Monday, December 30, 2013

New Painting: "Kellie Girl" -- A Gift for a Very Special Person

"Kellie Girl" 10 x 10 oil on canvas, Copyright Margaurita Spear, Dec. 2013
I am lucky to know a very wonderful, spiritual person who loves animals. She had a cherished dog-baby named Kellie who has crossed the rainbow bridge.

While visiting one day a few months ago I saw a small snapshot that I thought would make a nice portrait painting and asked her for the photo to use as a reference. Then I put the photo aside literally and figuratively along with the many other painting ideas I have accumulated but not started or finished this past year.

But I wanted to make this painting for her as a gift this Christmas, so finally around mid-November I began the process. It took about a month of working on the painting on and off to finish it. The under painting came into being easy enough and the first few layers of light and shadow were fine. Then I began blocking in color, which was a lot more difficult than I planned because the contrast from background to subject was actually quite stark (no subtle transition areas). And painting a white-blonde dog was actually harder than I expected because if I went too dark on the shadow areas the color was all wrong, but too light and the painting was too flat and the subject not fluffy at all.

I painted and painted right up until December 23rd when I finally forced myself to stop re-working for fear that I would ultimately ruin the painting all together. "Kellie Girl" was gifted still wet (oil paint takes forever to dry, especially when worked up in glazed layers) on Christmas day... and the recipient loved this gift to the point of tears. I guess that means I captured the likeness enough to touch her heart... whew!

New Felted Friend: One Of A Kind Owl

Felted Friend: Owl, Copyright Margaurita Spear, Dec. 2013
This little felted fellow was created as a Christmas gift for a very dear friend of mine. A little birdie told me she has a fondness for owls, so I decided an owl themed gift was in order this year. She lives a few states away, so we exchange gifts in the mail and the handmade owl was one component.

You may remember the felted bunnies from last winter, which I made during the snowy blizzard season. This little owl was more complicated, especially because of his feet (which are wire wrapped in embroidery floss) and his teensy details (like his beak and ears). I also wanted him to not be too fluffy in some areas, but also fluffy in others making things a bit more challenging.

But this is a one time only owl because I want it to be special. So even if I make another owl it won't be quite like this one; just like my best friend this owl is unique and irreplaceable.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

O Canada! "Icarus and the Golden Flight" Sent North

There is a wonderful little collaborative art project in the works in Canada... Here is the direct quote from the call, as posted by the artist heading up the project:

"My birds are often imaginary birds of paradise with long tail feathers and in my vision I saw a beautiful, flowing tail feathers that would span across the room. In my video, I mention that I’d like to have 300 feathers, but secretly, I dream of 1000 feathers all created by artists and creative souls from around the world. My artistic journey has been fuelled by all the kindness and generosity of strangers on the internet and I want to find a way to bring us all together. Can you just imagine how amazing this will be! I simply must ask you to create a feather and send it to me so I can include it in this wonderful collaborative piece which will be at the heart of my exhibit. 
My vision is for this bird to be hosted by heart-centered businesses all over the country. Each business could host our bird for one month at the cost of 300$. Each 300$ donation feeds and educates one child in Haiti through the Eddy Pascal School. A tax deduction will be offered to each business thanks to the collaboration of the Non-Profit I’m collaborating with. Isn’t that amazing? Just thinking about how our bird will travel to raise awareness gives me goosebumps and when I think of the kids we’ll be helping, well… you can understand why I have to find a way to make this happen."

So, since I love to support fundraisers for education/children, I decided to contribute a few feathers of my own to this project:

"Icarus and the Golden Flight" mixed media on cardboard with ribbon. Copyright Margaurita Spear, Nov. 2013

They were mailed out to Canada this week. I'm hoping they arrive in time for the installation of the work. To learn more about this project, click on the image below:
Join our creative adventure

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Feles Requies" Painted for Open Call at the Witch Dr. in Salem, MA

"Feles Requies" 8x8 Oil on Panel, Sept. 2013 Copyright Margaurita Spear
Its October, so that seems like the perfect time for skulls and creepy things. This skull painting was created in response to a call for work at the Witch Dr. studio in Salem, MA. Salem, of course, becomes synonymous with Halloween this time of year and skulls may be the least creepy thing to be seen around the city.

