Monday, March 22, 2010

Decidedly Deciduous

In June of 2004, Joanne and I had returned to London, Ontario after a five-year tour of Canada. We moved into our new apartment, found jobs and soon I began looking for ways to continue teaching art to children. During our Canadian travels I had learned – from many different experiences – how to organize art workshops. Each new workshop was better than the previous one and I felt that it was time to advance my ideas to the next level.

I found myself in conversation with two librarians who worked at a local children’s library, and we discussed ideas and soon had a plan laid out for the next year. I would teach my ‘Art For Earth’ programs once a month – on a Saturday afternoon – for the next eight months. The library gave me the space to teach and paint, they paid for all the materials needed (canvases, brushes, etc) and in the end the library would get to keep all of the canvases to display on a permanent basis. I volunteered my time so that we could offer this program for free, to the public.

For many of these classes, I prepared the topic of discussion that would lead to a painting inspired by that subject. On a few occasions I had guest speakers who also volunteered their time to help with these endeavours. On these days I would begin the class with a few opening words before I introduced the guest speaker to the class.

My guest speakers were people who worked for local environmental groups. Because many people have the false illusion that problems with our environment happen in far off places like the Amazon Rainforest or the Australian Desert, it was important for me to show that each location on our planet is facing challenges that are unique to each region. I wanted the children to realize that Southern Ontario has many challenges to overcome as we search for solutions to our own environmental problems.

For this class my guest speaker had come from a local environmental group that deals with the problems facing the Carolinian forest species – which is unique to this part of Ontario.

We learned about many birds and animals that only live in Carolinian forests. We discussed the topics of frogs and insects, as well. The main focus was learning about the different kinds of trees that live in this region of Ontario and how this forest species is threatened because the last ten generations of builders and farmers have chopped most of it down.

Then… it was time to paint!

I spend about five minutes giving instructions to the student painters – to make sure they know what they’re doing – and then we’re off to the races!!!

As time went on, and my classes became increasingly popular, more and more students were signing up. I knew that I could only have four painters working on the canvas painting, at one time, so I had to think of activities for the other students – until it was their time to paint.

I came up with an easy solution. I cut some scrap painting board into small square pieces and simply asked the students to use pencil crayons to create their own drawings based on the topic of that day’s class. I quickly realized that this was a great idea! While the students working on the canvas were learning painting techniques, the other students had this time to be uniquely creative – to learn how to express their own ideas and use their own imagination.

Each class focussed on a different topic and a unique painting was created, inspired by that topic. I also chose to teach different painting techniques in each class, as well. Some of my students had signed up for all of these classes and I didn’t want to teach the same techniques over and over again.

One class focussed on pointillism techniques. Another focussed on learning about ‘the grey scale’. This class was designed to explore the ideas of creating a mosaic – using small individual shapes of different colours that would end up creating a unique image.

I took this idea one step further and we learned how to use negative space – or silhouette rendering – to create images by painting everything but the image!!!! As you can clearly see, this is a painting of the top portion of a tree… but the tree is the only thing that hasn’t been painted!

The students and I always had a great time learning about our world and about art. I can’t look at these old – ha! only six years ago – photos without smiling and thinking of all the things that my students taught me!!!


FYI – These paintings are still being displayed at the Spriet Children’s Library, located on the first floor of London’s Central Library…downtown!!!

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