Embroidered Pride Patches

Tutorial Video + a brief history of crafting in social justice movements and resistance to oppression.

A Tangled History of Radical Craft

Often there’s one way to define Art that most folks can agree with: visual art, movement, poetry, music, installation, experience, culinary, film… All are ways for an artist to express their own perspectives, feelings or a statement and that others can connect to or perhaps create their own understanding by experiencing. Art is the communication between humans that works on our thoughts, emotions and physical reactions to connect us through creative means.

But what about craft? Can craft express the same way as Art? What’s the difference between craft and Art to begin with?

For Pride month this year, I made an art kit for a local youth library with celebratory embroidery and cross stitch crafts. It was so fun to create patterns and make little pride patches, plus coloring stickers, which are a big thing around here! I also did some research into the history of craft, starting from the concept of “craftivism” and I quickly learned that crafting has a long woven history with political messaging, resistance, resilience and social protest.

What is craft, and how is it different from Art?

Craft and Art are two sides of an art historical debate that has waged for at least the past 150 years, and probably much longer. Both Art and craft are creative practices in special skills that may imply talent and require dedicated practice to develop. The distinction is arguable, really, and is traditionally drawn along lines of use. Works of craft are made with creativity, but with utility— how the crafted object will be used– at the primary center of the object’s function. Works of Fine Arts are made with creativity, asethetics and message as the primary focus of the work. Fine Arts are things like painting, sculpture, collage, music, dance, poetry, culinary arts and we may find ourselves or our art history professors asking us “What is the artist trying to say with this work of art?” We rarely, if ever, aks the question of intent with crafts– things like woodworking, fiber arts, architecture, and foods like baking or beer; the intent of crafted objects seems obvious: to be used or consumed.

This distinction of use-focused v. aesthetics-focus has historically implied hierarchy, generally with the Fine Arts being more prestigious and important than craft. The Fine Arts are also historically much more white male-dominated and public – meant to be SEEN and experienced by the masses, whereas crafts have been thought of as feminine and including works that don’t require as much skill and are therefore underdeveloped, as well as domestic and personal.

Decorative design by William Morris

In the late 19th Century, in response to industrialization and mechanization of production, the Arts and Crafts movement in the United States and Europe, was lead by artists such as William Morris and John Ruskin, who sought to elevate the practice of designing and creating by hand to the level of Fine Arts. Ruskin and Morris idealized careful craftsmanship and high skill in the making of commonly used objects. The Arts and Crafts movement was overall a multifaceted ideological comment and in some cases rejection of industrialization, and in others a condemnation not of the use of machines, but rather the treatment of workers in factories to mass produce objects for use and disposal. The Arts and Crafts movement produced amazing works and academic study of architecture, furniture, and decorative arts like embroidery, but ultimately failed to “elevate” craft to the level of Fine Arts. Because Arts and crafts are different  in important ways.

The British art historian Rozsika Parker writes about the shared history of embroidery and femininity in her book, The Subversive Stitch. In it, she describes works of craft as personal expressions. As crafts like fiber arts were largely handled by women starting in the Victorian era, they became expressions of women’s daily lives in that context: caring for families and domestic concerns. Women were largely excluded from political and public action and so their works were also excluded from commentary on social systems at large, unlike the male-dominated Fine Arts. And it’s because of this exclusion and distinction that craft has a valuable role in subversion and resistance of those systems. Groups like the British Suffragists and the youth counterculture of the 1960’s both used craft, particularly embroidery to make statements against the hegemonic patriarchal systems they struggled against.  “[E]mbroidery showed that the personal was the political – that personal and domestic life is as much the product of the institutions and ideologies of our society as is public life.” (Parker, 205)

Suffragist embroidered banner.

Parker’s book was published in the mid-1980’s, and she was looking back on the new Women’s Lib movement of the 1970’s, focusing specifically on the experiences of white heteronormative women. Beyond the scope of Parker’s research, crafting has been intricately woven with movements of resistance throughout history. 

In the United States, handwork crafts and specifically fiber arts is particularly entangled with slavery, as often enslaved people were highly valued if they had skills in fiber arts, passed down through generations spanning back to communities in Africa. Story quilts with geometrical patterns originated with enslaved people, preserving cultural memory and legacy. White slave owners appropriated quilting practices, which became symbols of white southern domesticity.

Coded quilt made by Sharon Tindall

Despite this, quilting was used as a tool of resistance against the oppression of slavery to mark safe houses on the Underground railroad, offering beacons of freedom to enslaved people. Ruth Terry, in a 2019 article on Medium, connects research in neuroscience that suggests needlework supports mental health resiliency in coping with trauma, and that enslaved women who would knit and sew together may have experienced these benefits in the midst of generations of slavery and abuse.

A photo of the incredible Sojourner Truth shows her sitting serenely with her knitting laying across her hands, a symbol of skill, patience and calculated precision, the same which she used to defy the atrocious history of slavery in the United States and liberate enslaved people.

Quilting continued its legacy of memory and preservation in the face of certain annihilation into the late 20th century.

In 1987, gay rights activist Cleve Jones created the first panel of the AIDS Memorial quilt in memory of his friend, Marvin Feldman and in response to the devastating AIDS epidemic that had reached its height in the mid-1980’s. The quilt had been conceived as a way to remember the names of the lost, and public response was overwhelming as people throughout the US sent panels to the San Francisco workshop and donors supplied sewing equipment to construct the quilt. The quilt was first displayed in 1988, and has since grown with continued contributions. In 2019, the quilt weighed 54 tons with nearly 50,000 panels, each memorializing a beloved that had been affected by AIDS. 

In 2003, while a sociology student at Goldsmiths College in London, Betsy Greer created the term “Craftivist” as she wondered how she could help others with her knitting and fiber arts work.

It was just about connecting the dots that were already there, really, as I had studied conceptual art while doing my undergraduate degree in the late ‘90s and knew that what we make can tackle different issues. When I started knitting, I started looking at the ways in which I could help others with it, which at that time, meant making items and donating them to charities – something my grandmother had done for years, as she made hats for new infants at the local hospital she volunteered for. In that way, what we make has the chance to create changes in the fabric of our world, whether it’s knitting a tiny baby hat or doing something on a larger scale.

