Artwork of the Week, 1/5

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Jo Tichenor, Self-Portrait

18 x 36″, Oil on Canvas

This is Jo’s first oil painting. I like how she tried to get a little expressive, dripping paint and the like, but I don’t feel like it’s enough. I really wish she would have gone crazy, but I am pretty sure she’s not ready to let go like that just yet. I like the color scheme, and I like the scarf. I don’t like the face as much, and she’s missing part of her torso. But shhhhh . . . . I won’t tell anyone if you don’t :)

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, 12/1


Nicole Somlai

18 x 24″, Oil on Canvas

So Nicole has never done much painting, or much art before, but we’re pushing her pretty hard as she’s taking on AP Studio Art. This is her first project with oils. I really like the background design, color schemes, and gradients. The figures are not the best–highlighted but still flat–but I love the interaction between them and the somewhat ambiguous gender of the figure on the left.

Artwork of the Week, 11/24

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Andrea Madden

Lichtenstein Portrait

18 x 24″ Acrylic on Canvas

Drea took a small sketchbook assignment–draw someone you know in the style of Roy Lichtenstein–and turned it into a giant painting. The red dots were made with the eraser end of a pencil, in case you’re curious. The headband and the shirt need to be outlined with black, and the background may need another layer of paint, but we’re pretty close to being done here.

Artwork of the Week, 9/25

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Lora Wagstaff, Untitled

24 x 36″, Oil on Board

This is Lora’s first oil painting. I feel like she might be alright at it.

Paint Fight


So, you may have been seen our Paint Fight Gallery and wondered exactly what my students are able to get away with in class these days. Well, a lot, actually, and we had a great time doing it.

The impetus for this was a discussion in class on how to make portraits more interesting. We thought it would be a great idea to do portraits of people covered in paint. Unfortunately, there’s really not time to cover each other in paint during the normal school day, so we had to wait until summer school to pull this off. It was totally worth it.

To begin, we looked at Jackson Pollock:

And Yves Klein’s Anthropometries (human paint brushes–some of which are naked, but it’s tasteful. Don’t watch if you’re worried about naked people):

We then got our paint ready–a lot of watered down acrylic and tempera. We also punctured some holes in small containers of paint so we could drip color out of the bottom, a la Jackson Pollock. A few brushes, some large butcher paper to create our paintings, and we were just about ready to go.



We did have to make a couple of wardrobe alterations, however. We lost socks and shoes, glasses, and anything in our pockets (paint soaks through and covers anything inside of your clothes). Allyah needed to come up with a hijab that she could ruin with paint stains. It happened to be an old white t-shirt that she stapled together so it would hold.



Jo altered her shirt to say “Train through the Paint”–seems appropriate.


Then it was time to head outside and go crazy with the paint. We had three rules:

  • No paint on the concrete (sidewalks and parking lot)
  • No paint on the school exterior
  • No paint on the cars parked near our painting space

Other than that, everything else was fair game, and we had a great time throwing, painting, dripping, and generally just making a giant mess.

Nicole was our first victim:

And then it was Katie:

I think these before and afters are a good illustration of exactly what happened to everyone:

When we were done, everyone posed for formal portraits. I’m actually pretty excited how they turned out. A few of the close up head shots:

And a few of the full-body poses were pretty cool as well:

Those who spent time cleaning up REALLY spent some time cleaning up, going so far as to sit in our sink. A few people, like Jo, decided to just move on with our day covered in paint :)

Now, we are on to the drawings of these spectacular photos, which will be the end result of all this craziness. I can’t wait.

Paint Fight Gallery

I’ll do a write-up of everything we did in a day or two, but for now, here are our formal portraits we took at the end of the day. View. Download. Enjoy.

This Semester’s Finals

I’ve shared our finals process a few times previously, which you can read here. To explain briefly, though: Students are given their theme/subject/idea in advance, they make all necessary preparations, then they have the 95-minute period of time to create their artwork from beginning to end. I wanted to share, because I was once again impressed with what my kids were able to create in that short time period.

Drawing II had the theme of water. Anything was fair game, as long as it involved water in some way:

And somehow, Brooke managed to finish a batik piece in 95 minutes:



Pretty strong stuff, and I was happy to see such quality work.

Painting I had a choice of subject matter, but it needed to be presented as a monochromatic watercolor painting. I didn’t get enough pictures, but here’s the few I was able to capture:

Layered Tape Paintings


I totally stole this lesson from Andrea Slusarski, my favorite teacher from Colorado. You should read about her lesson here.

Basically, it’s a matter of painting, adding tape, painting more, adding more tape, and on and on. At the end, the tape is removed to reveal the layered designs. It’s simple, but very, very cool. We painted on cardboard, I adapted my lesson to fit my current semester of students, and it went like this:

Our layers:

  • Base Coat
  • Monochrome–any subject, but a wide variety of values
  • Nature or Landscape
  • Texture
  • Black and White, possibly incorporating writing (song lyrics, poem, book passage, etc.)
  • Choice
With all of our projects, we have a 5-objective, 5-point rubric we use to grade, and the objectives are individualized to each project. Here’s what my kids and I came up with for these paintings:
  1. A wide variety of subjects and techniques
  2. Purposeful designs created with tape
  3. Appealing color scheme
  4. Precise lines created by tape
  5. Precise lines used when painting
They had a blast personalizing, coming up with concepts and themes that continued from layer to layer, and of course seeing the results when it came time to take off tape.

Artwork of the Week, 5/12


Trevor Brockhaus, Battle of the Blocks

12 x 24″, Acrylic on Canvas

If you’ve been looking for an acrylic painting that took two months to complete, features over 200 individually painted lego characters, and couldn’t be more hilarious, you have found it. Trevor took FOREVER to get this done, but I’m really glad it’s finally there. Even if he says he’s going to take it back and paint more once the Summer Arts Festival is over. I would encourage you, if you have the time, to zoom in and check out some of the detail. It’s incredible. And if you do, look for cameos from Batman, Gandalf, and of course Waldo.