Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year--A Calendar Idea For You!

Every year I teach a couple of art classes after school where the students create gifts for giving. I try to have them create projects based on common giftable items such as jewelry, mugs, homemade games, and calendars. This year's calendar took the origami quilt idea and used the same samurai helmet motifs around a year-at-a-glance calendar.

My students busily created their projects in a day-long workshop, but these calendars were saved for last, just in case they couldn't finish them in class, they could take them home and do them on their own. So here's how to make them:

Origami Calendar

Supplies Needed:

  • 12 pieces of 6" square origami paper (6 prints and 6 solids)
  • A (size) year at a glance calendar (ours was from:
  • Glue stick
  • One 12" x 12" piece of paper for the background (we used scrapbook paper)
  • One 12" x 12" sheet protector (the size used in scrapbooking)
1. Use the origami paper to make 12 samurai hats. If you need directions for this, go to the links in my Origami Quilts post (about halfway down the post).

2. If the little flaps of your finished samurai helmets aren't laying flat, use the glue stick to tack them down. This isn't necessary, but it looks neater if the flaps are flat.

3. Glue the calendar to the center of the 12" x 12" background using the glue stick.

4. Arrange the samurai hats around the calendar in a pleasing pattern. Use the image for reference, if desired. Glue the samurai helmets to the background using the glue stick.

5. Slide the finished calendar into the sheet protector with the ring holes of the sheet protector at the top of the calendar, so that you can hang it up. This calendar can also be placed in a 12" x 12" frame for a more finished and permanent display (12" square frames can be found at craft stores for a few dollars).


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Make a quilt in an evening--A PAPER ORIGAMI quilt that is!

Once upon a time, I used to quilt. I wasn't super-great at it, but I loved it and had fun. I think it's the graphic designer in me seeing all of those neat little shapes in neat little rows just makes me happy! But now I have four kiddos and I'm going to grad school. As for quilting..."Ain't nobody got time for that!" But, my sister is a wonderful quilter and churns out quilts left and right. And her work is better than mine ever was or will be--she's into detail and hand-stitching and all other sorts of craziness :-) And she has a stash of fabric that is *to die for!!*

I thought my quilting days were done (or on hold for a good long time), but, stay with me on this...

My family and I also *LOVE* origami--I don't know what it is about folding a tiny piece of paper a few times and magically getting a little shirt, a ballon, a lantern, or a samurai hat, but we can't get enough! So, awhile back, I saw this neat origami piece that had a bunch of what I figured out were origami samurai hats/helmets arranged on a colored background that looked like--a QUILT! OK, now quilts are still one of my favorite things--so I pinned it and would look at it fondly whenever I saw it in amongst my 5000+ pins...

The last time I stumbled on my origami quilt pin, I thought, "Hey that would be great for my sister!" So, I bought a pack of origami paper from the craft store (about $12.00 for 200 sheets) and coerced my kiddos to help me make a bunch of samurai hats.

Samurai hats are easy to make and even my four-year-old could do them. She ended up making about 15 or so! They were a little "unique" but usable, nonetheless! Here's link to see how to make a samurai hat.

You'll need 32 hats for this arrangement. We made so many, we had enough to make two "quilts"--one for me and one for my sister! The hats are mounted on 18" x 24" piece of Canson pastel paper. You could use mat board, but this is what I had on hand and it is wonderful quality paper and comes in a bunch of colors (and it is easy to measure and cut at home).

This project would make a great class project either for a teacher or for a group auction piece. It's also great for anyone who loves quilts and quilting. It's unusual and a conversation starter! The project took us a night to make two completed "quilts." You could make smaller versions that would fit in a 12" x 12" frame (so three rows of 6 samurai hats) or you could work with the mini origami paper (it's about 3" square) to make cards for your friends.

I hope you try this project and have fun with it and origami! ENJOY!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Scenes from Jewelry-Making Artist's Workshop

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of hanging out and creating jewelry with a few lovely students at Amherst Middle School. We learned some basics of jewelry design and construction and students were able to go home with duct tape earrings, beaded earrings, a glass bead bracelet, and a shrink art necklace. While they were creating, they were learning how to use jewelry-making tools and jewelry findings.

While these pieces are easy to make, they form the foundation of basic jewelry-making skills students can use to make a number of fabulous pieces! Hopefully they are inspired to create some lovely pieces at home!

And here's the link to the tutorial we used as inspiration for our duct tape earrings--I'm now sporting a pair of rainbow tie-dyed feather earrings my son made me! :-) *LOVE*

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Love printmaking? Try these lessons!

I've rediscovered printmaking over the last month or so. I love printmaking because it is easy and can be done on the cheap. Well, sort of. The process is always so fun for the students and the results are magical--I love to watch them "ooh" and "aah" over their prints!

Well, here's a round-up of some past printmaking lessons from my site that may have you rocking and rolling with your students!

