This was a boiling point for me. The first few weeks of school were behind me, but the stress of the year had been piling up.
It was my second year at my school, my second year as an art teacher, and the first year I felt I was fully on my own. My first year teaching I relied very heavily on my fellow art teacher, Rebecca. I would hustle to her room, quickly discuss a lesson plan, grab a copy of one of her powerpoints, and scramble back up to my room, trying to beat my kids to class, trying to keep my head above water. At the end of the year Rebecca was offered an amazing opportunity at a private school, near her home, where she would practically have an endless budget, smaller classes, and a dream classroom. I didn’t blame her for leaving. But, I was still sad to see her go, and the fear of being on my own began to slide under my skin and into my stomach.
I wasn’t truly alone. Much to my surprise they hired another art teacher to take Rebecca’s spot. I was able to help handpick her replacement, and I couldn’t have asked for a better co-worker. However, Rebecca still left a gaping chasm I felt I needed to fill. Everyone loved her. Every student who took her class was instantly her biggest fan. They ate lunch with her, got style tips from her, and sought advice from her. My first year was humbling because some students in my class told me they were sad because they wanted her class. I felt a lot of pressure to fill her shoes.
I let that pressure go to my head my second year. I set one too many goals. I wanted an art club, with active members, who met weekly, and I wanted to actually do projects. I wanted art club t-shirts, I wanted community outreach, I wanted to do everything Rebecca and I didn’t do the year before to prove I could do it on my own. I planned an Empty Bowls dinner, multiple collaborative projects, and an art show. I wanted to do it all, and poor Morgan, in her first year teaching, was drug along the way.
All this planning, goal reaching, and pushing is amazing in theory. But as I have learned, theory goes straight out the window in real life. In real life people spend years building up to what I wanted to achieve, as a second year teacher, trying to run an art program. All of this piled up and weighed down, bringing me to this moment… to this visual journal page
We had established an art club. We met every week, we did some projects, painted a mural, and planned another one. I was on my way to checking off art club on my very long to do list, but first we needed t-shirts. T-shirts would make the club official, because you aren’t in a real club if you don’t have t-shirts. Going along with my theme for the year, overexerting, I decided we needed to do tie dye. We only had 30+ students in art club, I figured tie dye would be a piece of cake. I spent hours after school planning, purchasing supplies, and prepping for the day. The kids were excited, they were ready to create their bright, multicolored, crazy designs.
It was a HUGE mess, but we survived. Tie dye went everywhere, but every kid had a complete shirt, soaking in a bag, waiting in anticipation to see the final product. I have to admit I was pleased with myself. We were about to have shirts, our club was about to be official, I had done what we never accomplished last year. Adding to my to do list, I piled every shirt into the back of my Mini Cooper, and headed home to do one too many loads of laundry. I was already tired and a little stressed, which equals slight irritability. Nick was staying out of my way, quietly watching TV on the coach, doing his best to allow me to be crazy and not make it worse. He thought he was in the clear, but he was wrong.
I pulled the first load of shirts out of my washer, as if it was Christmas morning. I yanked out damp pile after damp pile, eyes glittering, excitement filling my chest. I slowly smoothed out the first shirt, and allowed myself a moment of patting myself on the back for doing such a cool project. I felt like someone jammed a spout into my side, turned the knob on full blast, and let my excitement, happiness, and energy drain out. Next thing Nick knows I am storming into the living room, carrying a pile of wet, dripping, gray, yes gray, tie dye in my arms. I just stood there and looked at him. The spout must have also drained my maturity because my bottom lip began to tremble and the tears unabashedly began to pour.
I ruined every single shirt. After all of the prep, money, and hype. After talking up my tie dye ability, having students bring in their own shirts to dye, and ensuring the students they would have their own version of Grateful Dead tie dye, I had ruined them. Gray. They were all gray. The beautiful pinks, greens, yellows. All gone. Nick tried his best to sooth me, convince me they were fine, suggest ideas to turn it around. Without a word I abandoned the pile of wet, gray, grabbed my phone, and went outside to call Morgan with the news. Our art club shirts sucked.
