Friday, July 12, 2013

LESSON: Claymation: Part 2 (The Alph-Morph)

Phew!  Now that I got out all that prep in a previous post, I can briefly provide you with the actual process of the Alpha-Morph Claymation that I did with my Mixed Media Class.  

Planning:  First, I tore up the alphabet into pieces and had students pick out of a bowl.  I allowed students to SWAP letters, but not to pick their own.  I wanted to make sure each letter was accounted for.*  Next, students brainstormed as many objects/animals they could think of that started with the given letter.  I then gave students a storyboard to show their thoughts on morphing the letter into the object/animal.  I pointed out that MY "L is for Lightbulb" example was 64 shots!

*Since I had 35 in the class, I tried to double up letters to students for those who might not finish their letter or who might be absent so that I could make sure all letters were created no matter what.  By the end, I found that some letters were still missing and others were doubled up on.  Oh well, can't win them all.  

Demonstration:  After approving the storyboards and discussing other options, or having
I added the same squares to the back to make 30 total;
students ended up grabbing 2 or 3 copies.
those moments of "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if...," or "Awesome!  You could also try...", I then demo'ed using the clay since we were not using Sculpey.  Instead, I purchased Crayola's Model Magic.  I'm kinda' iffy on this.  It's got really bright colors and it's easy to sculpt.  Everything looks super cartoony, which for this project, I found to be just fine.  The bin comes with primary colors and white, and you can smoosh the colors together to make secondary, tertiary, or tints and shades, which is actually pretty cool.  I found that most students just used the clay straight up and didn't mix much.  But still a cool option. Also, the clay has such a strange texture- light and spongey.  It air dries, but does not get hard; it just becomes a permanent soft sculpture.  The downside of this is that you really have to wrap the clay EXTRA well in plastic wrap after each use or it will not be useable the next day at all.  You can also smooth the clay, but that can also be a little tricky, and you certainly cannot get any small details with it.  

Creating:  I gave my students a little rectangle template that they were supposed to use when taking photos.  Basically, they were not supposed to go outside of the border when creating their claymations, but WERE supposed to zoom back with their cameras so that I had a bounding box to crop to later when editing their photos.  (Notice that I say "supposed to"...)  Also note that students needs a quick camera lesson to keep their cameras at a consistent angle and to not block light causing shadows all over their work.  What was great was that most of our kids have camera phones, so it is a great use of current technology in the classroom.  The downside of this is that not all phones can connect properly to upload the photos to my computer (or did not have SIM cards).  Some students had to send photos via email, and that got crazy when I started receiving hundreds of emails with 2-3 photos each.  

One of the exciting things about this is that the claymation/picture taking process actually goes surprisingly fast (I thought it would take FOR-E-VER!) and the students are incredibly focused while creating.  Also, many students surprised me with how creative they were when adding little extras into their work to show their personality.  

The End:  Once I had all the students' photos, I cropped them all to the box using iPhoto, since that is where all the photos get uploaded to, and it's much easier and quicker to crop and do small adjustments using iPhoto than opening each photo into Photoshop.  For any big fixes, I adjusted in Photoshop.  Then, I relabeled each photo as a letter and number (octopus:  o1, o2, o3, etc.), and organized per folder so that when I imported them into iMovie, they would stay in the correct order.  Once in iMovie, I created a new project, made sure each photo had Crop to Fit (not Ken Burns), and changed the speed of each to .01 second (except for the beginning and last photo of each letter- I had those on for 1 full second).  Added transitions and music and WHALA!  

Time consuming for the teacher:  I tried to get a student to do all the photoshop photo editing (cropping, straightening, levels/exposure, clone to erase the bounding box that still showed up in some students' pieces), and then also to put everything into iMovie.  That would have been amazing.  However, because it was the end of the year, and the school schedule was a bit wonky from the strike, the student who was going to do that became very busy with senior-itis and other more exciting graduation activities.  

Here is the finished product!  ENJOY!

