Branching Out Opens Tomorrow

Salem Willows at Sunset, September 2014.  Photo by Meg Winikates

Salem Willows at Sunset, September 2014. Photo by Meg Winikates

The Art & Nature Center’s new show, Branching Out: Trees as Art opens tomorrow, and it’s going to be a fun day of tagua nut scrimshaw, bonsai demonstration, maple syrup and chocolate tasting, storytelling and musical performances, and more.  Learn how to engage in active meditation with a tree, hear participating artists discuss their work, or create your own visual art with data taken from the bioelectric energy of a potted plant in the Maker Lounge!  Programs run 10:30-4.  If you’re in the eastern MA/near NH area tomorrow, come say hi!

Finding the Fun: Three guides for a new school year

Fall is here (yikes! Where did summer go, anyway?) which means that even though I’m not *literally* going back to school, I still get that happy feeling about September and bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils.

Click image for photo source

Click image for photo source

For those of us who are looking for that fresh burst of inspiration and wonder that a new school year always meant, here are three great books to find the fun in your everyday, in and out of a formal learning environment!

Art is Every Day by Eileen Prince

Subtitled “Activities for the Home, Park, Museum, and City,” this book caught my eye in the bookstore immediately.  Though it is of course full of fun art-making ideas and some great examples in full-color, the most helpful parts of the book are the substantive suggestions to parents and educators about how to talk with kids about art in general and kids’ own art in particular.

Made to Play by Joel Henriques

Everyone needs a book on how to make toys, right?  The projects in this book use everyday and easily recycled materials, require a minimum of crafting know-how (some light sewing and woodworking required), and leave a lot open to the imagination of the maker for how the final product looks.  I’m seriously considering a number of the projects for possible use with my Story Trails programs.

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

Probably better known for her “Wreck this Journal” series, Keri Smith delivers on ways to be a more observant, curious collector of experience with her “portable life museum,” inviting you to doodle with coffee stains, photograph interesting typography, record overheard bits of conversation, and make lists of 10 things you notice in a particular space, be it familiar or entirely new.  This is another great resource for journaling prompts for kids or just to revel in your own reflective, creative practice.

What books or resources get you excited for a fresh new school year?

Ideabox: Leaves

ideabox leaves

The August blog vacation is over, September is here, and with it comes the opening day for Branching Out, Trees as Art.  So I’ve been compiling cool tree-related links and activities for you for months now, and have a set of companion activities to my earlier post, Ideabox: Twigs.

Leaves are awesome, when you stop to think about them, and this is, quite frankly, the best time of year to think about them if you are lucky enough to live in New England.  Foliage season is as exciting as flowering tree season if you’re me.

Fall Foliage by Dori, Creative Commons license.  Click image for source.

“Fall Foliage” by Dori, Creative Commons license. Click image for source.

We have a number of cool leaf-based artworks going into Branching Out, including work by Joan Backes, Steve Hollinger, and Adrianne Evans, among others, and here are some fun interdisciplinary ways of exploring leaves this fall (and beyond!).

Science: The Chemistry of Leaves

Leaf pigment chromatography is a staple in science classrooms this time of year, but in case you’ve never tried it, here’s a great breakdown of the experimental process from Scientific American, and a fun explanation of the phenomenon from Chemical of the Week.

Adrianne Evans does some very cool works with leaf pigments as well, using the leaves like photographic paper and allowing the sunlight to essentially make a print.

Colored Leaves by Adrianne Evans, on view in Branching Out starting Sept. 27

Colored Leaves by Adrianne Evans, on view in Branching Out starting Sept. 27

Try this yourself with cyanotypes, always fun on a sunny fall day!  Sun print or other sun-sensitive paper is available from a variety of sources including Dick Blick, Teacher Source, Steve Spangler and others.

Cyanotype by Anna Atkins, 1850, from SFMOMA via Creative Commons.  Click for source.

Cyanotype by Anna Atkins, 1850, from SFMOMA via Creative Commons. Click for source.

Health

There are always new trends in health recommendations, but I can’t argue with the idea that walking in the forest can help with stress levels.  I traded a forest preserve for a coastline when I switched jobs from Acton to Salem, but this is still a good suggestion for oneself, one’s class, or one’s family: Go “Forest Bathing!”

Need more information on how hanging out with trees improves your health?  Check out “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning.”

