Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Happiest Artist on the Block: Working with Rocks, Sand, Leaves & Clay

Process not product. You’ve heard it a million times and we all know the importance of it. A meaningful art experience develops character and reaches the soul. It’s a bonus that it makes us smile when we look at it on our walls.  I developed a rich series of art projects in my K-5 art room that focuses on process, uses tactile materials (behold- your most energetic kids calm down), and incorporates nature studies (our theme this year in art class). I’d like to share this with you.  Please view the photographs of the works since the pictures speak volumes about the unconventional processes and creativity that was unleashed in the art room. I hope your kids get to experience this soon!

Day 1: Working with Rocks. The kids learned about Stonehenge and Andy Goldsworthy (art/artists who use rocks!) via the  SMARTboard. Look up Andy Goldsworthy if you don’t know his art, it is pretty inspiring. You can view clips of his video on YouTube and see his work in person outside the De Young Museum in San Francisco (see cracks in sidewalk, reminding us of our ever changing tectonic plates). Here’s the plan- students each borrow a tub of rocks which they need to sort by color, size, shape or texture. They then arrange the rocks a la Andy Goldsworthy.* The kids got so creative with this~ they made the rocks spiral out in descending sizes, stacked them or created animals out of the rocks. Photographs were taken so we could document our work. Bonus to teachers/parents- no messy clean up!

Follow up to Rocks & Andy Goldsworthy: Arranging leaves.  Go outside when those autumn leaves start falling. Look at the beautiful creations the kindergartners made. Try sticks, shells, rocks and any other natural treasures that you find.*

Day 2: Exploring with Sand. When the kids walk into the art room there is colored sand on trays for everyone to work with. Their only instructions are to explore the material and keep the sand on the tray. Kids draw and write in the sand and really seemed to enjoy the process. After 10-15 minutes I bring the group together and we reflect on the material and how it felt (both the texture and the calming nature of it). Then I show them images from Japanese Rock Gardens. These Zen Gardens use no water; instead the raked sand represents water, waves in the ocean, ripples in a pond, etc. The rocks represent mountains, islands, etc. The moss represents trees, forests, etc. We view many gardens including the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. The kids then receive their own tub of rocks and a fork and are instructed to build their rock garden on their tray of sand*. Upon reflection, we usually find that this process felt very calming and satisfying.

Day 3: Working with Clay. Our clay lesson is a good follow up to the rock and sand lessons since the clay is also a tactile material from nature. I take time with my little guys to discuss that clay is broken down rocks, mixed with water, and can be found under the soil and at the banks of rivers and lakes. We have different colored clays because there are different colored rocks. We use low-fire white clay but if you don’t have a kiln try homemade salt dough, Crayola Model Magic, air dry clays, or polymer clay (Fimo, Sculpey). Here is my ideal clay experience:
Day 1: Explore the clay. Let the kids smoosh it, roll it, and pound it. Ahhhhhh! Clay!
Day 2: Practice with homemade playdough~ handbuilding pottery techniques (pinch pots, coil pots, slab pots) or Sculpture work.
Day 3: Every child creates their clay project that they practiced in playdoh. Pots, animals, architecture, beads, frames, gargoyles, food~ you name it, we’ve made it out of clay! What a lovely experience that is challenging, 3-dimensional and real. It’s like the Thanksgiving of art and then it’s all over…
Until Day 4 & 5: Glaze them puppies. Underglaze, overglaze (kiln required), watercolor and acrylic paint (no kiln required). Voila, let the forms come to life with color!
----> Note: pictured here are 3rd coil pots, 4th architectural relief, K pinch pots, 5th food,  2nd terracotta warriors, 1st grade Louise Nevelson relief*

In conclusion: These tactile materials are really great for the middle of a busy school or rainy day. I see the kids slow down, focus and really get to know materials from nature. They learn that not all artists paint nor frame their art. Art can be created in nature and out of nature; it can be ephemeral and dynamic.  Art can be a process that soothes and allows you to look inward while expressing yourself to others. I hope you get a chance to work with some of these wonderful materials from nature. Your children will LOVE it and beg to do it again and again!
~Stephanie Noon

*credit given to
Explorations in Art, Davis (Rock lesson), Barbara C. (Leaf lesson), Nature's Art Box (Rock Garden), Anna H. (Louise Nevelson clay), Stuckey (bringing me Terracotta Warriors from China)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Love this Drawing Book!

My good friend Barbara gave me this book and we love it in the art room! So many kids have found inspiration from it when they don't know what to draw or need help drawing a tree. What a gem!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Art Room goes Digital

We've had a SMARTboard & webpage for a few years, but now I have a QR Code for my School Webpage! I've been frustrated that my webpage is buried on the school's website, but now it's easy to advertise it and find it. I've placed the little barcode outside both my classroom doors and on my parent volunteer board. I like qrcode.kaywa.com
The website easily generates code for any text or URL. Even if parents don't have a smartphone with an App that reads codes, this should generate discussion amongst parents and students that yes, there is an Art Webpage.