Wednesday, December 26, 2012


 The last week of school was a fourth grade frenzy of fiber art. All the kids wanted to finish their embroidery work to bring home as presents. I gave them options to use a backing piece of felt as a frame, or to make a pocket or a pillow. Most of them chose a pillow.
 I'm really proud of them. They worked really hard to have good craftsmanship. Embroidery is a great medium for developing fine motor skills, patience, and perseverance. There were moments of frustration and some poked fingers of course, but there was also a wonderful buzz of stitching and the joy of handwork.
 Kids need opportunities to make things. Not just pictures, but things that can be used or have purpose. They need to know about craftspeople as well as about artists. Not everybody is destined to become an artist, but everyone should know how to make things.
By the way, contrary to popular belief, boys enjoy sewing. In fact 2 of these pictures were made by boys- can you guess which ones?  One more reason I'm proud of my 4th graders- we got through 3 weeks of stitching with 4 classes and didn't lose a single needle! Whoohoo!

I'm enjoying my holiday break, but I also am looking forward to getting back to school...

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Winter Wonderland

I love the last week of school before the Winter break. The joy of the approaching holidays and the kids' enthusiasm is soothing the soul.
 My after school art club made gingerbread houses and these snow globes. I picked up some tiny snowman figurines and a frond of fake pine needles. One of my kids brought in a bunch of glass baby food jars and lids thanks to a baby cousin. We pressed a small ball of white model magic into the lid, added the figurines, then painted the inside of the jar with glitter paint and finally twisted the lid onto the jar. My luck with liquid-filled snow-globes in the past  has been messy and unsatisfactory, but the glitter paint makes it look like there's always a flurry going on inside. They're surprisingly enchanting.
 My Kinders and First Graders are working on wintry landscapes. We looked at snowy pictures like Harry Callahan's lakeside trees in snow to find value and horizon lines. The first graders drew 3 different horizon lines across a page, then painted each of the four sections a different value of blue. I gave them cups of white, then came around with a "squirt" of blue to change the value for each step.
The following week I reminded them that far away things looked teeny-tiny, and close-up things looked really big. We talked about all the things we might see in a winter landscape and they drew in oil pastel. Of course, some kids are super excited for Christmas and there were Christmas trees and Santa's sleigh flying through some pictures. Mostly there were bare-branched trees, snowflakes, cardinals, and snowmen. They are really adorable pictures, and I can't wait to hang them in the halls. We have a holiday luncheon on Friday, but part of me would like to skip it and just totally refresh all my hallway displays! Oh well, one more full day and a half day till break!

Friday, December 14, 2012

All is Calm

This week has been overwhelming with great highs and deep lows. On Tuesday I pulled together final details for the holiday concert decorations, and on Wednesday we put them all up and had an amazing concert. My artclub made all the elements for our backdrop panels and made origami stars to hang about.
  I know teachers are all proud of their students, but as a specialist teacher I get to know the entire student body. At first I thought having to go to the concert might be a bit of a drag (It's a school night and I taught all day, put up the decorations all afternoon, and helped manage the kiddos as they lined up for the concert), but then seeing all of "my kids" up there made my heart swell up with joy and pride.
It's also been a week of finishing projects. My 2nd, 3rd, and 5th graders have been working for weeks on paintings, mosaics, and sculptures. We FINALLY got them finished! It's simultaneously satisfying and frustrating to call "Time's UP" on a project. Not everybody works at the same pace. Some are done on time and do well, others could really use another week to make it even better, and still others think they're done when really they could push further.
My 5th graders completed their letter sculptures and worked in groups to plan displays. Some were able to create words to display together, others made acrostic poems. Here's a word I pulled together from a variety of 5th graders:

I offer this word because of the deepest low of this week. After teaching all day and staying after late to hang artwork etc, I got in the car and heard the news on NPR about the shooting in the elementary school in Connecticut. When such tragedies occurred in the past, I felt sympathy as a parent for those who lost their children. But now as a teacher, I imagine what it must be like to be in the shoes of the teachers who had to respond to such an emergency, trying to stay calm and strong for their students while feeling panic and fear. They are heroic. I pray for the children and teachers and parents of Sandy Hook. I hope they find calm and comfort again soon.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Love Letters