LESSON: Claymation Alpha Morph (Part 1: Preparation)

Many of us grew up with the classic claymation stories like Rudolph or Suzy Snowflake.  I had never actually MADE a claymation before, though!  In this project, I had students choose a letter to morph into an animal or object.  Here's how it went:

PRE-PROJECT: TINY TOTEMS:  To get my kids used to handling clay, I had them read
about Native American Totem Spirits, and then draw thumbnail sketches of their own Totem Animal.  Then, they used Sculpey* to additively sculpt a tiny 3D animal that would be no larger than their fist (i.e. fit in their hands).  I baked them, and they painted them.  
*If you are not familiar with Sculpey, it's pretty awesome.  I really want to do ceramics with my kids (maybe down the line), but we do not have a kiln to fire their work.  Sculpey is a great substitute for smaller projects, and there are a ton of different types of Sculpey for various needs.  I most often use Original Sculpey because you just bake it in the oven (or toaster oven) for 15 minutes, it hardens, and you can paint it (acrylic paints).  

  • Students working SMALL.  
  • The Sculpey that I had purchased (white, original Sculpey) was really TOO pliable.  I am used to working with Sculpey that is so stiff it takes some time to knead it to be pliable.  I was going to call Sculpey, but then did a little research and they actually address that question in their FAQ section (thank you Sculpey!).  Here's the answer and solution to that:
  • Getting students to think abstractly.  No surprise there... it is certainly a tough balance of taking more time to instruct this, and trying to just push through so that they learn the sculpting techniques (which is more the reason for doing this mini project) so that we can move on to the larger project.  
  • Making sure that students didn't forget to address connection sites on the mini sculptures ("Okay, but see here?  When I bake this, the arms will fall off.")
  • Having to take home sculptures from the stragglers.  In other words, if all students do not finish at the same rate (or by the said deadline), you will have to keep bringing home little guys to bake.  This is not that big of a deal since it only takes 15 minutes, but just more annoying than one might appreciate.  This would not be a problem if you had a toaster oven brought to school, or your school had a kitchen/oven available to use. 
WHAT??  How could I have forgotten to take photos of these awesome tiny sculptures?  I know... I suck.  When I get back to school, I will take photos of the leftover sculptures and add them here.  

INTRO TO CLAYMATION:  To start off this part of the project, I showed several videos of claymation.  I had just learned this really great process called Lesson Study during my previous ILT (Instructional Learning Team) in which you are supposed to use this protocol to observe your colleagues teach a lesson that you all plan together (the idea being that you then rework the lesson together based on observations of how the students react and learn during the lesson).  I thought it was a perfect protocol to use when discussing work with my students.  It's very similar to a critique process, but elaborated a little more (or more specific to learning a lesson).  In our sketchbooks, I had the students divide the page into two columns.  Left hand column is labeled as "Obervations;" right hand column is labeled as "Insights, thoughts, AH HA's!"  
As we watched each video (sometimes twice), students watched and wrote down observations WITHOUT opinions.  We had practiced this several times with our "Looking at Art" Protocol, so these students were pretty good at separating observations from opinions.   Then, I gave them time after the video to write down any opinions, thoughts, insights or Ah Ha! moments about what they saw.  
First of all, this is a great exercise in training art students to really LOOK at the artwork in a way that collects evidence for their opinions.  It also turned out so insightful to ME because my students noticed things about the video that I hadn't, or had very interesting thoughts on the videos.  Lastly, I will DEFINITELY do this again because I noticed that when starting the claymation project, the students basically taught themselves on what the project expectations should be, and what to look for while creating.  (I should have, and in the future will, have students then create the project expectations WITH me... therefore completely giving them the opportunity to invest).  

Here are the videos I showed:

A great little flip book animation series.  Students really loved how simple but still so very successful these are.  Also, they pointed out how there were surprisingly quirky tidbits that made the animation just a little more interesting.

Then, I showed a clip of Shaun the Sheep.  Apparently this is no longer available on YouTube, but you can google Shaun the Sheep and maybe get a little short clip to show.

Next, I showed The Making of Shaun the Sheep.  This is great because it gives students a glimpse of how intense the work is that goes into making a 20 minute claymation.  They also observed different aspects that make it interesting like textures, scenery, props, etc. that may or may not be made out of clay.  

Next, I showed student work (elementary and high school).  We looked at how even though some of the work might be "rough", it was still successful.  We also looked at how the figures moved and/or morphed.

In these examples, we specifically paid attention to morphing and transitions:

Then, we took a look at MY example, in which I made a time lapse of the process (showing how I work from planning/sketching, to creating, to troubleshooting/problem solving as I work).

And the product:

And then put together to make a mock movie with music and effects:

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.