Christmas VBS is an Excellent Reason to do Art!

Christmas Vacation Bible School is an excellent excuse to get together to do art for an afternoon in December. It might be ideal to have each project carefully planned and the schedule beautifully timed moment-by-moment, but I opted for a more fluid (and chaotic) mode of going with the proverbial flow and letting the kids do what they wanted when they wanted.The three hours time-frame for for art was a bit hectic, but there was always plenty for the kids to do.
The kids could choose to do any of the following: hand prints, paint piggy banks, oil pastels on black for Frosty or a Christmas tree, decorate mini Christmas trees, or mixed media art "Symbols of Christmas." The cool part about a fluid schedule for art/anything is the freedom to be creative. It also allows freedom for everyone to choose what they like doing and to skip over what doesn't interest the. We had a total of eight different projects (including decorating Christmas cookies) so there was a little something for everyone.

Red and Green as (Universal) Colors of Christmas

I had no idea how universal the "Christmas colors" are (RED and GREEN) until I did an art project inside a detention center with immigrant women from Central America. I wanted to find out what their Christmas traditions are so that when I returned a few weeks later to do art with the children I would have prepared somewhat appropriately regarding colors and symbols for my Christmas art supplies. I was super surprised to learn that RED and GREEN seem to be universal Christmas colors-at least for Central and North America.
The instructions included (in Spanish) the following:
1.     Use a pen or colored pencil and describe your favorite Christmas from your childhood or country. What colors remind you of Christmas? What are the favorite foods that are served? Who comes to visit (or who do you go to visit)? What is your favorite Christmas song? What special activities do you do during December? What does your family do in preparation for Christmas Eve? Christmas Day? What do you do as a family? What are the smells that remind you of Christmas? What is the one tradition that is the most important to you about Christmas? What is the one food that you think of as a must have for Christmas?
2.     Choose one, two, or three stamps that remind you of Christmas and cover the background (over the words). Clean the stamps with a baby wipe when you are done.
3.     Use pretty papers and the “punch tools” to punch out shapes that remind you of Christmas. Glue the shapes onto the page.
4.     Add a layer of stamped images that tell the story of Christmas in your country.

5.     What do you want in your new country? What memories do you want to create for special Christmases? What are your hopes and dreams for Christmas 2015? Christmas 2016? (Why did you come here, and what do you dream for yourself and your children?)

Puzzles of Home

 Popsicle stick puzzles tell the story of "home." This fun project involves prepping eight Popsicle sticks: simply taping them together with masking tape. The the participants tell the story of home by drawing in the details of their house, trees, and yard. These images were created by women in an immigrant family detention center. The idea was for the moms to draw the images of their homes and then to use the art puzzles with their children to tell the story of home. Remove the tape the the sticks become a puzzle.
 The supplies list is very simple: Popsicle sticks, masking tape, and marker pens.

Artistic Fundraiser

An urban community holds an annual Christmas tree decorating contest as an annual fundraiser for area non profit organizations. I like the concept of the event, and I love the opportunity to engage the community with art. My favorite tree features miniature art images of various Ronald McDonald Houses located around the world. I'm guessing they started as simple line art images that the kids colored or painted. The result was quite beautiful.

A Patient & Temporary Art Medium

When I recently attended an academic/religious conference, Tibetan monks demonstrated sand painting over a (long) three-day period. Every time my schedule took me near the room designated for the sand painting I stopped in to watch the (silent) progress. 
Aside from the position of leaning over the art for hours at a time, no conversation among the monks working so closely together, and the fragility of the art created, the process is a lesson in temporality. Upon completion the art is dispersed as little bits of colored sand. In this case, the sand was given to anyone who attended the closing ceremony. Hours of laborious work: gone. A very humbling perspective. 

