I had a most unusual request from a friend recently. Six month ago, she and her family adopted a daughter from China, who would become their 5th child and 2nd adopted child. This 10-year-old girl is spunky and curious and soaking up the language and culture. She is also deaf and has the wonderful ability to express herself through art. Her art is full of manga-style princesses, rainbows, ruffles and glittery crowns. She carefully labels the portraits with her new English name and the names of her new brothers & sisters, and mom and dad. She is finding her place in the world through art.
Throughout these 6 months, as she works to bond with her daughter, my friend has also been caring for her mother, who had late-stage cancer until she died a week ago. How do you explain death to a young girl from a different culture who has limited sign language. How do you explain the belief that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord?
My friend asked if I could help...if I could somehow draw this concept. As she talked, I formed a vision for the painting, and then, startlingly, my friend described what I was picturing...the bed, the hand, the body, the spirit. It was a Holy Moment that made me shiver!
I said I would try, and the next day I laid the watercolor on their kitchen counter. The picture was of a manga-style grandma, rising from her final resting place into the heavenly realm and toward the hand of God. I'm glad I clothed her in a rainbow gown before I even knew how much this girl loved rainbows.
She quieted and studied the picture. Her mom signed "grandma." She nodded knowingly. And I thought to myself that God, the Grand Designer, paints around and over and through us all grief and joy and beauty and love and hope.
I had a parent ask for my thoughts on how often her student should take art classes and if it was okay to take breaks and prioritize other classes. Schedules get so busy with conscientious parents trying to make sure all bases are covered. The question got me thinking back to my own educational experience.
I was a highly driven, straight-A student my whole life, from K-college. I was also involved in all kinds of extra-curriculars, from sports to student council to music and theater. I took AP classes and did all the college prep stuff. Times were different in the 80s, but I CANNOT remember a semester where I was not able to fit in an art class. Art classes were a vital time of creativity and decompression for this little high achiever. They exercised a different aspect of my brain than math, science, and English, and I am certain they helped to keep me balanced and mentally healthy.
Even though I didn't pursue it as a degree and never thought I'd teach it, my art experiences and skills have influenced me daily for my entire life and have greatly enhanced my quality of life. I approach problems creatively, which comes in handy in everything from parenting to business meetings to interpersonal relationships. I am the one who gets asked to paint banners, create business cards, make jewelry for fundraisers, and help decorate for friends' weddings. The fact that I can contribute artistically in multiple ways to people and organizations is a huge blessing to me. The fact that I have a deep appreciation of beauty and design is a salve in a troubled world.
I know this is all anecdotal. But I've read plenty of scientific studies that confirm my points. You can research those on your own. But keep this in mind, dear parents: depending on your child, art may be more than a "fun extra," it may be the class that keeps them mentally healthy and has a life-long Return on Investment.
I'm so grateful to the 13 folks who signed up for my first Watercolor Bootcamp. Not only were the enthusiastic learners, the were excellent encouragers to me as I experimented with new ideas and teaching methods. We agreed the class should be longer, so my next bootcamp, coming in September will be every other Thursday for 6 weeks. I will keep some projects the same and try some new ones. Check out the slideshow!
These girls got together to celebrate Emily's 12th birthday by painting abstract layers, starting with a secret layer of words, then adding a colorful background layer with textures, and finally adding abstract flowers and a cute 3-D butterfly. They did a great job!
I teamed with two dear friends who are also wonderful therapists to host a workshop and art project on the topic of grief. The project I chose was based on the Japanese are of kintsugi, in which broken pottery is repaired with gold instead of thrown away. The paintings have a secret layer of words, a beautiful abstract background layer, and a "broken" pot whose cracks are "filled" with gold leaf. The message is that our cracks and brokenness can be beautiful and part of our character.
We'd been looking forward to this trip all year, having studied 16 pieces of art in the vast collection and having learned about the artists and interesting history of each piece throughout the year. One of the pieces was nearly destroyed during the attacks of 9-11 before it hung in the lobby of the Gonda Building. One of the artists lost an eye. One of the gigantic pieces was moved from outside the building to inside using 2 cranes. Such a treasure trove of beauty and story! Warhol, Chihuly, Michelangelo, Miro, Mestrovic, and on and on. Checkout the slideshow from the 4 groups I took on the tour.
Our final project of the year in my intermediate classes was painting 16x20 canvases with beautiful landscapes. The students chose their own reference photograph and synthesized much of what they had learned through the year to create the paintings, and they were lovely! They spent 5-6 hours on these.
The newest editions to my art room are black-out shades, blacklights, and fluorescent paints! This allowed us to have an awesome end of the year party, at which we painted ourselves, our papers, our plaster hands, the tables, and even the poor floor, which kids said looked like a galaxy (it came off easily!)
Why a glow party? I want kids to remember their unique art experiences when they're 80 years old with a great-grandkid on their lap. I want them to say, "I remember when I did ________ in my art class." I think this is one memory that will stick!
I have wanted to do this project with my elementary classes for a long time. It's one of my favorite art memories from childhood, except we did not cast our hands, we cast our FACES! The kids, who were initially skeptical and may have thought their teacher had lost her mind, warmed up to the idea of having their hands wrapped in gooey plaster gauze, allowing it to harden, and then sliding it off. The sliding off was the hard part! It would have helped if their hands were boneless! After they spent a week drying, the kids painted their sculptures and some added embellishments and fluorescent paint so they glowed during our Glow Parties.
Here are the winners of our 2nd Annual Flapdoodles Ice Cream Art Contest! Nearly all my students created 3-D clay relief sculptures mounted on painted canvas panels with an ice cream theme. The owners of Flapdoodles selected the winners from 3 categories: 7-9 yo, 10-12 yo, and Intermediate. The art is currently displayed at Flapdoodles South through July.
Drama students performed my original mini-musical, Unleashed!, about a writer who is typing a story about characters in an enchanted story, when suddenly the characters begin to interact with her and try to take over the story. We even had a cool slow-motion blacklight glow scene! Thanks to the over 30 friends and families who came to watch!
These ladies let me guide them through watercoloring feathers and nests in honor of the long-awaited arrival of spring!
Our 2nd Annual Flapdoodles Ice Cream Art Contest is underway! The students planned and executed these adorable clay relief sculptures, mounted on painted canvas panels. Some are still life sculptures and others incorporate animals enjoying ice cream, inspired by the book "Gorilla Loves Vanilla." Here are all the entries. Winners announced in April!
Drama students created their own paper mâché marionettes to help them tell the story of Tacky the Penguin, based on the book by Helen Lester. The read winter poems, created voices and personalities for their puppets, and sang songs to tell the story of a penguin who just doesn't quite fit in. It was SO adorable!
Jill Pearson, owner & instructor at Riverwood Studio, Oronoco, Minnesota