Thursday, October 31, 2013

More Optical Illusion Portraits!

Here are more examples of kid created optical illusion portraits including a few from Halloween with their costumed creators!
Look for werewolf, cheshire cat, and other creepy characters.


For step-by-step instructions for getting started with making the eye illusion, read on to the blog post below.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Optical Illusion Portraits

Ever wondered how those portraits in scary movies seem to follow you with their eyes?  Here are simple instructions to create your own portrait with eyes that follow wherever you go...
Have an adult help you cut two oval holes in a paper plate.  

 Cut off the handle of a white plastic spoon and draw an eye with permanent marker in the spoon.

 Tape the spoons to the back of the plate so the eyes show through the holes.
 Turn over to see the eyes peering through your plate.
 Decorate your plate with a unique character drawing.
Notice how the eyes seem to follow you as you look at your portrait from different sides.

Have fun - we'd love to see your faces!  Email pictures to

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Remixing Ideas on Making, Project Based Learning

This is a remix we began in the studio the first week of the course.  I posted the ideas from Mitch Resnick's article in the studio and invited young artists as well as adult visitors to put a dot next to ideas they like and add additional ideas on a blank piece of paper.  Below is an image of our wall so far...

Here are the original ideas... 
Start simple
Work on things that you like 
If you have no clue what to do, fiddle around 
Don't be afraid to experiment 
Find a friend to work with, share ideas! 
It’s OK to copy stuff (to give you an idea) 
Keep your ideas in a sketch book 
Build, take apart, rebuild 
Lots of things can go wrong, stick with it
(Resnick, M, 2007)

And here are our new suggestions...

(You may notice some redundant themes but with different wording - another good example of remixing!)

Just change their idea if you copy
Put things together and see what they make
Turn a mistake into a piece of art
Keep working 
Don't give up
Let go
Remember that if you sew it will shrink if you turn it inside out
Always do your best, no matter what happens
Use your creativity and your brain
If you mess up make it better
A mess up can become a masterpiece
Experiment like me!
Use as many different ideas as you can
Don't complain if there is a mistake
Be confident
Don't do the same thing all the time (written in two colors for emphasis)
Start small
Be art smart

One of my favorite things that happened with this list was one day when a child asked if she could put a dot next to one of the hand-written ideas.  Of course!  But no one had done this - the question and then this new opportunity brought a flurry of activity back to the wall and others in other classes noticed and added more dots too over the course of the week.

Learning Creative Learning - Week 6 - Social Creativity

The Learning Creative Learning community has been a great example of social learning.  This week the discussion began by looking at the goal of free on-line courses.  Often the goal is just to deliver information to a larger number of people.  However, with LCL the goal is more importantly to bring together a community of people around ideas.
A key way artists, designers and creative thinkers learn in community is through remixing.  Artists are continually inspired by and referencing and combining the work of other artists, both contemporaries and figure from art history.  Remixing is a way to get to know a work or style, to play with it and make it part of one's own work.
Remixing is also a great form of scaffolding for those getting started.  It also leads to building relationships with other makers, to greater connections and collaborations.
Gerhard Fischer and Andres Monroy-Hernandez discussed ways that learning environments can be designed to promote remixing.  In the scratch on-line programming community specific features of the site encourage remixing and make sure credit is given to projects that are used as sources for remixes.  In the studio at Art at the Center we frequently hear the phrase, "I was inspired by..." during our sharing time.  Parents smile at me knowingly; they understand that this is a culture we work to build and celebrate.  Children are encouraged to get ideas from other artists, to give credit, to work together and to remix, to take something and make it their own.
Gerhard Fisher also spoke about how to bridge differences in communities; spacial, temporal and conceptual differences.  On-line technologies help bridge spacial differences as do artistic reproductions.  We have beautiful art books and prints so we can be inspired by other artists without being limited by the availability of the original work.  In the art studio, the space is a unifying force and often helps bridge differences in time.  In one case, a four year old artist and a ten year old artist carried on a visual conversation through paintings although they attended classes on different days each week and never actually met in the studio.  The conversation began when the older artist noticed her younger friends' mixed colors on display and liked their names.  She set about creating beach-themed colors of her own and a series of beach images left each week for the other to see began.  Conceptually, communities bridge differences in backgrounds, age and skill levels when artists have the opportunity to share process and point of view while creating and in sharing their work over time.  Sharing process, challenges, and successes as fellow artists is a great way to build empathy and interest in others.
Environmental and program design can do a great deal to encourage and support program learning.  An idea that really struck me was that of courses as seeds.  How can we design experiences that become starting points for others?  Environments that encourage and even require participant contribution to grow the seed and even to then create seeds of their own for others?
Simple beginning remixes can lead to bigger and deeper connections and relationships, from simple participation to more complex meta-design thinking about how to remix and redesign for new beginnings.  Educators work to support layers of participation within learning communities.  I liked the idea of thinking of it as a social infrastructure around remixing and collaboration.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Learning Creative Learning - Week 5 - OPEN LEARNING

