Visual Research Journal, Entries #5-8

So many artists, so little time! I really want to highlight Baltimore-based or Baltimore-born artists, since when I am a high school art teacher, I will be able to use this community asset to inspire my students. Who knows maybe I can even invite them to my art class in the future!

The first artist actually has an exhibition that has an opening reception on Thurs. 9/26 at 4:30 – 7:30pm at the Scott Center at Carroll Community College. Ariston Jacks is a Baltimore based artist with a MA in Painting & Printmaking from University of Arkansas. I like the way his art reflects personal narratives and the spiritual through use of symbols. The work I have been also works with family and spiritual symbolism, so I appreciate looking at other contemporary artists working with similar themes.

“Guided by the spirit realm, research, and the oral tradition of my Father, I construct a modern mythology centered in truth and impending prophecy. The L.O.S.T. Gate (Legacy of Supreme Triumph) series documents my ancestral heritage through veiled images that are filled with secret messages and sacred geometry presented through a contemporary lens. These mythical narratives of family, archetype, and icon illuminate the spirit of man by chronicling discerning perspectives which illustrate the human condition outside of the edited scope of mainstream culture.” – Ariston Jacks

Sherald, Amy. Sometimes the king is a woman. (2019) oil on canvas. 137.2 x 109.2 x 6.4cm

Next, Amy Sherald. She is a contemporary Baltimore-born painter who quickly rose to fame when she painted Michelle Obama’s portrait for the National Portrait Gallery in D.C., becoming the first African American woman commissioned to paint a first lady. She is having a solo exhibition entitled, “the heart of the matter” that deals with people, landscapes, and cityscapes as opportunities to paint version of herself and African Americans into the American art narrative. The title of the exhibition comes from bell hook’s book “Salvation” and builds on themes of silence and stillness felt in other great works like Elizabeth Alexander’s poem “Black Interior.” She is really dealing with the idea of blackness and black identity in both the public and private spaces.

NORA STURGES, “Attic:\”, 2019, gouache on panel, 4.5 x 6 inches

The next artist I found as I was looking through Baltimore community-based, independent art publication called Bmore Art. They publish a quarterly magazine that is a great resource to find upcoming gallery openings and events, reviews of work, and artist interviews. Nora Sturges has an opening next week on Thurs. Sept 26 @ 6pm at the C. Grimaldis Gallery on N. Charles Street and I hope I can go! I also found out today that she is a professor at Towson University and teaches painting – Smaltimore strikes again! Inspired by the mystery and humanity of late medieval Italian frescoes, she works in oil paint, gouache, to explore abstracted landscapes of color and form.

Last but not least, we have Whitney Frazier. She is an interdisciplinary artist, teacher and activist living in Baltimore and is currently pursuing her MFA in Community Arts at MICA. Her work centers around the collaborative process of art believing it has the ability to create social justice and strengthen our communities. Check her website out here.

“My mixed media works layer collaged images and gestural paint strokes. My abstractions express broad political and social commentaries about this moment and imagined futures.” – Whitney Frazier

New Semester, New Challenges: Visual Research Journal Entries # 1 – 4

Hi friends! I took a break over the summer from being an over-achiever; hope you did too! lol. Now it’s back to student-soon-to-be-teacher-grind-mode and my schedule is intense but so enjoyable. In addition to taking required Art Education major courses, I wanted to challenge myself as an artist, and signed up for intermediate oil painting class for fun. The class focuses on how we create meaning through imagery, technique, medium, framing , and although it requires 5 projects, they are all very open ended and can explore any theme.

The first two projects deal with processes for creating a meaningful composition using 1) collage and 2) a single photograph. Also assigned is what the professor calls, a “visual research journal” where I explore contemporary artists that interest me. It’s a great way to stay current with what other artists are doing.

I figured this would be a good stepping stone to figure out what I wanted to do with my projects. In doing a little bit of research, I found Jessie Craig, a portrait photographer who has work in the permanent collection of the UK’s National Portrait Gallery and has shot the photos of Oprah and Leonardo DiCaprio. The tie-in here is that Craig also creates inventive photo-based collages.

I like her work because she plays with value, repetition, color, negative space, and humor. The first image I like the way she tiles the models, making me question the role of the model and how they are often seen as replaceable or replicas of each other, maybe alluding to that lack of identity with the cut out of the face. I also feel like she challenges that narrative, and maybe addressing how the models may see themselves: the grayscale palette and then the burst of bright green hair draws your eye to the foreground. The Elijah Wood collage is just so funny, I had to include it and the last collage is actually a weaving of the printout. In the third piece, I like how the artist breaks the photo’s fourth wall, simultaneously deconstructing the photo and commenting on photography’s ability to weave a reality that we readily believe as truth.