— Betsy Greer

In 2018, Greer curated an exhibit at the MODA in Atlanta, collecting works by artists and crafters on issues of social and political inequalities. 

These objects show how deeply the makers care about the various issues, by the time spent and ideas shared. It is my hope that, shown together, the works help people talk about difficult issues that the show may evoke or get people thinking about how they can express their feelings with what they can make with their hands.

— Betsy Greer, describing Making Change at MODA

The Yarn Mission, a community knitting collective, formed in 2014 following the murder of Mike Brown and the protest response in Ferguson, Missouri. The collective is focused on community organizing and providing safe spaces for Black protesters to be together, and support each other, all centered on shared knitting practices.

Knitting kept hands busy, calmed spirits, and created a positive point of connection between complete strangers brought together by the protests. Eventually, Ferguson protestors and residents became like family, working together to keep streets clean, get to cars safely, and ensure everyone had necessities like toilet paper.

–Taylor Payne, qtd in Ruth Terry’s article on Medium

This is so far only the beginnings of the research I’ve collected on crafting as expression and resistance. There’s so much more I want to share and write about, and I’ll continue crafting this post with more resources on craft as expression and craftivism in the following weeks throughout Pride month!

Links!

Upcycled Planters & Propagation Tubs

This activity was developed for The Arts Center’s 2022 Spring Break Art Carnival. In this one project, we combine art, crafting, scientific observation, and dialogue about social and personal responsibility for waste and care of natural resources.

Using non-biodegradeable materials that would normally be thrown away, we create propagation tubs and planters for small plants, starts or seeds. Through the acticvity, we talk about what we know about plants and waste materials, what we are curious about, and what we observe about plants, the planet and single use plastic products.

To celebrate this project, spring, and the wonder of plants, I created a poetry zine about my indoor garden that’s free to download here!

Materials

The materials for this project are very accessible, especially if you’re like me and save every single plastic tub you’ve ever seen in your life. If you are having a hard time finding plastic food tubs, ask friends and family members to save theirs, or check out a nearby materials exchange organization. Here in the Willamette Valley, we have MECCA (Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts) which is legitimately one of my top 3 favorite art resorces in the world.

Planter Materials:

  • Plastic tubs (yogurt tubs, cottage cheese, butter, etc.) – I found an adorable tiny tub for green chiles!
  • Yarn, collage materials
  • Adhesive (white glue, mod podge, hot glue)
  • Awl or screwdriver for making drainage holes
  • basic potting soil with perlite
  • plant starts, seeds or ground cover/ moss
  • dechlorinated water (see notes below for how to do this)

Drawing Materials

  • Sketch paper
  • Pencils
  • clipboards

Learning outcomes

Through this activity, participants will be able to:

  •  identify non-recyclable materials (plastic tubs) and alternative uses for those materials
  • to construct a planter with drain holes and understand what a plant needs to thrive (water, air, light, soil)
  • practice observational skills using different senses for drawing plants and observing conditions of soil
  • describe their observations verbally
  • know when to change the circumstances of a plant’s environment (more water, more light, etc.)
  • use different weights and types of line to depict plants
  • identify and label different parts of a plant
  • understand and recall the different stages of growth of a plant

Process & Notes

To create the planter:

  1. Select a plastic tub to use for this project (one with a lid is best).
  2. Clean the tub well with soap and water, and dry thoroughly.
  3. Pierce the bottom of the tub with several holes using the awl or screwdriver. These will be drainage holes for the planter.
    • Drainage holes help keep the soil the right moistness. Without them, when we water our plants, the water will collect in the bottom of the tub and could rot the plant’s roots, which can kill the plant. The drainage holes also help keep the soil areated and not compacted so the plant’s roots can grow freely.
  4. Decorate your tub! Use collage paper, yarn, paint, anything you’d like to decorate the outside of the tub. Don’t add decoration to the inside of the tub, those materials can leech into the soil and make the plant sick.
  5. Allow your decorations to dry while you mix your soil with perlite (3:2, soil:perlite)
    • The perlite is a natural material that helps keel the soil airy and helps balance the water in the soil, to keep it from getting too wet and to release water when the soil is dry.
    • As you mix the soil and the perlite, observe the material:
      • with the soil in your hands, notice what it feels like: dry, damp
      • hold the material to your face and look closely, what do you see?
      • smell the material, what does it smell like?
      • as you mix the soil and the perlite, what does it sound like?
      • DO NOT taste the soil or the perlite
  6. Place your soil and perlite into the planter when it’s dry. If you need more drying time, use the time to look at the plant starts, and make observations using your senses. You could even start drawing the plants.
  7. When your soil and perlite are in the tub, you can add your seeds, plant starts or ground cover.
    • Gently place the plant or ground cover onto the top of the soil. If the start has long roots, carefully dig into the soil and place the roots gently into the soil, and then cover.
    • For seeds, use your finger to poke holes to the depth of about your first knuckle and place seeds into the hole. Cover with soil.
  8. Water the soil with fresh, dechlorinated water (see notes below); use observations about the soil and the planter to know how much water to use.
    • when you water the soil, listen to the water run into the soil. what does it sound like?

Observation and drawing:

  1. Hold your planter with your plant or seeds in your hands. Use your senses to observe the plant or seeds, and use words to descibe what you observe
    • What does the plant, soil, planter look like?
    • What does the plant, soil, planter smell like?
    • Gently feel the soil or the plant leaves, what do they feel like?
    • Does the plant/ seed/ soil/ or planter make a sound as you hold it?
    • DO NOT taste the plants, seeds, or planter
  2. Use your pencil and paper to sketch what you’ve obsereved (using all the physical external senses, not just sight).
    • What kind of marks or lines do you use to depict what you have observed.
    • What do you notice when you look/ smell/ feel/ touch/ listen more?
    • What different ways can you approach your planter or the plant to observe it differently? From above, from below, from a different side, etc.
  3. Make predictions: what do you think will happen to the plant next?
  4. Use your plant diary in the zine to make notes. Include the date and time and write about what you notice.

