Monday, May 28, 2012

EXCITING NEWS!!... And making big decisions.

OMG. I have some EXTREMELY EXCITING NEWS!!! I am going to be an intern for the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia this July and August!!!!

A mural made by the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia

So I guess on this blog I haven't gone through this whole story of my Career Crisis and this Happy Event following the Crisis.

Well.  Since awhile now, I have been considering as many career options as I have considered places I would like to travel in the world.  That is a lot.  Things I have considered doing range from tattoo artist to animator to illustrator, but I knew I at least wanted to be an artist to make my living. I was doing the Artist in Residence thing and totally loving it.  But I knew that someday I will move out of Eugene, and try to have another Big Art Career to do along side with being an Artist in Residence.  I guess I was at sort of a crossroads and not sure which way to focus, so I emailed an old professor and asked for advice. Which career direction did he think my art was best suited for? Well, he didn't answer that question, but pushed the notion that I really should probably narrow it down. A lot. So I gave myself a deadline. A few weeks down the road, I will have thought long and hard about this decision. It's a really scary notion, making this big of a decision. What if I am limiting myself and closing doors by picking just one area of focus for my art career?! I worried but then thought, no, this is just for NOW. I will pick one focus for RIGHT NOW and if at some point I have given it an honest shot, I will pick something else later. So I wrote pro and con list after pro and con list for each career option.  It's a funny thing, trying to make a decision this big, by being this systematic.  Once all the lists were made, it was like I didn't REALLY need to look over and consider them that closely.  Just the act of making these lists was enough to hear what my heart had been whispering to me all along. Now that voice was louder, with the facts all written down instead of floating around chaotically in my brain. A Muralist, that was IT.  With murals, I can work with people.  I can help people brighten their spaces, get more business in their places of business, work with kids sometimes, and paint REALLY REALLY BIG.  Murals are so BOLD! I love almost everything about this whole business of making them.  The answer was in my heart, it just took some focus and some dedication to trying to hear my inner voice, for me to come to the right decision for myself.

So after I had come to that, I felt, for lack of a better cliche, like a huge weight had been lifted. I felt happier and lighter, knowing I only had to try as hard as I can to succeed in this ONE area, rather than continue to dabble in and spread myself too thinly in so many others.

Not even 2 weeks after, I received a call from the Mural Arts Program, letting me know that there was now another intern spot open and would  like to have it?  (I had previously been rejected after making it to be a finalist). YES I WOULD LIKE TO HAVE IT! I screamed in my mind but calmly spoke over the phone. I applied to this last year and didn't get it. Then I applied this year, made it to the finalists, but no cigar. NOW, I was being offered this AMAZING opportunity. It is something I want SO BAD. It's just so funny to me that once I decided this is really what I want to do whole-heartedly, the Universe turned around and gave me this gift, almost seeming to back up my decision, telling me I'd made a good one.

So turns out that sometimes maybe we have to choose a path, and choose it with clear purpose. I heard somewhere that "we can do ANYTHING we want, but we can't do EVERYTHING we want." It sounds scary, like again, maybe we're limiting ourselves.  This has been a good lesson for me though, that choosing something and trying to put all the "what ifs?" and the other roads you DIDN'T take out of your mind, can be a really powerful thing. It's like I've given myself permission to just put ALL my career-starting energy into this one area. Greater things will probably happen this way, than if I just try everything. Sort of like being able to spin one plate better than 7.