Open Source typically refers to software development and programming language that is open, free and available for multiple users to work with, store, copy and improve.   Wikipedia is a popular example of an open source software.
How can open source apply in other areas of learning?  Blogging was offered as one example - the ability to create a blog allows learners autonomy and agency as well as the ability to connect with a network of practitioners in different settings.  Blogs by students at Art at the Center have been a great tool for reflection on learning stories, sharing experiences in the studio and developing habits of observation and personal voice.  It is a way to celebrate the creativity we see and set an example for others of the sort of relationships and experiences possible in the studio.
Below are links to Art at the Center student blogs:
Art at the Center
Making Art with Children
Art at the Center Internship
Dara's View

Many of the values of open source learning are particularly relevant in the art studio as well.
One is the idea that sharing is good and that technology should be under the control of the users.  This is very relevant to a studio practice of teaching skills as they serve student ideas rather than as prescribed assignments.  Learning to make a pinch pot is that much more relevant when it serves a student's idea to use the form to create the shell of a turtle sculpture.  Clay hand-building techniques are a very basic technology; different ones resonate with different sculptors.  Having menus and guides available to support user ideas is key to development of skills on the way to creating personally meaningful work.  So often the sharing of technical skill comes from peers rather than from the instructor.  Again, this is a great example of how the skills and process are owned by the children using them.
Agency is a key word in open source because learners choose how to participate in the setting.
Finally, I think the way that open source resonates most for me is the idea that things should be transparent - we should be able to crack them open and see how they work.  This is key to what I value in the studio.  It should be a place to de-mystify the artistic process and materials.  As much as possible we choose everyday materials over fancy art supplies.  We find ice cube trays work better than artist palettes for young painters mixing color.  At the same time we are modeling for the young artist and his/her parent that what is important is the place to explore color - it is not about fancy tools.
Art is open-source.  Artists love to share techniques and ideas with other artists.  The studio should be a space to help introduce newcomers and beginners to this language of sharing so they have that many more places to look for inspiration and ideas.
Learning Creative Learning - Week 4 - BIG IDEAS

This week felt more conceptual and less hands-on than the focus on Maker culture last week.  What I most enjoyed was the ways of thinking about how to design environments and tasks that lead to engagement with powerful ideas.
One idea that really resonated with my work was that of building micro-worlds.  In the course of building things powerful ideas emerge.  I felt like we saw this with our work with electronic environments.  Creating circuits in the context of environments and stories led to thinking about things more systemically and seeing connections between technology, design, tinkering, inventing and de-bugging our creations.  I noticed some students were more confident with building environments while others were more focused initially on getting the lights and motors to work.  Either way they came to a place where a balance had to be reached between a reasonable circuit that could work reliably on a small scale and a representative environment.  Story became a strong component in many creations as well.
See videos of some or our electronic micro-worlds below:

The other BIG IDEA that really resonated for me was the one of having learners participate in both the form and the content of learning.  The example given was from that a child hunting a squirrel is copying both the form and content of his father hunting an antelope.  A girl in a nurses uniform holding a stethescope is mimicing the form of nursing but not the content.  She looks the part but is not participating in caring, the content.
This really resonated for me with art education and highlights why student choice is key.  A student in a classroom painting with a style and topic prescribed by the teacher may have the tools and look the part of an artist but it is not authentic participation in the content of the role.  A student needs to engage in idea formation, choice of subject, material and expression in order to participate in both the form and content of art-making in a studio.  This is why TAB Choice classrooms are so rich - they offer children the opportunity to practice both the form and content of the role of an artist in a studio.
Read more about TAB Choice here:
Teaching for Artistic Behavior - Choice-based Art Education focuses on helping children develop the habits of artists in their authentic engagement with materials, techniques and ideas.  Part of this is the challenge of sometimes getting stuck.  Through making things students explore ways to get unstuck in different situations.  Powerful ideas emerge from deeper thinking about one's artistic process.
This also led to rich discussion of learning communities and the interchangable roles of teacher and learner.  One can learn a great deal through teaching and you develop a relationship by learning from another so that in rich learning communities the learning experience is much deeper than just the topic taught.  The amount I learn from students is one of my favorite things about my work in the studio.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Week Three: Constructionism and Making

