Inspiration in Courtney’s Classroom

Some days, when I have low energy, I don’t feel up to mixing buckets of paint, although I believe strongly that the more our kids enjoy the tactile/sensory/exquisitely beautiful experience of paint, the better.  Last night I tossed around and couldn’t get myself to sleep.  I did warm milk and read way too many pages in that book over there.

So, this morning, early, I decided that I would focus on some drawing skills with Courtney’s grade threes.

I stepped into Courtney’s classroom and was in love.  I felt that the space said immediately, “Welcome.  You are here.  You are safe.  This is how we have a lovely time learning.”  Thanks for that feeling, Courtney.  While I’m still waiting for permission to post these photos, I’m going to go ahead anyway…always good to share generously with our colleagues, in the case that they can pick up some ideas for another year.

Chalk board and chalk…two wee chairs…love this!  Students can play school and practice their math facts and making words.  Coo-ell!

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Word walls!  They never go out of fashion!  I like that the children’s script is present and that these are not stylishly created by the teacher or an assistant.  Ownership!  Whoot!

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Oh my goodness!  Art created based on a book I’ve never connected with!  The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt Pictures by Oliver Jeffers.  I like the book!  I like the follow-up art work!


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The seven habits…we all need to check in with these.

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Set the students up to go into role!  Group drama, even if it is simple as the labels we use, can make the difference in engagement that we want.  I always refer to the students as artists during art class.  Confidence forming…I like this chart and reminder.

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Way to curb some situational drama.  It’s good for kids to check in before speaking.  But, it’s just as important for adults.  Love this!

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One of the best Hall Pass systems out there!  I’ve never seen this done before! When the student leaves the classroom, they leave the hand sanitizer on their desks…when they return, voila! (just in case they forgot)

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Look at that voice level chart…yummy!

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Who doesn’t enjoy words to live by?  I live by them!

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Our morning art lesson began after greetings and opening exercises.

Recently, I’ve connected with a friend-blogger, Miriam Paternoster, who teaches middle school art in North Italy, and in perusing her lesson ideas, I decided that I’d try out something with my grade threes.

In the grade three social studies curriculum, the students explore Peru, Ukraine, India and Tunisia.  I remembered the rich tiling and mosaic motifs that come out of all of these regions and so decided to focus the children on creating tiles that can be linked together for display purposes.  In order to inspire pattern-making for the ‘doodled’ sections, it’s good to give many exemplars.  When the question, “What is a tile?”  came up, there was a lot of discussion about the tiles in our homes.

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New vocabulary: tiling and motifs.

I printed off templates on large white paper before coming down to the classroom in the morning.  I ticked off six dots on each side of a measured square/ 11 x 17 paper through the copy machine…so, 11″ squares.  These templates provided markers for the grade three students to draw their six woven strands of ribbon.  (dot-to dot across from one another)  Where things had to be thoughtfully done was deciding what particular lines needed to be erased so that the ribbons wove through the piece…I referred to them as ‘unders’ and ‘on tops’.

Once blocked in, the ribbons were shaded at all the ‘unders’.  I taught the grade threes how to apply different pressure with their pencils to go ‘dark and lighter and lighter and lighter’.  I also taught them how to avoid making ‘hairy’ edges, but turning their pencil sideways and making marks along a line edge.  Did I think they would do this?  I wondered.  And yet, there was barely a peep as they invested their energy in creating these drawings.

The expressive component of the lesson was to choose a single coloured thin marker to create repeating and varied motifs in all of the remaining white negative spaces.  We worked on a community piece on the white board as the independent work was happening. “If you invent a pattern that you want to share, you can add it at the white board.”  This is what they created.

The list of statements to the right side of the white board are questions that students might ask instead of, “Is this good?”

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Here are some of the resulting projects.

Students who are older would not require a template for the woven ribbons.

From Miriam’s website…when displaying these, connect the dots and create a collection of tiles.


Thank you for your class today, Courtney!

45 Minute Discoveries About Faces

It’s great to put the eraser down and be playful.  It’s great to get your hand off of the table and let fingers fly.  Unbelievable!  Such discovery as one abandons the “I want to learn how to draw, technically speaking.” for that place that is…”I have something inside me that can pour out of my fingers, if I am allowed to be free.”

These Junior High drawings…more, the process of getting there…was like watching magic spill out of these beautiful children.

In the traditional sense…this is what you get.

(I located several awesome HOW TO DRAW worksheets on line.  My readers may want to google around and I find one of those.  For the purpose of this blog, I’ve drawn a quick step by step, on my own…five minute drawing, but it should help.)


In a less conventional approach…these.

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Afternoon Sketch

I spent the afternoon working on a sketch, inspired by the story that came out last week about the wee squirrel, brought in from the cold and then nurtured to health.  I enjoyed the photo essay where the reader sees the squirrel bonding with two household pets.  Sometimes I am so inspired by nature and I also like seeing the positive in people when the world is often so cruel and overwhelming.  This is just a nice story!

