To join me on a virtual sketching trip, download a travel sketch-journal here. I add tutorials to them so you can learn the techniques and details you see in the sketchbooks.
My former workshop students asked me to upload my workshop workbooks to make them available to everyone. So you can also download a workbook and give yourself a workshop! Enjoy!
Saturday, April 12, 2008
Day III had a couple of little problems. I had just barely gotten started teaching when a loud, nasty buzz filled the room. FIRE! Teachers are supposed to be informed about fire drills, but neither Tim nor Joyce had heard anything about this one. Maybe it was real.
In view of my recent camera debacle, my long-time readers will be pleased to hear that I managed to grab my camera before leaving the room. But it occurred to me as we were quietly trekking down the sidewalk that I had left my most recent, and very precious, Costa Rica Journal (which I had brought to show the kids) behind in the classroom. If the school burned down, I would have lost not only the photos of that trip (in my old stolen camera) but my journal as well, gone up in smoke. Then common sense prevailed and I let go of the thought. So what? Quit this darned "attachment" stuff, Irene!
The John Muir School is situated inside the Ashland Middle School, but is completely autonomous (I think). It consists of a long hallway with classrooms on each side, a staff room, and a courtyard, connected to the Middle School by a double door. Students from both schools ended up in the parking lot for about five minutes before we were all allowed to return.
The kids acted calm, but I heard some of them later saying that they had been scared because their teachers weren't forewarned and there might have been an actual fire (we were all looking for smoke). It seems that the information chain between the Middle School and the encapsulated John Muir School had a malfunction, and they didn't inform us. In that way, it was an extremely valuable drill, since it was far more real than usual, and a good test as to how teachers would respond in an actual emergency.
Back in the classroom, the students began working through the workbooks I have created for my classes. Usually the books for the three sessions are bound separately, but for this class the school had gotten them printed up into one three-sectioned book for each student (I couldn't provide workbooks for so many students at the price they could afford to pay me, so they did it themselves). The kids left the workbooks on their desks at the end of each day. Now we turned to the third section and got back to work. Calculating what I'd now need to skip over to make up for lost time, I began to teach them about watercolor pencils.
I showed them my sketching carry-bag kit and what I take along to sketch and color my artwork. This includes a small, waterproof pad to sit on, my drawing kit, watercolor pencils, hmmm....I'll just go out and take a picture of me wearing it right now ~ it's an over-the-shoulder bag I barely notice when I'm wearing it. My sketchpad is poking out of one of the pockets. BTW, that's my new camera taking the picture.
I handed out worksheets about color wheels, an exercise to show how to blend colors using the watercolor pencils (I forgot to photograph this exercise ~ darn!). The school had bought several 12-pencil sets of watercolor pencils for the students, and half the room used those sets while I supplied the other half with my pencils. The school sets ensure that when my pencils were no longer available, the kids would still have several sets with which to color in their journals.
They sailed into this exercise with excitement, and experimented with mixing their colors quite avidly. Then I passed around paintbrushes ~ I had eight waterbrushes (with water in the barrels), and twelve regular brushes. On the remaining projects I would ask students to switch brushes to make sure all got to experience the waterbrushes. When they'd gotten the feel of what happens when you add water to the watercolor pencil marks, they were ready for the Orchid Project.
I handed out orchid outlines printed on heavy paper. I've discovered that vellum bristol cardstock, which you can buy in most copy shops, stands up well under repeated erasing and water application, so I had printed out the orchid outlines onto this cardstock. For this exercise, I wanted to teach some paintbrush techniques for getting color where you want it, looking the way you hope it will. We practiced "pushing the edge" and using horizontal brushwork to get a nice sharp outline, blending from color to no-color. This was very "step-by-step," with little room for individual variation (only the color of the background was optional), and we practiced until most of the kids had a grip on the process.
I neglected to take any photos of this exercise, too, but when we went on to the next project, which allowed students to select their own colors and apply them as they wished to a mountain scene, there were still a few orchid exercises lying around, which you can see in a couple of the pictures.
One unfortunate aspect of doing watercolor pencil paintings is that the paper needs to dry between applications. I had to go around the room drying pictures with one hair dryer, with the help of a willing accomplice wielding another hair dryer. This was a good time for the other kids to take a short break, as it took about five minutes of noisy drying to do this. They grabbed the chance to stretch and goof around.