This was my favorite week of the course so far.  I LOVE the Maker Movement and everything it stands for.  It was wonderful to hear ideas from the source from Dale Doherty, founder of MAKE magazine and from Leah Buechley whose Hi-Low Tech group explores fascinating ways to connect technology and traditional craft practices.
In his article, The Maker Mindset, Dale Doherty writes:
All together, makers are seeking an alternative to being regarded as consumers, rejecting the idea that you are defined by what you buy.  Instead, makers have a sense of what they can do and what they can learn to do.  Like artists, they are motivated by internal goals, not extrinsic rewards.  They are inspired by the work of others.  Most importantly, they do not wait until the future to create and make.  They feel an urgency to do something now - or lose the opportunity to do it at all.
This idea of making as an alternative to consuming is rich.  I see this all the time, particularly in 3D work in the studio.  Young artists make play sets, props for a school event, a new toy dog to replace a doll's lost companion, instruments, gifts, magazines, the list goes on.
The urgency of making and the excitement around ideas and making connections resonates with our studio practice as well.

Week Two: Interest Based Learning

The guests for week two were Joi and Mimi Ito discussing Interest Based Learning.  The idea behind interest based learning is to build more pathways to learning through engaging learner's interests; these can be interests in subjects and materials as well as social interests in making connections and building relationships.
The discussion focused on the importance of forming a connection with the materials you are working with - an idea that really resonates with our practice in the studio.  Art at the Center provides a space for young artists to come together to develop relationships with materials and with each other.  Working on themes of personal interest allows artists to interact, talk and learn from one another.
This clay play-set began as one artist's project and quickly grew as others at her table crafted additional pieces to add to the scene.  Above one artist works on a tree while another crafts pieces for a small kitchen, including a stove and microwave.

 Once the pieces are complete, the group works to craft an arrangement for display and sharing.

 Here we see some of the details of individual pieces created by several different young artists.

A bed surrounded by a beanbag chair and a shelf with a sun hat on top with a chair in the background.

 A baby grand piano.

There was also a great deal of emphasis on sharing and how this provides opportunities to connect to peers and to experiences in everyday life.  It gave me a new appreciation for our sharing time ritual at the end of classes and the way this allows us to celebrate, find inspiration and offer assistance, creating community around creative practice.
Sharing is key to celebrating interest based learning as well as to discovering new interests through interacting with peers in the studio.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Take the Marshmallow Challenge

The task for the first week of Learning Creative Learning was to take the "Marshmallow Challenge."  You can learn more by watching this TED talk by Tom Wujec.
The general idea is to build a tower using string, tape, raw spaghetti, and a marshmallow.  The marshmallow has to be at the top of the finished structure.  You should only spend 18 minutes on the task.

Here is a brief overview of the activity at my house.

My oldest son:
Simple, structure, completed quickly and with confidence.

My youngest son:
Tried out a rather innovative use of paper - when it seemed too much trouble, reverted back to a simpler structure - one subtle difference from his brother's sculpture is that two pieces of spaghetti are taped together in one place.

Wait - PAPER?! - what is THAT doing there?
I wrote down paper instead of string (must have been trying to do two things at once!) when I took notes on the lecture so our materials are a bit different than in the talk.  In spite of my error, our building experience was fairly true to the goals of the exercise.

My construction process:

I waited until AFTER trying the exercise to watch the TED talk.  What struck me the most was how much my process was similar to his description of many adults.  I got so focused on adding height that I forgot to test the weight of the marshmallow.  In the end I removed a layer to get the marshmallow to balance.
If I did this again, I would pay closer attention to the materials in the directions and would have worked together as a family.  The instructions in the lecture were pretty open-ended and I waited to watch the TED talk in case it gave anything away but I definitely understood the goals and process better after watching the talk.

Interiors of My Childhood

The assignment for Learning Creative Learning for week one is to write a piece about a childhood object that interested and influenced me.  The course syllabus provides many great examples of essays and the topic has provided rich food for thought for me this week.

