Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Lesson: Mixed Media Bad Hair Day

As I began planning over the summer for this school year, I had a brand new class to prepare for... with a new curriculum!  Super exciting, and also a bit scary.  Mixed Media was a class that was combined with studio art last year; this year it has grown up to toddler status, standing on its own two feet.  I had so much student interest, that I had to turn kids away!  My plan was for this class to be a second level art course for students who didn't want to focus on drawing, but rather explore other media (as well).

As I started this year, my first project was to be a similar project to my Art 1 students:  The Bad Hair Day.  However, in this class, we would be exploring conceptual paths, as well as including different media.

Like with Art 1, I started out with a reading, but in this class, I did a large reading exercise.  Again, this was a great way to teach/review annotation, but also to get students into the meaning behind our project or hopefully in some way INSPIRE them.

 From there, I realized that I really needed to teach and/or review with my students how to use a variety of media.  The biggest challenge I had beginning this class was that my students didn't seem to be thinking outside the box.  They were sticking with the typical drawing and painting materials.  We then set up our sketchbooks using this Media Bank template.  We then spent several weeks exploring media.  This did not turn out how I was expecting.  It wasn't bad, but I've already decided to change this structure for next year's class.  Truly, this was a great way to start as a newbie to developing what this class looks like.  I could really see what talents my students brought to the table, and what I needed to focus on over the year, and how I may (will probably) change things for next year to make it even better of an experience for my students.  

Ok, enough of the tangents.  So here's how the lesson goes (went):

1.  Media Bank.  This is a set of media pages as you can see above.  Students first take notes, see examples, and then create little swatches to glue into their sketchbooks.  Next, they create larger media pages (9x12).  The idea of this is for the students to eventually have a bank of pages to choose from when creating.*  
*This is a great idea in theory.  However, the students rarely wanted to use these larger sheets because they ended up creating more specific pieces for their project.  For example, they may have created a watercolor spatter sheet using blues and greens.  When creating their portrait, they may have preferred to use reds and yellows in order to truly illustrate their personality.  So... I think only 2-3 students really used these sheets.  Next time I would stick to swatches only, and then they can explore more specifically later when creating the larger project.  

2. Exploring concept through reading, discussion, brainstorming.   

We began with a class activity.  We read the first page of the article packet together, discussed reading strategies and annotation, and then discussed answers to the questions being asked.  We also took a look at HOW the questions were being asked... how they were created.  Seems strange?  BUT!  Actually, this led into the larger reading activity to help stoke concept.  I broke students into 6 groups.  Each group received a different article about Hair, Bad Hair Day, Self Esteem related to Hair or how we look; each article had a different viewpoint.  In the groups, students created questions for each article.  The following day, I had the students mixed up again, and each student was to explain the article they read to their new group.  Then, discuss the questions created.  After all of this (you need a good 3-4 days really), we came back together as a class and discussed the articles, self perception, and ultimately, why we read these articles (to help think outside the box, to promote thinking before creating, to explore other ideas and options, to help us mentally prepare for the project- "I think we are going to create an artwork based on self perception?"  "I think we are going to create a Bad Hair Day?" "I think we are going to create an artwork based on other people's perceptions of us?")  
Next, students used their sketchbooks to create word webs discussing personal identity and perceptions.  They tagged visuals to these words, and then sketched several thumbnail sketches.*
*This seems like a lot, especially for a first big project, right?  I agree (especially in hindsight).  However, I did find that it was valuable to get students used to researching, brainstorming, reading, writing, and sketching.  I don't think they are really used to thinking on their own and exploring multiple options.  Much of the time they "see" one avenue, and then dive in.  This way, they were learning how to plan.  A painful, but necessary process (especially when you teach with a teeny tiny supplies budget.)  :)

3.  Creating. Students were to create a mixed media bad hair day portrait based on the criteria to the left.  (In a nutshell, they used their head/portrait with a gel medium transfer, and then redefined their hair to express who they are in the inside vs. outside(background) or how they are perceived).  They could use ANY materials they wanted, except they HAD to use a photo of themselves using a gel medium transfer process.  This was really my first time creating large scale gel media transfers.  I took photos of the students, then printed them out (on a laser printer- the ink jet will not work... or you can make photo copies of the images but our copier does not turn out quality reproductions.)  Before printing, I did adjust the contrast and changing to grayscale.  You can print them in color; I did not have great success.*  Then, students layer on the gel medium.  We used glossy, though I'm sure you can probably use any sheen.  Thank you to GOLDEN ACRYLICS for your very excellent thick gel medium.  The only thing I would note is that there seems to be a fine line between gooping too much on at one time, and not enough.  I personally also like the textures that can be created using the thick medium.  We also used Blick Medium, but it's very thin and just takes WAY more layers to be successful.  Anyway, it takes a lot of layers regardless... and students tend to become impatient.  That's why I had them trace the outline of their heads (sans hair) onto their actual piece so that they could continue to collage/paint/etc. while their face dries.  After several layers (and maybe a few days later), these portraits get soaked in a bucket of water, and you gently rub/peel away the paper.  The ink gets "stuck" to the gel medium, and whatever is white in the photo becomes transparent.  (This is why it was not AS successful in my opinion, because some of the dark skinned students' portraits just looked blocked up... maybe more contrast and lighting during the photo taking portion?? I don't know. See below)  Also, make sure to be gentle, because while wet, the gel medium easily stretches and can tear (holes), which can be frustrating for the students (and teacher who has to reprint their images).  What is also cool is that you can put anything UNDERNEATH the gel medium to show through in areas (like newspaper, or color paper, or...).  
*Something that continues to be a challenge that I consistently forget about is my student population.  98% of them are African-American and this presents a large challenge as their skin tones range drastically from very dark skinned to very light.  Often I find a perfect setting (for example, on this project) for one student, and then it does not turn out at ALL for another.  This takes a lot of time, and I really should try to remember this when I take photos of my kids.  When I make samples, I am using my VERY pasty white self, and this does not always transfer in technique with my students' photos.  Just FYI.  

Here are some of the results:

Displayed in the Chicago Public Schools ALL-CITY Art Competition.

Recognized as submission to CPS ALL-CITY Art Competition.

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