Project Tips

How to dechlorinate water

The water in most taps will be treated with chlorine, in amounts that’s typically safe to drink, but can be harmful to plants. Spring water is best for plants, as it contains natural occuring nutrients that can support plant health. Distilled water is not advised for plants as it can damage plants. If tap water is your best option, you can dechlorinate water by filling a large bowl with water and allowing it to sit at room temperature for 24 – 48 hours. Since chlorine is a volitile chemical, it will dissipate from the water over those hours. I give the water a stir every few hours to make sure I can bring some water up to the surface where the chlorine can dissipate.

What plants to use

For the project at The Arts Center, I brought clippings from my own houseplants: spiderettes and persian shields, which I prepped the night before by dipping their stems into rooting hormone and placing in a holding container with some potting soil and perlite. I also brought baby’s tears, an easy-to-grow ground cover from a local nursery, and some packets of wildflower seeds.


This was a super fun activity, and my first time doing a community event like this with actually 100’s of folks over a few hours in such a long time! Some of the participants came up with clever ways to turn their planters into hanging planters, and different ways of collaging and decorating the plastic tubs. I also brought extra handbound journals to give away since I always have a bunch of those lying around, and special Plant Love stickers I designed and printed for the event!

Thanks so much to The Arts Center for inviting me to be a part of this event!

Colored Pencils Blending Techniques

This is a quick overview of blending techniques with colored pencils that I use in my colored pencils classes (and in my own artwork). These simple techniques can be used to create the basis of realistic and expressive artwork in colored pencils.

Blending Techniques

I use three different techniques for blending colored pencils to achieve blends of colors as well as desired textures.

Layering

Colored pencils can be blended by layering different colors on top of each other. For the most control and smoothest blend, start with light pressure, holding the pencil at the far end, and coloring with the side of the pigment rod (rather than the tip).

Add layers of pigment directly on top of previous layers, alternating between colors to achieve the desired saturation of color without burnishing the tooth of the paper (flattening the paper, which will make adding further layers of color or details more difficult).

Burnishing

Burnishing is an option for blending. This method creates heat, melting the medium (oil or wax) and allowing the pigment to mix on the paper. It also flattens the tooth of the paper to create a smooth surface.

A colorless blender is one tool for burnishing. This is a pencil with a rod of medium (wax in my example) and no pigment. Use it to layer over colored pencil, or use the tip to blend small areas.

A paper tortillon can also be used to burnish colored pencil for blending. Make sure your tortillon does not have any other pigment on it from previous use to prevent smearing and mudding color.

Blending with Solvent

Using a solvent to blend colored pencils may be preferable to burnishing if you want to add further layers of color and details ontop of a blended layer. An important thing to remember with using a solvent is to have enough pigment on the paper before applying solvent — if there isn’t enough pigment, the solvent will soak into the paper and create a grease spot.

Solvent is typically odorless mineral spirits, the same that would be used with oil painting. This is a flammable material and should be used and stored with care.

To blend with solvent, layer colored pencil on paper. Layer with more than one color if desired. Use a small paint brush to dip into the solvent, and a towel or tissue to blot the brush and remove any excess (less is better, more can be added, but too much will make grease spots!). Brush gently over the colored pencil you wish to blend.

Allow blended areas with solvent to dry completely before continuing to color or draw over them. The solvent can soften the paper and make it easy to tear, or get onto your colored pencil and make it muddy or soft. I allow my solvent blended areas to dry for 30 – 60 minutes before continuing to work on them. When the area is dry, you can add more color in layers or in details.


Those are the basics for blending colored pencils! From here, we can create so many cool, colorful images, with details and different blends of color! In the next few posts, I’ll focus on techniques for lighting, shading, texture and shaping.

Color Pencils & Tools Overview

For my colored pencils classes and my own work, I like to use a combination of wax- and oil-based pencils, plus some handy tools I always have nearby. Here’s an overview of a basic collection of colored pencils and tool.

Types of colored pencils

Colored pencils are pigments suspended in a medium, pressed into a rod and encased in wood (usually). There’s a lot of variation in types of medium, and form (color sticks, for instance are basically colored pencils!).

Wax-based pencils like Prismacolor are usually less expensive while still offering high-quality pigments. Their soft core means smooth texture which can easily blend through layering. Their tips are also easier to break, meaning these can be used up rather quickly.

One thing to note about wax pencils, when layering color, a waxy “bloom” can appear on work, creating a large shiny area.

Faber-Castell colored pencils are pigments encased in an oil & wax medium. Their pigment rods are harder than wax-only pencils, keeping their sharp tips longer and offering the ability to layer colors well without having to add too much pigment.

These pencils tend to be more expensive, but last longer with good care. These work very well with the solvent blending method.

Papers & Equipment

Paper is a matter of personal preference. I’ll typically use my beloved cheap watercolor paper in colored pencils classes, and for illustration studies. I like this kind of paper because it offers a sturdy surface and tooth that can grip the pigment in colored pencils really well, and also hold up to burnishing and solvent blending methods. I also typically like to use colored pencils with watercolor in mixed media pieces, for which this paper is ideal

I also typically use a lot of carbon transfer paper to layout designs I’ll use in my colored pencils illustrations. In classes, I don’t focus on drawing very much, and so this is a handy shortcut for getting designs onto your preferred paper and ready to color without first having to sketch or draw. I do also use carbon transfer paper in my own finished work, which allows me to sketch an illustration or deisgn on a separate sheet of paper that I can erase and make changes to, and then to transfer the illustration to a sheet of paper for the final work.

Tools-wise, I’ll most commonly use (in the image, left to right): a horse hair drafting brush to brush away pigment dust, low-tack washi tape, paper tortillions for burnishing, odorless mineral spirits for solvent blending, kneaded eraser, x-acto knife, embossing tool, paint brushes (for solvent), drafting pencil. I also value a high quality pencil sharpener – one that can anchor to the table or otherwise create stability is preferred. I use a Derwent pencil sharpener.

That’s the super quick overview of a colored pencils tools set up that I use. In the next post, we’ll get into blending techniques.

Coptic Stitch Bookbinding

Coptic Stitch Bookbinding

Materials

  • 1 cardboard backed sketch paper pad, 9″ x 12″ (see prep notes above)
  • 3 sheets decorative scrapbook paper
  • Embroidery thread
  • Beeswax (recommended)
  • Awl
  • Washi tape
  • 50% glue/water solution
  • glue brush
  • Tapestry needle or curved bookbinder’s needle (recommended)
  • Ribbon or cordage for closure (optional)

Preparing the cover

You can make a cover for a sketchbook or journal from a basic sketchpad.

