How can you draw your friend on a Zoom call? How can you explore identity with a can opener and a spoon? Despite the challenges brought forth from necessary distance learning approaches, Oak Hill School students found ways to do just that through our Arts Unite Us program.
Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman had just started her 10-week residency with educator Danya Lebell’s class when the pandemic forced the school to close abruptly. Using what students had on hand at home, Cathy changed the curriculum to focus on self portraits and identity, working with both students and paraprofessionals.
For the first online class, we took turns making different faces and posing for each other. We quickly found out that it was a challenge to work on Zoom, as staring at the tiny green dot of the camera isn’t the same as looking into someone’s eyes. For artists experiencing disabilities, eye contact is especially crucial for interpersonal engagement. Despite these challenges, the activity was a perfect fit for students as they begin exploring job opportunities. Learning to read facial expressions is key!
The following week we explored drawing profiles while making different expressions. A week later we practiced blind contour drawing. We hid our paper and drawing hand in a grocery bag and drew each other without lifting our pencils or peeking inside our bags. The faces didn’t look like we expected, but we made some interesting line drawings.
For our final class, we used kitchen utensils and other objects. Students and paraprofessionals made four different portraits, each time rearranging the items in a different way. It was amazing to see how many expressions a can opener could make.
“I wanted students to use art to explore thinking outside the box,” Cathy said. “Given the complex challenges of our world, staying flexible and confident in our choices is more important than ever.”
Collaboration and problem solving, self-advocacy & awareness, and building new art skills were among Mentor Artist Lisa Summers’ exciting student goals in Brian Khoury’s class at San Marin High School. Through YIA’s Arts Unite Us program, Lisa worked with students in small groups for the first several weeks on skill-building lessons and projects that emphasized how we recognize emotions through facial expressions and how those facial expressions are communicated in art. Students used cardboard shapes and scraps (and Googly eyes!) to assemble faces that evoked emotions ranging from joy, sadness, humor and anger, to frustration, curiosity, and confusion by looking at the relative position of eyes (up eyes, down eyes, sideways eyes), eyebrows, and smiles vs. frowns.
In the second part of the residency students developed understanding of shapes, proportions, scale, shape, contrast and dimensional perspective by working with pastels and paint, Model Magic and blocks, collage, and even a stack of chocolate chips cookies.
Questions were focused on contrasts and comparisons between solids and patterns, opacity and translucency, two and three dimensions, and foreground and background. In the “Rainy Day” projects, students used patterned paper, colored paper, ink washes, pastels, metallic paint, and permanent markers to create a composition of a single figure standing in a downpour. Many students took this opportunity to explore rain gear fashion design including bat-themed umbrellas and raincoats. Students discussed shadows and negative space, and the visual impact of a gray-toned ink wash against the bright colors of the umbrella and raincoat. Students were asked to share their reflections on how their artwork said something unique about themselves, their interests, and their individual preferences for colors and materials.
A special thanks to the following organizations for making this program possible:
Students in Maria Romero’s class at Novato High School worked with Mentor Artist Lisa Summers through YIA’s Arts Unite Us (AUU) program. Lisa designed lessons around prompts and activities that used old photos, pieces of familiar toys, quick dry clay, and pastels to explore themes of social justice, culture, and family. The first activity was a sketching challenge based on David Hockney’s Polaroid mosaics. Students and teachers created mosaic portraits using pencils and Lyra Graphite crayons on Post-It notes, copying from squares of cut up images of activists Malcom X, Dolores Huerta, and Julia Butterfly Hill. They were then tasked with reassembling the image as a group. When Post-It notes were matched up to corresponding squares, students reflected on how shapes, shadows, and lines come together to make a composite image.
In looking at a single Post-It note, is there another composition there? What different styles of interpretation can you see in individual drawings? What is different about a group portrait as opposed to one created by an individual artist?
Because several of Maria Romero’s students are in the MSA Visual Arts program, experience and skills varied widely in the class. The idea behind many of the activities and lessons was to experiment different styles, collaborative art-making, and as an opportunity to look at a face as a way of familiarizing oneself with the “other,” even when that other is the self.
Thank you to the following organizations for making this program possible:
When you park in downtown San Rafael, look up!
Colorful art created by children at Magnolia Park School during a Youth in Arts’ residency has inspired a sign now on display at the Fifth Avenue and C Street garage.
