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Judith Scott: Creative Minds Art History Project

Judith Scott is a world renowned fiber artist with down syndrome. She spent most of her life in an institution, and her natural gifts may never have been discovered had her sister not fought for guardianship later in Judith’s life and enrolled her in an arts education program. It was here that they discovered she had a natural eye for form and color as she started combining and wrapping objects in yarn entirely on her own to make fantastical abstract sculptures. Being that my group I work with is primarily adults with disabilities, I love sharing stories like this. I also thought this project would be a nice break from a traditional art assignment because it’s completely open ended.

This project is intuitive, fun, and a little crazy. Repeatedly students throughout the process would laugh and say, “I have no idea what I’m trying to do…” but they were engaged and smiling! Sometimes you need to just let loose and allow creating to be about nothing more than the process, enjoying the act of assembling, the feel of the different textures of material, just let your senses take everything in.

We started with an armature, frankensteining together random objects to create the shape we would wrap with yarn. Then, we got to wrapping. It works best to use as little glue as possible to still have the wrapping stick so you don’t get a soggy mess. I used some at the beginning and end, and just wrapped tightly so the rest holds on its own.

Some became inspired by a real living thing they chose to abstract, and some just let the shape of their chosen object speak for itself. It was very interesting to see what each individual came up with!

This is a great boredom buster for kids as well, and doesn’t use a lot of materials… Just yarn and literally anything laying around the house you would usually toss or just don’t know what to do with. It is also a wonderful segway into discussing that individuals with disabilities have rich inner lives; interests, goals, and achievements just like we all do – and that we all reach our full potential best when we have someone who is willing to come by our side, be a friend, and believe in us!

If you end up trying this at home, please share I’d love to see pictures! Have fun :).

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Project Ideas, Techniques and Tutorials

Charley Harper: Creative Minds Art History Project

I was first drawn to Charley Harper‘s work in the gift shop of a local museum. One of my dad’s main hobbies is birding and wildlife photography, and Harper’s Mid-Century-Modern style illustrations just screamed the perfect birthday gift.

Harper grew up on a farm in the Midwest, and was inspired by the wildlife he experienced around him. He called his style “minimal realism”, taking in the world around him and distilling the imagery he observed down to the most essential details. He said, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures. I regard the picture as an ecosystem in which all the elements are interrelated, interdependent, perfectly balanced, without trimming or unutilized parts; and herein lies the lure of painting; in a world of chaos, the picture is one small rectangle in which the artist can create an ordered universe.”

Inspired by images from Harper’s body of work that capture his signature style, I encouraged my students this week to create their own minimal realist birds. Though Harper’s works were painted, they bare quite the resemblance to modern day digital art and graphic design. Instead of painting, we used a collage format to create our Charley Harper Birds. We used paint chip samples for our vibrantly colored creatures, colored cardstock for the background, and paint markers to add the linework details. From working on repainting the interior and exterior of a house over the last couple years, I had an accumulation of samples but never felt right throwing away even the colors I ended up not using. Upcycling to the rescue! At an arts non-profit, we love free materials ;). We outlined our geometric shapes onto the samples with a pencil, then cut them out and adhered them to a foam core board base (any heavier paper would work as well) with a standard glue stick. I’d suggest laying out the entire design before gluing in case you want to make some changes before the final masterpiece.

I teach adults with varying physical, psychological, and intellectual disabilities but this project is perfect for all ages and abilities. It is all inspired by simple geometric shapes and blocks of color, and can be done as simple or with as much detail as the artist desires. We created our works in an easy-to-frame 5×7″ size.

I hope you are inspired to try this at home (This would also be a fun project for bored kids, hint hint 😉 )! This is a simple, whimsical project that you don’t have to be an “artist” to enjoy. Unwind after work and get crafty with some basic, easy to access materials. As always, if you end up making one of these yourself I’d love to see pictures!

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Project Ideas

Piet Mondrian – Creative Minds Art History Project

piet.mondrianI promised I’d catch up in posting all my Creative Minds art history projects from the Fall and Winter semesters!

You may not recognize the name “Piet Mondrian“, but I guarantee you’ll recognize his imagery. Mondrian was interested in simplifying art down to its basic essence, and creating a type of universal design that could be used for everything: visual art, furniture, architecture, clothing … I’d say he was pretty successful, as his primary colored designs composed out of different sized squares and rectangles bordered by bold black lines can be found covering posters, furniture, jewelry, shirts, and the pair of Nikes I would buy if I were rich.

