Isaiah Zagar : Creative Minds Art History Project

I love to travel, and was lucky growing up to be part of a family who enjoys a change of scenery every so often as well. An experience that still stands in the forefront of my mind is accidentally happening upon one of the most breathtaking displays of public art I have ever seen while in Philadelphia on one of the last trips my immediate family and I would take together in our little quartet before my brother and I were “officially” grown-up with our own jobs, schedules, and lives.

Mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar has his work across buildings all over Philadelphia and throughout the rest of the country as well, but his Magic Garden is something special, a truly immersive art experience that really does feel like you are being transported into a different universe temporarily as if by magic.

Though he started as a painter, he ended up becoming most known for his public mosaic work. He became an integral part of the “South Street Renaissance” in the 1970s, bringing excitement, inspiration, and beauty to the ignored and abandoned areas of his hometown. The interesting thing is, he only discovered this medium because of others’ willingness to invest and believe in the talents and well-being of those who are struggling. It was while being hospitalized for a breakdown related to undiagnosed bipolar disorder that he was introduced to mosaic making, and he credits this art practice with bringing him out of his depression. Zagar has stated that he was determined to use his breakdown as a springboard into positive mental and spiritual growth, and though mental health is a chronic struggle, he has done just that. At 80 years old, he is still here, filled with an enthusiasm for lifelong learning.

Zagar’s mosaics aren’t just glass and tiles. He utilizes a wide range of materials, much of it upcycled “trash”, and integrates painting and poetry into his designs as well. I had my students make their own mini mosaic on 12×12 tiles using a variety of mixed media materials such as glass pieces, broken jewelry, beads, discarded board game pieces, and more. This is a great way for art programs to use up any odd donations or miscellaneous supplies. I work with students with a wide range of abilities in my Express Yourself Artshop program, and we also have time constraints since we typically spend 1-3 weeks on one project before moving on to the next. To make mosaic art work for our needs, we had students paint the background of their tile whatever color they wanted to show through in between their mosaic pieces, and after they had chosen their pieces and laid out their design we used Weldbond adhesive to attach the parts rather than using grout.

It was interesting to see the messages and themes students were drawn to include in their work, and I was happy to hear that many of them found the process inspiring and therapeutic, same as Zagar did.

If you are interested in learning more about this artist, one of Zagar’s sons created a fantastic documentary about his father’s journey. You do not have to be perfect or feel like you have everything figured out to use your gifts and skills to bring light and life to others. Even through his intense struggles, Zagar has had a profoundly positive impact on his community and continues to do so to this day.

Caravaggio: Creative Minds Art History Project

Hello all!

I took a break from teaching my Creative Minds class with my Express Yourself Artshop crew over the summer since we had a bunch of other specialized activities going on, but am excited to be back! We started our new semester with a classic artist from the past, Michelangelo Merisi da Carravagio. Entertaining the masses through stories of epic violence before there were action movies, many of Carravagio’s paintings centered around religious and mythic themes and involved a lot of beheadings … Allegedly he also had to move around a lot to avoid getting his door knocked down due to a habit of “excessive brawling” – Life imitates art.

 

Though he also did the traditional commissions and practice of portraits, still life, etc., these intense and poignant scenes are what he became most well known for. One particular commission completed around the year 1597 for Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, the Medici family’s agent in Rome, is what we drew inspiration from for our project. This ceremonial shield was painted with an image of Medusa just as she has been tricked into looking into a mirror, thus freezing and leaving herself open to guess what, another beheading! Students each picked a character from Greek Mythology to study images from, and drew from this to create their own image, blood and guts optional ;).

 

To achieve the atmosphere of strong shadows characteristic of Caravaggio’s work, we used black drawing paper as a base. Pastels show up bold and opaque on top of black, as do colored pencils if they are oil or wax based like Prismacolor colored pencils. This choice of black paper had a dual purpose; not only did it help us pay homage to Caravaggio’s high contrast style but it was a mental challenge in that students had to think about the process of shading in reverse. They had to think differently than with traditional drawing on white paper, adding shading with their colors to lighten an area and leaving spaces alone or coloring more lightly with their materials to “darken” them.

As always, feel free to share, steal, or try this at home for fun! Keep checking back as I will be posting more projects soon!

