Archive for the ‘hundred languages’ Category

On revisiting

Posted 11 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category hundred languages, materials

I think one of the reasons children don’t often revisit their drawings–go back to them and spend time on them, make revisions and edits–is because they are not articulating the problems in the drawing. Drawing is exhausting, it is a never-ending series of decisions and consequences. If you don’t have a problem in a drawing there is no mind attached to what you are doing. Maybe if we can find ways, words, or gestures to help children verbalize and articulate what they are figuring out, if we can create that environment of trust and respect where to care means you can share points of view, children will engage more deeply with their work because they are, by nature, problem solvers. 


Drawing is Fun

Posted 09 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category environment, hundred languages, materials

Last week in the garden at Miner Elementary School in Washington, D.C., children found a baby ear of corn on the ground near the stalk. Fascinated by this “baby,” children were excited by an invitation to take the corn back to the classroom and draw its portrait. At least 7 children clamored around me, touching and smelling the underdeveloped kernals. They were fascinated by the markers, pencils and colored pencils, and eager to start drawing–until they made their first mark. One boy repeatedly said he couldn’t do it, another child was “finished” within seconds, and another snuck away to dramatic play before I noticed she was not at the table.

photo 5

Organizing an environment for drawing (see also: Drawing Choices, September 8, 2014) another aspect I considered was joy. What would children like to draw? What has meaning for them? At first I started collecting natural materials: shells, rocks, starfish, leaves, but realized that though I know children find these materials fascinating and interesting, they also love teapots and dolls and trucks and Slinkys. I began a collection of these items to launch the area, and children can continue to add to and edit the collection to reflect their personal favorites–maybe a Minecraft Creeper or Frozen character, maybe a spaceship or a special stuffed animal. Special objects can become scenarios or stories for children to imagine and draw.


The intention is to make drawing joyful, to change the culture around drawing from an exacting, torturous exercise to an engaging, imaginative and positive experience.

Drawing Choices

Posted 08 Sep 2014 — by Jennifer
Category environment, hundred languages, materials

photo 1

So many choices! At St. John’s, we are researching, studying, and re-thinking, drawing. It is complex to make choices about materials. I am overwhelmed with possibilities as I stare into our fantastic closet–filled with many years of accumulated and well-organized treasures. Organizing one area in a 4-year-old classroom with drawing surfaces, I needed to decide on the variables–all white papers? Colored and white papers? Colored and white and patterned papers? All the same size? Or maybe different textures? Or maybe different weight papers? Or a mix of everything? Of course, children will develop this area along with us, but as a provocation I need to articulate the choices that are made, and be intentional about materials that are selected, or curated.

The papers I decided on to begin with are all whites, and different weights, textures and sizes. White is the constant here, and I think that seeing variations of the most familiar drawing surface–white paper–could make a big impression. It will be interesting to discover with children, among other things, how the paper itself influences the quality of marks. I think that children (and adults) would choose a paper based more on their color and pattern preference than the difference in weight or tooth of the paper. The monochromatic palette forces subtle detail to the forefront, features that are often obscured when color and pattern are present.



Sgraffito: A New and Ancient Technique

Posted 26 Aug 2014 — by Jennifer
Category hundred languages, materials, observation, role of teacher


When Valerie introduced herself to the group at my workshop Clay as a Tool for Thinking and Learning,” she said she was “not creative,” and had “no experience with clay.” In the workshop we learned many techniques such as how to score and slip, basic hand-building techniques like slab building or coiling, and using armatures. One thing we did not talk about is sgraffito, a decorating technique where colored slip is layered on clay and then scratched off. Valerie discovered this technique on her own. The slip was made from a different source, and bluer than the clay participants were using for their animals. Valerie painted the top of the shell with slip, then etched designs into the surface with a pencil. When I walked around and pointed out the discovery to the rest of the class, Valerie beamed. She had inadvertently stumbled upon an ancient technique (vessels from Thailand date to 3000 B.C.)! Two things come to mind.

1. Play-flow-relating-sensing-touching-marvelling-wondering-thinking-acting-acting-thinking.

Valerie discovered sgraffito through play. I wish I had been there to watch her more closely. Did she notice the slip was a different color when she attached pieces, and therefore tried adding color to the shell? Did she want to smooth the surface with the slip? Did she “mess up,” and try to erase the clay this way? I don’t know for sure. When there is not a recipe or formula for how to do things and what something should look like, when experiences are open-ended, quality time and materials are available, and an attitude of learning, trust and joy pervades–things happen.

