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!

Art on My Mind: Visual Politics by bell hooks

Race, gender, and identity are important lenses with which to examine art and lived experience, and bell hooks is one of the most brilliant authors of our time in this regard. I recently finished her collection of essays, Art on My Mind: Visual Politics, and to be honest, it took me a long time to finish because her work is meant to be discussed, contemplated, and explored in-depth. Over 22 chapters, she covers a huge range of profound and intensely intimate topics within the intersection of race and art: from art as an active resistance to white supremacy, to challenging the historical and majority view of critics, white audiences, even black audiences to approach artwork without first fixating only on the blackness of the images. She also delves into personal interviews with black artists and architects like Alison Saar, Margo Humphrey, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, LaVerne Wells-Bowie, and Emma Amos, and reviews artwork by Jean-Michell Basquiat and Felix Gonzalez Torres. It would actually be an impossible disservice to attempt to summarize this book! Instead, I’ll pull out a few highlights from the chapters and highly recommend that you read this book yourself. 😀

In her introduction, she says, “the uses of time, the choices we make with respect to what to think and write about, are part of visual politics… As we think and write about visual art, as we make spaces for dialogue across boundaries, we engage a process of cultural transformation that will ultimately create a revolution in vision.” This is a very important point for me as an artist, educator, and activist. Many of my white friends ask how they can be involved in racial justice work, maybe expecting to hear a response of going to a protest or voting. While these actions are important we should be careful not to limit our response or capacity for political activism. In the above quote, bell hooks is pointing at the power both our attention and intention have to act artistically and politically. When we choose to spend our time instead of exclusively studying white male artists, but instead study black, women, gay, hispanic, trans artists, we are engaging in a visual politic that will create a different visual of the world. Being politically active is about changing our perspective, intention, and attention. I find this point to be incredibly empowering and uplifting because it offers a tangible practice. This is the premise of her book.

In the first chapter, she makes a really important counterpoint, inspired by Michelle Wallace’s Invisibility Blues, “Our capacity to value art is severely corrupted and perverted by a politics of the visual that suggest we [black artists] must limit our responses… Clearly it is only as we move away from the tendency to define ourselves in reaction to white racism that we are able to move toward that practice of freedom which requires us first to decolonize our minds. We can liberate ourselves and others only by forging in resistance identities that transcend narrowly defined limits.”

Margo Humphrey, The History of Her Life Written Across Her Face, 1991.

The above quote, bell hooks is encouraging and challenging black artists to create art that reflects the wide diversity of human experience as a deeply liberatory action. Margo Humphrey (born June 25, 1942), an American printmaker, illustrator and art teacher, is a great example of an artist who approaches art in this way. On page 196 she describes her artwork: “The art that I make is intentional. The stories are personal, and I draw on African-American experience – that to me is the foundation – but the values in my work transcend the specific and address the universal as well.”

Hooks also explores photography and the way, “cameras gave to black folks irrespective of class, a means by which we could participate fully in the production of images. Hence it is essential that any theoretical discussion of the relationship of black life to the visual, to art making, make photography central. ” Representation and control of the image of blackness remains a crucial realm of struggle, and acknowledging and reclaiming photography as a tradition within black culture is as she says on page 60, “a way to contain memories, overcome loss, and keep history in the resistance struggle while having fun.” Hooks shares a whole chapter on her own personal reflection on impact of photographs in her childhood.

Check out this Art21 video with Carrie Mae Weems explaining her series of photographs entitled, “The Kitchen Table Series.”

Hooks also interviews Carrie Mae Weems (born April 20, 1953), an American artist is best known for her work in the field of photography. Her award-winning photographs, films, and videos focus on serious issues that face African Americans today, such as racism, sexism, politics, personal identity, complex, dimensional, human experience and social inclusion. Her photos are a powerful testament for the ability for photography to reclaim representation and the write history with an intentional visual politic.

