Visual Research: Mixed Media Artists

One of the first artists that I want to explore in depth as part of a revival of a visual research journal is Wangechi Mutu. She is a Kenyan-born, New York based artist, and what I appreciate about her work is the way she combines a beautiful, signature and experimental techniques with an activist stance. Her work talks about issues relating to racism, sexism, and environmentalism. The technique + the themes produce eery and beautiful images.

Above, Madam Repeateat, 2010. Courtesy of artist and Victoria Miro Gallery.
Mutu, Wangechi. Backlash Blues, 2004. Ink, acrylic, photocollage, contact paper, on mylar. 198 x 119.4 cm

Because Wangechi Mutu’s Backlash Blues (above) is painted on mylar, the paint and ink suspend on the surface, and in some areas, becomes transparent. She uses techniques like airbrushing, stenciling, spills, and brushwork. It is also a collage so many photos are merged together and also includes patterns of dyed fabric. I am interested in exploring these types of techniques in my next series of artworks. Here Mutu is exploring “apocalyptic glamour, fusing tribal ‘primitivism’ with the exotica of radical chic.”

I’m surprised I haven’t written about the next artist yet on my blog. Romare Bearden. One could argue that he is often “overused” in teaching visual art in PK-12 settings, but I think there is a reason he is known as one of the most influential American artists during the 20th century. I don’t want his popularity to dissuade me from doing my own deep analysis of his work. His collages have always caught my eye – the way he paints and collages artworks, again usually with an underlying political message rooted in African American life.

Take his Odyssey series for example (video above). His love of literature and story telling inspired him to reflect and translate the ancient Greek saga into his interpretation that put African Americans at the center of the narrative, humanizing and heroizing the struggles of Black Americans. Very interesting and inspiring! It encourages me to use my inspirations, like collage, to create art that emphasizes my own experiences, views, and opinions on issues.

For my artwork, I really like focusing on the solutions. It’s very easy within social justice circles and organizations to focus on the problem. I think that it is important to clearly articulate the problem, however I don’t want my artwork to stop there. I want to engage the viewer so they are encouraged and supportive to examine and imagine their role with self-awareness. I really want my artwork to be participatory, where their reflection is a necessary step important in creating the work and the solution.

Another artist who is very famous but I haven’t written about yet is Jasper Johns. I found him while researching because apparently his work was very participatory in nature. Although not strictly a collage artist, he did use mixed media. Check out this video on a recent 2021 retrospective exhibition, Mind / Mirror:

Mirrors and reflections are a constant theme and visual organizational tool in Johns’ work. For example “Mirror’s Edge 2” (above) is a chalk-blue and gray canvas scattered with collaged images including a ladder, an illustration of a whirling galaxy, and a stick figure falling headfirst through space. You see this spiral shape mirrored in the litho print the following year on the right, which also includes a photo of a family. I like this collaged mashup of ideas and perspectives that forces the viewer to reconsider their own location and identity in space and time.

Okay next step – gather my own images! I think I’m going to cast a wide net to see what arises and not be too picky. Starting is the hardest part for me. Stay tuned!

2021-22 EOY Reflection

First year of teaching in a physical classroom – done! If you read my blog or look back on a few of the more recent posts, you can tell that I lost steam when it came to writing and reflecting on my website. It was a really tough year. My previous posts alluded to that but eventually I had to be more strict with my time and energy in order to make it through. It wasn’t just me that thought it was hard. I want to take time to dive into the challenges I faced this year.

1. Behavior and student trauma – students experienced intense and sustained trauma during the time away from school, everything from the death to close family member to sexual assault to homelessness. There are not enough behavioral and mental health professionals working on a school level so most of these Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are not addressed. The result is that many children this year acted out their trauma unconsciously – shouting, screaming, cussing at educators, having fights with their peers, disrupting and skipping classes, and failing their work. Many schools are electing to give students grace and not suspend them, but by doing so, these bad behaviors continue. This study finds that violent behaviors have increased in 2019 even though suspensions have dropped. As a teacher, those suspensions are sometimes necessary to give the student a chance to reset and then to come back ready to learn. Instead, the badly behaving students continue and also encourage other students to act out. A possible solution would be to hire more mental health professions to work with the students on a weekly basis to address the root causes of violent behavior.

