Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Clay Bells are ringing with second Graders...

Clay Bells with Second Graders!

Completed bells and their " clangers"

Bisque fired ( fired once) and glazed but not yet fired again our transformed pinch pots are waiting to morph into beautiful bells. 

Just in time for the holidays second graders completed their fabulous clay bells. This was my first time firing the Y.E.S. kiln and it worked like a charm.  
Detailing and embellishing the bells. 
Students started by practicing their clay techniques of rolling and making small balls.  We then made larger pinch pots using a technique learned at Rowe School with Mrs. Landry.  We pulled our pots a bit taller and wider than we might have otherwise, checked that our clay balls could fit inside with space to ring as clangers, added a hole at what would become the top but was originally the bottom of the pot  and then embellished the exteriors with designs and texture. 

The bells were then bisque fired ( fired to 1900 degrees over a period of 12 hours to be hard and strong).  We then used artists glazed that added beautiful array of colors to the bells.  I fired them again, this time to a slightly lower temp and what we call a fast burn of 4 to 5 hours. The glazes melt to become beautiful and glassy. 

To assemble the bells adult help was needed.  If you are a parent of a second grader and read this feel free to adjust the order of the clangers; the length, order and number of clangers all effect the sounds of each bell. 

To see the kids faces when the finally got their bells in hand was pretty special. For some classes I had to hand them directly to their teachers as there was a time crunch but for others it was a treat for me. Kids were proud, they were curious about the sounds and very excited to bring them home. I hear more than one child discussing who they might give this precious bell too... I do hope they can ring in the new year for all our Y.E. S. second graders. It was an exceptionally rewarding unit for me.

Some vocabulary we learned in this unit:  raw clay, bisque ware, green ware, glaze ware, kiln and fire.
Oh and I almost forgot we also watched a great Youtube clip showing how clay is mined and refined.  It was fascinating and informative. Ask your child about it. I would be curious to know their take away from it. 

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Straw Weaving has taken over Y. E. S. like a storm...

Straw Weaving SLIDE Show of 3rd and 4th Grade Weavers:
As we wind our way through the three and half weeks before vacation straw weaving has hit epidemic proportions. Third and fourth graders have now mastered weaving with two straws and are branching out, some to 4, 5, 6, 9 and even 10 straws. I know that many kids are making bracelets, belts and scarves for family and friends and I am struck at the power of being a maker  and a giver and the satisfaction it is bringing to so many kids.  

For the past three weeks I have had an open studio for lunch recess on Fridays for 3rd and 4th graders and its been filled with kids engaging and extending their work.Our passwords for this lesson included such technical words as warp ( the threads that become a tassel and that we weave over and under) , weft ( the yarns we weave with) and PATIENCE,  PRACTICE and PERSISTENCE ( or PERSEVERANCE). ... We discussed how at first even making the two straw loom was hard but kids were patient and trusted they could do it and they did.
 As one child said to me today, " We are going to be sad after vacation when you teach us another lesson and we can't weave any more".... it got me thinking that maybe I should keep a weaving corner open for the rest of the year... we shall see... for now... here is a short slide show of some of our weavers in action... some are from class time, some are from indoor recess.  

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Straw Weaving has taken hold!!!    
Third grade weavers from Mrs. Colfer's class loving it!

If you have a Y.E.S. third or 4th grader, you may have noticed that he or she has been traveling around with a baggie, straws and bunches of yarn.  This is because we have officially started our ' hand-work unit' and kids are loving it.  If  you are ever wondering how your child might be challenged in art class, straw weaving is a great example of how art can engage many levels of learning, from simple, or not so simple, following of a multistep sequence of instructions, to being able to tie a few different knots, to having a spatial orientation on how to keep the correct direction as one weaves, how to create a pattern, how to notice a mistake and correct it so there will be no holes, and how to engineer the making and deconstructing of the loom. Plus throughout the process of weaving decisions are being made on color choices, how long, how short, how tight, how loose, do you want the weaving to be. 

