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Monday, February 5, 2018

Pique Assiette Garden Wall (DIY)

Let’s start our French lesson for today, oui? We will be discussing pique assiette. This is the fancy French term for mosaic art made from lots of different things. For many years I’ve used a mix of this and that in my art, and it’s great fun.

Today I decided to look up the definition for pique assiette, and it’s not very flattering. It means “scrounger.” It brings to mind someone cobbling together a dinner from dumpster castoffs. But let’s step away from the literal translation. At its heart pique assiette means the combining of varied pieces, including broken ceramics. I love repurposing, and mixing and matching. Not following a formula. You don’t need expensive materials to make art. There’s beauty in everyday objects, too. 

My latest DIY project is in our back yard. It combines two things I love: mosaic and gardening. For me, it’s extra satisfying to create something unique without spending a lot. This forces you to be extra creative, which is a good thing. I’m delighted that I made this garden wall for less than $80.

Here is my cost breakdown:

Latex paint, plants, misc items   (already had them)         $       0
Marbles and ceramic plates                                              $   8.80
Cement blocks, paving stones, tile adhesive                    $ 62.04         
Mortar                                                                                $   4.90
Acrylic paint                                                                       $   3.02

Total                                                                                   $ 78.76

My goal for this wall was a bohemian, funky, unique conversation piece. It incorporates items from different places and from various years of my life. I see costume jewelry I had in high school. I see metal buttons I bought from a fashion designer who was cleaning out his storage unit. There are tiles I got from a resale store, quirky items found at garage sales, old family keys, and plastic buttons from my artist friend Sam. This garden wall is like a photo album of my life—one that holds plants. 

If you’re considering making your own concrete block planter, it’s not hard. It was satisfying to dream up an idea and then make it happen.

If you’ll indulge me for a minute, I’m going to pat myself on my back. I lifted each of these twenty six blocks myself (multiple times)—and each is twenty five pounds, so it’s a great arm workout! This was my first ever attempt at mixing concrete and trowling it onto concrete blocks to make a wall. Hubby gave me a few verbal tips but I did every inch of this twelve foot wall myself. (I am woman! Hear me roar!) By no stretch of the imagination is my first attempt at cement professional caliber/perfect (I hate that word—too much pressure). But I’m proud that I gave it a try and that I’m not holding myself to standards a newbie can’t reach. I want to do more things that challenge me out of my comfort zone. Perfection isn’t the goal. Stretching myself is.

Art is therapeutic for me. Making this planter gave me a boost every time I selected a marble or a piece of broken plate, and set it in place. When I felt stressed, I turned to the broken plates and the mishmash of found objects, and putting together a unique combination was a balm on my frustration. Creative projects don’t eliminate our stresses, but they help us cope with them. Scientists have found that creative projects boost our moods and lower our heart rate. And if we get a planter out of the experience, that’s a cool perk, too…

Or as the famous French phrase goes: don’t cry over broken plates. Make mosaic. Tres bien!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Dozens of Dots

Teaching art to kids over the last five months has meant that I don’t blog as much as I once did. Hey—I only have twenty four hours in a day, just like everyone else. But I do like writing, and it’s fun to share stories of what my students are making. So here is my first blog post of 2018.

I teach students in Kindergarten all the way up through eighth grade, and in January they all created Aboriginal art. As you may know, the Aboriginal people used to record their history by drawing symbols on rock walls. They had no written language, so symbols were developed as a tool for communication. Eventually they used canvas and paper to create their art, and it is often characterized by the use of dots and shapes.

Some people believe that messages were hidden within dot filled Aboriginal art. Either way, this style of art is fascinating to look at, with all its texture and pattern. I’m obsessed with polka dots, so art involving lots of dots is up my alley.

My youngest students did a simplified version of the lesson, incorporating circles, pattern and dots. Lots of dots. I encouraged them to use earth tones, as the Aboriginal artists made “paint” from dirt, bark and charcoal—not sparkly pink paint from the local craft store. Of course, it’s challenging to convince girls in Kindergarten not to use pink and lavender. In some cases, I allowed a little bit of those accent colors but I emphasized that we were trying to do art in the style and color palette of Aboriginal artists.

