Sunday, December 7, 2014

Collaborative Value Portraits

I may have shared this project before, but it was years ago.  I usually do this one with my Art Studio kids because it's a quickie (can be finished in 2-3 days) and teaches them about value, the graded pencil system, how to grid, and how to work together as a group.  It also looks AWESOME when it's finished.  I haven't taught Art Studio since 2011, so when I was asked to teach two sections this fall, I had to dust off my old plans.  I was happy to find that this project held up three years later!  This project requires a decent amount of prep time, but it's totally worth it.

As this is a portrait piece, when I choose the subject(s) for this assignment, I try to find people relevant to the month we're in.  Since my kids did this project in November I researched famous Native Americans and based on the photos available chose Chief Red Cloud and Geronimo.

Step 1: Find a good quality black and white photograph of your subject on the internet.  Of course, finding a "large" image is best, but a "medium" image will usually do.  If you can only get a "medium" sized photo and the individual pieces end up pixelated, dont' worry!  I've done this a few times and found that sometimes the pixelated pieces actually work out better than the clearer ones, because the kids have to make more decisions as they work.

Step 2: In Photoshop, or any other photo-editing program, crop the image as much as possible.  When you resize the image, you want each side to round to a full inch.  For example, 5x5 or 7x5.  (This will make step 3 easier.) You also want to try and eliminate as much of the background as you can.  Background parts will end up as "blank" pieces for the kids, and those are boring.  I usually end up with one or two blank pieces every time I do this, but I use them as "extra credit" pieces for the kids who finish early.  Also while in Photoshop, bump up the contrast and play with the levels so you get a nice range of blacks and whites.

Here are my two photos after steps 1 and 2:

Step 3: Now you're ready to grid the image and make individual pieces.  This part is the most time consuming, but once you get in a rhythm, it's not so bad.  In Photoshop, make the Rulers visible and drag and drop the blue guide lines so that you've marked out 1"x1" pieces, like this:

Then, use the marquee tool to drag a box around each individual piece:

If you hit Control/Command C it will copy that piece, then Control/Command N for a New box, then Control/Command V to paste it, save each piece individually.  Remember to number them, and also to make the same number of pieces as you have students! Like I said before, I usually end up with a few "extras."  Once you're finished, you should have a folder that looks something like this:

Step 5: Print all the pages out and be sure to number them at the top.  This works best if you have a laserjet printer- we have one in the photo room and it cranks these babies out in seconds!

Next, all you have to do is cut 1'x1' pieces of white drawing paper and give each student their print and blank page.  I teach them about a simple way to grid their images and let them get started.

If you're really picky about how the final piece comes out, what I usually do is assess my kids before assigning them pieces.  If I have a more challenging, detailed or identifiable piece, like an eye, I try to give it to a kid who I know is up for the challenge.  For a student who has less natural ability, I try to give them a less identifiable piece, this way they're not discouraged if it doesn't turn out perfect in the end.  I also try to arrange it so no two pieces are assigned to kids who sit at the same table- that way they don't try to match them up.

I stress to the kids the importance of gridding out their work as it will ensure their piece "fits" with their neighbor's piece.  I also tell them they'll be graded not only on the accuracy of their shading and sizing, but also on how well it works with the surrounding pieces once we put it all together, so that usually lights a fire under them to do a good job.

I love hanging day!

First I find a spot in the hall that can house our piece (some of these end up 7 feet tall by 5 feet wide!).  Then I call the kids out to the hall in groups based on their numbers (1-5, 6-10, etc.)  I have them roll tape and place them in each corner and the center of their square, then start hanging.

The kids are always unsure about this project, but as soon as they start putting the pieces together, they all freak out with excitement!