As I write this update I am reflecting on what a  satisfying  week it has been for me.  My ultimate goal as an art teacher is to introduce kids to ways of seeing and making, and to empower them to want to do it on their own; to build intrinsic confidence and desire. Well straw weaving has taken, especially the 4th grade like wildfire. 
Straw weaving is basically a technique of creating a portable narrow loom, using two to 5 straws to keep the warp threads taught. 
In introducing it here at Y.E.S., once kids got it, they were amazed at how engaging and how much fun it was, how satisfying it is to do hand work, and how relaxing it is. One boy who was particularly reluctant to give it a try, was quoted as saying, " This is actually fun.", and chose to participate in a ' pop up' weaving studio we had in the 4th grade wing, during a recent indoor recess. 

I chose to teach this handwork unit before the holidays in hopes that children are inspired to continue weaving at home, in the car, in a plane, wherever you go during vacation, and also in hopes that a child will feel empowered to make some as hand woven gifts. They make great pet collars, bracelets, thin scarves if woven with 4 or 5 straws. I have extra yarns available in the Art Studio that your child can come in and take from.  

I believe hand-work and craftsmanship associated with it are an important part of a strong visual arts program, so hope you can extend this lesson at home. Straws and yarn is all that is needed. I am sure your child can show you how, but if not, I enclosed a straw weaving instructions with every kit that goes home with a child.  Try your hand at it if you get a chance.
I just did a Youtube search and found a nice site   if you want to get a handle on it, especially with 4 straws.  The versions I saw on Youtube were slightly different than how I taught it but very helpful and perhaps you and your child would want to try the other versions.  If you weave with wool you could actually make them larger and then boil them down to be felted bracelets, something I have yet to try.  Third graders are only learning the 2 straw technique to this would be a way to extend the lesson at home and feel confident on how to do it. 
For the month of December I will have plenty of yarn on hand in the Art Studio but if you have any yarn that is not too thin, that  you want to donate to the Art Studio feel free to send it in with your child. Too thin and its difficult to weave on a straw, same with too thick, so a 'medium' weight would  be appreciated. 
This weekend I went to   Ruth's Recyclables of Portland, an amazing resource of recycled items, that Yarmouth Schools are a member of. Any teacher can get items for classroom use for free at Ruth's if their school is a member. I was able to pick  up 40 skeins of ' fun fur' yarn that is fuzzy, fun and makes for a fabulous texture in ones weaving. I am looking forward to integrating that into the 4th graders weavings this week, and 3rd graders next week. 
Straw weaving in action!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving Zentangles: 

Before Thanksgiving, some classes were able to create mini-pumpkin Zentangles in which they embedded, or hide words of people, places or things they were thankful for. They were mounted in a hand-made envelope and hopefully made their way home to family and friends.  This one below I found particularly lovely as the student wrote a poem around the Zentangle and said I could share it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Second Graders introduced to paintings of Georgia 0'Keeffe
This fall second graders have been sci-artists and explored leaves and flowers from the Y.E. S. gardens with jewelers loupes ( see 2nd Grade Team Hour). With jewelers loupes as our tool we have now gone on to look closely at flowers as Georgia O'Keeffe might have done.  We watched a short Brain Pop Jr. movie clip on Georgia 0'Keeffe and some classes we read the book  My Name is Georgia.  
We learned that Georgia O'Keeffe was born in Wisconsin on November 15, 1887 and if she were alive today she would have been 128 years old.  We learned that she always knew she wanted to be an artist but that in those ' olden days' women were not expected to be artists.  She studied to be an art teacher and eventually moved to New York City where she began painting HUGE flowers. She wanted her work to be so big and beautiful so people would stop to see the beauty of flowers as she saw them. 

We then explored being artists in Georgia O'Keeffe's style. We used loupes again to look closely at flowers, drawing what we saw but also adding our own styles and interpretations. The flowers are larger than life, filling 9 x 9 inch squares. Second graders drew them  carefully in  pencil, then sharpie, and now have begun adding colors.  Our color study we will learned about warm and cool colors. We did small thumbnail color studies in crayon of warm flowers on cool backgrounds.  We then chose the combination we preferred and applied that to painting of our flowers. They are coming out beautifully and each one is very unique expression of each child's vision.
Enlarged flower.

