(Not a) Conference DocuZine

In early October 2023, I had the pleasure and incredible good fortune to meet with artists, educators and advocates from all around my state (Oregon), for a (Not a) Conference. This group had been meeting for nearly 2 years virtually to discuss our experiences, dreams, and needs within the arts education professional field. For many of us, the October gathering was the first chance to meet in person.

These are our thoughts and reflections documented in digital zine form.
Note: as of November 13, 2023, this zine is still a work in progress and aspects may change (probably will).

If you were a participant in this gathering and would like a printed version of this zine, let me know!
You can download a PDF of this zine here:

Part of the Arts Education Learning Community organized by Oregon Community Foundation (2022-2024).

Wildling, A Quiet Comic about Life in the Misty Forest

Welcome to the Misty Forest! Read Wildling on this website here.

This little comic was first inspired by a character design I made while teaching comics camps this summer. In our camps, we would often take time to create characters starting with basic shapes, inspiration from our environment and questions about what we could make. And in the midst of that, Little Bun just jumped right out.

Little Bun has grown a bit since they’re first concept, but they’ve maintained their core characteristics. They’re a Bunny/ Deer hybrid in the spirit of the Jackalope except they’re forest based, they’re fluffy and small with bunny ears and deer antlers. And they like to wear really nice clothes. Right now for fall, knitted sweaters and big mud boots are in.

From that first design, a whole world unfolded where I could see Little Bun wandering around the forest, taking care of the other critters there, collecting flowers and mushrooms, and enjoying small moments in their acorn-style home.

Creating this comic has been a way for me to create a little time and space for myself to enjoy those little moments, and as I focused some energy on crafting the world of the Misty Forest, I have found myself getting lost in the details of the trees in the distance, moss on a root, and a tiny window sill herb garden that’s certainly there but still a little bit secret (for now). This comic is my ode to slow life, smelling the rain over pine needles and savoring hot tea on a cool morning. I hope you enjoy hanging out here with me and Little Bun for a bit.

This webcomic will update about every two weeks here on my website, on Webtoons, Instagram, and Tapas. Patrons on my patreon will see comics before everyone else, plus some little extras as they come along.

Fall 2023 Art Club for Kids!

The Club Password is “Creative”

This fall, we’re getting into drawing, comics, sticker making, and polymer clay figures in the first ever JH Art Club for kids ages 8 – 12!

In this weekly club, kids will practice and learn skills in illustration and crafts with artist and community educator, Jen Hernandez! We’ll practice character design, making comics, creating creatures from inspiration and imagination, and making artwork to share with others. Art projects and lessons are designed with Social-Emotional Learning objectives and studio habits of mind for a fully immersive artistic experience. Kids can attend all 5 Fall dates or pick special dates to attend.

Check out our schedule of dates and themes:

  • October 16 – Creating Characters
  • October 23 – Quick Comics
  • October 30 – Mashed up Monsters
  • November 6 – Pocket Pals – small sculpture in polymer clay
  • November 13 – Collage Cards and Stickers

Art Club Details

DATE/ TIME: Mondays, October 16 – November 13, 4:00 – 5:30 pm
Conundrum House Saunders Room
460 SW Madison Ave, 2nd Floor, Corvallis, OR

Registration: $35 per child per session, one-time $15 materials fee for all Fall sessions.
Space is limited! Our small classes ensure we can be comfortable and focused in Art Club. Limited registration to 8 students per session.

This class has closed. Look for the next Art Club for Kids in January 2024!

Little Buddy, a comic about anxiety

I made this comic about 5 years ago, when I was in the midst of a personal crisis and struggling with anxiety. I was very lucky to be in therapy at the time with an amazing therapist who helped me survive the worst moments of my life. From some of those sessions, I learned about the anxiety that I had more or less “managed” all my life. The feeling of being tied down to a needy, obnoxious, relentless albeit ineffective little monster clarified in my mind so clearly, I had to draw it. And this comic came out exactly how I pictured it.

I was having coffee with a friend recently and I remembered this comic in our conversation. I love this comic. I love it because it was made with simple pen and markers and sticky notes, and I love that’s all it took for me to visualize something I struggled so hard to reconcile. This comic feels so freshly relevant to me now, even 5 years later, when my artwork has changed but my anxiety really hasn’t– and it won’t, it’s part of me, but I don’t have to struggle against it and me so much anymore.

My anxiety is still very much with me, still screaming and demanding potato chips.

