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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Exploring the Process of Making Art

There is a specific feeling when I make my own art and feel the authenticity of being in the moment with the process rather than the product.  It is a feeling of possibility, freedom, and being present.  When I watch the children in the art studio, they naturally have this, everything they make is authentic.  When I taught art in public school, one of the things that I found discouraging was that children somewhere along the way felt their artwork had to look realistic, had to be constrained within the lines, and had to be "correct," though I myself as an art teacher for almost 15 years now do not know what "correct" would be when we are considering art and art making.  I have taught children in grades 
k-5, teenagers in grades 9-12, adult art classes, and now for the past 3 years, preschoolers from 2 and a half to 5 years old and though I have enjoyed it all, having the experience of watching the art process so innocently and spontaneously being explored without the concern for the product is a real treat.

When the children enter the studio each day, I typically have something in mind for them, a material or process to explore, but the outcome is their own.  Our time in the art room, especially in the beginning of the year, is spent exploring what materials do and different ways to explore with these materials.  We do have times when we are focused on something specific like apple prints, sewing, making a mobile, and though they may be more specific, the children are the makers and  so being, make the choices as to what they would like their project to look like. My only criteria is that they stay present with the group, even if they say they are done or don't want to do the project,I feel it is important that they remain with the others.  
Very often I feel a child doesn't want to engage or continue with something because it is foreign to them, but just as often, when they try it out, they love it.  Even if they don't love it, they then know why they don't like it because they have had an experience with it. I feel if they are present and witnessing the other children participate in something, they have time to take it in and give it a try when they feel ready.  Another reason for having the children stay with the others at this time is developing a rhythm in the day and helping them to build an attention span.  Aside from my rule that when the children are in art time they stay with the group, the art making is theirs to explore.  

So what are some of these early explorations?  We do a lot of watercolor paint exploration throughout the year, but in particular in the beginning of the year.  At first I simply give them the paints and see what they do, as they work with the paints we teach them about washing their paint brushes before going into the next color.  There is a lot of showing the children how to be respectful of materials.  After they explore a couple times with the paint on their own, I then ask them to try wetting their paper before they paint to see the difference between the styles.  We then try out wax resist with the watercolors, and soon to come they will work with liquid watercolors and salt.  These are very simple projects, mainly little explorations that go in their folders and are simply about the process, but the children love it, and not for the outcome, but simply the making.  As they explore they are building developmental skills such as, hand eye coordination, early writing skills, sequencing, cause and effect, patience, creative thinking and problem solving skills, and all the while they are enjoying the learning process.
These first week of school paintings ended up being their backgrounds for their photos that are hanging in the school.

Another activity that we spend  time with in the beginning of the year is talking about scissor safety and the proper way to use scissors and walk with scissors.  You would think this would bore the children, but they thrill in being able to use scissors, and are so proud of themselves when they really start to cut the paper without struggle.  We also use paint strips that make cutting fun, they are simply trying to cut out each color and in trying are actually teaching themselves to cut on the line.
   In viewing the child as capable, after I feel the children have a good understanding of how to work with and be present with scissors, they are left out on the shelf for their own exploration when they are wanting to do art during free-play, so these early skill building activities are important for future independent exploration.  

After cutting the strips, the children enjoy gluing them to paper.  One student then took markers and drew around the shapes he cut, and it became another element to add to their artwork.  I actually really love the outcomes of these cutting, gluing, and drawing explorations.

I have seen a lot of plexi glass easels online lately and one of the things I love about them is that they take up less space than our traditional easels.  In addition to this I love that the children can see each other as they work at the easel. They can paint each others portraits through the easels, they can paint directly on the easel making it a group painting, or a backdrop for dramatic play, or even just thrill in painting on the plexi, then spraying it with water and squeegeeing the surface to clean it off.  So, yes, I had to make one.  I was so excited because I found everything I needed at the new school.  There was an old coat rack, and unbelievably an old plexi-glass storm window that fit the span of it perfectly.  With the help of a parent we painted the frame, my husband attached the plexi-glass to the frame, and now we have our easel.  I was very fortunate to have found all the items I needed, since moving into the new space, things like this keep coming to life for me, and I am so grateful to the The United Methodist Church and Pastor Ron.  Although we are non-affiliated renters, they are very generous of Spirit and Service, and graciously help me with all my needs for the space as well as equipment.

For painting on paper I simply tape the paper on the easel, I also attached a rope with clothes pins to use the easel as a drying rack.  When the bar for hanging clothes is attached, I can fit a roll of poster paper on it as well.  Six children can paint at the easel at one time, more if we are painting on it without paper.

I still have to attach the old paint holders from our previous easels, but in the meantime I love watching the children hold their paint pallets in their hands and work at the easel.  The older children have been successful with this, however it is more difficult for my younger children. 

I love this, as the children work they are not limited to the size of their paper, they can move off the paper and onto the easel as they work, and it is such a neat experience to transition from the two paint surfaces.

I am all about the experience, but I have to say, I always really appreciate the outcomes.

For this provocation the children came into the art studio with a set up to paint without using a paint brush.  They discovered they could use their fingers, popsicle sticks, tooth brushes, cups, and sponges to paint.  It was a fun activity watching them try out painting with these alternative paint tools.

Another alternative to paint brushes was our version of painting with palette knives.  The children were set up with a tray of paint and pie servers.

One of my favorites is "Spray Painting."  I water down tempera paint and put it in spray bottles and the hardest part about this project is getting the smocks on the children before they run to the table to create, oh, that and having them aim down, which they are very good about, but there typically is always one blue haired casualty.  

The paint will eventually puddle on the paper, so we go around with a container and lift the trays and pour some of the paint off the paper so they can continue creating.  When they are done, we do one final pouring off of the excess paint, and then let it sit out in the trays overnight to dry. 

Again, it is not about the outcome, but I LOVE these paintings!  They later become the covers for their school portfolios. 

Yet another no paint brush challenge, fly swatter painting!

Marble Painting is a great hand-eye coordination project, it is a little tricky keeping the marbles in the tray as they move it around to paint.  This time we switched it up a little bit to add in a Autumnal element, we taped down leaves and after the children did their marble painting, they lifted up their leaves to reveal the leaf impression. 

Another great hand-eye coordination project is using eye droppers or pipettes to make washable markers blend on coffee filters.  They first color with the markers and then the magic begins when they add the water.
I love the concentration their faces, even the little tongue sticking out.  

At this age what I feel the children take away from their education experience is little impressions of what school is about.  Perhaps they will remember and recall these experiences when they are older, but more so, I hope what they take away from their experiences, especially in art making, is that there is no one way to do things and to have fun in whatever creative adventures they encounter.

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