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Oak Hill Explores Self Portraits

Danya makes a silly face

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!

portraits

Monica makes a sad face

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.”

 

Blind Contour Drawing

Cathy’s blind contour drawing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YIACre8tes Conversation

Poster made during a Youth in Arts residency at Bayside MLK Academy

In response to recent events, we at Youth in Arts recommit to lifting up the voices of the unheard and underrepresented. Access to creativity empowers youth to share their voices and ask difficult questions of themselves and of the world.

Equity is at the center of our work. Starting this week, we are launching YIACr8tes Conversation, looking at race, identity and racism. Teaching artists presenting these free digital lessons include Jessica Recinos of Rising Rhythm SF, Youth in Arts’ Program Director Kelsey Rieger and other Mentor Artists from the YIA roster. Each lesson will end with guiding questions for parents and educators to ask children. The lessons will air on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube at 1 p.m. PDT today (June 8), Wednesday, June 10, and Friday, June 12.

“We will continue to facilitate art and put creativity in the hands of those often left out of critical dialogue,” said Youth in Arts Executive Director Kristen Jacobson. “We will drive discussion of implicit bias, policies that support equity and unobstructed access with educators, administrators and parents. We will not shy away from pushing the conversation surround privilege and power, especially in our community. We will continue to build a network of advocates that look to arts education as a vehicle for social change.”

As many schools look at slashing the arts because of budget shortfalls in light of the pandemic, we urge them to look for free and affordable resources and partners. Along with shifting to online learning, many students are trying to find their paths amid trauma, economic uncertainty, isolation and the chaos of world events. Access to art and creativty is more important than ever for offering ways to support mental and emotional health. Creativity can be also be used as a catalyst for discussions about anti-racist parenting and classrooms.

“Covid-19 pushed educators and parents to find innovative ways to engage creative exploration through digital/virtual means – Youth in Arts was ready and present with online learning.  Now, as the trauma of Covid-19 is compounded by intensity of racial justice protests, Youth in Arts is again ready to join parents, educators and schools to inspire conversation and dialgoue on critical issues,” Kristen said. “Youth in Arts’ work has long centered on equity and we feel empowered to step forward as a leader and resource for our community.”

We urge you to join Create CA’s statewide effort to promote the Declaration of the Rights of All Students to Equity in Arts Learning. This resolution outlines students’ rights to a high-quality public arts education, regardless of background, culture, language or where they live.  Youth in Arts has already signed on. In the coming weeks, we will be looking at more ways to create digital programs to address racial and social justice.

In the meantime, here are some resources:

From the New York Times, books that help explain racism to kids

From National Public Radio, Raising White Kids: How White Parents Can Talk About Race

Also from The Times: 26 short films for exploring race, bias and identity

For book recommendations: The Conscious Kid and The Brown Bookshelf.

We are grateful to be able to do the work that we do at this important time. Please join us and please reach out with any suggestions or resources for continuing racial justice work through the lens of arts programming.

 

 

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.

Tints and Shades

 

How can you turn a colorful collage into a painting of blacks, whites and grays?

Students in Kelsey Olson’s class at San Ramon Elementary School used their collages from a previous class as inspiration for paintings that explored tints and shades.

Working with Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman, the young artists started with a plastic slide (view finder) to choose a tiny detail of their collage that they wanted to enlarge and turn into another painting.

After making a quick sketch, they worked with white and black paints on mat board. Some students made sure to keep the light areas light by using a little bit of white pastel, too.

In making the paintings, we had to look carefully. Which part is the darkest? Which part is the lightest? How do we mix white and black together to show a range of tints and shades?

“I wasn’t sure if they would find black and white paint boring, but they all liked it,” Cathy said. “It’s amazing what a variety of tints and shades students created.”

Class ended with students looking at the ways their own work connected to that of their classmates. It was good practice to talk about what we “see” instead of what we “like” and the value of giving precise, neutral feedback to each other.

 

Exploring Color Mixing is STEAM Education

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.

Sharing and Caring

By Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman

At Youth in Arts, we strive to instill creativity, confidence and compassion in all learners.

Creativity is supported through sensory rich materials and innovative projects – and learning to work together. Confidence comes from making choices and reflection, and being willing to share your feelings with your peers. But how do you build compassion?

One of the ways is through the sharing of materials. As a teaching artist, I put out only a few materials to encourage students to share, learn to ask how to share, and what to say when a friend wants the same pastel.

I’m always amazed at how art making supports this crucial social emotional skill. I’ve watched the student who knows how to tie help another student with his apron strings. I’ve watched students wash the paintbrush of a friend. And I’ve watched first graders discuss what different facial expressions say – and how to be a good friend to someone who looks sad.

Another important piece of Youth in Arts’ programs involves conscious choice making. Children can’t grow up to be good decision makers unless they get some practice.  Throughout much of their school day, they are told what to do and how to do it.

That’s where a Youth in Arts program can make a difference. Our lessons are sequential and scaffolded, meaning we build upon skills learned from week to week. We make conscious choices about when to introduce drawing or sculpture so that students can be successful. When students are encouraged to make choices and also to explain them, they develop confidence, independence and voice.

Even a seemingly small choice, like whether to use a blue or orange pastel, builds confidence in bigger decisions. Helping to clean up at the end of class also supports executive function skills. Our art programs support the same skills students need across their young lives, from fine motor skill practice to math facts. Who doesn’t want that?

Artmaking at Every Table

Art making can happen many ways. Whenever possible, Youth in Arts visual art teachers like to work in small groups to give young artists more time and attention. Sometimes the rest of the class is doing academic work, on worksheets or an iPad. Occasionally we run an informal art center, where students can freely explore materials they will be using later in class with their Youth in Arts teaching artist.

Mentor Artist Cathy Bowman worked recently with several students at Oak Hill School in San Anselmo through our Arts Unite Us program, which supports students experiencing disabilities. As she started with a few students, teacher Nicole Albert asked if the rest of the class could make some collaborative art. Nicole covered the table with white butcher paper, and Cathy set out some of the pastels she would be using for her lesson a few minutes later.

Students were encouraged to explore making all kinds of marks, and each picture told a story. Some students got to practice their fine motor skills by cutting out cats, human-like figures and other shapes they had drawn.

Texture Quilt

After a quick hand wash, students visited Cathy at a different table. They made textured quilts on mat boards, pressing different colored shapes and textures onto a sheet of sticky shelf paper. They used the pastels to trace around each shape, practicing hand-eye coordination. Finally they applied magic gold foil they left a shiny imprint on their art when they pulled it off. All the pressing, rubbing, scratching and lifting helps strengthen the hand muscles that are needed for writing, cutting and other duties. And using pastels twice made the artists more confident. Scaffolding lessons is built into our lessons so students can build on skills learned from week to week. Even an art center can be linked to a lesson so that it supports the lesson being taught that day.

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.

 

 

Circles in All Colors and Sizes

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.

The Student Who Says No

The other students’ work

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.

 

Student Portraits

Frankenstein

 

 

 

 

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