Saturday, September 30, 2017

RESEARCH PROJECT: Celluclay Planter Person

Over Labor Day weekend I sent my children outside to play, my husband chipped away at doing flooring in our new home, and in the middle of house renovations I took over the dining room table to set to work for YOU! Coffee at hand, sleeves rolled up, and rings removed from fingers (you'll need to do this too), I was ready to go.

Teachers inspire each other. True story. We have ideas of our own, sure, but we also get ideas from other people and places, and then we use them to help you learn. In my free time, I read other art teacher blogs for ideas that I can add personal flare to that I think you'll enjoy. While visiting Cassie Stephens art teacherin' blog (she's my art teacher hero, btw) I struck pure gold! SERIOUSLY. She made awesome ZOMBIE planters with celluclay! While I was looking at them, reading about them, and drooling all over the place because they're so cool, I realized you'd probably love them too. The big question was, how could we use this for our research project? You're not researching zombies! And then it hit me. A big "Ah-HA!"moment. This is where inspiration triggers thinking like an artist. Imagine, if you would, for just a moment, that the zombie planter from her blog wasn't a zombie, but was instead a research person of interest, like, oh, let's say Albert Einstein. 

Once I had this idea, there were several problems to solve. Instead of flowers coming out of his planter head, what could I use that would represent parts of his life, fun facts about him, his contributions to society (all that important stuff you're researching)?... Anything sticking out of the top of his head would look like thoughts, ideas even, and isn't that what he did? He was good at figuring things out, like E=MC2...would I need thought bubbles around each thing, should I put them inside drawings of lightbulbs so they look like ideas, or could they just float around him from sticks poked inside the head? More abstract that way....Yeah, this could work....It's GONNA WORK! 

(quick sketches don't have to be pretty)

After figuring this out, I presented the idea to our principal and your teacher. I also reached out to Cassie Stephens to ask if we could use her idea. She was excited to share, so here we are! Ready to start (THANK YOU CASSIE!)!  In true art teacher style, I chose an influential artist that I could display in my room more permanently than Albert. I chose a personal favorite, Frida Kahlo. I know plenty of facts about her (it's my business to know lots about folks I teach about), but how was I going to take the zombie planter idea and turn it into Frida? I wanted to base my sculpture of her on my favorite photograph of her. I made notes to myself of ideas. I sketched a plan because I forget things, even great things I can't wait to try. WRITE DOWN YOUR IDEAS. MAKE A SKETCH. Trust me. It doesn't mean you can't change your mind about how to tackle something later on, it just gives you a solid place to start from. 

Once you know your stuff (you've done your research), you've got a sketch and a plan, it's time to get started. Things you'll need to make a celluclay planter of your researched person:

- celluclay (of course!)
- a plastic container to mix it in (nothing important to you, it's gonna get gross)
- a container/dish of water for mixing your celluclay
- 2 containers, 1 to use as the base and 1 to use for the head
(plastic containers works great, you may also use small flower pots, but look for something with tapered edges- that means it's bigger at the top and smaller at the bottom. I wish mine were more tapered, but I used what I had on hand, and that's just fine)
- make sure your table surface is covered, this is messy!

You can see some celluclay treat buckets I made in the background here, also inspired by Cassie Stephens. To make the most of my minutes I worked at painting those while Frida dried!....Anywho, you'll need to put your dry celluclay into a plastic container for mixing. It'll feel like dryer lint and it's very dusty. Try not to breathe too much of it in. 

Slowly add water. SLOWLY....You can always add more water if you need to, but you're limited in how much celluclay you're allotted for this.

As you add your water, start mixing with your other hand, working out the clumps. 

It'll be sticky and should feel like clay, not too mushy. I will help you!

Once it's mixed well, take small bits of your celluclay and start smoothing it over the surface of 1 of your plastic containers (I made the head of Frida first so I'd know where I wanted her outfit and jewelry to line up with her face later)

As you cover the plastic container, be sure to make an even layer that's fairly thin (1/4" or less). 

Do NOT cover the very bottom of your container OR the inside. Just the sides will do. 

Once covered, I like to use a bit of water to smooth out the texture of the surface a bit. Just dip your fingertips in water....

....and smooth the surface. Just a little bit of water so it doesn't get too soft and muddy. It won't be perfectly smooth, but that's okay. It's handmade, not factory made. It'll have character! 

