Friday, November 2, 2012

Secrets of Rusty Things: A Book Review with Potential

So I am not the best at not being a teacher. Even though I am not actively teaching art right now I can't stop myself from seeing potential art lesson inspiration everywhere!

I was visiting my local library  -- which as I've said before is one of my favorite places -- and I came across a book on the central display. One of the nice things about living someplace where the library is across the street from an art college is that the librarians frequently display books they think art students will like. The book Secrets of Rusty Things by Michael de Meng is one that certainly fits that description.

This book has beautiful full-page photographs of found object art. But the best part is that after each image the artist gives his inspiration for the piece as well as his technical approach to gathering and assembling the works. The personal anecdotes make the work so much more accessible. And the inspirations are mostly from world mythology and lore, which is the part that really made me think "how could this artist's work inspire an art lesson?"

Well, I don't have an art lesson to go with it yet. But I know I eventually will, and in the meantime I thought I'd share this artist with everyone else who may also be inspired by him!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

New Painting: "Slow and Steady" Donated to Hope For Creativity Art Auction


Hope for Creativity is a non-profit organization for which I was invited to create a painting. This organization provides art supplies to homeless children between the ages of two and eighteen. A former student of mine became involved with this organization as part of her community service requirement for her confirmation this year and she asked me if I would donate my time and talents. I was, of course, delighted to oblige because I think she is a great young lady and this is a terrific cause.

There are so many charitable groups that provide some sort of aide to homeless families and kids, but I like that this group provides art supplies because when times are tough art making can be an excellent outlet for our emotions. Giving kids the means to express themselves through art is just so wonderful. And I remember how awesome it always was to get new art supplies growing up -- perfect Crayola crayons and plump and juicy markers -- so I am happy to support this great cause that gives kids that otherwise may not get new art supplies that same sense of joy!

For this art auction, Hope for Creativity provided participating artists with an unfinished wood painter's palette. The theme was Hope. Create. Inspire. Three very important words indeed! For the piece I made I did not want to take a literal approach, although I did consider it at first. Instead of actually incorporating the text into the painting, which I thought of doing as a fortune cookie message, I wanted to contemplate the meaning of the words. To me hope is about not giving in, keeping steady, and forging onward. I thought of the tortoise and the hare and the saying "Slow and steady wins the race." For my piece I arranged a simple set up with a turtle figurine that my mother brought me from a Native American pow wow. This turtle would embody that message of hope. A major component of hope for me lately has been understanding that life is a journey and that eventually you'll make it through. This has become my personal mantra, especially as I continue to hope for a teaching position in my own classroom.

And from this seed of hope, "Slow and Steady" was conceived. "Slow and Steady" becomes available for auction beginning on October 1st and ending on October 12th, with the auction wrap party in Wakefield, MA. For more information about this event, to buy tickets to the party, or to learn more about Hope for Creativity visit:

Here is the painting "Slow and Steady" that has been donated to this worthy cause:

Eek! My Quilled Paper Designs At Visionspace Gallery

So I am taking a break from substitute teaching, which means there may be fewer posts about art lessons in the coming months.

I needed a more reliable income. After looking for work all summer, I am now an office manager at a music school. I am still looking for a full time teaching gig, though. And in the meantime I am finding new doors opening up in terms of my own creative work.

One of those doors opened about a month ago when I was approached by a fellow alum from art school and asked if I'd be interested in showing my quilled designs at a local gallery that he is involved with.  I was a.) surprised since I hadn't thought many people would want to see them, b.) nervous because I wasn't sure what people would think about them, and c.) excited because I am eager to get some feedback.

And now, two of my quilled pieces that have previously appeared on this blog will be making their real world debut at Visionspace Gallery. Here is the postcard image for the opening -- which is October 5th!

And the two pieces being shown, in case you are wondering, are:

Rotational Motif # 4 Copyright Margaurita Spear, 2011

Rotational Motif #6 Copyright Margaurita Spear 2012

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How I'm Spending Summer Vacation

In taking a cue from the often overused question posed to returning students, I am dedicating this post to outline what I've been doing since school ended in June.

