Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Halloween - Dressing up and eating sweets

Halloween is my favourite annual celebration, combining dressing up with eating too many sweets, craft, sewing and face painting.  In Australia though trick or treating can be pretty disheartening.   We seem to too readily dismiss it as Americanisation but cheerfully embrace the coca cola version of Santa Claus.  The worst experience we have had so far in Australia was when our oldest was two.  We were living away from family and friends on a six month, which turned into an eighteen month, contract in the Blue Mountains and had been building everyone up to halloween, made or bought costumes and spent the preceding friday night at the Museum Halloween party.   I think we may have been living in the most religious street in Glenbrook, filled with people who seemed very put out by our dressing up and celebrating a heathen holiday.  One neighbour  even slipped religious propaganda into my small child's basket.  It was a cartoon so even if he was an early reader he could still appreciate the message of condemnation.  I could just imagine what that weeks sermon must have been like when they passed around these tragic pamphlets for participants to hand out at Halloween, helping to open the eyes of the wicked trick or treating children to the error of their ways.  The Annual Haunted Museum Halloween Party, from the spooky trail to the hidden entrance, to the 'Night of the Museum' inspired monkey and alligator handling when we got inside.  This was a great night even though I had a piercing on my lip that was grossly infected and gave my wicked witch costume the added special effect of pussy, bulging sore lip and spooky red eye that not even latex can achieve. 

This year we have opened our little heathens eyes to even more harmless Halloween fun.  Pumpkin carving!

Happy Halloween!

4th Annual Haunted Museum Halloween Party

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Teaching Art to Children - Drawing exercises

There are a number of exercises that I have derived from art teaching methodologies for teaching art to young children.  One thing I hope to always be consistent with is a drawing exercise in the class.

Caveat to all of these is that there should never be any pressure or expectation.  Your child may just not be ready for this, whether it is confidence or ability to hold a pencil or brush, concentration or simply lack of desire to draw, your child can be engaged in the building blocks to drawing.  Fine motor skill builders like singing songs with finger actions like incy-wincy spider, use of scissors, gluing, felt image play, collage, pipettes.  I used to call my son an installation artist because he seemed to not be interested at all in drawing and lost interest in painting but he loved to take out whatever he could find in the cupboards and create these great installations with piles of stuff, purposefully arranged.  He also never lost his love for craft and now, out of the blue he is amazing at drawing.

Here are overviews of the exercises.

Mirror image  This exercise involves creating a grid on the page and placing increasing complex shapes in the left hand column for the child to copy into the right hand column.  As I am drawing with very young children this involves creating a shape or simple shape grouping image with at least the first image demonstrating the intention and giving visual direction with a dotted line example in the right hand box.  The shape can be as simple as a triangle, building on previous lesson printouts by combining that triangle with other shapes to make a more complex image.

Simple Shape exploration  Monart describes a shape alphabet, which condenses every object down to the sum of it's parts for the purpose of artistic reproduction.  This exercise will use different shapes elements from this alphabet and mediums to freely engage the child in making marks on paper with different art mediums under minimal instruction.  Swirls with water colour, lines with different density of graphite, squares, dots, zig zags, circles, angles.   Slowly introducing more elements of the alphabet until the child can easily reproduce any one element under instruction.

Simple shape grouping  This exercise involves talking the group or individual child through creation of a particular image through detailed description of the simple shape elements that can be used in its construction.  To do this, there is no need to use a prop or example image, just ensure you are describing something the students are all familiar with.  Starting with a face or child is perfect because it a subject they are all familiar with.  Build from the top or bottom, like the stacking of different shaped blocks.  Describe the two boxes with round corners lying down on their sides for feet, the two lines coming out of each one for the legs, the long circle for the body, the two lines coming out of the body for the neck, the circle stacked on these two lines for the head.   Step the child through as many steps as they can tolerate to create an object.  A house, tree or bird can be an easy beginning as the steps to form the shape are fewer.  Combine with mirror image exercise to combine simple shapes together to form an object, such as the squares and circles of a simple house drawing.

Critical observation  There are many ways to engage a child in critical thinking about the world and ideas.  This exercise is aimed at getting young children to think critically about the shape elements of an object, it's attributes and proportions.  Choose an object in theme for the class or flavour of the day for your child.  Explore it together, then have the children explain the item to you as you draw it on a large piece of paper or card.  This is an element of art that I have always found myself doing very naturally, those elements I rarely draw I need to dedicate intent to breaking down critically, for me this is landscape and cityscape.  I have always found myself critically exploring the human face and I love drawing and painting people, dreamscapes and animals but landscapes, although I love nature, I have typically not used as my subject matter and have deliberately spent time in critical observation to be able to work more freely while I try and expand my ability.

