Art students begin their first units of inquiry

The elementary students are a few weeks into their art classes now, working on their first unit projects. Students are learning — little by little — about themselves as creators, about how to communicate, to take risks, to reflect on their work, and about how to be independent, responsible art students.

Kindergarten  –  In our first unit of inquiry, we’ve started by looking at the concept of Change and how personal journeys show the way that people change and can lead to new opportunities. These young artists have observed and discussed a variety of other artists’ self-portraits, have drawn their own self-portraits from observation, have experimented with a variety of materials as they developed their drawings, and explored different lines, shapes, and colors in creating 3-D crowns. At the same time, the students are becoming familiar with the elementary school art studio, learning what and where our materials and tools are, and practicing being responsible, cooperative classmates in storing their artwork properly and cleaning up their workspaces.

Grade 1  –  Families, family history, and the concept of Reflection are our focus at the moment, in our unit about Where We Are In Place And Time. The young students are practicing how to draw people realistically, both by observation — using mirrors — and with a step-by-step drawing process, from simple shapes and lines to more complex details. We will soon be reflecting on our own family histories. Later, each young artist will create a large family portrait as a way to communicate his or her unique family history.

Grade 2 – These young artists are focusing on the concept of Connection and how people can be enriched by their own cultures and the cultures they connect with throughout their lives, in this first unit about Where We Are In Place And Time. In art class, they have been practicing various modeling techniques with playdough in creating realistic human heads — using their hands and a variety of tools. Soon, the students will focus on a particular person in each of their lives, someone with whom each student celebrates a certain, significant cultural event. And the students will then create original sculptures of these people using clay and colored glazes.

Grade 3 – Three-dimensional sculpture and the concept of Reflection are the current focus for these students, along with the overarching notion that exploring and creating collaboratively helps individuals understand themselves and each other better. Thus far in this unit looking at Who We Are, these young artists made several practice sculptures, experimenting with different methods of manipulating paper. Now they are beginning to work collaboratively in small groups to create large sculptures, in a variety of media, which reveal something about themselves and their interests, individual strengths, and desires.

Grade 4 – The Grade 4 students are currently learning about organisms in this Sharing The Planet unit, focusing on the concept of Connection. In art class they are beginning to see how the natural world can be a rich source for imaginative artistic creation. We are looking at several artists who use nature as inspiration for imaginative, fantastical imagery. The students are now practicing drawing nature from observation and will soon attempt to transform these realistic sketches into imaginative pictures of whatever fantasies their minds create — all with a focus on the connections between the world outside us and the world we create inside our minds.

Grade 5 – In their homeroom classes, these students have been focusing on the idea of conflict, on how conflict affects lives, and on the concept of Perspective, in this first Sharing The Planet unit. In art class, we have been looking at, discussing, and practicing how to create self-portraits. The students are also learning that portraits can be either realistic or abstract, that faces need not look ‘perfect’ to represent someone or their feelings or personality. Soon the students will reflect on a situation of conflict in their own lives and attempt to communicate it through a self-portrait, and they will have elements in their portraits which are both realistic and abstract.

Grade 5’s journey into Aesthetics

The Grade 5 students spent nearly 2 months focusing on AESTHETICS and the central idea that aesthetic expression can be influenced by a culture’s history and values.

Looking at how traditions are related across genres and over time and at how local traditions are similar and different to one’s home culture, the students focused initially on Japan. Concepts such as “wabi-sabi” (beauty in imperfection, hidden & transient beauty) and “ma” (space, such as the space in between sounds) were focal points, as were various Japanese arts which students were able to explore and research according to their interests.