 I wonder if any other teachers get these kinds of presents? I love when a student shyly sidles up before the start of class to hand me a picture present. It always makes my day.
 It's funny to see how they spell my name. Miss Elchin, Ms. Elcin (the correct way!), and my favorite Ms. Lchin. Often they draw something related to the project we're working on, which tells me that they are making connections and remembering what they're learning about.
I keep these presents up on my board near my desk. They make me smile when I'm having a frustrating class of talk-too-muchers or direction-ignorers or messy painters.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Kinder Still-life Drawing

I owe this one to Jessica at "The Art of Education" blog. She posted a year ago about a way to do observational drawing with Kindergartners, which stuck in my memory. She focused on architecture with this lesson, but I wanted to apply it to a different genre. I'm working through units on Genre in art with my K-3rd grades, and introduced my Kinders to still-life this week. I have a bulletin board up right now with various pictures showing different genres, so we did a kinesthetic learning activity where the students showed me with a hand gesture whether a picture showed a person (portrait), place (landscape), or thing (still-life). This made a literacy connection to nouns as well. For the portraits they pointed to their faces, for landscapes they folded hands, and for still-life they pointed to an open hand. I really like these gesture activities as it allows the entire class to show me what they know, instead of just the few who like to raise their hands.
I pulled out the boxes of pattern blocks which usually sit in my free-activity area. I noticed before how many students enjoy tracing the shapes to make a picture, and thought they would be familiar enough with the shapes in order to draw them from observation. I showed them how to build a little still-life out of blocks, then draw what they saw shape by shape.Afterwards we added a "table" line and a "wallpaper" pattern to complete the pictures. Some students really got it. The most advanced one is above, where the child even mirrored the shapes in the shadow!!
 They were not allowed to trace the shapes, so it was a challenge for some. But not tracing meant that there were some kids who drew really big, and some who drew really small. So the pictures look really different, and none look exactly like my exemplar (yay!).
 Lots of my Kinders are just emerging from the scribble stage, and it's hard to get them to color carefully. However, I made this a one day project only, which didn't leave much time for coloring.
 I'm amazed at what Kindergartners can do with a little instruction. These drawings are very different from their everyday free-draw styles. It's also interesting to see in this project which students find drawing more engaging and which ones just want to build with blocks!
Next up we'll try out landscape painting with a little "snowy" inspiration. One class already started, and I CANNOT BELIEVE how quiet a class of Kindergartners can get while painting!!
I have a lot of classes finishing projects this week, so I'll have more to share soon. The Kinders get shorter projects, so I feel like I'm writing more about them than the other grades!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Collaborations and Displays

I'm a big fan of collaborative art-making as well as the visual of lots of little things making a big thing. So here are 3 ways I've incorporated those ideas in projects my students have made recently.
 My first graders learned about texture and the parts of a tree. They traced their hand and arm to make a branch, filled it with bark texture by using line variety. Then they did leaf rubbings to use the texture of a leaf to make a rubbing-print. The leaves were cut into an organic shape and added to their "tree branch". Once all 4 classes were complete, I combined all their branches into a huge tree overarching the doorway. I wish I could paint on the ground and add the root system too! All their little pieces added up to an impressive display (note to self- don't use poster putty on the glass in the winter- too cold and it doesn't work!!- this all fell down because of a big temperature drop the day after I put it up, but scotch tape to the rescue).
 The 3rd graders' pattern fish we made a while ago were arranged down the stairwell into what looks like a big fish chasing a little fish. One of the 3rd grade teachers said, "Great! We're just talking about predator and prey in science!" While this wasn't specifically a collaborative project, having a creative way to display the work transforms it into something even more interesting.
The art club finished their "Dale Chihuly" inspired "chandelier" by combining all the tissue-paper papier-mached "snakes" into one splayed mass. I hung it in the stairwell, and have heard all kinds of comments. Usually it's, "WHAT is THAT?!" The only trouble with this kind of collaborative work is that the individual pieces can't be redistributed back to the students to take home.

