Friday, December 21, 2012

How To Teach Figure Drawing Without a Model!

I always have a few kids who really want to know how to draw people. Makes sense, yes? It's my favorite thing to draw too. But try as you might, you really really really need them to look at a model. Both in school and out I've spent countless hours at Life Drawing classes. Problem is the models are unclothed. NOT what you'd want for a class for kids.

I've tried everything over the years: having them look in the mirror (not too successful except for self- portraits), making my own kids pose for the class (only a good idea if you have kids that are NOT mine--one refused and the other one wriggled so much I might as well have had the artists draw weasels), cutouts from Fashion magazines (here the clothes so overpowered the form of the body that the kids went right to stylizing the figures.)

And then---DUH---it hit me. The wonderful internet. I did a few searches and finally came up with some fabulous clothed non-fashion models with interesting poses.

I explained gesture drawings to the students. They each had 1 minute with each photo, then we switched. Then they had 5 minutes with a picture. Switch. It was the best way to replicate an actual Life Drawing class where the models usually start out with short poses.

These are all from one fabulous artist because my other shots didn't come out (sorry girls!) but I'll post more the next time we do these. 

Good job, Excellent Middle School artist!

New Picasso's Basement Website! Woo-hoo!

I am pleased as punch to introduce you to my new Picasso's Basement website!!!  (That's right. Click the link. You know you want to!)
Come learn more about Picasso's Basement and, by all means, hire me to run a program for you!

     Pass this on to your friends who want to throw their kids a party! I can run a fabulous art party. 
     Tell a buddy who owns a preschool! I am happy to teach a class for them.

     Let your local parks department know about it. I am running afternoon classes in the Fanwood park buildings but will travel locally!  

    Recommend me to retirement or assisted living communities!  I can come in to help make a memory box with the seniors that they can share with family or use to honor a special person or moment in their lives.

A big hearty hug and thank you to my friend Lyuda Luvrentyeva who designed the site. She is an amazing illustrator to boot. (Right, you know the drill. Click her link too! She likes to work!)
She worked hard into the night while I bombarded her with pictures of artwork and artists. She pored over fonts and tolerated my lack of technical know-how. Plus she fed me very very good bread.  THANKS, LYUDA!  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Master of Disaster Projects (AND A GIVEAWAY!)

It is rare that I swipe a project directly from another blog or website but this one bore the markings of everything that is good in a project:
Not THIS gelatin

  • Creativity
  • Surprise
  • A folky home method of creating a professional item
  • Nature
  • Jello

Even when I do get a project from another site I usually try to put my own spin on it but this looked so gorgeous. PRINTMAKING ON GELATIN SHEETS. Sounds like fun! Sounds challenging but exciting!  Check it out here at Cassie Stephens' blog.

Gorgeous, right? I imagined my students looking at me with new-found admiration and a greater understanding of the printmaking process.

What? What was that you're asking? GO BACK? Go back to the list of features? 

Yes, I did say Jello.

Well, not the yummy kind of jello you had as kid. Of course I was thinking that. Delicious pretty friendly jello. I'd eaten it for years. My mom made it. My kids loved it. Good ol' fashioned jello.


This kind:

I know. I know what you're thinking. 
Regular Jello IS this kind of jello. Yeah, but it's bright and cheerful and smells good. And I'm not a vegetarian and I'm not kosher so what's the big deal?

Well here's a tip:  If you start working on an art project and it makes your kitchen smell like a bone yard then you should STOP RIGHT THERE. 
Making 3 trays of gelatin took 36 pouches. That's right. 36. And my kitchen smelled like ground pig. 

Do you really want to keep reading? Well, I'll do you a favor cause it's a painful tale of woe. (I almost wrote tail. That wouldn't have really been funny, would it?) I'm gonna sum it all up in a list of chain of events. To make it more dramatic I'll talk about myself in the third person, like Bob Dole:
  • Paula makes up list of items needed to do project
  • Paula calls local art supply store in advance which promises her they HAVE printmaking ink.
  • Paula gets all supplies. 
  • Paula cooks 36 packets of smelly nasty gelatin and fills 3 cookie sheets.
  • Paula spills some on floor. Dog races over and laps it up. Dog vomits.
  • Paula cleans vomit. 
  • Paula goes to parent-teacher conference for 9 year old, runs a little late.
  • Paula races to art supply store, just hours before her Mixed Age Group class is to arrive.
  • Art supply clerk takes her to printmaking ink aisle. No printmaking ink. Only ink for stamp pads.
  • Paula DOES NOT hurt the clerk or the apologetic customer service aide who tells her no one there knew what printmaking ink WAS. 
  • Paula panics and substitutes tempera paint.
  • Students arrive. Paula shows them leaves and pictures of the glorious pieces we will all make.
  • Paula inks up nasty gelatin tray with tempera paint, students apply leaves, make first print.
  • Gloopy paint slithers under leaves, making ALL prints black.
  • Paula and students try many methods to make it better. They try printing other things. 
  • Students discover that printing shells do nothing but leave you with a tray of shells embedded in gelatin.
  • Paula tells students to wash trays, we are going to try something different, neglecting to say USE COLD WATER.
  • Hot water causes slimy gelatin to pour off trays and into now-vile slop sink.
I'm going to do you another favor. I'm not going to show you our "prints". Use your imagination.

