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Thursday, September 30, 2010

On getting creative with your child at home

When my son was about three years old, I got out the watercolors for him for the first time.  I showed him how to dip his paintbrush in the water and get paint on it, and then let him take it from there.  His first watercolor was a muted wash of brown and black (why do boys always go for those dark colors?!!!), but actually it is lovely to look at.  I have it framed and hanging on our wall in our family room (along with many other works of art by him and his sister).
In my opinion, children's artwork should be displayed in the home, and displayed in a prominent place, not just in their bedroom, or some guest room in the back of the house.  It is such a confidence and self-esteem builder for a child to see that their work is treasured and admired by their parents.  We are fortunate that my parents own a frame shop (You may be thinking, Of course she has everything framed, I would too!).  But, actually, my mother saves the old discarded frames that customers leave with her when they reframe things.  That's what we put the kids art work in.  You can find old frames at thrift stores, garage sales, and even on sale at hobby and art supply stores for really low prices.  If the frame isn't the right color, spray paint it.  You could paint it gold to give it an ornate museum look.  The more diverse the styles of frames, the more interesting the display.  I have a gallery wall of their work right inside the front door going up our stairs.

 Painting With Your Child

Cover your surfaces, put an old shirt on them, give them paint, brushes and water, and let them enjoy themselves.  Do not be concerned at all about teaching them proper technique when they are really young.  Let them just experiment and feel what painting is like; talk about their color choices, "Oh, red is a good choice!"  "I like the way the red turned to orange when you added yellow!"  Encourage them and most of all, have fun.  When they have made a painting, even if it is just  a big muddy blob on the paper, ask them to name it and write it on the art work.   It will amaze you what they come up with!  Some of my children's art titles are; "Around the Gold Real Road", "Monsters", "The Pizza Horse", and the very popular "Teeth, and a Ghost and a Wide Thing and a Dot and Some Lines".  It makes us laugh every time we read them and look at the work.  Their art has truly brought joy into our lives.


One day, my son and I were visiting my parents for the weekend and were having a kind of lazy Sunday afternoon.  We were looking at the Academy circular for the paper and I had an idea.  I thought, he and I could cut the clothes out of the paper and the different pictures of sports equipment and create our own athletes by gluing them to a paper and drawing in their heads and bodies.  He came up with the idea to make a whole sports team- a basketball team- and we named each of the athletes; the final collage is entitled, "NBA Team: The Funkies"- and they all have the craziest names!  We laughed so much creating that collage and coming up with all the team members- it is a wonderful memory for me and I am reminded of it everytime I see it on the wall.  You could make a collage out of just about anything; the newspaper, circulars, magazines, old books that you're ready to discard, fabric, yarn, glitter, buttons, wrapping paper, construction name it, you could use it to collage with.  You could have a theme, or not; a garden (garden center circulars are great for this), a fashion show (clothing store circulars), the color blue- (or any color you like) find only things that are that color to use in the collage, a landscape (add pictures of trees, animals, etc.).  Just imagine all the possibilities!  You can water down some glue and paint it onto your surface with a paint brush (any surface will do- paper, canvas if you have it, wood boards, cardboard, even the sides of cereal boxes) and arrange your pictures and objects on top the way you want to see them.  This is a great way to spend hours with your child, cutting, tearing, pasting...not only are you creating art work, you're creating memories, as well.


The best way to start drawing with your child is to just give them some paper (copier paper is great), and let them make marks, lines, dots, whatever they want.  Ask them to tell you about their drawing.  They might tell you they are drawing a big, orange elephant, when actually it looks like a little, blue mouse, but hey, they're the artist!  Find encouraging things to say to them, like, "That is a really interesting shape you made!" or "I like the way you had an idea in your head and made it come to life on the paper!"  When you are at the park with your child, or on a walk, observe the different shapes of things in, that is a crooked stick, or a smooth, round rock...have your child try to describe what they see.  Drawing skills begin with the observation of lines and shapes that make up everything in our world.    The more you look, the more you'll see!  DRAWING IS ALL ABOUT SEEING.  Train yourself and your child to really see what shape or texture or color an object is, and that is 90% of what you need to know to draw.