The older students had a choice of making art with shapes or choosing an animal for the focal point of their art. They surrounded the animals with dots, circles, lines, symbols and shapes, just as the Aborigines did. With no further ado, here are some of the art pieces the students created over the last few weeks. 

One day I wore a polka dot dress to teach, and I was certain that my observant little students would notice my intentional wardrobe choice as a connection to the dots in their art work. They often comment on my clothes. I had almost two hundred students that day, and not one commented on the connection! Oh well…Just when you think you have figured out kids, they rewrite their code…

Teaching has become a little less tiring for me. Maybe I’ve built up some stamina. I really do see teaching as an endurance sport. Hey, if curling is an Olympic sport, I say that teaching should be, too. It takes strength, grit, dedication and lung power. Is it too late to get Teaching onto the docket for the Winter Olympics in a few weeks?

Until next time, this is Sarah the Art Teacher, sharing my final tip for the day. It applies to Aboriginal art, and to life itself: If in doubt, add more polka dots!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

This and That

It’s Wednesday again, folks. Not Wacky Wednesday with costumes. It’s whirlwind Wednesday. It’s almost Christmas and once again, I’m not ready. Like everyone I know, I have tons to do this month. Which does not explain why I crafted an antenna ornament for my car instead of chiseling away at the To Do list.

But sometimes the To Do list is overwhelming and you choose to let it be for an hour or two. This is actually a good idea because crafting lowers the blood pressure whereas endless December To Do lists send the BP skyrocketing! Plus, an antenna ornament helps you locate your car in a parking lot, when you can’t remember where you parked.

My final blog post of the year is going to be a mishmash of thoughts. Sometimes we just need to laugh about our misadventures. Here are a few random things from this whirlwind that is my life…

On my final day of teaching art this calendar year, some of the students finished their projects early so I let them have “free draw.” And here we have the latest in an ongoing list of Gender Differences. Boys interpret free draw as “make paper airplanes” and girls take the opportunity to write me love notes, which was a sweet surprise. The boys were told specifically to draw, and not to make paper airplanes. While I’m not usually a fan of gender stereotypes, I’ve observed in my own kids that boys do like moving toys and girls do like to talk. Hence, paper airplanes and love notes.

Anybody else out there have Christmas (or Hanukkah) Card Drama? I’m organized enough to have the relatives’ addresses saved so that I can easily print them up each December. But the list has been rearranged a lot over the years and it’s now a strange hodgepodge. It’s not alphabetical. It’s not grouped into categories like European Relatives and Local Friends. So when I scour the list for how many stamps we need for Europe and Canada, I’m really hunting. I’m checking my list and counting it twice many times. Or in the case of last week’s card drama, counting to twenty three at least ten times in different ways. Where was the twenty-third envelope? I compared the list with the number of envelopes. Twenty. Recounted again: twenty two. And again: twenty one. Eventually I found the last envelope tucked inside another envelope’s flap. But not before I screeched to Hubby that I was “never doing these cards again!” “Until next year?” he asked. Er, yes.

     Earlier this month I had a dream about my address. (What’s that? You’re nominating me for the (un)distinction of Most Boring Dream Ever? You have a point. But you don’t choose dreams the way you choose a tv show—they choose you.) Anyway, in my dream, I realized I’d been using the wrong address for our house—for more than fourteen years! I wondered how the post office knew to keep bringing us lots of junk mail—or any mail at all. And I could not believe I’d gotten my own address wrong for so long. How was this possible? I scanned the neighbor’s house numbers for clues. It was bewildering—wasn’t my address tattooed into my brain? Turns out it was tattooed in—wrong. Not sure what this means. Is it an Alice in Wonderland motif—where everything is not as it’s supposed to be? A metaphor for how unpredictable life is? Who knows. What a relief to wake up and see that my address matched what I thought it was.
     Funny comment from one of my second grade students. During class, the second graders often ask lots of questions. They’re very into getting my approval before doing things—even before sharpening their pencils—so I’m expecting a question about art or shading or paper. But the student comes up to me and says in a very serious tone, “Mrs. Sarah, how did baby Jesus get out of Mary’s stomach in the stable?” I pause. For longer than usual. How do I answer? I don’t want to teach anatomy to seven year olds. Eventually, I tell her that it’s a very good question, and that I like how curious she is, but that we need to focus on finishing her art because it’s our last session of the year. Thankfully, she accepts this (non) explanation and resumes drawing. 

