New Painting: Joy of Spring

This semester at Towson University I am taking an Independent Study course. The lack of structure has been both challenging and insightful. Without direction from another professor or teacher, I was charged with creating my own projects and paintings. The result was a return to the joy of making art inspired by the beauty in my life.

Spring is an understated season. The allergies are painful, it’s still chilly, and it rains way more than winter. But the magic of the spontaneous eruption of flowers all over Baltimore is too gorgeous to ignore. This painting is simply a manifestation of the wonder of the hillside of daffodils blooming over Druid Hill Park in Baltimore. As a March-blooming yellow flower, the daffodil symbolize rebirth, new beginnings, hope, joy, and good luck, since it is one of the first flowers we see marking the end of winter. This painting is a celebration of beauty and the hope in Baltimore. Below is the final work and a few process photos. Thanks for reading!

Heiser, Monica. Joy Of Spring. 18″ x 24″ Acrylic. April 2023.

Birth of Wisdom

During this Life Drawing class, the assignments have become more open-ended and creative. For this last assignment, we were asked to select a well-known narrative from childhood nursery rhymes, fairy tales, mythical stories (ie: Greco-Roman tradition, Native American mythology, et cetera), the bible, the long history of art and literature, et cetera. My job was to re-invent this narrative for a contemporary audience, representing a specific moment(s) in the story. One figure had to be draped while another had to be nude or close to nude.

Reconstruction of the East pediment on the Parthenon. New Acropolis Museum, Athens.

Upon investigating Greek mythology, I was horrified and inspired by the birth of the goddess Athena. In the story, Zeus forced himself on the Titan goddess Metis and impregnated her. An oracle prophesied that Metis’ child would overthrow Zeus. Zeus got so scared that when he next saw Metis, he deceived her and murdered her by eating her and her unborn child. Shortly after, Zeus developed an unbearable headache, which made him scream out of pain so loudly it could be heard throughout the earth. Out of Zeus’ skull sprang Athena, fully grown. Due to the method of her birth, Athena became the goddess of intelligence and wisdom.

In considering how this myth is relevant to contemporary times, it reminded me of the recent protests by women from around the world. In Iran, thousands of women are being in-prisoned and threatened by execution because of not covering their hair. Indigenous women are 10x more likely to be murdered than women of other ethnicities in the United States. Every year in the Unites Staes, 185,000 rapes in reported to the police, which is suspected to only be 11% of the 1.68 million cases of rape. Over the past two decades, maternal mortality has increased almost 60 percent. Black women face the greatest risk of pregnancy-related death, with a maternal mortality rate three to four times that of white women. One in four homeless women is homeless because of violence committed against her. Every year, at least 12 million girls are married before they reach the age of 18. Women are fighting, protesting, organizing, and advocating for abortion rights as basic human rights and autonomy over our own bodies, and green has become the color to represent the fight for abortion.

Considering the contemporary and historical oppression and violence against women, especially women of color, in my art I connect the fact that women have a deep wisdom and resilience within us that cannot be destroyed or murdered. We are Metis; we are Athena; rising up and erupting from the corrupt, murderous head of our father, Uncle Sam, and claiming the rights to our lives, bodies, and freedom. Below is my artwork in response:

Heiser, Monica. Birth of Wisdom. 11 in x 14 in. Graphite on paper. 2022.

This piece took 6-7 hours to get the local value, texture, proportions and shading right. It was a lot of fun to combine realism, anatomy, and composition to create an artwork that would summon the majesty of the birth of Athena as well as juxtapose the propaganda of Uncle Sam’s poster. Here are some of the reference images I used to create this drawing:

Thank you for taking the time to read this post, read through the linked articles, watch the video, reflect on my artwork, and consider your own response to stop the violent oppression that so many women face. Your artwork and your voice matter. ❤

Life Drawing Update

Wow! Months fly by when you’re super busy with teaching and school work. Here is a quick recap of the artwork that I’ve done with the Life Drawing Class at Towson University. Most of these drawings took 2-5 hours to complete :