The "color-the-mountain" project allowed them to flex their wings a bit, applying colors and blending them with painting techniques, without having to take time to draw the mountain. Ideally, we'd all go out and draw a mountain, then color it, but in a three-day workshop you cut some corners. Colorful mountains decorated the tables as lunchtime approached. After lunch we would tackle some foliage techniques to use in their EarthTeach journals, then go on to our big project, The Apple. Or rather, we'd do all that after the Arbor Day Tree Planting.
Wouldn't you know, on this most busy of workshop days, we'd not only have a fire drill, but we'd also be attending a half-hour tree planting ceremony in the courtyard (the tree was donated by my dear bud and former mate Daniel Bish, from Plant Oregon!). So after lunch and a short stint of foliage sketching, we trekked out to the courtyard to plant a tree, accompanied by a reading by one of the students. We sang tree-like songs, situated and planted the redbud (I think) tree. Then Tim took the group picture of us which appeared a couple of blogs back, and we went back to work on our next-to-last piece of the workshop, the apple.
I'd brought a bag of small apples (kinda mushy ~ it is April, after all), streaky red and nice models for drawing and coloring. After they drew the outline (using my tips on positioning for interest, drawing stems, and other pointers) I showed them how to apply a yellow undercoat (for brilliance and depth) before adding the red color, then how to shade it to make it look three dimensional. Tim tried coloring apples with and without the yellow under-wash (see the picture). Then I took photos of any of the kids who wanted their artwork to go up on this blog. With the fire drill and the tree planting, they didn't really have a chance to finish them as completely as they wanted, but they all had fun trying and experimenting with the color techniques.
The whole class was scheduled to go on a field trip to the coast the next morning. Sketchbooks and colored pencils would go with them. I hope I get a chance to see what their journal entries from this beach visit look like!
In fact, I'd really love to see their journals before and after the workshop, to see if they were able to use what they learned in a meaningful way. Yo, Tim, give me a call! Let me see! May I take before and after pictures of journals?
Actually, I was secretly, sort of, hoping to get invited on the trip, but they probably assumed I wouldn't be interested. Oh well.... it may be just as well, as I was pretty exhausted after three days of workshop in a highly unaccustomed (for me) situation. How do teachers DO that all year!!!!???!!!
Be sure to click on the pictures of the kids who wanted to share their apple pictures to get a closer view. Not bad for only three days of instruction with brand-new tools and techniques, huh? Nice work, kids! I'm very impressed with your results. I was also pleased with the apples of the students who didn't get in line for the photoshoot. The apples that didn't appear here were equally beautiful.
So that's my Nature Sketch-Journaling Workshop with kids. I needn't have worried that whole week while I was preparing for it ~ we all had fun and learned a lot. So far, I've gotten back seven evaluations from the students, and I've decided to leave the books at the school for a few more days and hope the rest of the students will finish and return their evaluations this coming week and claim their Beaver Year books. The evaluations I have already received are full of good advice and information from the kids. Now I know some things I would do just the same and and other things I might do differently. I probably learned as much from this workshop as my students did!
Many thanks to Tim and Joyce, who worked so hard to make this workshop fly, to the grant source and the parents who helped to pay for it, and to the students who made it a wonderful experience for me, and also for themselves. I hope we get a chance to do it again some day.
[NOTE TO ALL SKETCH~JOURNAL STUDENTS FROM THE WORKSHOP: Leave me a comment here if you want. Did you have a good trip to the beach? Did you use some of the journaling techniques you learned? I'd love to hear from you! ]
Friday, April 11, 2008
The first task on Day II was to look over the homework. Kids came streaming in while I was setting up, eager to share their homework, get advice on their sketching, and ask what was going to happen this second day. As usual, I told them to wait and see!
[NOTE TO ALL YOU SKETCH~JOURNALISTS: To make your pictures look good I had to lighten some parts and darken others, but I tried to not mess with your art. I tried really hard to make each picture look the way it did in real life. I hope I succeeded, but if I didn't, I apologize!]
One delightful aspect of this school is that the children are trustworthy, and I didn't have to take down my workshop at the end of the first day and lug it home (I didn't even worry about leaving my camera untended in the classroom during the day). That saved me at least half an hour this second morning, which I could spend with the kids, chatting with and looking over their homework, which had been to design, sketch, and/or write out a journal page on their own.