First, I must apologize for my absence from blogging. I've been without an internet connection for a while, which limits my blogging options. Yes, I could have taken the laptop to a place with WIFI, but honestly I've had other things on my mind.

Just before the school year ended, I was sad to hear that the summer camp where I have taught art classes for the last three years has suffered a massive drop in enrollment this year. I usually count on the income from this job to get me through until September when I can go back to subbing, so it was quite a hit to learn that my classes were being dropped completely. I have been faced with the daunting task of finding a summer job when most of them were already taken by high school and college students. The most I have found has been working as an usher at my local music theater. Now, this is a fun job since I see all the shows -- often more than half a dozen times all the way through -- but the pay is minimal as are the hours. I was planning to pick up a second job in a new restaurant that is opening soon, but the opening has been delayed due to political paperwork. So I am for the most part, unemployed. And, needless to say, I am very stressed out about it.

Well,  I was determined not to waste the summer hours that I now had to so whatever I wanted to do. I WAS determined to make more art, organize things, listen to free concerts, etc. Thing is I WAS determined. But instead I find myself looking for a permanent teaching job and a temporary or part-time second job. And when I am not doing that I am worrying about what I will do if something doesn't come through soon. All this time wasted worrying means I have no finished art to share.

Now, you may be thinking that if I have wasted so much of my own time worrying, why waste anyone's time reading about my doing so. Well, I haven't been completely unproductive. Before I began the worrying cycle, I looked into some online classes that I could not afford to take. But rather than just say to myself that it is shame I can't take this class, I decided to get the required reading for free from the library and read the books on my own. I am very glad I did because now I can share them with you.
The first book I read is The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. This book by Ken Robinson, Ph.D. was a very fast read. I'm sure many fellow art teachers will relate to its contents. Robinson describes your element as the place where your passion and talent meet. It is a sweet spot where if you are lucky enough to work in your element it does not feel like work at all -- it energizes, inspires, and replenishes. Reading this book confirmed what I already thought but did not have words for -- teaching art is my element. This book also offers insight in how others can be helped to find their element. The element can be anything, by the way, not just something in the arts. Reading this book gave me some perspective on how I'd like to be an instrument in helping my students reach the same level of bliss that I have when I teach.

Robinson has also written Out Of Our Minds: Learning To Be Creative. This book is still on my summer reading list, but after just a brief perusal it seems like just as interesting and easy a read as his other book. More on this book later.
The second book I have begun reading, but not got very far into is The Hundred Languages Of Children: The Reggio Emilia Approach - Advanced Reflections edited by Carolyn Edwards, Lella Gandini, and George Forman. It is a denser read written as a series of interviews with those involved in the beginnings of the schools in Italy and those practicing the approach in the United States. Although it has been tough to get to because of the writing style, I have found it to be enlightening. There are some aspects of my personal teaching philosophy that I have found differ from the general model in public schools. Things like really involving families and communities in a substantial way. Or promoting open communication through sharing of documentation to the world (like these blogs). I thought my ideas were somewhat out of place with what I was taught in college or what I've seen in some schools -- a cookie cutter approach to education with too much emphasis on standardization. Turns out my ideas are not that strange and are in fact in line with many of the founding principles of Reggio Emilia. Reading this book has prompted me to look for teaching opportunities in non-traditional schools as well as made me more determined to continue exploring my ideas in my own teaching regardless of where I teach.

So, that is how I'm spending my summer vacation -- for now. There is still the month of August, so who knows where my journey will lead.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Signs of Summer Grade 3

After creating the beach ball mural with the second graders I was feeling the summer spirit, therefore for the last lesson of the year for grade three I decided to have them make "Signs of Summer." It is really a play on words because they are making a sign and using imagery that they consider to be signs of summer, such as surf boards, ice cream, etc.

The materials are simple as are the instructions. It is the end of the year and many of the students are already on a mental summer vacation so why make things too complicated. First cut paper into 6 x 18" strips. Then fold those into 6 sections -- one for each letter of the word S-U-M-M-E-R. Have students write the letters using a block or bubble style. There should also be at least 6 images that accompany the word, preferably spread out across the sign. They can overlap the letters or go behind them, etc. I used the standard markers/colored pencils/crayons that are available to the students at all times and did not limit which was used or what was combined.