     Feeling extra grateful for friends, family, neighbors and teachers right now…
     One recent morning I nearly fell off the toilet. Alcohol was not involved. But it was before seven a.m. and I wasn’t quite awake. Still, I’ve sat on that toilet for fourteen years-without falling off. I accused Hubby of sneaking into the bathroom at 3 a.m., during my deepest sleep cycle, and silently detaching the toilet from the floor and moving it one inch west. He admitted it and said that this is when he does all his secret work. Busted.

Folks, I told you it would be a mix of this and that—and I was not lying.

On that note, a happy, healthy new year to everyone out there…

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Making my own Flip Flops—by Accident

My shoe was breaking.

Naturally, I was all dressed up, at an upscale art gallery when it happened.

I wondered, what would Lady Gaga do? Rip the shoe in two, turn half into an earring and start a performance art piece.

I didn’t do that.

I wasn’t feeling like a badass right then. I felt like an idiot and I wanted to keep the moment a secret.

So how did I find myself with breaking shoes while in a fancy gallery? A reasonable question. Sometimes I think I attract crazy moments, like I collect jacaranda blossoms on the bottoms of my shoes each June.

Hubby and I were headed to the gallery because my artist friend had a piece in a show there. At home that evening I’d pawed through my closet and found a red dress to wear, and I threw it on. Immediately I ripped it off. (Perhaps I should have sensed this as foreshadowing of events to come.) The dress was not fitting as I’d hoped and I vowed I’d wear skunk-sprayed clothes to the gallery before leaving the house in the dress. (I’m pretty sure I was PMSing that weekend.) After more excavation of my closet I found an outfit more to my liking. I dug out some black dress shoes with a two-inch wedge heel and felt (reasonably) ready to head downtown.

This shoe debacle happened over a year ago. So why tell it now? (A) It’s never too late to share a crazy story. And (B) I recently felt the itch to write another funny blog post. I hadn’t blogged regularly in the last five months and while it felt good to take a break, I also missed writing about my kooky adventures. But was I ready to share this moment? At the time it felt too embarrassing--like proof that I never quite have it together. If anything, I wanted to hide my embarassment in a sealed box. At the back of the closet. For several decades. But I’ve decided that there’s catharsis in being real. The pressure to have it all together is too much. So I’m embracing the embarrassing because human moments bond us.

So there I was, in a nearly empty gallery, with no one to hide behind. The gallery was about to close, but they let me in for a few minutes while Hubby circled the block, looking for parking. (Apparently, I was using 1999 as my reference point for the ability to park in downtown San Diego on a Friday night. In 2016 there was zero parking within a one-mile radius of the Gaslamp district. Hence, Hubby was circling the block while I looked at art and tried to keep my shoe on.)

Right before entering the gallery I realized that the sole was separating from my shoe. Earlier, I’d had an inkling that it was slightly loose. I’d glued it, and felt confident that it would hold together. But there, in the empty gallery, under the bright lights, the sole and my shoe were parting ways. The toe and the sole were still attached, but the heel was headed for the border. An empty, brightly-lit gallery is not the ideal setting when you’re having a wardrobe malfunction. I had the undivided attention of the lady at the front desk. And so I did what any half-shoed art lover would do: I ground my heel into the floor and subtly dragged my foot along as I walked so that she wouldn’t notice my sole flapping against the polished floors. Step, slide. Step, slide. Subtlety at its finest. Perhaps she wondered why a 40+ white lady was doing a bad imitation of a gangsta swagger, but this felt like a better alternative than having my shoe flap along under me. (Seriously--sometimes we have to make split-second decisions.) Shoe dragging felt like the equivalent of when a dog pulls its itchy butt along the ground: it temporarily solves a problem--but it’s not cute.