Literature & Drama

Lois Ehlert’s Leaf Man and Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf are early childhood classics when it comes to leaves, but what about combining your ‘forest bathing’ with a reflective writing activity, as in the haiku below?

Haiku by Artsyville, click for source

Haiku by Artsyville, click for source

And how about a few classic poems to go with the (many) cool children’s books that are out there about trees?

Fall, leaves, fall

By Emily Brontë

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

 

On First Seeing a U.S. Forest Service Aerial Photo of Where I Live

By James Galvin

All those poems I wrote
About living in the sky
Were wrong. I live on a leaf
Of   a fern of   frost growing
Up your bedroom window
In forty below.
I live on a needle of   a branch
Of   a cedar tree, hard-bitten,
Striving in six directions,
Rooted in rock, a cedar
Tree made of other trees,
Not cedar but fir,
Lodgepole, and blue spruce,
Metastasizing like
Bacteria to the fan-
Lip of a draw to draw
Water as soon as it slips
From the snowdrift’s grip
And flows downward from
Branch to root — a tree
Running in reverse.
Or I live on a thorn on a trellis —
Trained, restrained, maybe
Cut back, to hold up
Those flowers I’ve only heard of
To whatever there is and isn’t
Above.

 

Art

Leaf box by Steve Hollinger

Leaf box by Steve Hollinger

If you’re not up to acid-washing your leaves like Steve Hollinger (though you can get small leaves pre-treated through Dick Blick), how about some pressing, painting, punching and patterning?

Leaf Type by Mei Linn Chan.  Click for source.

Leaf Type by Mei Linn Chan. Click for source.

 

Painting patterns on leaves with watersoluble crayons.  Click for source.

Painting patterns on leaves with watersoluble crayons. Click for source.

Leaf printing with splatter technique.  Click for source.

Leaf printing with splatter technique. Click for source.

Leaf punching and patterning.  Click for source.

Leaf punching and patterning. Click for source.

Looking for more? Check out some previous Ideabox posts:

Ideabox: Sand
Ideabox: Altoid Tins
Ideabox: Dough

Politics, the Arts, and Massachusetts’ Gubernatorial Race

masscreative

Are you invested in the future of culture and the arts?  Do you have friends or family members who are?  Do you plan to vote in the next Massachusetts race for governor?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, and can get to Worcester (or one of the bus departure points) on July 15th, please consider signing up here, and I will look forward to seeing you there!

If you can’t make it, and want me to ask a question at the forum, please let me know in the comments below, and I will make a full report after.

Weird and Wonderful Watercolors

I believe I mentioned how overwhelmingly inspiring and simultaneously despair-inducing visiting the Sargent watercolors show was at the MFA earlier this year.  (I look at his work and kind of want to bang my head against a wall, but in a good way?)  I had a similar reaction checking out the Turner & the Sea show at PEM earlier this week, where Turner can make oil paintings look like watercolors and watercolors look like oils.

"PanPan" by Blule, click for link

“PanPan” by Blule, click for link

The good news is, you don’t have to be a Sargent, a Turner, or even a Blule to have fun with watercolors — and if the artistry just gets too much, tackle them with science!

This cyanometer from the 18th century is a watercolor gauge that helped scientists determine that water vapor in the atmosphere helps determine the blueness of the sky.  Click for link.

This cyanometer from the 18th century is a watercolor gauge that helped scientists determine that water vapor in the atmosphere helps determine the blueness of the sky. Click for link.

Artful Experiments (emphasis on the ‘art is fun’)

 

Color mixing via water gun, by Dreamscaping with June Rollins

Color mixing via water gun, by Dreamscaping with June Rollins

Water Pistol Color Mixing – Watercolors are fantastic for exploring color interactions, and misting a canvas prepped with pre-sprinkled paint with a water pistol sounds like a really good summer camp project.  I wonder if you could actually shoot liquid watercolor onto a paper?  What might happen then?

 

For a softer look, using liquid watercolors in a spray bottle works great.  Seems like a 'let's do this outside!' activity if you don't want to have to do a lot of clean up, though! Click for source.

Watercolor prints by Artful Kids

Watercolor Spray Negatives – I’ve linked these before in a prints post, but the fact remains that this is a beautiful technique and one I still want to try!