In art class, this How We Express Ourselves unit began and ended with each student defining the word “beauty” for him/herself. On that first day, the students were presented with a pile of trash and discarded stuff and challenged to “make something beautiful”. Here are the results:

In the intervening weeks, students engaged in a variety of activities, culminating in each student’s presentation of an original work of art or design:

  • Explored an interactive PowerPoint experience (“Japanese Arts & Aesthetic Exploration”) to pursue the traditional Japanese arts they wanted to learn more about: calligraphy, ceramics, flower arranging/ikebana, tea ceremony, architecture, dolls, paper folding/origami, painting, gardens, sculpture, printmaking/ukiyo-e.
  • Two engaging visits from the artists Shoichi & Colleen Sakurai, who (1) introduced the students to the concept of “wabi sabi” and kicked-off their Wabi Sabi Project — creating wearable art from found and discarded materials — and (2) returned to assist the students’ in creating their projects.
  • Experimentation with specific Media, Tools, and Processes in art class, to be used in the creation of their Wabi Sabi Art.

Photos of Shoichi & Colleen’s presentation…

…and the children working with Shoichi & Colleen (and their amazing power tools!)

The Aesthetics unit culminated with the children’s presentation of their own wabi-sabi projects. Projects created from random trash and discarded objects included: handbags, a rain-protective bike helmet, picture frames, hats, a dartboard, a dress, a Christmas ornament, a sun-powered lamp, a candlelit lamp, a game, a cooking apron, a baby’s toy, necklaces, an ornamental wall hanging, a ring/jewelry, and a lot more. As the students presented their creations to the audience, a partner read their self-reflection which described their process, their materials, and their inspiration.

Presentation photos (above) credit: Ed Lemery

This unit of study is a one on which nearly all the Grade 5 teachers (homeroom, arts, and Japanese) collaborated. It has been an enlightening and engaging experience for students and teachers alike. We’ll end with some of the students’ recent definitions of ‘beauty’:

  • “Beauty is the thing made by human that made with person’s feeling and time.”
  • “Beauty is something that is pleasing to the eye and makes you feel good.”
  • “Beauty is something that makes you love nature.”
  • “Beauty is something that expresses someone’s opinions through simplicity.”
  • “Beauty is a combination of shapes, lines, and colors which is aesthetically pleasing.”

Grade 4 graphic designers create campaign posters

The Grade 4 students have completed their campaign posters, from a collaborative unit which focused on the central idea that the media can influence thinking and behavior. The students worked in small groups to develop their own media campaign on a subject of their choosing. In art class, the students learned about Contrast, Unity, and Balance as principles of design, and they used these guidelines to help them create a visual display (e.g. a campaign poster) to communicate their goal for their campaign. The students made much progress in learning how to communicate visually using Contrast, Unity, and Balance to create a simple, clear message with text and images.

Have a look at the students at work:

This year our Grade 4 graphic designers relied on both traditional tools (pencil & paper) and contemporary tools (laptops & digital apps) to help them to create their posters. Student had the choice of using their own drawings, photos they took themselves, and/or photos found with Creative Commons or other appropriate search tools. Creating and combining text & imagery with Google Drawing, the students were able to work collaboratively to achieve varied levels of successful visual communication through good contrast, unity, balance, and interesting imagery.

Both the students’ rough draft designs and their final version were shared with their peers globally on the website Creatubbles, where students both at YIS and in other schools worldwide could view and comments on their graphic design work. Our Grade 4 students used some of the constructive feedback to help them improve their visual communication. See the students’ work in these two galleries (you’ll need to join Creatubbles first, but it’s easy and free to do so): Gr.4 Rough Draft Posters and Gr.4 Final Posters.

The students’ final posters have been printed in color and being exhibited in the stairwell display area in the K-1 building. Ultimately, the goals for the Grade 4 art students were for them to provide constructive criticism when responding to an artwork, to recognize that different audiences respond in different ways to artwork, and to show an awareness of the affective power of the visual arts.