Matching Mittens with Found Object "Snow" Prints

Reduction Prints (Using Styrofoam trays and found objects)
Andy Warhol Self Portraits (Using Styrofoam trays and a pencil to "carve" an image)
Reduction Print Selfie (Using Styrofoam tray and gradually removing portions of it between inkings)

Haunted Houses (Using sticky-backed foam shapes)
Fall Banner (Using foam shapes to make stamps--can be changed for any theme or season)

Create Your Own Stamps (Using found objects and wine corks to make your own stamps)
Matching Mittens and Snowflakes (Cut paper mittens with found object "snow")
Focal Point Fruit Prints (Using an apple or pear to print--exploring focal point too).
Leaf Prints (This is mine, it's from Deep Space Sparkle, but it is my go-to early finisher activity in the fall).
Modern Day Adinkra Cloth (Using stamped symbols on sections of card stock that are joined together into one "cloth")
Spring Forsythia Still Life (Using pieces of sponge to make a lovely arrangement of forsythia blossoms)
Not-So-Scary Dancing Skeletons (Uses doggy bone treats for unique stamps)

Andy Warhol Hand Prints (Seriously one of my most popular posts, but not mine--from Artolazzi--so easy!).

And one of my all-time popular posts--
Quick Andy Warhol Hand Prints

Monday, November 10, 2014

African Cloth Speaks--Now at the Silver Center in Plymouth, NH

I had the pleasure of attending the opening for a lovely show located at the Silver Center in Plymouth, NH called "African Cloth Speaks." I have long admired the beautiful and symbolic ceremonial cloth the people of Africa weave, print, and/or embroider and this was the perfect show to see all types of cloth from many different countries from Africa.

A close-up of Kente cloth
(image courtesy of Plymouth State University).
About the Show:
"Throughout the continent of Africa, people use cloth to speak for them. Whether the fabric represents religious affiliation, age, class status, ethnic membership, or political association, what one wears is one’s identity. Woven or dyed, imported or locally produced, wrapped, tied, or tailored—all clothing speaks clearly in the many African languages. Demonstrating ancient traditions or contemporary fads, African peoples use cloth to celebrate the vibrancy of life’s rituals from birth to death. Co-curated by Philip Peek, professor emeritus of anthropology at Drew University, and Anthropology of Religion, Ritual, and Myth students." (From

I was so thrilled to see real examples of Adinkra cloth and  Kente cloth since I have taught those lessons to my students in the past. For a modern take on Adinkra cloth (a great lesson on printmaking and symbolism), click here: Modern Day Adinkra Cloth. 

Project Idea:
This would be a lovely lesson to have each student create a symbol that has meaning for them, create a square, and then link them together as a class (or you could do this for your family). Children could them write about the symbol they created and what it means to them. What a wonderful group project this would make!

This close-up shows how each printed square of Adinkra fabric
is linked together using paper clips (a modern twist), traditionally,
they'd be sewn together using bright embroidery thread. 

"African Cloth Speaks" runs from November 5th-December 12th, 2014 at the Silver Center For the Performing Arts at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, NH. For more info, visit:

Friday, November 7, 2014

After School Printmaking Workshop

Yesterday I had fun experimenting with printmaking techniques with some 9- to 12-year-olds. It always amazes me how much fun students have with printmaking. I love it too!

We only had an hour and a half, so we began by doing a reductive print by slowly destroying a foam plate using tools that are easy to find around the house and studio: plastic knives, popsicle sticks, skewers, pen caps, etc. Students were asked to make two types of marks on their plate, print it, return and make more marks on their same plate, print it AGAIN on top of the first print, and then repeat one more time. We could have spent the entire class doing this one project, since some students needed time to "see" how things would turn out. Overall, they were pretty impressed by the beautiful layers that were created in their pieces.

When they were done that, I showed them how to use a plexiglass plate and add shapes and letters using sticky-back foam to make a relief plate. The students really went crazy with this idea and some created three plates in a short period of time. Most created their names or initials but some created trees, hearts, dragons and more.

Supplies we used for the workshop:

  • Foam veggie trays (don't use meat trays)
  • Found tools (mentioned above and hole punches, decorative scissors, etc--pretty much anything that will marks foam in a neat way)
  • Speedball printmaking inks (water soluble in red, blue, yellow, white, gold)
  • Speedball soft rubber brayer (roller)
  • Sticky-backed craft foam
  • Plexiglass scraps (do not use shatter-resistant)
Have a great day!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fall Still-life With Glue and Pastels

Here are some pretty still-life creations my after school art class finished up this week. OK, I can use other, more "artsy" words like "dynamic" or "engaging" to describe these, but MAN, are they pretty, too! I've done this project before, and the students are always amazed at how the pieces come out (me too!). This group had students who are in first grade through fourth--so you can see it's pretty accessible to all with the right amount of scaffolding.