I’m Teaching Comics and SEL

One of my favorite things about being a teaching artist is the opportunity to dig deeper into my art forms alongside the creative and curious minds of students. I get to learn so much about the art I’m most interested in, and by sharing that experience with students openly, I can hear their questions and I can be inspired by their ideas. 

Lately, the artform I’m most interested in has been comics. Illustration has long held an intrigue, and for me comics is the elevated form of illustration as hybrid storytelling combining not only words and pictures, but also time, movement and atmosphere. Teaching comics to kids has been enlightening on this artform. It’s both so immediately accessible to so many students, and holds depths of possibility that seem endless. 

This past summer, I got to teach comics camps through partnership with some local arts organizations and libraries: The Arts Center (Corvallis), Salem Art Center, Lane Arts Council and Coos Bay Public Library. It’s been a very rich summer of creating and I’m struck with a deep sense of gratitude and appreciation for the experince. Actually, it was in a comics class with middle schoolers this summer that I developed a new character who seemed to leap out at me fully formed and I’ve been enamored with this character’s stories since. 

Comics and Social-Emotional Learning

What has been even more gratifying in these classes, is the opportunity for students’ as well as my own deeper holistic artistic experience through comics. Recently, I’ve been reworking many of my lesson plans to include aspects and goals of Social-Emotional Learning more intentionally. Comics has been a surprising (but then again, not surprising) perfect artform for supporting students in exploring emotional impulses and responses, cultural contexts, curiosity and questioning, hypothesizing and experimenting.

With comics as a medium, we can investigate materials, look for surprises in small moments and think of big possibilities. Students interpret emotional expressions of characters by observing the choices of the artist. Then, with theatre games inspired by Augusto Boal and Theatre of the Oppressed, students can embody experiences with play and performance. Meanwhile, their peers practice close observation and make artistic choices based on what they see and what they want to say. 

In camps and classes this summer, I’ve worked with students in exploring feelings both physical and emotional. We ask what might instigate those feelings and what options we have for response. We’ve practiced linework to explore how small gestures can become stories in their own right. Our fine felt tip pens slope down in thin, feeble lines that melt into exhaustion or sadness. We use the soft flexible tips of brush pens to create bold, spiked zags transformed into blasts of power and energy. With students, I’ve made scores of zines, revolutionizing what a book can be, who can make one and what can be in it. I’ve seen in students how the chance to make something to share freely and openly becomes itself a point of inspiration. 

Comics have inspired discussions about the kind of art we make, the kinds of jokes we tell, and why and how it affects others. Comics as a practice creates the opportunity for student expertise. They know how their characters should look, and students can lead the rest of the class, including the educators, in a drawing tutorial of their own designs. The comics practice of examining sequences while also anticipating different layers and perspectives of stories, as well as the practice of making art among and with each other, have cultural impacts for the comics class or camp.

In a comics camp this summer, a class of a dozen students and I debriefed after a playground brawl, focusing on the stories each person told themselves and believed about others. A camp culture of listening to each other and following each other’s guidance at different times allowed us to have conflict and to also move the story forward to what comes next.

Planning and Teaching with Values

As I prepare each residency and lesson plan about comics, I hold these 5 values in mind:

  • Close attention to the tools we use and small elements will reveal big inspiration.
  • Each story is part of a larger context: What happened before? What can happen next?
  • There are so many ways to make a book or tell a story.
  • Feeling something in our own bodies helps us know it with more intelligence.
  • Observing others with empathy helps us know ourselves and each other with more intelligence.

Comics are an incredibly rich educational resource. Through researching resources on comics, I stubled upon this panel discussion about education through comics featuring Malaka Gharib, Scott McCloud, Whit Taylor, and Kriota Willberg, and Robert Sikoryak. (Check out that resonance with Gharib about teaching people to make zines!) And this page from the UCLA Library is a treasure trove of resources, videos and links.

In my next posts about comics, I’ll share some of my lesson plans and teaching tools I use in my camps. There’s an entire pedagogy of comics that I am thrilled to explore and share with students, educators and folks who are interested in comics and arts experiences.

Graphic Novels for Young Writers

Turn your story into a graphic novel

Turn your stories into comics and zines!

In this two-hour October Write Club workshop, you’ll take a story you’ve already written and turn it into a comic. 

You’ll learn how to frame an image to show what your characters are feeling, as well as how to get inspiration from graphic novels for young adults. And you’ll practice drawing skills and storytelling through the art of comix.

By the end of this fun, hands-on class, you’ll have completed–or gotten a good start on–either a one-page comic or a mini zine of a tale of your own!