I’m learning a lot about life drawing and human anatomy. Some of the main concepts I am exploring in my work are:

  • Proportions
  • Muscular Anatomy
  • Skeletal Anatomy
  • Value / Shading / Form / Light Source
  • Vine vs. Compressed charcoal
  • Poses and foreshortening
  • Rendering fabric and clothing
  • Cross-contour lines to create volume
  • Movement in life drawing
  • Background-figure relationship; sense of space
  • Emotionality / Tone of medium, pose, and composition

I’m also working on a Google Slides / Unit Plan so I can teach this with my high school students (using clothed models of course). It’s still in progress, but you can view the presentation and make a copy here:

Let me know what you think about my drawings and/or unit plan! Happy drawing 😀

Summer Art Reflection

This summer I took two, 10 week-long graduate classes at Towson: a watercolor class and an independent studio. I’m really proud what I learned and experimented with, and the work that came out of it. The teacher of the water color class gave extremely good feedback, even though it was a completely online class. It showed me that the student can only improve as much as the teacher’s feedback is specific, timely, accurate, kind, and helpful.

Above is all the work I did for the class. You may notice that the class was extremely well scaffolded. 1) We started off with learning the basic skills of mixing ultramarine blue and sepia to make a neutral black, and then worked on painting smooth gradients in wet-on-wet and dry-on-wet techniques. 2) When we mastered that, we then added one color – yellow – to learn how to produce shadows in lemons. 3) We then added more fruit, again using the color wheel to practice dulling complements of new colors. 4) Next, we explored texture my developing saturation and details in the midtowns. 5) Finally we explored pushing the sense of space and atmospheric perspective with deeper still life set-ups and landscapes. It was such a blast! I honestly didn’t know anything about watercolor before the class, but feel really confident at it now.

The other cool thing about this class was that he made us create a Pinterest board of watercolor artists according to the sequence of our projects! I didn’t paint the below images, but found them useful for referencing when I was trying to convey a certain mood or technique:

The other class I took was the independent studio where I explored whatever themes I wanted to as an artist with the goal of allowing the making of art to reignite my creative spirit for the upcoming school year, and also see how I can combine my art making practice with my teaching practice. Here’s some of the art I made:

Heiser, Monica. Submerging, 2022. Acrylic on canvas. 36″ x 24″

It’s curious to me how water both reflects and distorts light. In watching swimmers, and because the subjects’ faces are masked, we are naturally more curious about both the experiences: Are they enjoying being under the water? What is it like under there? Who are they? How do I feel as I witness another swimming under water? To me these questions and imagery connect with the simulaneous joy and unknowability of the non-dual and non-self nature of direct experience that I also explore in my practice of Buddhist meditation. The color variations, texture, and broad, painterly strokes seek to convey the dreaminess of water that intrigues and entices the viewer to get lost in their color and shape. The intention is for the water to pull the viewer into the work and also convey a similar wavy, dreamlike, pleasant experience of submerging below the surface. I am also exploring non-duality, immateriality, immersion, and direct experience in my artworks and am inspired by how these themes have throughout art history frequently called to artists to explore in their imediate experience in various mediums. The work is about looking into the void and exploring the actual and symbolic surface texture of experience on both personal and literal universal levels. I want to engage the viewer so they are encouraged and supported to examine and imagine their own experience with self-awareness. I utilize a collage of frames and perspectives that forces the viewer to reconsider their local relative and ultimate location and identity in space and time.

Map of the Creative Process. I like this map because it combines an intuitive and humanistic approach to critical thinking and skill-based steps.

The independent studio class taught me a lot about about the artistic process. Every time we make art it is different. We may have a flow or process we usuaully gravitate towards, but in the end, every work of art is different, every theme we explore has nuances that we didn’t see previously, and everytime we make a new artwork we are a different person. I really enjoyed reconnecting with the process of discovering the art through the process of this class – ideation, field trips, peer discussion, drafts, revisions, and encouragement. It helped me see how this process is so important in making art, and that I will want to emphasize it in my classes this year. Similarly, when tasked with making a series, the creative process really flourishes. From the outset, we were instructed to create 3-4 works of art, which means that the creative process has to involve more than one idea, more than one media, etc. This year I will definitely scaffold this skill but ultimately assignment my Pre-AP Visual art and Middle School artists to create a series while reflecting on their work and process throughout their assignments.