I know this is long and preachy so I'll wrap this up. Just wanted to share this bit of good news and a lesson learned recently, with you guys....whoever is out there reading this. :)

One plate for now,


Friday, May 25, 2012

Peter Max Artist Lesson for Grades 3 - 6

This is a lesson about the artist, Peter Max. I like this lesson for 3rd graders up to 6th graders. This is harder for the littler kids to really get into, but older kids LOVE doing this one. Here is my lesson plan:

  • First, talk to the kids about: Who is Peter Max?  He was an artist whose work got popular in the 1960‘s.  Ask them, "what comes to mind when you think about the 60's?" You may get "peace signs!", "Hippies!", etc. Then you can talk about his imagery that he used that spoke to this time period.
  •  Talk about how Peter Max did things like album covers, posters for concerts and events, and other illustrations. Ask the kids, "What is the difference between an illustrator and other kinds of artists?" Explain: Illustrators create art from other people’s ideas, fine artists create art from their own. Illustrators get paid by other people  to make their ideas come alive, visually.  Children’s books, magazines, product packaging, etc., all use illustrators to tell a story. 
  • Show examples of Peter Max's work in a computer slideshow. Ask kids to hold their comments until the end of the presentation, but to be thinking about what do all of these pictures have in common? What do you notice that keeps showing up in a lot of these pictures? How do we know it’s the same artist? At the end, take comments from kids and talk about Peter Max's style and how it is unique.  Hopefully the kids notice these things: He made lots of heavy outlines in black. Stars. sun rays. doves. people. neon. BRIGHT and FLAT colors. 
  • Mention: He was interested in astronomy (study of the cosmos) and so thats why he had lots of stars and planets in his art. 
Explain the procedure for the project: First, do pencil drawings. They must include a sun and/or stars in a composition that is mostly sky. Then, outline everything in black sharpie. Color everything in with markers and highlighters.

These are what some of my kids have come up with. They turned out amazing, I think!!! I LOVE doing this project. The kids get SO into this. I think Peter Max's style lends itself perfectly to kids projects. 

I hope some of you out there can use this lesson plan and enjoy!

Stars and sun rays,


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

McKenzie School Mural Project

This project began in April and lasted only 4 Fridays for 4 hours per day. We finished this mural in 16 hours! These kids did an amazing job. 


SCHOOL:  Mckenzie School, up the Mckenzie River Highway near Springfield, OR.
STUDENTS:  This school serves the rural community that live along this particular section of the McKenzie river.  It has about 200 students, Kindergarten through 12th grade. 
I WORKED WITH:  Students attend school here only Monday through Thursday.  Fridays are optional. I worked as a part of the school's Friday program, which tried to add back in, the arts that the kids don't get during the week due to funding.  Unfortunately, attendance to the Friday Program, remains low. Teachers believe the reason for this, is that students are so used to 3-day-weekends every single weekend, that they don't want to wake up early and go to school on Fridays if they don't have to. They have about 10 "regulars" though, who are the kids I mostly worked with. 

mckenzie school mural,

mckenzie school mural

THEME: SCHOOL PRIDE! Our first session, the kids and I had a a huge brainstorming session. McKenzie's mascot is the eagle, so of course we included that. The McKenzie River is also a really important part of the wild landscape around their school, so we included that, too.  We decided to have the eagle carrying a banner with the school's academic motto on it, too. 

Altogether, this was such a fun project. Even though I didn't work with many kids, the ones who were there, were there by choice and were really engaged. I could tell that getting to paint something that was going to be displayed in their school's front entryway, was something that these kids were going to take pride in and remember for a long time. As I always say, making collaborative murals build self- esteem and team-working skills, along with the obvious creative and art-making skills they are building. 

Keep your brushes wet, 


Friday, May 18, 2012

SUMMER Day Camp?! & NEW JOB!

So yesterday I found out that a parent in one of the schools I teach in, asked my mom (who's also a teacher there) if I would be interested in holding an art camp over the summer for her kids!

UM, YES I am interested! By the end of this month, I will not be working in the schools because school's out for the summer! So yes.  I still will need my little creative master minds in my life.  If there's any way to keep kiddos around through the summer, I will try it. At first I thought, "Too overwhelming, no, I can't!" It's that negative self-talk that sometimes jumps in too quickly.  So I slept on it and this morning I thought, "You know what? You can do this. And it would be awesome."  What's not to love?  Still getting to do all my fun and creative projects with the kiddos, and yet NOT having to wrangle 30-ish kids at a time while doing it.  If I had a small manageable group of kids, how much FUN could we have making art projects all day?!!?  Just thinking about the possibilities has me excited.  So, trying to get that together will be a GREAT Summer project.