2. Learning loss and cell phones – Many students didn’t engage online in 2020-21 so the students who did return this year were behind in reading and learning. They also picked up a ton of bad habits over the remote learning year: endless scrolling, seeking constant entertainment, cussing, smoking weed, lack of interest in learning, cyberbullying, and irregular routines. Trying to teach students when they had their cell phones in their hand and were scrolling was a constant battle. This study agrees. And so does this one. We had rules and systems for students to not distract themselves, but they are (like most of us) incredibly possessive of their phone and refuse to turn it in or put it up. They don’t know how to responsibly engage with social media and instead use it to cover/distract themselves from negative feelings (boredom, anger, sadness, etc.) and transport themselves somewhere else. This makes learning in the classroom very difficult.

Students simply cannot focus when they are distracted by their cell phone.

3. Absences and quarantines – although the pandemic was “over” and we were back in school, students, faculty, and staff continued to get very sick from COVID and were forced to quarantine. I had one student miss 5 months of school because the weren’t able to get the vaccine and their family refused to send them to school. The vast majority of the staff at my school got COVID at least once. We were testing students every week with PCR tests and enforced mask mandates, but kids still got sick. It took a toll on the learning and having to pretend like everything was back to normal when it definitely wasn’t. This effect on mental health has been documented in studies like this one.

4. Teaching / staff shortages this study in 2020 shows an uptick in teachers and staff wanting to quit the profession from COVID stress, as well as all the other things mentioned above. Teachers couldn’t take days off because there weren’t any substitute teachers who were able or willing to fill in for the day. Most of the subs were contracted into long term positions for the full-time teachers that abruptly left.

This is a reality that I am not going to sugar coat. I think too often people are not honest or transparent about the situation educators face. Instead we focus on teaching for the love of the children, for the love of learning, or for the content. That’s great, but it will burn-out more teachers more quickly if we don’t also paint a realistic picture of the adversities teachers face.

Since we have gone over the challenges, let’s go over some of my wins since January!

1. Black History Quilt. My high school students were tasked with researching a topic within African American historical facts, events, or people that they knew little to nothing about in order to broaden their understanding of black and American history. I provided a list of suggestions like Marsha P. Johnson, the Cicero Race Riots, Henrietta Lacks, Junteenth, Ida B. Wells, and more, as well as tutorials on a variety of different stitches. We also used their researched photos and printed them on transfer paper. They were then ironed onto the quilt! I am SO proud of both my students and myself for diving into something new and for doing such a great job. This quilt and a handful of other artworks were showcased in the Baltimore Museum of Art FYI Show this past March 2022.

Black History quilt done by the 5th period Visual Artists at ConneXions

2. Exhibitions and Still Life artworks. My students had work in two exhibitions – one at BCPSS headquarters at North Avenue and another at Mondawmin Mall. The artwork included still life drawings of the students’ objects in which they mastered compositional techniques like the Rule of Thirds, the Rule of Odds, leading lines, value, shading, and more! I’m so proud of their work, and many students sold their artwork at the Mondawmin Showcase. You can still see large posters of the student work if you head to Center Court, 2nd floor art gallery above the fountain!

3. Clay! This was the first year that I taught clay. Ever. Due to the kindness of the BCPSS Art Department, I was able to enroll in a clay class taught by the amazing Miss Mural aka Amanda Pellerin. She taught me and 15 other art teachers how to teach units on everything from pinch pots, to slab bowls, to mural tiles. She also gave us useful supplies tools like glazes, kiln gloves, rolling pins, glaze containers, a tar mat, and much more to use in our classes. I don’t have a kiln so my mentor art teacher was able to hook me up with her kiln. I am very proud of the clayworks the students produced, and I am extremely excited and confident in doing more clay projects next year! Here is her padlet if you need lesson ideas or help with clay.

This summer at Towson I am taking a watercolor painting class and an “Artist-Teacher connection” class in which I explore my own love of art making through whatever mediums I want. Since I will have more time over the summer to reflect, I hope to post more about what I read, make, and do around art. So stay tuned! Thanks for reading

Happy 2022 !

Through November and December students were working on a variety of different projects: surrealist linear perspective drawings, portraits, watercolor painting, and printmaking!

