Tag: art education

Teaching Abstract Art: When the Simplest Concepts are Actually the Most Complex

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

Abstract art is one of my favorite types of art and it’s an art form that I always include in my high school art curriculum. It can be hit and miss, some years they get it and run with it, other years it’s like pulling teeth. Despite my mixed results I am committed to always including it in my lessons because it can be under-appreciated by those who don’t understand it. AKA, please don’t tell me “I could’ve done that.” Because guess what, you didn’t.

Abstract art may look simple, but it is in fact one of the most complex forms of art and reflects a much higher level of thinking (yes, there is a lot of thinking that goes on in art making). Because of this fact I was very wary of doing an abstract art project with my advanced class this year. They are a wonderful group of kids, but overall their technical ability and creativity level is lower than what I typically have in my advanced classes. My tried and true projects were very hit and miss this year, and I felt like a failure of a teacher. I just couldn’t figure out my “in” with them.

So of course, knowing all of this information I decided to develop a new abstract art project that was bigger than ever and more open ended than over. I was convinced it was going to fail miserably, but I continued down the path anyway.

I attribute the formation of this new lesson to watching cartoons with my two year old. We were deep into watching Inside Out for the 1000th time when the abstract thought scene came up. If you have never seen it, Google it, it’s an amazing explanation. The characters show the progression of abstract thought through verbal and visual explanations. The characters literally abstract before your eyes. The light bulb turned on.

I put together a PowerPoint including a link to the clip (plus a few other video clips) and three abstract artists to show examples of the three main elements in abstract art: Piet Mondrian for line, Wassily Kandinksy for shape, and Mark Rothko for color. The only guidelines I gave my students were it must emphasize either line, shape, or color (all three will be included, but one will be showcased) as well as balance, unity, and a focal point. The three elements are the building blocks and the three principles are what make it a successful work of art.

I was so worried. Typically with my abstract projects I have my students start with a concrete base, such as a photograph of a landscape or an object, and I help them simplify and abstract it before they start painting it. But this project took it to a new level, it was high level problem solving. I set them off to work and as always with a new project I worked on my example along with them.

Each student got a 36″x48″ canvas. This was the largest any of them had ever worked. I sent them off to sketch and I began to work on mine. I decided I wanted to focus on cool colors, with pops of warm, incorporate an acrylic pour somehow and emphasize line. In my head I wanted the organic shapes of the acrylic pour pattern juxtaposed with the geometric lines. First I painted the entire canvas using the cool colors I planned to incorporate into the stripes.

Next, I used a ruler to create a line pattern. I had a loose idea to focus on diagonal lines, but from there I started laying the lines out and made adjustments as I went.

Once I felt confident with my pattern I began filling it in.

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

I wanted the bright orange to help create a focal point.

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

Again, I had a loose idea of the colors I wanted and would scatter them around the canvas before starting another. I would periodically take a step back to make sure the colors looked balanced before adding more.

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

I wanted the background to make up some of the stripes and as I began filling in the lines I decided I wanted to have more of a variety of shapes, rather than the same width lines covering the entire piece. To create that look I didn’t fill in large chunks of the lines and instead left the background showing through.

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

I waited until closer to the end to add more orange stripes to make sure they remained the focal point. At this point I loved the piece. I began questioning whether or not to add the acrylic pour aspect. But, I decided to follow through with my plan. The organic look of the pour would either elevate it, or hurt it, but at least I had photographic evidence of this point in case I hated the final version. Plus, you can always paint over what you don’t like.

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

I didn’t want the acrylic pour to look like a paint spill on top of my piece. I wanted it to look intentionally included. To achieve this I decided to let it fill in some of the strips, but have clean strips cutting through it. I carefully taped up specific sections and tried to visualize where the paint would fall.

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

At this point I had never done an acrylic pour before. One of my students was familiar with the process, and she did some on her abstract acrylic. I read a few how tos, watched a few videos and carefully watched her technique before trying it on my own (once my class had dismissed just in case it was an epic fail). I put my acrylic paint colors in individual cups and mixed it with water, floetrol, and tested some rubbing alcohol on a few. I poured the smaller cups into a larger one, alternating the colors.