One of the best things I ever did with my children was to make books with them.  Before they could write very well, I would write for them.  But, they would dictate to me the story.  First, we made a simple book.  We folded copying paper in half, as many sheets as you would like, then a piece of construction paper in half for the cover.  Put the cover over the paper and staple along the side.  I would ask them, "What would you like to make up a story about?" They would say, Skeletons, or Rabbits, whatever came to their minds.  Then I would say, "Does the rabbit have a name?" "What is the rabbit doing?"  "Where does the rabbit live?"  "How old is the rabbit?" "Does the rabbit have a job?"  "Does the rabbit have a family or friends?"  "What is the rabbits favorite thing to do?"  They would come up with the craziest stories and get lost in rabbits' world for awhile (or whoever their story was about).  I still have the books we made and we still laugh 'til we cry over some of them, they are so funny and cute and endearing.  I would write their story at the bottom of each page of the book and they would illustrate it and make a cover, and then write their name on the front...the author of a real book!  This was one of my favorite things to do with my children.

Scavenger Hunts

On a beautiful day, there is nothing more fun than to create a nature scavenger hunt for your kids.  I would make a list... Red leaf, bottle cap, candy wrapper, broken toy, black rock, yellow leaf with brown spots, purple berries, a stick shaped like a Y... then we would take a walk and they would have to try to find all of these things.  It is amazing how much you can find when you're looking for it... this is a great exercise in observation, plus the more trash you have on the list (like the bottle caps and candy wrappers), the more you clean up the community you live in.  I would tell them, see, we had fun and picked up trash in our neighborhood!  Come to think of it, we should have been making collages of all those things!  Found object art is so wonderful and is a great way to recycle.

Pastel Landscapes

Second grade students learned about landscapes.  We compared the landscapes of Joan Miro and Grant Wood as well as various other artists work.  We discussed how they were alike and how they were different, the colors that the artists used, and then learned about the foreground, middleground and background in a landscape. 
To begin, we practiced making a loose line in the air, waving our arms like music conductors.  Then we practiced drawing our loose, organic lines on a piece of newsprint paper.  Once our practice drawings were complete, we were ready to make our final drawings in pencil on top of colored construction paper.  Colored paper adds more depth to pastel art work; another layer of color beneath the top colors that keeps our eyes seeing deeper into the work.  I used lavendar, green, brown, pink and blue papers; a different color for each class.  This made it easy to find which class the art work belonged to if a name or class code was missing.
After the final drawing was done in pencil, the students traced over their lines with a black crayon.  We discussed color schemes.  What are warm colors?  What are cool colors?  What kind of landscapes would have cool colors (the arctic, the ocean, snowy mountains) and what type would have warm (the desert, mountains in warm climates).  The students then chose their color scheme and were instructed to choose the lightest color in their color scheme and color in their land, all three parts of it.  Each student was given a paper towel to wrap around their fingers to use for blending their pastels on the paper.  Once their first layer of color was blended, we discussed how to create shadows and light in our landscapes.
I demonstrated how to make a shadow by using one of the darker colors in their chosen color scheme, finding a low area in their lines and rubbing the pastel on it's side at an angle down to the next line. I told the students that anywhere there was a shadow on their mountain, right next to the shadow would be light.  We talked about how the light came from the sun, and there are places where the sun cannot go, those places are dark, in the shadows.  The places that were high on the land that the sun could get to, would be light.  Anywhere there is a shadowy place on land, there would be a bright place right next to it.  So, the students added the lightest color in their color scheme right next to the shadowy areas.  Then they blended their colors.  If they wanted to go back and add more color, they could.
Once the land was complete, I demonstrated how to make their sky.  Some students chose to make blue skies, and some chose to make sunset skies.  The results were gorgeous, as you can see!
The following is a step-by-step lesson you can use with your students:

Pastel Landscapes

1. Practice drawing loose lines on newsprint.

2. Make final drawing on colored paper and trace over pencil lines with black crayon.  Review foreground, middleground and background.
3.  Choose the lightest color in the colorscheme you chose for your landscape, and using the flat side of the pastel chalk (not the tip), rub the chalk across the paper filling in all of the land.