Class Details
DATE/ TIME: Saturday, October 14, 10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Wordcrafters Studio, Eugene
436 Charnelton St. Ste 100, Eugene, OR 97401

By the end of the workshop, you’ll have notes and the beginnings of a thumbnailed scene for a comic or graphic novel, to continue working on later, plus tips for visualizing written content for comics, next steps, and a list of resources for further study.

Register online at Wordcrafters Eugene

Thumbnailing for Graphic Novels

Turn your story into a graphic novel

In this two-hour Write Club for Grown Ups workshop, participants will learn how to turn your stories into a comic or graphic novel one scene at a time.

Practice breaking down a scene from a story you’ve written into scripted parts, and then use those notes to make a visual thumbnail of the scene. Learn how to frame an image to show what your characters are feeling, as well as how to get inspiration from graphic novels for young adults. Learn about pacing for tone, dramatic angles, and considerations specific to comix media. Practice drawing skills and storytelling through the art of comix.

Drawing experience is not necessary, and you’ll get basic drawing tips to start from whatever skill level you have.

Class Details
DATE/ TIME: Thursday, January 25, 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Wordcrafters Studio, Eugene
436 Charnelton St. Ste 100, Eugene, OR 97401

By the end of the workshop, you’ll have notes and the beginnings of a thumbnailed scene for a comic or graphic novel, to continue working on later, plus tips for visualizing written content for comics, next steps, and a list of resources for further study.

Register online at Wordcrafters Eugene

Creating Our Own Adventures in Art Camp

For Spring Break 2023, I joined up with a troupe of young artists to explore and create our own Adventures!

Adventure Characters Camp at The Arts Center was 3 days of drawing, sculpting, exploring and playing our own original role playing games. This camp experience has been years in the making! Adventure Characters Camp included lessons designed around core learning standards, handmade workbooks, and integrated math (probability/ statistics) writing (story, game design) and visual arts (illustration, small figure sculpting) education for kids 8 -12. 

Students learned about role playing games and how they’re different from other games. We also learned about probability through dice rolling for outcomes.

We created original characters. Students designed characters using a character chart that included aspects of story: what are the character’s unique characteristics, what makes them stronger, and what challenges them? With the opportunity to dive deep into a story-driven narrative, students could become their characters. They could make choices, interact with others, and explore their world, while seeing through the eyes of their characters.

Students also created special items for their characters, and practiced balance in their game crafting. We used the logic that if something is extremely powerful, it should bear a cost that balances its use to make the game play fun and challenging.

On the first day, students tried out their characters and items by exploring a haunted house map created specially for the camp. They took turns moving through the map, exploring items and spaces, and making choices by dice-rolling. They helped each other along with strategy and advice, building trust and friendship among their group.

On day 2, students upgraded their character stats by considering what they needed to be successful in different situations. They also sculpted character pieces in polymer clay and practiced clay building techniques.

Students also started working on their own game maps, choosing to collaborate with each other or work individually. Students developed their own guidelines and goals for playing their maps, and even worked to link their different maps together into one large play space. On the final day of camp, students played their maps, guiding each other through choices and experiences in the worlds they created.

This camp was an incredible opportunity to watch students work together on problem-solving, focus on goals and iterate on writing and visual art to craft entire worlds that others could also experience. This is a camp/ class that will naturally need to change and evolve with each new group – guild! – of students. As we push the boundaries of our imaginations more, we’ll have new worlds to create, share and explore!

Check out the next Adventure Character classes, camps and clubs:

Residency: Comics and Story Making

In February and March 2023, I visited the Kindergarten through 5th grades at the Chinese Immersion School in Eugene for a Comics-making residency! This residency was organized by Lane Arts Council as part of their ArtSpark in-school residency program. Lane Arts Council is an incredible organization with amazing people, check out their website for more information about their programs and events for arts in Lane County, Oregon!

Comics-making is a really special practice for me. When I get to visit a new school and work with students on these projects, I also get to practice and learn more about making comics.

In this residency, we focused on learning about what makes comics different from other ways of telling stories with images and words. We practiced linework for illustration including figure drawing and using line of action. We also made 4-panel comics on bristol board with liner pens. 

Since this was a school-wide residency, I created lesson plans for each grade, built around the Oregon State Standards for Visual Arts. Using the state standards helped me create themes for the residency and focus on goals for specific activities and discussions. Scroll down to the end of the post for links to the residency outline for each grade.

In kindergarten and first grade, we focused on shapes, color blocking, and drawing expressions. Students also had practice in using the artist pens, making plans and sharing materials.

