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Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Sketch-Journaling Workshop for Kids ~ Day 1

Hoo Boy! That was too much FUN!
Let me introduce 20 of the neatest kids you can imagine. Their ages range from ten to thirteen, and they applied themselves with great intensity to their journaling workshop. I was blown away by the drawings they produced, as well as their journal entries, poetry and haiku.

Here they are, the whole bunch except for their teacher Tim, who was taking the picture. At left is Joyce, who teaches art, and I'm in the back row (look for the crone). I'm going to go through this one day at a time, showing you what we did, so this blog doesn't turn into a big blob you wouldn't want to read. As I was telling the kids, if you want people to read your journal, you can't feed it to them in big chunks. If you try to eat a whole carrot at once, you'll choke on it. But if you bite it into small chunks, it's easily chomped. So, the plan is: use lots of short paragraphs, and as many pictures as you can squeeze in to hold your reader's attention.

On the last day I sent home evaluation sheets with both kids and their teachers, offering (a carrot, for sure) a free autographed copy of my book Beaver Year in return for a completed evaluation. I picked up the first six filled out evaluations today, plus Tim's, and I think some of his answers make a good introduction to the makeup of the class and their expectations.

He wrote, in response to several questions:

  • "These students have class outdoors once a week where they journal. Participants were selected randomly out of a pool of interested students. I hoped they would develop skills and be inspired to make beautiful, scientific outdoor journal entries.

  • In the class I learned how much drawing is merely a gateway into biological investigations. Before the pencil touches the paper, we learned to look at the object, consider a starting point and find droplines [this is one of the visualizing tools I teach]. Such looking keeps [us] from 'left brain' iconization of objects."

  • In addition, Irene taught us to consider our descriptive text as part of the art on the page. Neatness is no longer enough. Visual pleasure mixes with succinct information recording. The formation of letters and shape of the text area enhance the beauty of the page."

One thing you can pick up from those comments is the fact that Tim (as well as Joyce, the art teacher) TOOK the class, right alongside the kids. They both sat right at the tables with them, doing the homework, everything. They seemed to enjoy it as much as the youngsters.

So here's how it went -- I got pictures of some of it, but sometimes I was so busy teaching I forgot to take photos.

We started out with some right-brain warmups, faces & vases (see the photo), then each student did contour drawings of his/her hand without lifting the pencil from the paper. The first drawing was done while staring at the hand and not looking at the paper; during the second drawing they were allowed to look back and forth between hand and drawing as they drew. This introduces what using the right brain feels like, and we went on from there.

When I felt the kids were comfortable with that concept, we went on to drawing leaves. Using their new skills, with some coaching from yours truly, those guys pulled some wonderful drawings out of the hat! Here're several, but there were lots more great ones

After lunch, they went on to sketching seashells and bones. To tie the sketching to their journaling process, I had each one trace around a heavy paper shape onto the sketch page, to create a design element into which they would journal about their subject: e.g. what it looked like, its color, texture, comments about its shape, their drawing experience, etc.

By this time, we'd pretty much used up the day (and just about used up me, too -- it's not easy keeping on top of what's happening in a workshop!). And with twenty participants, it's not easy to get around to each one for personal instruction, but I did my best. Of course, the ones to get the most attention were ones who asked for it, but I made a point of going to kids who were too shy to ask for help, too.

The main difference between this class of young people and my usual adult classes is the attention span and the need to wiggle frequently (and the giggle and play reflex). If I tried to focus too long on one thing, the noise level would begin to rise and I'd have to work to reestablish some sort of order so we could continue. Still, I was amazed at the focus and determination of these kids to learn what I had to teach. I never felt, at any time, that they wished they were elsewhere (except, maybe, out running off some of that excess energy!). Great kids!

It was a very satisfying day. One down, two to go. But I was still a little apprehensive ~ the second workshop day is totally unlike the first, with an emphasis on writing. I decided to make sure there was some art involved, in case writing wasn't someone's strong point. Still, this IS a journaling class, and their writing is just as important as their art. I was determined to make it interesting and fruitful for them.

Day II tomorrow.

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