Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Lefty Smudge, and Thoughts on Left-Handedness and Art Education

I rarely use pencils, except to lightly lay out a design for something. Because, like most lefties, writing/drawing with pencils gives me a bad case of the 'lefty smudge': a dark smear of pencil running down the side of my left pinkie, continuing up the side of my hand, and onto the cuff of my sleeve. Ugh. The smudge is similar when working with marker, but instead of calling it the 'lefty smudge', my name for the colorful smudge on my hand and arm is 'markeritis'.

I have learned, over the years, to lightly draft out posters and signs with pencil, and then to do the actual lettering from right to left. I think Hebrew, which reads from right to left, was created for lefties.  Perhaps there's a connection between Jewish genealogy and left-handedness?  Interesting thought.

Today I made this 'Tree of Life' (above) for my Temple (it goes with a chart of names showing where they are posted on a large wall plaque). I used colored pencil, and washed my hands frequently to prevent the smudge. And I lettered the Hebrew, of course, from right to left.

This great meme (below) about writing left-handed came from here:  image source

And I got to thinking about left-handedness as it relates to teaching art, creating art, being a left-handed art teacher, and teaching left-handed kids.

First of all, from the teaching standpoint, there's that darn whiteboard or blackboard. For my entire 36 years teaching, I found writing on the board while teaching to be a challenge. I'm sure you righties don't think about this, but when a lefty writes on the white or blackboard while teaching, by necessity they will walk in FRONT of what they writing. A righty will be walking away from it, to the right, as they write. It's a real challenge for us lefties, I think. Do other lefties agree with me?

Then there's weaving instructions, or instructions for zillions of other things that are more easily done in reverse direction by lefties. Years ago, I used to make large (using 36"dowels) God's eye weavings with 7th grade students. I had to instruct in two directions in order to make everyone successful.  Here's some goofy younger kids, who made these awesome God's eyes in a summer art program I taught a few years back.

And don't get me started on calligraphy, or any other lettering done with a chisel-tip ink lettering pen ('C' nibs). Um, the thicks and the thins end up in the WRONG places. Plus you need special left-handed pen nibs, angled in the opposite direction, for us lefties. (And of course they cost more.). All of which makes it tough to demonstrate to a class of predominantly right-handed kids. Which I used to do, annually, for a 6th grade 'illuminated manuscript' project, when they were studying the Middle Ages.

And then there's the scissor problem. Some of you have read me ranting about lefty scissors a long time ago. But in case you haven't, the truth is, I'm NOT a fan. I cut right handed, and I encourage you to have your left-handed students learn to cut right-handed as well. Yes, there are perfectly good lefty and ambidextrous scissors. But here's the problem: the lefty kid HOLDS THE SCISSORS DIFFERENTLY in their left hand, making cutting more challenging. I mean, you've seen the way we lefties hold our pencils to write, often with our arm hooked up and over and hand pointing down, with our paper turned at a rakish angle, rather than up the way a righty writes. (Check out a photo of our President signing a document.  You'll see the typical handwriting posture of a lefty.)  Lefty kids often try to cut this way too.  It's not pretty.  And not effective either!

So what's my point?  I don't know.  Please, at least, if you are right-handed, be conscious of who your lefty students are and be sympathetic to their specific challenges.  For example, think about where you put the paints on the tables so it can be reached easily by the lefty, or at least consider where the lefties sit.  When I eat dinner out with family or friends, I always take a seat where I won't be bumping elbows.  But the kids are too young to think of this themselves.  I remember, in high school (a LONG time ago), taking an important standardized test in a teaching auditorium, the kind with little flip-up half size desks.  They all were on the right side, really challenging for the lefty test-taker!  It frustrated me enough that I still remember it, many decades later.

Luckily, we lefties are more ambidextrous than our right-handed peers.  We have to learn to cope.  After all, most computer mouses are set up on the right, the stick shift in my car is on the right, and then there's the utensils.  If I tell you my iron is right-handed, I am NOT KIDDING.  And the hand-mixer I use in the kitchen.  You have to use these utensils over the cords if you use them left-handed.  And you have to pour backwards out of a soup ladle.  And angled spatulas are angled the wrong way...  I knit right-handed.  And while we have famous lefties with their guitars strung upside down (Paul McCartney), most lefties do not need to do that.  We are tough, and flexible.  Need I say more?