Here are the two final products from this year:

I'm in love with them both!  My "Chief Red Cloud" (top) class was a little stronger and did a better job with their values, but my "Geronimo" (bottom) class did pretty well, too!  What's fun is when all the pieces are up, I let the kids go out as a group to see it and discuss which pieces are successful and why.  Sometimes kids see their piece in context and ask, "Can I add to it while it's on the wall?" and they'll whip out their pencil to add value, or clean it up a bit.  My favorite is when they all start taking photos of it on their phone.  We hung them two days apart, so when the first one went up, I had kids coming into class saying, "This guy was in everyone's snap chat story!" I love that the whole school is getting to see and share our work!

Of course, beside each piece I list the artists who worked on it as well as a blurb about each of the subjects.

Give it a try and let me know how it works out!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Night at the Museum!

Indy is pretty well traveled, but if you ask him about where his absolute most favorite place in the world is, where he would most want to go right now, this very moment, his answer would be, "The American Museum of Natural History!"

Indy was born and grew up in New York City, and every weekend, every weekend, he visited the AMNH.  His mother and aunts often remind that he was so knowledgeable on all the animals and dioramas as a child, that he could recite the write-ups from memory, and visitors to the museum would listen in as he explained and re-explained the stories to his parents over and over again.

Even now, in his 30’s, when we have a free day on the weekend (which grows more and more rare it seems) when I ask him, “What do you want to do today?”  He’ll say, “Let’s go to the museum!”

So imagine my delight when I came across this post on my Instagram account:

 I texted and e-mailed Indy as soon as I saw it asking, “Can we do this?!”

Within minutes he texted and e-mailed me back saying, “We’re booked!”

For 8 weeks the AMNH is holding painting sessions in the Hall of North American Mammals.   Every Tuesday from Dec. 2nd – Jan 20th Indy and I will be painting the dioramas at the museum!

Our first session was this Tuesday and it was AWESOME!

First of all, to be in the museum after hours is such a treat.  Unfortunately it’s not very much like the movie “Night at the Museum," although it’s all we could think about.  There was something about the stillness and quiet in a place that is usually hustling and bustling that was somewhat magical. 

The class is being run by two SVA (School of Visual Arts) professors who are lovely.  They’re very knowledgeable, energetic and friendly.  There are about 19 students in total, which was way less than I thought there would be (the ad on Instagram had over 900 likes when we signed up!)  but it worked out really well.  Once inside the diorama wing, we were able to spread out and work with a lot of room around us.

The first session was all about finding the light.  Each diorama is lit so differently, it was interesting to see what everyone picked.  Indy and I ended up at the Wapiti.  Of course, when one of the SVA professors came around, the first thing he said was, “In terms of lighting, this one is the most difficult diorama here!”

 I originally sat in a different spot to work, and sketched for about 10 minutes, but wasn't happy with my result.  I moved around a bit until I landed here, and sketched for a good 15 minutes- first in my sketchbook, then on a piece of Illustration board.  I lightened the photo below so you could see it better:

 Once I was satisfied, I started laying in my values.  I have to be honest, and this is going to sound crazy, but in all my years of art-making, I have only once before ever done a monochromatic study of anything.  Weird, right?  What’s funny is right now my two Fine Art 1 classes are working on a 4-piece monochromatic self portrait (a la Andy Warhol).  It was fun to actually be practicing what I preach every day!

 As we worked the SVA professors toured around, helping each student here or there- making suggestions, pointing out details- it was funny to hear them say things that I say to my kids every day, like, "Don't feel like you have to squeeze it all in," or "Where are your darkest darks and lightest lights?"

By the end of our session, this was my piece:

I was pretty satisfied!  I definitely didn't get as far as some others, but I'm happy with where I ended.  Hopefully over the holiday break I'll get around to working on it some more.  Next week we'll be working on four 20-minute color studies of four different dioramas, so I don't think I'll have time to flush this out.

