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.