Friday, September 19, 2014

Reflections on International Dot Day

I wrote last week about International Dot Day celebrated September 15 this year. What I forgot to add is that the real date is September 15th-ish.
The beauty of this is that Dot Day celebrations can continue throughout the fall. For more about Ishful thinking, see Peter Reynolds book, Ish. Reading The Dot by Peter Reynolds for Dot Day this year I noticed a few new themes in the story.
For those of you not familiar with the story, I offer a quick summary to help my reflections make sense. I highly recommend you check out the book for yourself to experience the full story as it is told through pictures and words.
The Dot begins with a child frustrated in art class. She sits staring at a blank piece of paper at the end of class. The teacher suggests she just make a mark so the child jabs her marker on the page, making a dot. The teacher tells her to sign it and the child does so, leaving the paper behind as class ends. She returns the following week to find her signed dot hung in a gilded frame.
The child is surprised to see her work honored and displayed in this way. She soon decides she can do better and she sets out on an artistic journey creating more dots, exploring size, color, and design variations as she creates an entire collection of dot art. The book ends when the child has her dots featured in the school art show. She is approached by a boy who makes that classic complaint of many intimidated by art, "I can't draw a straight line with a ruler." The girl suggests he show her and then tells him to sign his mark, leaving the reader to imagine what might come next for this boy as he begins an artistic journey with his squiggle.
The challenge for Dot Day is "Make your mark and see where it takes you!" This is a great starting point and a fun one to explore with kids, especially as we begin a new school year. Reading The Dot this year, I notice new themes and would add to that challenge, "Make your mark and own it. See where it takes you and share your journey." "Make your mark and own it..." The request to sign a first mark is powerful at both the beginning and the end of this story. Signing a work is a mark of authorship. It seems that taking ownership of these first marks leads to a feeling of inner authority. The teacher's role in framing the work, allows the student to reflect on her first mark and to challenge herself to further exploration. "...See where it takes you and share your journey." It is in the sharing of her creations that the main character meets another child who also longs to be an artist.
I recently read Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, a book that offers a guide for creative people wanting to gain a broader audience. As the title suggests, the book offers ideas and examples of ways artists can show their work during the creative process rather than waiting to have it all figured out with a finished project at the end. Kleon even suggests that viewers prefer this, people like to hear the story behind works of art and feel like they are part of the unfolding by getting to see the steps and hear about discoveries along the way.
In our work at Art at the Center, we try to build this sharing into aspects of making across age levels. For our toddler artists, simply pinning their art to the board and encouraging them to look at the colorful wall before leaving class invites a reflection on these wonderful first marks. For our preschool artists, signatures on work denote authorship and also become part of the artists' overall sense of design in wonderful ways. Artists at this age begin to tell elaborate stories about the settings and characters in their creations. We write these stories to display with the work, allowing a glimpse into the creative thinking behind the work. For our grade school artists, sketchbooks and portfolios allow artists to collect work over time and see themes emerge. Our weekly sharing time and end of session display for parents further allow children to share both finished products and unique steps in the process such as mixing a unique color or sketching out a plan for a sculpture. This fall for our evening studio, Jenna has added time for creating a digital portfolio and reflecting on work over the course of the session allowing middle school and teen artists the ability to use technology to share their work and process with a wider audience.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Many thanks to all who came out for our 6th annual Big Chalk Draw.  We had a beautiful cool morning and a fresh slate of parking lot for a fun morning of community art.  Looking over the pictures from the event reminded me of some of my favorite aspects of group art making.

First there is just the great energy of people making marks together.  It was fun to watch people gather throughout the morning.

As we worked and drew I loved the shared projects that emerged.
Sometimes one person began an outline and others added details or lots of color.

Sometimes a drawing seemed to suggest a story and other artists added to the tableau with new ideas.

Tracing each other was a fun way to play with inventing characters.

Then there was the fun of watching designs emerge from the mosaics of colored sections of cracked black-top.

I loved watching drawings inspire other drawings.  The large fish was drawn very early in the morning and later inspired a whole school of baby fish.  The younger artist modeled her drawing on the bigger fish but also added her own unique style.  Great practice observing and connecting with another artist through viewing art.