I turned up my charm a notch as I chatted about art with the gallery lady. Anything to distract from my shoe-turned-flip-flop. In truth, she might have been a down-to-earth person who wouldn’t have judged me if I’d confessed that my shoe was breaking. But because the shoe separation caught me off guard, and I was PMSing and not at my most confident, I felt too embarrassed. And why do these moments never happen at home—only in public?

Was it the end of the world? Of course not. But I rarely dress up, and my ego was bruised. It felt especially frustrating to have my cute look undermined by a broken shoe when I’d put in the extra effort to look good.

After leaving the gallery (step, slide, step, slide), I hobbled out of sight and then ripped the offending shoe off my foot. As Hubby returned, I was partly laughing, but mostly cringing, as I showed him the remains of my shoe. He tried to reassure me, but we both know that these moments seem to happen around me. A lot.

The next day, I tried something new to repair the shoe: Shoe Goo. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it. It is designed for durability, because shoes flex and need a stronger glue.

So that’s the story of my broken sole and my damaged ego. A year later, the shoes are gone. I upgraded to a pair that probably will last a century. My ego has recovered. And there’s something healing about sharing an embarrassing moment (after waiting at least a year). We all have embarrassing moments. Sometimes the instinct is to hide them. But sharing them reminds me that it really is okay to be human. Shoes will break but the spirit is actually quite resilient…


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Progress Report

I am shaking my hand bell in a vigorous attempt to get the attention of thirty-eight wiggly kids. The bell is shrill—and I’m glad it is—because while I am naturally loud, my voice can’t compete with thirty-eight chatty kiddos. The first five weeks of teaching I simply raised my voice a lot to be heard (and became hoarse). Not today. My three dollar thrift store bell was a wise investment, if I may say so.
It’s been over a month since I last blogged, but I anticipated that gap. It’s been super busy. As of today I’ve taught art for seven Wednesdays and I felt it was time to update my readers about how it’s going.
First, let me begin by giving a shout-out to every teacher on the planet. I knew teaching would be challenging—and it’s even more challenging than I’d expected. I’ve always appreciated teachers for all they do—but even more so now that I’m the one trying to communicate with kids each week.
If you read my last blog post you know that I am teaching art to kids at an elementary school. It’s one day a week, but for a newbie like me, that’s enough for now. It takes a lot of energy. The kids range from Kindergarten through eighth grade, so there’s a big span in terms of ages, personalities, fine motor control and art experience. I see each grade every other week. There are 310 students. Some kids like art. Some don’t. Some kids listen. Some don’t. Does it get to me--the ones who don’t listen? Of course! I’m human, and I’m busting my butt to teach them. But I won’t dwell on that right now. I’d rather share a few stories about the kids who are glad to be in my art class—or funny anecdotes from my first seven weeks of teaching. Here are a few recent conversations in the art room:
Fourth grader: Mrs. Sarah, Alex says I don’t have a leg muscle. (Boy flexes his calf and I do see a smallish muscle contract.) Is he right?
Me: Of course you have muscle! I can see it right there. But this isn’t a body-building competition so let’s take a seat and flex our creative muscles instead.
Kindergartener: (Crying as he shows me his box of watercolor paints.) My yellow paint is ruined forever.
Me: Don’t worry kiddo, your green just got confused and mixed itself with the yellow a little. After all, they are neighbors in the box. We’ll just clean it off with a paper towel. See? Good as new.
Fourth Grader: Why are we doing scribble-scrabble with crayons? Are we back in preschool again?
Me: No, not at all. But we’re working in the style of the artist Eric Carle, who layered color and had a very loose style, so you’re making a lot of free-flowing lines on your paper. It’ll look awesome!
First grader: Mrs. Sarah, I missed you SOOOOOOOO much!
Me: (heart feeling happy) Thanks, kiddo! How sweet. Good to see you, too.
Seventh grader:  Can we make slime this year in art?
Me: It sounds fun, but I don’t think I’d get approval from the office for that. But we’re going to use air dry clay, and we’ll paint and draw and do lots of different projects. You’ll have to make slime at home.
For the older students our current projects are still life drawings. The younger kids are making animals in the style of Eric Carle, author and illustrator of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and many other books.