One of hook’s first interviews in the book is with Alison Saar. They discuss the influence of dreams, the primacy of material, the spiritual power reflected in her sculptures. She describes her work as, “a mix of sacred and profane, a process of exorcism. These are constructive ways of facing tragic, painful experiences. And that’s how the slaves survived all that pain – through creating, by making music, dance, poetry.”

An installation shot of five sculptures by Alison Saar: “Rice” (sickle), “Cotton” (bale hook), “Indigo” (hoe), “Sugar Cane” (machete), “Tobacco” (tobacco knife) all 2018, made of wood, copper, ceiling tin, bronze, tar and vintage found tools. (Jeff McLane / L.A. Louver)

Hooks also writes an incredible chapter on Jean-Michel Basquiat, paying tribute to his art by deeply inquiring into the Basquiat’s paintings, whose work, “holds no warm welcome for those who approach it with a narrow Eurocentric gaze.” In art, the gaze is often regarded as a context of power – who is looking at who, both in and at the art. Here the Eurocentric gaze can only recognize Basquiat, “if he is in the company of Warhol…. as a part of a continuum of contemporary American art with a genealogy traced through white males: Pollock, de Kooning, Rauschenberg, Twombly, and on to Andy.” To only see Basquiat’s work in the context of whiteness, is to completely not see his art. Rather, Basquiat was grappling with the pull of a genealogy that is fundamentally “black” (rooted in African diasporic “primitive” and “high art” traditions) and a fascination with white Western traditions.

Jean-Michel Basquiat. Irony of a Negro Policeman. 1981. Acrylic and oil paintstick on wood. 72″ x 48.”

His work hinges on “the politics of dehumanization, the colonization of the black body and mind, marked by the anguish of abandonment, estrangement, dismemberment, and death. His works speaks of dread, terror, being torn apart, made to “serve” the interest of white matters. His images are ugly and grotesque, because that brutality is ugly and grotesque. To see and understand these paintings, one must be willing to accept the tragic dimensions of black life.”

On page 47, hooks references visual artist Fred Braithwaite (aka Fab 5 Freddy), a friend of Basquiat’s, when he says that for the established white art world, and the Eurocentric, multiethnic public, to look at Basquiat’s work, and truly appreciate it, they must first examine themselves…”they have to try to erase if possible all the racism from their hearts and minds and then when they look at the paintings they can see the art.”

Hooks is a teacher, so she also includes pointers how to encourage more marginalized artists from an earlier age, “…if a cultural climate of support is established at the outset of a young artists commitment to doing artwork there is much greater likelihood that this work will develop and mature (page 140).” She suggests a variety of way to support young artists’ commitment to art-making: 1) creating art scholarships for gifted children who lack the means to pursue their work (especially buying supplies); 2) encouraging a system of inter-art relations that would reward the sharing of knowledge, information, and art skills across boundaries of race, class, gender, age, etc.; 3) encourage critical conscious in small groups that creates a context for dialogue where conflicting viewpoints can be discussed.

As a white woman teaching art in a majority black city and Title 1 school, I need bell hook’s teachings to ensure I am encouraging my students to explore the wide range of their experience, ideas, hopes, fears, dreams, and visions, and to not shy away from difficult conversations around racism, prejudice, classism, and sexism. I am excited to share these (and more black and non-white) artists with my students, and to support them by creating a positive environment for art-making and critical thinking! Thanks for reading ❤

Graduation + Secondary Ed Internship + Next Steps

Wow! Already my time at Towson University is done, and I am graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Art Education! I am so grateful for this experience and feel that it has really prepared me to be an art educator.

Congratulations to ALL of the graduates who are celebrating virtually. Your accomplishments matter!!

One of the last parts of my program was a secondary (meaning high and/or middle school) internship, but because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this experience that would have been at a local Baltimore high school, became a completely digital experience. In hindsight, I think there is a positive silver-lining: it will prepare me for remote learning in the fall with my own classes (if that becomes necessary)…

When crafting lesson plans, one major challenge was to create assignments that students could do with the basic materials they had at home; for many students this means paper and pencil. When I first surveyed the students to see what they wanted to learn, many of them said portraits. One of the first elements when making a portrait are eyes, soooo we focused on that first!