Also this summer was the Arts Everyday week of professional development. They do it every year and I enjoy this time because it allows me to make artwork and exemplars that I can potentially use in my classroom later in the year.

One workshop by Unique Robinson, a Professor at MICA, artist, and educator, combined reflective writing, collage, and mindfulness to guide us to create “Vows and Vision Boards.” My art was inspired by my vow to treat myself and my students more gently, to encourage myself to be open to life, art, and my own heart. Check out the final version below. If you’re interested in teaching this in your classroom, you can download a copy of her Power Point slides here:

Another online video course entitled “Creating Text-based Paintings” at the same week-long event was led by Ada Pinkston, my former Towson University advisor! She is an artist, activist, and professor (check out her instagram here). She gave us time to see, think, and wonder about a variety of artists that use text and then had us research writings by Black women suffragists. We also learned about typography and stenciling to create our own works of art! Here are some of the resources that she employed that you can download:

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<object class="wp-block-file__embed" data="; type="application/pdf" style="width:100%;height:600px" aria-label="Embed of <strong>Links to Info about Text-Based Artists PDFLinks to Info about Text-Based Artists PDFDownload
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And here is my work in response below! When I was reading Anna Julia Cooper’s, The Ethics of the Negro Question Speech that she gave on September 5, 1902, I was struck by her strong visual language. In her opening paragraph, and throughout the speech, she centers the “vision” of the United States, and “the elevation [of the Brotherhood of its people] at which it receives its ‘vision’ into the firmament of eternal truth.” From my practice of meditation and racial justice, it seems that delusion, racism, bigotry, etc are things that need to be unlearned. So the process of undoing is very important and results in an unimpaired vision of truth. I also wanted to include her name in the work. I had not known about her before and feel that in the spirit of Adam Pendelton’s work of re-writing history by parsing and reconfiguring it into the present, that by adding her name, it brings recognition of her work back into the present. I ordered a pack of reusable plastic stencils for $8 on Amazon and that worked really well to get a variety of sizes.

Heiser, Monica. The Unimpaired Vision of Anna Julia Cooper, 2022. Marker. 11″ x 14″

Thanks for reading! Hope to make more artwork throughout the year, so check back soon!

New York City: Art !

This past weekend my boyfriend Chappell and I went to NYC to hear music, visit friends, eat tasty food, and of course see art! Let’s explore some of the art I saw – much of it is inspiring to me and my current body of work. The theme that kept coming up was water: immersion into water, our relationship with water, the force of water as nature, and the spirituality of water.

First we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the MET). There was a new Winslow Homer (b.1836 – d.1910) exhibition I wanted to see; my teacher told me he was an incredible watercolor painter. While there were watercolor paintings included, many of his pieces on show were oil paintings about water. Winslow Homer’s art sought to chronicle people’s lives both during historical events like the Civil War to everyday scenes of life. He also explored humanity’s relationship with nature, often with either overt or subtle socio/political/racial commentary.

Homer traveled from his home in Prouts Neck, Maine to tropical destinations like the Bahamas, Cuba, Florida, and Bermuda. The featured image above, The Gulf Stream (1899, reworked 1906), was one of the main inspirations for the show. It depicts a Black man on the deck of a distressed boat while sharks circle around him. The painting is a culmination of Homer’s personal and universal themes of man’s conflict with nature, and the geopolitical implications of the America’s imperial thirst. On the deck you see stacks of sugarcane – the Caribbean commodity central to the economy of the American and British empire. This crop coupled with the exploitation of black enslaved Africans and their descendants were linked by the currents of the Atlantic Ocean. This painting is an allegory for the human struggle against nature and greed.

