Welcome

Santina Protopapa PAA Founder and Executive DirectorWelcome to our blog that features stories and musings from the people who do the real heavy lifting at PAA … our Artist-Educators.

We hope you enjoy learning  about the work our professional artists provide in our partner schools and community spaces where our programs happen.

Please share posts you especially enjoy!

-Santina

Santina Protopapa
PAA Founder and Executive Director

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Moving Connections: My Work at Michael R. White

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Last Fall I worked with Michael R. White elementary school for the first time. I was also working with a new and condensed schedule. I had to explore the standards and create movement in five sessions instead of ten. As a dance educator when I begin a residency, I often have some explaining to do. The teachers only had experience with our visual artists, and they wondered how we could make a dance about science. There was a curiosity about getting students to dance and make up their own movement. The reactions ranged from “Ok, sounds fine”, to “This is exciting.”

The first grade danced about the habitats of elephants. Working with young children can sometimes be like herding cats, but it gets easier once you get to know your dancers. I use modern technique and creative movement games and try to relate them as closely to their studies as possible.

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For example, I used swinging motion to connect with the movement of an elephant’s trunk. Usually it’s hard to tell if they’re getting the idea until the residency is over. However, they seemed to get it right away. I loved their observations.  When I asked the class what their favorite movement was, one boy told me that he liked the swinging motion because when you do it slowly, it feels like an elephant’s trunk. I couldn’t stop smiling. This particular boy doesn’t answer many questions in the classroom, and is often out of his seat. I think dancing helped calm his mind. That’s the kind of success I look for.

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The third grade was a bit harder to reach, and I had difficulty reading them at first. They learned about improvisation. They did their best work in small groups exchanging ideas and creating original combinations of movements. It was encouraging to discover that like my little first grader, there were a couple of boys who were reacting in more positive ways in dance class than the teachers had previously seen in their normal classroom behavior.

The kindergarten class was adorable. When we began, they couldn’t stand in lines or tell me their standard. They danced about the seasons. By the fifth class, the majority knew their seasons and remembered where they were supposed to stand. More importantly, the classroom teacher felt dancing was a good and memorable experience for them.

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My final class was the second grade. They danced about force and motion. We made a human train with some costume pieces that looked like wheels. The students had to tell me what makes a train move and then imagine the motor moving them. We also worked on push and pull through simple partnering. The teacher shared refocusing techniques that helped keep students on task. They did a great job with their dance and were so proud when they had their showing.

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My favorite moments of these residencies were the interactions that sparked a connection. The students loved when the teachers joined us in the circle to warm up and play our improvisation games. Students choreographing got so excited that they wanted to teach the class their own moves. Positive classroom experiences are the foundation to creating a passion for learning.

 

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Revisiting the Illustrative Sculpture: The Water Cycle

img_7496 Doing this project with Mound 2nd grade was an incredibly unique experience this past semester. The grade was split up into boys and girls; the girls worked on a modern dance routine with PAA artist Amy Notley, while I worked with the boys to create illustrative sculptures that showcased the water cycle. I have made these sculptures with previous classes, and each time I find that I am able to slightly hone the project to fit each individual class.img_7438

For this specific group, we focused on medium and material exploration. The students used watercolor as their primary medium, adding elements such as tissue paper, salt, and oil pastel to their watercolor illustrations. The first session was spent creating paintings that illustrated different parts of the water cycle on paper, to familiarize themselves with the mediums. They would later use these mediums on small rectangular wooden pieces, that would fit into their sculpture to show the four parts of the water cycle. As a class, we wrote a story to go with our illustrations. What is condensation? What symbols could we use to show this? What is a symbol? These questions were discussed, and different symbols for precipitation, condensation, evaporation, and accumulation were discussed and drawn out as a class.

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For me as the instructor, the most exciting part of this particular residency was putting together the wooden pieces that would be our sculptures with the class. The students loved learning about and using all of the hardware such as bolts and screws; their favorite part was using the sandpaper, to help all of their pieces successfully fit together. Some of the pieces were better cut by the laser cutter than others, which made the sandpaper necessary. Students were helping each other sand their rectangles and fit them together, through a trial and error process. This required them to work together, help each other, and sand the pieces just right so that their sculptures worked correctly. This is the STEM process in its essence, working with the elements of art to create interactive, illustrative sculptures. As a result of this work and participation, almost every student had a complete project finished by the end of the residency. Each sculpture illustrated by the students, using the various mediums to create a dynamic and educational viewing experience. The boys were able to communicate their ideas successfully, both individually and as a class.

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Focus on Material and Medium: Stop Motion Animations

I have done many residencies exploring stop motion animation, and this past semester I decided to bring the focus back to the materials more than ever. Michael R. White 5th and 6th grades both made stop motion animations reflecting different subject matters. The 5th grade focused on the earth’s movement around the sun, while the 6th grade explored principles of rocks and minerals. The different subjects heavily influenced choices of material. 6th graders primarily used rocks and jewell pieces to make patterns, whereas 5th grade focused much more on clay, paper, and foam to create their universes.

The magic students can create with stop motion can be seen in their videos below. The first day of filming is always the most exciting, as viewing and creating these animations is a very different experience. One group of 6th graders became so engrossed in the filming process that they ended up making several videos, featuring their own clay characters, in addition to their rocks and minerals film. Taking pictures to create a video allowed the students to experience movement differently than a traditional filming process.

As the 6th grade was a bit more advanced with their projects, I introduced a different form of animation to the class: Scratch animation, through the offline editor. I was very curious as to which form of creating the class preferred, stop motion(which requires teamwork and creating with your hands) versus Scratch(which is more of a solo experience animating on the computer). Most students preferred the stop motion format, and this will be my primary focus in the future for this age group.

As stop motion does allow students to work together and make creative decisions both individually and as a team, it allows students who usually don’t have to confidence in their artistic skills to showcase them. Watch the videos below, and I’m sure you will be floored by some of the simple material and editing decisions made by these creative artists.

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Illuminated Artist Books: Robots

After laying down seemingly miles of copper tape–practicing complicated bends and turns–the fourth graders at Hannah Gibbons were ready to see if their skills could be applied to complete circuits and illuminate tiny LED lights. They masterfully wired a simple circuit, and celebrated 100% success as a class on their first try, each of them rewarded with the soft glow of a single LED light. Eager to master multiple lights, they dove into their parallel circuits with equal success and much enthusiasm.

Robot creative writing template and parallel circuit planning sheet.

Robot creative writing template and parallel circuit planning sheet.

Next up, we’d really investigate the line as well as our understanding of circuits. [Remember our Essential Questions regarding the line in this semester’s artist book residencies incorporating circuits and LED lights] Students each created a unique drawing of a robot that they invented through a creative writing exercise. With their completed drawings, students identified several areas where lights could enhance their robot illustrations; think eyes, antennas, hearts, and laser hands. The robot drawings were completed on the outside surface of a folded lift-the-flap structure to allow for the creation of parallel circuits beneath the illustrations.

Planning light placement with a student on her robot illustration.

Planning light placement with a student on her robot illustration.

Students plotted out the placement of their lights, and got to work designing and creating their custom parallel circuits. This was a huge challenge, and as a result offered the greatest reward. After weeks of practice, students adapted and translated their understanding of circuits into a line drawing of positive and negative parallel but never touching tracks looping back to the power source to illuminate the lights beneath their illustrations. There was an excitement of challenge, mixed with a little head-scratching, many super tight turns with copper tape, and a few frustrated re-starts.

Student reflects on his completed robot illustration.

Student reflects on his completed robot illustration.

Completed robot fox illustration ready for parallel circuit planning below.

Completed robot fox illustration ready for parallel circuit planning below.

And then, it was absolute magic. Every student mastered a unique parallel circuit for their book spread, and then folded down their robot drawing to lay flat over the lights. “Oooh”s and “Aaah”s sounded out in a cacophony as students celebrated in both amazement and disbelief of how their robots lit up exactly where they had hoped; their smiles as bright as their lights!

See the students in action in their classroom by watching the YouTube video below:

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Illuminated Artist Books: Plugged In

With the 4th graders at Mound Elementary School, we started off our illuminated artist book residency with discussions and experiments focusing on our understanding of the line. We laid down inches and miles of copper tape for our material practice worksheets, then we moved on to create a simple and a parallel circuit. We discussed the importance of continuous lines and loops, and connectivity.

Brainstorming Illustrations

Discussing parallel circuits with students.

We discussed and expounded upon our essential questions that are navigating our Illuminated Artist Book Circuit investigations:

What is a line?

How can we use the line to both draw and illuminate our drawing?

Charged with all of this conversation about line, coupled with a good foundation of craft, as well as increased electrical understanding, we shifted our focus to discussions of technology for this residency. Specifically, to the lines of wires, cords, and plugs. We discussed the shifting ground of technology, and questioned what is now wireless, what still plugs in, and how we still have wires and chargers that plug in to recharge? Investigating the electronics of our every day experiences, each student determined an object that requires electricity to operate at some capacity for their individual contribution to the collaborative book.

Class Discussion

Class discussion of electronics.

We decided to title the book “Plugged In” employing a pun about being in touch and engaged with the current time, while taking all of our electric illustrations a note back in time by plugging them all in with lines that tethered ankle of our illustrations together. We were inspired by the illustrative style of the picture book Follow the Line.

While students brainstormed their individual electronic illustration ideas, we spent an afternoon honing our line drawing approaches and our understanding of connected drawings by creating some fabulously funny exquisite corps drawings. Exquisite Corpse is a drawing technique first employed by the Surrealists; see some examples right here.

We created class lists of our individual electronic items, making sure we had no repeats, and students got to work with their lines creating their plugged in drawings, and making them connect to the page prior and the page following.

Student Illustration

Student with completed illustration.

Next, students determined where they would place lights, and what color they desired for the lights in the various locations. Students made notes, and then transferred down the placement of their lights beneath their illustrations.

Circuit Light Planning

Student with LED light planning stencil.

Copper Tape Circuit

Student laying down copper tape for his parallel circuit.

Mapping out their unique parallel circuits to accommodate their plans was the biggest challenge in this residency, so their success there also reaped the biggest reward in earning their determined sense of accomplishment.

Students Working Together

Students working together on copper tape techniques for their parallel circuits.

For me, however, nothing beats the moment — that flicker of the quickest second in time — when student faces light up with sheer amazement in the success of their unique parallel circuits working!

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First excited moment of circuit illumination!

Then, as they fold down their illustration over top, and seemingly magically those brightly colored lights illuminate their illustrations.

Student with illuminated illustration

Student with illuminated illustration 2

Students with illuminated illustrations

Student with illuminated illustration 3

Those smiles? They are absolutely priceless, and positively beaming with the pride of their achievement.

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Illuminated Artist Books: Created Constellations

During my illuminated book residency at Paul L. Dunbar Arts Enrichment Academy, 4th graders were interested in the stories of the sky. Together, we looked at several constellations, the legends behind them, and the various ways in which they are mapped and drawn. Students created their own star stories, and then designed constellations to illustrate their creative writing. After much practice with copper tape techniques, and wiring successful simple and parallel circuits, students were ready to dive into their own illuminated constellations for the collaborative class book.

Playing again with line, we returned to our essential questions that are navigating our Illuminated Artist Book Circuit investigations:

What is a line?

How can we use the line to both draw and illuminate our drawing?

We took our inquiry of line discussions in the direction of connecting-the-dots. We discussed the constellation schematic drawings that chart out our star-filled skies with points and lines. The congruency to connecting our LED lights beneath our constellation illustrations was perfectly paired to these discussions, as our parallel circuits became quite constellation-like themselves.

Circuit Planning

Circuit planning with students.

Though several of the circuits took on a similar path as the overlaid illustrations, many circuits took an entirely different connection route as students worked out the logistics of space and connection for their parallel tracks of copper tape.

Constellation Book

Student showcasing the cover to the collaborative constellation book.

Students drew their constellation illustrations with gold pens on navy blue cardstock. They indicated the major stars of their constellations with punched holes backed with yellow translucent vellum which provided a tiny window for the lights to glow through from beneath.

Constellation Circuits

Students illuminating their parallel circuits under their constellation illustrations.

After the light locations were determined, students designed and wired custom parallel circuits to compliment their constellations and illuminate three or four LED lights, indicating their major stars, beneath their illustrations. With a little trial-and-error, several tricky turns, and and a handful of tight corners with the copper tape, all of the constellations were alit.

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Student Constellation Drawings.

Student Constellations Illuminated

Students with their illuminated constellation illustrations.

As students folded their constellation drawings over their illuminated circuits, excitement and amazement dotted the room like stars crowded in the night sky.

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Animals in their Habitats: Decoupage Dioramas

The second graders at Paul Dunbar School are learning about animals and the specific habitats that they live in as part of their science curriculum. For our Progressive Arts Alliance residency partnership, we decided to construct these habitats using decoupage in three-dimensional dioramas. Each student independently selected an animal, and conducted several pages of research determining the various needs and interesting features of their animals. Compiling their research, students  then sketched out full-color plans for their three-dimensional decoupage dioramas where they could bring to life their animal in its habitat.

We discussed the three-dimensional opportunities that dioramas afforded, and determined which aspects of our plans would be in the background, middle ground, and foreground. We also determined that our animals should be the primary figures within the space.

Some landscapes were wide open skies with grass, others were the thick of a jungle, or a wooded environment, several were underwater, a couple were ice and snow covered regions, and one was deep into a dark cave. Students selected the respective colors for their determined habitats and got to work tearing and layering down their background first, their middle ground next, and lastly their foreground.

While the interior surfaces of their dioramas dried, students began drawing their various and specific landscape features, including: tress, vines, rocks, caves, nests, coral, floating ice, and rivers, onto cardstock that would be inserted into their space. They also drew and decoupaged their animals.

Students with Dioramas

Students with their Habitat Dioramas: Bat and Giraffe.

All of the various animal and landscape elements were constructed with folded tabs, so students could make spatial determinations for where all of the figures would layer into the space, moving them around like game pieces until they determined their final layout. We discussed activating both the middle and foreground to keep the primary focus of the dioramas on their animals.

Animal Diorama Fox and Whale

Student Habitat Dioramas: Arctic Fox and Whale.

After all this researching, and planning, and pasting — this is when the magic happened at last! Suddenly students brought their brightly colored boxes to life, completely transforming and filling them with detail. Inspired by the full-spread habitat photographs within their research books, students excitedly pored over and created all the details of  their specific animal environments.

Animal Diorama Dolphin and Bear

Student Habitat Dioramas: Dolphin and Bear

Tabbed orange coral stood tall upon the ocean floor in the foreground of the diorama that featured a long gray dolphin gliding underwater. Turtles crawled through the sand of a shore, leaving a nest that contained eggs still waiting to hatch. A spotted and stretched-tall giraffe mingled in its savannah landscape dotted with a few trees.

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Presidential Campaign Ads Supersized!

Muggin' for the camera during a voiceover.

Muggin’ for the camera during a voiceover!

Forget Cruz and Clinton, the 8th graders at Hannah Gibbons STEM were creating commercials for today’s trumped up rivals, Batman v. Superman! After weeks of instruction in English/language arts and social studies and defining and debating what makes a true hero in our lives and communities, I sat down with one of my favorite partner teachers, Leora Rhodes, to plan a video production residency. It suddenly became clear in the midst of the this crazy political season that the Dark Knight and Man of Steal needed to be reevaluated not as super heroes but as national leaders.

Students would be charged with creating commercials for a mock presidential election to be held in May. The students asked thoughtful questions: “Superman wasn’t born here. Don’t you have to be a U.S. citizen?” “Does Batman have too many demons to be a good leader?” Character became a leading factor in determining which man was better for the job. Three groups created a :30 or :60 commercial for Superman; and three groups were in the Batman camp. Of the three groups, one created a commercial for the lower grades, one for the upper grades and the third a “negative” ad against their opponent.

Like politics, video production is a team sport. Working in groups can be hard for junior high students. They get easily distracted and would rather talk about each other than the work at hand (sound familiar?!) but they thought hard about promoting their caped-candidate in a mere minute or half-minute.

It’s always so gratifying to hear their ideas and watch them use professional equipment to execute them. In the short time I work with them, I am always amazed at how they direct each other on camera, dive into editing software, and pick appropriate text and music to persuade their audience. I’m hoping this project will make them feel more empowered during an election season gone awry. If only there were more real heroes vying for the White House. At least the students of Hannah Gibbons will get to cast their vote.

Check out one of the Vote for Superman ads below:

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As a Matter of State: Solid, Liquid and Gas Decoupage Dioramas

During my recent residency at Paul L. Dunbar Arts Academy, 2nd and 3rd grade scholars engaged in  many conversations and much investigation into matter’s various states. After their investigations, scholars decided to build three-dimensional decoupaged dioramas to demonstrate their understanding. The class was divided into three groups: solid, liquid, and gas. Students brainstormed ideas within their categories and then ultimately selected their favorite liquid, solid, or gas to create a three-dimensional diorama. Some ideas were difficult to categorize, resulting in robust classroom discussion. For instance, oatmeal. Is it a solid or a liquid? And then there was basketball. Is it a solid filled with gas? How about ice? Is ice a liquid frozen into a solid state? The states of matter discussions, and the excitement for making a three-dimensional dioramas of their item generated a lot of enthusiasm.

With an idea in hand, students sketched in their diorama planners making sure they considered the background, middle ground, and foreground for their object’s environment. They drew their objects as the main figure within the space of their 3-dimensional dioramas.

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Hot Air Balloon Plan and Decoupaged Diorama.

Next was the most unexpectedly difficult portion of the project: tearing the tissue paper into pieces [without shredding, wadding, or other frustrated efforts]. This fine motor skill proved far more challenging for the students than anticipated by myself or the teacher. The victory of finally getting all five interior surfaces of the diorama boxes covered in thin layers of tissue was a major feat!

The figures within the dioramas were created on tabbed card stock, so they could stand and or hang from the space as desired. The students excelled at this construction method quickly after the greater learning curve of the technique of decoupage had been mastered. As we placed and adhered the finished objects into their created spaces, students were alit with accomplishment and the room was filled with the fervor of their excitement and pride.

bricks diorama

Student showcases her solid state of matter diorama; a brick wall.

water diorama

Student showcases her water state of matter diorama; water.

wind diorama

Student showcases her gas state of matter diorama; a gust of wind.

Upon reflection, it continues to amaze me at how profoundly important even these seemingly simpler residency projects are. Students initially struggled at every technical interchange of the process: in creating small pieces of tissue paper, applying the right amount of adhesive, and in covering the surfaces with flat but overlapping thin layers. These struggles, however, paved the way for hands-on learning that was so rich, and ultimately provided the reward of successful projects. Seeing and coaching the students as they pushed through these challenges, turned out to be the most memorable aspect of this residency.

orange balloom diorama

Student showcases his gas and solid state of matter diorama; a balloon filled with helium.

Students were absolutely beside themselves with pride, standing next to their brightly decoupaged boxes with wide smiles and sticky hands.

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Printing the Planets

The fifth graders at Hannah Gibbons were studying the planets of our solar system in their science curriculum. They had lots of questions. What colors are the planets? What gives the planets their color? What are the surfaces of the planets like?

We projected the various planets on the big screen and it almost felt like we were in the planetarium. For the majority of the students in the class, this was the first time they had seen large full color and up close images of the planets. Awestruck is a great way to describe their reactions.

The collagraph plate seemed the perfect printmaking partner for their artistic investigations. We set out together to create collagraph plates of each of the planets that we printed in limited editions. The students became expert printers and grew quite skilled at operating the etching press as they cranked out their small stack of prints. We also tipped our best prints into a handful of collaborative artist books showcasing one of each planet in our solar system.

Collagraph plate, inked and ready to run through the press.

Students asked and answered their planetary questions in many formats within their field journals. These journals recorded their research, and included further investigations of the textural surfaces and appearances of their selected planet with rubbings, collages, and proof prints in preparation for creating their collagraph plates.

Planetary textural rubbing with the beginnings of watercolor study.

Field Journals

Students showcase their textural studies within their field journals.

Sure, there was a little snickering with an occasional Martian and Uranus joke, but there was a lot more serious inquiry and investigation.

Team Mars, also known as our Martian Men, with their first proof prints of Mars.

Armed with their field journals, which were absolutely packed with their findings, students mined their new understandings to create a collagraph printing plate of their planet. We made test plates of nearly ten different texture gels so that the individual planetary student groups could determine which acrylic gels they would use to create their planet and showcase its unique and specific surface. Students cut their circular planet plates, including rings for several of them, out of thin foam core, and built up their textural surface with various acrylic gels including: sand, pumice, fibers, and glass beads.

Students made proof prints of their planet collagraph plates with a single primary color of their planet to get their first textural read of their collagraphs. This is the magic I most enjoy in my printmaking residencies. We’ve spent weeks together, absolutely up to our eyeballs in both investigations and making, yet when students lift their first print off of their plate that they both created and inked, their eyes alight with disbelief. The magic of printmaking!

Team Earth with their printed edition.

After their first impression has been made, students began blended color relief rolls for their small editions. Lastly, they printed their best prints on rice paper to be collaged into our collaborative books.

Planet Printing

The printing process.

The results? They were out of this world!

Team Mercury, also known as The Mercury Girls, showcasing their prints.

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