En plein air

"Just try going outside and painting things on the spot! All sorts of things happen then." - Van Gogh

Painting and drawing outside is one of my favorite things we do at camp. It is entirely different than being in the studio or classroom, and it is something every artist should experience. You have natural light that is always changing. You have 365 degrees of inspiration and choices. You have wind, heat, unfamiliar sounds, smells, dirt, distractions, and bugs. You stop and observe the beauty around you, and realize, yes, this is beautiful. You have a challenge of replicating that beauty. Working outdoors you can't help but feel like a famous plein air impressionist artist. 

I showed the campers examples of impressionist paintings and we noticed the vibrant colors, the use of light, textures, and composition. I told them that they had an artistic license, which meant it was ok to make choices- you could exaggerate a tree trunk, you could omitt a bench, or you could add some little flowers. We talked about the colors we saw. The lake wasn't just blue, it was green, white, yellow, and black. We were thinking like real artists.


"All pictures painted inside in the studio will never be as good as the things done outside." - Paul Cezanne


Ring, ring! Who's there?

Camp is a place that is free of cell phones, lap tops, and internet. We talk and make friends. We interact face to face. We play and pretend. Our communication is reminiscent of a time before the internet. It is rare to have a place like that these days, and it is refreshing. 

The theme of second session was called: Knock, knock, Who's There? aka How We Communicated Before the Internet. Campers played charades, learned old fashioned games, wrote letters, made friendship bracelets, followed the leader, and designed secret codes.

In the art workshop we made play-phones, and other non-functioning communication devices. The project encouraged imagination and creativity. We used recyclable materials: egg cartons, shoe boxes, tin foil, lids, caps, bottles, tubes, and ribbons. We introduced the campers to rotary phones, pagers, and the original over-sized cell phone. Each camper created their own device and then we had fun calling each other on our pretend phones and typing on our faux lap tops. The kids loved this project!

pack up and explore

Travelling is a great way to see new things, make new friends, and explore the world. But before you can go anywhere, you will need a suitcase. For kids, the perfect piece of luggage is not made of leather, it has no designer name, it is cheap, and small, and flat....it is an envelope! In the art room the campers have been busy turning clasp envelopes into mock suitcases, complete with handles, luggage tags, and international stickers. We had fun recalling memories of vacations past, and imagining where we would like to travel next. These suitcases are ready to be packed, and the campers are ready to explore!

Superhero Magazine

The first session at camp was themed: The He-ro and She-ro in You. Through art projects, games, and performances, we encouraged the campers to find their superhero within. In the art room we made magazine covers, featuring ourselves as the models. Everyone became a star, just like the musicians, athletes, celebrities, politicians, and leaders that we regularly see on magazine covers. I took a photo of each camper in front of a white background. We printed out the glossy photos and then the campers could write and draw on the photo to transform themselves into a superhero character. We all had a lot of fun drawing on our photos and brainstorming superhero names and magazine titles. Each magazine cover came out so unique and creative. 


Monet for a Day

My good friend from RISD has illustrated her first children's book. It is a very exciting and special thing to know someone who  is doing something they love and something they are so good at. The book, “Monet Paints A day”, was the perfect project for Caitlin. The story , written by Julie Danneberg, is thoughtful, unique, and informational, and the watercolor illustrations that Caitlin executes so beautifully are a perfect match for the story. 

I am not only proud but inspired. I’ve been reading Caitlin’s book to all of my classes. The first and second graders, from my classroom in the spring, were some of the first kids to ever hear the story. After listening, they were excited to write letters to Caitlin- complimenting her, asking questions, critiquing the pictures, sharing about themselves, prying for some personal information, and inviting her to visit the classroom. Because Caitlin lives all the way in St. Louis, letter writing would have to suffice. The kindergartners at after school loved the book as well, requesting to hear it twice in one week! They also made her some cute happy cards.

At camp I used the book as inspiration for a free Friday class. The class was called “Monet for a Day.”  After reading the story to the campers, we then painted like Monet did in the book! This meant taking all of our supplies- paper, silky crayons, trays, and other hard surfaces- down to the waterfront. We looked at the lake the same way that Monet used to look at the beach. We used colors that gave an impression of the place. We had to work quickly before the light changed. Fortunately, unlike Monet, we didn’t have to worry about the tide coming in.  The campers were very happy with their work. The book was now more than a story- it was a whole experience.  This book is a great teaching tool with beautiful illustrations, and I am so proud of my very good friend. 

Two ideas

1. Endless art

Endless art was a free Friday activity that I taught on the third week of camp. All the little artists were really looking forward to this one, as was I. Each child got a fat stubby roll of white paper, and well, anything was possible from there. Using the seemingly endless roll the kids could draw whatever they wanted- a treasure map, outer space, smiley faces, snakes, song lyrics, scribbles. I suggested that they could hang the paper in their room like streamers! Or wrap themselves up in it and be living art! Or, keep it as a sketchbook and try to fill up the whole roll this summer! 