Waterlogged Stenciling for Subtle Backgrounds

I have a collection of journals that I use for various designated purposes. For example, I have a sermon journal, a mission journal, and I also have a separate journal for each academic course I teach. I don't like to write on plain white pages. Instead, I prep the pages with generic layers of watercolors. Generally I prefer to use layers of stenciling. To speed things up (and do more background pages quicker) I spritz the watercolors using a spray bottle with diluted watercolors from a tube. If/when the colors are too strong, I'll literally drown out (and mute down) the excess color by over-spritzing with a light color.
The flower garden border came off a bit strong with the purple watercolor spray so I drenched it with pale yellow. 
Bonus extra: take the (messy) stencil and press it face down on a fresh page. 
It is initially quite strong. Press with a paper towel to absorb some of the extra color (if desired).  The bold look is great but it can be difficult to journal over; so adjust according to your expected use. 

Puzzle Project Fosters Memories of Home

An artist friend (Lynn) developed a simple puzzle project as a teaching tool for children to learn about different human habitats. I adapted it as a project with immigrant women inside a family detention center as a way to talk about memories from home with their children.
The project requires eight Popsicle sticks taped together (use two pieces of masking tape on the backside). It's easier to have the sticks pre-taped. Lynn offers step-by-step guidelines on how to draw one's own home ("habitat"). The art technique emphasis is contrasting colors. Outline in dark and fill with light; or vice versa. 

It is important to have a sample, not only for the "students" to have a visual but also so the instructor has had the experience in making the puzzle. It was helpful for me to have photos of my house to refer to as "guide prints."  Of course my immigrant participants would not have that luxury. 

Write your names on the back.
2.           Draw your “house” picture step by step, ONE step at a time.
3.           OUTLINE each step and color it in. Outlining is part of this process.
4.           Outline the house, door, windows and roof/chimney.
5.  Color in the forms made. Use colors that stand out next to each other
so you can “see” the outline –use a dark outline with light interior or vice versa.
6.  Outline the smoke and color it in.
7.  Draw a yard horizon line
8.  Draw the tree, foliage and branches Outline first then color in
9.  The flowers are next. Outline and color in with chosen colors.
10.        Draw the front “lawn” and color in or put flowers/rocks/pathways in. Color and outline
Draw any people, outline and color in.
12.        Outline mountains, or any background. DO NOT color in yet.
13.        Draw a sun next, outline and color in.
14.        Outline clouds and color in. Put mountains in, outline and then color the
 background after all images are outlined first. Add birds (“V” birds!)
15.       Add any details.

16.       Pull tape off and reassemble puzzles. Trade and do each other’s puzzles!

Risking Taking One More (Art) Step

It's always risky to take one more step with an art reflection that already "looks done." But sometimes there's just a sense that something is missing; that the story needs one more piece added to complete the telling. One of the reasons I take pix along the art reflection journey is so I have a photographic record to use as needed. An equally important reason is to show myself the evolution of the art/reflection journey. I can see where I stopped too soon or when, perhaps, I went one step too far. Of course the "right" stopping point is totally subjective! I think it's better to take the risk and do one more step rather then to do fear-based art and stop too soon. (Hmmmmm...perhaps there's a direct parallel here to living life risks and all or stopping short and playing it safe?!)

I thought I was done with this final/fourth step, but it looked a bit empty. I like to end with a strong/bold symbol or two that finishes the reflection with a flourish. I added a two-color heart stamp (I wish I'd chosen a darker shade of purple) and pinched butterflies. The two together signify mother-son, and the single butterfly the independence of the son flying free as he grows into who he is. 

Looking at these symbols I'm mindful of an embroidered wall hanging my sister gave me when our son was born: The two greatest gifts we give our children-one is roots and the other is wings. 

Step 4: It is for Freedom that Christ has Set us Free

Galatians 5:1 is the perfect scripture verse to express the freedom that Christ offers. In Paul's letter to the church in Galatia so long ago he was intending freedom from legalistic rituals and his words have been taken to mean literal freedom from what binds he in this life. 

