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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.

Compass Student’s Story from RISING STARS

MMeade_Compass_Student MMarty Meade, has been a Youth in Arts Mentor Artist for well over 20 years. Through our Arts Unite Us program, Marty has worked with students at Compass Academy (formerly Braun High School), an alternative elementary/middle/high school for students who experience underlying mental health challenges. She teaches students how to create artwork in a variety of media including, but not limited to painting, drawing, printmaking, and even glass making! The stories she shares in conjunction with the caliber of work her students produce continues to astound.

Marty enters many of her students in RISING STARS each year. This year’s blindly adjudicated exhibition, features 6 works by six Compass academy students, including anonymous student “M” who won the Youth in Arts award. “M was blown away with the award,” Marty shared, “and the staff was too. His response with the award, was immediate doubt, ‘but I’m not very good.’ He received it with the middle school and high school kids present. Everyone applauded, and I reminded him that the judges were professionals, and that all they had was a number and not a name. There was a moment when I saw him sink into his chair and tears filled his eyes.”

M, like many of the students at Compass, experienced trauma at an early age. His winning entry into RISING STARS is a block print on watercolor paper entitled, Self Portraits. “He has been drawing the image from day one, regardless of the assignment,” Marty said. “He has used acrylics, India ink, permanent markers with marbling, etc. I just let him do it and often wonder where it comes from. He did have a beautiful fish painting…but when I asked him which to choose [for the show] he instantly picked the prints.”

“My wonderful students at Compass confront challenging mental health or emotional struggles. The fact that they only get 45 minutes of art each week is unbelievable, and yet they make such wonderful art. I have been deeply moved that our students have been able to receive awards in spite of this limitation.”

Thank you, Marty for all you do!


Super Hero Sculptures Morph into Pop Art–Laurel Dell Third Graders

Third graders at Laurel Dell have added some color to their Hero project as they designed logos for their creations.  How does a single picture tell a story? How do you show lightning hands, or super speed, or controlling fire? Students were able to experiment with tracing paper and carbon paper (new to them!) as they refined their logos. Several students decided their super hero would protect us all from fires.

Students culminated their Super Hero project by turning their super heroes into comic book illustrations. In the process students learned a little bit about Pop Art (Roy Lichtenstein) and the offset printing process (Ben Day dots reproduced by printing on bubble wrap).

Every step of this process encouraged students to imagine their creations in a more in-depth, concrete way. They have named their heroes, given them jobs and homes and friends, and are poised to create some wonderful stories with their heroes.

Thank you to the California Arts Council for their generous support of this project. CAClogo_stackedRGB

Inaugural Art Showcase at Two Rock

Two Rock Union Elementary School in Petaluma, organized their inaugural art showcase on November 7th.  The event, hosted from 5:00–7:00pm, gave parents a chance to see their student’s artwork from the nine week visual art residency with Youth in Arts Mentor Artist, Julia James.  Examples of projects from the seven K–6th grade classrooms we’re on view, thanks to the hard work of PTA President Brandy Campbell, Julia James, and a number of helpful volunteers.  Students’ work highlighted their understanding of observational drawing, patterns in nature, bookmaking, color theory, printmaking and so on.  What a great event, and what beautiful artwork.  Thank you Two Rock!

Weaving and Printmaking at Oak Hill

by Mentor Artist Gabrielle Gamboa

The young artists I have been working with at Oak Hill, a school for students with Autism and other learning differences, have been learning weaving and printmaking techniques with our last few sessions of the year.

Student work in progress.

Student work in progress.

Student weaving.

Student weaving.

A finished student weaving.

A finished student weaving.

Each student had a small personal loom. I brought a selection of richly textures yarn for students to chose from to weave bold patterns. We finished the weavings off with tassels we made, and mounted the weavings on sticks gathered on a walk. Weaving was just one option for the older group of students. Some chose to finish previous art projects.

One student weaves, another finishes a kaleidocycle, and a third sketches a personal logo.

One student weaves, another finishes a kaleidocycle, and a third sketches a personal logo.

A student draws a pattern on a kaleidocycle.

A student draws a pattern on a kaleidocycle.

The next group of projects involved printmaking. First we rolled ink on sheets of acrylic to make monotypes. We drew on some of our paper with oil pastel before printing for a layered result. Next, we made simple block prints, drawing on foam scratch sheets to make printing plates. We printed on top of some of our monotypes for more texture. The final project for the younger students was to combine both types of printing into a monoprint. They had developed strong printmaking skills by this time, and made bold color choices! The older students branched out even more for their final project, silkscreen printing. They made abstract designs using tape stencils, and made runs of colorful prints on beautiful Japanese printmaking paper.

Student printmaking.

Student printmaking.

Student monotype prints.

Student monotype prints.

Student monotypes and mono prints.

Student monotypes and mono prints.

Student monotypes and monoprints.