Grade 3’s collaborative creativity & self-portrait sculptures

Photo © A. Reed 2015

Photo © A. Reed 2015

With a brief interruption to design and create props, scenery, and costumes for their Unit 3 plays, the Grade 3 students have finally finished their Unit 1 sculptures which — as the students now realize — spell out WHO WE ARE IN GRADE 3 when strung together, as seen above hanging in the windows. At the beginning of our unit, there was much discussion about what these letters would spell!

Photo © A. Reed 2015

Photo © A. Reed 2015


Photo © A. Reed 2015

Photo © A. Reed 2015

The central idea of this visual art unit is that collaboration can lead to learning, creativity, and an understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. At the outset of this inquiry, each team of two or three students practiced the various aspects of this sculpture’s process (ideating, drawing, painting, building, measuring) and then assessed their own strengths and weaknesses on each one. Students also reflected on their own interests, desires, and favorite activities and made notes in their sketchbooks accordingly for later use.

Photo © A. Reed 2015

Photo © A. Reed 2015

Over the course of the unit, the students taught and learned from one another and all contributed in different ways to the development of the unique projects. The collaborative aspects of the project — making decisions, solving problems, and working/teaching/learning together — was quite challenging for some, but most teams came to appreciate the advantage of a collaborative effort. And throughout the unit, the students also practiced learning to identify stages of their own and others’ creative process.

VIEW THE STUDENTS AT WORK — AND THEIR FINISHED ARTWORKS — HERE:

Teams were assigned a letter of the alphabet to construct in three dimensions (using paper, rulers, scissors, tape, and papier-mâché). Each team then was challenged to transform the 3-D letter into an imaginative, sculptural self-portrait by showing their interests and personalities in, on, and around the sculpture (via drawing, painting, sculpting or collaging). Grade 3’s three-dimensional letters are now exhibited together (in the windows of the upstairs K-1 building hallway), visual, three-dimensional representations of the images, ideas, thoughts, fantasies, and passions particular to these 3rd grade students.

Photo © A. Reed 2015

Photo © A. Reed 2015

Come view the finished artwork both from the vantage point of the basketball court, looking up to the 2nd floor display, and from a much closer viewpoint upstairs in the hallway where the sculptures hang — where you can also read each student’s written reflection about their work (about how “the sculpture is a reflection of me” and why “collaboration is important”).

Photo © A. Reed 2015

Photo © A. Reed 2015

Grade 4 graphic designers create campaign posters

The 4th graders have completed their campaign posters, from a collaborative unit which focused on the central idea that the media can influence thinking and behavior. The students worked in small groups to develop their own media campaign on a subject of their choosing. In art class, the students learned about Contrast, Unity, and Balance as principles of design, and they used these guidelines to help them create a visual display (e.g. a campaign poster) to communicate their goal for their campaign. The students made much progress in learning how to communicate visually using Contrast, Unity, and Balance to create a simple, clear message with text and images.

Have a look at the students at work:

Students did not rely on digital tools to help them to create their final posters. Instead the boys & girls made their posters in a more “traditional” manner: by hand, using pencils, rulers, paper, colored pencils, and/or markers. Both the students’ rough draft designs and their final version were shared with their peers globally on the website Creatubbles, where students both at YIS and in other schools worldwide could view and comments on their graphic design work. Our Grade 4 students used some of the constructive feedback to help them improve their visual communication. See the students’ work in the Grade 4 Art+Media Gallery (you’ll need to join Creatubbles first, but it’s easy and free to do so).

You may also view the results here — the campaign posters created by these young graphic designers:

Ultimately, the goals for the Grade 4 art students were for them to provide constructive criticism when responding to an artwork, to recognize that different audiences respond in different ways to artwork, and to show an awareness of the affective power of the visual arts.

Grade 5’s journey into Aesthetics

The Grade 5 students spent nearly 2 months focusing on AESTHETICS and the central idea that aesthetic expression can be influenced by a culture’s history and values.