The city’s Parking Services Division selected the work created with Youth in Arts’ Mentor Artist Julia James during a competition last year aimed at beautifying the downtown San Rafael garage. The mixed media piece has been transformed into a 3 by 6 foot sign at Fifth Avenue and C Street while the new public safety center is being built across the street. The sign will remain up for six months before a new sign featuring new artwork will take its place.
Each children’s art piece that has been selected is paired with work by an adult artist that appears on the opposite side of the sign, celebrating San Rafael. The piece created by Julia’s students at the San Rafael school is paired with “Under the Surface” by San Rafael-based artist, Travis Weller.
This is the second Youth in Arts’ artwork to win a spot in the sign contest. A mixed media piece by students at Willow Creek Academy in Sausalito has already been on display. That art was created last spring in a self-contained class of kindergarten and first graders who worked with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman.
Cathy’s and Julia’s classes were part of Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us (AUU) Program, which serves young artists experiencing disabilities.
Thank you to the city of San Rafael for this amazing program.
We were thrilled to get a call recently from Pierre-Yann Guidetti, chief executive officer of Savoir Faire. The Novato company imports beautiful, high end art materials from Europe and sells them wholesale.
When the coronavirus forced schools to shut, Pierre asked himself what he could do for his community. He thought about all the kids stranded at home without art supplies – and he thought of us.
“Art is good for you, and it is good for the world,” he said. “I’m always fighting for the fact that art is very important. I think it’s essential.”
Pierre donated more than 80 sets of lovely Austrian CretaColor pencils, 70 packets of gorgeous Fabriano paper and high quality white paper, too! Youth in Arts has already begun distributing them to students in our Arts Unite Us program, which serves young artists experiencing disabilities.
“These children are most at risk for being left behind as schools move to online learning, ” said Youth in Arts’ Program Director Kelsey Rieger. “We’re so grateful that Pierre stepped in to help us serve them.”
Pierre travels the world lecturing about art and meeting with suppliers, often influencing product design. The paper he gave our students comes from Fabriano, an old Italian company that invented the modern cotton paper and once served great artists like Michelangelo and Da Vinci.
“It was like the Silicon Valley of the 13th century,” he said.
Pierre shares one of Youth in Arts’ core philosophies: give kids the best art materials you can.
“The experience of making a mark with a bad color and bad paper is different from making a mark with a beautiful color and beautiful paper,” Pierre said. “If kids don’t know the difference, they feel it.”
To learn more about Savoir Faire, please visit their website to see which local stores carry their supplies. It was Pierre’s wife, Maureen Labro, who began importing fine art supplies in the early 1980s. She and Pierre went into business together (she is president), fell in love and got married.
“Everything we sell, I’ve seen how it’s made,” he said.
Thank you Pierre, Maureen and everyone at Savoir-Faire! And thanks to artist Kay Carlson, executive director of Marin Open Studios, who helped Pierre connect with us. Community support like this makes all the difference.
Students at Oak Hill students explored themselves by making different lines.
Working with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman, they used black and white pastels on a beautiful brown paper. We looked at thick lines and thin lines, curvy lines and bumpy lines. Some artists worked precisely and methodically and made only straight lines; others used only curves and made spontaneous marks everywhere.
When we finished, we laid the work on a table and talked about connections.
At the next session, we looked at the portraits and then made different portraits using water soluble Lyra graphic crayons and white pastels. Students made more lines and shapes, then activated the pencil lines by tracing them with a paintbrush dipped in water. It was fun to look at the two portraits together.
“This is another example of how we scaffold,” Cathy said. “It builds confidence in artists when they can practice a familiar subject with new materials.”
Cathy is at Oak Hill as part of Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us program, which supports students experiencing disabilities.
Students at Olive Elementary School found an interesting way to make prints. They used their hands.
Working with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman, students in Joe Smith’s class began by creating small collages using at least five torn pieces of colorful paper. They arranged the composition first, then glued them flat onto mat board.
That’s when the real the fun began. Using black printer’s ink, students took turns rolling out the ink, listening for the “sticky” or “tacky” sound that indicated it was ready. Using the sides of their palms, their fingertips and other parts, they created self portraits.
Cathy likes to show students that a self portrait doesn’t have to be a realistic image of your face. Just as Van Gogh painted his shoes, young artists can show themselves through a painting of an object or image – or choosing what part of their hands to use for a print tool.
Cathy taught the same class at San Ramon Elementary School with Kelsey Olson. This project engaged many important skills, from rolling out the paint to tearing the collage papers into manageable pieces. For young artists in our Arts Unite Us program, which supports artists experiencing disabilities, these can be crucial skills to master.