Kintsugi – Creative Minds Art History Project

I’ve always loved Kintsugi pottery not just for its striking visual interest but also for the symbolism behind it. Kintsugi means “golden joinery”, and is a practice that started as early as the 15th century in Japan. With Kintsugi, artists fix broken pottery by using a special lacquer mixed with powdered metals to join the pieces back together. Influenced by the Japanese philosophies of wabi-sabi (seeing beauty in imperfection), mottainai (the regret of wasting), and mushin (the acceptance of change), Kintsugi pottery highlights flaws rather than hiding them, showing each piece’s unique history and turning brokenness into beauty. Our experiences, mistakes, scars, and the things that make us different are what build us into who we are, and beauty can be found in all of these things as we move forward.

I knew I wanted to incorporate learning about Kintsugi into my Artshop class, but the question was how? In this class, we typically do different small projects each week, so it would need to be something that could be completed in an hour and a half. Additionally, I have no background in pottery or sculpting (100% 2D artist over here!) and wanted to use supplies our studio already had on hand without depleting our clay class’s supply. A couple of months ago, a group of friends I do crafty girls nights with and I found an idea to make small, marbled ring dishes out of polymer clay on Pinterest. This craft got me thinking … why not make sculpey pottery?

It took some trial and error, but I ended up coming up with something that works using sculpey, a cool whip container and some 4″ diameter and 3-3.5″ diameter oven safe glass storage containers, hot glue, and broken teacups.

The first step was to roll out a sheet of clay to the desired size. Students mashed, twisted, and striped their different colors together and then rolled them out to about 1/2 cm thick. We happened to have acrylic polymer clay rollers, but a rolling pin would work just as well – Just make sure to put a piece of foil or parchment paper over the clay so it doesn’t actually make contact with the rolling pin if you ever want to use it for food again. Next, they cut out a circle by tracing around a template using an xacto knife. We used an empty cool whip container as a template for students who wanted a 4″ diameter bowl, and a 4″ glass container as a template for students who in the end wanted a smaller 3.5″ bowl.

IMG_20190528_150010Once everyone had their flat circle, we placed our chosen glass containers open side down and centered the circle of clay on the base of the container. We then gently guided the sides of the circle  down to form a bowl shape, being careful not to press the clay down too tight (This makes it easier to remove later!), and not to press hard enough to leave fingerprints.

After this, we made a selection of teacup fragments from our stash. We then laid them where we wanted on the surface of our clay bowl shape, and traced around the fragments with an xacto knife, cutting out an empty space into which we could glue the piece once the clay was baked. Some pieces were more curved than others, so this also influenced placement. The holes can be a bit bigger than the piece, because we can fill any gaps with hot glue – You just definitely don’t want the hole to be smaller.

Once the spaces were cut we baked the clay on the oven safe glass containers, still open side down, in the oven per the instructions on the sculpey package (275 degrees for 15 minutes). After letting the hardened clay cool, we were able to use hot glue to fill in our bowl with the teacup pieces. Once the glue has hardened and is painted with metallic gold acrylic, it looks just like the fusing used in traditional pottery!

These make for interesting decorative bowls or catch-alls, and though our process and materials were quite different, it was a fun way to reinforce the history lesson. My hope is that these tiny vessels will sit out somewhere as a reminder for people to love themselves, cracks and all, and remember that no one is ever broken beyond repair.

 

Betsy Youngquist – Creative Minds Art History Project

For my final Creative Minds class of this Artshop semester, I chose another current artist as the class inspiration that would also give us the opportunity to work with some summery materials (Based in MI, we are hoping it gets warmer someday!).

 

Betsy Youngquist is a surreal mosaic and sculpture artist who works with a lot of unique materials traditionally associated with crafting like beads and doll making supplies. On her website, she writes, “Children with their vast capacity for wonderment weave tales of gossamer, create magic kingdoms, and pass through invisible portals to lands of untold enchantment. As we follow the Yellow Brick Road in quest of Emerald Cities, those portals become hidden to us, removing our access to the wonderland within. Creating art is a means to return to the looking glass and reenter the garden where flowers whisper and birds can talk. As my beaded characters emerge they carry with them tales from the other side of the mirror. I am grateful for the joy and astonishment experienced through this journey.”

