(Mr. Jellineck, of Strangers with Candy...my favorite art teacher!)
"I always loved art teachers because they were so bizarre. They were like the homeless people of the faculty -- all disheveled, wearing smocks, covered in paint, always digging through the garbage, looking for bottles and egg cartons and things." -Ted Alexandro
This never felt more true to me than just yesterday. While I was painting props for the musical, the Performing Arts Center manager (who I work very close with, and have become good friends with) said to me, "Hey, I just threw out some of this extra fabric. Didn't think about offering it to you until right now. It's in the can right there- help yourself!"
While I appreciate his thinking of me, the fact that it didn't happen until after it was in the garbage can made me laugh. I laughed harder when I was elbow-deep in the garbage can fishing it out.
This morning I awoke to find a post on Miss. Young's Art Room that also made me laugh.
I've been thinking about this for a while now, and I've come up with a few solid reasons as to why we art teachers do what we do- the dumpster diving, the recycling, the constantly taking left overs from someone else- even if we don't have a plan for it right now.
In no particular order:
1. Art supplies are expensive consumables. A pack of markers could be $5.00, but when you need 10 packs of markers per class (assuming there's 20 kids per class, one pack would be shared between two kids), and you have 6 classes, that's $300. Now, factor in the fact that kids use markers like they're going out of style, or lose the caps so they dry out, or steal them from the classroom, and you'll need double the amount to get you through the year. That's $600 of your budget spent on markers alone! That's probably enough supply to get you through one decent marker-based project. If you'd like to do more than one, you should order more markers. This is the same reason us art teachers become the the paint distribution nazi's. Kids think we're being hypersensitive about waste or that we've got this irrational love for paint, and while all of that is true, we also know that paint is liquid money, and once it runs out, it's gone for good.
2. Art budgets are the "middle child." Even in a school that has a large budget to disperse among the departments, the Art Department budget will always be the middle child. The older child is seen as the more responsible, reliable, deserving (say, the math or English department) and the younger child is seen as fun and special and new, still growing and developing (say, after school inter-murals). The art department is that middle child. The Old Faithful, if you will. The ol' reliable. The department that's been shafted before, and will be shafted again, and will make it work, because somehow they always do. (Disclaimer: I can totally say all this middle child jargon as I was the second of three daughters for 10 years of my life, until my Big Little Brother came along and shifted the line-up.)
3. Being creative is in our nature. Art teachers are creative people. Duh! So when presented with an issue like a limited budget or dwindling consumables, we think on our feet and resolve the problem using what we have: our creativity! Enter: all recycled material based projects. While many of us art teachers are also adamant tree-huggers, and genuinely love creating works of art out of recycled, or unconventional materials, I think the majority of us will admit a lot of our recycled-based art projects come from a place other than our green hearts. A place where money is scarce and actual art-making materials is limited.
So in the name of helping a brother (or, more than likely, a sister) out, I'll share some tips I've learned when it comes time to gather unconventional art supplies for a recycled art project. Whether you're doing it because supplies are low, or you're hoping to inspire the kids to reduce and reuse, I think you'll find them helpful.
I recently wrote about the fairy tale collage project my Fine Art I kids did this year. Typically I allow them to use construction paper and magazine, but this year I found a large box of paint chips and added them into the mix. They had a huge impact on the artwork and the kids loved using them. Turns out paint chips provide hours of fun as proven here by me, and here by Ms. Katie Morris. If you're willing to just head over to the Home Depot/Lowe's/etc. and swipe their free samples, do it! (Remember, they are free!). If you're a little more shy about it, you can always call ahead and ask for any outdated or discontinued chips they have. Also contacting a local architect/interior designer is a good place to get them- they're always getting rid of old samples to make room for the new ones.
While your in the HD/Lowe's, ask about any discontinued or broken tiles. I haven't done this myself, but my School Mom who developed the Ceramics program at my school frequented her local Home Depot and would leave with buckets and buckets of *free* broken or discontinued tiles. She often used these for mosaics or recycled ceramic projects at school. While transporting the tile is a bit harder than the paint chips (they're an awful lot heavier and sharper!) you can get some really neat projects out of something that is going to end up in the garbage.
Cardboard / Boxes:
Corrugated cardboard is a really cheap, interesting material to work with in the art room. I did a project a few years ago where I asked the kids to create structures using corrugated cardboard, plastic bottles and aluminum cans inspired by the architectural works of Frank Ghery. In fact, I don't think I ever wrote about that, or shared the images- if I can find them, that post will be coming soon! But the cardboard was fantastic- it was sturdy and could be manipulated in so many ways. It provided a nice surface for paint/marker and could be peeled away to have a rough or bumpy texture. Also it was free! Our school has a cardboard-only dumpster, which I frequented- but for sturdier boxes in larger sizes, I often visited my local Michael's Arts & Craft store. Actually, the back alley of my local Michael's Arts & Craft store. Back there they have tons of cardboard-only dumpsters. Since Michael's doesn't deal with any kind of unpackaged wet products or foods, all the cardboard is totally clean and dry, and yours for the taking!
Great for diorama projects, or even an organizational system for the classroom, shoe boxes are another free cardboard you can pick up in a lot of different places. Try calling up your local foot locker or famous footwear, and they'll often tell you when the best day is to come by and swipe some shoe-less boxes. They're happy to get rid of them. Another type of box that's free are the alcohol boxes at your local Bottle King. When Indy and I moved the last two times, rather than spend money on movers or buying boxes, we went to the Bottle King and loaded up our car. They're also happy to be rid of their extra cardboard and while the shape of the alcohol boxes aren't totally ideal for moving (they're narrowly shaped) they can be great for storage in small cabinets. Although, I would recommend painting them, or covering them in some way. Don't really need to advertize alcohol companies in the classroom!
Plastic Bottle Caps:
Plastic bottle cap projects have totally taken off in the last year or so, and that's because they're colorful, easy to work with, and everywhere! We're nearly finished with our bottle cap mural, and I can't wait to share it with all of you. But how did I get so many? First, I put in a call for bottle caps in the morning announcements at school. Immediately students started dropping off baggies of caps. Then, kids went home and told their parents, and they started dropping off garbage-bag loads of caps (seriously- garbage bags FILLED with caps!) from all the sporting events they coach/spectate. Finally, I organized a few of those water tank jugs to be placed in all of our cafeterias so the kids had some place to put their caps after lunch. Now I've got thousands. So many that I'm planning a second mural just to get them out of my room!
I could go on forever, but I'll end here. If anyone else has any helpful tips, please share!