Here is an unfinished student example. He was very thoughtful in creating his imagery, being careful to be original and not copy the example that I had made...

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Beach Ball Mural -- Grade 2

About a week or so ago I began clearing the bulletin boards to get all the students' work sorted to send home, but since the year is not quite over I did not want to leave the boards totally empty. I also did not want to have to hang up anything that would have to be taken down too soon to be handed back. As it turned out the school was also having literacy week and the second graders were doing something in their regular classroom that related to beach balls. I decided that the best solution was to create a beach ball mural. It used simple shapes that would look awesome as a repeated pattern; it provided an opportunity to use up some left over paints; it gave the students a chance to work collaboratively -- the best part by the way; and it was so much fun!

I created the design on large poster boards placed in a grid before the students arrived in class. Then I divided the boards between the six tables in the art room. Each table got a tray with six paint colors and six brushes (one per color). The students were told that they had to work together in their groups to decide who would paint which parts and what color they would use. They were also told to give the paintings at least two coats of paint to keep them from being too streaky. That was all I instructed. It was really interesting to hear them planning. Some were very methodic -- painting one color at a time and taking turns with that color. Others divided up the colors among themselves and only painted with their individual colors, but worked out who would paint where. Some were very careful not to put the same colors next to each other -- other students not so much.

After the students left (it was the last class of the day) -- I went over the outlines in black and filled in the background space with a neutral mixed tan. I wasn't planning to paint the background at all since the poster board I used was blue, but there were a few accidental drips that made it necessary to paint over them. That and I felt there needed to be more contrast than the blue background was allowing.

The mural was a huge hit with teachers, staff and students, who had a blast trying to figure out which part they had helped paint.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Ice Cream!

These two lessons are very similar. The first was taught to a fourth grade class and the second to a third grade class. They both use the same ice cream bowl imagery with a patterned background. The older grade used tempera (so theirs are actually not done yet) and the younger grade worked smaller and used oil pastels.

For the tempera lesson, I provided only primary colors, brown, white, and (lastly) black (for shades in the toppings). The background is done in marker. Each scoop of ice cream has to be a different tint (flavor).

My sample painting:

For the oil pastel lesson, blending is key. Again the scoops all have to be a different tint (flavor). Even if the students used pink I asked them to add white to tint it even lighter. Required number of scoops: three or more.

A few student examples:

Random Object Yankee Swap! Gr. 4

Almost everyone knows how a Yankee swap works. You pick a gift then get to swap with someone else no matter if they want to or not. And being the first to choose means you get to swap last and have your choice of everything. It can be fun or frustrating depending on what you get stuck with.

Anyway, I was in need of a fourth grade mini lesson last week and thought it might be fun to try with random small objects that are placed in a box. These could range from art supplies to little toys or knick knacks or pretty much whatever is handy and whatever you have enough of for every student to get one thing. The students are already assigned numbers in their classroom so they chose from the box in that order. It was great fun and although it did take a little longer than expected with all the swapping, it was worth it.

Once the swap was completed, students were instructed to draw their objects from observation. They could incorporate the following:
  • cropping
  • change in view point
  • overlapping
  • change in scale
They were asked to draw the objects more than once, but you'll see from the examples below that this did not always happen. Once the drawings were complete and traced over with permanent marker, they had some choices for how they could finish them off with watercolor. These were:
  • Paint around the object only and leave the object white -- Not many chose this option.
  • Paint the object and a border only and leave the background white -- The popular choice.
  • Optional: Add some splatter paint. This first occurred to fix a stray mark and then everyone wanted to try it so I said it would be okay if they were careful of others working around them.
Here are the results of this little art game experiment:
Wind up snail toy.
Miniature brass candelabra.
Key chain.
Toy alien figure (with movable arms).
Little felt craft bear.
Key chain.
Alien toy (this student never started the painting because he was so careful of his drawing).
Plastic minute timer.
Bulldog clip.
Cowboy hat car air freshener.