We do a lot of painting in the Express Yourself Artshop program, so though we easily could have done the whole “make a grid on canvas with blue painter’s tape” thing, I wanted to try something more original – transferring a Mondrian design onto glass. The glass we used was just glass from the inside of an inexpensive frame. This could be done in any size. The actual frame could easily be used on a future project. We used primarily colored tissue paper for our rectangles, though we happened to have a bit of patterned and textured vellum on hand that can be found in the scrapbooking section of craft stores and is great for mixed media art. The goal is to use thin, transparent paper so light can shine through the glass. I cut a variety of different sized rectangles and squares out of scrap cardboard for students to use as a pattern. Students chose their colors, and then traced different shapes using the patterns until they had a good pile to choose from. They then laid out their shapes on the glass to create the desired pattern. After they were happy with their design, it was time to glue. We just used traditional liquid school glue, but squeezed the glue out on a piece of foil and used a crappy paint brush to paint the glue on the back of the paper so it didn’t get too saturated.

 

The front of the finished product is going to be the glass side without anything glued to it, so if you do end up using papers with a one-sided pattern, you need to glue the side you want to see face down. Once the paper dried, we trimmed any paper that was hanging off of the glass and used a ruler to draw on the glass side (NOT the side the paper was glued on to) with a black, medium tip paint marker. This sharpens and finishes the design, and also disguises any uneven edges.

These can be as simple or as intricate as you want, and are a fun project with a beautiful end result that can be completed fairly independently by all ages and abilities. My students with disabilities who struggle with dexterity were still able to do this on their own and end up with a piece of art they were proud of. Display in a clear plastic plate stand … It would be especially cool in front of a window or other lighted area. Have fun creating :)!

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Project Ideas

Alexander Calder – Creative Minds Art History Project

09e5c065d1594c85473cc0f55bc4e082I’m a bit behind on sharing my art history projects from Express Yourself Artshop … This one is from the first 5 weeks of the Fall semester! But, never fear, they will all be posted in due time! I am not really a 3D art person (love looking at it, hate creating it!) but even I enjoyed coming up with this upcycling activity based on Alexander Calder, the inventor of mobiles.

The great thing about this project is you can use scraps of literal junk that you have just sitting around the house (or if you are super cleanly and don’t let junk collect, start saving with this idea in mind 😉 ). We used primarily painted embroidery hoops, shower curtain rings, hardware odds and ends, painted toilet paper rolls, and the cardboard part that is left when you’ve finished a roll of colored duck tape!

Students were instructed to pick out a variety of small, medium, and large items that struck their fancy from the pile of supplies, and then start laying them out flat in front of them on the table so that they could plan the basic composition they wanted. Calder’s big focus was kinetic sculptures, which led to his eventual mobiles. These babies are meant to shift and move as they hang (part of why I couldn’t get very clear pictures … That and the fact that there is NO dead space to use as a backdrop in our art studio!). Once they had a layout they liked, they could start tying their most prominent “anchor” pieces together using fishing line with a dot of hot glue on the knot to secure it. After the main components were attached, they could focus on adding smaller pieces both to achieve the balance and/or movement they wanted and add visual interest.

If you have a spare hanger or anything else that you can hang your mobile on to step back and look at how it’s hanging while you create, this helps a lot. As they held it up, it bobbed and shifted and was a great opportunity to play around with some simple physics, adding different smaller weighted objects to either balance or cause purposeful imbalance to their growing mobile. Glass beads attached by making eye-hooks through them with jewelry wire made great counterweights if a student didn’t want to add anymore major elements to their design, but wanted to adjust how the mobile hung.

I work with adults with disabilities and some have dexterity issues and needed a bit of help from time to time with the knots, but this project is for the most part something that all ages can do relatively independently.  When you are done, you will have a dynamic piece of modern art that you’d never guess was made out of castaways!

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Project Ideas

Henri Matisse – Creative Minds Art History Project

Another week, another artist! I shared my Van Gogh project last week. In week 2 we covered Henri Matisse. His personal story really resonated with the students, being a group of adults with varying disabilities.

Matisse spent the majority of his artistic career as a painter, being one of the leaders of the Fauvism movement in the early 1900s. Fauvism is characterized by a painterly, non-realistic representation of people and objects and a strong use of bold “crayola crayon” colors. Unblended strokes of pure color divide objects from their background rather than shading. He wanted his art to be calming and cheerful, an escape from the world’s troubles. In 1941, everything changed when Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and had to have surgery. His life was saved, but from that point forward he required the use of a wheelchair for mobility, and struggled with dexterity. Matisse famously said, “Creativity takes courage“, and at the age of 72 no matter how he had changed physically, he refused to give up on creating. He shifted gears to a cut paper collage format for his work as painting was harder to manage with his dexterity changes, creating yet another influential body of work. He ended up liking this new, modern style even better than what he had been working on before, and you can still see similar shapes, styles, and color schemes taken from his paintings and applied to his collage works, such as the organic leaf shapes. His final project was stained glass windows for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence as seen pictured above, designed in his iconic collage style.