Step 1: Remove the binding from the paper pad. You can use a spiral bound pad or a glued pad. Hang on to everything, you can use all these pieces for the finished sketchbook.

Step 2: Use the cardboard back as the cover. Trim it down to the dimensions you want your final sketchbook to be. For this example, I’ll make a sketchbook that is 6″ wide by 9″ tall when closed. I trim down the cardboard back to two rectangles that are 6″x9″ (one for the front cover and one for the back).

Step 3: Next, trim down the sheets of paper. For a 6″x9″ book, I trim the paper to 12″x 9″. Fold four sheets of paper together to make signatures that are 6″x9″. Use a bonefolder to crease the signatures.

Step 4: To create a decorative cover with scrapbook paper, trim the paper to 2 pieces 1″ wider and 1″ longer than the final size of the book and 2 pieces the same dimensions as the final size of the book.

For this example, I cut two pieces of paper to 7″x10″ for the outer covers, and two pieces to 6″x9″ for the endpaper/ inner cover.


Steps for Coptic Stitch

As you bind the coptic stitch, it might be helpful to always keep in mind going around the previous stitch. That going around anchors each stitch, and holds each signature or cover to the rest of the text block. Here are step-by-step photos to follow along with (click images to open them and see the captions).

Jump to:

Binding the first cover and signature:

  1. Hold the cover and the first signature together, making sure the binding holes in each line up.
    • I like to hold the signature and cover with the spine edge toward me so I can flip the signature open easily as I bind.
  2. Insert the needle into one of the binding holes at the ends, starting on the inside of the signature.
  3. Leave a 5″ tail inside the signature to help tie off the thread later.
  4. Pull the thread to the outside of the signature.
  1. Pull the thread around to the outside of the cover and pass the needle through the hole from the outside.
  2. Bring the needle between the cover and the signature.
    • The signature and the cover are both threaded, but still really loose.
  3. Pass the needle around the thread that’s going between the signature and the cover.
  1. Pass the needle back between the signature and the cover, and back out again, around the thread.
  2. Insert the needle back into the binding hole it came out of.
  3. Pull the thread tight (but not too tight to rip the paper!)
  4. Use a knot to tie off the thread with the tail you left inside the signature.
  5. Move on to the next binding hole, passing the thread out from inside the signature.

All of the binding holes in this first signature and cover are worked the same as the first.

  1. Pull the thread through the signature to the outside of the book.
  2. Insert the needle into the binding hole on the outside of the cover to pull the thread into the cover, between the cover and the signature.
  3. Pass the thread around the thread connecting the signature to the cover, toward the left.
  4. Hook the needle under that thread from the right and pull tightly.
  5. Insert the needle back into the same binding hole on the signature.

Repeat these steps for all of the binding holes on the first signature/ cover

  1. For the last binding hols in the signature, begin the same as the other holes, inserting the needle in the hole from the inside of the signature.
  2. Thread through the outside of the cover and wrap the thread around the stitch you’ve made to attach the cover and signature.
  3. Instead of inserting the thread back into the same binding hole, insert the needle into the first binding hole of the next signature.

Binding the rest of the signatures

For binding the rest of the signatures, you’ll continue to go around the previous stitch to hold the signatures together.

  1. After inserting your needle into the first hole in the signature, go immediately to the next binding hole.
  2. Pull the htread through the binding hole and to the outside of the signature.
  3. Insert the needle under the previous signature stitch (in this case, the stitch holding the first signature to the cover).
  4. Insert the needle back into the same binding hole it came out of.

To keep stitches neat like little knitted V’s, pass your needle under the stitch starting from the side of the stitch closest to the end you started from and insert the needl back into the same binding hole.

Adding the Back Cover and finishing

  1. When you reach the last hole on the last signature, tie a knot to bind off the thread.
  2. Pass the needle with the thread through the binding hole to the outside of the text block.
  3. Pull tightly to keep the thread straight.
  1. Place the unbound cover over the text block, lining up the binding holes. Pass the needle through the cover from the outside.
  2. Bring the needle and thread out between the signature and the cover to the outside of the spine.
  3. Hook the needle under the thread holding the cover to the signature.
  4. Insert the needle back into the same hole in the signature it originally came out of.

Bind the nest of the cover in the same way.

  1. From the inside of the signature, insert the needle into the next hole and thread through the signature to the outside of the text block.
  2. Insert the needle into the next binding hole on the cover.
  3. Bring the thread between the cover and the signature to the outside of the binding.
  4. Pass the needle under the theread connecting the cover and the signature.
  5. Insert the needle back into the same binding hole.
  6. When you get to the last binding hole, tie off the thread and tuck away any extra ends!

Accessible Handbound Journals

One of my favorite activities to do with my kid and adult classes is to handbind our own sketchbooks and journals. For classes or residencies where students will use sketchbooks for practice, writing, or to make observations, this is usually one of the first activities I introduce.

Journal-making is a great activity to set the tone for the class; with so many options for choice and customization for individuality, I like to demonstrate that the preferences the students make are celebrated and choice is a standard in the class. I focus on that freedom particularly for youth students where we may also explore new skills and story-crafting.

This pamphlet binding is super simple and straight-forward, and uses a small collection of materials that I’ve been able to source somewhat inexpensively from local craft stores and online. Plus, it’s expandable, with the option to add more pages as students need them!

Another reason this is my favorite initial activity is because of the sense of wonder I usually see in most students when they finish this project and realize they’ve made an actual book! I do teach bookbinding classes for teens and adults where we dive into more sophisticated and complicated methods of binding. In those classes, the point is to practice bookbinding specifically. In my other classes that are centered more around community, story-crafting and reflection, creating a journal/ sketchbook can be the first way to dip into personal expression for the class.

I remind students in these classes that the journal they make is their book; they can put anything they want in it and they don’t have to share, so it’s a safe space to experiment, practice, fail, and try again. I’ve seen multiple students do this project and then want to spend the rest of the class period just making more books because they’re so elated to have actually made something themselves, so I always have more materials on hand.

