Artwork of the Week, 2/23


Lora Wagstaff, Pen Portrait

12 x 16″, Ballpoint Pen

Our assignment was to do an entire portrait of someone, in profile, within one class period. Lora decided to draw her brother, and she took more than our 51 minutes (probably closer to 75 minutes), but the results are really strong.

Artwork of the Week, 1/12

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Brooke Winsor, Treetops

9 x 12″, Colored Pencil on Black Paper

Perspective and color schemes and details and wonderfulness. Great job, Brooke.

Collaboration Across the City

Here in Omaha, there is a spectacular teacher named Jane Langenfeld. Spectacular enough, in fact, to be named Nebraska’s Secondary Art Educator of the Year. Being as in awe of her as I am, I wanted to collaborate on a project between her students and my students. We decided to create artworks based on written descriptions provided by students from the other school. Jane was the brains behind the operation with this project, and almost all the ideas here are hers. I am the one with the blog, however, so I get to write about it :)

The original idea for this collaboration comes from an old Albrecht Durer etching of a Rhinoceros. You can check out the story here, but in short, the artwork was created based only on a written description about an animal that he had never before seen. We utilized this idea, and a youtube video called “Never Seen, Never Will” was incorporated into this lesson. Watch it here:

Jane and I began by collecting images on a secret Pinterest board. Which means I had to sign up for Pinterest–gross. But it worked well for this project, and I’m forced to admit that Jane was right. Whether I continue to see my time sucked away on that site, however, remains to be seen. We tried to find images that were visually interesting, with a few being out of the ordinary. Here are a few examples:

We had our students begin with the descriptions of the artwork, using basic descriptions without much analyzation or interpretation. We had them write with the knowledge that someone would be creating a drawing based on their description. The teachers stayed out of the way with the descriptions, but the authors did run them by other students to see if anything needed to be cleaned up or changed before an artwork could be completed.

Some kids took a very direct approach, stating only facts about placement of objects, backgrounds, colors, and anything else needed. Others had a more creative slant, like my student who gave her sculpture of an armadillo both a name and a personality (her writing was entitled “Po, the North Facing Armadillo, if North Happened to be to Your Left”).

I think the best part of this process, for the teachers at least, was seeing our teaching come through in the writing. Jane and I talked about how some of the phrases we use ourselves also showed up in their descriptions, how they referenced artists we discuss, and shared information the way we might share it as teachers. It’s nice to know that sometimes, at least, our kids are actually listening.

When the paintings were finished, we decided to exchange artworks. The day I went to deliver our work, it just happened to be during a random autumn ice storm; I almost died twice, but that’s neither here nor there. We got our works traded, and not long after, we were able to do our big reveal. We put the artwork in the hands of the original writers, and we recorded their reactions when they first saw the artwork that had been based on their writing. Take a look:

We did simple recordings and posted them to YouTube, while Jane had her students use an app called Explain Everything, as well as Voice Thread. Those two apps worked really well for them to explain exactly what they were talking about as well as showing the actual picture directly alongside the artwork. I would love to share those videos also, but I don’t teach there and don’t have permission and don’t want to seem stalker-ish. Here are a few of our artistic results, though, side-by-side with the original pieces that were used for the descriptions.

This was a really good project, and my kids very much enjoyed the experience. They loved the idea of collaboration, and they loved doing the writing (mostly). The artworks were a lot of fun for some–especially if there was a good description from which to work–and a lot of frustration for others. That being said, I think each of my students who participated would want to do it again. Here are some of our pictures next to the original images:

Lastly, I will leave you with a few outtakes from our critique sessions. They should not be taken seriously, by the way :)

Artwork of the Week, 12/15

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Brenna Schmader

Untitled, Pastel on Driftwood

I can honestly say this is the first time I’ve ever had a drawing turned in on driftwood. Brenna was busy doing some scavenging down by the Missouri River over the summer, found this wood, and decided to do some drawing on it. I love it, even if we don’t know which orientation is the best.