This picture shows you that the left side hasn't been smoothed with water yet (it's got more nooks and crannies, like an english muffin) while the right side has been smoothed a bit. It's still a wee bit lumpy, but that's normal. 

I carefully place the covered container end to end with the bottom container and set to work forming facial features. 

This magical stuff sticks so well to itself! Just gently press and blend together! 

While attaching parts of the face, look at your sketch and reference photo. What are obvious characteristics of their face that you should include? Frida has a signature uni-brow so that was a must! She also didn't smile in her paintings, so I didn't make her smile either. She wore her hair braided and pulled up with ribbons and flowers. I thought I'd add real ribbon and faux flowers later. Her ears were pierced, and she loved jewelry. In one of her self-portraits she wore a pair of earrings that looked like hands. They were a gift from famous artist pal Pablo Picasso. I thought it might be cool to make tiny clay hand earrings for my sculpture to reference that painting, gift, and artist friend. I didn't have any fencing wire to pierce her celluclay either with, and this was the best I could find to do the job. It worked! Creative problem solving.....

Since these are sculptures in the round, viewers looking at your work will be able to see it from all sides. A famous example of sculpture in the round would be the Statue of Liberty. She's interesting to look at from all sides. I was running low on my allotted celluclay, so I did my best to make the back of her head less boring. Thankfully her hair was most often pulled up tightly. If I had run out of celluclay I had a Plan B: add rigid wrap as hair once the celluclay dried; Plan C: hot glue yarn; Plan D: use acrylic paint or medium to adhere tissue paper as hair. 

Her nose, lips, eyebrow and eyes all started as coils, just like we make with ceramic clay. If I needed to press something down, blend a tiny piece, or make a deep line I often used a pencil because it was smaller and easier to use than my finger. Notice I added the hint of a chin! I kept in mind that it had to be out of the way of where her neck would be when I started the bottom container. 

The back doesn't have to be as exciting as the front, because that's not where the focus will be anyway, but it should be thoughtful and not totally bald. We can brainstorm together if you need me!

Cover the bottom container just like you did the top container! 

Then add a shirt line (I blended a coil in to create the illusion of the top of her shirt and the edges of a sweater). Add other important details like a neck tie, a shirt collar, and/or jewelry. 

We don't want the top container to stick to the bottom container, so I put a small piece of plastic wrap between them and set them aside to dry. Kinda looks like a superhero cape, doesn't it? 

As it dries you'll notice the color change a bit, just like ceramic clay does. The drier areas will be lighter, and the damp areas will be darker. 
- Do not attempt to paint until all areas are light and fully dried! It'll trap moisture inside. 
- If anything falls off, no worries! We'll glue it back on before painting. 
- If you're waiting, don't just hang out. What other parts could you work on? I could tackle clay hand earrings or start working on anything I want sticking out of the top of her head as symbols of her life, work, facts. 
Use your time wisely. Save any paper drawings that need colored/painted (that will stick out of the top of the head) in your art folder so you can continue working on them when you have time. 

Once your celluclay is dry it's finally time to paint! We are using acrylics. They dry fairly quickly, you can paint right over mistakes, and they're easy to blend; HOWEVER.... they dry waterproof! You MUST take proper care of your brushes (don't let paint dry on tips- adding a tiny drop of dish soap to your water will help). Acrylics will also ruin clothes, so wear a paint shirt and avoid wearing your favorite outfits on art days. Trust me on this....

There are so many ways to paint! You can use solid colors straight from the bottle/tube or you can blend colors, as you can see I did on her cheeks. You can add a color on top of another wet color to streak them together a bit before either is dry, as I did on her lips to make them appear more shiny. We'll go over some tips and tricks together. I referenced my favorite photograph of her often while I painted. Sometimes I followed what I saw, and sometimes I used "artistic licence", meaning I made changes and made things more funky to make it look the way I wanted it to. 

Once the paint was dry I was ready to fancy her up! I fully intended to make clay earrings like those gifted to her by Picasso, but I ran out of time. I pulled this gold paper from the scrap paper bin and found this fancy wire in the cupboard. PERFECT!

The wire is much thinner than you're used to working with, and was easy to twist behind her earlobes like a bread tie. I can easily change these out for clay earrings later if I get around to making them!

Her outfit was dark and the whites of her eyes was so bright, I felt like I needed to bring in some more white somehow. After digging around in the cupboard I found this funky gold trim and this curly white trim. A bit of hot glue, and, voila! Fancied up and colors balanced!