Here’s the activity process, which can be done with most students 8 years and older. That’s the age group I’ve kept in mind for the project plan, although I’ve also made these with much younger children with some adaptations. See the end of the post for those and other adaptations to make this project accessible for all ages and abilities.

Handbound Sketchbooks/ Journals

Description:

Students will use materials to make choices and create their own sketchbooks for use throughout the class.

Goals:

  • Students will make choices from several options
  • Students will use special tools and materials for book-making
  • Students will be able to use the words and identify an awl, embroidery thread, a needle and book signatures

Materials (per student)

  • One sheet 12″ x 12″ Scrapbook paper, decorative, several options
  • 4 – 16 individual sheets of writing or sketching paper, cut to 9″x 11.5″, folded into 4 sheet signatures
  • Awl
  • Tapestry needle with large eye (No. 18)
  • 1 hank embroidery thread, various color options
  • Scissors (one pair for the whole class is usually enough)
  • Optional (for no-pocket option): Paper cutter
  • Optional (for pocket option): glue sticks

Set up:

Students should have their own individual spaces and materials to use. Place the signatures for each student, the tapestry needle, and the awl at each spot. Make separate piles of scrapbook paper in different areas of the room so that students can see the options and make choices.

Process:

  • Invite students to observe the materials at their desks and share their observations.
    • What do you think the tools are called?
    • What are the tools used for? What could be a different way to use the tools?
    • How should the tools be handled for safety?
  • Introduce the activity: we’re going to make our own sketchbooks
    • Name the tools and their use:
    • The awl is the sharp tool with the wooden handle, we’ll use that to punch holes in our paper and cover.
    • We’ll use the needle and thread to sew the pages of our book together.
    • The paper is four sheets folded together, which makes one signature.
  • Students can select their covers from the piles of paper around the room.
    note: I usually have lots of options so I make sure to tell students to look at everything and share what they find with each other.
  • After students select their cover pages, ask them to fold the page in half into the orientation they want for their book cover. Some decorative pages might have patterns that have a specific orientation, so make sure students understand that how they fold their paper is how their book will look in the end.
  • It’s helpful to also demonstrate that the cover pages are too long for the book, and so they’ll need to be trimmed down by 3″ off one end. Or, students can fold the sheet up 3″ from the edge to make two inner pockets. I ask students to make the choice of what they want to cut off or fold.
  • If not making a pocket, use the paper cutter to trim off the excess 3″ and the student can keep the scrap to make a bookmark or an even tinier sketchbook.
  • If making a pocket, use the glue stick to glue the two open edges of the pocket to the cover.

Binding the Sketchbook

  1. Use the awl to safely punch three holes into the folded edge of their cover: one about 1″ from the top and bottom edges, and one in the middle. Help students do this safely by securing their cover in their hand with one finger on either side of the folded edge.
  2. Take one signature of paper and fold it on the outside of the cover.
  3. Using the holes in the cover as a guide, punch holes in the same spots on the signature.
  4. Measure embroidery thread to 3 times the length of the spine of the cover.
  5. Thread the needle to prepare binding.
  6. Place the signature into the cover, making sure the holes line up.
  7. Sew the needle into the cover from the outside into the middle hole, going all the way through the signature as well.
  8. Pull the thread through, leaving a 3″ tail on the outside of the cover.
  9. Next, sew into one of the edge holes from the inside of the signature, pulling the thread through to the outside of the cover.
  10. Sew into the last hole on the outside of the cover and through the signature.
  11. Lastly, sew back out the middle hole going through the signature and the cover.
  12. It’s helpful to make sure the beginning tail and the needle are on opposite sides of the thread that’s passing down along the outside of the spine.
  13. Take the thread off the needle and tie the thread and the tail together to finishing the binding.

To add more pages to the sketchbook, take another signature of 4 sheets of paper, folded in half. Lay the signature along the inside of the sketchbook, near the inside of the spine and mark on the signature where the holes of the sketchbook has been punched. Use the awl to punch holes in the new signature in those spots. Place the new signature inside the sketchbook behind the signature already bound, and follow steps 7 – 13 above to bind in the next signature.

Note: The dimensions for cutting the cover paper and the signatures leaves enough room for 4 signatures to be bound into one book.

Adaptations for Accessibility

This project requires eye-hand coordination, ability to fold paper, thread a needle and sew. Students with limited dexterity may need support from other students and adults.

  • For students who cannot use the awl safely or effectively, students can point to where they want another person to use the awl to punch holes in their paper for them.
  • Students may need support with threading their needle. A needle threader or a needle with a larger eye may be useful.
  • Students may need support with folding. Having pre-folded signatures is helpful for saving time and avoiding confusion. Adult or other student help for folding the cover page will support students with folding.
  • For much younger children, adaptations can be made by using a hole punch or larger awl to make holes in the cover and signatures larger, plus a large plastic darning needle and yarn instead of thread. Adults can also hold the cover and sheet together and point to where children can sew into the binding. I’ve made this project with children as young as 24 months with adult or older child help.

A Daily-ish Habit of Comic Drawing

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Multiple times a year I get ambitious and want to take on an art challenge like MerMay or Inktober, or #The100DayProject. And just as often I struggle and fail to complete the challenege. With a bit of a shoulder shrug, I accept this about me: I tend to take on too much and can’t complete all the things I want to do. Hard pill to swallow, and also a chance to practice some self-love/ self-acceptance.

Buuuuttttttt, I do REALLY want to do these challenges. I see the value in them: establishing a practice, being consistent and developing skill. These are important to me and aligned with my value of being a constant learner and artist. I think, maybe I can have it all, but on terms that make sense for my life…

And so, I present my own version of #The100DayProject (which typically is working on a project daily for 100 days):

The Daily-ish Comic Habit, 2022!

I will create one comic panel + one short diary entry for each day for 100 days (although those days might not be consecutive).

