Author Archives: artfulminds

Creating A Lasting Legacy

Awhile back (yes I know it’s been a long time!) I posted about the collaborative school-wide project that I was gearing up for this year.  After a lot of planning, hard work, problem solving and CREATIVITY all of the “pieces” finally fell into place!

A Lasting Legacy (ALL), got it’s start last spring when I was awarded  a $1,000 grant during a SURPRISE all-school assembly!  My immediate thought (after being completely blown away!) was not to buy more markers, art books or supplies for students but to give them an art experience.  As I spoke to the newscaster in my interview an idea began to form.  I wanted to do something big, something that all kids could get their hands on, something…kind of like the unforgettable experience I had when I was a 7th grader in my junior high art class.  I wanted to do a Mosaic Mural!  I also wanted to strengthen the sense of community and belonging, engage students in collaboration and communication, and provide students the opportunity to work with a professional artist and experience a new artistic medium.

Why did I choose a Mosaic Mural?

An effective mural can:

       Give students a voice and a platform to express themselves
Bring people together
Convey a meaningful message
Build success, hope, and school pride
Strengthen the ties between school and the community
Allow students and teachers to collaborate and learn together

AND a lot of other things too!  Students will engage in activities that support both the National Visual Arts Standards and the Framework for 21st Century Skills including: Creative Thinking and Working, Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving, Judgment and Decision Making, Communication and Collaboration, Initiative and Self-Direction, Productivity and Accountability and Leadership and Responsibility.  District curriculum themes including Communities, Working Together, Neighborhood, and Family and Heritage will be enriched throughout the process of creating the large-scale mosaic.

As I mentioned before, it took a lot of work and a lot of planning to get this project to happen.  I’d never written a grant before but after receiving the Channel 5 Grant I was inspired to make it happen!  Many drafts and revisions later I was awarded two additional $1,000 grants; one from the Iowa Arts Council and another from my district’s alumni foundation. I also asked my school’s PTO (who were very supportive!) for additional funding.

After having everything approved both building and district-wide it was time for the students to get to work!  I asked each of my 750 students to create a drawing that depicted out community; school, home, and city.  Concetta and I sifted through hundreds of drawings, sorting recurring themes and images and pulling out unique ideas.  After collaging student ideas together we came up with an amazing design that represents our students and their understandings of community.

Finally we were ready for our Artist in Residence!  I was lucky enough to be able to use our schools ‘multi-purpose’ room as the “Mosaic Studio” so that in the afternoons I could teach K-3rd grade students in my own classroom.  It’s amazing to see how students responded to the studio atmosphere!  It was wonderful to see the way they worked and talked with “a real artist” (yes, that’s what they said!).  I will share more student reflections soon!

5th Grader polishing a freshly grouted mosaic panel!

I’ve just finished the final grouting and am working on sealing the edges of the rounded panels.  The next step is getting our amazing maintenance guys to help me frame and hang the 4 massive panels!  I will share pictures once the panels are hung in their permanent location!

Our community (it's upside down!)

One thing I’d change if I could go back – slow down and enjoy the ride!  I spent so much time planning, organizing and coordinating that I feel like I missed out a bit!  Would I do it again?  Most definitely!

"Spot-Grouting" the heart panel

Check out the full story covered by a local online newspaper here!

 A Lasting Legacy: Ashland Ridge Elementary Mosaic Mural


Finding My “Element”

When I was in college I was a painter and also an art ed major.  I felt like I did a pretty good job of balancing both; in fact, at that time I felt more like an artist and much less like a teacher.  I only took one education class at a time versus the 4 studio and art history classes I was taking each semester.  The creativity and the ideas of the people surrounding me was constant motivation and inspiration for new work.  Little did I know that when I got out into the teaching world things would change.

I was surprised by the demands of the teaching world, especially as a first and second year teacher.  I stayed late every night and planned lessons all weekend.  There wasn’t time for much of anything other than teaching, planning and grading.  Now entering my seventh year of teaching things have gotten noticeably “easier” and I’m finding that I’ve got more time in my day.  The extra time, however, leaves me wanting.  I still feel as though I’m missing something.  For the longest time I just haven’t been able to quite put my finger on it.  I thought that teaching art (which is an extremely rewarding and exciting job) was my thing and that it would be enough to get my art “fix”.

 I’m currently reading The Element, by Ken Robinson for a class I’m taking through The Art of Education.  Robinson’s conversational style invites you to begin questioning whether or not you have found your “Element” or even know what it is.  Through numerous stories of successful and talented people, including dancers, artists, and mathematicians who’ve found their own “Element” despite diversity, Robinson inspires you to look deeper and reflect on your own talents and how they are being used in the work you do.  The book has truly proved to be thought provoking, motivating and revealing.  In working towards discovering my own”Element” I have found that although I’m working in a field where I’m immersed in art and art making, I’m only focused on the work of others.