Positive Negative Accordion Books - Gr. 3


One thing I love about making these accordion books is that they typically use paper that would have been thrown into the trash or recycling bin. Since I often trim larger sheets of drawing paper, I end up with lots of 2" strips, which are perfect for these mini-books. The construction paper is also from the scrap box, so I am using as much of what would be tossed as possible.

This is a great intro lesson or finish early lesson for a class about to do a larger positive negative cut paper study. It allows for experimentation with the concept with little worry about wasted materials or about making mistakes because it is so easy to start over. And the students love making them, sometimes making more than one!

Here are some student examples:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Snail Mail" donated to Lowell's Brush Gallery Fundraiser

This painting will be available for purchase for a mere $20 at the Brush Gallery's annual scholarship fundraiser.

Just the facts:
Tiny Works with Big Returns
Saturday, May 19, 2 - 5 pm
256 Market Street, Lowell, MA 01852
For more details visit:

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Ant Picnic! A First Grade Illustration Lesson

For this lesson first graders were asked to think about picnics, specifically about pests that might be unwanted at picnics. A few guessed bears, a few guessed lions (wonder where they picnic...) and most immediately said ants!

Students were also asked to think about the ant point of view -- low to the ground! They loved this idea, especially when they learned how to make the picnic blanket look almost 3D by incorporating a little perspective. Not every student grasped this idea, but those that did really liked it.

Then we talked about ant anatomy. How many parts, legs, etc.? What are they called (head, thorax, abdomen)? We even did some math facts. 3 legs on one side plus 3 legs on the other equals 6! Plus 3 parts equals 9! We even tried some multiplication, which some could answer 3 legs times 2 equals 6!

With the ants drawn and all parts accounted for, the most fun part could begin. Students had to decide what food the pesky ant would steal from the picnic. The food was drawn being carried away on the ants' backs or sometimes in their mouths (which a few students added pincers to).

Here are some of the super cool ant drawings!
This ant is carrying a strawberry and heading towards the "rot beer". Check out those perspective lines on the blanket!
Believe it or not, that is an apple on its back. Love the detailing on the blanket!
Another apple thief! This is a "girl" ant because of the eyelashes. Some of the boys in class informed me that girl ants stay inside because they don't want to get dirty. Only the boy ants find the food. How funny is that?
This ant has passed over the healthy fruit and milk and opted for an ice cream sundae!
An example with pincers. I think that is a banana on the right.
There were a few patriotic ants (above and below). This one is a "forth" of July ant! Again some great perspective happening on the checkerboard blanket. And cool patterns on the ant itself!
This patriotic ant steals the food while the people are distracted by the fireworks display! And it has segmented antennae instead of just lines.

Hand Renderings: Grade 5

I am excited to say that I have been subbing for another art teacher all this week and it has been so much fun! This is especially true because I have been given free reign on many of the lessons and have been trying out some new ideas with the students!

The first one I will post about may be my favorite this week -- although it would be a tough choice since all the projects have been great in their own ways.
My Demonstration Drawing

The fifth grade students were presented with the challenge of drawing their own hands from observation only. Cue a few moans here when they were told absolutely no tracing. But after the initial and expected complaints that it was too hard to do, they buckled down and realized with focus they could achieve surprising results.

Once the hands were drawn students could choose from the following options:
1.) Draw more hands in varying poses
2.) Overlap hands
3.) Crop some of the imagery
4.) Add text (such as a name or phrase)
5.)Work collaboratively with a partner

Then with the drawings complete and gone over in permanent marker, students could add color with watercolor paints using any technique they chose. These ended up including some of the following:
1.) Paint everything one color
2.) Paint everything varying colors, no pattern
3.) Paint everything with a pattern
4.) Paint only selective areas (i.e. background or hands)
5.) Use splattering with care

This one is pretty amazing! I love the varied lettering and attention to detail.

Here are more drawings -- I think they are all rather awesome since this was the students' first experience with drawing hands without tracing and with no rough drafts!

I envision this lesson as part one of a two part idea. In the second part, I would love to expand on the use of hands by incorporating them into a portrait drawing lesson.