One of the main advantages of being part of a Distributed Learning (i.e. homeschool support) program through our local school is being able to ask for specific perks and opportunities and have responsive can-do people on the receiving end who make our wishes come true. Last spring the DL program’s principal asked me if I had any ideas for arts-related workshops the homeschooled kids might enjoy. For years I’d been wishing for a way to persuade the local artist who used to run the art classes that Erin, Noah and Sophie thrived in to get back to doing some children’s art teaching. How about hiring her, through the school district, to run some classes, I mused aloud? What about enticing her with funding from a grant, a classroom at the school to use, and suggesting a set of workshops focused around a collaborative community-based project?
The principal wrote a successful grant application, and the artist said yes! And so all this year we’ve had monthly art workshops for the homeschooled kids. We all met in the school for a basic art warm-up, typically using india ink to focus on an aspect of form, technique or texture, encouraging the kids to think about seeing the world around them through this lens.
Then we would go out on the day’s field trip, keeping in mind the morning’s exercise. We’d look for shapes, or juxtapositions of light and dark, or different types of lines, or textures, or text. The kids would sketch in their art journals. Various field trips took us along the creek to the lakeshore, to a nearby ghost town in the depth of winter, to the mining museum, to the Japanese internment memorial site and on a walking tour of local architecture.
Back in the school again, we had lunch and then got busy with the day’s art workshop focusing on a particular medium or technique. There would be some examples and explanation, but only just enough to demystify … never enough to induce the desire to copy. There was acrylic painting, gelatin plate printing, block printing on fabric, papier maché work and shibori dyeing of cotton muslin. The afternoon workshops often pulled together the threads of the morning’s warm-up and field trip. For instance, after visiting the ghost town the kids created small block prints based on geometric patterns of light and dark they observed and sketched on the old metalwork and machinery.
There were several small projects throughout the course of the year. The long-term focus of the program, though, was on the “community ABC project.” The idea was to use the explorations and techniques to create an alphabetical representation of our community’s natural and cultural heritage.
We brainstormed words for every letter of the alphabet. Children chose a letter or two or three for their own. They used one or more of the words from our brainstorming session as the inspiration for a larger block print. They sketched their ideas out and eventually refined them into a 6×6″ square. They traced the design through onto the back of the piece of paper by taping it to a window. They then transferred the reversed image onto a safety-kut block (similar to a lino block but a much more forgiving material for children to carve). Then the used cutting tools to cut the block.
Finally the blocks could be printed. Most were done purely with block printing. A few were a combination of small letter-blocks spelling out words and paintings. Our last couple of classes were half-day affairs, focused mostly on printing, and on completing the last of the various lingering projects in time for a gallery showing.
|Fiona made F, I and O … and also U and V. Miranda did Q.
Last weekend we had a wonderful gallery exhibit that attracted over a hundred enthusiastic visitors. The kids’ work all looked so wonderful pulled together in a single space, neatly mounted and displayed. The kids were very gratified.
Looking back on the entire program I would of course say I loved the art teacher’s wonderful balance of guidance vs. freedom and the honouring of individuality. I loved the final results, and the way they validated the kids’ artistic expression. But I especially loved the way the project brought together children of a huge range of ages and abilities and gave them an “all together as homeschoolers” kind of identity, a lovely way to get to know each other and each others’ families.