Artful Experiments (emphasis on the ‘scientists can have fun too’)

Painted salt sculpture from Fun at Home with Kids

Painted salt sculpture from Fun at Home with Kids

Painted Salt Sculptures – a fun color mixing and absorption activity, with bonus crystal study!  I wonder what would happen if you used sugar or some other substance instead of salt?

 

Flower watercolors from Learn Play Imagine

Flower watercolors from Learn Play Imagine

Make Your own Watercolors 1 – From Flowers  or 2 – From Fruits, Vegetables, and Spices – I especially like the first link, but the second has some suggestions for source materials I hadn’t seen elsewhere.  This would be a fun activity to do in concert with/relation to a study of pigments in leaves, as well.

Oil and Watercolor interactions from Easy Art Activities with Kids

Oil and Watercolor interactions from Babble Dabble Do

Oil and Watercolors, Theme and Variations – Eyedroppers, oil, water, and watercolors make for a great experiment in density and paper marbling!

Erupting watercolors from Learn - Play - Imagine

Erupting watercolors from Learn – Play – Imagine

Erupting Watercolors – This is a combination of multiple science explorations: water absorption, color mixing, chemical reactions – I can’t wait to try this out with a group at the museum.  I just need a good story or art object to tie it to!  (We’ve got to have a volcano related artwork somewhere in the collection…)

Mindboggling Museum Resources Online

Beware, curious one, for the internet hath no bottom!

Beware, curious one, for the internet hath no bottom!

It is always exciting to see what museums are up to when it comes to making their collections and expertise available regardless of geography or gate fee.  Here are a few cool resources I’ve come across recently that are great for the teacher, writer, or perpetually curious mind:

British Library – The Romantics and Victorians – Primary and secondary sources (letters, articles, films, teachers’ notes and more), and thematic explorations of 22 authors of the Romantic and Victorian periods (roughly Jane Austen through Thomas Hardy) represented in the British Library collections.  (Rather makes me want to reread AS Byatt’s Possession…)

Metropolitan Museum of Art Back Catalogue – Catalogues, bulletins, online publications, and educator resources both current and archived from previous exhibitions and collection highlights, lots with full text, etc, readable online or downloadable in PDF.  And, for that matter, the Met’s Online Collection is downright jaw-dropping too.

NPR’s new Education blog – went straight to my RSS feed the day it launched, and I’m watching where it goes with great interest!

Source sadly defunct.  If you know how to credit this image creator, please let me know!

Source sadly defunct. If you know how to credit this image creator, please let me know!

And a few perennial favorites always worth a second (or sixtieth) look:

Exploratorium Learning Tools – Their set of podcasts, teacher resources, and activities to try at home or in the classroom is always good for a delve, and the folks in the Tinkering Studio have a great maker-centric set of engineering and design projects too.

Kennedy Center’s ArtsEdge – Always a new bunch of lesson plans, and a very easy to navigate guide to the (relatively new) national arts curriculum standards, very helpful!  I for one was thrilled to see a lesson plan on Trees in Nature and Art that I can add to my resources for Branching Out.

Ideabox: Twigs

It seems like Spring’s only just decided to stay, but at the museum we’re already looking towards the fall and the September opening of Branching Out, Trees as Art.  I’ve been gleefully anticipating this show for a while now, and it’s finally getting close enough to start telling you about it!

ideabox twigs

As we’ve been investigating artists who work with assorted tree materials in surprising ways, I’ve come across some fun interdisciplinary ideas for exploring trees (especially twigs) in and out of the classroom.  Here are a few of my favorites!

Science

Winter twig study – Indoor and outdoor ways to explore what trees are ‘up to’ in winter

Identifying parts of a tree (foldable) – A good way to practice scientific drawing and make an interactive vocabulary flashcard, from the Inspired Classroom blog.

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

A magnifying glass or dissecting scope will only get you so far, but check out these amazing photos of slivers of branches thin enough to distinguish the layers of cells:

Conifer cross section by Eckhard Voelcker

Conifer cross section by Eckhard Voelcker

Math

Twig math?  Really?  Yes, really.  Check out this astonishing set of directions on how to make Skewer Hyperboloids – and then try it with twigs of the same approximate size!