I made the mistake, this time, of using clear glue (gel and plain clear) since that's what other art teachers have said they used for this project with great success. I tried it because, in the past, I had found the regular  Elmer's glue can dry a bit cloudy. Anyway, I WAS NOT happy with the results. The clear glue soaked into the paper and ran off as the students were moving them to the drying space leaving drips and blops all offer the classroom and my car (a.k.a. the mobile art studio). It also soaked through the paper and glued the pieces to tables and the seats of my car...(big unhappy face for Mrs. Pettus) ;-)

So, if you do this project--which a HIGHLY suggest you try--use plain old Elmer's. It's fine for this project. So fun and magical (and "pretty")! Check out my previous post about this technique here.


Friday, October 31, 2014

The Making of a Spooky Village and a Poem

Happy Halloween!

Here's a look at the Scary House Prints my students created last week in after school art class. I had each of them donate one print to me and we created a spooky village. I had a kiddo use the formative assessment "poem activity" I spoke about here to create a spooky poem about the halloween village.

"Halloween Houses
Scary Like a Bat.
Spooky Night!"

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Viewing and Writing About Art: A Language Arts Formative Assessment For All!

I'm so excited to share this neat writing/language arts activity I learned about at a recent conference! I really think it has TONS of great uses! 

I'd like to thank Robin Perringer, art teacher at Nashua High School, for sharing this with me. She uses this with her high school students as a formative assessment--she mentioned she uses this in her ceramics class, but says you can use this with any of your students at any age level or with work they've created themselves or work by someone else (famous or not).

NOTE: Do not tell your students they will be writing poetry! :-) My experience has been that a scant few will be excited, but many will either go pale with shock and start stressing right away or exclaim "no!" and refuse to create a "silly" (or whatever creative adjective they can think of) poem! ;-) Once they are done, the students are always so blown away by the awesome writing they've done.

Georgia O'Keefe, Cow's Skull with Calico Roses, 1931

Here's how it works:

1. Have your students look at a piece of artwork. This can be a piece they've finished (or think they've finished), someone else's work in the class, or a famous work of art.

2. Have your students create the following:

  • Line 1: A creative name for the piece
  • Line 2: An action phrase based on what you see
  • Line 3: A simile or metaphor that describes the place/location/character or object
  • Line 4: Another title, but simpler
And there you have it--an awesome "poem" and a sneaky way to check your student's understanding and get them thinking and talking about art!

Here's an example using an image by Georgia O'Keefe...

Smooth Porcelain Petals
Clutching, Hanging, Captured
Cold, like the dessert night.
Bone White.

I'm definitely putting this in my toolbox for future classes! ENJOY!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Printmaking with Shapes: Spooky Haunted Houses

Cue the scary music! It's time to get spooky! In my after school class we talked about silhouettes and nighttime and fall. Although we don't usually walk around outside at night--we may be doing that soon if we Trick-or-Treat at Halloween. Halloween can be lots of things: scary, exciting, spooky, cold, dark, and tingly (I love that one!). I had the idea to create a spooky neighborhood and I asked the students to help me by creating their own Spooky Houses.

We had tried another way of making printmaking plates the week before, but the students were struggling a bit and I knew the final results might be "eh" instead of "WOW!" The class is made up of first- through fourth-graders and since they were all struggling with the media, I realized I chosen the wrong way to go about this project! So I rethought the project over the week and this is what I came up with...

We used sticky back foam shapes to create the "silhouette" or outline of our houses that we could then print onto different colors of paper. That's the cool thing about printmaking--you make one plate and you can re-ink it and print it multiple times! Below are the directions for the project. We did it during one after school class period, but I would do this over three regular art classes (to also include a basic writing component--more on that later). Anyway, this will get you started:

On the left: Printing plate example
Middle: The print
Right: The haunted house print embellished with details.

Spooky Printmaking Nighttime Houses

Supplies Needed For the Printing Plates:

  • Sticky-back Foam Shapes (I bought larger sheets and cut my own shapes from them--squares, triangles, long, skinny strips, rectangles, etc.). 
  • Mat board or foam core cut into rectangles for the printing plate (ours are 5 1/2" x 7" because that's what I had).
  • Scissors
  • Pencils
Directions to make the Printing Plates:
  1. Arrange the foam shapes onto the plate to create the silhouette or outside shape of a spooky house. I had the students arrange the pieces first, then when they liked what they had created, they could peel the paper off the back of their shapes and attach them to their plates.
  2. Add elements to the background: bats, ghosts, etc. Attach those to the plate as well. Younger kids may need help cutting out complex shapes such as bats.

Supplies Needed For the Prints:
  • Your completed printing plate (from above)
  • Newspaper for covering surfaces
  • Solid colored papers (We used orange, 2 shades of purple, and lime green cut to 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" rectangles)
  • Washable printmaking ink in black
  • A soft rubber roller
  • A piece of plastic-coated butcher paper (maybe 14"x 17" or so)
  • Masking tape or painter's tape
Directions to make Prints:
  1. Before you begin, set up your work area by taping the butcher paper (plastic-side up) to the work surface on all four sides with tape. This will be the area you'll use for the ink and roller. Squirt a bit of ink on this area and use the roller to spread it around and load the roller. Also, place newspapers on the rest of your work surface.
  2. Ink up the plate, and place a sheet of paper on top of it, rub and press gently & remove. Ta da! A print. Move it to a drying area (that has been covered with newspaper) and let dry.
  3. Repeat to create more prints. I had the students make three to take home and one for me.
  4. Let the prints dry before moving on to the next step.