I think collaboration is a vital part of learning about art. Students feel more connected as a class because they are working toward a greater goal. Every person's contribution is valuable. Contemporary artists often work in a collaborative mode, and therefore students get to experience working methods of artists today in an authentic way. As a teaching artist, I also feel that my own artistic voice is expressed with that of the children, which is very fulfilling.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Eric Carle Kinder Collages

After looking at Eric Carle's ABC animal book, Kindergartners learned how to make painted textured papers with spots, stripes, and scratches to prepare for an animal collage project. Then we talked about all the different places animals can live. The kids thought about forests, jungles, grasslands, zoos, oceans, ponds, farms, and even in our houses! They drew a background habitat for their animal first. Then we practiced tearing paper and using our imaginations to make animal shapes from torn paper.Finally, we tore our good painted texture paper to create an animal collage a la Eric Carle.
 One boy was very original and did a penguin who lived in the arctic (we hadn't come up with that one as a group!) I'm not sure if that's a person or another penguin sliding down the iceberg in the background. It looks like he drew some wind to show how cold it was, and even a fish for his penguin to eat!
 You may not have heard of green cows before, but that's what this one is. There's also a chick at the bottom and some birds hanging out on the fence in this farm scene. I think this girl also discovered that coloring big areas goes faster if you use the side of a peeled crayon.
This one is a very big tiger hanging out by a stream.
This project had great diversity in the finished pictures. The kids had a lot of choice, and were really able to envision animal shapes from their torn paper. It was remarkable to see how much they already knew about animals and habitat as they did this project. Animal drawings seem more developed at this age than people drawings. I wonder why that is. All four of my Kindergarten classes went at this in different ways. Some felt anxious about trying to tear a specific shape and wasted a lot of time, while another class finished the background and collage zippity-zip in one session. Our next project is going to build off the shapes idea for a quick "still-life" drawing.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

teacher dreams

The last few nights I've been having dreams about work. Way back in college I worked as a waitress and would have nightmares of customers leaving without paying and complaining about food. I knew I wasn't cut out for food service for very long. However, these recent dreams aren't nightmarish. In one, I walk down the hallway at school, and read the signs on all the doors: "library", "4th grade", "3rd grade", "hallway". I woke up laughing because "hallway" was labeled. The other night I dreamed I went to a historic house to see an art exhibit, and lots of people were lined up to go in to see the show. Then I realized that many of the people were my students with their families, and the kids called out joyfully, "Hi, Ms. Elcin!!" And I was so pleased to see them out attending cultural events. An art teacher can dream, right?

The picture above is a piece that one of my 5th graders brought in to show me and have me photograph for Artsonia. (I let them bring in independent work to display in our online gallery). It's one of those word sculptures you can get in craft stores which she decorated with patterns. I loved it because the 5th graders are doing letter sculptures, and will hopefully create words with them for our display. It's great when kids connect their school and home experiences.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Art Club does Chihuly

Today was the best art club afternoon so far! We looked at Dale Chihuly's glass installations for inspiration. It was fun hearing the kids guess what materials his chandelier was made out of (MACARONI?). Then we created our own twisty colorful elements out of aluminum foil and papier-mached tissue paper. The thin paper allows light show through, as well as some of the sparkle of the foil.
For the papier mache adhesive I've been using Elmer's art paste, which is basically methyl cellulose- seriously slimy stuff! The kids were all grossed out by the texture, and it's a little hard to clean up. However, it's easier to mix up than wheatpaste and is way cheaper than using white glue. I'm doing papier-mache with my 5th graders too, so my hands are in the stuff all the time. Ick!
I can't wait till next week when we'll wire these up and decide where to hang our "chandelier". Maybe we'll make some plastic bottle "glass" sculptures too.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

4th grade collaborative paintings

I've had a 4th grade class with lots of social issues that keep interrupting art class. I thought maybe a quickie one-day lesson that involved more physical activity, and required students to work together might help improve the social stuff. So last week I introduced them to the abstract paintings of Alma Thomas.
 I put out big sheets of kraft paper, had the kids don smocks, and gave each student a dixie cup full of blue paint and a paintbrush. they were asked to choose their own mark to repeat over the paper, then make one area of the painting more dense and dark than another area.
To keep the momentum going I had the kids switch places once in a while, and at the end had table groups move from one table to another.
They had a great time. We didn't get toooooo messy. There weren't any arguments because everyone was focused and engaged. Perfect end to a crazy week (2 days off due to hurricane and another off for teacher PD!).