For 6 years, these paintings have sat untouched in their plastic wrap traveling only from one basement to another.  I haven’t touched my easel, oil paints and canvases since I left college.  Part of it was due to the loss of my “tribe”, what Ken Robinson uses to describe the people who share your “Element” and give you validation and inspiration.  Another reason for my reluctance was simply the amount of time that had passed since I’d last painted and the excuses I’d made for myself not to get started.

So, with inspiration from Ken Robinson and support from my new “tribe” on AOE, I’ve made the commitment to get going, follow my heart, and find my “Element”.  I pulled out my easel, rummaged around and found all of my paints and got to work.  I chose to create a portrait of my dog (yes, cheesy I know, but it seemed less intimidating and I needed that!) as my first leap into becoming a painter again.

As I painted I felt the familiar feeling of getting into “the zone” or what I usually call my Right Brain.  I relished the smell of the oil paints and recalled memories of working in the studio.  Robinson stated, “activities we love fill us with energy even when we are physically exhausted”.  Surprisingly, I painted until 3 in the morning and felt as though I could have stayed up till 6!  The painting is not finished yet and neither is my journey.  I hope to continue to find balance in being both teacher and artist.

Summertime is for Snuggle time!



Meet Leonard

Yes, I know this post is not about art education or art advocacy but I thought I’d introduce you to my one and only Lenny!  Leonard, aka: the Lenster, Len-Ben, Lerard Lepardeux, Lipper, and so on, is an off-the-wall miniature dachshund who is the world’s best snuggler when he’s not jumping off couches and begging for treats.  We’ve had an awful lot of time to hang out due to all of the online classes I’m taking this summer through Viterbo and the Art of Education.  Right now I’m taking Assessment in Art Education and The Element, a class that focuses on how to find your true Element based on the book by Ken Robinson.


This is how sad he was when I told him I had to go back to school in a month.

Artist in Residence

Recently, a colleague nominated me for our local ABC Channel 5’s One Classroom at a Time Education Grant for $1,000. You can view the video of the SURPRISE all-school assembly my school had for me here!  (Warning: I cry like a baby!)  I was completely blown away and so grateful for the support I received from everyone!  My immediate thought when I was awarded the grant was not to buy supplies for the art room, but to give my students a learning experience that would impact their lives for years to come.  I believe that a collaborative mosaic would be an excellent and authentic example of such an experience.

The school I teach in is a very new school and a very large school at that, with an enrollment of over 800 students in 28 sections.  Believe it or not, I see all of them for 45 minutes once a week.  For the last three years, we have been working hard to define who we are and to build a strong community of educators, support staff, parents and students.  I believe this collaborative work will allow students and teachers a venue to express our identity, voice our aspirations and build school pride.

One of the reasons I chose a mosaic mural is simply due to my previous experience with mosaic artist, Concetta Morales, while I was in Junior High.   This encounter impacts my life to this day; I remember collaborating with peers to plan a design that reflected our school culture; working with others to create an image greater than what we could on our own; leaving behind a remnant of who we were.  That mosaic mural still hangs in the hall as you enter the Junior High; a collection of individual tiles held together by glue and grout, and a metaphor for the community created within school walls.

I hope I can provide a creative experience like that in my own art room; in fact, I am hoping to get the very same artist I worked with over 16 years ago to work with my students!

Have you ever invited a visiting artist into your classroom?

Please share how it affected your students and their work!

What advice can you give about securing and integrating an Artist in Residency experience?

To Draw or Not to Draw…On Student Art

I’ve encountered all kinds of art teachers in my life as both student and educator.  Some would never dare to demonstrate by drawing or painting on student work.  Others perhaps do not see the harm in ‘showing’ students how to correct or further develop their art.

While in high school, I was able to take a life drawing class at the local Art Center.  During one of our sessions, to the melodies of Tom Waits, the Artist in Residence used her charcoal on my paper to explain how to improve my line work.  I remember feeling disappointed and that somehow it wasn’t my own work anymore.

During my student teaching experience, the high school Art teacher I worked with frequently corrected student ‘mistakes’ and showed students ‘how to do it’ by taking his pencil to their art.  I wondered what students thought of his master and apprentice style of teaching.

I choose not draw on student work for several reasons.

I see student work as a record of personal and creative growth.

When a work of art is created, there is more that goes into it than just paint or charcoal.  Self expression, emotion, memories and personal experiences enter the work, let alone the blood, sweat, and tears that it takes to get it done.  Art should be truly owned by students.  My hands would only take away that ownership.

Lastly, I see myself as a facilitator; I lead and guide students through the artistic process, but ultimately it is the student who must find a way to reach their goal.

How do you feel about making your mark on student work?  Can it benefit students?  What other ways do you explicitly demonstrate to students?

AAA: Americans for the Arts and Advocacy!

Are you looking for new ways to advocate for the arts in your community?  How about ways to get parents involved in the advocacy process?  Maybe you are interested in National Arts Policies and how they affect the arts in schools.