Since we only had one class to finish this project and student attention spans vary, I took inspiration from one of her smaller works, a bedazzled seashell! As mentioned before, this project was also perfect to get everyone in the mindset of warm weather vibes. It may only be a high of 45-50 degrees as of tomorrow but at least we didn’t get the snow that was projected to fall this weekend … Again, Michigan problems :(.

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Having an array of hobby tweezers with different angled ends is a must for this project to help in placing the beads, though there is no need to use teeny tiny seed beads as you can see from the finished projects! All of my Creative Minds students have a disability of some type, and many struggle with dexterity. The tools I’ve linked above helped them enjoy the process and experience success in creating their surreal, whimsical shells. It was easiest for them to apply a bit of glue inside the shell first, and then use the tweezers to just set the bead into the glue, just in case you want to try this at home! All you need is an array of different sized and shaped beads for creating patterns – glass, plastic, or whatever material is available to you works just fine. Though you could use specialty glues like E6000, we used tacky glue in class which adhered well and dries crystal clear. I also made sure to get some “oddities” as a nod to the surrealist quality of Youngquist’s work in the form of some realistic eye charms, though of course students will add their own creative edge to the inspiration project (Frozen, anyone? 😉 ). They were encouraged to start with a central focal point created either by a larger found object or a grouping of one color, and work radially out from that point.

I am so impressed with the results! They really rose to the challenge and created some gorgeous conversation pieces to display in their home. Beaded mosaics are another project that can be adapted to all ages and abilities, and something that anyone can enjoy even if they don’t feel they are “good at art”. The repetitive process of placing beads becomes calming and meditative as you work. A new semester starts in a week, and I am looking to learning about more artists from the present and past together with a new group!

Sonia Delaunay – Creative Minds Art History Project

I live in Michigan, and we have been having some wild weather over the past couple of weeks, including over 10 snow days! Since I teach a couple art classes in the program I run in addition to coordinating all the goings on, I still have to get work done on snow days, just without my fun project break :(. I was excited to finally get to host my classes again this week and share a long awaited project with my group! This week’s artist was Sonia Delaunay.

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Sonia Delaunay was an abstract artist and designer who not only painted but worked in fabric and costume design, and in 1964 became the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at The Louvre in Paris!

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The literal geometry she brought to her most famous costume work for the play The Gas Heart by avante garde poet Tristan Tzara is just fabulous.

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You know you’ve got a good thing going if David Bowie is on board! He wore a getup inspired by her cubist suit when he performed on Saturday Night Live in 1979.

Remembered most for her paintings, a lot of her fashion work gets glazed over which is a shame, because it is her fashion and costumes that I personally find the most interesting. Delaunay’s fashion work was revolutionary at the time because she didn’t just take her paintings and hang them on bodies… Her designs for clothing were specifically configured to work with women’s body shapes, and the clothing themselves was functionally designed for movement, not decoration. Come to think of it, this may still be considered revolutionary today! Given this, it was only fitting that our class project be something wearable. Inspired by Delaunay’s colorful, geometric art and design, my class created fabric collage necklaces.

I am all for any chance to upcycle! Discarded leather upholstery samples were cut into boomerang shapes to be used as a base for the collage bib necklaces. I pre-selected fabric for the students to choose from that meshed with the inspiration artist’s colorful, abstract style. All of my students have some form of disability, and a couple struggle with dexterity. Providing prepared shapes cut from matte board for the students to trace gave them a helpful guide to encourage project success and allow them to be able to work independently. They were also encouraged to look for shapes in the fabrics’ patterns that they could follow, as one did with a large red flower. Regular ballpoint ink pens can be used to trace the shapes on the back of the fabric. Fabric scissors were used to then cut out the shapes. Shapes were arranged on the base, and then students used a junky brush to paint tacky glue on the back of their fabric pieces and press them down. Once dry, holes were punched in the ends and jewelry chain attached and voila! Ready to wear!

Lesson planning has been so inspirational to me in my own art and handmade journey, and has pushed me to think outside of the box and come up with ideas I never would have otherwise. Creating this project inspired me to work on my own statement necklaces using not only fabric but my velvet vintage millinery florals I love to collect from ebay and local antique fairs. These necklaces are for sale in my own ebay shop for $25. More designs coming soon!

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 :)!

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!