole lot of different drawing tools out for their choosing and the opportunity to just problem solve with newsprint and charcoal if they want.

The other student did some work on creating a landscape composition in charcoal but then wanted to work on shadowing towards the end of class with a pear.

She started with charcoal, then art stix, and then pen and ink. I encouraged her to keep things quite loose.  

8 year old

Next week she is quite excited to bring her American Girl doll to sketch. It should be quite fun.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Preschool acrylic sheep portraits

This past week, the 3 year old class created acrylic paintings of sheep.

We started by observing some photo reference of sheep and discovering the shapes.

Using soluble graphite, the children drew each shape they discovered onto their acrylic paper.

I emphasized drawing big, trying to touch the sides of their paper with the shapes.

What shape is the head?

What shape is the nose?

What shape are the ears? And where are they on the head?

And how do we make sure our sheep can breathe? What shape is that?

When they had their shapes on the paper, I traded the graphite for paint brushes and some paint.

In just the primary colors, that's right, all the color you see on these artworks were created by the 3 year olds.

Are you impressed? I know I am!

Starting with the background, I let them experiment with mixing blue with white and red on top and blue, yellow and white on the bottom.

To keep things interesting, I gave them some cardboard I had cut into rectangles to scrap through the paint on the paper- further mixing the colors.

All the while asking them to telling me what they discovered happening to the color, which was very, very exciting.

When the backgrounds were covered, I put a lot of white on their palettes and told them to begin painting their sheep. They did not wash their brushes, only wiped them, in order to give some interesting shades of color in the white.

What was so great about having the kids start with the graphite was when it mixed with the paint. it automatically began giving their artwork some interesting values. And in the case above, a mouth! How amazing is that mouth for a three year old drawing?!

As all the white paint was filling the page, I suggested they use the back of the paintbrush to draw in the curly hair. Oh how they loved drawing back into their artwork!

And of course, pink was requested and we discovered together that pink is made when you mix a lot of white to red.

As they finished, each little girl had the opportunity to draw over their painting one more time, really hard, with black oil pastel. I then had them run their fingers over the black oil pastel "like a car", making revving noises while they did it.

vroom, vroom, just like a speeding car, the 45 minutes were over and parents/nannies arrived for pick up.

And oohed and aahhed over these sweet little creations their children made. Can you blame them?

Friday, January 22, 2016

acrylic paintings from real life study

Two weeks ago, I set up some lemons on the table for the teen class to do a drawing study.

First I showed them how to measure for proportion on their paper from real life compositions.

Then we went over blocking in their darks and lights in an underpainting. 

They even did their background in the complimentary color, purple.

Then over two classes, a total of 3 hours, they created these lovely works of a couple of lemons.

I love them. 

13 year old

15 year old

There is one more to come, the student was sick this week so unfortunately her work is not complete. 

But as you can see, there isn't a lemon in the bunch. These works are simply amazing. 

I am so proud of them.

acrylic painted doughnuts

This will be the third time I have done this project in one form or another, I keep coming back to it because it is truly one of the favorites among kids.

I realized I had a full class of children in Wednesday's class who had not done this project yet and so knew it would be a lot of fun for them to experience while making me a very popular art teacher.


Anytime you get to eat the props at the end of class, it's a good time.

I introduced the children to American artist Wayne Thiebaud, who get this, is 95 years old and still painting.

Wayne Thiebaud, "dessert circle" 

Picture after picture of cake, candy, ice cream and pie were shown to many exclamations of "yum"!

And with that, I asked them to create their own paintings so delicious the viewer would want to eat them.

And as you can see, they students did just that, along with a fun lesson on tint and of course a sweet treat to eat at the end.

6 year old

6 year old

8 year old

9 year old

6 year old

10 year old

9 year old

10 year old

Homer Simpson would be proud, not to mention Wayne Thiebaud himself.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

butterfly mono prints on gelatin

There was a birthday party in the studio last night for a 13 year old girl.

After a few discussions with her and her mother, she decided to do a project on gelatin printmaking for her and nine of her friends.

Let me just say, there is not a rock concert in the world that holds a candle to the volume level of a small room filled with ten very happy and excited 13 year olds. I believe my ears might still be ringing.

The girls started off by sketching a butterfly shape on card stock and then cutting it out to use as a stencil.

birthday girl

Then I pulled out the gelatin plates. The girls were fascinated that they were using a jello substance to print on and even asked if they could eat it, which I quickly explained they could not since it also contained glycerine in the mixture.

They first started with a piece of bristol that was cut slightly larger than the gelatin plate. They "inked" the plate with some white, blue and yellow acrylic paint using a brayer, created some texture by stamping into the paint with some bubble wrap and burlap, then pulled a print.