A relative and friend was redecorating and gave this cute little pumpkin to me. I needed something to fill Frida with, and this was just the ticket! 

After working it out of the pumpkin I had to shave down the sides of the foam so it would fit in the top of my Frida. 

After checking to make sure the flower filled foam fit I removed it so I could add some ribbon to her hair. This lovely ribbon was donated by a local costume maker. You never know what kind of fun bits-n-pieces you might find in one of her bag-o-scraps. This ribbon was PERFECT!!! I cut it a bit longer than the space I wanted to cover, folded one end and glued it behind her ear, tucking it with the end of a paintbrush. Then I glued the other end down inside the head. I repeated this on the other side and then replaced the foam. Almost done!

To add more details and clues about my person of interest, I used symbols and images from her life to help tell her story, including a picture of Frida with her husband, Diego, a self-portrait, a portrait of her father (she was very close to him), paintbrushes, the color blue was a nod to her Casa Azul, and a sugar skull pen. 

I love how she turned out and cannot wait to see what you create!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

One mans junk....

Each year for the past few years my husband and I have traveled to Found in Ithaca, NY for our anniversary. Found is an antique shop with all kinds of fun goodies to drool over, but once a month throughout the warmer months they host an outdoor flea market in the parking lot. IT'S AWESOME! Our children, who share our love of fun finds, tagged along and we challenged them to find something cool for $1 or less. Challenge accepted! 

If I could live as an American Picker I totally would in a heartbeat. My husband and I would live happily ever after as hoarders of treasures that delight the eyes! Alas, it's not a realistic option, so we go on occasional hunts for fun. While visiting booths and handling wares my daughter fell in love with an adorable hand hooked stool, but the price tag was too steep for the budget of the day. To her delight, we found a similar stool at another flea market for a steal! I found a cute little wool rug for our new house. It'll work nicely with our funky eclectic style. 

Randy always looks through the boxes of art at flea markets. His patient search paid off! Of all the art in all the boxes of the day he walked away with this little piece. The scene is very much like the view from our new front porch and the colors are a perfect compliment to art pieces we already have. The blues will pop nicely on our freshly painted yellow walls, adding to the cozy vibe as we make this new place our home.

My son aspires to be both a hippie (in a generic sense) and a mountain man. He's 11, so he's got plenty of time to work on developing his life plan. In the meantime he pretends to hike the Appalachian Trail around our yard and is reluctant to cut his hair. The artist who made this looked very much like the face emerging from this black walnut shell ring, and Matt loves it. I do too!

Our children found this little ceramic gum saver as their $1 find for the day! They agree that the idea of saving your gum is gross, but the novelty of it won them over and it now holds tiny treasures on a dresser. We each walked away from the adventure with a new home finds and a smile! 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The ADVENTURE continues!!!

Last spring a group of coworkers decided that hiking the Appalachian Trail was on their bucket lists. Determined to go, and inviting me to join, we researched what we needed and made a plan! 

This year all of us felt a little as though we were forgetting something important- thankfully we weren't! The major difference was that last year it was all brand new and it required a lot more planning, reading, and researching. We researched equipment, maps, food, clothing, and picked the brains of folks who had hiked it. We learned as much as we could before getting our feet muddy. You can read all about it here

Prep this year was waaaaaaaay easier. I knew how to prep the clothes I already had to prevent ticks and pests from bothering me. I could base what foods to pack and how much I needed on notes from last year. I was ready to air out my tent for waterproofing. Yeah! I could do this! WE were DOING this! Again!

Food packing looked like this. Each meal was labeled in a bag and put into a larger one labeled "DAY 1", and so on. This kept things tidy in my pack and easy to get to when I need it. The goal was to have enough calories and protein without the food itself weighing too much. With home renovations making messes all around me, it felt good to have something tidy and controlled for a change.

I laid everything out to make sure I had all I needed and to see what I could possibly leave behind. Every single thing packed adds weight, and those tiny little comforts add up quickly. I read "The Ultimate Hiker's Gear Guide" by Andrew Skurka last year, and skimmed bits of it as a refresher this year as I prepped to pack. It was extremely helpful in my prepping, purchasing, and packing. 

We set out by car at 4:30am! My pack weighed roughly 29 lbs this year, very close to last years weight. It's not ideal, but for me there are comforts that are worth the weight to carry. 

