Monday, April 27, 2015

Making and Wholehearted Relationships

In Reading Daring Greatly by Brene Brown a few quotes jump out at me as I reflect in particular on the chapter on parenting with a whole heart.

"Wholehearted parenting is not having it all figured out and passing it down - it’s learning and exploring together.  And trust me, there are times when my children are way ahead of me on the journey, either waiting for me or reaching back to pull me along.”

In my experience making and materials exploration invite this learning and exploring together because adults aren’t as far ahead as kids in their knowing.  Typically parents know more about a given topic than their kids so it takes more effort to get into the explorer frame of mind.  With open ended materials it’s more about exploring together.  The idea of reaching back to pull me along resonates too - I see adults find a new way to perceive art and creativity through watching their kids discover - seeing their child explore in a playful way gives the adult permission to do that too and then there is a new openness that is less about getting it right and more about being in the moment and exploring together.

Further along, she writes,
“…in its original Latin form, sacrifice means to make sacred or to make holy.  I wholeheartedly belief that when we are fully engaged in parenting, regardless of how imperfect, vulnerable, and messy it is, we are creating something sacred.” (p.238)

Brown writes about parenting ; the idea seems equally applicable to other relationships of love and care too.  Being fully engaged requires sacrifice because in a moment of full engagement, we give up our preoccupations and distractions to be fully present.  This sort of presence honors and and sanctifies.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Reflections with Staff at Emmanuel Preschool

I returned to Emmanuel Preschool after a week as Artist-in-Residence for processing and planning next steps with the staff at the school.

The best part of this discussion was how the engagement and energy of the adults mirrored the engagement and energy of the children the previous week.  Teachers shared new perspectives on individual children as well as stories that confirmed and deepened earlier impressions of a child's process.  I was reminded why it can be so energizing to work in a collaborative environment.

At the same time I also appreciated each teacher's honesty in sharing ways that a new way of working was challenging or different for them as facilitators.  For example, one teacher tried a follow-up activity  where the children had a large shape with the directive to fill it with collage items in shades of a single color.  This was a class that dove into the collage activity in the studio, with students creating 3 and 4 collages  and two boys stayed for both groups, working a full 90 minutes.  She was disappointed to see they worked as quickly as possible to fill the shape with painted green glue and then moved on to something else.  In our conversation, we were able to explore how the studio exploration of collage focused on getting to know materials and building in an open-ended way on small square papers.  In contrast, filling a shape may have felt more task oriented - it was easier to determine when they were "done" - when the shape was filled - so they worked to get to that end as quickly as possible.
Mostly I was just really grateful to this teacher for sharing what didn't work - that takes confidence and courage and allows for clarification as well as the insights of the group to help with new ways forward.
We broke into small groups to brainstorm next steps for teachers to continue collage exploration in some way in their classrooms.  The four year old teachers focused on patterns and building and ways to extend these and the story telling associated with creations.  The twos teachers discussed exploring color themes and sorting materials with children so they could explore different textures within single color families.  As they discussed ideas, there was an energy in the room and a sense that one idea built on another so that they began to see how exploring variations on a single media could take them through not just one follow-up activity but many.
At the end of the session, one of the threes teachers shared a classroom story.  She read the children a book featuring collage dogs in the illustrations.  Afterward she took them to the recycling center to collect objects and had them work in pairs and groups of 3 to assemble a creature of their own of some sort with the objects.  She photographed the creatures and then the kids told her stories about them and then they took the objects BACK to the recycling center.
I loved this story of taking this open-ended process art idea a step further by just doing the arranging.  The only record of this creation was her photos and notes and yet, perhaps because of this, it was so rich.  The other fun piece to this was that the children did this activity the day before they visited the studio, to help prepare them for the idea of creating with recycled objects.  A lovely example of scaffolding their experience - from just arranging to arranging and gluing.
I left the meeting feeling I had learned as much as the teachers and wishing there were more time for the layered sharing of learning stories - stories of what the teacher learned, what the kids learned, how the teacher set up the experience, how children took it in new directions, how children suggested learning experiences and how teachers witnessed these.  Similarly I am grateful for how much I learned from hearing ways teachers extended the work we began in the studio, sharing my reflections but even more so from hearing theirs.  There were layers of reciprocity in the sharing among teachers, children and myself and I am thankful for the way that will enliven and enrich all our practice.

A Week of Collage with Emmanuel Preschool

I spent a week in March at Emmanuel Preschool working with teachers and students to explore collage.
This was a great follow-up to the hands-on training workshops I did with the Emmanuel staff in the fall.  Fall workshops gave me a chance to get to know the staff as makers, to appreciate their willingness to jump in and get hands messy trying something new and to be part of planning ways to bring a more process and practice based approach to art back to their students.  

One part of this planning include my week as an artist in residence.  Over three days, I got to work with all the students and teachers in the school in small groups in the studio.  I was amazed and delighted by the calm and openness of the teachers, the smoothness of transitions and the richness of conversations that occurred around observing the children and their creations.  

The first day, three year olds worked in an exploratory and energetic way.  They experimented  with placement of objects, layering and glue.  Some moved toward patterns and representational images.

The following day progressed to longer sessions and more involved work with the four and five year olds.   These makers shared strategies and stories, with many working to create representational images, stories, patterns or built 3D environments.

Moving from work with four and five year olds to studio time with two year olds was a good reminder of the vast difference in development in preschool ages.  The youngest makers were half the age of their older peers; they approached the studio experience and me more cautiously.   This group particularly enjoyed painting with the glue.

Exploring ways the glue will drip off the brush.
Lots of glue!
Exploring sticking different shapes and textures to the glue - fabric, button and paper.