Nearby I loved watching the emergence of this sun over mountains.

It was only later that I saw it had also clearly inspired another similar peaceful scene nearby.

Our sewing teacher began this geometric pattern of traditional quilt blocks and other artists soon added blocks of their own design to what she began.

On the other side of the parking lot a group created a friend tree with hands and feet for leaves.  This reminded me of how great it is to mark beginnings and endings with group art making.  Last spring we had several groups in the studio make art pieces for friends who were moving away.  The end of summer marks both a beginning of school and an end to summer so it is fun to see this celebration of friendship at this transition time.

While I watched lots of activity around this grid, it was only when another adult pointed it out to me that I realized the children had been playing a game.  "Find the face" was like a maze drawn on a grid for kids to play the puzzle.  This brought to mind how important it is to get the story behind an image to really understand it.  I was also thankful to the woman who observed and shared the story with me so I didn't miss the chance to know about it.

Thanks again to all participants for a great morning of creativity, collaboration and fun.  Thank you also to all who brought school supplies for Good Shepherd Housing and Family Services and to Bethlehem Baptist Church for the use of their parking lot so ours was free for art.
Many thanks as well to Louise Kraft for her great photo essay of the event in the Mount Vernon Gazette.
Below is a link to a time-lapse video reducing our 2 hours of chalk drawing to two and a half minutes.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Labyrinths and Creative Process

A labyrinth is a path to the center but it is not a straight path, it winds and doubles back, curving round the center and leading the walker toward and away from the center in the process of walking.
This sort of movement provides a wonderful metaphor for the creative process. Creating doesn't proceed neatly from point A to point B.  It winds, circles back and can seem to take forever - a maker may move close to completion only to discover another option and take things apart again to try a new form.

At times it can feel like you are in a maze but a labyrinth will always lead to the center - you can't get lost. The challenge is to persist and keep going even when it feels like you are just going in circles.
Often with anything we want to make, the greatest challenge is getting started.  When the path winds or it becomes unclear that we are making progress, staying the course becomes the new challenge.  What is important is just to keep moving, because even when it seems you are just doubling back the same way you came you are still always moving toward the center.

Learning to trust that there is a path and taking time to enjoy the process offers the opportunity for surprises and unexpected discovery along the way.  This is where a guide can help. Having the knowledge that the path is supposed to wind and double back and seem confusing can help in persisting through challenges or discouragement.
This is the role of the teacher: to support the process even when it looks messy or repetitive.  Knowledge of development helps here too - so often we grow in fits and starts, moving forward then doubling back as we integrate new skills and understanding.  When we are taught to enjoy the winding walk and not worry so much about our final destination, we often find that getting to the center is that much more satisfying.  We end with a product that is a true reflection and even a celebration of all the steps we took along the way.  
Visit our website to see our new dates for Labyrinth Workshops or Visit Kathryn's Etsy site for handmade labyrinth art.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Gaithersburg Book Festival Community Collage

I felt SO welcome at the Gaitersburg Book Festival on Saturday.  Thanks to all the volunteers and the great team who put this event together.  In addition to wonderful people, the event was topped off with beautiful weather and so many creative visitors.
Thanks to everyone who helped create this community collage.  As you scroll through the photo see if you can find new elements in each new image of the collage as it grows...

 The finished piece at the end of the day.

 And a tour of some of the details... an alligator...
...a person... anteater...
 ...a cheetah...
 ...a cat...
 ...a tree with leaves and cherry blossoms...
 ...Collette and a face in the grass...
 ...Collette, where it all began.
Thanks also to everyone who helped create this poster of many faces of Collette.

And finally, special thanks to my relief crew who helped take down my exhibit at the end of the day.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Green Snow Green Glue Green YOU

Art at Home for a Very White St. Patrick's Day 

Fill a spray bottle with water and food coloring and use the white snow as your canvas for spray art.
Add a few drops of watercolor or food coloring to your glue for a fun variation on collage.  The glue sticks just as well and any visible glue will dry to a light green.
Experiment with different household objects to create  a green filter for photographs.  The photo below was taken through a glass of green water.