This particular skull was technically painted in September so it could be on view throughout the entire month of October. (It is also for sale at the studio by the way). This is not a human skull, which you may have already figured out. It is a cat skull. It also has the distinction of being the first ever painting I have made of any type of skull. The closest I've come before was a charcoal rendering of a Georgia O'Keefe inspired skull in high school.

At first attempting this painting freaked me out. I am a cat mommy after all. And in depth observation of a cat skull inevitably made it nearly impossible not to envision my own cat's skull every time he looked at me. But now I rather like this painting, especially the reflections in the table surface. Maybe I'll paint a skull every year for Halloween (just work my way through the many animals).

Reading List: The Learner-Directed Classroom -- Developing Creative Thinking Skills Through Art

This book reinforces some ideas I've been grappling with for a few years now. In an art room, I have learned to teach lessons in a "teacher directed" approach. But through teaching I have felt in my gut that something was intrinsically missing when using this approach. I became even more aware of this as a substitute teacher filling in for elementary classrooms that used centers for learning.

In my own art room I would like to think of the shared space as an artist community and my students as beginning artists. I would like to establish sub-spaces in the room that can be considered mini-studios with a separate quiet area to act as a resource library called the "salon."

This fantasy art room design was something that I kept in my head and did not share because for a long time I thought of it as an unheard of and untested approach to teaching art.

Then, I stumbled across some resources, like this book, that specifically address a "student directed" approach to teaching. Suddenly my ideas did not seem so out there anymore because other art teachers had come to similar conclusions.

Now, transitioning from one approach to the other may present challenges. But at the very least some "student directed" concepts should certainly make their way into the art room. After all, the art room should be a place for creative expression, outside the box thinking and problem solving. How can students be creative, outside the box thinkers and problem solvers when the teacher tells them how their art should look, what materials to use and how to solve problems that arise?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

En-masse Painting Series: Bathed in Gelousy

Wow! The last time I worked on anything in this series was 2009! That's a very long time. In fact, this painting was started way back then. The under painting was completed then left to sit unloved and untouched until late last month. So, for that reason I'm not quite sure how to date this work. Should it be 2009? or 2013? or 2009 - 2013?

Anyway, this 8 x 8 gem is the fifth in the En-masse series. I don't think it will be the last. The subjects are some warmly hued bath gems that were a gift to me from a friend. I poured them out onto a soap dish and the composition was created. I have a true love of painting round shapes, which I'm sure becomes noticeable when looking at my body of work. Needless to say bath gems were a perfect fit for just that sort of thing. What I really love, however, is the semi-transparency and the way the colors reflect onto the white dish and are absorbed into neighboring bath gems.

To achieve this look in oils took many layers of fattened up color glazes. But that is exactly what I enjoy about oil painting -- using layers of color and tone to achieve greater depth. To me that makes for much warmer paintings than I could achieve in any other medium.

Bathed In Gelousy, 8 x 8 Oil on panel, August 2013, Copyright Margaurita Spear

Monday, September 2, 2013

New Painting "Sam" Donated to Hope for Creativity Art Auction

"Sam" Copyright Margaurita Spear, August 2013, Oil on painter's palette
  Hope for Creativity is a truly special non-profit organized and run by a very special young lady. She is only in high school, but her ideas and goals are well beyond her years. For more info about Hope for Creativity see my blog post from last year:

This year is my second year donating a painting to such a worthy cause. Again the dimensions were those of a provided wooden artist's palette, which, as you can imagine, can be difficult to make a composition on. This year's theme is "Engage in Boundless Expression".

I'm not sure how much my image choice fits this year's theme, but there is certainly a story behind it...

When I was teaching at summer camp in July I was sharing with the student's how coming up with your own idea from scratch is often the most difficult part of creating art. Some of the young campers (mostly around eleven-years old) were struggling with this very thing and I wanted them to realize that all artists share this problem, not just them. So I told them about the painting I would be making for this fundraiser. I explained that I, too, have been trying to come up with a good idea that would work with the shape of the painter's palette. I drew a quick sketch of what the palette shape was so they understood what I was referencing. Soon the students were sharing their own ideas about how to solve my creative block. One student named Sam said that the palette was the perfect shape for a painting of an octopus and suggested I go with that as my subject.

