hello mistakes!

hello mistakes coverOne of our beloved classes is Story Book Art, where we explore a different children’s book each week.  A project is designed to allow children to take ideas and inspiration from the story and illustrations and then create their own art works. 

We recently read A Big Mistake, by Lenore Rinder. In this story, a child splatters his paintbrush accidentally while making a painting. This upsets the child until he sees how much fun it is to create clowns and circus animals from the blobs of bright color. He continues to add to and change this “mistake”, and ends up with a picture he is very happy about. He shows his friends that with a creative and experimental attitude they, too, can enjoy creating art from everything, even when they make a mistake. This book teaches young artists to be okay with mistakes they make and understand that “there really are no mistakes in art.”

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For our project related to the story, we tried to make mistakes! We picked our drawing topics out of a hat (a car, a house, a cat, a tree, a person, etc) and then drew it with our eyes closed. We then created a second practice drawing of a new topic.  It was a great surprise to open our eyes to finally see what we had drawn! Finally, the children chose their own drawing topic, drew it in black sharpie (with their eyes open) and completed their pictures by using watercolor paints to add color.

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We especially love this story and project because they so perfectly exemplify our belief that there are no mistakes in art!  Children often get upset when they cannot get heir artwork to match what they picture in their head.  Being able to appreciate whatever they create and embrace the mistakes (or “happy accidents” as we like to say) gives children a way to accept change and be open to creative possibilities.

hello colorful rice!

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Scooping, pouring, sorting, shoveling: children who enter our colorful rice filled sensory box get to work doing these things with glee as soon as they enter.  What we call “play” is the “work” of childhood – a learning adventure with each new encounter.

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Colorful rice enables children to develop cognitive skills by observing, experimenting, and formulating solutions to problems. They use tactile, visual, and auditory cues to gather information and test theories. What happens when I hide my toes under the rice? How does it sound when I shake it in a cup? Can I empty the large cup of rice into the smaller cup? Children are developing fine and gross motor skills as they pour, sift, and sort, and as well as language, social, and pretend play skills as they share tools and interact with their peers.

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You can make this at home and put it in a square tub or plastic pool for children to play with.  Smaller amounts can be lots of fun too, played with on an edged tray so the rice doesn’t get everywhere.  Or take it outside, put a plastic tablecloth on the ground, and let your kids play on it there with some toys.  This is an open-ended play project that we love, promoting creativity and exploration.

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Cut large paint or glue bottles in half and the tops make great funnels – use with the lid on or off.

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Do you use colorful rice in your sensory play?  We’d love to hear your experiences with it.

hello Artist Harvest!

messy artist harvest art class parties nj kidsOver the past few months, giant fruit and vegetable sculptures have been
sprouting at The Messy Artist. This garden of six-foot sculptures called “The Artist Harvest” is the culmination of an idea dreamed up by Donna Bernstein, owner of The Messy Artist. Each large fruit or vegetable sculpture will depict a painting by a famous artist. Once the sculptures are completed, they will be installed in a public setting, and scattered throughout the space. The first place weʼve recently arranged to have these sculptures displayed is the Livingston Mall, in Livingston NJ, in the spring for three months.

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Staff working on the “Munch-room (inspired byEdward Munch)” prototype.
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“Salvador Straw-Dali (inspired by Salvador Dali)” in the beginning stages
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Sketching out the sculptures to size

A recipe will accompany each fruit or vegetable highlighting its use in a dish.Children will be encouraged to go on a “harvest hunt” to find all six sculptures and collect all six recipe cards.

Over the next few months, the staff and Art Foundations Intensives II & III
students will be creating the sculptures together. Our first prototype of “Munchroom (inspired by Edward Munch)” has been hanging out in our entryway, and the large version of the Munch-room is currently under creation.

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“Munch-Room (inspired by Edward Munch)” protoype
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Students and staff plastering the full-size “Munch-Room (inspired by Edward Munch)”

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We are excited about the ways this project will promote the importance of art in childrenʼs lives, and appreciation for public art and excitement about healthy eating in children.

