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Following the Lines

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.

 

Our Hands Tell a Story

 

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.

Students Connect Through Shapes

Students at Olive Elementary School explored shapes recently in a sculpture project that involved using common geometric forms: a sphere or circle, a square, a rectangle, a diamond and a triangle.

The young artists are part of Katie Kelly’s class receiving a 10-week Youth in Arts’ residency with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman. The residency is part of Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us program, which works with young artists experiencing disabilities.

The children named the shapes made of foam core scraps and selected at least one of each for their sculptures. While the sculptures were drying, students looked at them all together on a table. We talked about the connection between the different sculptures and which ones fit together most easily.

“Working with shapes to make sculptures is one of my favorite projects to teach,” Cathy said. “I love that students are making connections between their own art and the work of their classmates. It really reinforces critical thinking and observational skills.”

To encourage sharing, Cathy provided one plate of glue for every two students. Building social-emotional skills through art making is a key part of what Youth in Arts teaching artists do. When students wanted more shapes, instead of saying “I need more shapes!” they were encouraged to transform that into a question, such as “May I please have more shapes?”

After making their sculptures, children will paint them and then create a painting of  their sculpture. This supports hand-eye coordination and observational drawing skills. The sculpture lesson is an important foundation for lessons to come.

 

Engaging Students through Movement: Why I teach the brain dance

By Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman

This year, I decided to start all of my art classes with a Brain Dance, a series of movements developed by dance educator and author Anne Green Gilbert to wake up the brain and improve focus. Often I see students at the end or beginning of the day, when they are restless or tired.  My five-minute version of the Brain Dance helps reinvigorate them while focusing on re-mapping of brain-body connections.

Inevitably it’s the wiggly students, the ones who need it the most, who are the most resistant. As an introduction activity, the Brain Dance acts as a daily assessment tool for my students. Who is having trouble calming their body or mind? Who has trouble with cross lateral movements? Who confuses left and right? Even, how is their sense of self today? Watching them move gives me valuable information about what skills they may find challenging when it comes to art making or the level of engagement I may need to address.

The dance includes eight patterns of movement, starting and ending with the breath. Deep breathing is essential for all healthy bodies. When children are stressed, it’s no coincidence that they take short, shallow breaths. Starting and ending with belly breaths means more oxygen for young brains. From breath, the Brain Dance moves through the developmental patterns of movement (the movements we take in our first year after birth) to the most integrated pattern, cross-lateral connectivity. Cross-lateral is the pattern that crosses the four quadrants of the body (upper, lower, right, left) which supports higher thinking and even eye tracking used for reading and reading-readiness.

Recently I had a kindergartener who always wore a serious expression. Adrian solemnly watched his classmates do the Brain Dance, week after week, without joining in. On the seventh week, he spontaneously started participating in the warm up with a big smile on his face. Instead of saying “good job” or “well done” (vague) I looked for something specific in Adrian’s movements that I could point out, and others could follow.  He found confidence in his kinesthetic learning that day; and my acknowledgement of his effort (by name) reinforced his effort and ability. He became a positive role model for the rest of the class.

When I started doing the Brain Dance it felt uncomfortable for me, since I see myself as a visual artist rather than a dancer. But as we learn more about how children learn and absorb information in multiple ways, integrating different art forms makes sense. When Laurel Dell 2nd graders visited the YIA Gallery recently, they learned an extended version of the Brain Dance from Youth in Arts’ Executive Director Kristen Jacobson. I picked up some tips as well.

The Brain Dance also helps teachers stay centered and focused.  Who doesn’t need a belly breath during the day? You can learn more about the Brain Dance by viewing this video, Brain Dance, which is a part of Youth in Arts Digital Tool Kit.

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Exploring Identity through Lines and Patterns at Novato H.S.

As part of Youth in Arts’ Arts Unite Us program, students at Novato High School explored identity with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman. The 10-week residency kicked off with personal exploration, creating abstract self portraits using emotive and descriptive lines and shapes. The project was a fun and engaging way to asses where each of our new students was at and acted as a safe introduction to self-portraiture. By using materials that students were used to and tapping into our human love of doodling, we were able to start building a vocabulary around what a portrait and art can be.


We began by coming up with a list of five adjectives to describe ourselves – these adjectives could describe the things we liked, who we imagined ourselves to be, or what we were good at. Then we turned each word into a line by asking ourselves: “What kind of line is “curious”? What kind of line is “awesome”? How do we draw “grumpy”?” We explored these questions and more, thinking about the characteristics that we associate with certain words and what they might look like in our everyday lives. We then started our drawings by sketching in pencil as we brainstormed the visual meaning of each word we had chosen. For the final project using gold and silver Sharpies and black canvas boards, we made patterns using our lines. Some of us covered the entire canvas with linear patterns while others worked in a more freeform and organic way. We talked about issues of identity and what we choose to reveal about ourselves in our work and in our everyday lives.

 

Through the California Department of Education’s Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) Grant that Marin County Office of Education received, we are in multiple Special Day Classrooms. This residency is one of the programs that have benefitted from this collaboration.

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