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Proud art teacher moments

I had a few really great moments last week. Number 1: as a 3rd grade student finished up his pattern fish he asked, "Ms. Elcin, Can you write some questions for us to answer about our fish on the board like last time?" (For their name monsters they completed sentences like "My creature's name is... It would live in.... It looks symmetrical because...") How perfect!! A student actually wanting to write about his art!
So I asked, "What species is your fish? How long would it be in real life? What did you like or dislike about this project?" Their responses are really funny (like 6000 feet long eels), but thoughtful. We even had time for critique and sharing at the end. (Nothing makes me a happier art teacher than actual closure and reflective thinking at the end of a lesson! That and a perfectly timed and organized clean-up!)

Great moment number 2: My 4th graders went on a trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art through their "Art Speaks" program. Prior to them going we had a whole lesson on museum expectations, and I had warned them that I expected  a good report from my friends at the museum. On their way to the bus I stood in the hall and gave them a little "I got my eyes on you" stare. I'm not sure how many of them believed me that I had friends at the museum. Turns out one group actually had a friend of mine, and when I facebooked her later, she said they were great! They also returned really excited about their experience, and wrote wonderfully detailed thank you notes for the museum.

Number 3: I had a lot of "presents" this week. My students are applying what they're learning on their own independent work and bringing back things to show me. I love it!

Number 4: I've been hearing some feedback from the other classroom teachers- many of whom have students in our school. Apparently the kids have said some good things about art class and me as their teacher (wheww!). Kids can be pretty tough critics, so I'm glad I pass muster!

Number 5: Normally on Saturdays I spend the whole day down in the basement silkscreen studio at Fleisher teaching my adult and teen classes. This past Saturday, I happened to make it around the building a bit more than usual and was really surprised at how many familiar faces I saw in the studios. There are a lot more of my school students taking Saturday Art Classes at Fleisher than I thought!

I'm a very proud art teacher!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Dot, Dot...

My first graders have just finished a mixed media sea life scene that focused on types of lines. They drew a sea creature, filling it with lots of different lines. Then they made paste paper and dragged combs through it to texturize the background. Finally they collaged all the bits together to make their sea creature hide among some seaweed.
 The funniest part of my week happened as they were gluing their collages together. I had taught them the "dot, dot, not a lot" saying to prevent them from making glue puddles on their papers. In the middle of class they all started chanting quietly in unison, "Dot, dot, not a lot... dot, dot, not a, dot, not a lot!" And I totally cracked up!
Their collages look great and all very different. These 2 were my favorites!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

3rd grade pattern fish

 Our schoolwide behavior management program has a fish theme this year, and I thought it would be fun for all the classes to have a fish-themed art project as we work through some of our elements and principles of art concentration. The 3rd grade has done a fabulous job creating patterns inside their fish shapes to make bold designs.
 We watched a video of an artist creating a "Zendoodle" style drawing to see how easy it was to draw patterns. Just to reassure the kids I asked them to raise their hands if they could draw a line, a circle, a zigzag, a spiral, etc. Of course everyone raised their hands, and they were all convinced they could make a pattern drawing too.
To finish up our lesson we played "compliment tag" where one student is "IT" and has to pay a compliment about another student's artwork, making them the new "IT". They made great, focused comments about specific things they saw in each other's artworks. Next we'll be working on a paper mosaic project to extend the pattern concept to another medium. Our mosaics will have a food theme to align with harvest and Thanksgiving ideas.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Name Mandalas

