12-08-2009- Making Books

This past Tuesday at Reach was crazy! Students were busy finishing artworks that weren’t done and compiling all of their works into books. We had previously made the books for the students to save time. Our main job today was helping the kids place their art in the center of the pages and make covers for each book. The covers were made with colorful tissue paper and they made the books look professional! This was the most exciting part of class because the kids really enjoyed it.

As you can see, the studio was bustling with artists.

Since we also had to make a book, I thought I’d show pictures of mine.

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12-1-2009- Watercolor

A few weeks ago, Guillermo taught our class watercolor techniques that we could teach the Reach students. I was responsible for leading the watercolor lesson and I was a little nervous because I’m not very comfortable with my watercolor abilities. I demonstrated three warm-up exercises to get the kids used to the paints.

First, I told them to mix two to three colors in sections of their paper. This is good  to see what different watercolors look like next to each other. Next, I had them compare thick dark watercolor spots to a ‘dry brush’ watercolor spot. After doing this, the kids could see the difference between using more or less water with the paints. The last exercise I showed them was straw painting- where you place colors on your paper and blow the paint in different directions with a straw. The students had a lot of fun working with the paints in different ways, but they most definitely enjoyed the straw painting the most.

The goal today was to complete two final watercolor projects. After the students wrote their haiku poems a few weeks ago, we had them write their final poem in the center of watercolor paper. Today, I asked the students to paint around the poem and basically told them not to use the color black. The mentors’ role today really guided the kids to create beautiful paintings. I know a lot of mentors had to encourage their students not to leave white spaces on their paper while not completely covering their poem.

The other watercolor project we asked them to create was a map of ‘where they play’. Most of the kids didn’t finish this project, but they had were painting places where they have fun. I noticed a lot of “picture paintings” where students were showing an image of one place they play. It didn’t seem like they were thinking about mapping images in their painting. Maybe I didn’t explain the instructions clearly enough? When they continue working on these paintings next week, I can remind them that they should be focusing on mapping their thoughts.

Overall, the day went smoothly and I was able to help the students with their watercolor painting. The only challenge of the day was trying to get the kids’ attention. I tried different ways to encourage them to be quiet and the other mentors helped me too.

I was really impressed when I saw the students incorporating the beginning exercises into their painting. Here, Analia is making grass with the straw painting technique.

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11-24-2009- Photography Day!

Today the students either brought a digital camera or a camera was provided so everyone could take their own pictures. Our visiting artist, Mark Sullivan, lead the photography lesson and took us on a walk around the neighborhood to take photos. He told the students to think of the camera as another way of seeing the world than their own eyes. He encouraged the students to think of the camera as their rectangular version of their eyeball. The kids were very excited about the cameras and began taking pictures of everything once we left for the walk.

Along the walk, Mark Sullivan encouraged the kids to take photos of patterns, designs in the tree branches, angles of telephone wires, unrecognizable objects, and close-up photos. The kids would immediately go search for something to photograph when Mark gave them directions. I liked that Mark focused on taking unique photographs rather than focusing on the best composition. It gave the kids more freedom to take many photographs and not concentrate on the expectations of these pictures.

This photo walk really helped the students notice mail box designs, knots in pieces of wood, remaining leaves in the tress, and other images that we would normally not photograph or take the time to examine. Walking down different streets, an alley and near a mechanic’s garage really lead to some interesting pictures.

Some of the mentors also had their cameras and the kids seemed to be interested in the photos we were taking. My student Anna wasn’t here for the photo walk. Over these past few weeks I’ve had a lot of fun with Anna and I missed her. All of the Reach students are great, but I’ve really enjoyed working closely with one student. Talking with Sam and Ruba, other RCAH mentors, they feel the same way too.

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Art is awesome

“Life is to be lived. If you have to support yourself, you had bloody well better find some way that is going to be interesting. And you don’t do that by sitting around wondering about yourself.”

-Katherine Hepburn

Everyone wants to get paid for what they love to do. The hard part is finding your path to get to that place. Hepburn’s quote may seem like an obvious statement to some people- why would you choose a career that you didn’t find interesting? But people do it every day! I’ve talked to numerous students at Michigan State who are earning degrees for every reason other than enjoyment. I’m grateful for the arts and humanities degree I’m earning because I’m excited for the winding, probably sporadic path after college.