Supplies to Embellish and Complete the Spooky Houses:
  • Glue sticks and Elmer's glue
  • Large sheets of black construction paper (12 x 18"), 1 per student
  • Scraps of yellow, orange and red paper for windows and moons
  • Scissors and pencils
  • Sharpies (thin and thick)
  • Googly eyes (optional)
  • Halloween stickers (optional)
Directions to Embellish and Complete the Spooky Houses:
  1. Have students glue three of their prints to the black construction paper sheet using a glue stick.
  2. Have students draw and cut out windows and moons, etc. from the yellow scraps of paper. They can trace their pencil lines with Sharpie, if they like. My students also used Sharpies to add cracks to their windows, spiders, and scary phrases to the doors like "Keep Out!" and such.
  3. Glue the windows, doors, and moons, to the prints using glue sticks.
  4. Add goggly eyes to any critters on their prints, if desired: ghosts, cats, bats. Use Elmer's glue for that.
  5. Embellish with stickers, if desired.
Close up of my trial print.

And now you are ready for a Spooky Fall Night! ENJOY!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Leaf Man Nature Collages

The beautiful fall colors are fading away up here in New Hampshire (since we've had days of rain and wind), but I wanted to share one of my favorite art projects to do with kids of all ages: "Leaf People (or Leaf Critters)" made with elements from a nature walk and inspired by Lois Ehlert's book, "Leaf Man."

My teacher followers might say, "YAWN. Seen it before." And you are right, but kiddos from Pre-K to 4th like doing this project and every time they do it, their pieces get more and more sophisticated. Also, their observations of the natural elements develop the older they get. What a great link to literature and science!

Here's the "Leaf Man"Book.
Another book by Ehlert that is also perfect
for this time of year is "Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf" as well...

My after-school kiddos were stuck inside due to rain, so I was responsible for gathering materials for this project. Ideally, I like to take students outside to gather/discuss leaves and seeds. Either way, it pays to have some teacher-supplied elements so that everyone isn't using the same shape leaf in their pieces. I collected about 15 different types of leaves, some twigs, acorns, and maple tree "helicopter" seeds, but I bet you could find even more than that given a little time. Collect the leaves right before you plan to use them since you want them to be pliable and not crispy.

Here's the abbreviated timeline for the project:

  1. Read the book "Leaf Man." How did the Illustrator, Ms. Ehlert, use natural materials such as leaves to make animals, insects, and people?
  2. Talk about background. Notice the backgrounds in the book--how are they made? Are they all the same?
  3. Show the students how to tear a piece of scrapbook paper in half in an interesting way. Now we have two pieces of paper. They can be layered this way (demonstrate) to create different types of backgrounds: a lake with mountains in the back, etc. Trade one of your pieces with someone in the classroom and practice making different backgrounds until you get one that you like.
  4. Glue down the background pieces onto a third piece of scrapbook paper using a glue stick.
  5. Create a leaf person, a leaf critter or both on your background. Don't glue the nature pieces down right away--try out different leaves and seeds. When you are happy, then glue it down using goopy glue (Elmer's glue). I had eyeball stickers on hand for them to add as well--the kids like that! But you could use googly eyes, draw the eyes using a Sharpie, or only use natural elements like Ehlert does.
  6. Let dry and enjoy!!
Here are some examples from class:

Did you know: The leaves used on the illustrations of "Leaf Man" were collected all over the U.S. by Ehlert and friends and color photocopied to retain their beautiful colors until she could create the illustrations for the book. What a great way to preserve the leaves--I wouldn't have thought of that!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Using Thinglink to Think about Social Studies and Art...

Here's another image I made using (I'm a little obsessed with it!). I thought I'd make an example to show how it could be used for a flipped classroom situation or as a hook to get students thinking and writing about Social Studies

You could create a clickable image and keep it private on Thinglink--that means that only people who have the link can see it. You could have your students log in, check out the image (watch videos, visit websites you link to the image, etc.) and then leave comments below the image. What a great way to get them interested in a subject and breathe life into a stuffy textbook.


Look at this image. BEFORE you click on the links, think about what you see. What is going on here? What are these people doing? How do they feel?

Now, click on the image and explore the links to find more information...

After exploring, write a comment below this blogpost about what YOU think this image is about (at least two sentences). Be prepared to discuss...

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Integrating the Arts and Technology Palette: Just the Beginning!

Yesterday, I gave a talk to the Integrated Arts students at Plymouth State University about using technology in their fabulous Integrated Arts lessons. What a great bunch of students--so creative and smart! It was so fun sharing with them.