Visualisation  There is a great Monart process for approaching a drawing or painting exercise at the beginning of class.  This is an exercise to help an art student approach a blank piece of paper which can appear very daunting if you place pressure on yourself.  I do not know if young children really feel this intimidation as they all just seem happy to enjoy the process rather than stress about the outcome but I think this is still a wonderful approach to calming the child and helping them to visualise an image or idea for an image.  Have the child place their elbows on the table and cup their hands over their eyes, without placing any pressure on their eyeballs as you do not want to hurt or damage them.  This allows for a nice internal blank canvas and a calm dark space for them to work without any constraint placed on them by ability to hold or control their pencil or paint brush.  Give them this time to spend thinking about what they would like to draw and then let them loose to create whatever they wish without pressure to reproduce what they have been visualising, instead hopefully this has acted as inspiration to draw with even more enthusiasm.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

NGA Kids Gallery - WordArt

Word Art is even greater for a child to enjoy, remove the preconception from the appreciation of the word meaning and you have nothing but the shape, colour and placement.   For a young child word art might be missing intended depth but brings a Pop Art like appreciation for design and beauty in the every day things we are surrounded by.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Butter Biscuit Recipe

1 egg
225gms butter
3/4 cups castor sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 1/3 cups flour
or 2 cups flour and 1/3 cup of cocoa'

mix first six ingredients with electric mixer until fluffy.  Gradually stir in flour by hand until well mixed.  Chill for 2 to 3 hours in refridgerator.  Preheat oven to 200C.  Roll out half of the dough at a time on a floured board until about 1/2 cm thick.  Cut using cutters and place on ungreased baking sheet.

Bake for approx 6 minutes, in a gas oven, until edges are starting to brown.  Remove and cool on baking sheet .  When cool use icing for decoration by spreading evenly over the whole cookie.  Sweet Sugarbelle has the most amazing walk throughs on decorating and biscuit making.  These biscuits where perfect for cutting and tasted great before decorating.  Unfortunately the dogs broke in while we were playing in the garden so nobody but Stinky Chinko got to try the final product.  Kiki stood at the door looking nervous and wanting to distance herself from what was taking place inside, either that or she was the worst look out in the history of biscuit heists.

Butter icing
3 cups icing sugar
85 gms butter
1 to 2 tsp milk
1 tsp vanilla

Sugar glaze
2 cups icing sugar
4 tsp golden syrup
4 tsp milk
food colouring (optional)

mix thoroughly and spread evenly over cookie as a base for decorating.  Will dry shiny and firm.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Shadow Puppet Theatre

Beginning my conscious life in Malaysia, my introduction to shadow puppet theatre was to spectacularly intricate paper puppets and stories of romance and demons.  It was something I forgot about except for a deep rooted aesthetic that draws me towards works by artists like Emma Kidd. 

Recently I was inspired by beautiful puppets from Moulin Roty but I had not yet come across their fabric shadow puppet theatre or I would probably have approached it differently.

some black paper/card
brads for attaching moving parts of your puppets together
black paint
baking paper
bamboo skewers
hole punch
scissors or craft knife

1.  Draw out your puppets,  cut out, punch holes (it is a messy and inexact business to just push the brads through the paper) and attach moving parts together using the brads.
2.  Cut out a length of the baking paper about the width of a hallway or doorway and paint some scenery upon it.  We were running with five little monkeys sitting in a tree, teasing a crocodile.
3.  Once dry I used some clear tape folded over with the string at the fold attached to the top of the theatre scene leaving enough string on either side to tape to the wall, door frame or wind around the leg of a chair or table.  Repeat across the bottom.
4. Affix the skewers to your puppets, one per moving part, for the monkeys I was manipulating them by hand as well as the sticks but it was not a good idea to have so many moving parts.

While looking for some info on how other people had built a fabric shadow puppet theatre I came across two wonderful blog posts.

The first is from Mousehouse who used inspiration from a Seedling workshop to create a great Gruffalo themed box theatre and puppets.
The second is a Giverslog tutorial on creating your own beautiful fabric puppet theatre.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Gardening and Nature

We have been doing some plant propagation lately, starting with some peas, now waiting to plant out these gorgeous nasturtiums.   I planned a nature walk so we can collect seeds but the day took some other twists and at the end we found ourselves at the zoo where I was very excited to be able to collect some seeds with my little ones.  I had completely forgotten our intent when my son pointed out seeds lying all over the floor at the base of a tree there.  Then onward and with a new eye for the plants around the zoo we collected some Hakea seed pods.  I cannot wait for them to open and then have a go at growing some natives.