JACKIE MILAD, “Chaos Eyes”, 2019, acrylic, flashe, marker, and collage on canvas, 72 x 68 inches

Another collage-inspired artist that I stumbled upon is a local Baltimorean: Jackie Milad! She actually has a show right now at the C. Grimaldis Gallery on Charles St., entitled, Chaos Comes and Goes, and run from 9/26 – 11/2. This exhibition showcases pieces from previous works that have been reborn through collage. Milad aims to question preciousness and practice experimentation, while also highlighting themes of history and culture. She breaks down symbols that references her experience in the world as an Egyptian-Honduran-American artist, playing with themes like time, movement, and resistance to permanence. 

Helado, Helado, Helado, 2017, 4′ x 4′ x 3.5″  billboard paper, street posters, house paint, spray paint, graffiti markers, graphite, found fabric, carpenters glue.

Artist Matthew Grimes, who is currently based in Virginia, also does mixed media collage. At first glance, I’ll be honest, I was not wowed by his collage paintings. But then I read his artist statement, and his concept really resonants with me in terms of how to use collage to investigate meaning:

“The act of paying attention serves as the genesis of my currently expanding line of deconstructed collage paintings. The streets, in particular of Santiago, Chile, are laden with posters screaming intentions via graphics, imagery, and words. Yet it isn’t the designed communication that pulls me in, but the allure of the endless decaying layers of juxtaposed color and texture producing in concert an almost silent chance of passive composition… My intention is to bring to light the electric beauty of which falls silent to most passersby, ciphering the positive qualities out of the banal of everyday to act catalyst towards increasing observation of this world we live in.” – Matthew Grimes

Finally, here is some work by Baltimore-born and raised Beth Hoeckel. As an artist, play is an important part of her process, working with images she’s often been saving for years. “I almost always start with no specific idea in mind. The work grows organically and intuitively and I enjoy building something out of nothing.” She often juxtaposes foreground and background objects and inquisitive figures, who are often standing on the edges of cliffs, or looking out to lakes or even into deep space. She has literally hundreds of collages on her website, all categorized into theme – here are just a few.

From even just this beginning research, I am definitely excited to have fun with these projects! All of these artists used the technique of collaging in different ways to convey different meanings. My next step for the collage work will be to gather more imagery that the helps convey my meaning, my “why” – and then cut and play! ❤

Art & Reading <3

This summer I took two art classes, one of which was ARED 464: Author/Illustration in Art Education where I learned about the intersection of illustration and literacy. Reading is an active, cognitive, and affective process to create meaning. Readers actively engage with the text and build their understanding, which is why picture books are so awesome – they help young readers engage and build their comprehension.

Reading is also a sociocultural process: it occurs within a situation whose participants, time, place, and expectation affect the reader and the meaning they construct with the text. Ergo the meaning is constructed from what the students already know – culturally, socially, topically, etc. This is called cultural funds of knowledge – teachers can take advantage of the fact that diverse students have different background knowledge, and leverage that to improve and encourage reading. In fact, English Language Learners (ELLS) need more intense and intentional scaffolding to bridge their experience to the content of the text, develop schema, and internalize academic language. Ergo not simplify but rather amplify!

Back to School 2018 bulletin board at Busbee Elementary depicts an image of Drake and riffs off the lyrics from his hit song “In My Feelings.”

After investigating author/illustrators, our final project was to write / create our own picture book! As many of you know, I teach Meditation for Kids class on Sundays in Baltimore (click this link for kids meditation class information). For these classes, I regularly read children’s books that exemplify the topic for the class, whether it is compassion, recognizing our feelings, listening, loving kindness, etc. For this reason, I really wanted to write a children’s book about how to do a basic breathing meditation. I used this website, <mystorybook.com>. Check out my final picture book here!

Also more good news: next week I start a summer internship with Reading Partners! I wrote about them in my March post, and now I get to work for them! My job will be mostly community outreach, introducing folks and encouraging them to volunteer with Reading Partners. What I love is this organization is that it is evidence-based and community-driven, working one-on-one with students for 45 minutes twice a week, following a structured, research-based curriculum. Last semester I volunteered at Robert Coleman Elementary school and witnessed first hand the progress my students made in reading. They just needed some extra scaffolding and support to build up their skills and comprehension. Consider volunteering by visiting this link! It was a ton of fun and really powerful honor to help a student so directly, without needing to be a teacher or parateacher.

First Semester – complete!

This week wrapped up my 1st of 3 semesters at Towson University studying Art Education. I learned so much; it’s kinda hard to put it into words… Instead, watch this dope stop-motion animation my classmates and I made!