 Hooray! My 5th graders finally completed their name mandala projects! Can you believe these took 5 weeks? Some people are doing more talking than working I think....
 Students measured out half lines vertically, horizontally, and diagonally on a 12 inch square. Then they wrote their name into a triangle that was 1/8 the paper dimension. Their name was transferred and reflected around the square to create some interesting mandala shapes.
 We learned about analogous colors, and how to blend and shade with colored pencils. Their finished mandalas are beautiful- well worth the time they put into them I think.
Next up we're doing a 3D letter project to extend the exploration of type and math connections. We started off with a lesson in one point perspective to make a 3-D looking letter. After drawing their letter 3D and shading it, they had to figure out how many planes their sculpture would have. For example, a 3D letter M would have 14 planes or facets!
I'm not sure if this ties in directly with their current math lessons, but it sure doesn't hurt to make explicit cross-curricular connections whenever possible.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

some more name monsters

I just can't get enough of these symmetry name monsters. I managed to work through my pile of work to photograph a little bit this afternoon. Considering that Tuesday is my toughest day with 6 classes, no prep, and after school art club, that's an accomplishment!

The third graders are moving along nicely with their newest project too. Everyone has fish-themed work at the moment.
 I always see my 3rd graders first thing in the morning- and they arrive so fresh and ready for their day. I wish there was some way to see every class first thing- before their days are bogged down by tests, and squabbles, and trooping all over our 3 story building to get to classes. I'm fresher first thing too- no chaos has occurred in the room, no children have broken any rules yet, no projects have gone wrong. It's hard to not let the events that occur in one class spill over into how I deal with the next class. Painting with my Kinders and first graders the last 2 weeks has been rather stressful, as there's always another class ready to walk in the door as soon as I've got them cleaned up. What I wouldn't give for 5 minutes between classes! We'll get into new routines soon. But next year I might hold off on the paint till I know my little ones better, and they get accustomed to art room expectations.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

First grade name repetition

A little Jasper Johns inspiration led to the first graders' name repetition project. It's fun looking at art with kids and seeing what they notice. They could see the differences in color, and the way Jasper Johns repeated his numbers in a pattern in his big number grids. We started by folding our papers to create a 4x4 grid and traced over the fold lines to make boxes. Next we repeated the letters of our names in the boxes making them big and fat. We also tried to make a warm/cool pattern with the colors of the letters.
 This past week we got to paint for the first time! Some classes handled it better than others, but overall, the first grade has some great, careful painters!  We tried to choose a warm color to paint over cool color letters, and a cool color to paint over warm color letters. Depending on how many letters in a child's name, we ended up with stripes or checkerboards of color.
All of my classes, except 5th grade have now completed their second project of the year. I've been busy grading work. I'd hoped to get more pictures taken too, but forgot my camera this week. It's a feat to grade, photograph, upload work to Artsonia, and try to hang artwork around the building. Oh yeah, and teach! But I won't complain about a thing- I talked with a middle school art teacher this week from another school and realized how wonderful my school and teaching situation is!!

Friday, October 5, 2012

2nd and 3rd grade name projects

It's exciting to see some projects get completed! The 3rd graders have been learning about symmetry in a collage project. They wrote their names on a folded piece of paper, then cut around the name to create a unique symmetrical shape. The same process was repeated to make the features. The final touch was adding patterns with crayons around the face and even a background.
 I'm really impressed with the kids' careful work and creative play with the shapes they made. They started visualizing and imagining what the shapes could turn into.
 At the end of the project they completed 4 sentences about their pictures: "My creature's name is...", "It looks like...", "It would live in...", and "It is symmetrical because...". I plan on adding their statements to their images on our Artsonia page next week.
 Some kids went off the page with their symmetrical designs! Is that okay? Of course it is!
 The second graders are completing their name and pattern designs. There have been very mixed results depending on how well they followed directions and how carefully they worked. I think this might work out better with an older group next time. Even so, there are some great designs from some very creative and careful workers.
I'll share some more as I work through photographing projects for Artsonia. Grading, sorting, and photographing all this artwork is quite a job in itself!! Maybe next week I can get some help from my college intern and high school helper.
With all these classes completing projects I've got some lesson planning to do!!!