The painting sessions are a big commitment- every Tuesday Indy and I have to rush home after a full day of teaching, load the car and treck about an hour and a half into the city (with traffic, of course) find somewhere to eat quickly, then head into the museum to paint.  What's great is they really let us spent every last minute painting, but that means we don't start cleaning up until around 9:05, which means we're out of there around 9:30, and home by 10:45.  Tuesdays will long days, but totally worth it!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Pinterest as an Educational Tool

I'm still here!  Back from a bit of a hiatus.  November is a tough month at school with the fall play, then grades are due for MP1, then that whole Thanksgiving thing, so blogging took a back seat.

The fall play is always a lot of work as I'm the "Scenic Artist."  It's a stipend position I've held for the last 5 years and although it's a ton of extra work, I love it!  This year, however, I added "Business Manager" to my list of titles, and that was WAY more work than I thought it would be.

Basically the Business Manager is in charge of the following:

-Keeping the production within budget (or trying, at least!)
-Taking, editing, printing and displaying head shots of the actors.
-Designing/editing, printing and hanging posters forthe show around town, in school and online.
-Collecting ads from local businesses to put into our program.
-At times, designing the ads that go into our program.
-Writing up, laying out, printing out, and assembling the programs for each performance.
-Corresponding with the online ticketing system to get tickets up and available online.
-Creating a lobby display for the audience to enjoy pre-show and during intermission.
-Selling tickets at the door.
-Selling concessions at intermission.
-Selling photos of the cast at intermission and post-show.
-Writing out and depositing checks to vendors/services during the show.
-Accounting for all receipts and bills at the end of the show.

...there are probably 4 or 5 more tasks I left out, but you get the idea.  It's a LOT of work!  And so different from painting the set.  While painting the set can be a lot of physical work, it is enjoyable for me.  I listen to music, zone out, and paint away.  At times I enlist the help of students to do the bulk work like base-painting or texturing certain pieces.  I've gotten good at delegating, so the painting bit always works out.  But the business end?  Not only was it my first time (so I was way nervous!) but it was also ALL me- I couldn't enlist the help of any students.  I was getting phone calls and emails that I'd have to answer before the end of the school day, all while keeping up with the painting and teaching my regular classes.  Normal job things like lesson plans, teaching and grading still had to occur.

I'd be lying if I said there weren't moments during this production where I nearly lost my mind.

On top of all of that- the set-painting and business-managing, the actual teaching, the play itself was a heavy one: The Diary of Anne Frank.  In all of my planning and designing I had to do a ton of research, and I can't remember the last time I was so totally consumed with a topic as I was with this. I really felt, at the end of it all, like I knew Anne and her family personally.  I read her diary in 8th grade, but was far too young to really understand most of it.  Now, at 28, working with students her age on a daily basis, I felt for her and her family in a way I never thought I could.

Part of our lobby display was to create a timeline starting with Otto Frank's birth, and ending with his death.  In addition to the dates and facts, I used photographs to accompany all the verbiage.  Until this production, I'd only ever been familiar with the 5-7 famous photographs of Anne that we've all seen, like this one:

Or this one:

But I needed way more photos for this timeline to work out- photos of Otto and Edith, photos of Margot and Anne as children, happy times before they went into hiding.  My first stop was our school library, where our librarian (whose parents are actual Holocaust survivors!), helped me gather some images from books- but even then, they were a lot of the same I'd seen before.  At some point I started to get a little desperate.  I had something like 33 facts and wanted to try and get at least 1-2 images for each one.  In what felt like a moment of desperation, I turned to Pinterest.

Pinterest, where I usually go to waste time after a long day at work.  Pinterest, where you can find 1,000 ideas for decorating your mantle or making a interesting brown-bagged lunches. Pinterest, where I go to find memes.

Well let me tell you something, Internet, this production taught me that Pinterest can be an incredible educational tool!  I mean, really, just look at this page.  I typed in "Otto Frank and Family" and pages and pages of photographs and articles came up that I'd never seen before!