Students did thumbnail studies of warm  color flowers on cool color  backgrounds
Color study in warm and cool.
This young artist used the jewelers loupe ( upper right) to allow her to see details in the flower.

Red violet on blue background. 
Art Parties, Press Here & a busy Open Studio

Recently all the classes, 2nd, 3rd and 4th earned an art parties. Due to holiday and field trips its taking a few weeks for all classes to have their parties but they all will for sure.  Art parties can vary from being a day of self-guided free art making, to watching an art video to learn about an interesting artist, or to learn a new art game. 
 For our first art party of the year I introduced all the students to the brilliant french artist/ illustrator Herv√© Tullet and his book Press Here and the game of visual logic of the same name, “ Press Here”.   We started classes off with the book and game intro and then each child had time to pursue ‘ their own” creative endeavor.  Some kids worked in sketch books, some made posters, other in Mrs. Rhoads class worked on their knitting and, still others played the game Press Here, or made their own versions of the book Press Here. Without fail the studio was very much alive and vibrant during these hours and all classes are well on their way to earning another art party in a few months.
I have embedded here a slide show of just some of the creativity that blossomed during these parties. Without exception kids were engaged, excited, often collaborating, always creating and an inspiration to me. Some times ' free art' can devolve into chaos, or inappropriate behaviors but Y.E. S. kids appreciated the sessions and made the most of them. Made me look forward to our next party.
Most of the slides are of Mrs. Rhoads fourth grade classe but all the classes were just as creative. The knitters are from Mrs. Rhoads class where she has taught them all to knit and many of them wanted to bring their work into the art studio so our work was quite diverse.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Thinking Abstractly: Music Mapping:  Connecting Music and Art

Recently, in music, library and art class fourth graders have been preparing for the Portland symphony performance of 'Alice in Wonderland ".  In the art studio we listened to one of the pieces from the "Alice Symphony" by David Del Tredici.  Its called " Speak Roughly/ Speak Softly", and is a very abstract piece with two distinct moods.  In music class Mrs. Troy has shared the piece  and focused on how the composer creates a unified piece out of what sounds like complete chaos. In art studio we focused on translating the music, the sounds and beats of the music into marks and color, and actually ' mapping" it as it moves from one rough, loud mood to in intermediate mood, and finally to a calm movement.  I am sorry I don't have a clip of the painting in action as the kids were very kinetic as they painted.

It was a two week lesson and I introduced it reading on the Kindle overhead the Caldecott honor book  The Noisy Paint Box: The colors and sounds of Kandinsky's Abstract Art,  by Barbara Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary  Grand Pre.  We learn that as a young boy  Kandinsky discovered he had synethesia; when he saw colors he heard sounds and when he heard sounds he saw colors.  At the time he did not know  it was a unique condition ( about one in every 5,000 people has this unique ability) , but eventually it led him to be the first painter in the Western world to paint abstractly.

We looked at some of his works, listened to the abstract discordant and then melodious music of Del Tredici from the Alice Symphony, and then translated the sounds to marks.

Week two we watched a slide show I created on the importance of color in the world, how it affects everything from how animals are camouflaged, to how insects are attracted to flowers, to our moods on a sunny or gray day.  We also looked at how advertisers use color to influence our purchasing.

Here are some samples of the works both in phase one, black and white , and then phase two, when artists added their colors.  Each child not only responded in their own unique style, they also articulated very contrasting feelings on the different sides of the pieces.  Ultimately the paintings will be hung as a music mapping of the " Speak Roughly/ Speak Softly".

Student painting the notes and beats of "Speak Roughly, Speak Softly " from the Alice Symphony.
Left side speaking roughly. Right speaking softly.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Zentangling at YES Art Studio


Recently  third graders  and now some fourth grade classes were introduced to the concept of creating Zentangles. Zentangles are complex designs that are created through simple repetition, or sequencing of different marks.  We discussed the difference between creating a pattern vs. a sequence of marks that may need to adapt to the space they are in.... a picture of a Zentangle is literally worth a thousand words and that is pretty much how I introduced this lesson. 