Objective: After looking at both visual artist and pop culture exemplars of eyes and assessing their ability to express and hide meaning, students created two pictures:
1) a “first-attempt” of drawing of an eye.
2) a revised drawing of an eye that incorporates either improvement in realism or deeper meaning.

In addition, I was challenged to improve my instructional video skills! Watch this video showing how to draw an eye:

Watch and Learn: How to Draw an Eye !

There are so many opportunities to be creative with remote learning. The National Art Education Association (NAEA) has a great list of resources that you can check out here.

Equitable access to wifi needs to be addressed.

While there are many creative lesson possibilities, there are also obvious challenges with remote learning that I think are important to confront, especially if we want to have a decent start to the 2020-2021 school year:

1. Wifi connection. Because of all the public wifi spots – libraries, coffee shops, etc. – are closed, students need wifi in order to learn. Wifi is so central to being connected and informed in our society that I feel it is more akin to a utility like water and gas; it will be essential in the future to have it, so the sooner we can provided stable, high speed internet to everyone, the better all of us will be! A few providers offer “essential” packages of $10/month which is great, but a) you have to prove low-income status via enrollment in a food stamps program, housing assistance, etc. and b) you can’t have been their customer in the past. This second point can effectively eliminate a lot of households. You can check it out for yourself though by clicking here.

2. Technology and devices. Baltimore City schools have been really amazing about this – there have been lots of iPad and laptop donation / pick-up drives for students. The only issue is there aren’t enough for every student; many times students in one household have to share devices. This can be problematic when classes overlap, or homework needs to be done. On a related note, on phones, not all online video platforms are created equal. Many times students have been kicked off of the call due to slow internet connections, including myself! Teachers will need to play around and be allowed to use a video platform that is reliable.

  • There are so many other issues surrounding equity and access it’s mind-boggling. However, Rice University has a really good article about the challenges and solutions around this issue and I found it really helpful. Click here to read that article.
  • There is also another great guide for teachers in how to be skillful online, addressing everything from email announcements, to trusting students who express the limitations and challenges in participating online. Click here to read that blog article.

On the bright side, my mentor has been absolutely *fabulous* through this entire experience, giving me tons of feedback, encouragement, and advice. I couldn’t have done this semester without her!! ❤

and finally, drum roll please….

I formally accepted a full-time position at ConneXions School for the Arts to start this fall 2020! I am so grateful and excited about this new beginning at a fantastic school! They are a 6th – 12th grade school, so I will have the opportunity to build long-term relationship with students. Additionally, I will be able to create a strong arts program where students can gradually build and deepen their artistic skills by the time they graduate high school. If you’re reading this, thank you for your support!!! ❤

Elementary Internship Rotation: Done!

Due to privacy concerns and being focused on my elementary teaching internship, I haven’t posted anything on my website in a few months. However, since the first phase of that experience is done, I thought it would be a great time to share what I’ve learned.

This last few months I’ve been teaching at grades Pre-K through 5th grade at a Title 1 elementary school in Baltimore City. It’s been very challenging to navigate the variety of student needs, ages, and abilities while also creating new units, basically from scratch. My university requires a lot of lesson and unit writing and planning, which has been incredibly helpful to ground my teaching practice, but also very time consuming. It has also been time well spent because unlike other subject area, Baltimore City does not have a required curriculum to teach. We have National Visual Arts Standards that all of my lessons need to be based around, but over all these standards are very flexible. They can include almost any artist and any medium, as well all interdisciplinary connections. The result has been some really creative and meaningful units that are unique to my students, their interests, and their talents. Going forward, especially in my first year of teaching, I will still take the time to write out units in-depth so I can create and build a wide and deep variety of lessons for all my future years of teaching. Here are a few images of a few of my units. If you are interest in getting a copy of the unit, the PowerPoint presentation for each unit, and/or any handouts associated with the the art, please leave a comment or contact me!