Student monotypes and monoprints.

Student pulling a screen print.

Student pulling a screen print.

I had a great semester at Oak Hill, and I am going to miss these dynamic young artists very much!

Mixed Media with Mill Valley Middle School’s Special Day Class


VSA Mentor Artist:  Marty Meade

Children with Developmental Delays

After several years of working with the special day class at Mill Valley Middle School, I love the connection that  is made, usually after the second week.

We had fun playing with a form of block printing using foam core for the design, rolling ink with brayers and then using another brayer to apply the print. I was pleased when a boy who was difficult to reach asked for more paper and different colors.

Watercolor landscapes were created from photographs from my personal photo library.  Students used Q-tips to apply paint in the pointilist style.  It was interesting to see students carefully studying their photo, and then painting what they observed.

Glass fusing continues to be fun, and we were able to do spend several days on this medium.

We also practiced with acrylic painting, watercolors, oil pastels, tissue collages, plastic laminate paper, and Shrinky Dinks’.

End of Summer at Marinwood Camp

Gabrielle Gamboa finished out a summer of wonderful art-making at Marinwood Camp with four new activities. If you’d like to bring Gabrielle to your classroom this year to teach these and other visual arts activities, contact Suzanne, Director of Artists in Schools!
Read more…

Parent Art Night Becomes FAMILY Art Night at Venetia Valley

Mentor Artist Suzanne Joyal met with a group of parents and teachers at Venetia Valley School in San Rafael in June, and what was meant to be a small gathering of Art Parents soon turned into a large group of families eager to explore their creative side together. Families worked side-by-side to create their own personal colograph prints.

We explored the question: “What is a PRINT?”

We used old file folders, and began by cutting a variety of shapes in different sizes. We experimented with the design by placing and moving and layering the shapes before we glued them onto a larger piece of file folder.

This is when the fun really began: we used four different colors of ink, and 10 different colors of paper, and experimented with how our choices of each affect the final design of our print. Artists of all ages were able to make many different artworks with their brayers, ink, and paper.

Developing Artists at Castro Valley Cooperative Preschool

Printing with Vegetables and Experimenting with Color

Amid the hustle and bustle of snack preparation and the smells of fish sticks or chicken nuggets baking, the kitchen at Castro Valley Parent Nursery School was transformed into a lively art studio with Mentor Artist Margaret Niles.  The energy and enthusiasm of the three- and four- year olds made every class lively and fun, involving an element of play and experimentation.  The children explored their way through a variety of projects, from printing, to drawing, to painting, to sculpting.

We began with a childhood classic: fruit and vegetable stamping. Little did Margaret know that these kids were accomplished stampers, and it wasn’t long before the colored tempera paints were mixed and blended together in wonderful new combinations with the aid of bits of corn, apple, and potato.  They also modeled birds out of self-hardening clay and learned to shape a head, a beak, a body, and a tail.  These creatures of flight and fancy were embellished by brightly colored feather wings, making them truly out of this world.  To ensure their birds were comfortable, the little ones crafted nests out of a variety of softly textured materials.  It was a community effort, as parents contributed baggies of dryer lint, and collections of small twigs their children helped gather.

Making Nests: Parents and kids explored at home to collect potential materials, then shared their finds with friends

The budding artists also experimented with mixing their own colors from the primaries to arrive at wonderful new creations and gained some technical practice with drawing different shapes and types of lines.  They also learned to roll balls out of Model Magic to form caterpillars and to shape other animals, adding brightly colored macaroni for embellishment or dinosaur scales.  It was especially fun to observe some children immediately start to play with their modeled animals, be they bird or caterpillar, and to create interactive and spontaneous games with their animals and one another.  The children are accustomed to having lots of choices in their preschool, and they were true art ambassadors and model citizens.

What would make my nest strong? What would make my nest comfy?

The differences in developmental levels and concentration among the children, particularly between the three and four year olds, was at times pronounced.  It was fascinating to observe some children, who could sit for an entire half hour or more, and others who were finished at a rather windy pace.

These eager artists demonstrated a natural creativity and willingness to take risks as they painted, sculpted, drew, played, and explored their vivid imaginations and the world both in and around themselves, finding joy and satisfaction in the process.

The face of PRIDE in a job well-done.

Lynwood Printmakers Celebrate their Art with Cookies and Cider

Twelve weeks of printmaking with Mentor Artist Suzanne Joyal culminated  with cookies, cider, and sharing of projects. The second- through fifth- graders in Lynwood’s after-school LEAP program began the residency by learning the fundamentals of printmaking:

Our line search turned into a MONOPRINT. Students inked their plates, then gently placed paper on top, and drew their designs onto the back of the paper.

Colographs are made up of layers of stiff paper cut or torn, and then glued into interesting patterns and shapes. Our choices of ink and paper color made the possibilities endless. Read more…

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