This is an example of a quilt of Zentangles. 

We watched a slide show, then watched one of the originators of Zentangles doing a zentangle and then tried our hand at our own Zentangles. On one level Zentangling is really just a special kind of " doodle", on the other hand, having taught the art of Zentangle for about 5 years now, I find it an amazingly EMPOWERING form of creating.  Without exception, in each class you could hear a pin drop as my kid artists watched Maria Thomas, one of the originators of Zentangles wordlessly create her Zentangle.  In addition kids were eager to try their hand at it, and each child brought their own unique style to their tangles.  The first Zentangles they created went home with them; hopefully you had a peak at them.  Going forward we will use the art of Zentangling to create unique texture, style, contrast and beauty to all sorts of works of art.  Below is the slide show I shared with the kids. If you want to find out more on Zentangling or to do it yourself with your child, go to

Crayon Resist Leaf Placemats with 2nd and 3rd Graders
In the second and third grades we explored one of the Elements of Art, TEXTURE, to create lovely leaf textured placemats.  We reviewed that texture in art often is how  something looks like it might feel, even though we would only feel it with our eyes.  We used the scientific properties of oil and water, the fact that the two don't mix to create crayon resist paintings.  We limited our palette to the primary colors Red and Yellow, to create warm fall colors, and Green, the complement of Red to create natural fallish feel to our rubbings.
Vocabulary for this lesson was: Texture, Warm colors: Red, Yellow, Orange
and Complementary colors: Red and Green.
We discussed how complimentary colors are opposite on the color wheel and when mixed together they create a muddy color.
We also discussed how artists use different colors to create different feelings in a work of art.
These pieces were intended for daily use, as placemats, so I hope that they have found their way into your home, sooner than later. By the end of the first week of November all should have been sent home.

Step one, use the vein side of a leaf to create textured leaf rubbings
Step two, add  thinned tempera paint to create a resist

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Fourth graders have been working on drawing wooden artist's mannequins. This was a mini unit where we first used our eyes to break down the components of a mannequin's shapes into ovals, trapezoids, circles and squares.  We noticed that anywhere a mannequin moved, i.e. any joint, was represented by a circle of various sizes. We practiced drawing them in different poses.

Mannequin shapes week one.
The following week we discussed  the elements of art, and how line is the most basic element of art. That when lines close a shape is formed and how how shapes are 2-D, and forms are -3D , and that artist's use VALUE ( lightness or darkness of a mark or color) to create form.  We practiced creating form in our drawings of mannequins using only a crayon. The results were very satisfying and every artist was able to leave class feeling a sense of accomplishment.
Here are some student examples from Mrs. Fier's 4th grade:

Using a crayon is surprisingly much easier to shade with than a pencil.  While many kids were skeptical of this lesson at first, they all trusted the process and tried the instructions and I was very proud of them for doing it. Most of them were stepping out of their comfort zones in this lesson and yet at the end of class felt very good about their work.  A personal goal as an art teacher is for me to know kids feel empowered by the lessons I teach and this is one that empowerment was evident.

Our second round of 3rd Grade team hour is extending our lesson of Picasso' one-liners. We read the book Follow the Line and A Line can be.... by Laura Ljunkvist.

Both books are extended one-liners that travel the length of the books.  Each child got their very own mini one liner book. They titled them and their visual adventures began... One child wanted to title her " One Liner Adventure" which was inspiring, so I officially changed the name of the lesson to "Our One-Liner Adventure".   If you haven't seen your child's book do ask them about it. 

The process of creating in one-liner format is a very focussing activity; I am not sure what happens with my brain when I work in  one-liner mode but I do know its challenging, satisfying and getting me to think and create outside my comfort zone.  Kids, without exception seem to really get into it to.  I you want to try this at home keep it simple and make it a game... seems to work best that way.  

A oneliner figure, colored in....

A one liner starting off with an abstract scribble warm- up.... literally taking a line for a walk, 

Second round of Second Grade Team Hour has begun and for this unit we are exploring our worlds as Scientist-Artists, or " Sci-Artists".