The watercolor project was a lot of fun – I taught middle schoolers how to use different techniques like wet-on-wet, flat wash, graded wash, etc. and they created art around the theme of connection and nature! Once we individually mastered the watercolor techniques, all the students collaborate on a fall watercolor tree with each leaf 🍁 representing a different value. That final artwork will be shown in the BWI showcase this Spring!

High school students worked on portraits and selected an African American man of change for a juried art show at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. We studied portraiture: how to draw eyes, map facial proportions, add value and shading! Some of the students chose to do murals, others did canvas paintings, and some did drawings! The museum is showing the work at a virtual MLK Day 2022 event where two of my students’ artwork will be shown! Link:

Going into the 2nd semester, I want to continue to find opportunities for my students while I streamline my instruction. I am planning on planning to teach a ceramics unit with Arts Everyday and hopefully a sewing / quilt unit, as well as a paper mache project. This year has been exhausting for students and teachers alike and I think if I can make the art very hands-on, the students will be able to relax and engage more deeply with the learning. Check back soon to see more art!

Adverse Conditions

If you’re reading this right now, you know that I am an optimistic / positive person: I like to see the best in people and situations and I enjoy being happy. While this is true, it’s also key to not allow positivity to become toxic. Ignoring or repressing difficulties creates a pressure cooker where the situation can erupt and cause more widespread harm.

It is only October and already this school year is incredibly difficult. Students and teachers are having to deals with trauma from the pandemic: isolation, death of family, sickness/illness, constant anxiety from the virus, gun violence, families loosing jobs/income ON TOP OF already existing stressers like poverty due to institutional racism and classism, food and housing insecurity, addiction and substance abuse, etc.

In an attempt to acknowledge and bring to light the negative experiences we are navigating, the first art project of the year we created “Black Out Artwork” where students 1) reflected and wrote about a challenging experience, 2) circled the positive, or what they learned they value, 3) drew images that celebrates those positive words, and then 4) used black markers to cover the pain and/or struggle from the experience. The result was a cathartic process and profoundly beautiful artwork. Check out the artwork below; click the right arrow to see closeups of the art (and follow the Visual Art Instagram page for more art 😀 )

Mentally, emotionally, physically, I am already exhausted. It’s not just me – it is teachers across every grade around the country. The trauma that I spoke of above, results in students being restless, distracted, easily frustrated, prone to outbursts, absent, and behind in learning. This is very difficult for teachers to manage and attend to throughout the day. There are so many students, and so many of their needs demand personal, intimate, trusting, close relationships with their teachers. In response to this, for my graduate school digital illustration class, I created GIFs of the ABCs of Teacher Life. They are sarcastic, jaded, but also deeply heart-based interpretations of what teachers see and go through on a daily basis. I started with thumbnail sketches, and am in the process of animating my final works. Take a look at the work in progress:

Although I hope things get easier, at this point, I can’t say they will. They will likely get harder as the weather gets colder, we go into flu season, and holiday breaks interrupt learning. And I’m not going to say I’ll be fine, or that I shouldn’t worry about it or that it’s not a big deal. Instead, I will be present with this difficulty while it’s here.

Back-2-School! SY2021-22

Back to School time is here! Over the summer, I traveled to Colorado, meditated a lot, cooked for fun, turned 30, and went to the beach. This week was our first week of school and already a lot is happening!

As I mentioned in my last blog post, ConneXions is an Arts Every Day partner school, and as part of that new relationship, I attend their annual Summer Conference, where they have a variety of teaching artists virtually lead workshops on how to integrate arts with other core subject areas.

About half of the courses were asynchronous and the other half were synchronous, but ALL of them were inspiring, creative, and provided tons of resources for teachers to use and adapt to their own content. Some of the highlights were:

Every year BTN hosts a retreat for their teachers and this year it was in Atlantic City, New Jersey. They invited a variety of guest speakers to give talks about our new theme in school: reimagining the future. Some of the workshops were helpful and specific (collaborating and brainstorming with all the school’s teachers on social justice initiatives we want to start) and some were merely theatrical (two hour long lectures about metaphors for embracing the future.) I appreciated the time to be able to connect with my colleagues who I haven’t seen in a long time – or who I had never met in person! – but I also wish we could have had more time to get our rooms ready. We came back to Baltimore and I had two (2!) days to get everything ready.

