Thursday, August 30

My Blue Art Room

This sign is on my door greeting students to the Art room
I've started school this week! Last week I went in and set up my new art room. This week we had 2 days of professional development, then 2 days with students. However, students don't see Specials the first week of half days, so I had some extra time to really make myself at home in my new space.
I've worked at the school before as an intern with the last art teacher and as a substitute teacher, so some of the kids remember me from before. I've had lots of little faces pop by my door with an excited, "Hey! It's Mrs. Elcin!" often with their sign language "L" touching their chin ("make an L, touch your chin, that's how you remember Ms. Elcin). I also found a few pages at the bottom of a drawer, which turned out to be apology drawings and letters for naughty behavior addressed to me from when I subbed!! I feel very much at home already.
I've decided that my new role as a K-5 art teacher deserves its own blogspace. I will continue to post my activities in community arts and the studio here at Colored Thread, but if you wish to read more about K-5 art education, you may want to follow my new blog My Blue Art Room. I've just posted pictures of my classroom layout and environment, so please head over there. It'll take a while to fill out the blog with links and pictures, etc, but it will definitely evolve. Thanks for visiting!

Friday, August 24

The last week of summer

last week's cheesesteak giant greeted visitors to our "gallery"
  NLArts summer camp visual arts week was a lot of fun. We've worked for years to get a good plan of schedule/teachers/lessons, and this year just felt so EASY (to me anyway).One major change was that during visual arts week kids only chose one morning elective- 2D art, 3D art or public art, instead of 2 of them, and we gave them a longer period of time to work in. This allowed us to have much more time for generating ideas, working, and reflecting.

"Problemsolvers" created a geodesic dome
 In the afternoon we gave kids a choice among "ProblemSolvers" (math-based art), "Photoplay" (working with digital images), "Explorers" (short walking field trips around the community), and "Comics" (self-explanatory, right?). Kids chose their first 2 electives to keep all week, but then we gave them a daily choice of afternoon play elective- gym sports, park visit, or indoor board games/play. It's brilliant allowing kids to choose their activities- they're doing things they want, and end up hanging out with kids that share their interests. Gym and Explorers was popular among the more energetic ones. Painting and board games was a common choice for the quieter sorts of kids. I wish real school had this much opportunity for choice. You can still teach all sorts of concepts in these formats, even if at first glance they seem quite different.

3D artists made papier mache masks
On the last day of camp we set up a "Gallery" of kids art and have popsicles for everybody.Parents come and see everybody's work. This year instead of arranging art by project, each child had a spot to show off their collection of artwork.
my daughter created a circular hanging poem about the Frankford neighborhood
 Our junior counselors (middle schoolers) worked in the morning on projects related to various communities around the city, and made collage and digital artwork reflecting what they'd discovered.

cityscape with windmill
  I taught the 2D elective with a great group of 7-11 year olds. We focused on a project to show background/middleground/foreground. First we went to the park and traced the skyline around us with our fingers. In the studio we did a crayon city drawing, and then pulled india ink over it with a popsicle stick to create skyscraper silhouettes. Afterwards we painted the skies in various colors. It was fun to try to arrange them in order from morning to night based on the sky colors when our background step was done. On the next day we made our middlegrounds to start a community garden in our cities. First we did a soft watercolor painting in yellow and blue to make a mottled green wash. Then we made sketchbooks and went on a neighborhood walk to collect leaves and sketch. Finally we printed our leaves over the watercolors. On the third day we cut a curvy line across the leaf prints to make a nice tree line effect, and collaged them onto our city backgrounds. Some students chose to extend their picture longer, and others added layers of greenery in a 3D effect. Then we went on a walk to our local community garden. I pulled out some carpet sit-upons and we stopped to look at a book of Georgia O'Keefe flowers and then spent the morning sketching flowers from the garden.

I love Julia's tilting buildings in contrast with her straight flowers
  On the fourth day we painted our flowers with tempera, and then cut them out to collage into the gardens as foreground. And finally this morning we made "Bug Boxes". We received a fabulous donation of tins and boxes from a bead artist in the community. One of the box types was an aluminum cylinder with a window lid- perfect for a little specimen container. I asked the kids to imagine a bug they might have found in their community garden. We reviewed bug parts (head, thorax, abdomen, antennae, wings, stingers, legs, pincers, etc.) and then they drew, colored, and cut out their creatures. By folding the legs in a step-like manner, they were able to make their bugs pop up and look a little more realistic.

an ant hill started as a circle with a cut center and then overlapped
  Sorry the pictures are so fuzzy- I forgot that distance matters on my flipcam. For our exhibit I asked my kids to write about their pictures and bugs. I told them they could write about their process, a description of the work, or be imaginative. Most of them took the imaginative route! "Librdy lands" above is 2nd grader writing for "Liberty Lands", the park we go to for free play in the afternoons.