THE MORAL OF THE STORY: Never create art projects that require cooking. Always have wonderful students with a good sense of humor. And be ready with a nice glass of wine to down when all the students go home. 

Do you have a MASTER OF DISASTER PROJECT you care to share?  If I get at least 5 submissions I will pick the most vile and send them one package of Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Cleaning Sponge.
May the most heinous project win!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

MORE Face Jugs!

Before painting
In a previous post I shared our Face Jug project made from recycled jars and clay. The artists worked really hard on them. They were so incredibly varied and whimsical. Some were a little crazy looking, which is pretty appropriate considering how insane traditional face jugs can be.
 Here's a few more to share with you all. 

Face Jugswaiting for their glaze to dry.
Add caption

Still to be painted.
Whiskers were made from
paper clips. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Comic Book Class 101

I've been teaching Comic Book Class through our Town Recreation Department. Those of you who know me may be surprised. Although I am an illustrator (see? I even have a WEBSITE!) I have never been a comic book artist. I do, however, love comic books. My love started back in the 1980's when I'd snarf up copies of RAW Magazine, a compilation of alternative comics compiled by Art Spiegelman of MAUS fame. I became a huge fan of graphic novels but it wasn't until I had my boys that I began to appreciate more traditional comic books.
Sketching out some ideas

Now, of course, my 9 year old and I are regulars at the local comic book store. After about a billion visits to the store I found myself reading up on how comic books are made, a little about the history, and a lot about the art. And I saw my son start to create his own comic books. I tried to guide him a little on how to put together the story, how to use lettering creatively, how to include action and details, how to work with pacing and planning, later on how to ink and color. Suddenly I had the structure of a class. 

It's a class that is a pure joy to teach. The kids come in excited, ready to work, enthusiastic to share. We do exercises in story crafting, layout, sketching, figure drawing, adding expression and much more. Each artist
creates a book that I send out for printing. 

Here's a sample of some of the wonderful work created by the Picasso's Basement Comic Book artists.
This group is entirely made up of 2nd-to-4th graders!

 I'm fortunate to know some amazing artists who have come to share their work with our class.

Marvel Comic Book Artist Bob Budiansky visits and wows the class!

An animated group after an activity that focused on details in our stories!
I can't wait to share more of their work with you!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Face Jugs and a Hurricane

Last night I dreamt that a nasty hurricane hit the East Coast, knocking out power, taking down wires, leaving people cold and cranky and bored and hungry. And then I woke up and remembered that it all was real. Such a crazy time and this Thanksgiving I had to be thankful that the worst that happened to my family was losing heat and power and having our schools closed. We were cold and bored but we had friends that lost property, faced terrible cleanups, were left temporarily homeless. Many people lost their homes, their cars, and were left in terrifying situations. I'm truly grateful that my family remained together, safe and secure.  I'm also grateful for the workers at the utility companies, the townships, and the volunteers that are still working trying to help get everyone back in their home

Last week my kids finally returned to a full week of school. And as I clean out my studio and straightened up my supplies (which, being in the basement, all ended up on top of my work tables to protect them from any possible flooding) I've found many projects that I should share.

I always like to break up my posts so I'll share one with you all here and post more later. 

So let's talk about FACE JUGS.

Jugs and urns with faces on them can be found in many cultures going all the way back to the ancient Greeks and the Egyptians. They were often crafted by African American slaves in America and there's speculation that they were used almost as a burial memorial because slaves were not allowed proper funeral markers. They later became a common American folk art. They are often grotesque or goofy and sometimes feature human teeth!

The Picasso's Basement artists looked at many pictures of the jugs. They each chose a recycled glass jar or bottle to work with and a big ol' hunk of Prang Das Modeling Clay which is  a little pricey but excellent because it doesn't crack and crumble like most air-dry clay. (Just see my Terra Cotta Warrior post to see what disasters await when you use the wrong clay.)

Zombie Pig Pencil Holder Face Jug/Front
They painted them with acrylic paint and later glazed them with Modge Podge.
Zombie Pig Pencil Holder Face Jug with 2 tails/Back

I always encourage the Artists to just go to town with their imaginations. I think you will see that they certainly did! I'll feature some more of them on my next post. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Did ya miss me?