This project is in pursuit of 3 goals:

  1. To establish a typical habit of drawing everyday-ish
    • SMART-ish Goal: more days drawing than not drawing, 4 out of every 7 days… ish
  2. To develop a consistent style of line and inkwork for comics and illustrations
    • SMART Goal: each drawing will be penciled and then inked using only felt tip pens and markers in black and gray, focusing the work on line rather than color
  3. To re-establish a journaling habit and focus on the experience of living and not just being busy…
    • SMART Goal: each entry will be about events of my day and reflections about that day and WILL NOT INCLUDE the words WORK or BUSY

My Daily-ish Comic Habit will be posted on Instagram whenever I remember to do that, and I’ll keep this post updated with each entry, as well as thoughts about establishing and keeping a habit and what I notice about my practice and goals. If I can stretch it out long enough, maybe this habit will help me practice other drawing challenges through the year!

Feel like establishing your own daily-ish habit? Tell me about it in the comments!


The Daily-ish Comic Habit of 2022


Monster Makers Camp Overview

In Summer 2021, I got to work with some creative minds at The Arts Center in Corvallis, OR, in a Monsters Maker 4-day camp for kids.

In this camp, students created their own creatures using illustration, image references, sculpting and making considerations for where and how the creatures might live and what physical adaptations the creatures would need to survive. This camp ignited so much creativity and inventiveness among the students and encouraged sharing ideas, inspiring each other and joining their imaginations. While our focus was mainly on using the sculpting tools and being creative with our stories about our creatures, this camp can be adapted to meet more rigorous science and biology standards for early education.

In this post, I’ll share my camp outline and some of the resources and discussion we used in this camp. This outline can be adapted to different ages, contexts and physical abilities.


Set up & Goals

Schedule: 4 days, 1.5 hours per day (6 hours total)
In-person

Ages: 6 – 13 years old (1st – 6th grade)
Note: since this was designed as a summer camp, I kept the ages pretty broad to accomodate families. As a school program, I would offer this for narrower age ranges (1st & 2nd grade, 3rd & 4th, etc.) and make changes to my discussion points and objectives for different age groups. Keeping the ages broad meant that my focus was more on the skills of art-making rather than being specific to science learning, although there’s lots of room for adaptation and change with this outline!

Camp overview/ learning objectives:
Students will:

  • Discuss habitats and physical adaptations of animals to exist in those habitats
  • Share their ideas with and respond to the ideas of their peers
  • Practice drawing skills with shapes and details
  • Work with polymer clay and special tools to create unique objects
  • Write about their creations as characters, developing a world for their character to occupy
  • Share their work and respond to the work of others

Materials & Equipment:

  • Sketchbook
  • Cardstock
  • Drawing and coloring materials
    • Pencils
    • Erasers
    • Waterproof pens – (Micron 12)
    • Markers
    • Colored pencils
  • Polymer clay (oven bake)
  • Clay tools
  • Polymer clay glaze
  • Paintbrush
  • Aluminum foil (full roll)
  • Adult only use: Toaster oven, safely plugged in and placed in well-ventilated area
  • Optional: findings for jewelry, key chains to turn figures into toys
  • Adult only use: Epoxy glue for broken pieces

Environmental Set up:

  • Tables and chairs for each student to sit or stand comfortably & safely while working and interacting with others
  • Access to bathroom/ hand washing stations
  • Materials and tools for each student (clay, clay tools, paper, drawing tools)
  • Table for educator to demonstrate, visible by all students, or the ability to walk around, if needed
  • Extra supplies nearby
  • Toaster oven easily monitored by adults, in a well-ventilated area, safely plugged in
  • Space for cooling sculptures after they are removed from the oven

Introductions & Agreements

In all of my classes/ residencies/ camps, I’ll start off with student introductions and an overview of the class. For youth classes, I’ll also work on agreements for the class, which I’ll write up and have available to look at and review for each of the class sessions.

  • Student Introductions: Say your name, pronouns, and choose one place to live: the boreal forest, the rainforest, the ocean, a city, the desert, the savanna, the tundra, or somewhere else (tell us)
    • Bonus (to engage student experience and ability): What is something you could teach the rest of us?
  • Class Agreements:
    (These agreements help set the tone for the class, and are a useful place to return to when things start to feel “off track” in a way that might leave some students behind.)
    • Try – some things we do might be new/uncomfortable/ difficult or even seem boring, and our job is to try our best as much as we can!
    • Non-judgemental language – When we look at each other’s artwork and share our own, let’s avoid words like “Good” “Bad” or “Like” and let’s think about what we can ask the artist about their work, what their work reminds us of, and if it’s our art, what we might want to change or try that’s different.
    • Share – Be willing to share your work so we can learn from each other and get new ideas!
    • Experiment – Try something different when you can, be curious about the materials, tools, and find different ways to use them or create something new!

Observations & Discussion

In this first day of the class, we looked at examples of ecosystems in our opening, starting off the conversation with an idea that we’ll be creating creatures that would exist in an environment they were adapted for (even if the creature and the environment were both imaginary). We look at examples of boreal forest, rainforest, ocean, cities, deserts, savanna and tundras and ask observational questions:

  • What do you notice about this environment?
  • What do you think a creature would need to live in this environment?
  • What else are you curious about this environment?

We also looked at examples of real-life animals and imaginary creatures. I brought a set of reference images for the class to look over and started our discussion again, this time encouraging students to use their sketchbooks to sketch out physical elements (ears, tails, horns, wings, etc.) from the animals that they were interested in or curious to explore more. Students were invited to pick an animal from the pictures on their desks (the students had different collections of images) and talk about their creature:

  • What is something you notice about this creature?
  • Where do you think this creature could live, and what physical elements do you think help it to be adapted to its environment?
  • What else are you curious about this creature?

Click here for Reference Image Set

Art Making Practice

I try to dive in immediately with art-making, since that’s really the hook of the class: students want to MAKE!

Drawing Practice

When students are working on drawing, it’s my goal as an arts educator to preserve the organic impulse to create immediately. I encourage students to look again at the references I’ve provided them, along with any of the sketches or doodles they’ve made so far. After 10 – 15 minutes of leaving space for students to explore, I’ll begin to make suggestions for approaching drawing practice, while also still preserving room for students to follow their own paths.

Start with basic shapes: using a reference as an example, I demonstrate how to find the most basic shape that’s similar to the biggest parts of the reference. For example, I’ll show an image of a bunny and how the body of the bunny is round like a circle, and start by drawing that, making adjustments with my pencil and eraser as I go. As I go over the different parts of the bunny, I’ll find more shapes and add those on top to make a bunny shape.

