Last Thursday was our first day getting our hands dirty. Our design is becoming large foam forms to paper mache. I’m putting the forms together at home and bringing them in for the students to paper mache. The students are enjoying the process and do very well at this task. They are working well together which is good to see. These are the forms for the center of the mural. What will become the sunflower is almost 8 feet tall. We are using 2 inch polystyrene insulation board available at building supplies. I insert wood furring strips or washers in places so that our installation hardware will not tear through the foam.
The tools I use to cut and shape foam are pictured here. Knives cut foam better than saws. I tried a hot knife but wasn’t happy with it especially the smell. I use a utility knife and an old bread knife. I use a fine tooth handsaw for inserting wood. I tie the wood to the foam with rebar wire. You can use packing tape,duct tape,whatever works to attach other things together. You can make a shape out of more than one piece and join them. I often pin pieces together with dowels. Like doing drywall the form doesn’t have to be perfect but the better it is the easier it is to cover. It also needs to be structurally sturdy so no wiggly loose parts. I shape the foam with the bread knife and smooth it with a corrugated shaper. It is a messy process. I had the bad experience of having a school order the white foam made of little balls. Don’t ever get this. We had little foam balls everywhere!
This month at Bancroft I’m doing the typical Picasso portrait lesson of abstracting a face but with a new twist. Being a facilitator I drew the shape of each kids head and drew the figure eight and some lines to divide the head into shapes. The students made color choices and sometimes provided some direction as to where to put the color or pattern. Jaquese made some marks of his own and crumpled the paper as usual. I then took a photo of the drawing and used an a free app Gifycam to add a gif to the drawing. These kids often respond in some way to movement and light close to their faces. There was a good amount of reactions today because of the gifs. Reactions can be an awakening, a smile, eye movement, a vocalization or in one case holding the Ipad up to a face. Every response is so small. One just has to believe that something is happening. They help me live in the moment,to really listen, and better accept what I don’t understand. Adding the gif was fun for me and I think my enthusiasm rubbed off on the staff and students. I really had fun today.
Happy New Year. This week I start 2 new residencies. As always I am excited and scared. I never get used to meeting new students and always have the jitters. Age has perfected my on top of it teacher facade. This year I am doing another big messy public art like project in Warren NJ. I will be working with special needs teenagers building a high relief mural.
I often feel like I am the only teaching artist in NJ that does these projects that require scale shop drawings, budgets,and material lists to be approved by building staff to meet code. This school got it right in getting these things out of the way in the beginning. I have had a few projects that did not and I left the residency without an installation because of building approvals. We started planning in September and are just now ready to dive in. The drawing lays out a basic template for our design. Student input will determine what it will actually look like within those parameters. I have found that it is very important with special needs kids to have a concrete clear simple plan to follow. I have also found that it helps with all schools to have a preplanned template to improv from. The key is to listen,be open to what is happening, and feel free enough to change it up if you see something great or it isn’t working. I try really hard to be a facilitator not a prima dona artist. My second residency is an after school program in Vineland doing stopmotion…with 3 Ipads. I have been so inspired by the ipadartroom.com website but her kids all have Ipads. I am still working on having a few Ipads with kids that are so hungry to play with them.
So like I always say…Let the fun begin!
This month at Bancroft we continued playing with a basic electric circuit by making a ping pong ball contraptions. You can find instructions on YouTube for all sorts of things using little motors. Vibration motors work so well with this population. If you can see they move and have color. If you can hear they make sounds. If touch is your dominant sense they vibrate. Staff and students all got a ping pong ball massage. Unfortunately I got a few teachers hair caught up in the propeller but no harm was done. I put it on kids heads and called it a brain massage. Great responses today from kids that don’t always respond. I got all the parts…motors,switches, batteries etc. on Amazon(contact me if you need details). I do so miss Radio Shack and the mad scientist section of Edmund Scientific though. It’s a new world.
I’m just getting to know Michael. He was fascinated with the whole process. He along with his classmate Ethan chose colored sticks and Michael didn’t try to eat his. They chose ping pong balls and we played with them before getting down to business. Ethan lost interest but Michael watched and listened to the entire assembly process. I gave him the finished project and he was still playing with it when I moved on to another class.
I recently found a great website ipadartroom.com. This teacher is amazing and encourages using an Ipad as an art making tool no more precious than a crayon. I’ve torn through most of her lessons. You want to respect your art materials and maybe an Ipad more since it’s pricey….BUT… At least for me it’s been used too preciously and therefore not enough. For me personally this has helped with artist block. What I’ve learned is that having the integrated camera makes drawing more spontaneous. I can snap a pic and use it as a starting point by tracing. Layers make experimenting easy. I can try all sorts of things ie: colors,tracing with out starting all over again. To be able to undo and delete is liberating. I believe this will be as great with kids that think they can’t make art as it’s been for me. I’ve been obsessed with drawing on the thing. I’ve been using the free Adobe draw app.
This month we made sguigglebots and it worked very well with these kids. Vibration motors were a hit with most of the students. They seemed to enjoy the feel of them and we had good reactions. The sound was stimulating to them also. Visually they were less interesting to the students but the staff loved it. A few more able students picked them up and were fascinated by the spinning propeller on top.
Patrick was engaged with the contraption without the markers. Check out that smile! Next week we move on to moving gizmos with ping pong balls, sticks, and more vibration motors
This week I put the totem together in the garden. It’s cold now and the garden is covered in leaves and we can’t take kids outside. It does look great though. I put the sections together with landscape adhesive and shimmed it level as I added parts. I have never never used construction adhesive to join this kind of thing so it will be interesting to see how it holds up. In the spring it will get grouted between the parts or taken apart if the adhesive fails and mortared together.