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

Full discloser, the first pour was a HUGE failure! I didn’t thin the paint enough and it ended up being a huge glob of paint that would not spread. I quickly wiped all the paint off and had a moment of silence for the wasted supplies. Attempt two went much better. I still sweated a bit as I tried to spread the paint while maintaining the beautiful cells, it’s way harder than it looks.

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

After layer one I decided I wanted a little more, so I did a final pour on the lower half.

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

After letting it dry overnight the moment of truth came and I began peeling off the tape. I was slightly disappointed, the paint still seeped under the edges of the tape, which meant a lot of clean up, but I was excited about the potential. After a lot of cleaning up edges I decided I was very pleased with the end result.

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

And the best part is the tape will make an amazing visual journal page in the near future.

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

In case you are wondering this project ended up being the most successful project of the year. All of my students excelled and these large scale abstract acrylics made beautiful and impressive additions to our annual art show. I don’t know if I can attribute the success to my enthusiasm for it, working along with them, breaking it down into basics, or my Inside Out clip, but whatever it was I will take a win at the end of the school year.

If you are interested in learning more about this project check out my Teachers Pay Teachers lesson plan here. It is designed for advanced or AP art level high school art students, but I believe the basics can be kept and it be sized down for earlier high school or middle school students.

Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog! Check out more visual journal pages here and more of my TPT products here. Help spread the word by sharing with others. Thanks for stopping by!

How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.
How to create an abstract work of plus how to teach it to high schoolers.

Preparing for Baby Girl: A, Modern, Folksy, and Whimsical Nursery

 

Baby girl's crib with a floral pattern bumper, bright windows, and the ABC's hanging on the wall.

This past November Nick and I welcomed our second child, the sweetest little girl named Kennedy. We were equal parts excited and terrified for her arrival. Having gone through it once made me more fearful because I knew exactly what was coming. There were going to be a lot of sleepless nights, a seemingly endless feeding schedule, and barely any showers; plus I also had to care for our two year old (wild man Cooper).

Before Cooper’s arrival in November 2015, I planned, prepped, and set goals to have everything ready before I started back at work in August. With it just being Nick and me (plus a handful of chickens and dogs) my goals were easily accomplished. Cooper’s nursery was ready to go months in advance. In the weeks leading up to his birth I sat around, caught up on shows, and daydreamed about life with a little.

In the weeks leading up to Kennedy’s arrival there was no sitting around or daydreaming. In August 2017 I realized a baby would be in our house in three months and I had not started preparing anything, at this point with Cooper I was already done. As the weeks passed, I would contemplate layout, design, and what needed to be purchased in between chasing Cooper and cleaning up after a two year old tornado, but there never seemed to be enough time to actually act. As 11/21/17 showed up around the corner I finally jumped in. Step one was setting up Cooper’s big boy room so I could move the crib to Kennedy’s room (more on that to come in the near future). Step two was to order furniture, rugs, and side tables, plus enlist the help of my mom to create her bedding. I was running out of time.

Just two weeks before Kennedy’s arrival, I finally got everything in place. And although her room was a much quicker process than Cooper’s, her room has become my favorite room in the house. The combination of soft neutrals, pops of color, and amazing bright light create a tranquil space.

One of the first things I did when I finally got started was begin looking at fabric patterns on Spoonflower. Luckily, I have a very talented mom who was willing and able to help me with Kennedy’s bedding. I knew I wanted something big, floral, and feminine (but not too pink or over the top girly) and for some reason I was really set on orange and green. It didn’t take long for me to find a pattern that was not quite orange but not quite pink and was just what I was looking for. I paired it with a simple  green stripe for the skirt. The name of the green stripe pattern was “She is Fierce,” which is perfect for the strong, independent, feminist woman I plan to raise. Side note: The bumpers were removed before baby girl began sleeping in her crib. They will make their way back in once her ligaments start getting stuck between the bars at night. 

The alphabet hanging above Kennedy’s crib also came from Cooper’s nursery. I have been working in mixed media, oil paint, and encaustic for the last 7 or so years and began making letters around that time. At first, the hanging alphabet was more of a necessity. I didn’t have the space to store all of them so I decided to display them. When we found out Cooper was coming along, it just made sense to keep them up in his room. You can read more about the encaustic process here. 