2. Message Stones

Market day is one of my favorite traditions at camp. It is a day when everyone trades their artwork. Each year the campers make something different- clay beads, pet rocks, finger puppets, beaded insects, etc, then try to trade and barter with each other to collect the most beautiful, humorous, or sparkly works of art. It is kind of like a camp version of silly bands, or magic cards, or pogs. This year, for our theme of Boom, Bang, Blast, I taught the kids how to make message stones. A message stone is a small painted ball of clay with a hidden message inside. To find the message you must break open the dry clay ball. It’s kind of like a more aggressive and inedible fortune cookie. The message is put into the clay while the clay is wet, then when the ball has air dried it can be painted, and eventually traded and broken!


Sand Mandala

Inspired by the ancient Tibetan Buddhists, and with this session's theme of "Sun, Sand, and Surf", the campers created a sand mandala today. The mandala was created in the traditional way where there was no glue used. The colored sand sits on the paper and you must work very carefully, and all together. After the mandala is complete it is ritualistically destroyed.

We started the workshop with a long conversation about what it means to be a careful artist.  If you are being a careful artist you are aware of your body, you are thoughtful, you are looking at what you are doing, you are quiet, you are patient. It is not easy to be careful. A sand mandala is precious and can be easily ruined. We want to ruin it, but not until we have worked on it all day. If you laugh too hard, if you sneeze, if you shake the table, if you drop something on the table, if you reach too far across the table, if you jump up and down next to the table... all these things could ruin our mandala.  

We talked about ephemeral art. I made everyone repeat the word out loud. I explained that ephemeral art does not last, it is only temporary, and the joy is in creating it. The campers brainstormed other forms of ephemeral art: chalk, ice sculptures, sand castles, snow men, birthday cakes, piniatas, jack-o-lanterns. They were ready for the challenge.

Each age group had a ring of the mandala to create. Every camper got to add something. I must say, I was very surprised and impressed by the results of such careful artists. 




The first Friday at camp is called "Free Friday". Free Friday is completely different from all the other days at camp because the kids get to pick what they want to do. We offer a ton of choices, all of which are really crazy and fun, and not following the theme. On Free Friday I am not confined to the art room. This is my chance to teach something completely different. If it is not art or design, than I am typically drawn towards "pretend play". Pretending kind of doesn't need a teacher. I can let the kids lead me, then play off of their comments and questions. I love this.

My classic Free Friday pretend workshops- Junior Office and Potion Making, were put aside for some new potential favorites- Mud Kitchen and Pet Shop.

The idea for Mud Kitchen actually derived from last years Mud Pies workshop. This year I boosted up the idea, expanded our business you could say, to include not only pies but soup, lasagna, cookies, coffee, and whatever else the kids could come up with. We set up a make-shift sink with a watering can, an oven outlined in chalk, and a pantry full of collected ingredients. Camp is the perfect place, if not the only place, for a Mud Kitchen workshop. It's okay to make a mess. It's okay to use your hands. It's okay to use all the dirt in the bag because it will be easy to find more. It's even okay to throw your pie as far as you can. The kids know what to do, but I give them little hints and tips: Try adding some pepper, these pebbles look like blueberries, I think you need the egg beater. Sometimes it's more of a warning: Don't forget to turn the oven on! Don't forget about the food in the oven! Mostly, I give compliments: mmm, that looks delicious, you're a mud expert, I love the chocolate filling, did you know you were such a good cook?

The Pet Shop workshop was in collaboration with other camp specialists. We came up with the idea to lead a class based on pets- both pretending to be a pet, and making things for your pet. As a camper, this would have been my absolute favorite workshop. So many kids, including myself, are obsessed with cats and dogs. We made giant pom poms out of yarn that were attached to strings and sticks for the kitties to play with, and we braided felt tug toys for the pups. We decorated bandannas and created some no-bake dog treats. My dog Oliver dropped in to visit too! We painted noses black and tried out our best "meow". The workshop ended with bowls full of mushed up ice pop, that the kids were allowed to lick up. 


Boom blast bang

This session at camp the theme is "Boom, Blast, Bang!" This means a lot of loud and messy art projects. Yesterday, the campers decorated radios that look like milk cartons. The radios are so cute and work really well, plus they are easily portable and durable. As one kid suggested, you could listen to music while taking a bath, or bring it with you to the beach! We used sharpies to make bubble letters and 3D letters that spelt out sound effects and noises. We learned about comic book art and brainstormed lists of sounds. Childrens typography makes my heart melt. Here are some examples.