I focused on mobile apps and websites they could use to search for lesson, plan lessons, but also have students use to learn, document and create. Below, is the image from my talk. It makes more sense when I'm explaining it (I think), but it has some wonderful resources I believe you will love to explore.

The image was made by me in Illustrator (you may recognize the creative brain from my "21st Century Skills" art poster seen elsewhere in my blog). Once the image and subjects were on the image, I imported it into and added the clickable buttons. What I like about creating images like this is that all of the resources I needed for my talk are right here. I just opened up the image during the presentation and used it. I had also sent the link to all of the students prior to the talk and they had the images on their computers as well so they could follow along with me. This was great since it took seconds for them to get to websites and videos I wanted them to explore. And they can keep this image for future reference!

So check it out and see if there's something here that gets you thinking about a new way YOU could use technology in your lessons...let me know what you think up--I love to hear. Also, if you already use technology in your classroom (art classroom or not) let me know what you do and I can share it with the students.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Creativity Isn't Dead!

Thank you so much to all of the parents who came out the week before school to attend my workshop on creativity--Reimagining Creativity: Building Creative Confidence in Your Kids!

First off, all of these people are incredibly brave! I described what we would be doing in the emails I sent out, but I was deliberately vague--I didn't want to spoil the fun we'd be having or have people feel it was going to go a particular way since I wanted to leave a bit of wiggle room so that I could adapt the workshop to what the attendees needed.

All of the attendees knew me and knew I am an art teacher, so there was some intimidation that they'd be making art in front of me and others (whom they did not know). They were afraid they'd be judged! How scary is that!? But they showed up anyway!

We did create some art, but that is because sharing art is how I express myself creatively. The main goal was to get the grownups thinking about how THEY are creative (everyone is, you know!) and how THEY could apply that creativity in their lives and in their homes, jobs, etc.

It was a success, and I can't wait to hear how these parents use the insight they gained in their lives with their kiddos.

Here's what some attendees said:

"What a wonderful evening!  Thank you!  I know you think I came for you… & I did… but I came to learn too, because I know you have so much to offer.  As you know, I don't consider myself 'artsy,' but from you I learned that is not the same as 'creative.'  Thank you."--P.D., Merrimack, NH

"Tonight was so great! Thank you for putting this together!"--J.M., Pepperell, MA.

"Excellent job tonight! It was so much fun! I am so glad I know you. Thank you so much."--S.H., Amherst, NH

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Easy Posters? Check this out!

We head back to school next week in these neck of the woods, so some of you may still need a bit of BLING for your classroom! I understand! If you haven't seen, scroll back a few posts and you'll see two posters I've made available for free for you to print out and use around your school and home...

"But, I want MORE!" You say? No problem!

Well, at least, no problem for ME--I'm not going to make more posters, but you can--and it takes really only a couple of minutes with this new (to me) site I stumbled upon called

Super easy directions:

1. You go to the site
2. Type in a couple of words, phrases, a quote, etc. (the only part I don't like is that I want to credit the quoted person a bit smaller than the rest of the quote, but it doesn't let you futz with that--it's automatic).
3. Choose a layout you like from the preview selection in the scrollbar at the bottom of the page.
4. Click "create"


BOOM! You are done! You can download the poster (to print), email it, share it on Facebook and more.

Here are a couple I made this afternoon...


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fall Art Class Flyer now available!

Hello all!

I just finalized the flyer describing the Fall/Winter 2014 art classes I'll be holding in Amherst, NH this year.

So excited!

To download a copy of the flyer--so you can actually read it--click the link below to go to my GoogleDocs page...

And NEW this year: Family Art Studio nights on the second Thursday of each month. This gives families the opportunity to relax and create art together! This is new for me, so I'll keep you posted on how it goes!

So, check out the course, and contact me if you have any questions. If you want to register, head on over to and do so there. I'll be updating the "Art Classes" page of my blog with this info as soon as I get a minute.

Thanks! ENJOY!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Free Posters! A Back-To-School Gift For You!

Hello there!

I have received a TON of feedback about the following posters I have created! It seems as though everyone wants a copy or two! So here's my gift to you: FREE POSTERS! 

How to get the files:

Visit my Google Docs page at:

And you'll be able to download the pdf files of both of these posters. For you. For FREE!! Yippee! They are both 11" x 17" and print out nicely--the colors are lovely! 

The Fine Print:
Please feel free to print these posters out and share them, but no selling them and no changing the text. Also, please leave my name and copyright info on the posters. If you decide to publish the posters in a newsletter or such, please make sure you credit me (and you could email me at'd love to see how you've shared them!).

So print, share, enjoy! 

And, happy "Back to School!"

Friday, July 25, 2014

Just Read: "Your Creative Brain" by Shelley Carson, Ph.D

As part of an upcoming course on creativity, innovation & imagination I'll be taking next weekend, I've read a great book called "Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life" by Shelley Carson, Ph.D.