Like, Otto and Edith's wedding:

The happy couple on their honeymoon:

With baby Margot:

And with one-day-old Anne:

The two girls growing up, all smiles:

The family on vacation:

The list goes on and on.  I found so many incredibly personal and good quality photographs of Anne and her family before, during, and even after the family went into hiding. All from Pinterest!

My work BFF has sworn by Pinterest for years as she uses it to teach all of her classes, but mostly her jewelry kids.  She pins new techniques and designs almost every weekend, and when I kid says, "I don't have any ideas..." She sends them to her pinterest page for inspiration.  It's worked wonders for her, and after my use of it as an educational tool, I'll be re-thinking about how I use Pinterest in my classroom in the future.

What about you guys?  Anyone else use Pinterest in their classroom on the regular?  How am I just now realizing what a great educational tool it can be!?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Problem with Kids Today...

Last year I discussed with my photo class the FOMO culture they don't even know they're an active part of, and how it's messing with their happiness.

We talked about how when their friends go on vacation, they jump on Facebook/Instagram/Whathaveyou post amazing photos of sunsets on the beach, but they don't post the huge fight they got into with their mom about how slow the hotel wifi connection, which is why stormed out of the room and ended up on the beach at sunset in the first place.

We talked about how when their friends post super hot new photos of themselves online, they don't post the 100's of other photos they sifted through, edited and cropped before they got to that one.

I was pleased to find that the majority of my classes "got it," even if just for a few minutes.

I share that classroom with the other photo teacher, a professional photographer, who, later in life, decided to become a teacher.  He's flown all over the world and taken portraits of all types of famous people, from Vera Wang to former President George W. Bush.  When the kids get on his nerves, he'll often rant about how they're part of the "Barney Generation" where they were/are repeatedly told by society, their families, and the media about how unique, and special they are.  No wonder they have such a sense of entitlement! he yells.

A third co-worker of mine sent me a link to this article by Tim Urban, and while it made me laugh out loud, it also really made me think about the kids I teach.

If you have a few minutes, give it a read.  I'm debating making the article a homework assignment for my kids, but would they "get it"?  I think kids today have a pretty big problem, and this article hits the nail on the head.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

What I Learned about Newborn Photography

I love taking photos, and I love babies, so naturally, when a family member or friend has a baby, the first thing I want to do is get over there and stick my camera in its face.

When my nephew was born in July of '13, I got to try newborn photography for the very first time.  For these shots I was going on whatever I'd learned bout photography from my high school and college days- basic lighting techniques and posing rules.  I hadn't researched 'newborn photography' specifically, and even though the pictures came out okay, I think it's pretty obvious I was a newbie at this:

When Indy's best buddy and his wife had their beautiful little girl last week, they asked me about taking photos for them.  Of course I was super excited to do it, but this time I did my research.  I pinned about 50 different photos/websites on pinterest and watched a ton of videos on youtube. Turns out there is a whole secret (or, not so secret) society of amateur baby photographers out there, and they have amazing tips and tricks for the nervous newbie newborn photographer. (Say that 5x fast!)

Even though I felt much more prepared for this shoot than last one, I was still a little nervous.  This baby was only a week old, and I wasn't related to her, so I felt a little less confident about moving her around and changing up my scenes.  And even though these good (non-artsy) friends of ours would be happy with anything I got out of the shoot, I really wanted to do my best- not just for them, but for me!  I wanted to prove to myself that I could do this and have it be better than last time.

We did everything right- the room was warm, the set-up was baby-safe and ready to go, the baby was being fed as we arrived so she'd sleep soundly and allow me to pose her however I wanted, but she didn't sleep.  In fact, she never slept.  She wasn't a diva by any means- never cried once- but she wouldn't shut her eyes!  The big thing I kept reading about shooting newborns is that you wanted to do it within the first 20 days of their birth, because when they sleep, they become little Gumby dolls and you can pretty much do whatever you want with them. But not this one.