When we were making our initial plans I put together a list of plants that you can collect seeds from at this time of year in the box gum grassland around Canberra.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Impressionism Lesson Plan

I have started my student lead journey into the world of teaching art to children.  Armed with a theoretical introduction, reading through Drawing with Children by Mona Brooks and Drawings of People by the Under 5's,  and my own experiences as a Mum I have recently begun taking art classes at the Miniature Railway.  At the moment these classes are a dollar coin donation to help cover expenses and only open by invitation.  It is something I want to do for my own children and for the enjoyment I gain through introducing art into the world of children.  Photo care of My Photos and Things.

The following outlines the lesson on introducing impressionism.  It is spring here so the focus is on gardens and flowers in impressionism.

1. Acrylics
2. lead pencil
3. paper

Impressionism marked a move away from trying to make objects look like they do in real life.  Instead it gave the feeling of a moment in time by relaying the impression of an object or a scene through the eyes of the artist.   This is great for children, who are already overcoming a sense of their own capabilities in relation to the world around them.  Art like this can be easier for a child who has unlimited capacity for free brush strokes and uninhibited expression.

Olivia by Ian Falconer.  This book contains several styles of art including the work of Degas.

Claude Monet
The first painter who exhibited works with a free style not trying to look like a photograph of the subject was Monet.  His works elicited a response from critics that sound like censors today criticising heavy metal music.

And this the collection of botched-up things being exhibited to the public without any thought of the fatal consequences they may entail. Yesterday in the Rue de Peletier an unfortunate man was arrested because on coming out of the exhibition he had started to bite passers-by.  – Albert Wolff, review of the second Impressionist exhibition, Le Figaro, 1876.

Vincent VanGough
Possibly one of the most famous impressionists, Van Gough was wracked by self criticism and madness but produced some of the most emotional works.  Whoever was lucky enough to visit the Masterpieces from Paris exhibition would have seen the vivid colours in Starry Night that you just cannot appreciate through replications and photographs. 

Although there is a focus on spring and impressionists work depicting flowers and garden scenes, Degas will be getting thrown in the mix via the book for today, 'Olivia'.

Gustav Klimt (not famous for his impressionism but still producing around the same time he had some pieces influenced by impressionism and pointillism.)

Lesson Printout:
Building on the ability to copy elements of an image and utilise the "alphabet" of shapes to visually articulate an object with simple shape language: circles, angles, curved and straight lines.
Van Gough still life oil painting -  Vase with 15 Sun Flowers.  Every young artist will experience reproducing the work of a famous artists, whether walking through a gallery or flicking through one of the many art history books they will be exposed to over the course of their study.  This is a crude replica of this great artists work aimed at creating a template for very young artists to play purely with colour, the vibrant and warm colours of spring: orange, red, yellow, white and green.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012


One of simplest optical illusions to create is the thaumatrope.  No doubt you have seen the bird and the cage thaumatrope at some time.  It is a disc on a string with pictures on each side depicting something which, when spun, combine into a single image.

My eldest wanted a dinosaur eating, my youngest a dog.  On a bit of an olde Victorian theme today.  My eldest has just run inside with a feather asking for a piece of paper and some ink. 

Monday, 1 October 2012

Cloud Craft

Based on the beautiful Magnetic Board with Magnets project by Casa Trends, this is a mass production hand made effort in support of craft for the upcoming Montessori Fair.

I wanted to make some home made porcelain but came across some inexpensive, good quality air dry modelling clay.

To do this project you will need some paints (black and pink or something to mix yourself a cute pink for the cloud cheeks), either acrylic or gouache, very strong small magnets, super glue, a flower or cloud (more difficult to find) cookie cutter and either a teardrop cookie cutter or a set of rose petal fondant cutters.  The Das air dry clay dries in 24 hours.

Roll the clay to approx 1/2 cm thick.  Cut the clay and set aside to dry.  If using a flower cookie cutter just squeeze into a cloud shape as you cut.  I placed a sheet of paper under a book and weighed it down to make sure they dried without warping or curling.

Paint the face of the cloud and allow to dry.

Super glue the magnets onto the back and you have a cute magnet set.  If you use weak magnets they will still be cute but impractical.