I'm proud to be a lefty.  I consider myself in great company - Leonardo daVinci, Rembrandt, Vincent vanGogh, M.C. Escher; Bill Gates; President Obama, President Clinton, President Bush Sr, President Lincoln; Paul McCartney, Kurt Cobain, Lady Gaga, Jimi Hendrix; Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Seinfeld; Julia Roberts, Judy Garland; Douglas Adams (author of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books); Aristotle, Nietzsche;  and, well, this is just scratching the bucket.  Oh, and my dad.  And probably my artist grandfather.  By the way, I haven't even included any sports greats in my list.  There are many.

Lefty's brains are wired differently; we think differently.  I think it's a cool thing.  I always said "LEFT ON!" to my lefty students.

Are you a lefty?  Do you make any special considerations for your left-handed students?  If you haven't thought about it before, maybe you should!  After all, only left-handed people are in their right mind...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Olympics of the Visual Arts

Today I served as a judge for the Olympics of the Visual Arts at the Saratoga City Center in Saratoga Springs NY, sponsored by NYSATA (NY State Art Teachers Association).  OVA is a creative competition for students. 

Student work on long-term projects was submitted in the following categories: drawing, painting, sculpture, architecture, fashion design, illustration, photography, numismatic design.  They could work individually or in teams, and they were judged in the categories of elementary, middle, and high school.  Each piece was displayed with a portfolio showing their research, planning, and thought process. The content and presentation of the portfolio was part of the judging, which was based on a rubric.  Some of these were absolutely amazing!

I helped judge the photography category, which I ironically did not photograph when I took the rest of these pictures.  Due to timing, I don't have photos from the drawing, painting, and illustration categories either, and really only got a chance to glance at them, since I was there primarily to serve as a judge and that kept me busy!

The students also had to complete a spontaneous project on-site, and these were also adjudicated.  The scores were added together with the long-term project scores for their total.

Above and below are several samples from the sculpture category.  The challenge was to re-design the classic lighthouse and re-create it as a monumental sculpture that will serve as a coastal beacon or a beacon of light in the darkness.  I've tried to include things in the photo to indicate the monumental size of these sculptural pieces.  This mushroom beacon below is structured from pieces of broken mirror.  Very cool!
The lighthouse below was an homage to Sandy Hook.  There are 26 'robots' hidden throughout the lighthouse, representing the children whose lives were taken in this tragedy.

This lighthouse below fascinated me, though I didn't get a chance to look at the accompanying portfolio.  The little waterfall next to it was a creation based on the spontaneous assignment.

And of course I needed to photograph this dragon lighthouse for you!

Again, I didn't read the accompanying literature, but this monumental piece really impressed me.

And now for a few sample from the architecture category, with the theme 'a conceptual skyscraper'.  These pieces were all amazing!
I think this one below is a hospital.
The Primary Place - a school, I presume?  Don't you love the Mondrian theme?  I think I see another waterfall on the floor next to the sign.

An elementary team created this adorable Seuss-a-Scraper!

Fashion designers had to design an outfit for themselves and their 'pet', based on an artist, art period, or art movement and created entirely from paper.  Inspirations below were Starry Night, Impressionism, and Klimt.

I'm actually not sure what category this piece below was in.  But it was provocative, for sure.
Numismatic designs below were currency based on American artists.
The photos below, all shot with my iPad, aren't great, but I love the homage to Judy Chicago's Dinner Party in this piece's presentation.
Here's a couple of close-ups:

The photography category assignment (which I judged) was to tell a visual story with a moral ending, using no more than 12 photos.  The presentations were unique - from displayed on stacked boxes, to a spinning star, to a 2-sided display with two separate endings, and more, many were sculptural pieces above and beyond the photographic storytelling.  Very impressive!

In a time when education seems to be all about testing and assessment, this day showcased real learning.  The kids had to solve problems that did not have one specific answer; in order to do this they had to do research, brainstorm, storyboard, test ideas, figure out how to manipulate materials, and document their process.  The creativity and uniqueness of solutions were impressive, and I'm convinced that they did a lot more learning than if they were just preparing to fill in bubbles on a test.  We need to protect and preserve arts education!  Nobody does this as well as we do!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Did you miss me?