I bet you've wondered where I've been for the past few months. Were you worried? Really?

Well, I've had a busy summer full of kid-schlepping, pool loafing, and family-reunion-90th-birthday-party-organizing.  I'm still in recovery. And I'm trying to decide which did me in:

Whitefish salad bedecked with pics of Mom Thru the Years.
Was it the family reunion/party organizing, complete with superb decorations? (See incredibly gorgeous dish to the left. Jewish soul food at it's best.)

Was it the week I drove my eldest child to and from a camp over an hour away? (If you, dear reader, ever consider sending your child to a DAY camp in another state other than the one in which you live, please come speak to me first.)

Was it the housing of relatives from far off countries, all hungry at different hours?

NO! I say, it was not all these things that done me in (to quote Eliza Doolittle) but the organizing of a business that is keeping me up at night. But all for good cause because I come to you to announce that Picasso's Basement Art Club for Curious Kids is now officially (insert drum roll here) 
That's right! No more slinking about the cellars of Fanwood. I will now be above ground and charging normal rates. (Sorry!) 

Picasso's Basement LLC is now officially available for:

  • Art Parties for kids, tweens, teens and adults
  • Town Parks and Recreation Departments
  • Schools
  • Homeschooling groups
  • Scout and Girl scout activities
  • Seniors groups
I'll be revealing my new website shortly. But in the meantime I'll continue to blog about the wonderful kids I get to work with on a daily basis.  

If you are in the area please check out Picasso's Basement classes starting in just a few days. I'll be teaching MAKE YOUR OWN COMIC BOOKS for 1-3rd and 4-6th  graders and ART THAT'S ECO SMART for the same age groups.
I'll also be announcing a preschool class running one afternoon a week.

Thanks to all my readers and friends for their support and encouragement. Special thanks to Trish Comperchio, designer to the stars and Lyuda Laurentyeva , fellow illustrator and killer web designer. And to my wonderful hubby who has done more than his share of dishes while I went to business meetings.
Don't worry, Paul, I promise the grilled cheese dinners will end soon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

...the Bronx Is Up and the Battery's Down...the people ride in a hole in the ground....

I'm looking forward to representing Picasso's Basement at the upcoming Fanwood Green Fair on June 26th and that got me to thinking about the wonderful projects the kids have done with recycled items. I always save and reuse what I can, from cereal boxes to yogurt cups to bottles.

Months ago I told you about our  Upcycled New York City. Well here it is! I still have to poke the holes in the background and add the strand of lights so it will look like night stars. But I figured I'd better get this posted before another 2 months pass!

Watch Out! King Kong is on the loose!

St. Patrick's Cathedral
Lincoln Center complete with taxis
Chrysler Building with Empire State Building in the background

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Riddle me this, Batman!

I got one for you.

Q: What does a vinyl Thompson Twins album, a Barbie doll shoe and an egg carton have in common?

Give up?
A: I can use them ALL as art supplies!`

I have many generous friends who have literally kept Picasso's Basement going by supplying me with their refuse. Several parents of Picasso's Basement students recently asked what else the art room could use. My list is long and everchanging but I've done my best to put together a current list. If you have anything listed that you'd like to contribute or you have something new (or old) and exciting that you think you'd like to pan off on me donate, please drop me a line!

  1. Clear square CD Cases. Really. With or without enclosed CD
  2. Egg Cartons (Plastic for great paint trays, styrofoam/cardboard are saved for crafts)
  3. Bubble Wrap (the small bubbles, not the big ones)
  4. Rounded small Applesauce/Fruit containers 
  5. Extra craft supplies you're getting rid of! (Wait! Why would you get rid of it?! Well, IF...)
  6. Old maps
  7. Buttons
  8. Pencils 
  9. Erasers
  10. Wooden frames
  11. Plywood Scraps (big enough to cut into small signs with a jigsaw)
  12. Printer paper
  13. Vinyl albums and singles (do you remember these?)
  14. Bottle caps. (Yes. Still.)
  15. Laundry detergent bottles, preferably brightly colored ones
  16. *Teeny tiny toy pieces (Gumball machine items, Polly Pocket dolls and accessories. Letter blocks etc.)
  17. Old magazines for cutting up.
  18. Things with weird textures. (I know. It's vague. Use your imagination. Have a strip of mesh food baggies? It's fantastic for printmaking!)
  19. Art books
  20. Art posters
  21. Lampshades
If you want to know what the teeny toy pieces are good for take a look at this fabulous piece created by one of my Middle School students:

Assemblage ala Louise Nevelson

And if I haven't said it enough, THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU  to all of those whose generous contributions have kept my art program going! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Diamond Jubilee Crowns Fit for a Queen!

