Recycled Art Education

Vertical angle of Rain Rug

As you can see, there is progress on the Rain Rug. In the last two weeks, my luck has held out and the various thrift stores have had a variety of sheets in good colors to add to my paintbox. Greens, purple, pink. Maybe we can have a sheet tearing party one of these days in the backyard!

Another, very important event, that will raise money for Art Education outreach in Ypsi, Ann Arbor, and Westland, is a “Studio Workshop” series on creative re-use at FLY Art Center in downtown Ypsi (see the map below!) on July 6 and July 13 at 2:00 pm.  There are other classes and open studio opportunities as well.  It’s a fun thing to do on a summer Saturday, so come on down!

Latest up cycled t-shirt back Tetrahedron floppy rag bag prototype.

The first workshop will feature instructions about how to re-mix a tee-shirt from baggy dad-shirt into fashionable fitted cuteness. It will give students (adults are welcome too!) an opportunity to learn the basics of crochet, and then to work up to the second workshop which will show how to make a small rag-rug project, most likely a coaster or a placemat, but advanced students might try a bag or basket.

I’ve been volunteering with FLY for a little while now, (only 2 events, but who’s counting!) and really enjoy their mission. They go into schools mostly armed with every-day objects and help kids harness their creativity by letting them loose with a theme or problem to solve at the “art buffet” with their cafeteria trays to select their supplies. The students are free to follow the direction or make something new, and always with the support of FLY staff and volunteers.

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073:365 Winter Aconite

073:365 Winter Aconite

Yesterday, I enjoyed playing with color in the footsteps; creating an expressive if imperfect rendition of my morning’s walk. Today, the weather is much nicer, but the drawing carries on that theme of painterly emotional color.

And it's Spring again! Gotta love Michigan!

When I was in second grade, we had a drawing assignment to make a pattern on 1″ square grid paper, and my art teacher chose mine to put into the school art show at the public library. My grandma and her friend came down from the big city and hob-nobbed with all the doting parents, grandparents, teachers, and librarians while nibbling bits of cheese and drinking the complimentary grape juice.

It was a formative experience that allowed us students to feel like we mattered in the adult world as creators. A way of participation by suspension of disbelief in the cultural world of grown-ups. The teachers tried to pick everyone’s drawings at different times for the various shows throughout the year so that most if not all the students got to have this cultural moment with their families, so this wasn’t the only time my grandma drove down from Detroit, but it was the first.

When I was in fifth grade, there was a period that I was obsessed with Van Gogh’s Impressionist-Expressionist paintings, and I tried to reproduce them in oil pastel. My mother still has the “Starry Night” that I drew. It doesn’t look anything like Van Gogh, but it was a relatively sophisticated drawing for my age.

The year of Van Gogh, the art teacher was presenting a unit about symmetry. She wanted us to use radial symmetry, branching systems, and reflections in our art works. But from Van Gogh, I’d gone on to admiring Matisse’s and Gaughin’s floral and fauvist drawings of flowers. So I did the assignments as quickly as I could, and went back to drawing Brazilian jungle flowers, and sunflowers; tulips and roses.

That year, maybe because we were in fifth grade, and both fifth and sixth grades were graduating to middle school, she picked less drawings from our class to go to the year-end exhibit, now no longer at the library, but instead at a beautiful gallery in one of the university’s buildings. And maybe because I didn’t listen to her and spent time on my flowers instead of on the symmetry drawings, she didn’t choose the beautiful purple flower that I had perfected and presented as my submission.

Instead, she told me that she could sneak it in as a background drawing with no label, but only if I changed my idea and did something more experimental.

She took my beautiful purple flower, the best version of it, and cut it into pieces. Then she took the second best and third best and cut one of them into pieces too. She told me to glue them down, the whole one, and the two cut-up ones, so that they looked like they were falling into place from disintegrated beauty at the top to the whole drawing at the bottom.

She didn’t ask before she cut them.

It was a cool idea, and I think her experiment is one of the contributing factors that has made me want to try new things and push boundaries in my artwork. I’m not afraid to destroy things; to fold paper; to rip up cloth.

But at the time, I was so hurt and angry that I only grudgingly attempted to finish the drawing by coloring in between the lines on the mat-board we glued it to with ombre’d colored pencil.

Maybe it was the texture of the oil pastel, or the way that the layers took long enough to get right that it felt over-worked until I added more, whatever the reason, when I finished this drawing today, it reminded me of that one from long ago that can never be reconstituted, and I felt a wave of nostalgia, maybe even sadness.