After much more brainstorming on my own (and I do mean weeks of brainstorming) I came to the conclusion that his suggestion was better than anything I had come up with and thus this painting was born and later christened with the title of "Sam" in honor of that student.

This is just one more example of how teaching art enhances and dare I say, engages, my own art making.

For information on the auction, which runs from September 11th - October 11th, visit the event/auction webpage:

Monday, August 26, 2013

Reading List: Classroom Management

I always struggle with defining "Classroom Management" because to me it is a combination of so many things. Things I say. Things I don't say. Do. Don't do. The way I set up the learning space. The routines I establish. The lessons I prepare. The respect I have for my students and expect in return. So many things...

So that is why I am reading a new "teaching" book. At the very least I am hoping it helps me better express my experience with classroom management. At the most I am hoping it can improve it; after all everything about teaching can always take a little improving. That is how we learn, grow, adapt, etc.

I'm only about seventy pages in so far, but it has been a nice and easy read. And it feels good to have someone else put into words what I have been trying so hard to explain concisely whenever I am asked about classroom management. Its nice to read that I am pretty much doing things the way the fictional Mrs. Allgood would.

The book is... Conscious Classroom Management by Rick Smith. Veteran teacher or newbie, I totally recommend giving it a read. Your local library may even have a copy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Pop Art Animals Workshop

In this painting workshop students talked about the Pop Art movement and looked closely at the Endangered Animal Series by Andy Warhol. A brief demonstration helped students break down animal reference images into basic shapes. Then they began drawing their chosen animals (for this workshop they could choose any animal, although normally I would keep with the endangered theme). Once the drawings were complete students went about painting and finishing their animal portraits in a similar style to Pop Art icon Andy Warhol.

Paint markers and water-soluble oil pastels were used to add lines and details.

Here are a few paintings that the students created:

Friday, August 16, 2013

Art and Percussion Workshop

One of the workshops from this month was for some of the youngest artists -- four to seven year olds. Using mostly recyclable materials and a few store bought art supplies the students learned about multicultural percussion instruments as they made rain sticks, egg shakers, maracas, and rattle drums.

The Chinese rattle drums were mostly made from bought materials. Round paper mache boxes were acquired from the local art supply store, along with wooden beads and wooden clothes pins. Other materials were glue, string,  construction and tissue paper (in China's imperial colors), and glitter. I pre-made the holes in the boxes using a x-acto blade and a sharp clay tool. I also used hot glue to glue the boxes shut once the beads were strung. The clothes pins were also hot glued to make sure they would not come loose. These rattle drums really do work just like the real ones!

The rain sticks were made in the way most art teachers employ.... paper towel rolls. These are the perfect size. They were painted and stuffed with crumpled newspaper on the ends. Dried beans were placed in side to get the appropriate sound. The ends were capped with felt scraps attached with elastics and adorned with feathers. With more time, the paper towel rolls can be decorated further, incorporating dot painting or other techniques.



The maracas were made from small water bottles, beads, and gift fill. Simply fill the bottles with the other materials, put on the caps and shake. Other, more involved methods could be used, but for the workshop this simple project acted as filler while the paint and glue on the other projects dried.

The last filler project was egg shakers. So simple, I am not even going to post a separate picture of them (you can see them in some of the pictures above). You simply put a few teaspoons of rice into plastic eggs. Close them and seal the seam with colorful duct tape.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Fashion Design Workshop

During the month of August I have the pleasure of teaching a handful of short workshops at the Marblehead/Salem School of Music. What's art being taught at a music school you may ask. Well, I am also the office manager there, so the owners are letting me offer some workshops outside the music realm.

Today's workshop was Fashion Design. And the girls that signed up for it did a great job -- I'm sure they will all be on Project Runway in about ten years!