But for real, this semester has been one of the most life-affirming periods of my life.

When this semester began, I had a very strong motivation and intention for entering the program, which served as the foundation for my philosophy of education. However, this philosophy has changed, largely in part because I have learned so much this semester: classroom management, classroom design, curriculum planning, lesson structure, growth mindset, etc. Understanding and practicing these methods gave me the nuts and bolts of teaching to develop real confidence. Teaching is an art, meaning that it has to be practice and perfected over time, but only if you first fully understand the techniques at the start. I feel that this class gave me that foundation. With that confidence, my original motivation has been strengthened.

At the start of this semester, I knew that teaching was my vocational calling – serving the community and contributing to society through art education – but again this motivation was strengthened by how much fun and joy arose through learning and practicing secondary education techniques. What has changed is that every single day I came to class, I discovered a deep passion and love for education and art. Dave Burgess says in How to Teach Like A Pirate, “When you interact with someone who is fully engaged and filled with passion, it can be an overwhelming and unforgettable experience. There is no faking it…” and I feel that my passion and love of the teaching profession and for art curriculum is now a core element of my teaching philosophy.

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My philosophy has also been challenged: teaching requires incredible discipline, organization, and planning. It is not sufficient enough to have a strong motivation and passion. I will need a back-up plan for my back-up plan. Scaffolding curriculum and back-mapping unit plans to create engaging and effective lessons, requires attention to detail and many hours of planning, reflecting, and revising lessons. This is what I will need to work on because organization and logic are not my strengths. However, I am hopeful that since now I understand and appreciate the importance of these elements for the learning and success of my students, I will approach it with the same joy as other aspects of teaching.

Special thanks to my amazing teachers this semester – Kay Broadwater, Diane Kuthy, Dave Ninos, David Vocke, and Venetia Zacahary!! ❤

New work: “Float Thru My Mind”

2019 Copyright Monica Heiser

In this 18 x 24″ mixed media collage and acrylic painting, you see my mother as a child, being held by my grandmother, Irene. They float as a reflection in a swirling bubble, dancing between flowers in a field of irises. This work reflects on mother/child relationships, memory, and time, so that the viewer feels both pulled into the past and present simultaneously.

This painting has been in my heart for a long time. The fact that I am in school for art education right now is in large part due to the support and kindness that my mom and dad have shown me over the years: art supplies, books, classes… My mom is my biggest patron. At this point, I’ve painted so many paintings for her that the imagery of iris flowers has become a reoccurring symbol in my art.

Irises are my mother’s favorite flower, in part, because it was her mother’s favorite flower. My grandmother Irene reflects the symbolism of the flower color: purple irises symbolize royalty and wisdom; blue irises symbolize faith and hope. All four of these words symbolize my mother and grandmother. After WWII when the Soviet’s were unrolling the Iron Curtain, my grandmother fled from Poland with her mother and siblings. She stayed in England for a number of years, until she met her husband at age 23. My mother was born in England, and then emigrated when she was 5 years old with my grandmother and grandfather. There are some very sad parts of this story: my grandmother’s brother taken forever to concentration camps before they escaped; my mother’s father dying of cancer when she was 12 years old; and ultimately my grandmother dying of Alzheimer’s disease. This painting is and ode to my matriarchal lineage of resiliency. They will be remembered by their faith in God, their hope for a better future for their children, and their wisdom that they passed onto their families.

Additionally, irises are an ancient symbol; in Greek, the word iris means “rainbow” and the goddess Iris was the personification of the rainbow. The interesting thing with rainbows, bubbles, and moments of time, are that they all arise and pass away so quickly. Their beauty is in part because you realize how special it is that you are present to witness their truth bloom. Also, when you capture a photo of a bubble, by default, the background becomes blurry. I played with this idea in the foreground with the irises, and feel like it relates to human focus and memory.

When my mom was visiting her only sister in Seattle, she dug up a bunch of archival photos. I used the photos as a reference as I drew their portraits with pencil. I love drawing! It was so nice to “spend time” with my grandmother and mom by drawing their faces. I then scanned that drawing, edited it with Photoshop, and printed it out. I also used reference pictures of flowers and bubbles to get closer to a realistic rendering. The process to this painting is important: I messed up multiple times and it was because of those errors that I was able to figure out what I wanted. I spray painted the sky blue with the bubble being black. Then I realized I wanted the scene to be at night – representing the trials my mother and grandmother experienced. Wanting to experiment, I painted the bubble white and attempted my first “acrylic transfer” by soaking it with water and medium. I waited an hour for it to dry, but it seriously looked bad. The image severely tore when I rubbed the paper away and although the original image had supersaturated colors, the transfer was too washed out. Instead I just collaged another water-soaked copy of the image directly onto the canvas with medium, placing it directly on top of the acrylic transfer residue. It worked and had the saturation, warmth, and brightness of a summer day.