Kindergarten: Through experimentation, build skills in various media and approaches to artmaking. Students played to build with literacy skills through collage, video, and collaborative letter play. ( VA:Cr2.1.Ka)
1st grade: Students explored pattern and color Kente cloth Paper weaving and circular weaving, understanding that people from different places and times have made art for a variety of reasons (NVAS:Cn11.1.1a)
2nd grade: After looking at African American Abstract Artists, Alma Thomas, and describing aethetic characters of her art, students created their own abstract art describe aesthetic characteristics of their natural world (VA:Re.7.1.2a)
3rd grade: During the Black Lives Matter Week of Action, students examined restorative justice, celebrated diverse families, engaged in youth activism and made a family story quilt inspired by Faith Ringold. (VA:Cn10.1.4a Create works of art that reflect community cultural traditions.)
4th grade: While studying the American Revolutionary history, students focusing on the Iroquois art of beadwork and basket weaving to create their own original embroidery. (VA:Cn10.1.4a Create works of art that reflect community cultural traditions.)
5th grade: Looking at the art of Vasarely, Julio Le Parc, and Jesus Rafael Soto, students learned about the science behind optical illusions to create their own optical artworks. (VA:Cn10.1.5a -Apply formal and conceptual vocabularies of art and design to view surroundings in new ways through artmaking.)

In building units, I think about alternate or marginalized perspectives, what my students would be interested in learning, how the unit can help them build life-long skills they can take with them into the real world, and how their abilities, cultural and community assets, and prior knowledge all contribute to the unit. Tailoring the units to my students is a lot of work but it is worth it: having alternate choices and options for students with IEPs to having directions and vocabulary translated into Spanish and English, ensures that I am reaching every student. And for those early finishers? Having a safety valve is a must!

Having stated my strength in lesson and unit planning, one challenge that I need to work on is classroom management. Children really benefit from having structure, even in an art classroom. Being essentially a guest teacher in my mentor teacher’s classroom, I was hesitant at first to implement my own classroom management system. I wish I would have unrolled it earlier in my teaching experience, because once I did I saw a noticeable difference in student work, focus, and learning. Once I have my own classroom it will be different, but because what I learned:

So many times….
  1. In a natural way, start the year or experience with expectations, classroom rules and agreements, routines, and rewards. If something doesn’t work, it’s never too late to change the system and re-invent it so it works. Continually check-in with the class about the rules and guidelines, and if possible, I really encourage you to create the rules and expectations with the students so they have agency in the classroom! This can be done at an elementary level, but I found more success in the older grades like 4th and 5th.

    As a side note to this point: create a routine around students cleaning the art room. I lost track of how many crayons, pencils, markers, erasers, and pieces of paper I had to pick up off the ground or how many hours I spent sweeping and cleaning tables. With intense teacher schedules, often once class leaves and then the next class immediately enters the room without any time for you to clean even if you want to! Make it a point to always have enough time to clean-up, even if it means not getting through the entire lesson…
  2. Unassigned seating is a privilege! Some students need preferential seating, while other students just done work well by sitting next to each other. Having assigned seating takes all of the behavior and focus issues out of the equation by having assigned seating. Also, it can become a treat and/or incentive for classes at the end the week to get to sit next to their friends.
  3. Have a seating area where students can go to cool-off. Conflicts happen. Providing a safe place for students to sit and take a self-determined time out is a great way to encourage students to manage their own behavior. Having this spot be different than a “time-out” corner for punishment is important too because the safe place needs to a place they want to go.