By Wednesday night I’m exhausted but slowly I am increasing my teaching stamina. Many of the kids are having fun and learning new techniques, and that means a lot to me. Every week I learn a little more about teaching, and while it’s hard for me to stumble, at least I’m learning. Yep, it’s official: I’m a teacher and definitely a student, too…

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Art Store

Things are about to get extra busy for me because Wacky Wednesday is turning into Working Woman Wednesday.

For a couple of years now on Wednesdays I’ve worn costumes that I made from everyday objects. But today I began teaching art to kids on Wednesdays. My feet hurt (despite wearing practical clogs) and my voice is strained, but it went pretty well today.

It’s funny how things come about. This past spring I was feeling like the Wacky Wednesday tradition might be nearing its end. I’ve done it 93 times and I am proud of finding a fun, new idea each week and turning it into wearable art. I want to reach 100 WWs, but I also I wanted to take the summer off to recharge.  

Early this summer, a friend who teaches art told me about an opportunity to teach elementary school kids. And here I am, a few months later, jumping into this new adventure. It would take a lot of energy to create a weekly costume as well as teach so for now my costume Wednesdays are becoming classroom Wednesdays.

Want to see some art from the five classes I taught today? We painted fall trees in all of the classes, and it was amazing for me to see the huge variety in how the kids interpreted the assignment.

Yes, I’ve started taking my multivitamins again. I may need an intravenous drip of Red Bull each week. But I’m excited for the challenge—and because this is new and I want to do an awesome job—I’m nervous, too. To my teacher friends out there, what is your top piece of advice for me?

With this change to my schedule I won’t be blogging weekly right now, but I’ll still post updates on my blog about my adventures in art. And just so we’re clear, I will get to 100 WWs. Wacky Wednesdays won’t be weekly anymore, so it will take a while to reach 100, but I’ll get there. And if anyone wants to take the baton and create the next one hundred wacky costumes, let me know. I still have a giant stash of found objects you can use to create one-of-a-kind costumes! Clear some space in the garage, will you? I’ll bring it over immediately.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Wacky Wednesday #93—Got Film?


Let’s talk about film—that plastic stuff (celluloid) rolled into a tiny tube that we used to load into cameras, hoping we were loading it right—how many times was I supposed to turn it around that crank? Is it advancing? Did I just mess up the whole roll? (Or was that just me…)
Anyway, film. I’ve taken a lot of fun photos using film, but in the last ten years I’ve been all about digital photos. So much easier, and don’t forget the instant gratification of digital pictures. (I feel no shame in my addiction to instant gratification, in case you were wondering.)

Now, how did this post come about? The way all good posts come about: quite randomly. I happened upon a roll of film in a box, and thought it would be fun to use the film in a costume. I realized I had other plastic film negatives, just waiting for a second use. The curving strips of film had potential as an awesome sculptural element. And so the project began.

I know that you film purists will be horrified that I am cutting and splicing film negatives, and while I don’t want to upset you, you must understand that for me, using these negatives helps with my clutter issue—decreasing it only a teeny, tiny bit—but it does cut down on the clutter I have saved in boxes. So really, I must do this.

On a related note, did you ever watch movies on film projectors? I remember this from when I was a kid and the local libraries played movies during the summer—with actual reel to reel film projectors like this:

There’s something so charming about light shining through a long roll of film. These days, some films are made using digital video, but many feature films still are shot with actual film.

In case you’re wondering about my dress, it’s a refashion. Several years ago I made an Eiffel Tower Halloween costume and I made a gray dress to go under it to tie in with the gray/silver tower and all its geometry. I added more geometric shapes onto the dress, as a nod to the rectangular pattern on rolls of film. The dark strips of film pop against a lighter background.

Necklace, earrings, hat and sunglasses—all created with film and hot glue. Cost: approximately one dollar for hot glue sticks.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for my closeup…