Most of all, have fun and THINK GREEN.
Let's hope Spring is on it's way soon. 

The Washington Post Magazine Peeps Show Contest 
Deadline is Tonight

Celebrate Youth Art Month with Your Family

This year for Youth Art Month I have been thinking about ways to support parents.  It seems to me that so much about young people making art depends on the adults who accompany them on their creative adventures.
It is a true delight to see parents and children making things together in the studio.  Joy is found in the stuff they make - the collages, paintings, drawings and sculptures as well as the more intangible things we build - relationships, confidence, creativity, persistence and the many ways we make meaning through art. 
In February Krista Tippett interviewed artist, Ann Hamilton for her NPR radio program On Being.  Ann Hamilton is a self-described "maker" - the photo below is of an installation she made at the New York Armory a little over a year ago.  It was a truly magical space. 

Hamilton's life is full as a mother, college professor and professional artist.  It is the identity as a maker that she feels ties all these roles together.  She said that if she sees them as separate - motherhood, teaching, and art - they constantly complete.  If she sees them as connected by the shared aspect of making - one naturally flows into another.  She doesn't only find ideas and inspiration in the studio and sometimes the next thing to make isn't art but soup for a sick child.  Whether you struggle to balance work, parenthood and volunteer roles or just the recent snow days, stomach bug and general everyday stress - this idea of finding a common thread through the things you do is valuable.  The idea of practice is also valuable.  Making in general and art making in particular is really about a practice.  It is why we offer classes where kids and families can come to the studio weekly over a period of time and make each week.  Having a space and community for creativity be part of your routine sets the stage for making to become a habit and for finding inspiration in many different aspects of daily life. 

Creative practice can be developed in homes and classrooms as well.  For our March Focus Group we hope to reach a wider group by opening up the focus to parents and making at home as well as in the classroom or studio.  Collage lends itself well to getting started in art because the materials are familiar.  Simple materials often offer the richest results.
Another idea from Ann Hamilton was that of setting up experiences for things to happen - not directing the outcome but creating a space for exploration and experience. So much about making with children is about setting the stage for wonderful things to happen.  My best days are when the creations of the young artists in the studio are things that surprise and delight me.  This sharing also energizes my own creative practice.  So for the month of March, I invite you to notice kids art and other things kids make - forts, messes, stories.  What can you learn from observing the process of making?  Also think about the people in your own life who, as Fred Rogers describes "loved you into being."  What part did making or working with your hands have to do with that? Happy Youth Art Month! 

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Where Do Ideas Come From?

An Evening with Jimmy Gownley

I attended the book launch for The Dumbest Idea Ever last night at Hooray for Books
Cartoonist, Jimmy Gownley drew throughout his presentation, creating characters to illustrate five sources of creative ideas. 
He encouraged audience participation and had us all laughing with his stories and spontaneous comic characters.
So where does Jimmy Gownley get his ideas?

1. Inspiration - Sometimes they just come to him, maybe from a doodle or listening to music, something spontaneous. 
He also noted that inspiration becomes more likely with practice - drawing, writing, playing music A LOT gets you ready for those moments of inspiration. 
2. Yourself - Jimmy encourages telling stories about your own life.  He even said that the more embarrassing the story is for you - the more likely it will make a GREAT story for other people to read! 

3. Other People - After yourself, other people's experiences, those of family or friends also make great inspiration for stories. 
With other people or yourself, it is not about telling exactly what happened but using what happened as inspiration in a story.  His example last night was a friend who "sneeze barfed" at dinner.

4. Your Medium
Medium is artist-speak for what you use to make stuff.  For Jimmy this is comics so he used an example of how different types of speech bubbles around the word "WOW" can make you say the word in different ways.  This is something comics can do that other kinds of writing can't.  It is interesting to think about other artistic media and what they can do.  For me I love collage because it can create something new while also reminding people of familiar stuff.  (See COLLETTE for examples of this).  What is unique about your favorite medium?