The next items I had to focus my attention on were the rug and dresser/changing table. Because both of these items had to be ordered and shipped, I needed enough time to get them in. The rug came from Overstock.com, where I buy all my rugs. It was incredibly affordable for the size, which means it can also be ruined without me stressing over cost to replace it. The dresser came from Ikea and seems to be the standard go to for any nursery. I can’t count the number of times I have seen this in my friends’ nurseries and displayed in nurseries online. It’s durable and the perfect height for a changing pad. The Diaper Genie, baskets, and changing pad were all recycled from Cooper’s nursery.

One of my favorite things in her room is the window hanging above her changing table. This was in the first apartment I moved into in Atlanta after college. It was stowed away in a high up nook in the living room. The previous tenant had left it behind and I fell in love with it. When it came time for me to move out of my adorable upstairs duplex, on top of a hill in Lake Claire and into my East Lake home with my soon to be husband, you better believe this came with me. It lived in our kitchen for 7 years until I decided it was perfect for Kennedy. I have no idea who the woman is in the image, but I love her confidence.

The orange vintage chair was found at my favorite antique spot in Atlanta, Kudzu Antiques. I purchased it not even considering using it in Kennedy’s room, but it was the exact color orange I had in mind for the accent color in her room, it was meant to be. The pillow was found on Etsy and the stuffed animal was bought at a craft fair. I fell in love with the donkey and it was the first toy I purchased for her.

The glider was also recycled from Cooper’s room. There was something very special about continuing the tradition of feeding and rocking my babies in this amazingly comfortable spot. The fox pillow and side table were purchased from Target and the lamp and basket were purchased from World Market. I loved the juxtaposition of the modern, clean lines in the lamp and side table vs. the soft, whimsical pattern on the wall and in the rug. And of course the orange fox pillow went perfectly with the orange chair.

Another important piece in Kennedy’s room is this beautiful metal shelf. I purchased it at an estate sale the first year I lived in Atlanta. I fell in love with the green color of the bars and the antique feel of the rust. After I bought it I never found a place to hang it. This beautiful piece sat in storage for seven years before the light bulb came on and I realized how perfect it was here. It looks amazing hanging on the opposite wall from the old window above the changing table.

The chicken stuffed animal was a gift from a coworker. I knew it had to have a prominent spot because I know Kennedy will love chickens as much as I do. The K print and the floral print came from Etsy. While looking for artwork I wanted something modern and more soft. The colors in the floral print pick up the neutrals, greens, and oranges I wanted in her room and the K is clean, has good contrast, and looks beautiful next to the other print. I selected a few books from Cooper’s vast collection, and intentionally chose colors that would compliment her room.

Before this room became Kennedy’s room it was our guest room. When it came time to convert it I opted not to paint the walls, the colors were already exactly what I wanted. The pattern on the wall was painted on using a patterned paint roller. You can read details about that process here. 

The hanging terrariums also came from World Market. Nick found a birds nest around this time and it was another perfect and personal addition.

On the opposite wall from the crib is my art armoire. The dark wood doesn’t exactly fit with the decor and the scratched up finish is less than ideal. However, this is a necessary piece of furniture in our house, it holds all of my art supplies (not including the shelf in the top of Kennedy’s closet that is home to all of my artwork). I spent so much time brainstorming spots for this piece, but nothing worked in our small house. I’m hesitant to give it up for something more trendy or in line with the decor in her room because it does have sentimental value. This was purchased by my parents shortly after getting married at a garage sale. It was already loved and old when they purchased it, now twenty to thirty years later it lives with me. It would cost more to refurbish it than it’s worth, but it’s worth a lot to me in memories. It’s on my mental checklist to either take on a DIY refurbish or bite the bullet and pay someone to do it. I’m sure I will post about it here when I finally find time to do it.