Patatoglasses bug had no legs to make it 3D, so we made a paper spring
Our photoplay class teacher came up with this awesome project:
 A silly face photo was printed out, and each kid had 3 color copies to cut and manipulate... collaging them onto a larger piece of colored cardstock gave them a bold and instant frame.
 It was a wonderful week of making art with some of my favorite kids. I love watching them grow. My daughter has been a part of the camp since it first started 6 years ago, and we've made good friends with people in the community by participating. It even led us to selecting Frankford Friends as her middle school, since many of our campers are also students at FFS.

AS one of our Jr Counselors says here- Northern Liberties is a diverse community!
Although it would have been nice to have more time to set up my school classroom this week, or have a bit more relaxing time before school starts, I'm so glad I was able to run this camp this summer. They're continuing with a week of field trips next week, but I'm starting school next week instead!

Sunday, August 19

Come learn with me!

It's that time again! Registration for Fall classes at Fleisher are now open. I'm offering Stitch and Surface on Wednesday evenings from 6:30-9:30. This semester I'm planning on doing a needle book sampler, painting/printing with walnut ink on fabric, and a portrait embroidery.
I'm also offering Silkscreen on Fabric on Saturday mornings from 9-12, where you can learn how to get pattern and motifs onto fabric in both ink and dye. There's only a few spots remaining, so hop over here to register ASAP!

Performing Arts camp

For the past few summers I've helped run a 3-week camp in Northern Liberties. We fill in that gap between when all the other city camps end and school begins with a week of performing arts, a week of visual arts, and a week of field trips around the city. This past week was for performing arts, so we invited a local musician and a local African Dance teacher to work with the kids in music and dance. I ran an elective in giant puppet-making. The best part is that the 7-11 year olds get to CHOOSE what activity they do, which seriously cuts down on behavior issues since kids are doing what they WANT to do. I love it!

our 5-yearolds in their neighborhood jobs uniforms

knotting fabric strips for a puppet dress

 I worked with 2 groups of kids in the mornings to invent a "Giant of Northern Liberties" inspired by the city giants of Northern France and Belgium. (City giant sculptures on Hotels de Ville in Northern France really impressed me as a 16-year-old exchange student). First the kids brainstormed what characteristics our giant should have, ad they each sketched a giant idea in crayon. Then we collaborated on the design by havig each child offer something from their own sketch that they REALLY thought should be on the giant. From their list of features I sketched out a composite, and asked them which part they wanted to work on together in teams. Of course, everybody wanted to work on their own idea, which totally worked to get all our components made! We made armatures out of cardboard, then papier-mached a layer (only one layer though due to time constraints). Next the components were painted in tempera (which got all crackled?!? drying too fast? Damp papier mache? Really old tempera?). Finally we assembled the components by using zip ties, tape, etc. One giant had an ice cream cone head, rainbow wings, bird feet, and a fringed dress of fabric strips knotted to a ring of cardboard. The other giant had a "cheesesteak" body, liberty bell head (with laser eye and mohawk), lightening bolt legs, a trash arm, and a hammer and scythe. The bird-like one took 3 kids to maneuver whereas the cheesesteak giant required 5 kids! We practiced for a while, then performed by "Stalking the city" and "chasing the villagers" (all the kiddos who weren't involved in giant maneuvering). It's ridiculous how happy it makes me to see these kids marching their giant puppet around- everybody wanted to try it out. I don't know if I could do this with a big classroom of kids in quite the same way, so it's a real pleasure getting to work with just 10 on something like this.
Next week we continue with Visual Arts week, where the kids will choose between painting, sculpture, and public art. I'll only be spending the mornings at camp, though, because next week I have to go to school to SET UP MY ART ROOM!!! I'm so excited, and nervous, but mostly excited. Just one more week to go before I start school.....

Thursday, August 16


Summer is slipping away. My Fleisher classes are over until September. Here are 2 more pieces that came out of my shibori class:
 This red one was pleated, stitched, and bound. The blue mandala-like one was stitched and clamped. I think it looks like a rose window. I wish we could just keep going, making tons of beautiful fabrics. I asked everyone to bring back all their work for the last class, and it was just a sumptuous feast of color and pattern!
 My brush with google and picasa storage limits drove me to make a blurb book culled from images and blogposts. My little 7x7 softbound 20 pager arrived in the mail today! It looks great! It was really fun to play with page layouts, and think about my work and blog-writing sequentially. There's way more pictures than text, and it has a combination of artwork and inspiration.
If you'd like a copy you can buy it here.