I used a wood burner to indicate a nest after painting and glazing the image of the baby squirrel.  I’m going to pursue this technique and finish up a body of these ‘wee babe’ images…all submersed in wood burned nesting material.

Painting and Photograph: Kathleen Moors

Painting and Photograph: Kathleen Moors


Katie Ohe’s Idea Books

Perched on Katie’s kitchen counter…a simple black sketchbook…a place to capture her ideas while she is preparing food or perking coffee.  Some of the collages feel so familiar to me.  For one, I also enjoy using found objects such as onion/fruit sacks as underpinnings in my collage work.  Katie lovingly leafed through pages…chatting with us along the exploration.

It was in the kitchen that I shared with Katie how commercial galleries had once owned my spirit…and how, belonging, caused me to freeze.  She received that disclosure with so much warmth.  I will carry the conversation that followed, forever…a very healing experience.

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Morning Sketch # 6: Rien Poortvliet

I know. I know.  I’m behind already…not so disciplined as I imagined I could be.  No excuses, just forging on.  Saturday morning came around and then Sunday morning and then Monday I was called into work, which was wonderful, but totally unexpected.  Through it all, I managed to get some gesso brushed onto my boards and some under painting done, but this morning I’m left with all sorts of bits.  The nice thing about it is that it’s raining outside and sipping coffee and painting at the feast table feels like a luxury that most don’t have this morning.

I’ve slipped my new cd into the player and music is perfect as well.

Sketches inspired by an artist done this quickly have little in common with the originals.  If you look at the details of the lower left corner of mine and then look at Poortvliet’s you will notice what I’m talking about.  There is that lovely tint of green going through Poortvliet’s passage, where mine became an acidic yellow.  This is only one example.  Notice that on the horizon, the brush in the background of mine is a cool grey (again) and Poortvliet used a warm grey.  Let’s not even talk about the gesture of the running deer, leaving the middle ground!  The more I do this, the more I understand that I need to practice drawing for both proportion and the dynamic angles of the figures.

I’m convinced that my drawings of the animals and landscapes are going to be consistently different for their texture and detail.  This is primarily because of the tooth of the panels I’m using and the obvious smoothness of Poortvliet’s papers.  An artist needs to always keep in mind the tooth of the surface he/she is using as this has huge implications for the work.

I’ve provided an image here of ONLY three papers and the tooth.  You can imagine that pigments and media act differently on each, so the difference between a board and paper would be extremely different.  The difference between a masonite board and a sheet of plywood has the same dramatic impact on the image.


Poortvliet’s two images demonstrate the difference between an animal placed in the foreground and one moving into the background….larger and lower in the picture plane for close-up, smaller and higher in the picture plane for distant.  This is one of the ways that an artist creates the illusion of depth/perspective.

I also notice that I use a lot of pure colour…it has been difficult for me in this practice to mute colours.

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Morning Sketching: Rien Poortvliet

The last book I purchased at the second hand shop before leaving Belleville, Ontario was the dutch version of Rien Poortvliet’s Noah’s Ark.  It was an absolute treasure at $10.00. As I perused this comprehensive collection of animal and bird illustrations, I thought about how much I could learn by imitating the works contained, as a way of practicing.  It is a controversial thing…using another artist’s work as reference, but I think the important thing is to identify the intention and to be upfront about the practice.  Appropriation in art is a notion that needs to always be given great consideration.

P1120606 P1120607 P1120608 P1120609 P1120610I’ve decided that sharing my morning coffee with an art board is likely a healthy thing and will get me into the discipline of seeing…analyzing…exploring technique…and painting.  I will think of these as quick visual responses to Poortvliet’s works and in no way intend to create accurate renderings.  Beginning with the inside front cover, this morning I looked at these two elephants heading for the ark.  I’ve decided not to go beyond two hours and began this sketch at 6:00 a.m.  I don’t know if I will be able to sustain this practice, but I’m giving it a go.

I would love to hear from other artists about their thoughts on this exercise.  To learn more about Rien Poortvliet, known best for his Gnome illustrations, there are several bloggers who have collected various references about his life.  Look here and here, as a start.  I may just begin another page under the menu heading, ARTIST, where I will publish Poortvliet’s paintings followed by my sketches, but first I’ll see if I can make this a ritual.

A ritual “is a stereotyped sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and designed to influence preternatural entities or forces on behalf of the actors’ goals and interests.

Tuesday With the Tree

Sketch 2005

I forgot my camera for today’s archive…so, I dug out a journal page that might serve as a substitute for just now…something on rich weighty paper, a sketch of a tree.  I really enjoyed Marilyn’s company while painting today.  She worked steadily, applying the gild to the textured bark. I managed to include an additional 200 saint’s names on the wall and in stepping back, realized that I had created a bit of a ‘net’ with the warp and weft movement of the lines.  I like the idea of this net stretched out across the piece…sometimes we need to be captured when we fall.  We also sometimes need to be lifted up from a place of despair, loneliness, worry or fear.  We all need that sometimes.