Second and third grade students focused on the structure of comics.We talked about how if we see Calvin 4 separate times on the same page, it’s just one Calvin doing 4 different things. 

All of our classes got to look at images of comics and compare them to other artistic images that are not comics.

Grades 3 and up made their own sketchbooks, using the basic pamphlet stitch method. It’s still my favorite way to begin a class, with lots of choice and gaining a new skill. It’s also a really great opportunity for students with different skills to help each other and ask for help. 

In the older grades, we also practiced figure drawing using Image Theatre from Theatre of the Oppressed. First, students created a list of ideas, based on a prompt. In some cases the prompt was “Where’s somewhere you’d like to visit?” and follow up with “What’s something you’d like to do there?” Student responses generated a list of action-oriented words that we could then use in our Image Theatre game.

In Image Theatre, we act out actions or stories silently, repeating the same action sequence over and over again, like an animatronic in a theme park. We start out standing in a circle so the whole class can see each other, and all together act out the same action like “eating pastries in Paris.” As we act out our actions, we look around and see how each of us interprets the same action the same or differently. I also ask us to freeze in mid-movement so we can see what the action looks like from a still moment.

After a couple of whole-class rounds of Image Theatre, I split the class into two groups. One group will remain actors for the next part, and the other will be the artists, who will use their sketchbooks and drawing materials to draw the actions they see their classmates acting out. I ask them to focus on drawing quickly, and suggest they try to draw their classmates as stick figures, introducing the concept of line of action in this way. The actors act out a couple more action prompts, freezing partway through so the artists can draw them. Then, the groups switch and the actors become artists and the artists become actors. 

This small game is just a quick practice to introduce line of action and action-oriented poses, and I think in the future I’d like to incorporate it into a longer residency focused on observation drawing. 

From an anti-oppression education motivation, this Image Theatre/ Figure Drawing game is at the heart of this residency: it begins with student responses, which become the action prompts, and allows students to approach art with their whole bodies. Students are also grouped with each other, to avoid making one student feel specifically targeted or left out. 

We spent about the last day or day and a half working on final comics, which were 4-panel comics on bristol board. I gave students the option to make their comics about anything they wanted, and we had spent the week leading up to the final comic working on prompts based on observations from life, imagining scenarios and places we’d like to visit.

The older students in this residency got into a discussion about what kind of jokes or art are appropriate to make, what it means to make art that is “offensive” or what happens when art causes harm. This was a really important moment for me to learn from, and moving forward, I’ll include a discussion of being intentional about what subjects to include in art making and the consequences from making those choices. 

We ended the week at Chinese Immersion School with gallery displays in the classes of the artwork made, which is always a really fun moment. I love to see students look at each other’s artwork and make joyful reactions. Check out our art from the Story Makers and Comics at Chinese Immersion School in Eugene:

Special thanks again to Lane Arts Council for organizing this residency! Lane Arts Council serves all of Lane County in Oregon, with in-school programs, community arts and First Friday Art Walk. They’re a truly amazing group of folks that are essential to what makes this a thriving creative community. Check them out here and learn about getting involved and events and programs coming up!

Links & Downloads

Here are the quick outlines for each of the grades, with Oregon State Standards for Visual Arts included:

This is the slide show of artwork I showed students, using Visual Thinking Strategies to support student discussion and learning:

Comics and Story Makers Lesson Plan k-5 by Jen Hernandez Art LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.Creative Commons License Based on a work at jenhernandezart.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at jenhernandezart.com/about.

Comics Drawing for Teens @ Lebanon Public Library

Comics drawing practice for Spring Break

In this class, we’ll create comic characters, make 4-panel comics, practice illustration techniques for character design, figure drawing, expression and story-telling. Students can come with ideas for a comic they want to create, characters they’ve been working on, or start fresh with character and story prompts provided in class! All materials provided, attend any one day or all 4 days.

Day 1: Creating Characters
Design characters with backstories, using character reference charts

Day 2: Quick Comics
Make a quick 4-panel comic based on step-by-step prompts

Day 3: Details and Expressions
Use line in illustration and angles in comics to create drama, tension and expression

Day 4: Using the Senses to Create Comics
How to make a visual comic that a reader can “hear” “smell” “taste” or “touch”

This class is perfect for students interested in comics, webcomics, graphic novels, character design and story writing.

Hosted at Lebanon Public Library, this class is 4 days. Each day can be attended individually.

March 27-30, 2023
More information at Lebanon Public Library Events