In other news.... I GOT A NEW JOB! And right in time too, right? (The whole not-teaching-over-Summer thing I just mentioned).  I'll be a Fine Arts Instructor at Michael's craft store here in Eugene!! SO COOL!  I had to take a test online through the Grumbacher paint brand so they could have me officially certified *ahem*, so official, to work as an acrylics instructor.  When I got this job, it was again, another moment of that little annoying voice in my head that sometimes tells me I can't do something. "How can you teach ADULTS? You've never taught ADULTS!", it said.

But you know what, as I've said before here: Trying something new and bold and challenging is always hard. But it doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. And we might really suck at it the first few times we do this new thing.  But that doesn't mean we won't get better at it, and then end up loving doing it. 

I'm excited (if still a little scared...) for these new ventures. Wish me luck!

Happy new beginnings to everyone out there who's starting something new as well.

Sidewalk chalk and slippin' slides,


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Artist in Residence Perks: #2

Making kids happier through giving them an opportunity to paint.

Today I worked at Willagillespie Elementary. All 4th and 5th graders and I are still working on our math/science/space/time - themed mural in their hallway.  

space mural

One kid told me when it was her turn to paint, "This is probably the best day of my whole life."

Another kid told me when it was his turn to paint, "I've been waiting all tuesday and all yesterday for it to be my turn!"

There is nothing better than that. Better than money or fame I think, THIS is what feels good. These kids are getting less and less art in their schools, as there are more and more days of testing and test-preparation. Budget cuts have eliminated many art, music and drama teachers (physical education teachers too).  It's so sad to meet kids who have as difficult a time holding a paintbrush as some of my students in Madagascar did.  Aren't we supposed to be one of, if not THE most advanced country in the world? And our kids are getting cheated. It makes me feel good to know that organizations like mine, Lane Arts Council exists. I'm on a roster of a number of artists who are available to come to schools for 2-6 weeks at a time and work with kids. There are salsa dancers, glass artists, guitar players and me, and more! Until the system changes, at least this is a start. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Artist in Residence Perks: #1

Getting to listen into kids' conversations with each other. 

I usually pull about 4 kids into the hallway to paint on the mural at a time, then we rotate groups about every 15 minutes so everyone gets a turn. Once I get paint and paintbrushes in their little hands and get them going on a spot to paint, I shut up and just listen.  I'm often amazed, grossed out and/or totally amused by what I can hear sometimes. For example, the following conversation by a few of my 4th graders today:
"Have you seen that show, 'My Strange Addiction'?"

"Yeah. Did you see the one about the lady who has to sleep with a hairdryer in her bed, turned on?" 

"There's lots of crazy people in the world."

"Yeah. Most of them live in San Francisco."

New School Mural Project!

Last month, I completed two murals with the kids at Willagillespie Elementary school in Eugene.  Those were in the K/1 grades hallway, and the 2/3 grades hallway.  They asked me to come back and do a residency for their 4/5 hallway this month! Each hallway in the school has a famous scientist as it's theme:

• K/1 Hallway: "Audobon's Aerie" 
• 2/3 Hallway: "Coustau's Cove"
• 4/5 Hallway: "Banneker's Bend"

Here is the sketch for "Banneker's Bend":

Benjamin Banneker was an African American scientist living in the 1700's. He got famous for his contributions to some almanacs, for his skills as a mathematician and astronomer and also for carving an entire working clock out of wood. Interesting sounding guy. So there was a lot to work with here, in terms of imagery. I decided to do just a big mash-up of images for this one: books, rocket ship, clock parts, cosmos, etc. 

Excited for this one! I'll keep you guys updated on the project's progress. 