Shout out to my mentor who I will leave unnamed, but they were incredibly receptive to my ideas, very kind in answering all of my questions, and very generous in giving me rides to and from school everyday! I couldn’t have done it without them. ❤

Looking ahead, because of the Corona virus pandemic, all the public schools in Maryland are closed at least until March 30th as a preventative measure. However, I still have to complete my secondary education experience before graduating. I was schedule to teach art in a Title 1 high school in Baltimore City but everything is very uncertain at this time. We will see what happens and I’ll let you know! Thanks for reading! ❤


This past semester I taught an arts-integration Spanish language unit at Baltimore City College. It was an incredible experience, and I will likely detail it more in a later blog post. One of the core objectives of the unit was to examine the art and activism of Frida Kahlo, one of the most celebrated artists of our generation. So when I got a chance over the winter holiday to visit the North Carolina Museum of Art’s exhibition Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Mexican Modernism, on show until Jan 19, 2020, I was thrilled to finally get a chance to see her artwork in person!

At the entrance of the exhibit, there is a traditional Dios de Los Muertos altar where people can pay their respects to Frida, but also write down the names of their loved ones on cards and place it in the front.

Frida Kahlo (b. July 6, 1907 in Coyoacan, Ciudad México) was a Mexican, queer, gender-bending feminist, Marxist, antifacist, female artist. Her radical politics, complicated love life, and fierce personality coalesced into artwork that is profoundly inspiring. You may know, but just to review –

  • At 6 years old she contracted polio which kept her bedridden for 9 months
  • At 18 years old she was in tragic bus accident; a steal handrail impaled her thru the hip, breaking her back in three places, and fracturing her hip. This left her with severe pain and health issues throughout her life.
  • She married the famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera, at 22 years old. He was 20 years older than her. Their marriage was fraught with infidelity.
  • She lived in the US for 3 years, in which time she learned first hand and criticized the oppressive nature of American capitalism and imperialism.
  • She was an activist for women, indigenous people, the handicapped, and workers her entire life, including up until her death. For example, In 1954, three years before she died, she attended a communist protest agains the American government intervention in Guatemala.

In all of her works, she heavily uses symbolism to convey meaning, often implementing symbols that reflect her Mexican, indigenous, and European ancestry. Her work reveals her personal, intimate, and vulnerable experience as a woman that suffered so much pain and resiliency. I loved this exhibit because, in addition to seeing the work up close first-hand, they included so many photos of the artist working,

Frida Kahlo was also revolutionary by the way she skillfully took a long-accepted art genre, self-portraiture, and transmuted standards of beauty to talk about identity. For example, ake for example, the work below, Self-Portrait with Red and Gold Dress, 1941. She depicts herself with red lipstick, rouged cheeks, and intricately braided hair, but also accentuates her unibrow and mustache. She constantly played with gender-norms, who once wrote, “Of the opposite sex, I have the mustache, and in general the face.” Her attention to detail is so beautiful that it pulls you into the painting, only to be met with her unapologetic and challenging gaze. Fierce!

The exhibition was awesome! I am so grateful I got to see some of her work in person. While almost three-fourths of her paintings were self-portraits, she expressed her self through her clothing and the symbols she chose to include in the composition. Flora and fauna feature prominently in her work, like the work below, Self-Portrait with Monkeys. She kept monkeys as pets in her home and often described them as “surrogates for maternal love.” The vulnerabilities she shows in other works, like Self-Portrait with Braid and the Wounded Table, reveal her anxiety about WWII, her health-struggles, the pain of Diego’s adultery with Frida’s sister, and her grief with her father’s death.

Also in preparation for the exhibit, my family and I watched the 2002 bioflick produced by and starting Salma Hayeck called Frida. It is a historically accurate and entertaining introduction to her life; it will also help you appreciate Frida’s life and work more. Here is trailer. Thanks for reading! ❤

New Work: “Year of Joy”

Last year my god-sister, Courtney, had a baby, and her mother commissioned me to paint a portrait to celebrate the first year of Courtney’s motherhood. I had several meetings with Courtney to discuss what she wanted in terms of the mood, colors, message, theme, poses of the figures, etc. We both wanted it to successfully communicate her new family’s joy, love of one another, and love of music. My ART 325 oil painting class helped me solidify and process these ideas with collage. The resulting final composition came from using photos from Courtney’s trip from Italy last summer that reflect her family’s Italian heritage, and her and her husband’s operatic singing practice. Here are some photos of the process:

Instead of using a pre-stretch canvas, I stretched the canvas myself so I could create a unique landscape composition. The color choice reflects the Italian summer sunrise which is a very warm yellow, and which also conveniently communicates affection and timelessness. The panoramic and surrealist use of stretched space supports this sense of timelessness and further enhances a feeling of endless possibilities. This past year, the baby had her first dip in the ocean, which is represented in blue surf in the bottom left of the painting.