2. Knowing-not knowing-teaching-learning-observing-naming-seeing-valuing-giving meaning.

I am often asked when I teach techniques, and how I do it. I like to think of learning about a material as an exchange–between teacher and child (or adult), child and children, child and materials–always in connection with the environment. Information travels in many directions, like in Valerie’s story. Valerie invented something new to her because she needed to express her vision of a turtle, but basic actions with materials have history and are part of that material’s DNA–twisting wire, knotting thread, coiling clay.




Atelier, Creativity, Citizenship: The culture of the atelier between thinking and acting

Posted 09 Dec 2013 — by Jennifer
Category hundred languages, Uncategorized

IMG_0003_2 In the atelier: Human figure between bi-dimensional and tri-dimensional.










I just returned from a week in Reggio Emilia, where I attended the International Study Group: Atelier, Creativity, Citizenship: The culture of the atelier between thinking and acting. 

On the plane ride home, I thought about how I could communicate the big concepts of this Study Group to colleagues and friends. I found my answer in a book I have been reading:

Speaking of Art, Four Decades of Art in Conversation by William Furlong

(This quotation is part of an interview of  artist Frank Stella)

Stella: “I don’t know that much about Duchamp, and I don’t know whether that’s exactly what he said, but making a separation between any of the senses and the mind is a perilous undertaking. It just doesn’t work that way. Given that there are blind intelligences, you have to be taught in a lot of different ways. All of our perception feeds our ability to learn. Intelligence is not an abstraction–it’s a growing part of a whole. So, I don’t see any point in making that separation in human beings or in life experience. Nor is there any point in separating or isolating art and the experience of art.”



Revealing a Character Through the Use of Different Media

Posted 18 Jun 2013 — by Jennifer
Category hundred languages, materials


Pixar designers used different media and techniques in order to fully develop the character “Art” for the upcoming movie “Monsters University.” Sketched first in colored marker, artists then used a soft pencil to flush out Art’s movements. Why? Because soft pencil flows…a line from a pencil is a direct connection between the hand and the brain, the most immediate connection (think about those gesture drawings from your first drawing class). A portrait of Art was painted in order to get the final colors correct, a clay machette was sculpted, and the artists looked at videos of Mummenschanz to study Art’s movements. Each material and technique brought something new to the character, and revealed something about Art that was not clearly articulated with a previous material.

This article is an excellent example of the process of an artist and how he thinks with materials (watch the slide show too)!

Why We Love Beautiful Things –

Posted 17 Feb 2013 — by Jennifer
Category hundred languages

Why We Love Beautiful Things –

This article raises interesting questions about the nature (and nurture) of creativity.

Same process, different media

Posted 17 Feb 2013 — by Jennifer
Category hundred languages, materials, technology

Yesterday Will (my 10 year old) was working on creating a loop in Garage Band. He recorded via synthesizer a segment or phrase, and was trying to loop it, but he was having difficulty because he realized that in order to make a loop, you have to leave halves at the ends, so when they merge you don’t get a repeat at the beginning. Here’s his loop after a lot of trial and error (my title):

tuba loop

I was fascinated because it is the same process textile or wallpaper designers use in order to make repeat patterns. See this detail, below from:


1. Background Rectangle – In this method, the rectangle is placed below all other objects, so that all elements stay within its borders.



2. Dividing Objects – To crop the pattern, create a rectangle on top of all objects to match the tile. Now you have two options: either select all objects and press the Crop button in the Pathfinder panel, or select the top rectangle and go to Object > Path > Divide objects below and delete the leftovers. Now you can save the perfectly cropped pattern.



3. Invisible Borders – This method is the most advanced and popular. Create a rectangle matching the tile borders, make it NO fill and NO stroke (dark rectangle on the image below) and send it to back of the entire stack (Shift + Command+ [). This invisible shape will define the pattern borders, this way you can avoid dividing objects.






And the same process block printing with a repeat:


Same concept, same process; different media, different languages.

Photoshop 101: Buck v. Dragon, lessons learned

Posted 20 Jul 2012 — by Jennifer
Category hundred languages, role of teacher, technology

This week I took an intro to Photoshop class at the Corcoran, and I learned a lot–about the program, about myself as a learner, and about teaching. Here are some reflections:

1. Learning something new is exciting and challenging, uncomfortable and exhausting. For the first time in a long time, I was completely out of my element. I knew how I wanted my final project look, but I couldn’t get it there (buck v. dragon, above, is not the project, I am still working on the assignment)! My project is visually unattractive, sloppy (not intentionally, it’s harder to cut and paste objects skillfully than you might think), awkward and naive.  Many in the group had some visual design experience and I was, of course, comparing. I wanted to hide my screen! A sense of humor really helped me here. I could fortunately laugh at myself, but I had to first accept I was in a state of learning.