Stars and Rocket Ships,


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Mural Barter!

I'm working on a new project that is super exciting for a number of reasons!

Reason #1: the mural is for my friend, Maggie.  It's always fun to brighten up the spaces for people you know personally.  It just makes me want to get it perfectly exactly what will bring them the most joy! 

Reason #2: Maggie is a Masseuse!  So, we are trading "services": I'm making her a big shining mural in her carport, and she is giving me, count 'em.... 5 massages!  I've already gotten 3 and every time I go see her I just get all melty and feel sooo incredibly relaxed afterwards!!  So, some of you may still be stuck on "in her carport".  Well, since you asked, Maggie has her own massage practice out of her house.  She uses a lovely little extra bedroom that is all set up with her table, (which is heated, OMG, heaven for poor-blood-circulation me, who always has cold hands and feet!) music, and beautiful asian-inspired decor.  She has really transformed that part of her house into a beautifully dreamy space where she can do her great healing work on people. This room actually has it's own separate door from the outside, so clients aren't going through her house.  This door is through the carport.  So Maggie has been dreaming of having a calming, asian-inspired mural painted on the wall that her clients see right as they enter and exit her massage studio.  She wanted something soothing, simple and beautiful.  I did a few sketches for her:
We started out with these 3 basic ideas.  We decided on combining elements from each, the birds, the flowering tree and mountains of the second sketch. After adding a muted color palette, our final sketch came out like this:
I cannot WAIT to paint this mural for Maggie! I am loving the idea of bartering. It's how so much of the rest of the world is used to doing business.  "Hey, I'm a tomato farmer and you're an onion farmer; give you some of these for some of those?"  I like it.  More posts on this project to come. Until then, 

Cherry blossoms and hugs, 


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A Nursery Mural

This is again, going wayy back. I did this mural back in 2009.  A friend of my Mom's asked about having me do this nursery mural for her while she was still carrying her baby.  She had spent a number of years in South Africa, mostly teaching English. She wanted to give her child this South African plains scene as one of her first gifts.

South Africa Nursery Mural

South Africa Mural

I had never done a nursery mural before, but from the beginning, the idea just made me warm and fuzzy. I wondered what the kid would think of the mural on their wall once they were older. I wondered if it would someday laugh at the funny looking monkey sitting in the tree, or delight in the fluffy clouds.  I love to paint kids room murals. I've had kids just sit and watch me paint for hours, as if I was just some xbox alternative for the afternoon.  Grab some popcorn, kid. I'll be here awhile.  I love that though. Once, I heard from a mother that her daughter I'd painted a mural for used to say goodnight to it every night before she went to sleep.  That is the kinda stuff that makes this job the best in the world.  Getting to paint and enriching people's lives, in however small a way.

Sure enough, I heard from the woman who commissioned this South Africa mural in her nursery, that now that her daughter is a bit older, she can often be seen "petting" her elephants on her wall. 

Peace, Love and Elephants, 


Friday, May 4, 2012

Mural Artist in Residence..... Chapter One.

Let's take it back.  Waaayyyy back.  Ok, only about a year back.  This is the story of how I became an Artist in Residence.

To be perfectly honest, doing school murals and being an artist in residence sort of fell into my lap.  Last spring, I was working in a local bakery, spending my days packaging cookies and helping customers navigate the "gluten-free" section.  My nights were spent at my parent's house,  longing to return to Madagascar, where I had recently spent 2 years living and working as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  Re-adjusting to being home in the United States was difficult, and having arrived only 4 months earlier, I still felt stuck between two worlds, not quite sure where I fit into either one.  I was more than a little lost.  But that's another story.  In March, 2011, I found a new place to belong. 

One day I got an email from a local elementary school principal, asking if I would be interested in doing a school mural project to begin in a couple of weeks.  The artist who was going to do it had to back out because of a family emergency.  The principal had been given my name by someone in the building who knew I was a mural artist.  So, somewhat apprehensively, but also enthusiastically and maybe naively, I accepted the job. 