So we rolled with the punches, and even though I brought a few thousand dollars worth of photo equipment I borrowed from school (backdrops, poles, rods, stands, lenses, cameras, etc.) the majority of shots I got were of the baby and her mom on the couch by the window, as mom tirelessly tried to lull her baby to sleep.

I did the best I could with what I had, and here are a few of the best shots I ended up with:

Some of these photos look like she's sleeping, but she'd just blink for a good, long 10 seconds, then snap her eyes open as if to say, "GOTCHA!"

I think I shot over 500 photos and ended up with about 15-20 workable ones.  While they aren't what I was hoping for, I'm still glad we got a few nice ones.  What's great is the parents were over-the-moon! I think the mix of them not being art-people (they'r engineers) and the fact that all parents love any photo of their newborn baby worked in my favor, for sure. 

So, here is what I learned about Newborn Photography the second time around:

1. Have a plan, but be prepared for that plan to go out the window.

I'd put hours of research and planning into this shoot, but ultimately, the baby runs the show, and the best you can do is keep your cool, go with the flow, and work with what you've got.

2. Take every opportunity to shoot.

The majority of the photos that worked out from this session were the ones taken when the mother rocked the baby in an effort to get her to sleep.  She wasn't in the fancy set-up I'd prepared, but on their couch.  With a few small tweaks (asking Mom to scoot over so the window was on her right, and cleaning up the immediate area a little bit) I was able to still get some really nice photos of both Mom and the baby.  If I'd only shot when she was in my fancy set-up, I'd have maybe 5 to work with.

3. A little Photoshop goes a long way.

A lot of the newborn photos I'd seen online were heavily photoshopped with all kinds of layers and effects and composites.  If you can do all of that right, they look amazing, but it takes a lot of practice to do all of that right.  I relied on what I knew- adjusting brightness and contrast, adjusting levels and color balance, working with a few gradients and lighting effects, but that's about it.  The fanciest thing I did was look up a way to brighten the baby's eyes, which I learned from this super simple tutorial.  Here's a before and after so you can see what a difference it makes:



4. Practice makes perfect!

In order to get better at this, I just need to keep doing it!  I need my sister and all my friends to keep having adorably smushy-faced babies that I can take pictures of!

And of course, this morning I wake up to this text from the Mom:

"Now she's ready to be posed- little stinker!"

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Salem &The Hawthorne Hotel Halloween Ball

Halloween is Indy's favorite holiday.  If you ask him, it's the only "real" holiday.  Forget Thanksgiving, forget Christmas, you could even forget his own birthday- he would give all of them up for Halloween.

Six years ago, back before we were even living together, Indy and I took a weekend trip up to Salem, Massachusetts.  But it wasn't just any weekend, it was the weekend of Halloween!  We explored all the narrow, cobble stone roads, visited the many Witch and Wax museums, went on walking tours, even shopped a bit in stores owned by modern-day practicing witches!  On Halloween night the streets filled with all sorts of crazy characters- costumed and non-costumed alike.  I've never been to Mardi Gras, but from what I've heard, this was pretty close.  We didn't partake in much of the partying, but just observing was crazy enough.  The streets were overflowing (as were the glasses) and the music was played loud and long into the night. Salem was one of our favorite local trips, and ever since we left, we've been looking for a reason to go back.

In what has become a year of celebration of Indy getting his teaching job, we decided that Salem had to happen this year!

As Halloween is on a week day (this coming Friday), and Salem is a good 4 and a half hour drive from where we live and, we opted to visit Salem the weekend before Halloween.  When we visited six years ago on Halloween, the place was pretty crowded- so we figured the weekend before Halloween would be less hectic.

We were way wrong.

We left on Friday afternoon, a bit later than anticipated due to some cat drama (not ours, our friends...don't worry, all the kitties are good now) and we decided to drive straight into Salem.  We found parking relatively easy and grabbed dinner no problem- but it was near 11PM.  Everyone was in bed.