Sleeping baby

Now almost six months later, sweet Kennedy is sleeping soundly in her crib every night. I love sitting in her bright, warm room rocking her in Cooper’s glider and thinking about all the great things she will do in life. While a nursery isn’t necessary, a baby will sleep just as well in a crib in the corner of your room than in their own room, it is nice to have a space that she can call her own and that I can escape to for some baby snuggles while Cooper is being a tornado in the rest of the house.

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6 Yearbook To Dos Before You Leave for Summer

It’s finally May. The end of the year is in sight, students are buzzing about finals, you are wrapping up assignments. You think it’s time to relax and wind down, but I hate to break it to you, if you are a yearbook adviser you should be planning your next year’s book starting now.

Shocking, I know. Whether you are a seasoned yearbook adviser or taking it on for the first time, try to complete the following items before you (and your students) leave for summer.

To Do #1:The most important key to creating a successful yearbook is strong student leadership. You need to select responsible, organized, and hardworking students to be a part of your editorial staff. This is more difficult if you are about to start your first year as an adviser and do not know your yearbook staff well, but hopefully the previous adviser can help guide you in this. Over the years I have found that co-editor-in-chiefs are more successful than a single editor-in-chief. Often, one will be slightly more organized than the other, one may excel in visuals, while the other is more focused on writing. They help share the burden and guide their peers in this process. At the very minimum, select and notify your students of who will be editor-in-chief. If you are able, assign other editorial staff positions such as: photography editor, sports editor, fine arts editor, senior section editor, editor-at-large, etc. For my yearbook staff these positions change every year. Each student is blessed with different gifts, select roles that play to their talents. Typically the editorial staff is composed of returning staff members. Often, new editor roles are added as new yearbook students learn the ropes and their talents become more apparent.

To Do #2: Check in with your yearbook representatives and see if they host a summer workshop. My editorial staff and I attend ours every year. We often have a few new members join as well, which is often a sign of future leadership potential. At the workshop we solidify our theme, fonts, colors, and design our cover. This helps us start the year ahead and with a solid plan. You want to plan this before the students leave so you can go ahead and collect money for registration and add it to their family’s calendar.

To Do #3: Plan lunch with your incoming staff members. Yearbook is all about teamwork. Together you are creating the yearbook. Together you are responsible for equally covering every student, activity, athletic, and event. You want to act a like a team from day 1. By getting to know new staff members before day 1 you are creating a precedent for the class. Show them you want to get to know them, you care about them, and you are excited to work with them. They will be more willing to work hard and get the work done if they appreciate the team effort aspect. TIP: Bring in pizza or some type of outside food to make it even more special. Reach out to your future editorial staff parents to see if someone will volunteer to buy and deliver the food for you. 

To Do #4: Start planning next year’s book with your editor-in-chiefs. Try to develop the basics of your book before you leave for summer. Even if you plan to attend a summer workshop it helps to go in with a plan. Start big: consider what adjectives you want to describe your book. Zoom in: what themes fit in with those adjectives? Focus on details: what colors fit the theme and adjectives? What fonts visually tie into everything? I use these worksheets to help my students start this process.

To Do #5: For high school yearbook advisers go ahead and start thinking about the senior section. Assign your senior section editor and give them the responsibility of collecting information from parents over the summer. My co-advisor and I sit down with our senior section editor, create a Google Doc to add information and a Dropbox for parents to add information to. We type up an e-mail with all the instructions, what we need, and links to locations for the parents to add to. We request that senior quotes, baby pictures, senior pictures, and parent notes are all submitted by the start of the school year. Our senior section editor sends the e-mail out from their e-mail address and handles this over the summer (with assistance from us as needed).

To Do #6: If you have already assigned your co-editor-in chiefs or editor-in-chief send them home with the ladder and a pencil to start working on over the summer. Pencil is important because changes always come up. At least once in the planning process the ladder will be completely erased and started over. It’s just part of the book layout job. This process is much smoother if your editors already have an idea in place for how they want the book laid out.

If you are able to get the ball rolling on these 6 items in May, the start of the year will be so much easier. As a yearbook adviser your job is to help oversee the creation of the book. Oversee is the keyword there. You are training your students to be self sufficient, oversee their peers, delegate responsibility, and take ownership for a project that is about their entire school. If you get your students ready before the school year starts, they will be ready to take leadership from day one. My editors always start class the first day of school. I want my staff to know to go to their editors first, the teachers second.