4.  In the middleground, use the next darkest color in your color scheme to rub over the lightest color, and in the background use the darkest color to rub over the lightest color.
5.  Blend with a paper towel or Kleenex.

6.  Add shadow areas; find low areas in your lines and beginning at that point, rub the darkest color on its side, at an angle, down the land area and stop at the black line.  The darkest color would be the next darkest color up on the color wheel from the one that is on your paper.  For warm color schemes it would go; yellow, orange, red and brown.  For cool color schemes; light green, light blue, green, blue, violet.
7.  Next, rub the lightest color in the color scheme right next to the shadow area. 

8.  Blend and go back over your work in places where you would like to add brighter light areas or darker shadowy areas.
9.  Create your sky by choosing either cool colors for a warm landscape or warm colors for a cool landscape for the most visual contrast, or whatever you would like your sky to look like.  First rub the main color of your sky over the entire sky area; for the above I blended dark blue and light blue.

10.  Add cloud by rubbing a white pastel on its side in a circular motion.

11.  Add sunset colors over the horizon and blend into the sky if you would like.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Monochromatic Self-Portraits

    Thanks to the wonderful Elementary Art Fun Blog ( and a fellow teacher finding this project there and sharing it with us, we created these wonderful self-portraits for our first art class of the school year.  Now these bright, happy faces, K-5,  line the main hallway of our school and are creating a lot of smiles! 
    Students were given a set of monochromatic colors in crayons, colored pencils and markers.  They were instructed on how to draw a simple portrait and add their own unique charateristics to it.  I showed them a portrait of myself that was done in reds, and I asked the students to tell me what they noticed about my portrait, hoping they'd pick up on the color scheme.  But, most said they noticed my hair was pretty, or that I had on lipstick or glasses in my portrait, and I was eating up the compliments.  When one first grade boy at the back of the room seemed to have an epiphany, his hand flew up in the air and he said, "I know!  I know!".  I said, "Yes, what is it?"  He said, "I know, you look better!"  Gotta love first graders!!!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A Sarah quote...

"Hey, if you're not going to embrace my creativity, then back off!"

The cake says, "We Told U So!"  This was my kids' creation that was their way of proving to me they could decorate a cake as good as the cake decorators on Food Network!  It was yummy, but I'm still coming down off the sugar high I got from it! :)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mexican Folk Art

     Last October, we studied the Folk Art of Mexico.  Los Dias de los Muertos (The Days of the Dead) is traditionally celebrated on Nov. 1st (All Saints Day) and 2nd (All Soul's Day) in Mexico.  Family and friends gather to pray for and remember their lost loved ones.  Private alters (ofrendas) are built to honor the deceased using items like pictures of their loved ones, candles, marigolds, the favorite foods and beverages of the departed, and most popular, sugar skulls.  
    Leading up to the Day of the Dead, students at all levels learned about the folk art associated with this holiday and other types of Mexican folk art, as well.  When the art projects were completed, we made a beautiful art display in the main hallway of our school.

    Kindergarten contributed decorated cones filled with tissue paper flowers to hang on the walls and brightly colored lanterns to line the hall. 
    1st grade painted brightly vivid Zapotec Rainbow Blankets to hang from the ceiling.  They were a cooperative learning project, for which each student was responsible for creating rhea knots along the edges of the blanket for the fringe, and a specific color of stripe in the blanket.  They created a pattern with their colors, waiting to take their turns, encouraging each other and problem solving along the way. 