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Looking at how traditions are related across genres and over time and at how local traditions are similar and different to one’s home culture, the students focused initially on Japan. Concepts such as “wabi-sabi” (beauty in imperfection, hidden beauty) and “ma” (space, such as the space in between sounds) were focal points, as were various Japanese arts which students were able to explore and research according to their interests.

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

In art class, the unit began and ended with each student defining the word “beauty” for him/herself. In the intervening weeks, students engaged in a variety of activities:

  • Two engaging visits from the artists Shoichi & Colleen Sakurai, who (1) introduced the students to the concept of “wabi sabi” and kicked-off their Wabi Sabi Project — creating wearable art from found and discarded materials — and (2) returned to witness the students’ Wabi Sabi Fashion Show several weeks later.
  • Experimented with specific Media, Tools, and Processes in art class, to be used in the creation of their Wabi Sabi Art.
  • Explored an interactive PowerPoint experience (“Japanese Arts & Aesthetic Exploration”) to pursue the traditional Japanese arts they wanted to learn more about: calligraphy, ceramics, flower arranging/ikebana, tea ceremony, architecture, dolls, paper folding/origami, painting, gardens, sculpture, printmaking/ukiyo-e.
  • An Art+Music collaboration: students connected the experience of listening to music (various woodwinds, Japanese/non-Japanese) to the act of visual creation (painting, sculpture). The art was created in art class, then discussed and critiqued in music class with their koto teacher (see more about the Japanese koto here).
  • A visit from some Grade 9 art students, who presented their own research and learning about ‘aesthetics’, ‘wabi-sabi’, Shoichi Sakurai, and Japanese arts. These students also presented their art research workbooks so as to display their working process to the Grade 5 students.
  • The creation of ceramic vessels: after exploring some Japanese “living national treasures” (see this online resource for traditional clay artwork), the students created their own clay vessels based on the various forms and designs/colors found in these traditional Japanese ceramics. The idea was for the students to become part of a historical tradition, using an ancient, natural, local material — clay — to create a basic object which has a long tradition in Japan (ceramic vessels, like teacups, bowls, vases).
  • And all-day visit to Sankeien Gardens field trip, as the culminating event of the unit. This visit included a presentation and exhibition by the photographer Everett Kennedy Brown, the opportunity to use photography to capture elements of beauty through the eyes and lens of the students, and the creation of a haiku poem using the surrounding environment as an influence.
Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

This arts-driven unit of study was a new unit on which nearly all the Grade 5 teachers (homeroom, arts, and Japanese) collaborated. It has been a very enlightening and engaging experience for students and teachers alike. With both students and teachers having provided one another with constructive feedback, we look forward to developing the unit in more depth next year.

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Image licensed under a CC Attr-NonComm-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License by Aaron Reed

Grade 3’s collaborative creativity & sculptures

After completing their Explorer Unit play productions earlier in the year the Grade 3 students at long last returned to their group “self-portrait” sculpture projects.

The central idea of this unit is that collaboration can lead to new learning, unforeseen creativity, and better understanding of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. At the outset of this project, each team of three students had to practice the various aspects of this sculpture’s process — ideating, drawing, painting, building, measuring — and then divide up the tasks according to each’s strengths.  Over time, the students have learned from one another and, for the most part, have all contributed in many ways to the development of their projects.

Their challenge has been to transform their letters into objects which display their imagination and represent their interests and personalities.  In the end, Grade 3’s three-dimensional letters have been combined — and all hung from the ceiling in the upstairs K-1 building hallway — to create a phrase focused on the central idea of their first unit (WHO WE ARE IN GRADE 3) and to be visually reflective of those images, ideas, thoughts, fantasies, and passions particular to these 3rd graders. Throughout the unit, the students have learned to identify stages of their own and others’ creative process.

Come view the finished artwork both from the vantage point of the basketball court, looking up to the 2nd floor of the K-1 building, and from a much closer viewpoint upstairs in the hallway where the sculptures hang.