I was a yearbooker for two years in high school and assigned the role of co-yearbook adviser my 5th year of teaching. I am now wrapping up my 5th year as an adviser, and I have loved every year of taking on this massive project. Being responsible for the yearbook is a huge undertaking. This is something students will cherish for years to come. They will pull it out twenty years from now to show their children their embarrassing high school mug shots. They will laugh, reminisce, and absorb the content of each page. It is a wonderful feeling knowing you were a part of that.

  • If you found these tips helpful check out my FREE yearlong yearbook timeline. It breaks down what needs to be accomplished when from May the year before to the following May.
  • Want to check out ALL the resources I use during my yearbook school year? Check out my yearbook bundle pack here. You won’t have to worry about anything but making your yearbook and meeting your deadlines.
  • I think visual journals are a great way to inspire yearbook pages or as a project to layout pages. Check out my visual journal pages here. 

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Visual Journal Page 32: Panetta Makes Me Think of Butter?

A visual journal page made using colored pencils.

Before I was a Panetta I was a Ward. For 23 years I had a simple, four letter, easy to pronounce last name. There was never any confusion or stuttering over letters. I never realized the benefits of a simple name until I got married and became a Panetta. While I do sometimes have fun with the “Are you related to Leon Panetta?” question, dealing with mispronunciations have already gotten old. I’m no longer Whitney Ward I am Whitney P-A-N-E-T-T-A, Panetta. You have to spell it out. Every time.

Over the past nine years of my teaching career my students have come up with many creative nicknames for me. They always stay pretty close to the original: Mrs. Pinata, Panera, Picasso. I’ve also had shortened versions, Mrs. P, Mrs. P-Net. My students get the Italian heritage. I once had a student decorate my white board with a drawing of spaghetti and baguettes because, according to her, Panetta made her think of spaghetti and baguettes (check out that visual journal page here).

All of those nicknames and thought processes made sense to me. But one day a student told me my last name reminded them of butter. Panetta, butter, Panetta, butter, I just don’t see the connection. And since I couldn’t figure out the logic behind it, I dealt with this new interpretation of my name the best way I know how. I made a visual journal page about it.

Panetta reminds me of butter?

SUPPLIES:

  • Visual journal
  • Colored pencils
  • Pencil
  • White paper
  • Book pages
  • Glue
  • Scissors

HOW TO

To create this visual journal page, I decided to keep it simple. I opted to use colored pencil and book pages to create a simple collage that got to the point.

First, I used colored pencils to create lines in the background.

Next, I sketched out butter on a butter dish and a knife on a separate sheet of paper.

I filled the sketch in with colored pencil, slowly building up the colors in thin layers. With each new layer I tried to vary the color and add shadows and highlights to create depth. As I built up the color in the butter, I used darker shades of yellow to create text in the butter: “Panetta reminds me of butter?” While the text blends very well into the shape of the butter, it is difficult to read. Looking back, I would’ve cleaned up the text to make it more legible. Check out a lesson that goes in depth on using colored pencils here. 

Once the colored pencil drawing was complete, I cut it out, and glued the two pieces on top of old book pages. I cut the drawings back out, leaving an edge of book pages around both drawings.

I glued the butter dish down first, then overlapped the knife to complete the page.

TIP: use a credit card to push paper into the crease of your visual journal book.

CHALLENGE

Create a visual journal page about your last name.

Thanks for taking to the time and checking out my blog. Help spread the word about visual journaling by sharing it with others. Are you interested in teaching visual journals in your classroom? Check out my visual journal bundle here and my how to worksheets here. Thanks for stopping by!

 

A visual journal made with colored pencils and book pages.

 

Visual Journal Page 31: Atlanta Adventures

A visual journal page about a lifelong friendship and a trip to the aquarium. Visual journal tips, techniques, and challenges are included.

So far, my best friends have been made in high school and in college. These are the people I know will be in my lives forever, the ones my kids will refer to as aunts and uncles. The difficult part of developing these deep friendships during this time, is its a pre-root time period. My friends scattered across the US for college, and even more after college. As we all graduated from college some stayed and some left. As we moved onto our adult jobs and adult relationships, adult roots also began to take hold.