The painting process is just as important as the final work: I chose to do the the underpainting in the color “Terre Verte” so as to contrast with the warm orange and bright panthalo blue in the sea and sky. This is a favorite approach among landscape painters: rather than selecting the dominant color for the underpainting, in this case orange, the painter intentionally choose one that contrasts. The idea is that the underlying green can react with subsequent layers of orange and blue, adding vibration and color contrast.

If you or anyone else you know may want a commission, let me know! It’s a great opportunity to have a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork that you or your loved one will have for years to come…

Visual Research Journal # 45 – 48

This has been a great semester in my painting class! I discovered so many artists through creating this journal. As I was looking through my next and last set of four artists, I realized that there are some big names I hear referenced a lot but that I am not actually familiar.

Jean- Michel Basquiat. Six Crimee, 1982. Acrylic and oil paintstick on masonite. 72 × 144 in

Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960-1988) was a poet, musician, and graffiti prodigy in late-1970s New York, who honed his signature painting style of obsessive scribbling, symbols and diagrams, and mask-and-skull imagery by the time he was 20. “I don’t think about art while I work,” he once said. “I think about life.” I like his visceral and bold approach to layering and collage, his revelation that great art is simply a profound investigation of life.

Robert Rauschenberg. Canyon, 1959. Combine: oil, pencil, paper, fabric, metal, cardboard box, printed paper, printed reproductions, photograph, wood, paint tube, and mirror on canvas with oil on bald eagle, string, and pillow. 81 3/4 × 70 × 24 in

Robert Rauschenberg rejected the angst and seriousness of the Abstract Expressionists, invented of techniques using unconventional art materials ranging from dirt and house paint to umbrellas and car tires. Pictured here are his first three-dimensional collage paintings—he called them Combines—in which he incorporated discarded materials and mundane objects to explore the intersection of art and life. His later artwork includes painting, fabric collage, sculptural components made from cardboard and scrap metal, as well as a variety of image transfer and printing methods.

Robert Motherwell. Elegy to the Spanish Republic No. 163, 1979-1982. Acrylic and Conte crayon on canvas. 23 3/10 × 29 3/10 in

Robert Motherwell is considered one of the great American Abstract Expressionist painter and one of the leading writers, theorists, and advocates of the New York School. He forged close friendships with the European Surrealists and other intellectuals over his interests in poetry and philosophy, and as such served as a vital link between the pre-war avant-garde in Europe and its post-war counterpart in New York. “It’s not that the creative act and the critical act are simultaneous,” Motherwell said. “It’s more like you blurt something out and then analyze it.” Again, it seems that there the creative process demands a mindfulness and presence, a letting go to the unfolding process of art making – a flow state perhaps. Motherwell seems to have really bridged the gap by critically analyzing the work and thus elevating it in a different light.

Cy Twombly. 1986, 1986. Offset lithograph. 29 1/2 × 22 in

Cy Twombly‘s expressive drips and active, scribbled, and scratched lines in his paintings were his hallmark. “My line is childlike but not childish,” he once said. “It is very difficult to fake…to get that quality you need to project yourself into the child’s line. It has to be felt.” His work was sometimes dismissed as “high-art graffiti,” but he also produced sculptures made of found objects, clay, and plaster, painted white to suggest an affinity to Classicism. Again, I don’t think young children, before the age of 7 or 8, judge their lines so critically and harshly as we eventually are socially conditioned to do. The immediacy of the feeling and emotion in the act of creation is meant to transport the viewer.