The challenge of post-pandemic classroom setup

Although I only had a couple of days to get my room ready, I am happy how it turned out! I bough some posters, Christmas string lights, and set up a tea/coffee bar in the back. I even installed curtains on my cupboards to hide the storage. I have to shout out my boo Chappell and my colleague Mike Bohorquez for helping me! The meme above is a little too accurate. Today I had 32-35 students in my classroom, and not enough seats so students were standing. We are still finalizing our rosters and I will be redirecting the students to other art majors before the end of the week lol

MORE EXCITING NEWS: I was accepted as into the Towson University Master of Art Education program! I will be taking one class this semester – Digital Illustration. I want to learn more about this medium so I can be a better teacher. I will complete the program over the next 3.5 years, so I get to take classes at a nice and slow pace 😀 Today was my first day and it was great!

Overall, I’m so excited to teach and learn in person! It’s very rewarding to reconnect to others and to make art in an actual classroom. Looking forward to a great school year!

EOY Reflection

It’s June 16th – the first day of summer vacation and I’m thrilled to say that we survived teaching a year of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only that, but many of my students and I had a LOT of accomplishments!

My students artwork was showcased in a variety of exhibitions and shows:

I am proud of the collaborative ConneXions art presentations:

and last night we concluded the year with the ConneXions Spring Production, “The Circus Is Closed.”

And next year for SY 2021- 2022 ….

Arts EveryDay strengthens learning by making arts education and cultural experiences an integral part of classroom instruction. They builds and sustains long-term partnerships with schools, artists, and cultural institutions Click here to read more on their website!

… we are initiating a partnership with ArtsEveryday! We will work with them to create arts-integrated curriculum across all of our core subject areas over the next 5 years. They have been working in Baltimore for the past 12 years and will provide funding and training for our teachers. They are are major advocates for the Arts and I’m excited we will be working with them. Until then, have a great summer! After a meditation retreat, I hope to make art this break and post about it here. Thanks for reading ❤

Sociocultural criticality in SEL

Just launched a new podcast! Listen to this article by clicking play. Or read the article below.

The beautiful thing about being a teacher, as I have mentioned before, is that I am always learning. I need to also add that I am always unlearning.

Picture of Yoda and his famous quote, "You must unlearn what you have learned."

I am taking a 8 month professional development class about humanizing education. It covers a lot of different topics: valuing cultural funds of knowledge in black and brown students, community and family engagement, addressing and analyzing systems of oppression with students in a critical way (sociocultural criticality), and most importantly how to put these theories into practice in the classroom. For the class, I just finished reading this incredibly eloquent, precise, and well-researched article, Social and emotional learning is hegemonic miseducation: students deserve humanization instead by Patrick Camangian & Stephanie Cariaga (2021). It does a stunning job in breaking down the current practice of social emotional learning (SEL) and how to change it to undermine the system of oppression that perpetuate trauma. I highly recommend you read it, especially if you work with children:

A meme that includes a picture of Will Ferrell in the movie Anchorman. He is in a glass phone booth with the caption that reads, "I am in a glass cage of social and emotional learning."
What SEL without humanization feels like

It’s interesting because when I was in my post-bachelor program at Towson learning to become a teacher, I researched and wrote a paper on SEL, thinking I was discovering the cutting edge of research-based mindfulness and metacognitive self-awareness skills in education. I was so excited to find these core competencies laid out (CASEL: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making) as essential components of education that were being ignored and not directly taught in school. As a meditation teacher and practitioner, I was so excited that I did not stop to really analyze and critique what I was learning through a sociocultural critical lens.

The article I linked above really opened my eyes to the fact that any system of social and/or emotional learning MUST address the colonial systems of oppression that perpetuates maladaptive sense of self in students of color. Racism and oppression have to be acknowledge and unlearned so that students and teachers (of all colors and backgrounds) can center themselves in positive self-image and learn in a supportive environment.