2. GROUPS: The dynamics of the group were really interesting–students taking pre-requisites, designers wanting to deepen their knowledge, two 65-70 year old women changing over from film to digital photography. One of these women, we’ll call her Beth, was much slower than the rest of the group, and often got lost and confused. She dropped out on day 3. Those of us sitting next to Beth tried to help her out, but I, for one, got lost myself if I tried to give her support. I could see her patience wane, as well as the patience of the  teacher, and the other students. I felt badly for her, and after Beth left, I became the one with the million questions. I was self-conscious, but I knew that if I didn’t ask, I would never be able to proceed independently. Thinking about a big classroom of 25 children, how often are questions unasked because children are afraid of being the one who doesn’t know? How does a teacher manage such a wide learning discrepancy? This was an intro class-but intro to Mr. Designer and intro to me and Beth is a different story altogether.

3. QUESTIONS: I noticed how precise I had to be in order for the teacher to understand my question. I had to call on my budding Photoshop vocabulary and communication skills to get my point across. I had to rephrase and ask again if the answer was off-base. Is there time for this in classrooms?

4. THE ZONE: On day 3 when the assignment was announced, I began working, and was the only student who could not put something on the page. I tried and tried  for a good 40 minutes to enlarge my image to the canvas size, but it was always blurry. I was unbelievably frustrated, almost to the point of tears. I left 5 minutes early, but before leaving I asked the teacher for assistance and he said to look for higher quality images. I went home, found new images, and came back the next morning–same problem. Luckily Jill,a very nice person sitting next to me, was picking up on my frustration (giveaway: the foul-language spewing from my mouth). Jill watched what I was doing, leaned over and said gently, “press return.”  Hours of agony for a simple return key? So obvious, but not at the time. She said the only reason she could offer advice was because the same thing had happened to her. I think this speaks to observing and documenting, and understanding the processes of learning–if Jill hadn’t watched me work, she would have never picked up on the fact that I wasn’t hitting enter afterwards. And this also speaks to that mysterious zone of proximal development–we have to know each and every child’s (or adult’s) edge, and get to them before they fall off, like Beth.

4. CONTEXT: Many times I had to ask the teacher, “so when would a technique like this be used–for what purpose?” We would have been through the entire lesson on the mechanics of, say, creating a path, without me knowing why there would be a need to create a path in the first place. So the knowledge becomes useless its application can’t be imagined.  A good example of context and instruction is found in The Ashley Book of Knots. Ashley tells you how to make a knot, but first explains what kinds of situations would require that knot, for example: “The axle hitch may be used for emergency towing.” He gives you the history and background of groups of knots, and these stories help to remember the function and purpose of the knot. How often do we give information without context? This has parallels with the Theory of the Hundred Languages in that learning mechanics and techniques and are necessary to build an alphabet–a vocabulary of a language. A language, though, is (among other things) an expression of those techniques; the story, not the letters. If materials and techniques are separate from experience, from context, the relevance of action is diminished.

5. PROBLEM-FINDING: Learning is about “problem-finding” (to borrow a word from my good friends Jennifer Kesserling and Kacey Davenport from Riverfield School in Tulsa, OK). With every design decision I made, I had new problems to find. These problems make the work interesting, but also very demanding. Without the proper support I would have been stuck. Sometimes after exhausting my own knowledge base, I needed a small key to unlock a new world. That key could come from the teacher, other students, or on-line tutorials and information. When a child hits a road block, how many ways does he know to go around? Sources of information are unique to the scenario-what works in one instance doesn’t work in all.

6. MANNERS: I was shocked at the behavior of many of the students. They checked Facebook or email at every spare moment-and then some. Even while the teacher was explaining something! They could not attend to the teacher for longer than a few minutes. This climate is pervasive in our culture, and it needs to be turned around. Call me old-fashioned, but manners, courtesy, and grace should be part of every school’s–every family’s–values.

7. CRITIQUE:  I shared my final project at the group critique. Even though my project was one of the least accomplished, I did not feel anxious about receiving their thoughts. The students had good comments and phrased feedback in beautiful ways, many asking questions: “Did you think about doing _______? ” “What about if you tried ________?” Some gave suggestions: “You might want to try the sponge tool there.” Knowing how to give feedback is crucial to having an honest dialogue, and I will take a page from the students’ book.

In my next post I will share the protocol for a group critique used in my fiber class at MICA.

Riffles and pools

Posted 30 Mar 2012 — by Jennifer
Category hundred languages, observation

My son’s friend Sam studies a tributary of Rock Creek on our walk home from school:

Sam: “That’s a good pool for fish right there, next to the side of that riffle.”

Sam’s dad is an avid angler.  Sam was taught how to read the river, hence, Sam knows where the fish are.

How many secrets could we unlock if we knew how to “read” other languages?