It's true. I have a little thing about England. 
It could be that it is because they have such great accents. 
It could be that it is because they drive on the wrong side of the road and eat marmite and say "vitamin" and "aluminum" in such silly ways. 
So it was with great excitement that the PreK kids arrived in time to help me celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

"What do you need to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee" you ask?
That's right. Buckets. 
Here's the whole list to make the most royal crowns ever!
  1.  One Bucket per artist
  2. Paper and Crayons (we used only reds and blues)
  3. White paper cut in strips long enough to fit around the bucket
  4. Red and blue and white Bottle Caps or buttons or something to be the "jewels"
  5. Glittery Pipe Cleaners (I used silver)
  6. Glue and hot glue
  7. White tape
  8. Red felt (or some royal color of choice)
  9. Newspapers for stuffing
  10. Optional glittery garlands

Make sure buckets are empty and clean. Flip em over so the open part is on the table. 
Glue some clumped up newspaper on top--this is only for stuffing so no need to be picky. 
Top with large rounded cut piece of felt. Glue the bottom edge of the felt to the bucket with glue dots or hot glue. 
Have kids draw Royal Patterns on the paper with different reds and blues. (This is a GREAT time to talk to younger kids about there being many tints and shades of any color.) Glue or tape that paper around the bottom of the bucket so it covers the bottom of the felt. 
Wrap a circle of pipe cleaner around the upper portion of the crown and attach other pipe cleaners so they can be wrapped around the top.
Glue on Bottle Cap jewels and festive garlands and any doodads you think will make it look royal.

 We decorated tea cups with paint markers too because where would the Queen be without her tea? 
But no need to show them for they were a mere afterthought. 
It's all about the crowns!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Negative Spaces

 When you go to art school the teachers really like talking about negative space. It's a biggie. And rightly so. If an artist is aware of negative space--the space around the subject--then he's more likely to create an interesting composition. Kids and grownups alike tend to put their subject matter smack in the middle of the drawing or painting and call it a day.

I came across the designs of Florent Bodart on Threadless, a really wonderful website where designers and artists can submit designs for t-shirts or vote for other designs that have been submitted. The winning designs are sold on shirts and the artists get a percentage of the fee.

Florent's work is bold and delicate at the same time. He works with a variety of styles but the one that grabbed me was his animals. They are drawn simply or silhouetted against black. Then he applies lines of patterns to fill the animal's shape.

Florent Bodart rocks his negative space!

What a great opportunity to teach the kids about using negative space to help the composition.

VOILA! Merci, Florent!

My apologies to my students, I seem to have only saved one photo from last week. Lucky for me it is a fantastic one! Congrats to the artist!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ode to a Mini Schnauzer

Getting a dog is one of the best things my family has ever done. And maybe one of the worst. But I think you'll see why we decided to see our canine glass as half full.

Here are some of the dog-related problems:
  • He smells. Bad.
  • He eats everything. Rocks, garbage, shoes, my student's mom's bag. In 6 months he's had a billion vet visits, 2 xrays and 1 overnight hospital stay with a $3000 endoscopy to get a rock out of his stomach. 
  • He gets all the furniture dirty.
  • Waiting for the Picasso's Basement Kids to arrive!
  • Did I mention that he smells?

Here is what he has given us: 
  1. Unconditional love.
  2. Smiles from my kids when I wake them for school. Including my 13 year old. Enough said.
  3. A mascot for the Picasso's Basement classes. He sits at the childrens feet and watches them make art. Then he eats some erasers. 
  4. Unconditional love.
  5. Moments of unbridled cuteness, particularly when playing with his toy Hulk Hand.
  6. Companionship.
  7. Unconditional love.

AND a constant source of drawing material! Here's what my 8 year old created: 

Once my son draws you you know you are really part of the family! 

Sunday, May 13, 2012


We go through a lot of paper towels at our house. I wish I could say I was able to find something better and more environmentally friendly in my kitchen and my art room but I have yet to do so. But I try using tiny pieces when I can and I reuse all the paper towel cardboard inserts. My drawer of towel rolls was starting to overflow and I thought it time to put some to good use.

A lot of people cut theirs down (or use toilet paper rolls instead) and press in the tops to create animal ears for crafting. But when I say I had a LOT of rolls I do not exaggerate. So we had to find some additional use for the cardboard so I could clear out more of the drawer. Not to mention the drawer of frozen food trays that are not accepted at our local recycling center but do make great paint palettes and water bowls.

I set my Preschool kids to the task of using these supplies and they loved following the steps.
Cut one of your two rolls! Crush in the top!
Poke holes in the side of both rolls!
Crumple that green paper!
That's right, shove the stick in the hole! I promise it will turn into something!
Don't touch that glue gun, it's hot! Just show me where you want the glue...

              VOILA! OWLS FROM TOWELS! 

And I was even able to clear my yard of some sticks!