I was excited to read this book because, when I thumbed through it, it had quizzes and activities and I really love a book that gets me up and doing things rather than passively trying to muddle through and make sense of some dry textbook. The quizzes are short and the activities do not take long and can be done a little at a time. Hey, I read it and I have four kiddos at home for the summer!

This book was nicely written and accessible with clear examples and humor thrown in. I really enjoyed reading the book--it doesn't feel like a dry textbook. That being said, this book isn't fluff. It is chock full of information about seven different creative pathways or brainsets all people have and can use in life. After identifying which brainset(s) you are strong in and those you may want to develop, Carson delves into each, clearly describing each in detail, the neuroscience of each, and when you may want to access this brainset. She then gives exercises that will help get you accessing these brainsets even more.

Now all of this cognitive mumbo-jumbo may seem a bit heavy for your summer beach reading, but this book is worth the look, I promise! As a teacher and a mom, I am constantly looking for ways to encourage creativity in the children around me. As an ART teacher, I am usually told by people that they aren't creative. I've always thought that this couldn't possibly be true. OK, not everyone can paint with oils or write a symphony, but creativity exists well beyond that! Creative does not mean artistic.

I was so inspired by the text, that I created a poster for the classroom based on Carson's ideas for establishing a creative environment (I'll see if I can make the poster available for download later in the summer--it's on my to-do list!).

This book is a wonderful tool to help you access creativity in your own life--no matter if you are artsy or not, and is great food for thought as you are planning for the next school year. Do you want to recognize, encourage and appreciate the unique and diverse talents of those around you and build an environment of creativity in your home, classroom, or place or work? Then check out this book!

Monday, June 30, 2014

Tommy McHugh - The Empty Chair - Revisited

While I was reading the newest book for my next grad course, "Your  Creative Brain, " by Shelley Carson, Ph. D., I learned about an English artist--Tommy McHugh. He came about being an artist a little later in life--after he suffered a couple of strokes. Before his strokes, he was a builder and it is said that he didn't have any artistic tendencies. After his strokes, however, he became a prolific writer, painter, and sculptor.

I enjoy more abstract pieces, so I really enjoy his work--it has a dreamlike quality that reminds me of the swirling thoughts that go on in our brains--or, at least in my brain. McHugh explained that this creative work helped him process the waves of thoughts and images that started to come into his brain as he was recovering.

McHugh was as passionate about encouraging people to be creative as he was about creating his art. He said, "We all have it--we just don't believe we can do it." He explained in this video that we can direct our paths both in life and in our minds. We can unlock the cells in our brains and do more. He encouraged people to break through whatever is keeping them from trying new paths: self-doubt, money, fear of judgement…and just do it. He explained that once you start accessing those cells in your brain and creating new pathways, more creativity will come.

Imagine if you were given a gift such as this…what would you do with it? You have been. Ready, set,  GO!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Just Read: "Imagination First: Unlocking The Power of Possibility"

I just finished reading the book "Imagination First: Unlocking The Power of Possibility" by Eric Liu and Scott Noppe-Brandon. I have to say that I didn't know what to expect from a book on imagination--I think of myself as a pretty creative, imaginative person, so I didn't think I necessarily needed a "how-to" book on imagination to get me going. I also wasn't sure if people who aren't imaginative would be able to develop their imaginative thinking just by reading a book. 

While not a beach-read, this book is relatively easy to digest.
Do you need to own it? Maybe not, see if you can borrow from your library
and then make the call once you've read it.
The book itself is easy to read and discusses the 28+ Practices that people can use to develop their imagination. It isn't meant to be a how-to per se, but offer you some thoughts on creative thinking that you can then apply to your own life. The authors state that practice (actual repetitive "doing") makes the 28+ Practices more meaningful and, like working out, exercising and building your imagination is not about being "done" but about staying loose as you practice again and again.

What I liked about this book is that, although I'd consider myself an imaginative person and a creative problem-solver, this book helped me to outline some of the tools I use every day and have come to just assume everyone else uses too. I like the challenge of designing with limitations (Practice 6)! I constantly hoard bits of eye-candy and quotes and ideas (Practice 7) that allow me to create a bigger "pool" of ideas and inspiration from which to draw from. I love calling up my 85-year-old grandmother and talking to her about my schoolwork (Practice 10)--it allows me to get down to the nitty-gritty and think about the basics of what it is that I am learning or teaching that week.

I also enjoyed reading this book as a parent as well as an educator. I don't know it all and sometimes I can get caught up in the junk of running a household or getting through the lesson before the class is up and miss some of the little details with my children and students that would encourage creativity and imagination. I think this book encouraged me to slow down and make sure I am not killing the creativity and imaginations of the people around me (obviously, I would never do that on purpose, but when my child comes up to me at dinnertime to show me a picture she drew, I could take a minute or two to ask a couple of questions about it and really look at the picture--dinner can wait!). In the classroom, I can design lessons that help my students break away from the status quo of constantly seeking the "right" answer and allow them discern where right and wrong answers matter (spelling and math) and where they don't.