Next, I’ll start adding details like eyes and noses, and remind students that this is where we can get creative with different features and think about where our bunny-creature might live (add wings for an aerial bunny? a flexible tail for a tree-dwelling bunny? big scooping claws for an underground bunny?). This is a fun moment to invite students up to the demonstration drawing to add their own elements and talk about how this changes where the creature might live or what it might be able to do.

Students use their sketchbooks throughout the camp, referring back to doodles as they create with clay.

Polymer Clay Practice

On the first day, I try to also get clay into kids’ hands as soon as possible so they can start to experience this medium and imagine ways to use it right away. I’ll encourage them to explore the medium first, share any observations or questions about it with each other and also share some guidelines. These guidelines will be repeated throughout the entire camp, so I try not to take up too much space at first by trying to say everything all at once.

Observations:

  • The clay starts out hard when it comes from the package
  • Artists can warm it up and soften the clay with their hands by kneading it and smooshing it or using the roller (clay tool) to smooth it out. This is conditioning the clay
  • When we make something we want to keep, we’ll bake the clay in the oven. The clay will harden in the oven and stay that shape forever! But until we bake the clay, we can still change things about the creatures and objects we make.

Recommendations, Tool use

  • Use a small amount at a time
  • Figures can’t be too big or they won’t bake well – try to keep them to about palm-size
  • Don’t see the color you want? Try mixing colors together!
  • Like drawing, shape simple forms (balls, pyramids, cubes)
  • Use tools to attach with scoring
  • Use tools to smooth out finger prints
  • If clay feels sticky, allow it to cool on your foil
  • Things to consider with polymer clay: too thick, the clay might not cure evenly, too thin, the clay might be brittle and break easily when handling it
  • Details can be carved into the clay and then painted after being baked
  • Marbling colors is also a cool way to get effects
  • Wash hands before and after clay use
  • Polymer clay is not appropriate for food use

Demonstrating Techniques

One of the first projects I’ll demonstrate to the students is to make figures using balls and snakes: by creating large or small clay balls and pressing them together (this is a way to make the body shape of some creatures), or creating a long thing clay snake that can be coiled or twisted for cool effects (like making tails or horns).

I also demonstrate tool use to create details and to join pieces of clay together by first scoring the clay in the spots where they will be joined. This will prevent the pieces from falling apart after baking.

Sometimes that falling apart happens, anyway, and so having a small tube of epoxy glue to mend broken pieces was very useful.

For baking times, I follow the directions for the materials I use, making sure to bake in my toaster oven that’s specifically for polymer clay pieces (I got mine cheap off of a community board), and kept in a well-ventilated area. I also make sure to keep the students aware of the bake and cool down times so that they know they can look at their pieces but they won’t be able to touch them until they’re fully cooled.

Some students wanted to make necklaces and keychains with their clay pieces, so I helped them prep their pieces before baking by adding holes for jump rings that we could attach after baking.

World Building

While students create and have their pieces baked, I encourage them to write and draw their creature’s environment:

  • Where does it live
  • What does it eat
  • What does it usually surround itself with (treasure, tools, other creatures…)

Students can illustrate their scenes on cards that we fold to create backdrops for their creatures. I also encourage students to create character cards about their creatures, which includes information about the creature:

  • Creature’s name
  • Favorite food?
  • What’s its special abilities?
  • What is it afraid of?
  • What makes this creature unique?

As a special element of the class, I also created stickers for the students using their drawings and my die-cut machine at home.

Outcomes, Further Exploration & Adaptations

As the week went on, the students became more familiar with the tools and materials and created some amazing pieces. The depth of detail and imagination that went into their creations was truly impressive. This camp could have been adapted into a deeper exploration into ecosystems in which the students’ creations lived and worked alongside each other.

Accessibility adaptations to consider:

The motor skills of the student: for some students a softer clay like paper clay may be more accessible. Paperclay is definitely different from polymer clay, and it can be wetted with water to make it softer, as well as baked in the oven. The use of cookie cutters or molds to help shape clay is a great way to also increase accessibility, where students can use those to get started and then add details on top.

The smell and tactile feel of the clay should be considered and may be offensive to sensitive students.


This was such a fun camp in the summer, and it’s an outline I’m continuing to develop for my other residencies and classes for kids. If you’re an educator or artist and plan to use some of these ideas, tell me about it! I’d love to hear about any changes you make or challenges you come up with in your experience!


This camp was made by The Atelierista and shared openly to make arts education accessible to everyone! Educators, artists and students are encouraged to use this description to explore and learn more about creativity and art-making. If you like this and want to support The Atelierista (and get updates and exclusive content access), check out the Patreon page and consider becoming a member!


Journal Practice: Frida Kahlo & Retablo Art

Note: Some of the artwork included in this practice may be disturbing or triggering to some viewers, including images of violence, physical harm, and psychological trauma.

Recommended for teens and adults, ages 13+, use your own judgement for yourself and your students.

Frida Kahlo’s Retablo-Style Art

I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.

Frida Kahlo’s body of work consists of frank depictions of struggle, pain, disability, heartbreak, longing, and ambivalence between social and societal constructs. In some of her work, she draws on Mexican folk art for deep personal expression in retablo-style paintings. Retablo paintings traditionally depict Catholic saints, made to adorn the space behind the altar of churches. In the 1870’s, Mexican craftspeople adapted retablo art for personal use and display in homes (Rosengarten, accessed 2022). These versions of retablo art depict personal moments of tragedy and struggle that have been overcome, and as an expression of gratitude to religious figures: Christ or Catholic saints. Frida Kahlo’s use of the style is non-religious, taking the traditional structure of the retablo to emphasize personal identity and mythology in her subjects, including her own personal experiences (Merotto, 2020).