    2nd grade painted this gorgeous flower mural; each class contributing a different layer to it in another cooperative learning effort.  One class made the initial drawings of the flowers in oil pastel, another painted them in with tempera, another added more details with oil pastels, such as insects, butterflies and veins in the leaves, and the last class added more paint. This project was found on the Painted Paper blog.  It was a wonderful success and added so much to our display.
    3rd grade learned about the art of Mexican folk art of metal tooling.  Embossing designs like suns, maracas, parrots, flowers, birds and lizards on the surface of the metal, the students then colored them in with brightly colored permanent markers.  I found this project on the Kinder Art website.  Each classes' projects were made into long connected hangings with beads on the top and bottom.  These were one of the favorite parts of our display!
    4th grade watched a video on Dias de los Muertos, which highlighted the making of sugar skulls and the bright, ornate decorations that adorn them.  Oil pastel "portraits" of sugar skulls were drawn and decorated with flowers and fun patterned backgrounds to add to their whimsy.  In Mexico, during Dias de los Muertos, there is a spirit of poking fun at the dead and honoring their lives with laughter and joy.  Our sugar skulls definitely put a smile on all our faces!
    Finally, 5th grade learned about the skeleton, making these wonderful reliefs out of art straws called "Funny Bones".  Skeletons (calaveras) are seen everywhere in Mexico during this time of year, dressed in all kinds of costumes or clothing; it is tradition to dress the calaveras up just as the departed loved ones they are honoring dressed.  We thought about someone we might want to honor and how they would have dressed.  One student made a military uniform in honor of her deceased grandfather, another made a flower printed dress in memory of her grandmother.  Most made clothing that represented their own ideas of how they wanted their skeleton to look; like a skateboarder or a rock star.  They embellished their art with yarn for hair, sequins and buttons on the clothes, and even beads for the skateboard wheels.  Skeletons were shown in motion; dancing, skateboarding, rocking out.  We discussed how the parts of our body would realistically move into different positions.  

    This unit was a wonderful way to tie in social studies and health science to our curriculum and brought so much cultural and community pride to our school.  We looked at the areas of Mexico we were studying on our world map, often making personal connections to the places and people who lived there.  We discussed the traditions and beliefs of our neighbors to the southwest of us, and learned about the art history and processes used to create the art in another country.  We found similarities and differences in all of these areas as we immersed ourselves in the rich art and historical traditions of Mexico.  Most of all, we discovered a real spirit of cooperation and team work in the art room.  This is what community is all about!

A Passage from The Sermon on the Mount by Emmet Fox

"If only you will find out the thing God intends for you to do, and will do it, you will find that all doors will open to you; all obstacles in your path will melt away; you will be acclaimed a brilliant success; you will be most liberally rewarded from the monetary point of view; and you will be gloriously happy.
   There is a true place in life for each one of us, upon the attainment of which we shall be completely happy, and perfectly secure.  On the other hand, until we find our true place we never shall be either happy or secure, no matter what other things we may have.  Our true place is the one place where we can bring the Kingdom of God into manifestation, and truly say, "Thy kingdom cometh."

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A new beginning...

In 2008, I graduated from college at the age of 42.  What a triumphant day that was for me!  It was a journey down a road filled with potholes, sometimes there was no shoulder on the side of the road, and often there were steep inclines and declines.  But, it was worth every bit of the difficulty it took to get to my destination.
1984 was the year I graduated from high school.  I majored in art in high school and wanted to go to art school.  But, I had no money and I desperately wanted to get out of Dodge and explore the world.  So, I joined the army. I signed up for 3 years and would recieve $30,000 to go to school on when I got out.  That's when I hit a pothole.  One month into boot camp, I was diagnosed with hepatitis.  I got out on a trainee discharge and came home, with the assurance I could reinlist in two years.  But, that wouldn't prove to be part of my story.  After two weeks in the hospital and 3 months on doctor's ordered bedrest, I was given the okay to start living my life again.  
I got a job and enrolled in school at the Art Institute of Houston.  After going to the Art Institute for a year, I took a full time job offer as the Assistant Manager of a boutique in the Galleria.  I decided to take a break from school and work for a while, with the intention of finding a way to do both sooner rather than later.  I found there was no shoulder on the side of that road, though.  No where for me to get off.  I was stuck until I could come to a safe place to pull over.  Life, financial obligations, meeting my husband, all played a part in why I stayed in the super crazy life of a retail manager for as long as I did.
I never really gave up on my dream though.  It was always in the back of my mind.  Always a loose end in my life that I wanted to tie up.  
So, after being married for a few years and having my first child, my husband and I decided that I would not work and would stay home with him.  Those first young years of his life were some of the sweetest of mine.  I loved being a mom, everything about it.  I especially loved doing creative things with him.  I'll talk more about those things in another post.  
Once he was about ready to enter pre-school, I had a friend offer me a job doing some faux finishing and  mural work.  I had never done faux finishing before and didn't really even know what it was.  But, I checked out every book from the library I could find on the subject and taught myself how to do it.  This is a picture of my first serious mural:

It is a Trompe L'oise of a balcony overlooking a vineyard done on a dining room wall.  This is the part of my journey that was a steep incline.  I was learning as I went, inch by inch, minute by minute, day by day.  Still am for that matter.  But, this was the beginning of a whole new adventure in my life, into the unknown world of freelance artistry. I literally painted this mural in a home that was still under construction, and had no electricity in January under freezing cold temperatures.  For two weeks I drove 45 minutes to the home in the early morning and worked all day until just before dark.  My hands were like blocks of ice, cracked and bleeding at the knuckles.  I cried every day all day long.  It was the first time I had been away from my child and I abhorred it.  My heart ached for him and I felt tormented by the artistic challenge of this mural.  I had never painted in this style before, on such a large scale and in these types of conditions.  But, looking back on it now, I see that it was in God's plan for me to do that job.  I grew as an artist, a business person, a human being.  It is said that from great pain comes great art (well, this isn't great art, but it was the greatest work I had done up to that point).  I will say, that I do not subscribe to a life of drama in order to grow as an artist, it is not necessary.  In fact, I think that the more at peace one is with oneself, the more open the channel is.  But, the greatest therapy in the world is losing yourself in creation.  
From that job, I was hired for another, then another, and that was the way I spent the next 15 years of my life.  It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  God always provided me with a job when we needed it the most.  I was successful at what I did and most of the time I was filled to overflowing with gratitude.  I was able to do my art and get paid for it and help to support my family.  I had challenges that fulfilled me and helped me to grow as an artist.  I learned how to deal with people in a business capacity and how important it was to be dependable, honest, trustworthy, punctual and go the extra mile to please a customer.  Almost always I worked more than once for a client.  
In 2005, my husband was laid off from his job of 14 years.  This is the part of the journey that took us down a steep decline.  We had a home, two children, all the financial obligations that come with that.  It was a difficult time in many ways, but most of all, we are still recovering to this day financially from it.  We went through our savings in order to keep a roof over our heads and we are both so grateful that we had that to fall back on at the time.  
But, it is a really scary place to be when you are middle aged and have no retirement funds.  Something had to be done about it.  I knew that, more than anything, I wanted to do my part in building those funds back up.  But, that meant getting the type of job that I could make a significant contribution toward retirement with, and it would have been very difficult to try to do that through my freelance art work.  I could have started my own business possibly and had employees and gone that route, but by this point, my heart wasn't really in it anymore.  The only way I would have been successful doing that is if I had felt passionate about it.  I've always heard- do what you love and the money will follow.  So, I asked myself the question, what do you love?  I love art.  I love children.  I love teaching. Art + children + teaching= art teacher. Elementary art teacher.  Does it pay a lot? No.  Can you contribute to a retirement fund? Yes.   Could I still do freelance art work on the side to make extra money? Yes.  Could I still be at home with my children at night, on the weekends, during their school holidays, in the summer months?  Yes.  Only one problem.  I was a 40 year old mother with a very busy life as a mom and an artist with no college degree.  I couldn't be a teacher without a degree.
I didn't want to have to add going to a school several times a week, running in and out of classes, libraries, labs, etc. to my already hectic schedule.  So, I looked into online university programs.  
That was the answer to all my problems.  I could have a flexible schedule- do my work in my own time and even in my pajamas if I wanted. 