It was only a two-hour workshop, so the kids managed to make one or two designs each (adding color to at least one of them). I used colored pencils because they were on hand and affordable. Of course, depending on the group and the duration, the materials could get a lot more professional, even introducing computer design software.

I provided handouts referencing some fashion design books, provided inspirational imagery from saved boutique catalogs (like Anthropologie), and offered suggestions for ways to master the figure and drapery of fabric. My number one tip: Draw people all the time! Keep a sketchbook and draw them while you are waiting in a public place (like for an appointment). This is great practice and helps you better understand the human body so much more than using a mannequin or copying a template.

We used copy paper for first drafts and when the girls had a finished sketch that they really liked, I let them use the windows as light boxes to trace their drawings onto the "good" paper.

Here are some of the sketches and designs that were created:


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Soft Sculptures and Marionettes - Upper Elementary and Middle School

A few summers back I offered one of the more advanced puppet making classes I've ever taught. The puppetry component was the easy part. The hard part was that kids no longer seem to learn sewing and I had to start from the very basic concept of threading a needle.

I taught the same two-week workshop twice.

The first time we worked only from patterns and made very large marionettes, which most of the kids decided they liked better as just soft sculptures.

These are the large soft-sculptures that came from that first attempt. The theme was "Create a Real of Imaginary Character." Elvis is center-stage.

The second time I scaled them down and bought pre-sewn un-stuffed muslim doll bodies, which made things go a lot smoother. The students could make two each and focus on character design instead of sewing. The objective was to create two characters that could interact with each other to tell a story.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Art Camp Sculpture Class at Glen Urquart School

This summer I jumped on board a new art program at the Glen Urquart School. I designed a four week sculpture program that (unfortunately) ran for only one week. But during that one week this July there was some great creative thinking happening.

The unfinished sample project.
 We focused primarily on paper mache as our main project/medium. The students made their supportive forms out of balloons, coffee caddies, newspaper, and masking tape. A warning on balloons: HIDE THE EXTRAS!

You can still make out the balloon form and coffee caddy at this stage.
Once the forms were built up with layers of paper mache (newspaper strips adhered with Elmer's Art Paste), the students added plaster strips for stability. Some pieces only needed a little bit of plaster strips, but others and those that were smaller could be covered entirely.

There were two possibilities for finishing. Students could use paint or collaged tissue paper.

Painted Orange Octopus
Original Troll Head
Tissue paper collage was used for this unique Imaginary Creature

Painted Dragon's Profile
 Paper mache and plaster take a while to dry in the humid summer air, so there were some smaller side projects as well. Students had free choice sculpture materials, such as model magic, beads, feathers, and wire.



 On the last day of the week/class we did some soap carving. I didn't get any pictures of the soap carvings though since a first attempt at carving doesn't really yield an identifiable sculpture. It does lend itself to some good, clean, fun though!

Friday, July 26, 2013

High School Printmaking Unit: Post Thirteen -- Self-Directed FInal Projects

Being asked to give a final in art is really, really difficult because... well... it's art. Art is not like Math or Reading Comprehension or World History. It does not have an exact answer to a multiple choice exam. Art is expressive and invoking. So when I realized I had to have the high school students do something for final exams, I decided that they would use all of the knowledge and skills they had gained to do a project of their own design.

It had some structure, of course. They had to present a written proposal, complete with a time frame for the project to be completed. They had to document and research their work and the work of other artists. And on the day of finals, they had to present their work, research, and process to the class in a power point presentation.

The final projects had a lot of variety. Here is a sampling:

One student created a series of stamp prints, using patterns and colors in interesting ways...

One created a reductive block print inspired by his hometown...

One student made a lino-cut inspired by Art Deco and the Chrysler Building...


One student explored stenciling, creating stencils of objects that reminded her of her town. She talked about how this graphic imagery could be used in merchandising...

One student expressed his obsession with the Stanley Cup though a collograph...

One student explored logos, by making cut out collograph plates and printing them. He used patriotic colors to emphasize America's preoccupation with branding and consumerism...

One student used multiple carved stamps to create a stop-motion image of a girl cartwheeling...

One student combined monoprinting and stamping, using found leaves as stamps...

One student combined a stamped background with a collograph as the foreground image...