I also gained a new appreciation for how challenging it can be to stay the course in following what is developmentally best for very young children.  We do not feel disappointed that a two year old does not ride a two wheeler.  It seems the very definition of two-year-old-ness to ride around on a push toy.  In the same way, a two year old collage that consists of mostly painting glue is an indication that a two year old is just where they need to be developmentally.  Painting glue and feeling it's stickiness on their hands is what will allow them to form patterns and images later just like getting a sense of balance and motion on a push toy will allow them to be ready when it is time for a two-wheeler.

Continuing to Explore Art as Prayer

Back at St Peter in the Woods for an evening as part of their Lenten series, we continued to explore art as prayer. 
Once again it was wonderful to see people play and stretch and interact - with materials and with each other. Stations offered doodling as prayer, collage, mandala drawings, and decorating prayer candles.  
To start us off I shared my belief statement about studio work:
A studio is a sacred space - a space to explore and form relationships with materials, with others and with a deeper sense of self. The act of making quiets the mind, invites us to be fully present and opens us up to connections. Moments of connection spark curiosity, wonder, gratitude, and the urge to share what we discover. Sometimes we leave traces in images and objects we make; other times are more fleeting and leave their mark in new ways of seeing, empathy for another or a feeling of groundedness and connection to something greater. Community helps hold and tend this space - a creative and spiritual home for solitude as well shared experience.

Looking at the pictures, I am reminded how sharing materials around a table can feel similar to sharing a meal around a table. There is a sense of fellowship that develops in this gathering. We had more time to dig in to the materials tonight and participants were able to move around to try different materials. Some work was more social while others worked silently. Having others trying something new around you can support a personal practice and help hold the space. Artist, Ann Hamilton uses the phrase "alone together" and I love this description for group art-making because it does create spaces for solitude and deep personal reflection within the setting of community.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Creating A Space to Create and Connect

In early March, I led an adult ed forum at St Peter in the Woods Episcopal church. What I created was a space for making - and it was such a treat to see everyone respond. It was great to meet in such a flexible worship space and to get to create in the church.  I enjoyed observing the process and talking with participants as they created prayer candles to explore art as prayer.  There were as many approaches to making as there were participants.  It was interesting to see some plan a pattern while others responded more to color or shape.  Some began in the middle and worked up and down the column of the candle while others began at the bottom or top and worked in one direction.  We used scraps of mulberry paper which layer and reveal interesting fibers as the light passes through them.  Tearing and cutting added other variations to the designs.  Participants will take home candles as a tool for a personal prayer practice and a reminder of their exploration of art as prayer.  It was a gift to spend the morning with such a great group of makers. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

40 Days of Making, Reflecting and Sharing

I tried a new project for Lent; I spent 6 weeks exploring my own creative process with a goal to make something everyday.  It was a learning experience all around.  I tried a new blogging platform and explored what it meant to commit to not only making but also posting daily.

Images and reflections can be found at the link below.

Family Art Event at St Aidan's Episcopal Day School

Great family art event yesterday at St Aidan's Episcopal Day School.
I begin with this photo from our blocks set up in the children's studio space.  The blocks out on the table invited parents and children to build and then to draw designs inspired by their buildings.
I begin with this image also because an important part of our afternoon was another kind of building - building community through creating together.

Our collage station included inviting mixtures of recycled papers, fibers and small objects.  Glue in shallow containers with a small brush offered optimal control for young artists.  A drop of blue paint in the glue gave it a bit of color and surprise.
Putting out materials for art reminded me of setting a table for a meal - for each material there is a place setting with specific tools and utensils as well as shared items.  In the case of collage, individual artists choose their own base paper and then share in communal collections of paper and objects.  The small pots of glue placed around the table can be used individually or shared between a couple of makers.  Setting things up so that supplies are shared (similar to setting the table for "family style" service) is a key part of facilitating community art.

At our stamping station, artists were invited to explore different everyday objects for printing with paint.

This printing was extended with an opportunity to work more communally on a larger piece of paper at a group stamped mural.  
These two stations worked together for community sharing and inspiration.  Some artists were more comfortable trying things out on their own paper before joining a group creation.  Others enjoyed being part of the group creation and getting ideas from what they saw there before creating an individual piece.  

To take advantage of the nice day, we had a bucket of recycled CD's outside for designing on the grass. These young artists made trails and tracks with the shiny CDs.  For great CD art inspiration, see the website of artist Bruce Munro.

Stampers at work ...

Busy hands of collage artists...

And a growing group stamping mural...

One of my favorite aspects of community art is noticing how strategies are developed and shared.  After watching artists make dots and drag lines with the comb, it was fun to watch this artist use the side of the teeth to stamp grass to begin his image.

Community art is also a great chance to see many developmental stages of making side by side.  This older sister explored representation and symmetry with her butterfly created from stamped shapes.

At the same table younger artists explore shape and color with repetition and energy.  Sharing space  in mixed age settings allows for great sharing of ideas in community.

At another table, older siblings began making 3D collage creations using strips of paper. 

This grew as others joined in, finding many inventive ways to twist, tie and curl paper to make architectural creations.

The arches below layer and parts build on other parts.  In the same way, it is fun to watch strategies build on each other.

Finished community art works took two forms: below a collage quilt allows varied individual pieces to come together to create a group piece.

For stamping, the community art was created in layers with artists working with and around other artists to add to a group mural.  It was fun to watch this one grow and change as artists filled in spaces left by others and added new shapes, marks, and patterns.  Can you find the word art from the beginning photo at the top of the page?

Many thanks to all who participated and the many hands that helped with set up and clean up.  It was great to watch people collaborate around tables.  Reflecting on our afternoon, I noted great individuality in invention and creativity.  There was also a sense of calm and intention as artists worked in the different spaces.  I enjoyed the energy of the makers, the sharing of ideas and the wonderful color and invention of our new creations.