Though the term disability pride wasn’t part of our vocabulary at the time Matisse was alive, I think his legacy perfectly embodies this concept. He did not look at disability as a barrier, but an opportunity to innovate.

matisse bowls 2

For our project, we created beautiful decoupage bowls inspired by Matisse’s paper cut works. I chose to focus specifically on shapes present in his chapel design, though if you do an image search of his collage work you could find many other ideas. I cut patterns out of some scrap matte board for the students to trace. We used colored printer paper for the cutouts – It is thin enough to be able to bend along the round shape of the bowl without popping back up or creating massive wrinkles, but thick enough that the color of the bowl won’t show through. We used matte Mod Podge to apply and seal the shapes onto the bowl, and the bowls themselves were picked up at the dollar store, making this a ridiculously inexpensive project with beautiful results.

This would be a fun project to do with all ages from kids to seniors, and makes for a great gift idea if planned closer to the holidays or Mother’s Day. Since Mod Podge is not food safe, obviously you do not want to try to eat cereal out of these or something ;), but they are a perfect catch all for jewelry, keys, pens pencils and paperclips, or change. Also a cute decoration when filled with decorative orbs, glass marbles, or stones. I love color, and may just have to make one of these for myself at home!

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Exhibitions and Other News

New Job + Adventures In Upcycling

Many of you who have read my blog before have probably heard me talk about Express Yourself Artshop, an art and wellness program open for adult students of varying abilities, especially those with disabilities. Artshop is one of the programs I have taught with since its beginning a little over 2 years ago. Our Program Coordinator moved out of town last month, and being that Artshop has always been my favorite out of all the programs I teach with, I applied for the position. This week it is official, from now on I will be with Artshop full time. I have a lot of ideas, a ton of brilliant people helping me, and I cannot wait to see how the program grows and evolves. I dare you to watch the video below and be in a bad mood.

Life is funny, and I never ended up actually working “officially” in the field that I went to college for, but am now doing something I never would have imagined. I’m not one for cliches but the old saying “Knowledge is never wasted” certainly rings true, and I see my interior design background creeping in in little ways throughout my current work. In my new DIY Decor class this semester, I’ve been exploring creating classy, elegant and beautiful decorations for the home using cheap, everyday materials. My students and I have combined my two loves; stylish and artistic decor, and recycling, or up-cycling in this case (basically never wasting anything). They have blown me away with their fantastic vision and their own unique style that they bring to the projects. There is a lot going on, and I’m excited to share more with you in the coming weeks and months.

Coasters by Lori : Wood Samples (It pays to have a boyfriend who works at a furniture store ;)) covered in book pages and magazine cutouts accented in metallic acrylic. Felt is applied to the bottom to prevent scratching. Sealed with mod podge aka my lifeblood.

Coasters by Lori : Wood Samples (It pays to have a boyfriend who works at a furniture store ;)) covered in book pages and magazine cutouts, accented in metallic acrylic. Felt is applied to the bottom to prevent scratching. Sealed with mod podge aka my lifeblood.

Salt and Pepper Shakers by Amber : Empty glass spice jars with holes punched in the lids. The tops are painted with enamel and the jars are wrapped with fabric and ribbon accent, sealed, again, with mod podge.

Salt and Pepper Shakers by Amber : Empty glass spice jars with holes punched in the lids. The tops are painted with enamel and the jars are wrapped with fabric and a ribbon accent, sealed, again, with mod podge.

Abstract Wall Art by Lori : Modern art using Sharpie pens and cutouts from transparent file folders

Abstract Wall Art by Lori : Modern art using Sharpie pens and cutouts from transparent file folders

Decorative Terrarium by Colleen : It's amazing what you can do with some fake plants , ribbon, and raffia.

Decorative Terrarium by Colleen : It’s amazing what you can do with an olive jar, some fake plants , ribbon, and raffia.

Decorative Terrarium by Michelle : All you need is an empty salsa jar, some fabric flowers on stems, ribbon to wrap around the lid base, and a little bit of creativity.

Decorative Terrarium by Michelle : All you need is an empty salsa jar, some fabric flowers on stems, ribbon to wrap around the lid base, and a little bit of creativity.

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