As an educator, this book provides some interesting ways of thinking and encouraging imagination in ourselves, our classrooms, our teams, and in our communities. Here are a couple of ways I am inspired to use the information gained from this book in my life:

  • Watch what I say to people when they are sharing their ideas with me--make sure I do not "kill" their creativity and imagination. Use phrases such as "Yes, and…" to draw out their ideas and allow them to expand upon them.
  • Take more risks in my creative thinking--ask "What if…" more and encourage others to do the same.
  • Make more of my art lessons open-ended and allow the students to "finish the ending."
  • Work more with others--collaborate.
  • Focus on the process and not the end result.
  • Create a safe environment in my home and school where mistakes can guide us.
I think this book is a valuable resource for an educator, an administrator, or a parent to not only encourage imagination, creativity and innovation in themselves but also in others. As a parent and as an educator, I know I have a certain power with the lives I am entrusted with. I want to make sure I am encouraging critical thinking, passion and imaginative learning.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Project That Really ROCKS!

I'm a little behind with my postings, but I wanted to share this great project I did with my after school "Spring Into Art" class for Mother's Day. Not only is this a great project to show mom you care, it's great for pretty much anytime! I mean, who doesn't like painted rocks, wire sculpture and poetry?!? ;-)

This piece was made for me by my 4th grade son.
He enjoyed this project and liked writing the poem about me
(to read it, scroll down).

I linked this project to nature, of course, and Alexander Calder, since the wire portion reminded me of his stabiles and standing mobiles. Check out this one at his website,

This project can take off in a variety of directions: you could skip the poem and focus on creating a mobile-like structure where students explore balance, or you could use wood or foam core for the base, or mount the poem or a famous quote to the base…it is really up to you! Although the poetry piece makes a great integrated arts project.

Here are the directions for the version we did…Enjoy!

Rockin' Stabiles

Supplies Needed:

  • A rock the size of a softball, or so…
  • Acrylic paints
  • Paint brushes, water buckets, paper plate palettes, newspaper
  • Medium gauge copper wire (I think ours was 24 gauge, but check to see what works for you)
  • Wire cutters
  • Poem/Thank You Note Worksheets
  • Pencils
  • Plain white index cards (we used 4"x 6" ones)
  • Fine point Sharpies
  • Pretty colored paper or card stock (optional)
  • Glue Sticks
  • Scissors
  • Craft foam scraps
  • Hole punch

1. Select a nice rock for your base, brush it off and paint it with the acrylics. Let dry.

2. Choose a poem/thank you note worksheet to work with. I downloaded the Diamante template from for the students to use. I encouraged the older students (4th grade) to use those. For the younger students and ones who struggle with writing, I let them write a thank you note to their mom. I provided a template for the thank you note as well, to prompt them a bit. As a mom, either writing is appreciated! 

My son wrote this about me:
Beautiful, Awesome
Cleaning, Cooking, Vacuuming
You are very awesome.
Resting, Eating, Playing
Cool, Calm

3. Once the students were done their writing, I proofread them (although I let some of the creative spelling go sometimes because it was just so darn cute!). Transfer the writing to the index cards using Sharpies to make a nice-looking final copy.

4. Glue the index cards with the final writing onto a pretty piece of paper to create a nice border around the poem.

5. Cut a piece of wire to about 36" long. Wrap the wire around the rock a couple of times and twist the ends. One end can be a spiral to hold the poem you've written, the other end can curl out and around like the arm on Calder's work. You can cut smaller pieces of wire to make a mobile-type structure at this time, but I had students cut a shape from craft foam, punch a hole in it, and hang the shape from the arm.

6. Place the poem/thank you note in the spiral portion of the stabile (you may need to secure the note on the back with a bit of tape).


My other son, who is in first grade, was finding it hard to write that day,
so he painted the rock and created the wire heart sculpture instead.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Nature Walk Scavenger Hunt and Sketches

Are you heading outdoors with a bunch of kiddos to look around? How about a Nature Scavenger Hunt? A couple of years ago, I worked for the Nature Center in town, Peabody Mill Environmental Center, and they sent me off to a Kindergarten to do a class visit. I thought an outdoor exploration of the playground, discussion about plants and their parts, and a sensory nature walk/scavenger hunt would be great! I met with multiple classes that day and we had a blast!

This is a great project and can be adapted for an outing with a bunch of scouts,
a camp experience, an art classroom, general classroom, homeschooling field trip, etc.

Prepping For The Lesson:
This is a nice lesson that requires very little prep--although you may want to buzz around the playground before the kiddos join you, so you have an idea of what is out there that you might want to point out to them.