I think this is the longest I have ever gone between posts in the 3 years I've been writing this blog, so I'm going to make up for it with a BIG post tonight.  The last time you heard from me, we were unexpectedly sitting in the Philadelphia airport after bad weather diverted our flight to Washington DC, en route to our Bahamian vacation.  I want you to know, before I get into the details of this post, that we did eventually make it safely to the Bahamas, had a wonderful time, and made it safely back home.
We were in the Philly airport for many hours.  One of the things we discovered there was this cool art display called "Diva Dolls" by Philadephia artist Ellen Benson, using common household objects, broken doll parts, and all sorts of recycled materials.  Aren't they amazing?.  
While we were in the Bahamas, however, we learned of the horrific event at the Boston Marathon, and since our son lives and works in Boston, we were very worried.  Our phones were not sending or receiving, so we couldn't talk to him, but thankfully he did let us know via Facebook that he'd tried to text me, to let me know he and his friends were all OK.  He knew we'd be scared.

Last year, one of his best friends ran the marathon, but thankfully she opted not to run this year.  None of them went to their jobs on Friday, as the city was on lock-down, and I wondered about his plans for the weekend that involved leaving Boston after work on Friday and driving with friends to attend an event in Rochester, where they had attended college.  So when the suspect was finally caught, they were able to head out of town immediately, and not miss ArtAwake.

Now on to our trip.  This is the view from our balcony, day (above) and night (below), from where we stayed at the Pelican Bay Hotel at Lucaya on the island of Grand Bahama.  At the little dock near the pool, we could take a free ferry boat to beautiful Taino beach, just five minutes door to door!  Which, of course, we did.
I didn't blog from the Bahamas; I was too busy basking in the sunshine, taking pictures, eating fresh seafood, drinking tropical cocktails, and just generally relaxing and having a great time.  And when we got home, our eyes were glued to the TV news, and I only now have finally narrowed down about 600 photos to a few to show you.  Next post will be an art teacher-y thing, I promise.  This time it's all about showing off vacay photos taken with my newish camera.   So here's a bunch, starting with some flora.  We had some rain our first day, so the first flower below is wet with fresh raindrops. I had others I wanted to show you, but since they loaded sideways, I deleted them. 
 If we have flora, we should also have fauna, right?
 These cute little lizards were everywhere, but very evasive when I tried to take photos!
 These raccoons live by Gold Rock Beach (more about that later) and are very friendly, and don't worry, they are not rabid!  They were waiting for handouts. 
There were lots of birds, everywhere, but this bird was our favorite.  He lived in a tree that we passed on the balcony walkway between the elevator and our room, and he was almost always there.  But he (or she?) was great at evading photos too!  Below is the walkway I am referring to.  We just walked past his tree.
Next to our hotel was the Port Lucaya Marketplace, a charming little mix of straw market, touristy stores, and wonderful eateries, right on the marina.  In a central area was a bandstand where there was nightly live music, usually reggae of some sort.  Kids and adults would dance and/or listen, and it's a lovely festive charming place to spend an evening, while sipping a Bahama Mama.
 I have a thing for funky phone booths!
Below, some of fabulous eateries in the marketplace.  These staff members insisted I take this photo of them!  They were as sweet as they look, and yes, there is Greek dining in the Bahamas.  It didn't matter the nationality of the restaurant, they all served fresh seafood including cracked conch or conch fritters, grouper, snapper, stone crabs (exquisite), mahi mahi, and more.  We ate nothing but seafood, and prices were very reasonable.  We never had a bad meal!  And by the way, they called the crabs 'stoned crabs'.  Ha ha!
 The photo above was shot from my seat at dinner.  We didn't eat a meal inside the whole time we were there!  It was so nice dining in fresh air.  Below, another view from the marketplace in the evening. 
 Below, two views of the entry to our hotel. 
 And a view of our hotel from the ferry to Taino Beach.
 Oh, did I say beach??  I mustn't forget those photos!  Below is lovely Taino Beach.
 On another day, we kayaked a couple of miles through a canopy of mangroves.

After kayaking through the Lucayan National Park, we visited some caves, took a nature walk, and also spentsome time at Gold Rock Beach.  My computer is fighting uploading the photos from this gorgeous beach, so you'll have to do with these two sideways images for now.  The weather got rainy while we were there.  This beach was used in the filming of the first two Pirates of the Caribbean movies!  I looked, but Captain Jack Sparrow was nowhere in sight..   My  husband and I both agreed, if we returned to the island, we'd rent a car and drive to this beach every day.  It was quiet, calm, and spectacular, and the turquoise water was amazing.  These photos aren't doing it justice. 
OK, I've probably bored you enough with my vacation photos!  Now it's back to real life...