I believe that artists have an advantage that is learned through the art process. Artists are excellent problem solvers. When artists are creating, unpredictable events occur all of the time. Unpredictable events meaning a change in creative direction, a ‘mistake’ in the artwork, or even lack of supplies. I feel that artists are very capable of handling change and working toward making a positive outcome. This is a helpful skill in both learning and working environments. Creating art with the kids at Reach is so important because problem solving skills are self-taught and art is a great way for these students to learn.

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11-17-2009- Writing Haiku

Using the research notes from the Haiku hike, the Reach students created their poems. Anita Skeen encouraged the kids to use the traditional haiku structure of 3 lines using 5, 7, 5 syllables.  All of the kids shared the three poems they wrote about the hike experience and they were all different and creative.

My favorite part of the day was when Anita had each of the kids write down one of their poems on their own piece of paper in order to create a Renga Cycle. This term was completely new to both the Reach students and my RCAH classmates. Basically, a Renga Cycle is a series of haiku poems that are arranged in a particular way. Once the kids wrote down their poems, they stood in a line holding them and we changed their places according to what we felt sounded the best.

I liked this exercise because it was a collaboration between the students. They haven’t been able to work on a project together this semester and I think it was good to hear and see these poems in succession.

Here are two of my haiku poems that obviously do not follow traditional structure:


purple, orange, red, white.

markings on the cement walls

reflecting in the water


branches swaying

the water below, rippling

crisp wind touches everything

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11-10-2009- Haiku Hike

I have never really explored poetry but I have to say I had a wonderful time on the two Haiku hikes led by poet Anita Skeen. As a class we went on a hike around campus and it was honestly the only time all day that I wasn’t thinking or stressing about assignments to work on or e-mails to write. Anita instructed us to write notes about our senses and experiences at three different areas along our hike. The haiku hike with the kids at Reach was structured the same way, but we were walking through the Lansing neighborhood close to the studio.

Here is Anita talking to the Reach students about what types of notes to take on the hike- smells, sounds, feeling, sights and any tastes experienced. She explained that the notes from the hike are the research necessary to produce their poems. Since many people focus on what they see with their eyes, I was curious to see how much the students incorporated all of their senses in their notes. I know I had a hard time describing what I was smelling during the first haiku hike around campus.

You can see my student Anna touching the grass and the leaves around her. Looking at her notes later, I noticed she wrote about feeling and smelling these elements of nature.  This is exactly what I wanted to see- the examination of aspects of our world that we regularly look over. The haiku hike was a great chance for everyone to focus on the environment around us with heightened senses. On any given day I will take in the visual beauty of nature when I’m walking or biking, but I can’t say that I focus on my experience of nature through all of my senses on a daily basis.

The playground by the river was a good place to take the kids on the hike. Some kids stayed on the playground and others walked around the trees or looked at the ducks in the river. I especially enjoyed staring up at the tall trees and their twisting branches. In the following picture you can notice markings made from high river levels on the bases of the trees. Since I grew up on a river in Illinois, I understand that these are stains from the tree being under water which have been created over time. What I find interesting is that this knowledge from my previous experiences have allowed me to notice this detail that most of the other hikers probably glanced over.

Like I said before, I really enjoyed myself on both of the Haiku Hikes and I think the kids enjoyed themselves too!


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Interesting Links

When I was browsing the internet, I found two interesting websites that I thought I’d share.


This link takes you to the Walker Art Center’s Art and Civic Engagement Map which was created by their Education and Community Programs Department. This section of the website with the descriptive map explain the Center’s Walker Town Square: Model of Experience that is a “philosophy of programming that incorporates the spirit of a town square”.

I highly recommend opening the link to the map. They have interesting descriptions of the particular roles of art, artists, and cultural programs that can create meaningful engagement experiences.  The map also displays their “Spectrum of Civic Engagement Activities” that developers should keep in mind when creating programs for visitors.

The Walker Art Center is located in Minneapolis, Minnesota.



This is the address to the Arts Engagement Exchange website. The AEE supports arts and cultural organizations in the Chicago area and works to increase the art audience. It seems like a great resource for groups that need ideas to expand their audience and continually improve their business. The exchange also offers workshops, lectures and other events that are helpful to these organizations.


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