Kahlo was an avid collector of retablo art, filling her home with hundreds (Rosengarten) or maybe thousands of pieces (Merotto). Her seeking out retablo art for her own collection and to inform her work was certainly inspired by her love for Mexican folk tradition, which is notable as well in her choice of dress and iconographic symbols that populate her artistic works. Kahlo was also likely drawn to the deep emotionality of retablo art, and its combination of divinity with the experience of suffering (Rosengarten). Retablo art also represents the “syncretic Mexican popular identity” (Merotto) as it combines Spanish-Catholic art with pre-Spanish traditions and moved out of churches into the domestic visual cultural realm. In her artwork, Kahlo was ever occupied with her own syncretic identities as mestizo, bi-sexual, politically active and living with disabilities.

The folk art retablo style is characterized by flat perspective, with a composition portraying a scene as if it were being acted on a stage, and bright colors painted on metal or tiles (or otherwise easy to access materials). The visual space is usually divided into thirds vertically, with the bottom third being a space for written text describing the incident, the middle third depicting the incident, and the top third depicting the intervening saint. Realism in depiction is not a priority, rather the emotional experience of the participants in the scene, including pain, fear, suffering, relief and gratitude are highlighted. 

In Kahlo’s retablo art, we see quite frank and often graphic depictions of pain and struggle, and usually the overt absence of supernatural intercession from a saint or religious figure (Merotto). For Kahlo, her experiences and her artistic representations of those experiences stayed firmly within the world she could sense. She emphasizes physical details, grounding her and her viewer in the reality of the event.


Journal Practice

This journal practice is about creating narrative in visual artwork, focusing on sensory details and the storied layers of lived experience: what was the experience, what was the outcome?

Time needed: 30 – 60 minutes

Think of this as a meditative creative process, in which you can make choices for how you want to respond to the prompts and access your own lived experience. 

This is a visual arts practice including drawing and writing, but you do not have to have an established drawing practice to try this out. You can also use these prompts for different kinds of art practices. See the description below for adaptations.

Materials needed:

  • 2 journal pages
  • Writing implements (pencil, pen)
  • Drawing/ painting implements
    • Colored pencil
    • Watercolor, brush
    • Markers
    • Crayons
    • Pastels
    • Chalk
    • Gouache
    • Acrylic

Prompt:

Think of a time when you struggled through something difficult. Perhaps a disappointment, a heartbreak, grief over a loss or the fear of something you couldn’t control.

We don’t like to think of these memories. For some of us, the pain of these memories can be like experiencing them again. Personal resilience is built up through having these experiences and making them part of a full life, learning from them and continuing on with them, but not being held back by them. 

If those kinds of memories are too difficult for now, you can think of an experience that isn’t necessarily sad, but perhaps was difficult. Some ideas might be moving homes, overcoming an obstacle, healing from an injury.

From this memory, write down what you remember. 

  • Create two columns, one for objects around you in the memory, and the other for feelings and thoughts you had through the experience. 
  • Divide the two columns into thirds, vertically. 
    • The bottom third will be just before the event of the memory, what the circumstances were, what was happening. 
    • The middle third will be the time of the event, what happened in the moment of the struggle, which could be a long period of time. 
    • The top third will be after the event, the resolution and moments of resiliency when you were through the experience of the event. 

You can use words or sketch doodles for these boxes. Using doodles will help you build a visual library for your painting and illustration work.

On the next page, you’ll draw or paint your experience, capturing all three moments of time and as much visual information as you can remember, using your notes and doodles from the previous page. You can split the scene into thirds, vertically. 

  • The bottom third will be a place to write about the event. You can start here by writing out the basic story of the event, including what led up to it, what happened, and how you were able to learn and grow from the experience. 
  • The middle third will be the main scene of the event. You can place yourself in this part of the image, experiencing the event, including the objects and people that were around you, and your emotional feelings represented by facial features, body postures, objects or icons, even words. 
  • The top third will be the moments of resiliency. In religious versions of ex-votos, this is where the image of a saint or angels might be. You can use religious visual language or your can use your own visual language, picturing yourself after the event, in your moments of resiliency, more knowledgeable for the experience. What are you grateful for after the experience? You don’t have to be grateful for the experience, but are you grateful for the people who supported you, the communities you became a part of, what you learned about yourself?

As you draw and write, don’t worry about perfection. Don’t worry about making people look a certain way or using the right words. Focus instead on the objects, feelings and thoughts in the experience. Use color, pencil, erasers, markers. Set a timer for yourself for 3, 5, or 10 minutes and keep drawing for the entire time. If you feel like you’ve finished before the timer has ended, just keep going. If you feel like you want to keep creating after the timer has ended, keep going!

The practice, inspired by Frida Kahlo

Frida’s art is powerful because of her personal expression and stark emotionalism. Creating emotion in art is one way to make a connection with viewers of your art. If you don’t plan to show the artwork to anyone else, it can also be a way to connect with your own creative expression. 

While we focus on moments of sadness and pain in this exercise, you can explore other emotions and experiences as well – anger, fear, longing, regret, joy, peace, confusion, apathy. The opportunity to explore multitudes of emotions is one of the privileges of consciousness and creativity.

Adaptations:

  • Literary art – write out your list of objects, thoughts/ feelings, and use those words to describe the experience in prose or poetry.
  • Story crafting/ Comics – create an experience for a character and list out the sensory and emotional experiences for them using the prompts. 
  • Sculpture/ 3D art – use shapes and forms as stand-ins for emotions, sculpt objects from your experience that hold significance.
  • Collage – collect magazines, newspaper, pages of old books or printed images from online, cut them out and combine them on your journal page to depict your scene. You can focus on collecting and assembling words, images, colors, shapes.
  • Abstracted painting – as you write out your list, ascribe colors, textures or shapes to each word or element of the memory. Use that as your visual library to put your abstracted composition together, paying attention to harmony, balance, and contrast between your elements.

Further Reading & Watching

In the Absence of Miracle: Frida Kahlo’s Subversion of Retablo and Ex-Voto Tradition, Hasta, Tia Merotto, November 11, 2020, http://www.hasta-standrews.com/features/2020/11/11/in-the-absence-of-miracle-frida-kahlos-subversion-of-retablo-and-ex-voto-tradition (accessed 12/22/2021)

In the Study: Frida Kahlo’s Transformation of the Retablo, Richard Rosengarten, https://www.societyarts.org/in-the-study-frida-kahlos-transformation-of-retablo.html (accessed 12/22/2021)

An Introduction to “Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States”
https://youtu.be/UwZvgFW746M