I then asked them to put some blue paint on the burlap and stamp that into the plate, take the same piece of paper and pull another print.

Then using primarily white paint, asked them to once again color the plate, place down their stencil, and using the same piece of paper pull yet another print.

I had also given them two sheets of palette paper, the same size as the bristol. 

(I think freezer paper would work just as well)

Using the non-waxy side of the palette paper, I asked them to pull a ghost print of the leftover paint on the plate.

Now I asked them to use black and blue to paint the plate. They laid down a bit of string and their stencil and now using the the second paper they had made a ghost print on, pulled another print.

Then using the first piece of paper, the bristol, they pulled a ghost print using the leftover ink.

This made some of the girls unhappy, not going to lie. They liked the bristol print they already had and could not understand why they were printing on top of it again.  They were even more unhappy when they pulled the ghost print as they lost a lot of the previous work.

But all was not lost because once again, they added a lot of white to the plate, laid down the string and the stencil and pulled the last and final print on the bristol paper, the first paper they started with and voila! that is the middle print you see on all this artwork.

Happy girls again.

Now with the leftover white ink on the plate, they took the final piece of palette paper and made a ghost print using the non-waxy side of the paper.

Once more laying down blue and black paint, the string and the stencil, they took one final pull using the third paper.

They now had three complete prints of their stencil and a stencil that was barely hanging on in one piece. Thankfully they no longer needed it to complete the project and could throw it away.

At this point, I told them they could go into their work with a small paintbrush and add any details they wanted. I stressed trying to stay loose and use the brush sparingly so they did not loose the essence of the print work they had just finished.

Once done, we gave the tables a quick clean and began mounting the three prints. The idea was the combine them so it looked like one piece. 

The girls first cut the bristol paper to the paint lines using scissors and glued it down in the center of the paper.

I then showed them how they could use the top of the paintbrush dipped in water to "cut" the two palette papers. All you do is create a line with water and then gently pull. This gives a very organic edge to the work, which lets it blend nicely into the bristol paper when pasted on top.

Or not, as this artist decided to do. She wanted all three prints separate and it's good to see the project looks just as nice. I love when students stay true to themselves and in the process teach me something new about a project idea.

Anyway the idea of "cutting" with water and the back of a paintbrush made some girls quite unnerved and so I assured them it was fine to use scissors if they wanted too.

They cut out the last paper, using either scissors or the paintbrush and water, and glued it on top of the bristol paper. For glue, we used just a basic glue stick, nothing fancy.

And once all three pieces were mounted together, each girl had the opportunity to add a bit of charcoal into their butterflies for one last bit of detail.

Then it was time for cake and goodie bags.

And more squealing, giggling, and general noise at a decibel level that would impress any rock band.

The birthday girl had taken the time to make each goodie bag reflect the likes and personality of each friend. Is that not the sweetest? I think it was a great example of the character of girls in the room that night.

I hope they all had fun, I sure enjoyed meeting them.

Happy 13th Birthday Ms. A!! 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Michelangelo inspired plaster paintings

This past Monday, the students showed up to class to find blankets on the floor under the art tables.

Gotta keep those kids guessing!

It took about a millisecond for them to scurry under the tables to figure out what was up, which was plaster taped to the bottom of the tables.

I created these about an hour before class started and they were oh so easy to do. A piece of burlap and then you mix up a basic recipe of Plaster of Paris and pour it on top.

I put the burlap on a piece of cardboard when I created these just to keep things a little cleaner and then recycled it once the plaster was dry. The great part about the plaster being on the burlap is that if it breaks, it still stays adhered to the work.

In fact, in past projects I have encouraged students to actually break their work at the end to imitate the old frescoes we admire. You can see the results from older post here and here, (these were not created under the table)

So to say that once the discovery was made that there were things taped under the tables for art class, instead of on top of the tables, the excitement level grew exponentially.

I had a hard time getting the kids to come out from under the tables in order to get started! But the lure of discovering what we were going to do with that plaster finally enticed them to come out and let me present the project.

I told them a bit about Michelangelo and showed them some of his sculpture work, both finished and unfinished. Yes, the sculptures were anatomically correct and yes, an eight year old boy honed in on that immediately with an exclamation of "ew, his thingy"

So we quickly moved on to the Sistine Chapel and the Pope because that seemed like the perfect lead in after the "ew" comment. 

lawd have mercy

I love the Sistine Chapel, as someone who admires art, visiting here made my head spin. Where to look? It's amazing to think that Michelangelo's work can actually make you forget to look at the marvelous Botticelli's also in the room and I did indeed not mention these when talking to the kids.