A slide from a presentation with two ends of a spectrum of educational practices. One end includes colonizing practices (self-hate, divide/conquer, and sub-oppression) and the other end being life-affirming practices (self-knowledge, solidarity, and self-determination).
These competencies – self-knowledge and self-love; solidarity; and self-determination, are missing from the CASEL framework. They are on the other end of hegemonic practices that are often implicitly taught in schools. Image credit: Dr. Keisha Allen of UMBC

I feel very fortunate to work at ConneXions, because it is a charter school that was founded and created with the mission of developing artistic excellence, cultural identity, and community awareness in ALL students. This gives me a lot of support from administration when I want to engage in art problems that involve difficult conversations around race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability. Being an art teacher gives me more freedom and flexibility to be able to explore these very challenging realities through creating beautiful and meaningful artwork. This course has been so valuable in challenging me and I’m grateful for the opportunity to create more humanizing social and emotional learning spaces for my students! Thanks for reading and unlearning with me ❤

NAEA 2021 Conference & PDs

Wohoo! This year my Towson professor, Dr. Kay Broadwater, three teacher colleagues from my post-bachelor program and I virtually presented at the National Art Education Association Conference March 4 – 7th. Last year while still pre-service teachers at Towson, these ladies and I had put in so much time into fundraising to go to the 2020 conference in Minneapolis, MN, only to not be able to go because of the pandemic. We turned this disappointment into fuel to take our online lessons and present them at the conference.

My unit centered on Augmented Reality and Afrofuturism. Check out what the students made! YouTube video of my presentation forthcoming 🙂 I am so proud of my students!

The other awesome thing about going to this conference was that I got to learn from a lot of other teachers. Some of the tidbits I took away:

Avoiding a Messy Classroom Studio

  • It’s okay to “change the room again” to help organize things
  • Include my personality!! it’s my second home 😀
  • Stools > chairs
  • Keeping the counter space clear makes it looks more organized
  • COLOR CODE EVERYTHING!! And add tables a number
    • Label the shelves so students can turn in work in an organized way
    • colored masking tape around the edges to reinforce color tables
    • table labels can have dots that correspond with manager jobs
    • Clusters Ls table formation
  • Portfolios: save work in a drawer: color code
    • “table portfolio” go inside each grade level larger portfolio
    • caddies all in one spot…. for pandemic classroom, each student needs their own caddy
    • sketchbook have their own cubby or basket….
  • Drying racks in the corner
    • Clothespins can hang art without damaging the art
  • Bulletin board: in progress work, vocabulary, directions, incentives, etc.
    • Process visual posters
    • Palette path incentives (like free art day – choice center) near the door
      • displaying the names of the students who achieve
      • Create choice center
  • Exhibit the art
    • use a reusable plastic report binding strip to slide presentation sheets in and out
  • Materials
    • Foam palettes protect acrylic paint in palettes
    • ex: water color. ALSO change the colors to go from light to dark

Another cool part of being a teacher is that I have tons of professional development opportunities where I can take classes for credits or salary advancement units. I love learning and then knowing that I get rewarded for it AND I have more to teach and share with my students is pretty awesome.

I’m taking a mindfulness course with other BCPS teachers right now with Evolved Minds. We have learned sitting, standing, walking, lying down meditations, as well as gratitude and loving kindness. It is a good way to practice in and after class.

Thanks for reading and all your support!

Fall 2020 Personal Artworks

This semester is wrapping up and I am happy to say that I was able to create multiple personal artworks! Being an educator is demanding – lesson / unit planning, contacting family, paperwork, meetings (and then self-care) but then what about an art-making practice?!

One answer to this problem is to take a class! Continually learning and developing professionally is a core tenet to being an educator. I took the MSDE MCred: Learning Thru the Creative Process course. We learned about the 5 steps to creative process: Inspire, Explore, Elevate, Assess, Present; the 21st Century Creative Skills, and the Artist Studio Habits of Mind. I particularly liked the 8 studio habits of mind because they talk about practices that students can *do* and are immediately engaged in the artistic process. Connecting these together (some are concurrent and others are sequential) completes the artistic cycle.

Our task in the class was to make a creative response to the Son Lux musical score and plot our creative process. Here is my artist response response:

The music was the source of inspiration: when I heard it, I saw a snowy landscape, and a person journeying out into the a dark forest. The initial percussion felt like foot-steps until it crescendos to an understanding and opening. I don’t often work with time-based media, so I wanted to explore animation. I did some research into different programs, but ultimately settled on Google Slides since experimenting on this platform could result in an interesting project for my students (everyone has Google Slides!) After peer feedback and a revision, I ultimately landed on an abstract, time-based visual journey, reflecting my own recent meditation practice. I am super happy how it turned out, even if it is just the beginning.