Photo by Cindy Lawrence, see link above for source

Photo by Cindy Lawrence, see link above for source

Literature & Drama

From "Not a Stick" by Antoinette Portis

From “Not a Stick” by Antoinette Portis

Paeans to imagination are always a hit in my book, and Not a Stick is a  great option for dramatic play as well.  Round up a few helpers and one of the world’s simplest props to act out the scenes imagined in Not a Stick, then challenge your audience to do the same with some other every day material–blankets? Paper plates? Cardboard tubes?  See what other suggestions they come up with for imaginative play.

 Book buying options for Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis0
Pinterest collection for Not a Box/Not a Stick activities

Art

twig painting

Twig or branch, individual or collaborative, painting can bring out natural bark patterns, and encourage close looking at details like knots and buds

A few weeks ago during the Mass Poetry Festival, we had a guest calligrapher, Elissa Barr, who demonstrated brushwork with a variety of natural materials as well as traditional ones.  One of my favorites was using a pine twig with needles still on as a great variegated brush.

Kid using a pine twig brush, photo from Rockabye Butterfly, click for link

Kid using a pine twig brush, photo from Rockabye Butterfly, click for link

Recyclable Design Challenges

Charles Eames, Ray Eames. Molded Plywood Division, Evans Products Company (Venice, 1943-47). Elephant, 1945.

Charles Eames, Ray Eames. Molded Plywood Division, Evans Products Company (Venice, 1943-47). Elephant, 1945.

With the inspiration of California Design at PEM currently, not to mention the new Maker Lounge, we’ve been focusing on some fun design challenges with recycled materials that I thought I’d share.

Can packing peanuts be strong enough to make a bridge or a tree?

Can packing peanuts be strong enough to make a bridge or a tree?

Packing peanuts are the bane of many people’s existence.  Unless you’re into demonstrations of static electricity or have to ship breakable stuff nearly constantly, they’re a nuisance.

Unless they’re starch packing peanuts, in which case they’re awesome.

Check out what a damp sponge, a pile of starch packing peanuts, and a lot of imagination can do in the hands of some inventive visitors, challenged by our ANC staff:

starchy sculptures 1 starchy sculptures 2

We also had some guests this week from the Green Up initiative working with visitors on energy-efficient design challenges, looking at insulation and ‘energy vampires’ in the home:

green up energy vampires green up insulation challenge

And remember how it’s National Poetry Month and we’ve got the amazing Mass Poetry Festival coming up next weekend?  We’ll be making random poetry generators, invented by yours truly, in addition to our other raft of fun drop-in art making, artist demos, and workshops.

Nouns, adjectives, and verb phrases collaged onto plastic eggs: rotate to create inspiring phrases for poetry starters, and swap halves to create new possibilities!

Nouns, adjectives, and verb phrases collaged onto plastic eggs: rotate to create inspiring phrases for poetry starters, and swap halves to create new possibilities!

Poetry Constructions

Poetry works its way into many of my postsNational Poetry Month is one of my favorite times of year, and every year I find something new to get excited about.

This year it’s building blocks and poetry.  Not in the form of stanzas, rhyme schemes or metaphors, but creative ways to inspire, actual physical ways to randomize words, create sequences of ideas, and give poetry a visual heft that matches its presumptive mental and emotional ones.

Shape poems

ee cummings 'i carry your heart' as laid out in Festisite

ee cummings ‘i carry your heart’ as laid out in Festisite

I’m not a huge fan of concrete poetry in general, because I’m not always convinced by the whole form/function connection when it comes to text.  However, if you’re looking for a new way to *present* a poem and hand written calligraphy is not your top choice, you might want to try Festisite, which has a handful of pre-selected forms you can use to plunk any text into for a graphic twist, as I did with ee cummings’ ‘i carry your heart’ above.

Poetry pebbles 

Poetry Pebbles from Kitchen Counter Chronicles

Poetry Pebbles from Kitchen Counter Chronicles

Story stones of all sorts are fun, assembling petroglyph-like images and then inventing the connections between each concrete object depicted.  Over at Kitchen Counter Chronicles one family used pre-created stones as poetry starters while outside on a nature walk: I think with older kids it could be as much or more fun to collect stones and decorate them along the way, to help spur further writing once back indoors.

Book spine poetry

The Convivial Museum: Art is Every Day, Shapes & Sizes & more Surprises, The Intelligent Eye Made to Play!