Artwork of the Week, 12/8


Taylor Billington

Self-Portrait, 16 x 20″, Graphite

We don’t always have good self-portraits with Drawing I, but when we do, they’re really, really good.

Artwork of the Week, 10/27


Lora Wagstaff

Untitled, 12 x 18″, Oil Pastels

This was a project dealing with hands, and Lora turned it into a pretty disturbing image by using Janie as a model. There are some issues with proportions, especially in the neck and shoulders, but this works as a preliminary image. I think she’s going to push this idea a little bit more . . . we’re looking at a 36 x 36″ oil painting, hopefully, with more realistic colors. I think it could be pretty special.

Artwork of the Week, 10/6


Brenna Schmader

Drinking Straw, 12 x 18″ Graphite

This is a really cool Drawing I project. We looked at some of Jim Dine’s Tool Drawings and talked about how he mixed precision and expression, which I think is captured in this drawing. I figure any time you can make a straw look exciting, you have a pretty good project on your hands :)

P.S.–If you want a really quick overview of the lesson, you can find it on the Art of Ed here.

Social Issues Silhouettes


I decided I wanted to try something new to begin the year with my advanced classes. I had been looking at the work of Kara Walker a lot this summer, and she served as the inspiration for these silhouette projects.

I was a little bit apprehensive, because her work deals with such controversial topics and the imagery can be disturbing at times. I spent a lot of time considering the images I would show, and I gave my students fair warning about what we would be seeing and discussing just so they were prepared. In addition, this was done with my juniors and seniors, so they were a little more prepared to deal with everything. That is not to say that this shouldn’t be done with younger kids–I don’t want to scare you off–but just a heads-up that you need your due diligence when you’re picking out images and discussion topics.

All of that being said, we let the discussion of Walker’s work slowly morph into a discussion about social issues.

What are the issues facing teenagers?

What are social issues we must deal with locally or nationally?

What issues are facing others in the world?

We went way more in-depth than that, but that would be a general outline from which we started. From there, students chose an issue that they felt strongly about. The personal reaction is key here, so they have the passion to make this work successful.

The Process

Once students had their issues selected, we began brainstorming and sketching to determine what kind of imagery we would need–with no words allowed. After sketches were made, I had students show their ideas to friends, family, teachers, and whoever else they wanted. The litmus test is this: if viewers can understand your work, and which issue you are presenting without explanation, you are good to go. If you have to explain it to the viewer, your image needs to be reworked. You keep reworking until your voice and your image present exactly what you want to the viewer. Once students have that clear, powerful visual, they are ready to move on to finalizing images on their project paper.

Choices in composition are key here, and students MUST work out the finer details and smaller parts of the project before they get started. Whether they are cutting out the silhouette or coloring it with a Sharpie, if they are lacking in attention to detail the project can be derailed.

Most of my kids chose to utilize the markers–I think it’s a comfort level thing–but the exacto knife masters did a pretty nice job with their work as well. I can’t recommend one over the other, so I’ll recommend that you give the kids a choice–I promise they’ll appreciate it.

Hopefully they accomplished what they set out to do. If any of the images need explaining, feel free to leave a comment and I will go back to yell at them :)


Artwork of the Week, 9/2

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Haley Walter

Skeletons and Flowers, 8 x 22″, Graphite and Pastels

This was just a quick project with Drawing I that turned into something spectacular. We tried juxtaposing skeletons and bones with fake flowers and ribbons–I swear there’s a Georgia O’Keeffe tie-in here somewhere–and we got some pretty cool works out of it. I gave students a choice of graphite with pastels for a softer look, or all markers (black Sharpie with other colors) for a harder-edge drawing. Haley’s was the best of the bunch, and a really successful result for a first project in Drawing I.

Longo Pictures 2014

So, you can see the full version of this lesson here, and my condensed version over on The Art of Ed as my first article. We went outside today to throw, jump, dodge, and take pictures of it all.

By the way: it was 95 degrees with about 90% humidity today, so apologies in advance for the visible pit stains and dripping sweat in all of the pictures. Sorry you have to see that :)