Archive for the ‘materials’ 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.




Thinking about Painting

Posted 16 Aug 2014 — by Jennifer
Category materials, role of teacher


“I want them to paint as an individual choice.”

“I want them to explore without having support or supervision.”

“I want to be comfortable letting kids go.”

“I want to increase their independence in this area.”

“I want them to know the systems so they can create freely.”

Teachers’ comments at Beyond Crayons and Markers: The Language of Paint and Color as Tools for Expression and Thinking.

I appreciate these comments–the desire to support autonomy and independence at the easel (or table), and to increase accessibility to paint and painting in the classroom. But I have to wonder if the desire for children’s independence stems from a hesitation to value painting, and art, as a worthy pursuit, or if instead the independence affords the teacher more time to focus on “important” activities.

I believe that what children (and adults) can learn through painting is not trivial, and deserves our attention. Color, composition, and movement, communication, expression and imagination are all part of painting. And so is process and planning and organization. There a cognitive aspect to painting that is too often not recognized or acknowledged. Painting is “fun,” but it also holds incredible potential as a tool for thinking and learning.

Looking Forward to Grace and Beauty

Posted 11 Aug 2014 — by Jennifer
Category environment, image of the child, materials


The building where I had my workshop for DCPS is, to put it mildly, depressing. It seems empty, until you peek in the small windows of the old classrooms and see people working away in their cubicles. The cinderblock hallways and stairwells are clean but lifeless, and the tan wall color does nothing to brighten up the space.

For a painting workshop, I brought in plants and flowers–weeds really– from my yard and neighborhood, and an assortment of fruits and vegetables.


As I was setting up, every single person who walked by commented on how beautiful it was, how good it smelled (there were some herbs in there), and asked if they could come to the workshop. People stopped at the table and spent time looking and touching. They congregated in the area and you could feel a change of mood–smiles, chatter, and laughter filled the hallway. Some people asked if they could have the materials after I was done with class.

Even the process of gathering the materials was a beautiful experience–I had so much fun selecting the plants, arranging them, considering their texture, smell, color and size.  My two sons were exuberant at Best World –“Mom, you have to get them the tamarind”– picking out  veggies for participants to study and paint.

I thought about the participants as I collected materials. I wanted them to be surprised, delighted, interested. I wanted to make the environment beautiful for them, because I cared about them.

Try talking about beauty in education circles–no one takes you seriously. You are labeled a flake, or at best, an idealist. Test scores, data, results–these are the things that make people listen to and respect you, that attract funding and resources and attention. But I know, and many of us know, that the roots of beauty are in care and empathy, and without it there are no real results.

I was struck by this quotation by John F. Kennedy, on the walls of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, we aren’t there yet…



Share #11: Hirshhorn Muesum’s Over, Under Next

Posted 03 Jul 2013 — by Jennifer
Category materials, shares

If you want to see the origins of collage and assemblage, and you live in the DC area, head to the Hirshhorn to see Under, Over, Next. Something I had to keep in mind is context–the collages and assemblages in this show are from as early as 1913 (Braque’s Aria de Bach)

This piece by Jess, A Western Prospect of Egg and Dart1988, made me consider the physical  process involved in cutting and pasting, now more commonly accomplished with Photoshop and similar software and applications.

A close-up.IMG_4354

There was something about the presence of the ‘real’ puzzle pieces and other objects-the trompe l’oeil, that was exciting.IMG_4355

So many things were hiding in the image. Today was the second time I studied this picture and I saw entierly new things.IMG_4356

I also was drawn to these images by Jiří Kolář, organized in a visual way, for example in diagonals:


Or weblike structures:IMG_4360

Or vertical lines: IMG_4359

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)!

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.


Posted 06 Mar 2012 — by Jennifer
Category image of the child, materials

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quotation from a recent Washington Post review of the Suprasensorial show at the Hirshhorn:

“But it’s always worth being suspicious of anything that attempts to bypass the intellect through hyper-sensual appeal.” -Phillip Kennicott

I think educators should also be wary about many of the so-called sensory experiences we offer at school–like shaving cream for example. I remain suspicious about the “fun” factor, and am left wondering about the complexity.

See the full review: