Author Archives: Jen Craun

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!

Moment of Illumination

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.

constellation pages

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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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.

hot air balloon plan

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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Bringing Lines to Life with Light

There’s something completely captivating about illuminating a small light by completing a simple circuit. Something akin to creating fire. Suddenly, by mastering the positive and negative connections to the battery source and completing the loop of a simple circuit, you have participated in something both so profoundly simple, and yet mysteriously complex. Like magic, it seems simultaneously believable and unbelievable. This simple magic will be the core of a forthcoming book residency with 4th graders from the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. We’ll be experimenting with Chibitronics LED stickers, conductive copper foil tape, and cell batteries.

Circuit

Completed simple circuit with copper foil tape, LED sticker, and cell battery.

In merging the science content of circuits and the art content of creating illuminated images for our books, students will engage in an investigation of understanding line. Through the residencies, we’ll ponder what is created by the line. The driving questions of engagement will center on the following inquiry:

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

The content of each of the book projects within the residencies will vary, contemplating the diverse range of potential of the drawn line. Beneath the drawings created for the book pages, students will draw additional lines on a separate and hidden page beneath the illustrations with the copper foil tape, making correct all the connections to the positive and negative ends of the battery source, therefore creating a smooth path for the electrons to flow, and illuminate tiny LED lights. The lights will illuminate various and specific aspects of their illustrations from below.

Illuminated Constellation

Student drawing of the constellation of Leo, and completed parallel circuit beneath.

My personal investigations have revealed that one of my biggest challenges will be honing the craft and application of the copper tape. Being a very thin foil weight, it is super easily to crinkle and tear — most especially when making bends and corner turns, which will be necessary for the circuits within the book. Considering line, I think this challenge poses a terrific solution to really invest time into exploring line-making with various foil tapes, where we can build craft through experience as well as test out conductivity of a variety of materials and methods.

Eiffel Tower Drawing Illuminated

Parallel circuit teaching example; an illuminated Eiffel Tower.

I think of the art challenge presented much like Harold and the Purple Crayon, where we can bring lines to life — both through drawing and illumination. Through the opportunity to engage with circuits, I hope the investigation of line becomes a memorable experience for the students who will be able to envision themselves as creators of content, with wide open imaginations about the potential of both drawing and bookmaking, electricity, and beyond.

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Scratching the Surface

PAA Artist-Educators in the PAA lab experimenting with Scratch.

PAA Artist-Educators in the PAA lab experimenting with Scratch.

Last week, Artist-Educators at Progressive Arts Alliance enjoyed the opportunity for a full day training session on Scratch with Eric, the Scratch Online Community Manager. So, what exactly is Scratch, you ask?

Created by the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is a visual programming language that makes it easy to create your own interactive stories, animations, games, music, and art — and then share your creations on the web. It’s a programming environment and online community where kids create, share and remix animations, stories, interactive art and video games.

Scratch opens the doors wide for collaboration opportunity. As a visual artist myself, specifically a printmaker, I was amazed at how intuitive Scratch was for drag-and-drop visual programming. Only an hour into the training, and I was buzzing along on an animation project pretty comfortably. It’s a color-coded block-building approach to writing code. The user simply builds – similar to Legos – and locks together various movements and sounds. And Scratch is all about sharing. Once you publish your piece on Scratch, anyone can learn from what you built, and can borrow, or build upon it themselves for a remix – the code is always available, and public. Check out our studio of Scratch projects our team made during our training by clicking here.

We also adventured into Scratch Jr, which is the younger version of Scratch, and available as a free application for iPad. Here is a screenshot of a quick animation that I created on that platform:

ScratchJr

Screen shot from my Scratch Jr. project.

 

After only a handful of hours learning about the software, my mind was abuzz with possibilities for classroom collaborations and residencies that could draw on the overlap of art forms. I can envision a printmaking residency that creates the backgrounds and various characters that could easily be imported into Scratch to lend for some gorgeous animations or games. What a rich opportunity to create media at every level (both physically and digitally) completely authored by students, and then shared – and I’ve just begun to scratch the surface of possibilities.

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Rain, Rain, Go Away!

During my fall semester 2014 residency at Hannah Gibbons STEM School with the Preschool and Kindergarten classes, we explored and enjoyed a variety of weather circumstances without ever getting wet–or at least not too wet! Students created weather field books that will house their weather work from science, dotted with several prints to illustrate various weather situations.

Stencil printing–one of the most direct printing processes–was a clear favorite among this age group. Students gravitated to the various weather stencils, including: clouds, rain, lightening, wind, and sun. Students concocted a variety of storms, and chose their stencils and inks carefully and accordingly to created their printed compostitions.

Gibbons_PreK&K_3

Armed with small foam daubers and trays of ink, students made light work of stamping in their weather stencils onto paper, and yet still seamed amazed when they lifted the stencil to see that the weather item they were printing appeared on the page.  The magic of printmaking allures!

Gibbons_PreK&K_2

Watching the concentrated faces of the youngest groups of printmakers never gets old!

 

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Earth’s Moon

Though the earth has only one moon, we made many, many of them during the fall 2014 semester! I worked with the second grade class at Orchard STEM School to create lunar cycle accordion books, as I did with Hannah Gibbons also, that I shared here. After we’d pulled a small edition of moon prints, we went to work creating the circular accordion interior pages for the books.

Orchard_2nd_1

Once the students had tabbed together a long stretch of paper, they folded it back-and-forth again and again to create an accordion structure. Next they traced their moons, trimmed the pages into circles, and then got to work printing the lunar cycle using stencil relief.

Orchard_2nd_3

I was amazed at how cautious the students were at this phase–their handmade book was becoming so precious to them–and they studied each panel before printing in the next phase, all the way from waxing crescent to the new moon. The books were displayed at the Cleveland Metropolitan School District PreK-8 STEM Network Winter STEM Showcase on December 16 at the Great Lakes Science Center just before the winter break.

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