The next day we slept in and planned to be in Salem to see the sights by 11.  We left at 10:30AM from our hotel and didn't find a parking spot until 1PM!  The traffic was killer, and parking was incredibly hard to find.  In a lot of was Salem is laid out much like Philly- small, one-way, cobbles stone roads with hundreds of pedestrians everywhere you turn.  We did totally luck out though!  All of the lots and parking garages near the center of town were jam-packed, but we drove just a tiny bit past the center of town (like, three blocks) and crossed the Congress Street bridge to pay $20 for all day parking at the Shetland Self Park Storage facility.  Even better, we planned on leaving town around 5 to go back to the hotel, rest up a bit, and get dressed for the party, then return to town and fight for another parking spot, we explained this to the ticket guy at Shetland, and he signed our ticket so that we could use the same space later in the day!  He totally could've been a total jerk about it and told us, "Too bad, no re-entry!" but he didn't!  Score for us! (And for you- use our trick and save yourself the money/frustration of finding a spot in the town center!)

Unfortunately we did't plan very well and due to the overwhelming crowds spent most of our afternoon in Salem milling around.  It was beautiful out, though so we were happy to just explore the town and talk about how great it was just to be there.  The energy was crazy!

We paid a quick visit to the Salem Wax Museum, because the friends we were with had never been there.  Honestly, it's just okay.  The Salem Witch Museum (also a wax museum) is much more informative/entertaining/worth the money, so if you find yourself having to chose between the two, the choice is pretty clear.

We walked around the Salem Witch Trials Memorial, which is quite small, but really well-done.  At night it's beautiful and much less crowded, and there is a beautiful 100's year old graveyard just behind it you're able to explore, respectfully of course.

At night there are tons of small haunted houses, which are relatively expensive and very short (about 15-20 minutes in length).  If you're into that kind of thing, you can check those out, but I never found them to be worth the money.  There are tons of mini plays/reenactments to check out too, and if you ever find yourself in the area around Halloween, there is a whole webpage dedicated to planning your stay!  Visit the Haunted Happenings site and plan away!  Just make sure you get there early and plan to stay for the majority of the day to get the most bang for your buck.

While Salem was fun, our main reason for the trip was to attend the annual Hawthorne Hotel Halloween Ball!  Indy and I have hosted our fair share of Halloween parties, but he always ends up feeling a little disappointed because most of our friends aren't as into it as he is- he's always saying, "I wish we could find a huge party to go to, even if we didn't know anyone!" And this year, we did!

I stumbled upon the Hawthorne Hotel Hallween Ball webpage by accident, and that's what solidified our plans to even go to Salem this year.  It was pricey- $90 ticket per person, but it's a 4-hour party with a live band, tons of food, cash bars, psychic readings and costume contest.  And since it's in Halloweentown, USA, the party-goers are SERIOUS about their costumes!  Each year there is a theme, and this year's was Mardi Gras Masquerade.  As an art teacher, I was completely floored with the attention to detail, effort and craziness of the costumes.  Indy and I thought we had pretty good costumes, but we quickly realized we were WAY out of our league.  Next year, we will definitely be in attendance, and we will be READY!

Enjoy some party pics and videos below, and maybe Indy and I will see you there next year!

Our Party Shot!  They had three photo stations upon entry, and they take your photo for their webstite.

A shot of the main room- there were three floors and three different rooms to dance in, but this was the main one with the live band.  We spent most of the night here.  Look how crowded it is!

A shot of the back of that same room- beautiful, right?!

The view from up on the second floor.

Indy catching me off-guard!

A little blurry, but Indy and someone dressed as Hobgoblin.

You can check out more awesome shots of the Hawthorne Hotel and the costumed party-goers taken by the staff at the hotel here.  If you're looking for something to do next Halloween season and find yourself on the North East coast, you will not be disappointed!  Next year is the 25th anniversary, so you can bet Indy and I will be there!