We discussed that artists and scientists share many traits:
Artists and scientists both;
  • look carefully at their worlds
  • slow their eyes down to observe details
  • make drawings that inform a viewer
  • use colors that are close to the object
  • often draw objects and details to help them remember what something looks like

For this lesson we first  practiced using a jeweler’s loupe.  A loupe is a small magnifier that one has up close to one’s eye. It takes a bit of time to get the knack of  using a jewelers loupe so we first did that.
Then we gathered leaves, or sticks or other natural items from outdoors, and brought them inside.
We did careful , observational drawings of the items ‘ as is’ and then looking through the magnification of the loupe.  
In science second graders have been working with Deb Landry, a science consultant for the district, on seeds & seed pods and they looked through magnifiers through a kind of microscope that hooked into a computer.  We made the connection to that lesson and next month during the Art Share team hour, we will be looking at the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, who not only looked closely at her world but she also, changed forever how others see the world.

A note about the loupes: Each child used their own loupe and after each class I sterilize the loupes with  lysol wipes.  Kids always are excited by these simple, but very powerful and versatile  magnifiers. If you are curious about them a set of 3 different magnifications ( 2.5 x, 5x and 10 x) go for about $5.00 on Amazon. Kids usually ask me about that, that is why I am including it here.
Looking closely, with a loupe to the artist's right side.

Below is the observation sheet we used to focus our seeing and drawing.

Artist-Scientist Observational Drawings

I looked at ______________________________

  As is:     Magnified:


Magnified ____ x

 I noticed _________________________________________




Sunday, October 11, 2015

Our first art TEAM hour focus was on Pablo Picasso and his one-liner drawings.  If you are at this link you may have already seen my note from the studio on what we learned.  In my " SHELFARI" book list at the bottom of the page is a listing of the fabulous book, Picasso's one-liners which was a huge discovery for me years ago.  Its out of print but worth looking at especially if you are a fan of the whimsy and joy of one-liner drawings.

And here is more information on what we learned and links to Picasso drawing on glass and the THINK DIFFERENT Apple computer ad he was featured in in 1997.

Here is a slide show I created to introduce Pablo Picasso and his one-liners.

Following our work with The Dot, all classes watched the animated version of ISH, also by Peter Reynolds.  It’s the continuation of The Dot.   It takes place a few years after The Dot, and we find the little boy, whose name we find out is Ramon, now has learned to LOVE to draw.  That is until his older brother makes fun of his work and hurts his feelings and makes him sad and mad all at the same time.
We discussed how sometimes we can get so sad that we get mad. A fellow teacher in the room told us that some people call that being " in the purple zone".... sad is blue, and red is mad and put them together you get purple....
But back to the story of Ish the good news is Ramon's sister sees his work differently and  Ramon learns to appreciate his work in a whole new light. I told the students that if I wanted their drawings to look like a photograph I'd give them cameras. We also talked about how all of us are different, have different voices and handwriting, so our art works will all be different. I reminded students of my first studio rule, be safe with our words and actions, " kind words".  Ish is about many things but one is the power of kind words and positive thoughts to ourselves and others.
  • For our mini-lesson I taught kids a new skill, to ‘ air-draw’. Air drawing is a term I came up with years ago, to help kids ' flatten space' and see the lines in an object they are drawing. Artists do this all the time, but I had heard it called " siting the lines", not very fun. Air-drawing is something they can get into. We close one eye, and essentially flatten our depth of field. Kids tried it with one eye and it worked, they realized with two eyes their vision was blurred ( binocular vision).  We discussed why artists need to flatten space. We realized that the world is " 3-D" and paper is flat and thus '2D", and so artists are continually faced with this problem. How do we solve it? We flatten space by tricking our eyes, and ultimately every time we draw we are problem solvers.
  • I recently looked air-drawing up and found there is an iPhone app, that allows you to draw in the air and the marks are recorded on the iPhone. I will need to check that out. .. 
  • But I digress finally back to our lesson, created ishy floral still-lifes, directly in Sharpie, we learned to " oops out'" any supposed mistakes. I helped some kids on this. 
  • The following week we added water color crayons and the results are unique, beautiful, powerful and all different. They truly made me smile. I will be posting a bunch when I get back to school.