To be truthful, the vast amount of art at the Vatican made my head spin in general....or was it the fact I made it out of the Vatican alive without being struck down by lightening? Could be a bit of both, but back to Monday night.

What I love best about presenting Michelangelo's work in the Sistine Chapel is that it is a great example of how an artist learns as they create. 

We talked about how the artist could not see his work as a whole while creating and when the first section was complete and the scaffolding was removed, he realized when looking at the work from the floor it was hard to see all the small details. So he simplified his images, painted things much larger and the kids could actually see that change in the progression of the work from the front to back of the chapel ceiling. 

We also talked about how long it took Michelangelo to complete this work and how impatient the Pope was with him. 

And finally we talked about how difficult it must of been to paint a ceiling, which was the lead in to the project.

Now while I realize it is just a myth that Michelangelo painted the chapel on his back, that is what we did as it created a sense of just how challenging it must be to paint something from above.

Plus let's get real, the idea of painting on your back was just plain ol' exciting. 

Without doubt I will say that each child had a great appreciation for Michelangelo's work at the end of the night and had a great time doing something very different. 

As we were getting started, I asked each child what story they wanted to convey in their artwork. 

Was there a favorite family story they wanted to illustrate? 

A favorite book? Or movie?

Two boys, brothers, jumped right in and created works of their favorite television show.

6 year old, "weeping angel"

Are all you Dr. Who fans geeking out about now? I know my oldest daughter did when she saw these two pieces. 

8 year old, "Dalek"

For the other students the idea of creating a story stumped them and so when one asked if he could just do an animal, I encouraged him to move forward with the idea. 

8 year old, "tropical snake"

The other two students followed his lead and also chose animals to create on their plaster.

10 year old, "walrus"

8 year old, "komodo dragon"

My heart skipped a beat as the artist who created the dragon exclaimed, "Hey, I have to hold my brush up high like when we created the trees

He was talking about the Matisse project we had done in December, where I put the paintbrushes on long sticks and asked them to create a tree. That he was pulling a skill and experience from a past project to apply to solving a problem on this project just made my night.

Because there was a big learning curve on how to paint while lying on your back!

The kids each had a palette of watercolor paint. I used tubed watercolors for this project, you truly need just the smallest of dollops of paint. I put their palette on a plastic lid to give you a sense of just how little paint is needed.

One paintbrush and a bit of water and kids are off to the races.

I like the tubed watercolor for this project because I don't have to worry about paint dripping on the kids. They can also hold the palette upside down and the paint stays on the lid. Plus since it's watercolor, I can create the palettes long before class starts without worrying about them drying out.

When they were finished and the plaster was off the bottom of the table, I gave them the opportunity to use a thumbtack to add line work if they wanted. This was much needed with the "weeping angel" artwork and helped bring back his original drawing.

And how did they put their original drawings on the plaster? Because you can't erase on plaster, if you make a mark it's there for good. 

The kids created their sketches on copy paper. We then traced them on the plaster. I had carbon paper for them to use, but if they created carbon lines on the back of the paper by rubbing their pencil, I believe it would do the same thing.

Finally I cut away the excess burlap and they were done.

I know they will remember this night for a long time.

The project was a great lesson in learning to simplify and loosen up brushstrokes. 

But most importantly, the night was exciting. Exciting to try something so different, exciting to paint on an unusual surface and most importantly exciting to paint under the table instead of on top.

Needless to say, Michelangelo was a big hit.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

preschool silk paintings

A couple of post ago, I showed some portrait works the preschool class did of their favorite stuffed animals. That same day, they also drew their sketches on a piece of silk that I then traced over with resist to paint the next week.

Well, they took them home this Tuesday and precious does not even begin to describe the final results.

Using dyes on silk was a great lesson for preschoolers. It gave them a great chance to explore color and was overall just a fascinating experience for them to watch what dye does when applied to fabric.

I only gave the three-year-olds red, yellow and blue dye. The rest of the colors you see on these works they created on their own.

All these amazing colors created by three-year-olds!!


Once finished, I set the dye and then removed the resist in warm water. I then ironed the silk and adhered it to canvas for their families to hang on the wall.

Because who wouldn't want to hang these on the wall?

"Jemima Puddle-Duck"

If you want more details to the project, leave a comment and I will share them with you.


I hope the children enjoy these paintings of their favorite stuffed animal for many years. I think this was a wonderful way to immortalize their first loves for them to look fondly back on the rest of their lives.

Because who in this world doesn't remember their first beloved stuffed companion and wouldn't like a picture to remember them by?

"Rainbow Bunny"