Also, you'll need to print out the scavenger hunt form--I used one from The Bird Feed NYC--they have a bunch of them there (and some other neat stuff too!). We would all be using the same form and filling it out as a class (each class got their own). I glued the scavenger hunt form to a large piece of construction paper, so I would have room to draw my diagram of a flower and its parts. I also wrote some good scientific words on the poster such as: look, listen, touch, smell, observe, identify, dissect, and collect (apparently I misspelled dissect the first time around!).

I also brought a bunch of star stickers, a sharpie for me, some pencils and sticky notes, too.

Starting Off:
I met the classes in the art room and told them that we'd be heading outside to do some exploring. We talked about using out senses to experience the world around them. However, we would not be using our sense of taste! No licking the trees! I then went over the rules for outside behavior and how we'd be working together to complete the scavenger hunt form.

Moving Outside:
We went out and sat down. We experienced the playground by using our senses and we discussed what we heard, saw, felt, and smelled. We checked off as many things from the scavenger hunt form that we could while sitting there--it was quite a bit!

Then I let the children move around and I pointed out a few things that I thought would interest them, such as a little mushroom I found, etc. We stopped and looked at a dandelion and we discussed the parts of a flower and I drew them on the poster and labeled the parts. They loved this part and they really enjoyed dissecting the dandelions and seeing up close the parts of the flower!

Wrapping It Up:
We took a couple of minutes to see if we could find anything else on the list, then I brought them over to the picnic tables and gave them each a pencil and a sticky note and invited them to draw a picture of something they saw, heard, touched, or smelled today on the walk. I them glued their sketches all around the edges of the poster and gave the finished piece to their teacher to display in the classroom.

In the future, I could make the poster a bit better, I think, but I really liked how this easy lesson came together and I loved the sketches the children drew--it was great to see what they took from their time outside.


Friday, June 13, 2014

Andy Goldsworthy Nature Sculptures

My Spring Art class headed outside to create some beautiful Nature Sculptures inspired by Andy Goldsworthy. Many of the children weren't familiar with his work, but really got inspired as we looked at a book I had brought called, "Hand to Earth." As we flipped through the pages, they were amazed at his work and itching to get started!

I had wanted a quick lesson where they could create outside and had intended that while they were creating their sculptures, I would work with small groups to make sun prints--a natural link, in my opinion. But alas, the weather didn't cooperate and the sun prints were a no-go due to the sun going away as soon as class started! At least it didn't rain! :-)

Unfortunately, the students can't take something him from a class like this--we even needed to destroy them before we left--that was hard for some. But, I brought the iPad and took some photos of each sculpture. Once I went home, I used PicCollage to bring all of the images from class together into a collage that could be printed as a poster--a very pretty one, I'd say! I emailed those out that afternoon to the families so the children could remember their sculptures forever.

This is a great lesson! The prep is pretty minimal, of course, but it really gets a good discussion going about the following themes:

  • Looking closely at nature
  • Being good stewards of the land
  • Working together as a team/taking turns/helping
  • Elements of art/principles of design
  • What is sculpture?
  • What is art?
  • The job of artist (How does an artist get paid for work such as this? What inspires an artist? How long will pieces like this last in nature?)
So, here's the final poster--enjoy!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Rainy Day Fun! Well, sort of!

So, I planned a totally outside series of art classes, which is new for me--usually my classes take place inside. Well, I planned some fun, outside, messy art projects and…it rained. Oops! Well, hurry up, run around, and repack an inside water-based project ("It's OK kids, it's raining outside, but we can use water to make some fun art!"). Drive to the school and…it stops raining. SIGH. 

Well, we did the rainy day project anyway. :-)

YUM! Ice cream!

This wonderful project is quick, easy and addicting! I saw this project awhile back on the smART Class blog and I've been wanting to try it forever! She says it is "the best art project ever!" and I'm inclined to agree. :-)

I pulled out the Crayola markers, white coffee filters (from the dollar store), and spray bottle (from the dollar store)--and we went to town! I only had the one spray bottle and the students needed to come to me for a spray of water. Sometimes, I'd miss the filter and spray them a bit. Oops! Ah, the power!

You really should try this project--the children think this process is just magical and many of the students who aren't usually into art made TONS of these.

My class had students in first through fourth grade and I had a couple first graders struggle a bit with this project due to the patience involved in making the little dots. I don't think it's all that much work, but be aware if you have a really young and rambunctious group.

Anyhow, after they had created at least three each, the students could work them into an illustration. They had fun with that part too, although that didn't take them long. There were stained glass windows, curly snail shells, off-road vehicle wheels, and an aerial view of Rapunzel's tower with one of these designs being an intricate rug on the floor. The students were all so creative! Some even had time to make two illustrations and that was fine with me.

This was a nice project to start my newest series of after school art classes and get to know this new batch of kiddos.


A beautiful rug as seen from above.
Look at that long hair swirling around the room!

This student got a jump on her Mother's Day presents!

Funky snail shells!

And look at this tank!

This student wasn't done his coloring,
but I had to snap a picture of these beautiful stained glass windows!

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