Nick and I ended up settling near the areas we grew up. Luckily, some of our good friends decided to do the same, but some others opted for new scenery, 3,000 miles away.

One of our dearest friends is a friend we each met separately before Nick and I began dating. I knew Jared in high school. Although our friendship didn’t develop until our senior year, we quickly began hanging out in the same group of friends and got to know each other better. Jared was my senior prom date and we ended up attending the same college. I always felt comfortable with him and could talk to him easily. I was excited to have such a dear friend be a part of the next journey in our lives.

Nick lived on the same hall as Jared freshman year. The tiny UGA dorm rooms forces students to spend more time hanging out in the hallways and spilling into hall-mates rooms. Jared and Nick hung out more and more as the year continued on, they kept in touch sophomore year after moving into apartments, and ended up living with each other the last few years of college.

Nick and I began dating our sophomore year of college after meeting at a party at Jared’s apartment. With Jared being such a huge part of both of our lives, it was inevitable that the three of us would spend a lot of time together. When I think back to college I always think of Nick, Jared, and Elly (my other dear friend who also moved to LA. You can read about the visual journal page I used to process my feelings about that move here). It wouldn’t have been college without them.

After college Jared and his girlfriend, Ashley, moved to LA (very much against the will of Nick and I). We were both sad to see them go, but excited for their new adventure, on what felt like another planet.

Every year, at the very least, Jared comes home for Christmas. This particular year, we decided to meet up and do some stereotypical Atlanta tourist things: visit the World of Coke, the Atlanta Aquarium, and eat at a downtown restaurant. The three of us spent the day together gallivanting the city, and it felt like not a single day had passed since we graduated college. That was when I knew no matter the distance or length of time between catching up, we would always be friends.

Jared and Ashley are now the godparents of our first born, little man Cooper. Now they are forced to be a part of our lives forever (a very selfish, calculated decision on Nick and my part). The best friends are the ones that feel like they never left when they move far away and come back and visit.

SUPPLIES

  • Visual journal
  • White paper
  • Acrylic paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Water
  • Shallow cup
  • Straw
  • Dawn soap
  • Scissors
  • Sharpie
  • Glue

HOW TO

One of my favorite parts of that day was looking at the jellyfish at the aquarium. I decided I would focus on that as the visual for the page. I recently began playing with bubble paint prints, was slightly obsessed (check out my visual journal worksheet on making bubble paint prints here),  and this would provide another way for me to use them.

I wanted to paint the background blue and green, so I ripped two pages out of my visual journal, painted them, then set them aside to dry. By ripping the pages out and gluing them back in, it prevents the paint from bleeding through the paper onto other pages.

While the background was drying, I working on painting the jellyfish. I looked up a few pictures to reference, then loosely painted them. I kept the colors warm, to contrast the cool background. Once they dried, I cut them out.

Once the background dried, I added the white bubble paint prints on top. To do that I took a shallow dish, added white acrylic paint, water, and dawn soap. I mixed it together, then used a straw to blow bubbles. Once the bubbles were just over the rim of the dish, I lightly placed the background paper on top, causing the bubbles to either stick to the paper or pop on the paper. I popped any bubbles that stuck to the paper after lifting it. The white coloring in the bubbles created a print of the bubble shape on the paper.

After the bubble paint prints dried, I glued the pages back into my visual journal. I simply glued them on top of the next two pages of my book. Next, I glued the cut out jellyfish paintings down. Last, but not least, I added the words using sharpie.

CHALLENGE

Create a visual journal page about an important person in your life.

Thanks for taking the time to check out my blog and read today’s post! Help me spread the word about visual journals by sharing this post with others. If you are interested in teaching visual journals to your art students, check out my visual journal handouts here and yearlong lesson plan pack here.  Would you like more visual journal how tos delivered straight to your inbox? Become a subscriber: fill out your e-mail address in the form at the bottom of the page. Thanks for stopping by!

A visual journal page about a lifelong friendship and a trip to the aquarium. Visual journal tips, techniques, and challenges are included.