Monday, September 14, 2015

" Making our Mark", inspired by THE DOT by Peter Reynolds

During our second week in the YES Art Studio, all the young artists made  their mark, inspired by the book, The Dot, by Peter Reynolds.  In each class we started by watching the animated version of The Dot, and then proceeded to make our own " dot inspired" works of art.  The challenge was to use a 6 inch square and a yogurt container to make our own unique dot.
The password for 3rd and 4th graders was ' mixed-media', because they  used two different materials or media ( marker and watercolors, 3rd and crayon and watercolors 4th) to create their unique dots. Second graders password was crayon-resist.
Students were encouraged to make their dots, or ' their marks', different from anyone else's. The results were diverse, experimental in some cases, safer in others, but in all cases kids explored and felt pretty good about what they accomplished.  I have been laminating the dots and making them into " Dot Quilts" that are displayed around the school, so on your next visit in, check out the Dot Quilts.

In addition, the making of the dots was part of International Dot Day.
 Each year for the past few years artists of all ages from around the world have celebrated the empowerment of making ones mark, no matter how big or how small it may be.  In this way, September 15th has been declared International Dot Day, and this year over 3 million artists ( teachers and their students for the most part) have signed up to use artistic dots as a vehicle of creativity.

I have registered the students at YES to be part of this international celebrations, and plan to submit photos of the Dot Quilts to the website.  While each child's dot has  its own unique identity, the collective collaborative quilt of dot squares has a strong visual impact, with the whole, being stronger than the sum of its parts; hopefully echoing the strength our our community here at YES.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Welcome to the YES Art Studio Blog from Mrs. Higgison

Welcome to the Yarmouth Elementary Art Studio blog.  My name is Chak√© Higgison, and I am the new art teacher here at YES.  I am thrilled to be here and look forward to meeting the children, engaging them in making art and challenging them to have fun as well as to learn skills that will allow them to build confidence in their abilities to create and express themselves visually. 

Communicating with parents and community about what goes on in the Art Studio is important to me thus I plan to use this blog as one tool of communication.  However,  working with a blog is new for me so this may be a work in progress throughout the year while I find my way.  

 Traditionally, my means of communicating has been to attach " Notes from the Art Studio" to some works as they are sent home, so I plan on continuing that practice to a limited extent as well. 

Meeting your child where they are as artists is a goal of mine. A guiding principle is

that art is a universal language that children intuitively understand.   As the art teacher I try to make the program engaging and fun, and connect lessons, whenever possible to subjects the kids are studying in another discipline.  The basic skills of seeing and drawing are taught and nurtured as each child matures.

Within the art program children are encouraged to demonstrate and develop their visual literacy by exploring materials and processes,  practicing skills, developing vocabulary and making pieces of art that help create a deeper understanding of the world around them.
   Children come to school as natural born artists.  In the art studio I see my job as fostering their natural abilities. They come in as picture readers, already visually literate. I seek to let each child be empowered by their own creations and to see the value in the different styles we all bring to the works we create.  I tell the kids once they enter the art studio they are artists and in art there are multiple answers to any one question or problem.

   Creative problem solving is a constant in art. Whether it is the " problem " of how does one translate a three dimensional  vase of flowers into a two dimensional painting, or how  one constructs a clay snake so it has texture and form and does not break during the process of creation.  I am constantly letting the kids know they are solving problems every day in art; and that each problem has multiple ways to be approached and multiple solutions.

In being cognizant of the fact that verbal and written  literacy skills are important across the disciplines, students are exposed to and discuss visual images of famous artists from our past as well as contemporary artists whose works we can view online.

Going forward I hope to add to this blog but I hope this introduction of my teaching philosophy is helpful. I also have an ' about me' page if you are curious about my background, etc. Please don't hesitate to be in touch, I can be reached at or by stopping by the school.

Look forward to meeting your children and putting faces and names together.
C. K. Higgison
Sept. 7, 2015