It's right after break on a snowy Tuesday morning, and the ten students file in to the 2-D art room, full of excitement about the weather. There is not yet enough snow for snowballs, but the walkways are turning white as the flakes come down in big clumps.
"Whoa, it's crazy out there!" Khadija brushes off her hair as she takes her seat.
Everyone agrees. They begin to speculate about snow day possibilities as Stephanie Moon, the 2-D art teacher, moves to the center of the room. She greets everyone with a big smile, and joins the chatter about the virtue of snow days. While the students settle on their stools—two per table—Moon begins to arrange the ink and paper on the center table readying for her introductory demonstration.
Gabe changes the subject from snow to a suggestion for the beginning of class. "I have an idea. Why don't we flip class and do the warm-ups last. Let's start with the painting instead." Moon asks the class whether this is okay, and everyone nods.
Moon is happy to oblige. "We'll work with the line today, then the last element we will practice will be color. Today is another line exercise, and tomorrow we will move on to color. Think about these exercises like a science experiment, discovering what different kinds of lines can do. I'll show some things here at the table. Then we'll go outside in the snow for about five minutes to run around outside and use your whole body to get into it! Yesterday, we said lines help us express things. Like what? Adrian?"
"Emotions," Adrian recalls.
"Yes, to express ourselves and our world in new way," Moon adds. "How do we express energy? Maybe a fast line?" Moon demonstrates with her brush applying ink to the paper in quick, short strokes.
In her fourth year at BB&N, Moon's specialty in her own work is textile design and fine artwork, especially water color, ink and pen work, and mixed media. Even as she creates lines of different length and thickness, it's clear that she is really demonstrating a looseness and confidence with a range of emotional expression on the paper. The students are enthralled. They see the potential of what a line can do.
Moon asks the class for suggestions for different kinds of lines. Lucian suggests sadness; Moon dips the brush in the ink and moves it slowly over the paper. She moves her whole arm, her whole upper body to create a dark, thick line.
Dunia chimes in, "Can you do confused?"
Moon dips her brush again and brings it to the paper. The lines meander around the page in sweeping curly-cues.
Fatigue? Anger? Happiness? For each, Moon demonstrates painting the range of lines with her whole body, sometimes with an accompanying narrative to underscore the mood. The lines, fast, slow, thick, thin, rounded, jagged, and straight, are deeply expressive but not representational.
Students lean in to get a better look at what Moon is doing. Gabe says, "That one really looks anxious." Katie nods. "I can really feel that one, too."
It's time to get the students involved and warmed up to do their own line drawing. "Okay, everybody," she says. We're heading outside to do an exercise to get your whole body into it!" The class jumps up in unison, stools scraping on the floor and at least one tips over. They are eager get back out into the snowy day. Moon brings her drawings outside and gives instructions. "When I hold up a drawing, think about the feeling it expresses and move around to create that same mood. You can make sound, too. But the idea is to sort of turn into that feeling and have your whole body express it. Move all around."
Moon holds up her "Anger" drawing, and the students echo it by stomping, shouting, raising fits, and miming punches. When she holds up the "worry" drawing, they move slowly, hunch over, and glance around furtively, seeming to expect the worst. (See photo above.) In between, they laugh. Moon joins in, too. "You guys look terrified," she teases.
After the students have "become" the paintings, Moon invites the class back inside to their tables, where they each have paper, brushes, and ink ready to go.
Moon believes there is an important balance between expression and technique. "Technique is important, the craftsmanship of the work," she says. "At this age, what being 'good at art' means to them is 'realistic' drawing. My role is to show them deeper techniques and a wider range of effective components of drawing. Technique and skill are crucial because the students are so self-critical. They will have more fun and be more satisfied if the outcome pleases them. Right now, we are studying line quality, especially the emotional expression in line quality. This falls within our practicing the elements of art and design: line, shape, form, value, texture, space, and color."
Once back inside and as they dip their brushes in the ink, Moon asks the class, "What would a whisper look like if it were a line? Or frustration? What would that look like with a line? Use your whole arm—feel the emotion in your body. Let's see if it shows in the marks you make. How many different lines can you feel and show on your paper? Today is not about composition. Just see if you can get a range of feeling on the paper."
Moon goes over to the computer and clicks into her music playlist. The Vitamin String Quartet begins to play an arrangement of a Coldplay tune. The students hum along or sing softly as they get to work.
Moon creates an open culture of experimentation in her class. "At the end of the day," she says, "I want them to have good experience. I want them to enjoy the process as they form an identity as an artist and to make art that they are interested in and care about. This means that I present them with concepts like value, light, etc. The 7th grade course is all about having students identify what they want to achieve and then building skills around those pieces."
Moon goes from table to table. "Khadija, what about these lines?" She reflects back to Dunia what she sees on the paper. "It feels like frustration here, but sort of happy-go-lucky here. Yes, yes, I see that!"
Meanwhile John puts the brush in the ink and then flicks it with sharp jabs at the paper. Olivia works on the corner of her paper with small, light, jagged strokes. Katie is using the whole paper with straight, heavy, criss-crossed lines. Moon circulates the room quietly, commenting on what she sees, never correcting, just observing. Each paper in the room seems to tell a different story entirely. As the side chatter fades away, the only sounds are the brushes on paper and the music.
Moon calls them "back" to the group. "Anybody feel like they need another minute? Okay, I'm going to come around and collect your brushes so we don't have any mishaps," she laughs. "What I'd like you to do is stand up and walk around and look at each other's paintings. Choose one. Find one that conveys something to you. Say 'Oh, that really makes me feel....'"
Students push out their stools and walk around the room as if in a gallery. "Okay, walk around a bit more. Take minute to find a place to settle. Ok, who'd like to share?"
Lucian says, "This kind of conveyed anger and confusion—franticity. Is that even a word? I really liked it." The class laughs.
Khadija chose a different one. "This kind of conveyed confusion. It starts here and goes all over the place."
Adrian says, "All the crossing and colliding makes me think of confusion."
Gabe looks at the painting in front of him. "It's serious here, but also anxious."
Saffy calls from the other side of the room, "I like this one. This part is kind of happy 'cause of the loops."
Dunia laughs. "This made me nervous 'cause it's all short and choppy."
Moon nods from the back of the room, but says little at this point. The students are genuinely interested in each other's painting, and each has found the satisfaction of having their work understood.
Finally, Moon breaks her silence. "Now we're going to do a total clean-up. Hold your papers horizontally, and put them on the drying rack. Wipe the tables, and wash hands last. Don't get paint on each other. That would be so sad."
(written by Betsy Canaday, MS English Department)