A museum book spine poem, by me and my bookshelves

I love Nina Katchadourian’s Sorted Books Project, and so do the folks at the Association for Library Service to Children, who recommend this as a great way to get kids to explore a library during National Poetry Month.  Sign me up!

Haiku calculator

Haiku calculator by Eugene Parnell, sample text by me.

Haiku calculator by Eugene Parnell, sample text by me.

Eugene Parnell describes his “Wheel O Matic Haiku Calculator” as ‘pure cogs-n-wheels fun, a machine-age Nirvana of Modernist production-line assembly techniques applied to to the emerging meta-industry of cultural production.’  That’s a little wordy, but it is, in fact, a fun spin-the-wheel-get-a-random-poem-bit, and could be easily recreated in an analog version.  The digital version was a little buggy when I tried it–precreated wheels of poetry options didn’t seem to be loading, but you could create your own easily enough.

Word wheel templates here and here for kick-starting an analog version.

Assorted other National Poetry Month resources:
Lesson plans for K-12 on ReadWriteThink
Lesson plans, videos, and printables on Scholastic
NaPoWriMo (write a poem a day challenge)
Interdisciplinary resources for teachers and parents on Reading Rockets

Past National Poetry Month posts on Brain Popcorn:
2010: Popping with Poetry
2011: Poetry and Puddles
2012: It’s the Most Wordiful Time of the Year

Check back in a week or two for a sneak preview of May MA Poetry Fest activities at PEM, as well!

Nature in the Neighborhood

It’s still a little cold to get super excited about a long ramble in the woods, but I like to think ahead, and the teachers from the Salem State Pre-K program and I had a great time a few weeks ago looking at ways to incorporate art and nature study into their year long theme studying neighborhoods.

As a librarian’s daughter and former English teacher, I believe strongly in centering lessons around stories.  Great stories make great hooks to engage learners of all ages!

Fiction and nonfiction related to local MA history and natural history

Fiction and nonfiction related to local MA history and natural history

So we started the day with a read aloud of MT Anderson’s The Serpent Came to Gloucester, which I love, not only because it’s based on actual history, but because the illustrations and sea-chantey-esque text are captivating.  We then made sand paintings, with glue, sand, sea shells and sea glass (some courtesy of the local beaches, some thanks to Christmas Tree Shop).  People made some beautiful designs!  I only wish I had thought to have related music playing in the background while we worked.

Inspired by the Delft tile-styled end papers in The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Inspired by the Delft tile-styled end papers in The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Mixed media sea serpent!

Mixed media sea serpent!

Sand Castle inspired by The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Sand Castle inspired by The Serpent Came to Gloucester

Next we moved on to oral history techniques that are useful with pre-k and other young students.  Download the discussion notes here: Oral History Projects with Pre-K  As part of this activity, we also worked with Twisteez wire to make a representation of our favorite toy from childhood, and talked about 2D and 3D ways of working art into story telling and personal history.

Recreating a childhood memory in wire.

Recreating a childhood memory in wire.

Art & Nature Center director Janey Winchell made a guest appearance to talk about great ways to get young kids involved in and actively observing on a nature walk, complete with a suggested Nature Walk scavenger hunt.

School Programs manager Emily Scheinberg also led teachers on an investigation of Salem  history in PEM’s collections.

What clues to Salem's past does a fire bucket hold?

What clues to Salem’s past does a fire bucket hold?

Finally, we wrapped up the day with a pair of observation activities: examining and understanding beach erosion via milk and cookies, and creating ‘viewing frames’ to take on a walk through the neighborhood to encourage close looking, thinking about perspective, and even the basics of composition.  These two activities were inspired by Corinne Demas’ The Disappearing Island and Dr. Seuss’ To Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street.

Download activity directions erosion and frames

What do you see on the street?  In the sky?  On the buildings as you pass by?

What do you see on the street? In the sky? On the buildings as you pass by?

Decorating frames with a few of our favorite things.

Decorating frames with a few of our favorite things.

Sandstone and conglomerate...aka ginger cookies and chocolate chip.  Which will stand up to milk's erosive force?

Sandstone and conglomerate…aka ginger cookies and chocolate chip. Which will stand up to milk’s erosive force?

The beach before the milky waves, representing several kinds of rock!

The beach before the milky waves, representing several kinds of rock!

Want more?  Other classroom activities, read alouds, resources etc available for download here: handouts 2014