After a long talk and some reconstructed plans, we decided to have the students redye their shirts to see if they would come out brighter. Some students actually took their shirts as is, and still wore them proudly. Others opted for more dye, which improved the look, but still wasn’t perfect. Other students took their shirt with a shrug, and I never saw the shirt in the light of day again. There was nothing I could do but move forward. I had other items to check off on my to do list, and enough of my energy had already been spent on this failure. I made it through the remainder of the year, and I even got through most of the things I wanted to accomplish, while the rest slowly fell through the cracks. I don’t regret over planning, but I do regret allowing it to consume my energy, preventing me from enjoying life outside of work as much as I could have. In your job, and life in general, you must strike a balance. I’m still working on finding my perfect balance, but until I do at least I know there is no use in crying over faded tie dye…
- Visual journal
- Rubber cement
- White paper
- Book pages
- Watercolor pencils
- Paint brush
- India ink
This visual journal page was a work in progress for awhile, which is not typical of me. I am a start, finish, and don’t look back type of worker. But this page was an exception. I wanted to remember this moment, as a reminder not to take on too much at once, but I don’t think my heart was fully in it at the time. I think the sting was still to fresh to let it go, and it sat incomplete for awhile.
I started my giving my page a tie dye feel. Recently a set of Prisma watercolors ended up abandoned in my room. After holding onto them for awhile, I finally broke down and used them. Watercolor pencils are a great tool to use to get a mix between sharp lines and soft areas. I took the pencils, and colored the spiral pattern first. I alternated between blue, green, and yellow trying to achieve the tie dye look. Once I had a layer of pencil down, I dipped a paintbrush in water and went back over it. As the pencil lines became wet, they began to spread and blend together just like watercolors. I alternated between pencil and water until I reached the brightness I wanted. When using watercolor pencils I have also wet the paper first, then drew on top.
Once the page dried, I added the words going along the spiral. I stepped back, took a look, and didn’t like it. I thought for a moment, and added dots going from the last word and continuing along the spiral until they covered the entire page. I don’t know why I thought dots would magically make this page better, but it didn’t work. I shrugged my shoulders, didn’t care, and moved on. I knew it wasn’t a good page, but at that point in time I didn’t have it in me to dwell on the “tie dye incident” anymore. After continuing to work on my book, and slowly putting distance between the incident and me, I decided to return. I couldn’t leave the page looking so plain and awful, it plagued me every time I looked at it. After brainstorming I decided to include my washer and dryer, the accomplices in the incident.
I quickly sketched the shape of my washer and dryer, and filled it in with ripped up book pages. I used rubber cement to glue the pieces down. I then used India ink and a small paintbrush to outline the doors, and watered it down to create a gray hue to paint the inside of the door. I stepped back, and evaluated it. Still too plain. I returned to the India ink, put a blob here and a blob there, and blew it until it splattered. It slowly began to come together. I placed the washer and dryer on the page and decided it needed a floor to sit on. I used my India ink and paintbrush again, and created a wood floor. I drew the horizontal lines first, to divided the floor boards, and then went in with the wood grain (to read about how to imitate wood grain click here). Once I was satisfied, I glued the washer and dryer down.
It still didn’t look done, and I decided to add the doors of my laundry closet. I cut strips of white paper, slightly spaced them out, and glued them down. It was very simple, borderline abstract, but in contrast to the more complex washer, dryer, and floor, it worked. One last time I stepped back, evaluated my work, and nodded my head. It was finally done, I was satisfied, I could finally move on with my life.
Go to the art store and treat yourself to a small set of watercolor pencils. Play around with them, try drawing first, then adding water. Try painting a page with water, and color on top. Include watercolor pencils and pieces of your experimental paper in your next visual journal page.
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