The final step in the layered art is to identify and write out a scripture which resonates with the reflection during the art process, and write one or two words bug and bold which encapsulates the message received. Embellish the background with one super-sized bold stamped image and/or cut paper in symbolic shapes. 

Step 3: Hopes & Dreams

Building on the layers of stenciling which include symbols of hope for a new future (see earlier post), the next step is to choose a silhouette of a woman or a child to symbolically represent yourself or your child. There are 20 choices sized to fit the 8x11 paper. 
The sample shown represents my son and the hope and prayer that I've always had for him: that he could and would run with freedom. Take a piece of carbon paper and place it face down on the art; position the silhouette on top. Use a #2 pencil and trace the outline of the silhouette. (Remove tracing paper.) Use tempura or acrylic paint and fill in the silhouette. 

Laying Symbols of Hope

Step two of a four-step art reflection for immigrants inside a detention center includes layering stencils which symbolize hope for oneself and one's children. I chose a city skyline with a church to signify a safe city to raise a family where the church is at the center of community life. 

The butterflies signify freedom and the flowers new life. Blue and purple are the favorite colors for myself and my son and the yellow is for a bright and happy life with sunshine. The woman's face is content to look upon the scene unfolding of her happy life. She is content. 

Prayers of the Women

The art reflection to write prayers emerged out of previous visits working with women inside a family detention center. The goal of the mixed media exercise was was to help the women identify their prayers and then make the art as a way of releasing their anxiety over to God, trusting that God would make the way clear and answer their prayers.
 I always have slips of printed scripture verses that the women can include in their collage if desired. Some will use only one; others find creative ways to include several.

Prepping a 4-Step Teaching Sample

The tedious part of prepping a four-step sample is the first/written layer because it gets laid down x all four boards. I finally figured out the best process: type the English instructions; drop into Google translate to get the Spanish; transfer to Word. 

Size text and send a font that resembles handwriting; push print. Then sandwich a piece of carbon paper under the printed "handwritten" page and use a pencil to copy over the text. Repeat x all four boards. Paint the written layer with 1-2 layers of watercolors. Voila! The first layer is done x all four. 

Timeline Reflection inside an Immigrant Family Detention Center

It is very frustrating for women in a family detention center to wait and wait and wait, wondering and worrying if they will be released and allowed to continue on to family (already) waiting for them in the U.S. or if they will be summarily deported back to the horrors of their homeland.It is particularly frustrating for those waiting while a family comes and goes but they are still waiting. The art reflection project I developed for the women was created with this frustration in mind. For the timeline project, their goal was to see how short their time is in the detention center compared to the big picture of life.
They wrote their story on the bottom layer of the art about their experiences in the detention center: what activities they and their children did, what their living arrangements were like, classes they attended, school, etc. They are locked up and waiting, but there are many interesting and even fun activities to do for the others and the children. The point was to name the blessings amidst the waiting.

They then painted over the words with watercolors and added stencils of symbolic shapes for their life (past, present, or future) using tempura or acrylic paint. The timeline is a piece of pretty art tape and it was placed halfway to represent the medium or average experiences in life. I asked the women to estimate how long they thought they would live and to put that number on the far right of the timeline. Most said they expected to live to age 100; a few said age 80. The average age of the participants was 22-25, and the timeline helped give the perspective that there is much more of their live to live before them then what has already been lived. In the big picture of life, "now" at the detention center is very short.

They put dots above the taped middle line for events in their lives that were good, and dots below the taped line to indicate event that were unhappy. They could add words to explain those dots or they could leave them blank. A stencil or stamp of a mother and/or a child to symbolically added their family into the art. They could glue on the Serenity Prayer and a scripture verse of the "fruits of the Spirit" if they wanted. The final touch: write the "fruit of the Spirit" that you most need to help you through this time of waiting. PATIENCE was the popular choice!