Pieces in the series are:

  • Pear-casso (inspired by Pablo Picasso)
  • Munch-Room (inspired by Edward Munch)
  • Georgia OʼPeach (inspired by Georgia OʼKeeffe)
  • Vincent Van Gogh Bananas (inspired by Vincent Van Gogh)
  • Peppered Pollock (inspired by Jackson Pollock)
  • Salvador Straw-Dali (inspired by Salvador Dali)
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“Vincent Van Gogh Bananas (inspired by Vincent Van Gogh)” getting some plaster work
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Plaster assembly line

Weʼll provide more updates as the project progresses. Weʼd love your feedback on the project so far!

“Stained Glass” Drawings

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We recently introduced this new project in our classes, with a lesson plan created by Anthony Castellano, one of our very talented fine art teachers.  Anthony has been with The Messy Artist  for 1 1/2 years and has been a wonderful asset to The Messy Artist family.

We all were thrilled with the way the stained glass pieces turned out;  the vibrancy and uniqueness of each student’s artwork was exciting to watch develop.

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First we showed the students some photos of traditional stained glass art so they could examine how the artworks were created with small pieces of glass, bounded by lead. We discussed that the main image was broken up into smaller shapes and colors, and how those work together to create the overall picture.

To replicate this look in a drawing, the students started by sketching out their image in pencil on a 12 x 18 piece of watercolor paper.

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Once the instructors had looked them over to make sure they would be appropriate for adapting to the stained glass images, the students went over the outlines with black Sharpie.

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The next step was to use watercolor pencils to color in each small area inside the Sharpie lines.  The students made heavier lines at the edges, next to the sharpie and used less color in the middle, to create a 3D effect.

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Finally, the students used water to paint over the watercolor pencil to liquefy it into paint.

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The entire project takes about 3 hours to complete.

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We have tried this in a couple of classes now the students have been very proud of their stained glass windows, wanting to take them home right away and not leave them at the studio to dry!

Simplifying the Complicated

Making complicated ideas easy for our students to understand is integral to our education process here at The Messy Artist.  With the right teaching techniques and projects that we have developed over the years, kids are able to internalize these high level concepts.  It’s great to hear back from parents that their kids are now using ideas such as symmetry and primary colors at home!

For our lesson on symmetry, we’ll often start out by discussing how our bodies are symmetrical. If you draw a line down the middle of each of us from top to bottom, you’ll see the same things on each side – an arm, eye, ear, etc.  Then we explain that a piece of art can be symmetrical if it has the same elements on each side.

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To reinforce the idea, we move on to our project and present the students with three colors of paint and a pre-folded piece of paper.  We demonstrate painting on only one half of the paper while again explaining the concept of symmetry – something that is the same on both sides.  We paint a few dabs and then fold the paper and rub it, maybe using some magic words like “Abra cadabra” or “Shazam!”  When we unfold our paper, the reveal that the paint has created an identical image on the other side is always a moment of discovery for our students. “It’s as if the first half of the paper was looking in the mirror,” one of our instructors likes to say.  We then encourage the children to keep adding to their paintings after their first pass, enjoying the process of painting, folding, rubbing and revealing.

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Another concept we teach in our classes is color mixing.  Children love it: it’s like a magic trick for them to start with two colors and end up with a brand new third.  We have a few favorite books to read to reinforce the ideas: “Little Blue and Little Yellow” by Leo Leonni and “Mouse Paint” by Ellen Stoll Walsh.  These books help with the ideas of primary and secondary colors as well as color mixing and are well worth checking out if you are not familiar with them.

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We do a multi-step project where the children create magic wands out of rigid wrap plaster one week and paint them the next.  We bring in the concept of color mixing for the painting and allow them to create their own colors for the wand.  With the three primary colors on a paper plate and a palette knife, the students get to work mixing.  We give them plenty of time to create their colors before they start painting.

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Once we get beyond basic color mixing, we discuss complementary colors.   To get this lesson started, we bring out a color wheel.  We talk about how some colors work really well together – they are best friends that live across the street from each other.  Complementary colors create the strongest contrast and reinforce each other.

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A project that helps exemplify this idea is creating a collage out of complementary colors.  We’ll ask the children to cut shapes from a few different colors and then glue them on to a piece of paper or cardstock that is a complementary color.  As they are working, we continue discussing the color wheel and color differences, and to really notice how the colors look next to each other on their collage.

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Do you have any favorite ways to teach high level concepts to young children?  Please tell us in the comments!