5. Influences
Influences can be stories, artwork and artists you like.   Jimmy described his own influence from a comic where the character who didn't speak just had thoughts written all over his shirt.  Jimmy took this influence and created a speechless character who wears pajamas and his emotions are shown on him with emoticons.
Finally, the kids in attendance got to call out a character (boy, girl, animal), a job and a favorite movie or book.  The group then worked together to build characters around these ideas. 
This also seems like a great way to get started creating your own characters and stories at home. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Children's Art: How to Appreciate, Enjoy and Display It

It was an honor to be a part of the panel at this event at Carroll Square Gallery on January 19.  I was truly impressed with the crowd that gathered on a cold Sunday of a holiday weekend to come out for fellowship and discussion of the children's art.  For me, it was great to get to present beside one of my most important mentors and to realize that although my path as a professional has taken me to a different kind of work, my work with Tracy Councill was truly foundational in developing my own ideas on children's art and the power of building relationships through art.

  Tracy began the discussion with a talk on three elements to keep in mind in looking at children's art: development, expressive qualities and relationship.  She elaborated on development, describing how children's art provides a constantly changing and evolving visual record of how children see and represent the world.  Each stage in development is unique and children are constantly growing and changing in their perceptions; their art is a wonderful record of this.  She also spoke about the expressive qualities of children's art and the importance of seeing childhood emotional experience as real experiences with the same power of feeling as adult emotions.  She spoke of how art can allow children to express and then see and reflect on these powerful emotions.  Finally, my favorite part of her talk was on relationship and the importance of relationship in the studio and in the art making process.  Children need to feel safe, respected and able to grow at their own pace in a supportive environment.  This is what I remember most about my time in the studio with Tracy at Lombardi Cancer Center.  Not only did the studio and art therapists provide a safe and supportive place to create art, there was something about sitting together creating that opened people up to connecting and developing relationships through shared experience.   For my part of the talk, I built on Tracy's idea of relationship in describing my work at Art at the Center.  We are a community based studio lab for children and families.  We are process-focused and aim to provide time, space and materials for children and families to explore and create.  Knowing child development and sharing Tracy's fascination with getting to watch these stages unfold is an important part of working in this way.  Process art is also about letting go as a facilitator and letting the participants lead you through sharing in their process.  My favorite thing that happens in the studio is when a child delights or surprises ME with a creative solution to a problem.  I believe the studio offers a unique opportunity for building empathy between parents and children because of the inherent vulnerability of creativity.  Many adults are still intimidated by art making and so are not too far ahead of their child in ability when they enter the studio.  I love watching adults learn and explore alongside their children and hearing children share their expertise with parents on different materials and processes.  It is not unusual for young artists to know more than their parents about clay and the firing process.  The ateliers of Reggio-inspired schools are a source of inspiration for my own space.  An atelier is place for exploring ideas, emotions and theories through the use of materials in a supportive space.  The latest project for Art at the Center is to encourage the extension of the spirit of the studio into homes through my new books designed to build on shared reading time and to help families begin the process of creating together with printing and collage. It was delightful to have COLLETTE: A Collage Adventure and Oops Paint be a part of the event.  Thinking about children's art in homes, the final presenter, Shazalynn Calvin-Winfrey  shared thoughts on ways to catalog, preserve and display children's art in the home.  I was interested to learn how much she notices that early environment influences personal taste in her interior decorating clients.  She shared ideas for display that included mounting, matting and framing as well as using ledge shelves to be able to rotate a collection as more art comes home.  It was wonderful to see her own images of her two children's art sprinkled throughout her home, often amid displays of pottery or painting by professional artists.  She really got my attention when she said how even though her children may not notice or even think about their art at home on a regular basis, when they look back they will remember their creations as being an integral part of their daily living.  We teach children what we value by how we set up our environment and take care of things.  The question and answer session also included other ideas for cataloging and displaying children's creations including recording sculptures with digital photography, keeping portfolios, and inviting children to tell and record the stories of their creations.  
A rich question and answer period and discussion followed the presentations and it was great to be among a group of people so dedicated to children's art and creativity.  Hemphill Fine Arts did a lovely job displaying the art and Shira Kraft was a wonderful resource hosting the event.  Thanks who all who came out to join us!