Feel free to let me know what you think, and/or if you ever want a commissioned portrait, leave me a message in the contact form on my website.

Elementary School Visit!

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit Fort Garrison Elementary School to see 2nd grade and Kindergarten art classes!

When the 2nd graders came into the classroom, they were directed to sit in the middle of a colorful 6×4 rug in the middle of the room. There, the teacher, Ms. Hulse, reviewed with the students the activities for the day: glazing their ceramic sculptures! She did an informal pre-assessment reviewing material about ceramics: no glaze on the bottom, the fired pieces will break if dropped, etc. Her voice was naturally soothing and soft; the children really listened! She called the names on the bottom of the ceramic pieces and they stood up to collect it and go back to their seats. She asked 2 students to help set up glazing pots. They worked for most of the class. At one point when she wanted to clam the class, she turned off the lights briefly. The clean up procedure was interesting: the painted pots were put on a cafeteria tray at the table, and then all the students received a wet wipe. After cleaning their hands they wiped off their tables.

Daffodils blooming in Fort Garrison Elementary art class ~

For the kindergarteners, they also came in and immediately sat on the rug, but their instruction was slightly different since they were starting a new project: they were drawing and painting daffodils! Earlier that morning, Ms. Hulse had picked daffodils and now a few bloomed in a vase at each of the tables. With a daffodil in her hand, she asked the students to identify the shapes and parts of the flower: stem, ruffles, bowl, leaf, etc. She then had the students move aside so she could demonstrate in the middle of the rug how to look and draw a daffodil with chalk, and then fill in the flowers with tempera paint. I appreciated how she used the rug as a “fishbowl” instructional area, bringing the content down to the children’s physical level. Also, bringing in a natural element into the classroom (a blooming seasonal flower) was a great way to bring introduce observational drawing. In total, the introduction and demonstration only took 15 minutes. The students then got up, got a sheet of paper and a piece of chalk and the art began. For their signal to stop working, Ms. Hulse chimed a bell. After they finished painting, they put their art on the drying rack and did the same wet wipe cleanup as the earlier class.

Note: I don’t know how I feel about this, but when she was having the students move, she did it a very disciplined way, explicitly naming the students and directing where and when they could move their bodies. I understand it was to help the flow of the class and optimize time, but it seemed rigid and controlling to me. Also, I noticed that the kids got supplies from a variety of different places. Perhaps if the supplies were pre-arranged in the middle of the room and accessible for students, it would help the flow of traffic in the room.

This semester has been crazy busy, and this has not been my first classroom observation (sorry I haven’t been able to write about them more!) However, it’s important to reflect on these visits and experiences because I always learn so much by watching expert teachers in actions! Stay tuned for another post soon about another school visit!

America Reads

Did you know there is a literacy crisis in Baltimore City? According to the 2016 PARCC Assessment, 21.6% of 3rd graders are reading below grade level, a figure that is double the State average. One in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade do not graduate from high school on time. This is not okay.

That’s why I signed up for Reading Partners, an organization that collaborates with schools to bring in volunteers to address the reading crisis. It’s not a simple “read a book program”- it is a highly structured and personalized set of goals that address the student’s reading needs – phonological pronunciation of sounds, reading comprehension, fluency, and more. I will be volunteering with Robert Coleman Elementary School every week, and I could not be more excited!

For children to have equal access to opportunities and education, they need to be able to read well, and this learning happens at a very young age. Most of the kids I will be working with are in Kindergarten to 2nd grade. As an activist, there is a lot of work done around about trying to reduce crime, poverty, addiction, homelessness, police brutality, all of which are important, but helping a child learn to read so they can make better decisions for themselves and their community is an absolutely essential key to these problems, the student’s freedom, and to our collective liberation.

“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.” – Malcolm X

Did you know that Malcolm X taught himself how to read while he was in prison? Did you know that Frederick Douglass revealed that reading speeches by English politicians produced in him a deep love of liberty and hatred of oppression? Learning to read is a tangible and concrete act of activism because it instills in us the ability to navigate, reflect, and respond critically to the world around us. It is a basic skill that many of us take for granted, but remember, you weren’t born being able to read! Someone, or many people, taught you and showed you how.

Check out this excerpt of Malcolm X’s autobiography, where he details his journey of self-education while in prison: http://accounts.smccd.edu/bellr/readerlearningtoread.htm