As we wandered around the MET, I was struck by another scene of water: Man on a Diving Board (below left), 1912 by Aksel Waldemar Johanneson, Norwegian ( b. 1880- d. 1922). As the MET describes the work, “the scene is structured by powerful contrasts: the angular doubled-up form and taut musculature of the man, suspended in space, contrast sharply with the blurred contours of the woman in the water. The man’s face is hidden, leaving no clue to his expression as he gazes downward.” His contemporary Edvard Munch considered his works remarkable. I recently have also been playing with aerial photos of myself underwater (right). It’s curious to me how water both reflects and distorts light. In both Johanneson’s art and my photo, we are watching swimmers, and because the subjects’ faces are masked, we are naturally more curious about both of their experiences: Are they enjoying being under the water? What is it like under there? Who are they? How do I feel as I witness another swimming under water? Who am I? To me these questions and imagery connect with the non-dual and non-self nature of direct experience that I explore in my practice of Buddhist meditation.

Another artist that peeked my interest at the MET was Claude Monet’s La Grenouillere, 1869, oil on canvas (below left). During the summer of 1869 Monet and Renoir set up their easels at La Grenouiller, a boating and bathing resort on the Seine River outside of Paris. Monet said, “I do have a dream, a painting, the baths of La Grenouillere, for which I have made some bad sketches, but it is only a dream.” I particularly like the way he creates ripples of water. The color variations, texture, and broad, painterly strokes convey the dreaminess of water that intrigues and entices me to get lost in their color and shape. In my reference photo for a current artwork-in-process (below right), I want to accentuate the ripples of water to pull the viewer into the work and also convey a similar wavy, dreamlike, pleasant experience of submerging below the surface.

Later that evening, we went to the Avant Gardener, an outdoor music hall in Brooklyn to watch an Ajunadeep concert. Their music label is progressive house, progressive trance, electronic dance music; I really love the melodies, beats, and dreaminess of their music. Below is a 30 second video clip from the show. The color scheme of the lights, the overlapping projections of water, waves, and lasers, all combined to create this surreal and spiritual underwater effect. We had a great time!

We did see other artworks, eat pizza and ice cream, went shopping in an open air market, walked around central, etc. but there is one more artwork that that connects to similar meditations on water, immersion, spirituality, and the infinite. While at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) the work (below left) entitled Blue Monochrome, 1961 by Yvies Klien stood out. It is made of dry pigment in polyvinyl acetate on cotton over plywood and also encased in a glass frame. Apparently Klein, “declared the blue sky to be his first artwork and from there continued finding radical new ways to represent the infinite and immaterial in his works. One such strategy was monochrome abstraction – the use of one color over an entire canvas. Klein saw monochrome painting as an ‘open window to freedom, as the possibility of being immersed in the immeasurable existence of color.’ Although he used a range of color, his most iconic works often featured International Klein Blue, a shade of pure ultramarine that Klein claimed to have invented and trademarked.” I feel that I am also exploring non-duality, immateriality, immersion, and direct experience in my artworks and am inspired by how these themes frequently call to artists to explore in their various mediums. I don’t know if Klein did this intentionally to impact the surface of the work or it was done to simply preserve the artwork, but when folks take a picture of his work, there is a slight reflection of themselves in the image. If you look closely at the blue artwork, you can see the outline / silhouette of Chappell on the left and me on the right. I personally enjoy that you can see our forms, but the shapes are very subtle, and it’s almost impossible to see any detail. The viewer becomes implicated in the moment in viewing with just a slight reflection. My digital collage that is also part of my new series (below right) also deals with looking into the void and exploring the actual and symbolic surface texture of experience on both personal and literal universal levels. If I exhibit the collage in a glass encasement, there would also be a subtle reflection – something worth considering in terms of presentation!

Thank you for reading my reflections! I appreciate sharing this space with you as I continue to develop my artistic practice! Please feel welcomed to write a comment and/or your own reflection. ❤

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!