But, something like that would take serious discipline.  I had that.  I knew I did.  I had been in the army, and if I could survive that month of boot camp, I could survive anything!  I had given birth to two children and raised them!  I had taken on seriously hard art work and risen to the occasion every time!  I had been in the retail business for years and was a reliable, dedicated, creative manager.  I knew I could do what was required of me, and if I didn't know how to do it, I would learn.  I was always a self-taught type of gal anyway.
Everyone in my life totally supported my decision to go back to school (even if it was in my own home).  They all told me they thought I would be a great art teacher.  They knew I could do it.  But, it meant taking on student loans and going into debt to do it.  My husband wasn't phased by that.  He said, it's only money.  Live your dream.  So, I enrolled shortly after my 40th birthday and began my first classes with American Intercontinental University Online, in front of my own computer...fully dressed, having eaten and taken care to get rid of all distractions.  I was ready.  Some weeks later, I would not be that rigid about my routine.  I was always on time, always had my work done by the deadline, sat in on almost every chat for every class, even if I was out of town at the time (another great aspect of online education- you can travel and still go to school at the same time).  I learned so much, recieved a great education and met incredible people.  People serving our country and earning a degree while they were doing it, moms like me that wanted to accomplish their dreams, men who wanted to earn more money for their families, so they were going back to school to earn a higher degree.  So many inspirational people and stories.  I loved being a part of that crowd.  I loved thinking about new and different things.  It opened up my world.  Every struggle usually ended in a victory.  I love the feeling of being challenged.  (Which is probably why I am so addicted to shows on television like Cupcake Wars, Chopped, Iron Chef...oh yeah, I love food, too).  
I managed to juggle it all.  I even took on Substitute Teaching while I was going to school.  I figured, if I was going to be a teacher, I better get in there and start doing it.  I subbed for two years...two invaluable years.  It took me 19 months to earn my Bachelor's of Fine Arts degree in Visual Communications.  Oh, yeah...I forgot to mention...AIU even accepted my 36 hours of credits I had earned from the Art Institute some 21 years before.  It was all meant to be.
Something else I forgot to mention...I was doing all of this with one specific goal in mind.  Yes, to be an elementary art teacher, which also required me to get alternative certification to teach.  But, not a teacher in just any school my childrens' school district.  We have exactly 15 elementary art teachers in our district...and the chances of me getting one of those positions you might think would be almost as difficult as winning the lottery.  But, I knew I would get a job in this school district.  I wasn't going to stop until I did.
In the second year of substitute teaching I was offered a long term sub position for an elementary art teacher that was ill.  She needed to take about 3 weeks off for her medical care.  I worked those three weeks and then a couple more and then a couple more...she kept needing more time off.  I loved it because I was able to work in the job what I had worked so hard to get to.  It was great for me.  
One evening the elementary art facilitator for our district called me and told me that teacher I was working for had resigned.  She asked me to consider taking over her position...she wanted to hire me.  She told me I didn't have to say yes right away, to talk it over with my husband and I could get back with her.  What?!!!!!!  Obviously she didn't understand what I had gone through to get to that very moment.  That moment when someone would say to me, Mrs. Gallow, we would like to offer you a job with our school district.  Think it over?!!!!!  I said, I don't have to think it over, Yes!!!  I would love to accept the offer.  
A new beginning...the journey has only just begun.
I thank God first and foremost, my husband and children, my parents, my wonderful friends and fellow teachers for supporting me, believing in me and having patience with me.  I think what I lack in experience, I make up for in enthusiasm...I want to be the best teacher for my students, I am passionate about my profession.  It was worth every pothole, bump and side road to get here.  I am a better person for it...but, I still have so far to go.  One thing that anyone knows me will tell you though...I'm always ready for a road trip!  So, I hope you'll come along with me for the ride...