When our school was considering cutting several fine arts programs a few years ago I did a little research and discovered Americans for the Arts.  What is Americans for the Arts?  It’s a nonprofit organization devoted to advancing the arts in the United States.  I originally used the website for advocacy materials to use during our districts K-12 Art Show, but soon discovered many more resources!  Here you can find advocacy materials for you and your student’s parents.  The advocacy links provide parent-friendly facts about the arts and list 10 ways parents can get more art into their child’s lives.  You can even print and use their campaign ads!


Recently I have become more interested in the politics of education and how I can make a difference. Through Americans for the Arts you can subscribe to receive emails informing you on current political happenings affecting the arts and National Arts Policies.  Or if you like to browse, you can sift through the news and information links.  See what’s happening in your state and Take Action Now!  Click Action Alert links to tell Congress you support the arts and arts education!  Share the information with your school board, principals, teachers, and parents.


So Take Action, Get Involved, Advocate and ASK FOR MORE!


Feed Your Kids the Arts

10 Ways to Get Your Students to Think ARTFULLY

Teaching kids to think Critically and Creatively is a process.  It takes work!  Students need a variety of quality authentic experiences from which to draw from as they acquire their own problem-solving skills.

Here are 10 ways you can get your kids to think Critically, Creatively, and yes, Artfully!

  1. Let students draw from observation.  Create a still life in your classroom or collect books with lots of pictures of animals, cars, insects and more.
  2. Allow students the chance to connect with their work by giving freedom of choice.  Yes, you can still select an overall theme, but let them choose the “meat” of the work.
  3. Engage your students in rich dialogue about art history and past artists.  Students need to know why artists make art!  In our busy schedules we often don’t devote time to really talk about art.  Let them analyze and make their own judgements.
  4. Give students time to explore the materials.  In most schools kids get to work with clay once a year – that means that the average 5th grader has only worked with clay a total of 6 times!  Let them know the materials and the process.
  5. Teach lessons that call for student collaboration.  Give students the chance to talk out their ideas and build upon the creative thought processes of others.
  6. Engage students in group critique.  Teach them how to give positive feedback and ask questions about art.
  7. Give students the chance to reflect on their work.  Create a reflection form, have students fill it out and attach it to the back of their work or let them discuss their thoughts while standing in line.
  8. Let them plan!  A lot of artists create thumbnail sketches or create a rough idea before they begin their final work.  Planning is the visual brainstorm!
  9. Allow times for complete self expression.
  10. Lastly, model creative and critical thinking.  Think out loud.  Allow students to hear how an artist thinks!

Are You a Creativity Killer?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever begun your lessons by introducing a new artist for your students to study, showed them tons of images of the artist’s work and left it up as an example.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever used “tracers” for students to use as a starting point for their work.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever demonstrated, step-by-step, how to make something.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever drawn on student work or given student’s suggestions like “what if you put a tree there?”.

Chances are, at some point in your teaching, you’ve been a Creativity Killer.  I’ve been one too, but I am determined to become a creativity cultivator, not a killer.

We cannot expect students to be truly creative if we continue to give them all of the answers.

As art teachers, we pride ourselves in getting students to think “outside of the box” and solve problems in unique and original ways.  If a walk down the hallways of your school reveals 25 almost identical Starry Night paintings, creativity has obviously been squashed.

We cannot claim we teach critical thinking if we don’t allow students to think for themselves.

Why do art teachers do this?  Does it make it easier to grade?  To meet district standards and benchmarks?  Are they afraid of losing control?  Making a mess?

Are you a creativity killer?

If you haven’t been to Marvin Bartel’s art education website, it’s a must.

Check out 10 Ways Not to Kill Classroom Creativity!

The Power of the Sketchbook

I’ve always believed an artist should keep a sketchbook…or maybe that was just drilled into my head from the art teachers I had in school.  As a matter of fact, I still have my 6th grade SAX ARTS brand sketchbook complete with value drawings of my brother’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle figurines and, no, I can’t remember which ones they are.

Either way, sketchbooks are a great tool for student practice as well as collecting and analyzing the creative and critical thinking of your students.  In the classroom they can be used to document the development of ideas, plan composition or practice skills.

Are sketchbooks a part of your student’s art experience?

How are they used by students in your room?

Drawing on the Right Side Anyone?

All of my students get practice in observational drawing but 5th graders get the

Betty Edwards treatment!

Betty Edwards is an artist and teacher who developed unique drawing exercises connected to right/left brain research that can enable anyone to draw.  All you have to do is find your R-Mode and let it do it’s thing!

With my 5th graders, we start the year by creating a Vase Face; an exercise in drawing that gets students focused on drawing what they see, rather than what they think they see.


Check out the official

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain


to create your own Vase Face and to learn more!

Do you use Betty Edwards strategies in your classroom?

Do you have any tips or tricks you use to help kids get started with

observational drawing?