This year we are adding to the mural we started last year at MUJC developmental learning center. Having this 2 year grant makes a huge difference in a school like this. Special needs kids often take a long time to get used to a new person and our routine. Those that were involved last year know me and the materials. They come in knowing what is expected of them. This year we have some verbal students. One in particular Jasim, had a lot of great ideas for our addition. He talked about adding people to each side and I had him draw some on paper. The next week I asked him if he could draw them on the wall with chalk and put one person on a bike. He was thrilled to try this and without any hesitation started drawing. He also nailed the scale. This was not only great for him. The rest of the school started asking questions and learned more about the design process. Since the students aren’t allowed to use knives I will turn his drawing into a 3d form to mosaic. I enjoy seeing how these things evolve from drawing to foam form and then again as it gets mosaic on the surface. I’m thrilled to have a young designer this year too
The building has to go because the big idea is to create a garden space. This school has a space they call Main Street. It has a Shoprite that students work in,a paint store, a bank and other shops. The mural is supposed to be the green space on Main Street. Change is a big part of the creative process and Jasim is taking it in stride. I’ll ask him how he feels about maybe a person watering flowers!
I am finished for this school year and it has been so interesting and only occasionally frustrating. This is a great school with engaged staff and administration. My glitches were the business office ordering materials and getting the building folks to play nice with art and women. It all worked out and we had our grant extended into next year. This is so important for this type of learners to have at least 2 years. This is a developmental learning school and what I might take for granted takes more time. On the last day students finally looked at me directly and related verbally. Jayde learned my name instead of saying “excuse me” all the time. On the last day we got students to draw things for the next part of the mural. I think autistic kids and most of us need to see something concrete not abstract to understand. I have been blessed with being able to see the big picture and help others do the steps to create something. I’m kind of an art general contractor. Most aren’t like me that way I’m finally realizing. Hopefully this realization will make me a better teacher.
What we have so far. This is 16 ft by 8 ft high and the lighting makes it so hard to photograph. It is a curved wall so that is why I went with an appliqué approach. The high relief bits are attached with construction adhesive and temporary screws. It was decided that I could install. This gave me the opportunity to have students set tiles directly on the wall and one of the most rewarding parts of the process. We now have 16 additional feet to work with. I’m delighted students now get it and are excited about designing more. I can’t wait to see how things develop next year.
Our high relief dog. A student made a drawing of a teacher’s dog that we used. We have an F-16(I think that’s the right plane) that another student drew.
A kids Sponge Bob
Some handmade clay bits with our background of blue glass tiles. I had them set handmade tile and glass tile on small pieces of mesh. This was a great way to have kids apply tile to the wall. I always want to know what clay and glazes were used so for us it was some kind of low fire white that I found in the art room and rehydrated. We used Amaco velvet underglazes my go to glaze for inside and outside and a low fire gloss glaze. I had most of the kids use cookie cutters to make tiles but some made more unique tiles. John made his name and large! We spread the letters out throughout the mural.
Since starting to draw this way awhile back I’m getting better and learning so many new things. I’m finding it addictive to draw like this. I started with the Adobe Draw app. I really enjoyed drawing in this app but it kept crashing so I looked for something else. Part of my problem with the app was a stylus. Once you start drawing more you find your finger just isn’t as precise. Then it’s off to learn about stylus. The types and choices can be daunting. I bought a box of 10 for under 5 bucks and quickly switched to a box of 2 for 14 bucks. The box of 2 has a clear disk on the tip( like an Adonit Jot) so you can see where your lines start. It has a fiber like tip on the other end that works like the cheaper stylus and it came with extra tips. Then I found a discounted Adonit Touch so I bought that to try. It is pretty great and lets you draw with pressure sensitivity so the line width changes like a real world fountain pen. It crashed Adobe Draw alot though. So I switched to the Concepts app.Concepts is more complex and a cross between a drawing app and a CAD app. I’ve been using the Ipad app Archisketch for simple CAD drawings that need scale and measurements. Now I start there and then color them in Concepts. Mostly I’m playing. I’ve been drawing my tin toys. In Concepts I only had to draw one gator and then duplicate,rotate ,and scale. You can drag and drop from anything on your Ipad which is really amazing….even from the web This one of tin fish I will probably change. Layers are so liberating. I can delete the water bit and try something else without starting all over again because the parts are drawn on different layers. Both programs are great fun to learn. Concepts does more so a steeper learning curve. It is worth learning though. I am having so much fun learning this stuff.
We are covering the forms with paper now. These students are doing so well that they complete whatever I bring in for the day. This is another messy job but we have a big tarp under the work table to contain the mess. This time I am using unyru paper rolls and diluted elmers glue. I love this paper but it has gotten too expensive to use in my future school projects. I will switch to bogus paper available at places that sell packaging material. It is recycled newsprint and kraft paper but slightly heavier. You need a paper that is unsized so it is more malleable. Sized papers are stiff. Unsized papers eventually become pulp. Unryu is very strong,stays workable for a long time and covers in one or two layers. Bogus paper usually requires more layers and isn’t as malleable but it works well enough and it’s cheap. My personal favorite is blotter paper. It is thick and covers in one layer but turns to pulp fast so hard to use with kids. Last year I used what I called art snot as an adhesive with what I called bogie paper. Great art terms for 2nd graders. It is methyl cellulose and I used Elmers art paste. I had trouble with the layers de-laminating and haven’t tested it again so I went with white glue which I know works. The paper needs to form a hard stable surface over the foam.
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!