Timeline: Mixed Media Reflection on the Big Picture of Life (Bilingual)

Primero: Utilice un bolígrafo o un lápiz y escribir cuente su historia de estar aquí. ¿Cuándo llegaste? ¿Cuántos días llevas aquí? ¿Cuándo se espera que salir? Lo que ha estado sucediendo han estado aquí? ¿A qué te dedicas? ¿Qué hacen tus hijos? ¿Qué es un día típico en esta lista? En el panorama general de la vida: ¿Cuánto tiempo has estado aquí en comparación con la cantidad de tiempo que pasará viviendo GRATIS tu vida? Escribe tanto o tan poco como desee. Luego pintar el fondo con acuarelas. Añadir 1 o 2 colores de acento.
First: Tell your story of being here. When you came? How many days have you been here? When do you expect to go? What has been happening have been here? What do you do here? What do your children do here? What is a typical day like here? In the big picture of life: How long have you been here compared to the amount of time you will live your whole life? Write as much or as little as you like. Then paint the background with watercolors. Add 1 or 2 accent colors.

Segundo: Elija una plantilla y usar pintura acrílica o tempura para cubrir el fondo. En la muestra, los árboles simbolizan la dificultad en ver (a través de los árboles) para el futuro. La misma plantilla se repitió cuatro veces. Limpie la plantilla con una toallita de bebé. Utilice el secador de pelo para secar la pintura.
Second: Choose one stencil and use acrylic or tempura paint to cover the background. In the sample, the trees symbolize the difficultly in seeing (through the trees) to the future. The same stencil was repeated four times. Clean the stencil with a baby wipe. Use the hair dryer to dry the paint.

Tercero: Use cinta bonita para poner una línea de medio campo por el centro. La línea representa la media. Por encima de la línea es buena; debajo de la línea es mala. Calcule cuánto tiempo esperas para vivir. (La muestra pone a luz en el extremo izquierdo y 80 años de edad en el extremo derecho.) Crear una línea de tiempo de los buenos y malos momentos en su vida desde la infancia hasta el presente. Utilice una pluma de tinta y escribir los buenos y malos momentos de su vida desde la infancia hasta la actualidad y luego conectar los puntos. Piense acerca de cómo Dios ha estado presente en su vida.
Third: Use pretty tape to put a line halfway through the middle. The line represents average. Above the line is good; below the line is bad. Estimate how long you hope to live. (The sample places birth on the far left and age 80 at the far right.) Create a timeline of the good and bad moments in your life from childhood to the present. Use an ink pen and write down the good and bad moments of your life from childhood to the present then connect the dots. Think about how God has been present in your life.

Cuarta: escritura pegamento y / o la Oración de la Serenidad. Añadir plantillas o sellos para representar a usted ya sus hijos. ¿Qué fruto del Espíritu Santo que necesita para ayudarle? Escríbelo. Añadir sellos y figuras de papel cortado.
Fourth: Glue scripture and/or the Serenity Prayer. Add stencils or stamps to represent you and your children. Which fruit of the Holy Spirit do you need to help you? Write it down. Add stamps and cut paper shapes.

Stamping on a Layer

When my available (free) time to do art is cut short I find something to do...however short & simple (& sweet). Tonight I added a simple stamp to the pages I had sprayed with watercolors last night. I had recently bought a few new "people stamps" and my 15-minute art window was just enough to press each stamp...a quick look at the fun before me when I have more time to devote to art. 

Background Prep: Spray Bottles with Watercolors + Stencils

It is too fun to take a stack of stencils and a few spray bottles filled with water and a hefty squirt of watercolor from a tube and spray away. 
I used three colors: magenta, vibrant yellow, and viridian green. I randomly sprayed a bit with each color. 
This one has a serious tie dye look. Others are much more subtle. 
Sometimes I used only one layer with one (or two) stencils. Other times I added a second layer of stencils. 
The end result is 7-8 background pages ready for the next step in art journaling...whatever that may be.