Duration:  3 weeks, 4 teaching hours each school day.  I was lucky my former boss at the bakery was willing to arrange my work schedule around this!  
Students Included:  ALL students in the school, grades kindergarten through 5th!
Theme of Project:  "Sustainability" - Their school is a certified "Green School" in our school district, meaning they use solar power for many operations, compost, run a school garden program, among other "green" awareness programs for the students.  Quite amazing and wonderful.  I was very glad to work within this theme as it is close to my heart as well. 
Materials Used:  Outdoor quality acrylic paints.  
Size:  We worked on boards which when completed, were mounted on the school's outdoor wall. Each panel was 4' x 8' and there were 5 of them, totaling in an 8' x 20' mural!
Location:  Adams Elementary School, Eugene, OR. 

school mural
Adams Elementary School Mural: "Sustainability"

The Hardest Part Was:  This was my first time doing a mural with kids.  It was basically, my first time teaching kids art, really (at least, to American kids.  I had taught a couple random art lessons to kids in Madagascar).  The residency was set up so that each classroom would come to my room where the mural project was set up, for 45 minutes.  Now, 45 minutes is not much time to get kids quiet and focused, explain the lesson, get them going on an art project, and then clean up.  Luckily, the teachers were there, armed with parent volunteers much of the time.  There was no possible way to get 25-35 kids working on the same mural project at the same time, I at least had the sense to not try that.  I kept the class busy with drawing projects while I pulled 4-5 kids out at a time to come help me paint the mural, then we kept rotating the small groups of painters to make sure everyone got turns.  This is still how I structure my school murals residencies.  I teach simple art projects, usually trying to make them relative to the theme of the mural, for all students to work on.  Once I explain the art project, teachers can keep kids going on them so that I can focus on getting kids through their turns painting the mural. It works...which brings me to successes. 
Biggest Success Was: Finding my own "residency structure" that works well. That was a success that I've based all other school murals on since.  I would say my biggest success for this one, was just making it through to the end.  My mom has been a teacher for somewhere around 30 years so I would go to her at the end of every day that first week, desperate for any kernels of teaching wisdom she could offer.  By the end of 3 weeks, I had found my "groove" with the students.  I also discovered my school residency teaching method, which I will expand upon at some point.  For now though, I basically learned that if I mixed the colors and just gave each kid a little bowl of it and a brush, things would go smoother.
I Learned: 
• How to talk to kids better (Justin Bieber, anyone? Yes? No?). 
• How to structure my school residencies in a way that worked for me, the students and the teachers.
• How to paint a mural on panels (this was brand new to me, too). 
• That kids SHOULD NOT under any circumstances, be present while you are priming walls or panels. This stuff is nasty, probably toxic and stains clothes. Which makes parents very unhappy. Oops.
• Everything.  This was the steepest learning curve ever.  I had no idea what I was doing. 


I got through this.  Beginnings are usually hard, right?  In the first week, I just wanted it to be over.  I was unsure of myself in almost every step I took towards completing this project.  I wanted to be at the end, looking back, already.  Here I am, over a year later, looking back.  I made it through to the other side of this challenge.  I still have plenty of challenges now when I do residencies, of course, and I know I won't ever stop learning new ways to improve them.  But now, I love love love my job.  
I had to get through that difficult first one to make it to now, where I feel lucky to do what I do.  

After this project, I got officially hired by my local arts organization, Lane Arts Council.  This organization is the one that organizes art walks and also school residencies in our county schools.  They are the ones that paid me, and still pay me.  Now, I am on their roster of teaching artists and local schools may request me to come be an artist in residence and do murals with kids.  I have worked with many more schools since then (*blogs soon to come!).

This story reminds me not to get discouraged.  Push through the difficult "beginnings" and in the middle, you can look back and see just how far you've come. 

Happy new beginnings!