Saturday, July 23, 2011

Step Right Up, Ladies and Gentlemen!

I have a little thing for circuses and sideshows and carnivals. Everything about them: the colors, the noises, the barkers, the incredibly greasy food, and the brightly colored rides. I’m not in love with the huge circuses but prefer the smaller wackier ones. (And yes, I plan to use the work wacky at least once in all my blog posts.) I like the small town shows and the few existing side shows with promises of two-headed ducks and sword swallowers.

And I LOVE LOVE LOVE the artwork.  Everything from old circus posters to carousel horses to the brightly colored rides. They are so uniquely American. 

In Coney Island there is not only an operating traditional ten-in-one sideshow but there is also a class to learn banner painting. I dream of taking this class if only to be with others who love side show banners as much as I do. But in lieu of this I thought it would be fun to teach my Picasso’s Basement students about side show banners.

I had to carefully select the images to show them because some of the acts were pretty…well…out there. Early sideshow art could feature oddities that might not be suitable. We focused on people with special abilities and animal oddities: the tall man, the snake charmer, dancing ducks, and 3-tailed mice.

The students noted that almost all the banners had red borders painted around them. Since it wasn’t unusual for people to find that they’d been tricked into paying to see acts that were nothing more than taxidermied animals or mannequins, the banners often featured large circles bearing the claim “ALIVE!” to entice the patrons.

The children came up with all sorts of wacky (see! I told you) characters: Turtle Man (complete with top hat and briefcase), Pencil Sharpener Nose Girl, Flying Man, etc. We used large sheets of brown craft paper to give our posters an antique feel. First we sketched in pencil and later used acrylic craft paint that is thinner than tube acrylics but opaque and dries quickly. It’s also inexpensive and frequently on sale at local craft stores. It’s my new favorite for teaching but that will be another blog post!

Some of these are still being worked on but here's our first result:


Sunday, July 3, 2011

This Is Not A Marker

My students love markers. Why? Beats me. I do like using an archival non-bleeding pen for my illustrations but as a child I was never a marker fanatic. Always preferred pencils, paint and collage, etc. Perhaps the marker selection wasn’t as abundant when I was a kid. Did we only get tiny packs of primary colors? I don’t remember. But I do know what a challenge it is to get some kids away from the markers. Some of my kids challenge me when I pull out any other material.

So my goal for my last single summer class before my upcoming Picasso’s Basement Camp in August was to come up marker project that I loved and thought they would enjoy.
Let ‘em go marker crazy!

I did a little thinking and, although I did alter it, in the end I have to credit one of my favorite art teacher blogs called There's a Dragon in my Art Room for this lesson. She leaves this project for her substitute teachers because it is so easy to set up. But I fell in love with it for several reasons:  
  1. It involves a lot of creativity. 
  2. It encorporates recycling. I’m a recycling freak.
  3. It requires very little prep work. Always a nice factor in the summer. 
  4. It allows the kids to work with those darned markers.

First we read a wonderful picture book called Not A Box by Antoinette Portis. Simple plot: A rabbit is sitting in a box and is asked “why”. Because it’s NOT A BOX! It’s a ship. Why is he sitting on the box? Because it’s NOT A BOX! It’s a volcano! The book was for much younger children than those in my class that day, but I was surprised to find that they enjoyed predicting what the rabbit would do next with the box and were also quick to guess the moral: With some creativity and imagination you can make something into something else!

I dug through my collection of scratched and damaged CDs for this project, but also set out a pile of recycled soda bottle caps.  I kept a hot glue gun handy at a safe distance from the kids.
I pre-glued the CD’s on large sheets of heavy paper using the glue gun. The Picasso’s Basement Artists were told that they weren’t CDs and that their assignment was to surprise me by turning them into something else by drawing around them. With markers. (Imagine the delight of those marker-loving kids!) I gave them the option of adding bottle caps.

I also suggested that they could title their work.
Gentle readers, kindly remind me that in the future I should specify that they put the title and their names on the BACKS of the drawings. Luckily in this case the titles seemed to add to the wackiness of the artwork! Here’s a sampling of the pictures they came up with:

The Space Craft 

The Space Ship
The Eyeball
The Lady Bug