Grade 3 plans, constructs, and creates a performance

Grade 3 students (and their teachers) have been collaborating intensively for several weeks with a focus on the central idea that performance engages an audience and invites a response.

Having brainstormed ideas for their drama performances — by pondering the questions: “What do you need to plan a performance?” and “Visually, what best communicates your story to the audience?” — the students worked in small groups and as a whole class to discuss, plan, and build the primary props, set pieces, and backdrop imagery for their plays. The ideas and the execution of their plans were theirs alone, as they took complete responsibility for their artwork and their performances, as well as for planning how to get their materials to the auditorium for the day of the play.

Two plays — one by 3L and another by 3M — were presented in December before the Winter Break, to great acclaim and applause. Congratulations, Grade 3 artists and designers, on your excellent collaborative work, on your risk-taking in creating objects you had never made before, and on your reflective and open-minded approach to your planning and your construction!

4th Graders complete & present their Ainu creations

After much preparation, planning, and hard work — in all their classes — the fourth graders finally completed their study of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan. In art class, the culmination of their efforts was the completion of their Ainu-inspired garments: large fabrics displaying abstract, symmetrical designs and patterns, using motifs based on some of those used by the Ainu in their traditional clothing and others created individually by the students themselves. Though some of the designs resemble thorns and swirls (“ayus” and “morew” in Ainu) like in a plant or vine, the students learned that the images are not representational and do not symbolize anything or have a particular message. Rather, they were interested to learn that the placement of the patterns they created (near the openings of their clothes) is intended to keep evil gods or spirits from gaining access to the Ainu’s bodies.

The students worked hard in practicing, planning, and developing their projects, beginning with sketching and drawing in their sketchbooks. Some patterns were created from colored cloth (which they traced, cut, and glued); others were drawn and colored with pastels and/or fabric paint. Some students used rulers in order to achieve perfect symmetry. Once completed, the students displayed their garments to their parents and classmates during their performance and sharing in the auditorium.

A short video clip of one of the Ainu dances, in which their garments were worn:

Young Artists Group ESA propose a new mural for Y.I.S.

After finishing their first mural (check it out here), the ten young artists who participate in the Young Artists Group ESA began preparing for their next visual adventure, another effort to increase the on-campus art here at YIS.  The chosen space is the wall at the bottom of the outdoor stairway leading from the ES level up to the main building and library.

It should be noted that there has been an existing mural on the wall which was made some years back by YIS students (a number of whom are still here at school!). The existing artwork had some simple colors — early green and brown with a light blue sky above — painted on the concrete wall, as well as many colorful ceramic sculptures adhered to the wall to evoke a landscape.

The young artists decided to incorporate these clay sculptures into their new landscape idea, and so the ceramic pieces have been left intact. But what was needed was to start fresh with a so-called clean slate (or at least, a white concrete wall). And so part of our Session 3 ESA time was spend painting the wall with a permanent white paint, being careful not to cover the existing sculptures. The other part of our ESA time together was spent addressing the big challenge before us: What new image will we paint on the wall?

Realizing that the wall is part of our entire school and is for the enjoyment of the entire school community (students, teachers, parents, staff, and our visitors) the young artists had many discussions about what would be appropriate to represent. We focused the mural as a landscape with Japan as a theme, including incorporating a traditional Japanese pattern, and then — after much brainstorming and back and forth — finally voted for the five most important ideas to represent in the mural: Mt. Fuji, sakura, shinkansen, ocean waves, and cats & kittens.

The artists split themselves into two groups, and each produced a proposed illustration of what the mural might look like. Each group then created their own presentation, rehearsed it, and filmed it. The presentations and illustrations have been submitted to our director, Mr. MacDonald, along with all the principals and head administrators, and we are now awaiting their feedback.

You will have to wait until next year to see the outcome and watch the mural develop. In the meantime, above are some pictures of the young artists at work along with each group’s proposed illustration and their video presentations (see above).