Another approach that led to success was to do the projects I give my students (lol). It helped them see: 1) that I am invested in the assignments as an artist and thus help them buy-in to the project 2) another example of an artistic response to the prompt 3) that being an artist is a life-long endeavor, not just a class. With my intermediate class, we did a watercolor unit, really diving into exploring the medium and the different techniques.

After playing and exploring the watercolor medium, I stretched this skill, and combined these techniques with my digital collage process of cutting and layering images to make a watercolor painting for Colette’s birthday. The final artwork turned out great:

Finally, in my beginning visual art class, I worked on value, shape, line using self-portraits. We took black and white self-portrait pictures, choosing specific emotions to embody, printed them out and created a 1″x1″ grid on top of the photo and on a blank sheet of paper. They labeled the grid and then placed the values according to each box onto their blank grid. I am not going to post the student artwork since it includes their faces and I want to protect their identities, but I also participated in the drawing assignment and came up with this:

I am currently working on how to integrate the studio habits of mind into every unit. I am collaborating in a Baltimore City mentor / mentee program to scaffold skills, build curriculum, and I will share more updates soon! Thanks for reading ❤

Quarantine Quarter 1

Teaching the last few months during this epic Covid-19 pandemic has literally been every emotion: overwhelming and boring; scary and joyful; exciting and discouraging, stressful and relaxing. Let’s start with the positives and work towards the challenges.

I absolutely love my school!!! Woo! Teaching Visual Arts at ConneXions is my dream placement and I am so incredibly grateful for this position. The Arts Team that I work with are amazing, talented, driven, thorough, great communicators, kind, and funny as hell! My administration is supportive, fun, and so kind. In September, they rolled up to my apartment in a huge school bus and the team of them came through and dropped off ConneXions swag and free lunch as a welcome celebration. My students are awesome – I have loved getting to know each of them with their individual awesomeness, talents, and quirks.

miss your face

The tough part is that I haven’t met any of these people in person! It’s so surreal. Although I daily remind students to turn on their video cameras and even make it part of their participation grade, there are still some students who I have never seen their face. That part is hard. I have a better connection with the students I can see that those that I can’t see. I learn from my students and they teach me how to be a better teacher. Not seeing their face and body language is definitely a detriment.

Another interesting effect of this quarantine has effected my teaching. Plus side: my bitmoji game is on point!!! I spend a lot of time on the visuals to my lessons to make them funny and personable so the students feel connected to me as a teacher. But also the lessons that I create take into account the fact that many of my students don’t have access to art supplies or materials.

Based on that, we’ve been doing a lot of drawing assignments, like still-lifes, abstract line drawings, zines, self-portraits, and photo grid drawings, but also work like mural/street art designs, digital and handmade collages, and even sewing face masks with my High Schoolers! Some of the work that has emerged from this challenging time is incredible – students, families, and teachers can be incredibly resourceful when needed.

7th grade student still-life artwork! So proud of this student!

However, a lot of students are also getting stuck and are failing behind. Many of my students aren’t showing up to class, even when I call, text, and email the families. There are so many reasons why they may miss class: being sick / having Covid, lack of wifi, over-sleeping, depression / mental health issues, homelessness, lack of motivation. Being on zoom all day is difficult. Many of their parents work multiple jobs and can’t babysit them while their student is supposed to be on the computer in school. When students don’t show up to school, and don’t turn in their artwork, they can’t pass the class, whether it’s Visual Art or Math. Absenteeism is a huge issue. I have spoken with multiple teacher friends in other subject areas, even in other states like California and North Carolina, and their classes are experiencing the same thing. It’s really discouraging because I can only do so much. What challenges are you facing with your job due to the pandemic?

Bitmoji Image

I’m sharing my recent adventures is because it’s Thanksgiving break! I am grateful for my students, my family, my friends, my practice of meditation, the food on my table, the roof over my head, and my job teaching art.

One social emotional learning (SEL) warm-up I frequently do with my students is to practice gratitude. It doesn’t just have to be on one day. It can be a powerful daily practice. What are you grateful for? Comment below. Thanks for reading!