Interiors of My Childhood

I received my doll house from my grandmother and with it the story of the bricks.  My grandfather stayed up all night one Christmas Eve painting those bricks on its two sides.  His daughter lived in a brick house so the dollhouse had to have bricks.  From the beginning this house bore the mark of care and making.
When I was in preschool my mom papered the rooms with wrapping paper and we put down washcloths for rugs on the wooden floors.  My first furniture was simple and clunky and easy for a young child to move and rearrange.  I had a wooden play ground and simple dolls, soft fabric with wire in the limbs making them easy to pose.
As I grew older, I began to collect additional furniture and miniatures to make the house more elaborate.  Around middle school, the house received a remodel.  The painted brick walls were preserved but the low triangular attic was replaced with a higher, flatter roof model, allowing for two rooms on the third floor and a rooftop garden.  I painted the walls, sanded and stained the wood floors and purchased special miniature print wall paper for the bedrooms.  
This was about the time the dollhouse shifted from a toy to a hobby.  I spent hours searching for the perfect furnishings and making accessories.  My first attempt at knitting became an a spread for a miniature bed, toothpaste caps filled with clay and a dried flower became potted plants.  I sewed Halloween costumes for the 7 children in the doll family and carefully cut tiny pieces of birthday candles to prop as crayons in the hands of doll children sitting at a table to color.  
Later I added lights with a small kit, learning along the way about blown fuses.  I once tried to pump water into the kitchen through clear tubing but it proved too much for the teaspoon size sink.  
By the time I was in high school, the doll house had moved from my bedroom workshop to a shelf in the family room.  I continued to decorate for the holidays and enjoyed showing it off even as I moved on to sports and other activities.  I remember once a comment that I really ought to go into interior design.  At the time I liked the compliment but did not pursue the idea much further.  Looking back I think it was much more about creating a living space for my characters.  Although I had moved beyond actively playing with my dolls I knew who they were by the things in their home - the knitting basket by the piano, the collection of miniature rocks and shells in the closet and the tiny crayon drawings by the doll people hung on the children's walls.  I was more interested in creating these details of living than in choosing just the right color combinations for the decor.
By college my dollhouse was carefully packed away.  I retrieved it from its boxes and rediscovered the tissue wrapped pieces as I began to use the dolls as subjects for paintings.  At first they played on the play ground equipment amid a landscape of building blocks.  Later they came to inhabit the house in paintings that combined still life, tableau and interior.  Posing and lighting my house to create a painting let me look on the scenes in a whole new way.  
Presently my dollhouse is once again in boxes and has been for over a decade.  I think of it more and more often as I work with young artists.  I own a small studio for children and families.  I get to design a space and invite creativity through the arrangement and offerings of materials.  The plants in the window, the clay drying on shelves and paintings pinned around the room reveal traces of the creative community that gathers here.  Lately a common theme in sculpture has been play sets for tiny toys.  I see myself in these children who craft careful objects and environments for small toys or lego people.  I love the comments about how a certain play set will be one-of-a-kind and delight in the inventive ways children create their own toy environments.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Learning Creative Learning - Week One

Week one focused on an introduction to the weekly themes, the speakers we will meet and the technology that will be used to deliver all the content.
The reading, All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten by Mitch Resnick argued that a hands-on exploratory kindergarten approach to learning needs to be extended throughout school and throughout life.  He described a spiral of activity around imagination, creativity, play, sharing and reflection.  Children move fluidly through these activities when engaged with open-ended materials.  The MIT Media Lab works to develop learning tools to help extend this kindergarten style of learning to learners of all ages.
One idea that really stood out for me in the article was the fact that the root of creative thinking is create.  Create is a verb, an action word; to develop creative thinking, we need opportunities to create, to engage with materials and make something.  I look forward to additional readings and speakers related to the Maker Movement in future lectures.
Another thing that stood out for me was a list of tips put together by students learning and creating with a programming language.  They offered these suggestions for future students:

Start simple
Work on things that you like 
If you have no clue what to do, fiddle around 
Don't be afraid to experiment 
Find a friend to work with, share ideas! 
It’s OK to copy stuff (to give you an idea) 
Keep your ideas in a sketch book 
Build, take apart, rebuild 
Lots of things can go wrong, stick with it
(Resnick, M, 2007)
I was struck by how much these tips apply equally well in our studio setting at Art at the Center.  I plan to post the list and invite young artists to add their own tips and suggestions.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Learning Creative Learning

I just joined over 24,000 others in beginning this on-line course through the MIT Media Lab. 
For the next 3 months I will be attending class via youtube lectures, completing readings and reflecting on the process of learning and nurturing creative learning. 
The first week focused on the inspiration for the course and the idea that the root of creative thinking is the verb, "CREATE"
I look forward to active participation in this class and to sharing ah-ha moments through our newsletter.