Saturday, August 11

In the studios

I started to post something earlier, and Google told me my photo storage was maxed out =(. I've gone through and purged some old photos to free up some space. I also put together a small photo book on Blurb from some of my archives on here.
The past week was very busy as it was my last week of day classes at Fleisher for the summer. Here's a glimpse of some things coming out of the studios:
some gorgeous clamp shibori from my Monday  night shibori class

setacolor sunprints form my week-long summer intensive Stitch and Surface class

Joan's portfolio collage from Wednesday's self portrait class

Mural ribbon-cutting with the teens at Houston Center
I've got one last class for my shibori and self-portrait classes next week, then a little break from Fleisher till mid-September. The next 2 weeks will find me running performing and visual arts camps in Northern Liberties, while simultaneously trying to prep for the beginning of the school year! I can't believe how fast the summer has flown by!

Monday, August 6

constant companion

I spent most of my day on the laptop getting my syllabus ready for the Methods and Materials in Art Ed class I'm teaching in the Fall. I thought I'd get it all planned out before the craziness of the school year begins. This one has been trying to creep in to my lap the whole time. She hates the laptop stealing her spot.
I wish the general public had an inkling of how much extra time teachers put into their work.

Friday, August 3

A School of Fish

 Today my daughter and I went to one of my favorite places in Philadelphia- the Wagner Free Institute of Science. It's a natural history museum that was founded in the Victorian era, and which has retained its original design and layout of specimens for over 100 years. It's like stepping back into time, and yet also absolutely timeless and relevant.
 Specimens range from minerals, insects, fossils, crustaceans, various sea life, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Some are taxidermied, some are skeletal. All are a visual feast for an artist like me. Today I focused on drawing fish, as I have a glimmer of an idea for a bulletin board I want to  do for my art room to kick off the year. It's the best place to find things to draw!
I miss drawing. I'm pretty good at it, but I feel a little rusty. It's funny seeing these 3 pictures together all about the same size and proportion. In actuality the top fish is a 6.5 foot long Tarpon that's about as big as me, the middle porcupine fish is about 15 inches in diameter, and the little trunkfish at the bottom are only about 5 inches long!

The Wagner has education programs during the school year for classes that want a field trip. I actually like it better than taking kids to the Academy of Natural Sciences because it's just full of specimens and has very little text around. At the Academy the experience is very directed and there's a lot of information to read. There's something wonderful about just having access to their incredible collection with minimal direction- it fosters curiosity and exploration.

Wednesday, August 1


I'm thinking about how hard it is to separate who I AM from what I DO. Blogging and social media make it even harder to separate the two. I get really excited about the work I do and have done, and I want to share that with the world as an advocate for how important art and art education is. I'm wondering how to move ahead as an art and art education blogger. I've used this space freely in the past- perhaps too freely- sharing all aspects of my work. As I transition into my new work as an art teacher I'm not sure yet how this space will change. Perhaps I should have a blank slate. But I've worked hard to integrate all aspects of my creative life, and it feels unnatural to keep things separate.
I want to bridge the gaps. Art ed people out there- how do you balance the ownership of what you do with respect for the people/organizations/schools you work with? I feel like this is a very contemporary issue when so many of us write about and share pictures of our work with children. I've just done some purging of my facebook photos and even some blogposts here to scale things back a little. It's discomfiting.

Major progress and major news!

Last week I brought my wrapping cloth-in-progress to the Cathedral to share with the congregation and hopefully drum up some more fabric contributions. I've been working on it in 20 foot sections since March, and have 3 sections complete and joined. Of course, this means that the piece is now longer than the length of my house and I cannot view it in its entirety at home. It was a great pleasure to roll it out along the bench ledge that runs the length of the Cathedral. I couldn't believe how long it was!
 Above is a view from the dark beginning end, and below a view from the light pastel end which will be the middle section. I'm very happy that my original estimate of needing about 120 feet altogether was correct, as the 60 feet here parallels the length of our gathering when we circle around the font. It's growing from darkness into light and from grief into life.
There's been a lot of grief around lately- I've been hearing from all sides of friends who have lost loved ones. It seems a strange thing to be making art about, but it feels very right to me to be making this piece about grief, transition, and joy. Seeing my cloth stretched out like this makes it look like a path to follow. My constant prayer is that I be led down the path that will make the best use of my skills and talents.

On the same day I brought this piece to the Cathedral, I had some wonderful news about my future path... I've been hired as a K-5 Art Teacher for a charter school in South Philadelphia for the coming school year! This has been long awaited, and I'm still feeling how incredible it is that the pieces of my life are fitting together so beautifully. I have a lot of work ahead of me in the next year, and I hope I can remember the joy I feel now when I'm in my art room with 22 voices, with 22 questions, and 22 curious and willful minds at a time, and nearly 500 children will pass through my doors each week. Please hold me and my students and my family in the light this coming year as we all get used to new things.