You the viewer won’t feel those things, they aren’t in the drawing, but in my association with layers of oil pastel. Those emotions, the ones that inspired me to make this drawing aren’t linked in your memories to bright drawings of flowers. You will see something different.

Art is like that: though we artists try to control the message, sometimes the baggage doesn’t carry over to the viewer, or vice versa resonates more with the viewer than with the creator.

What do you see in this Winter Aconite?

058:365 Learning to See

058:365 Learning to See

Today was so busy that although I could have made time for another drawing, this one makes me happy so I’ll share it with you.  Also, when I went to the art store today, these recycled toned papers from Strathmore were on sale, and I’d been drooling over them, so it seems perfect to share!

2013-02-27 21.32.04

An example drawing from today’s private lesson. We read the book and the kids had to teach me to draw the main character. They looked at shapes, body parts, and colors, and I asked them to describe it to me while they drew it. Although my drawing is simplified, but close to the original, theirs were much more expressive and less exact. So beautiful and charming. As students progress with Drawing and ESL, I ask them different kinds of questions to increase their visual ability and speaking aptitude.

This book, Clink, by Kelly DiPucchio and Matthew Myers, is about an old robot who feels like he isn’t as good as the bright shiny new robots who can do anything. It uses onomatopoeia to communicate the noises that he makes, and the drawings are great. Clear expressive forms that are easy to understand and identify with for students of a variety of ages. The reading level is a little too high for students who are only beginning to learn English, but the onomatopoeic sounds and bright pictures help them follow the story using other means. The story line is simple enough to break into smaller words as you explain, and the pictures give the right amount of subtext to allow children who don’t know every word to be drawn into the story.

Although I used to discount my example drawings, looking back over some of the ones I did while teaching in Madrid, there are a few gems that I’m proud to call my own. This one is a nice schematic, but some of those are really expressive.

023:365 Splashing

Splashing 023:365

Today I wanted to play with some of the waves structures I use in oil pastel in a more linear way. The transparency of the marker plays differently than the translucency and opacity of the oil pastel, and the result is interesting.

Years ago, I showed a doodle in progress to another artist friend. She asked me what my drawing was about, and I told her it was just a doodle. She said, “But what are you doing in it? You must have a rule or an order in mind when you did it.”

She was right, of course. That drawing was an interlocking blob from a single line kind of drawing. Since then I think about those rules and orders more explicitly. As I was saying yesterday, making work that is process oriented is inspired in part by my passion for textiles and fiber arts, but it is also a matter of curiosity about how the world works.

Thinking about how things go together and come apart helps me to make better decisions, and to understand relationships between more complex things, like politics and money. Doodling may seem like a simplistic task, putting colors or forms down on paper with no purpose. But it serves the purpose of solidifying mental images and aids in processing ideas.

Teachers often use idea maps, drawings that are diagrammatic versions of ideas, timelines, philosophy, and thoughts. In school, I used to draw doodles during class mixed in with my notes, but I was fortunate enough to have teachers who understood that it helped me remember things.

Even to this day, drawing helps me clear my head. It is a form of meditation.


Drawing can teach about the world around you.  Although I can take a picture of Sydney with a camera, and although I learn something about her from it, taking a pastel and sketching her proportions and colors onto a page tells me something else.

One of my art teachers in elementary school insisted that we had to learn to “See” in order to draw better.  And through both persistence and chance, I was able to draw things with relative realism for a child my age.  But it wasn’t until later that I learned to see as my teacher wanted me to.

It was by trying to create a regular pattern and realizing how forms occupied space on the paper as I tried to duplicate the same motifs at differing angles and rotations that I began to be able to “See.”

These exercises taught me a lesson which wasn’t the lesson that I set out to learn, namely to find an application for my artistic aspirations.  In theory I was to have used them to create cool t-shirts or something, and (at that time) t-shirts with symmetrical motifs never materialized.  But by playing so much with patterns I learned to see the objects I was drawing for themselves, for their shapes, and for the space around them in a way that I hadn’t before.

“Seeing” is a strange state to be in.  It allows one to slip above the usual way that we look at the world and see things both literally and figuratively from other angles.

These experiences have shaped much of my life in non-picture-plane ways too.  They have helped me look at the world more critically; to question things that seem a little bit off; and to try to find better solutions to the problems I see for myself and others in the world.

“Seeing” is a skill I would like to share with others, and that desire to share it was what drew me to seek the first Teaching Fellowship in Madrid.

Sometimes the answer is all in how you look at the question.