While rolling out the thick black ink, one student sighed happily.
“I could do this all day,” she said.
How do you learn how to mix color? By dipping your brush in different paints over and over. Why should we teach students to mix colors? This is the beginning of STEAM for students: they practice the Engineering Design Cycle when they learn to mix colors: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, Improve (which means repeat).
Students in Katie Kelly’s class at Olive Elementary School in Novato practiced color mixing while making paintings of sculptures they had already created. The students are working with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman through our Arts Unite Us (AUU) program. Through AUU, YIA is the only provider of arts education programming to many students experiencing disabilities in Marin County.
It was fun to look at the black and white sculptures and transform them into vibrant, colorful paintings. We made beautiful secondary colors and learned that if we mixed everything together, we ended up with a muddy brown!
Color mixing is something you can only learn by doing. We practiced the basics – red and yellow make orange, blue and yellow make green, and red and blue make purple. But through experimentation we learned that we could make myriad shades of oranges, greens and purples by adjusting how much red, yellow, or blue we used.
Students looked carefully at the shapes they had used in their sculptures and repeated them in their paintings. On some, the shapes were quite clear, while on others, the shapes were hiding under more freeform lines.
At the end of class we put our work together and talked about what connections we could see in the shapes, colors and lines that we used. It was interesting to see that even though we used the same paint, the way we made our marks was unique.
Circles come in all colors and sizes. We can find them everywhere.
Students in Kathleen Haulot’s class at San Ramon Elementary School used Mason jar lids, tape rolls, tiny dishes and an empty yogurt container to make circles on black paper. Inspired by the work of Kandinsky, these young artists explored making circles big and small, loose and tight, thick and thin.
The students are working with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman as part of a 10-week residency at Olive Elementary School in Novato. This is the second year she has worked with Kathleen, whose students range in age from kindergarten to second grade. She taught the same project at Olive Elementary School with Joe Smith.
The artists used thick, creamy tempera crayons that are easy to hold and use for students experiencing disabilities. Instead of working on white paper, they drew on black. The stark contrast created visual interest, and students had to think about what happens when yellow is applied to black paper (more green) than white paper (more yellow).
“I want my students to know the joy of making art with anything, and working on black paper produces exciting, dramatic art,” Cathy said. “This is a great way for students to practice fine motor skills because they have to hold the lid with one hand and trace with the other.”
Cathy likes Mason jar lids because they are sturdy and easy to hold. Artists had fun using different objects to make different circles. When we finished, we put them together on a table and talked about how each piece connected with the others. Reflection on art making is a key part of our Youth in Arts’ programs, and it’s wonderful to witness the many ways students share their voices.
Youth in Arts is the only provider of arts classes (visual, dance or music) to nearly 40 self-contained classrooms of students experiencing disabilities in Marin County. You can see art created by these very talented students this summer at our annual “Outside the Lines” art exhibit at the Youth in Arts Gallery.
By Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman
I love it when students ignore my directions.
I don’t mean the important rules: be kind, share, and respect yourselves, others and materials. But following the directions for how to do a project? It’s not on my list.
Making art intuitively is common among students with different learning styles. They care far more about process than result. They rarely ask if you like what they create, because frankly, they don’t care – and they shouldn’t. Often they use tools in new and unexpected ways, such as the handle of a brush (instead of the bristles) to scratch into wet paint.
Recently I taught at an elementary school through our Arts Unite Us program. I asked each student to come up with three words to describe themselves, and then turn each word into a line to make an abstract self portrait.
I met a young boy who slumped at the table, clearly disengaged. When asked for his words, he shrugged and said nothing. The kindly paraprofessional told him he either had to make art or go back to his desk and do school work, and he started to get up. I asked her to wait, feeling that if he was at least willing to stay at the table, some part of him might be interested. Even if all he did was sit there, I knew eventually he might make a mark … even if it took several weeks.
Suddenly, he wanted to draw Frankenstein. Great, I replied. What words would you use to describe him? His face lit up and he quickly came up with two words: creative and strong. Instead of an abstract line drawing, he created his own monster portrait. His work was different from everyone else’s – and just as engaging. I saw him a few weeks later, and he is still enthralled with making art.
As teachers, we are constantly reassessing how we define success. I see my job as being a trail guide – to point out the boulders rolling down the hill and which way the trail goes. The path artists take is up to them.
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