(My faithful readers are probably shaking their heads about how I'm going to lose THIS camera, too ~ hey, Tim does it all the time with his camera.)
I asked the kids to leave anything they'd like me to photograph open on the front of their table when they went out to morning recess, and I'd try to get around and photograph it. That way, no one need share their work if they didn't feel like it. So the artwork you see here is of pieces offered by the students for sharing on this blog.
After discussing ephemera (mementos ~ things you want to tape or glue into your journal) and providing an "ephemera pocket" for the students to tape into their journals, we talked awhile about the journaling process and what makes a good journal entry. Our first assignment was to turn a boring sentence into an interesting paragraph, and I was pleasantly pleased at what the kids wrote (one favorite word seems to be "crepuscular").
I handed out the freeform shapes, and had the students design a Sample Journal Page, tracing in the shape the paragraph would take on the page, then creating a contour drawing of their subject (for which I provided photos). The students had a choice of several subjects, but most chose the frog.
I've put up Tim, the teacher's, page (the first Sample Journal Page, above) along with the others. One of the nice things about teachers taking a workshop with their kids is that they experience all the trials and problems the students do, and can determine where they'd deviate from the workshop plan ~ which will make it easier for them to teach a similar class to future students. So here are a few of the Sample Journal Pages. I asked Tim to show his page (just as the other students were doing), to give them an idea of what he felt might constitute a good journal page for their future journaling at their forest site, EarthTeach.
Some of the kids were so enthusiastic that they actually sketched and journaled during their lunch break, coming back with enhanced journal pages, and ephemera ~ a leaf, flower petals ~ that they had collected to fasten to the page.
After lunch, we moved on to haiku (basically, a 17-syllable nature tone poem ~ with a few other rules thrown in for good measure). This proved a challenge for some of the students, as did rhyming 4-line poetry, but everyone improved over the course of the next hour or so, and when I asked for volunteers to read their journal pages, haiku and poems, there were plenty of proud offerings. A couple of kids had written particularly nice pieces but were too shy to read them aloud, so I asked their permission to read them for them. All the kids were very appreciative of each others' work, even applauding a couple of particularly evocative pieces.
Here's a tip, by the way, and I do this with adults, too ~ I like to have people read their haiku or short poems twice. There is often a lot of good stuff ~ a subtle rhyme, an unexpected connection, a surprising idea ~ in a poem and there isn't time to appreciate it the first time you hear it. A second reading allows the listener to really take it in, and discover nuances or ideas they may have missed the first time around.
The poetry and haiku were transferred to fresh pages, and the kids practiced my new Fun Font (I had created at least four, and as many as ten examples of each letter ~ or they could create their own version ~ see on some of the Sample Journal Pages) to fit together into words, sentences, titles and captions. Then they tried an illuminated capital ~ a fun way to dress up a journal page which satisfies the doodler in all of us.
And, oh yes! I showed them how to shade spheres and make eyes that look three dimensional and alive.
BTW, in case you're wondering about all these interminable, upbeat, positive comments and observations about the kids fromTim's class at John Muir School ~ these truly are not exaggerations. Oh sure, sometimes I had to ask them to quiet down, sometimes there was a short session of wrestling or running before class or during breaks, and of course there was some giggling and kid-to-kid restlessness and playfulness that had to be quelled (or sent out to the playground) on occasion.
But a comment like "Okay, now, I want to see 44 eyes [that included the teachers] looking up here at me right now!" (I learned that one from Tim) or "Hey, guys, we're on kind of a tight schedule and if you talk while I'm talking I'll have to keep saying it again and then you won't have time to try this technique..." or "Okay, I'm going to give you a ten minute break while I get ready for the next project, but I want you back in here and sitting quiet at 10:50." Then they'd quiet right down (or shrug into jackets and head for the door). I sometimes heard Tim's gentle reminders when I was occupied with one-on-one coaching. Tim had prepared them well, and they were determined to become good journalers. And they always returned punctually when given a break.
So Day II went well. Now, I had to make it through Day III with spillable water, breakable (and expensive) paintbrushes, waterbrushes and watercolor pencils, and a possibly frustrating new technique for twenty live-wire kids who so far had been VERY well-mannered and focused.