Last year we hiked from Palmerton, Pa. to Eckville. It was tiring, it was difficult, but in the end we felt accomplished. This year we picked up where we left off and hiked 43 miles to Bethel. 

On our first day we ate our lunches at Pinnacle Rock in Hamburg. We met a lady lunching there, airing her feet, socks and shoes as she lunched as well. We are always intrigued by what inspires folks we meet to start on this journey. She shared that she quit her job to test out a possible new business venture, making her own ultralight meals for backpackers. What better place to test out such an idea than the AT?! She's a "flip flop thru hiker". These hikers begin their journey at the midpoint of the entire trail in Harpers Ferry, WV. They travel north or south to the end, then return to the midpoint and hike in the other direction, eventually hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. 

The Pennsylvania portion of the AT is known for its rocky terrain. 

When you tell hikers you meet on the trail that you began your AT adventure in Pennsylvania they are genuinely surprised that anyone would choose such a difficult stretch as a starting point. As "section hikers", we attempt to hike small bits of the trail each year. It made the most sense for us to stay close to home, especially since none of us had ever done it before!

Hiking is hard, smelly, and often uncomfortable. Once you accept that that's how it's going to be for awhile, you can focus on the positive. 

There are beautiful things everywhere around you.

The trail you're hiking changes quickly from mud to rocks to boulders and back again. 

The woods you pass through change from thick and full to low and covered in ferns. 

Last year water sources weren't reliable and we were thirsty. Thankfully this year we found several streams to refill our water bottles in! 

When terrain gets extra rocky you walk with your eyes to the ground for safety. While walking I often look for heart shaped rocks and puddles because it makes me think of people I love. 

My husband loves fonts, old things, and metal. I thought of him when I saw this on the trail.

We hiked through a controlled burn area. Everything low was black and charred. 

You can see the burn date was from May of this year and already green was reclaiming the forest floor. 

When you chat with other hikers they often warn you of what is ahead of you- lots of rocks, beware of snakes, no water for so many miles, etc. One hiker told us to look forward to some "trail magic" and shared that a man living close to the trail would let you stay at his cabin for $5 a night. He'd feed you, you could shower, and it was awesome! We weren't interested in hiking 2 miles out of the way for this, but for those on the trail for days longer than our trip it was a pretty big deal. 

"Trail magic" is an unexpected act of kindness that helps hikers in their journey. Several miles after hearing about trail magic we found this! The cabin man we'd heard about also leaves two coolers, one filled with water and the other with snacks (granola bars, hummus, cheeses, and Werther's Originial candies) on the edge of the trail for thru and section hikers only! Two garbage bags hung from trees to collect the trash hikers are packing out (you never litter when hiking, take out what you take into the woods). We didn't take anything, but we left with smiles. Such kind gestures truly do mean a great deal to hikers. 

We've set up camp in several "campsites" along the trail (the ground is flat and there's a makeshift fire pit), but this one was my favorite. It was spacious (most are very small). Water was close by. The trail went through the middle of the site. It was beautiful. 

After setting up tents it was time to build a fire and rest our feet!

Not every evening ended with a warm fire. We had rain more than once that made fires difficult to make so the idea was often abandoned in favor of hot food and sleep. Our group included 7 people last year. We shared supplies, including cook sets. This year we hiked with just 4 people. Half of the group used a Jetboil portable cook set, and I shared my tiny Esbit set. The fuel is lighter and smellier, but it's perfect for my needs and pack weight. 

This is what's for dinner each night on the trail! I buy them at Walmart in a variety of meal options, but this is my favorite. During a cold and stormy night dinner in my tent I decided that the folks on the package definitely were not hiking the Appalachian Trail together. While dining I thought about the lady we'd met the first day at the Pinnacle. I follow her on Instagram and will be watching for her ultralight meals for hikers next year!

Crawling out of a tent in the morning before the sun has time to warm things up isn't easy, even with the hope of a warm cup of coffee and some hot oatmeal for breakfast. 

But when you open the tent and see how gorgeous the woods are in the morning....

..... it makes it easier to get up and moving. 

And keep moving!


At the end of our hike we drove by all that we'd just spent days conquering to pick up our other car. It felt strange to see it all from the road, so we stopped for a picture! We drove in 30 minutes what had taken us 4 days to hike. Very strange....

We learned a lot our first year, and we learned even more our second. Already looking forward to the next adventure!

Until then, I'm going to do my best to enjoy this summer!