Vicki Smith has created unique pastel illustrations for a wide variety of clients in the publishing and corporate arena including posters, menus, book covers, annual reports and magazine art. Her storybook images are used to create the handmade books, toys and prints that she sells online. She finds that her teaching of children informs her own art and her art informs her philosophy of teaching. Today Vicki is discussing how (and why) she teaches art to kids. She blogs at Art with Kids.
As a child I illustrated my first ‘book’ in the fourth grade about a troupe of dancing mice, so it is no wonder that I went off to art school and a career as an illustrator. Now that I have the privilege of teaching art part-time at a Montessori school I make it my mission to bring the children tactile projects that are stimulating and broaden their perspective of what constitutes art.
Making art incorporates principles of math and science, gives children permission to get messy, and teaches the invaluable lesson that you should make your own choices as opposed to merely copying what “Susie” is painting at the easel next to you. The tactile experience is important for children to feel connected to what they are creating, and to learn how materials behave when handled. Here are some ideas:
Paper making using old newspapers is great fun and an activity that recently kept ten preschoolers occupied for an entire hour! Playing in water is certainly very tactile and this activity does not require much equipment. The children love being involved in all the steps of the process while squealing over how “gross” the pulp looks and feels.
- I fill a plastic basin about half way with warm water (I use the container we put the newspaper in for recycling). This project also requires a small picture frame with window screen stapled to it, sheets of felt cut to the size of the opening in the frame, and an old blender. It’s important to use an old blender as it will never be completely clean again.
- Fill the blender about half way with the water from your basin, add torn sheets of newspaper, and start pressing the buttons on the blender. Then dump the mixture into the basin.
- Repeat this process until you are able to lower the frame into the basin and a layer of grey pulp covers the screen.
- After this, let the kids lay a sheet of felt on top of the pulp and press the excess water out with their palms. When it’s dry the felt can be peeled away and let dry in the sun, leaving beautiful paper to be written or drawn upon.
Crafting assemblages inspired by the work of sculptor Louise Nevelson is a way of appreciating art that is nontraditional.
- I gather household items such as large buttons, wing nuts, old keys, empty spools of thread, clothes pins… etc and start the lesson by playing a game that involves only the sense of touch.
- I place one of each of the items in a paper bag. The children take turns reaching into the bag with their eyes closed and try to identify the item by feel.
- After the game they gather the items that they find interesting and glue them down onto a piece of corrugated cardboard. We talk about the different ways that they might consider arranging their objects.
- I spray paint the assemblages and they resemble the monochromatic work of Nevelson. Without color the art is now all about the shapes.
Using scratch foam or Styrofoam sheets to create a printing plate is another project that has a strong tactile component.
- The children press drawings into the Styrofoam sheet and apply printing ink to the foam with a brayer. The ink does not go into the depressed lines so that the drawing prints as the color of the paper.
- The children love rolling the ink onto the foam plate with the brayer and being able to print multiple images.
- Another positive aspect of this process is that changes can be made to the plate before making additional prints, and one can easily print on both fabric or paper. The possibilities are endless.
These endless possibilities reminds me of the importance of allowing the children to stretch the limits of a project in different directions. When we make paper I encourage the children to suggest materials other than newspaper and as a result we have used colored tissue paper, thread, and dried leaves. When making their assemblages they may decide to stack items or glue them down on both sides of the cardboard creating more sculptural work. And instead of relying on pencils to press lines into the foam I encourage them to think of other tools that could be implemented. It’s about a tactile and fluid learning process as much as it is about having a finished product.