Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nature art fun at Grace Place

A serene spot at Grace Place.
Recently I had the opportunity to participate in a visiting artist program at Grace Place, a local community center.  Right now they are having summer camp, but they serve children and families throughout the year.  My participation was solicited and assisted by Kerri Meehan, president of Expression of Art, LLC, and it turned out to be a wonderful experience!

During the previous week the kids came to visit me at Freedom Park, one of my "outdoor studios."  I showed them my nature sketchbooks and sketching kit, and talked to them a bit about what I did and why.  I gave them a quick demonstration of how simple art can be, using watercolor and just a few quick strokes of the aquabrush.  They also received a quick introduction to watercolor pencils, which were a great hit!

When I visited Grace Place, I set up a specimen table with various plants, cones, seedpods, shells, fossil shells, and a piece of an opposum jawbone (complete with teeth!).   A magnifying glass was provided for those who wanted to take a closer view.  I  made sure that the plants I selected were benign, in case of skin reactions.  Once upon a time I broke out into full body hives after weeding a flower bed - yikes!  We didn't want anyone to have a similar reaction.  I also tried to choose things that they might find in nearby woods, parks, or even in theirown  back yard.

Selecting a specimen to draw.

Sharing my thoughts.

To start, I shared my approach to nature journaling.  I discussed drawing as a process - where we enjoy the drawing part and try not to worry about the end result.  Next we talked about observation, and how to be a nature detective.  Using the words who, what, where, when, and how, we explored ways these questions could direct our observations and our drawing process.  Then we added information we could get from our five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell.

The next step was to select a subject - either a specimen from the table, or something from memory or the imagination.  Then, the best part: drawing and painting!   In addition to the pencils and watercolor paints provided by Grace Place staff, Kerri contributed colored pencils, and I offered my Kimberly watercolor pencils.  All of the media were popular, and the kids mixed them for some really interesting results.

I was impressed with the process as well as the results!  I saw thoughtful drawing and writing; I saw young artists taking care of their supplies and sharing the popular colors.  Some artists drew habitats after asking questions about their subject; some artists emphasized the colors they saw in the stems and shells which made for wonderful interpretations.  One girl drew various views of the oppossum jawbone, and journalled interesting facts from the field guide I brought along. 
Drawing an apple snail and its habitat.

The next day, we shared our drawings and  participated in a group critique.  At the beginning of the session, I explained how artists often share and comment on each others work, and we set some guidelines: be respectful, be positive, and be thoughtful.  Each sudent took the artist's chair at the head of a semicircle and introduced themselves, then told us why they drew that particular picture.  The artist-of-the-moment then selected from the hands raised to either answer a question or to hear a comment.  We structured comments in this format:   What I like is ______, because _______. They were encouraged to use art words such as color, shape, line, and  value. 

There were four groups of students that day, and each group came up with insightful comments and interesting questions.  I could tell that getting this immediate feedback from staff and peers made our child artists feel supported and valued.  I could also see some of them reconsidering the way they initally viewed their own work.  They certainly made me think, and expanded my own boundaries where art and observation are concerned! 

I'd like to say thank you to Kerri and to the staff and kids at Grace Place for contributing to a wonderful experience!


A proud artist!