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!

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 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.

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!


Community Art for Relationship Building

I’m taking a look back at the community art projects I led over the past year with a couple of my favorite community organizations, and I’d like to share some of my tips for planning and developing art projects for community groups.

I approach community art projects differently from my classes in schools or with small groups, although the goals are similar: access to art practices and materials, engaging creative processes and building relationships.

In the case of community arts, I focus mainly on relationship building, letting the art project be a foundation for coming together, like a family meal or celebration, but with paint! For me, this shift in focus means that I want to keep the art projects open-ended and low-risk so that participants can engage with the projects based on their own comfort and skill level and focus on relating to the others around them, sharing ideas and creating space to be together, virtually or in-person. These projects are open for any level of engagement so that if someone wants to really dig into the project, they can be there right alongside another person who just wants to sit back and observe how others work with the materials. There’s actually room for anyone in these creative spaces.

With relationship building in mind, I focus on specific elements when selecting materials and methods for community art projects:

  • Accessible materials – something we have in abundance or can be easily collected and shared.
  • Open-ended instructions – I like a project that can be done in 3 – 5 steps, maximum, with the option to build on a practice or explore materials more.
  • Time-investment accessibility – these projects should be something someone can do in 2 minutes, but could also spend 20 minutes or 2 hours, if they wanted.

And, since this is a relationship-building experience, I try to consider basic needs as part of the art project: how will folks arrive to the project (transportation); will there be food/ resources available for them; are the spaces physically accessible, safe and comfortable; are the instructions and plans for the project accessible (consider spoken or reading language, understanding pictorial instructions).

In 2021, I had monthly art projects between a few different groups, coordinated with a couple of local nonprofit organizations. Here are a few standouts that were really fun and some of the planning that went into them:


Pour Painting at Jackson Street Youth Services
– Space for Learning Together

Community art projects are often great opportunities to experiment with new artistic practices for me. Since I focus on togetherness and exploration rather than mastery of materials or skills, I can try out practices that I don’t have a lot of experience with already and help set the tone for trying something new. This has been a way for me to learn new skills and lean into curiosity with art materials while also enjoying community building. Pour Painting/ flow acrylics was exactly that kind of experience for me. By practicing this with Jackson Street Youth Services– a local nonprofit serving youth in the community with safe shelter, case management, and community enrichment– I was able to join in with the community in experimenting and learning about an art form I’ve long been curious to try!

I did research ahead of time and tried out my own paintings before bringing materials to the group, but by the time we had our afternoon class in the summer of 2021, I had probably only made 1 or 2 paintings myself.

I knew enough to set up the project and make suggestions to the participants, but I was also able to keep back too many suggestions and allow participants to experiment freely.

Materials for Pour Painting

  • Flow acrylic paints in various colors
  • Flow acrylic medium
  • Small dixie cups
  • Stir sticks
  • Canvas panels of various sizes (8″x8″ and 4″x4″)
  • Painter’s tape
  • Silicone oil
  • Gloves
  • Aluminum baking trays and lids (like for a turkey)
  • Plastic table cover
  • Foam brushes

Set up & Tips

  • Individual spots: I set up each spot with a baking tray or lid, and showed participants how to turn dixie cups upside down to prop up their canvas panels (this allows the paint to flow down over the panel and into the tray)
  • Priming the canvas: The paint pours more evenly if there is a layer of wet paint on the canvas first, so I showed participants how to use the foam brushes to paint the canvases with a thick layer of paint before pouring.
  • Mixing flow medium with paint: I started out by showing participants how to mix the flow medium with the paints in the dixie cups, using a 3:1 ratio medium to paint (or whatever the instructions on the paints/ medium suggested).
  • Mixing colors: I had several different colors, including the typical blue, red, yellow, white and black. If participants wanted a color we didn’t have, I showed them how to mix paints together in the dixie cups BEFORE adding the pouring medium.
  • OR! Participants could mix up separate colors with pouring medium and then pour different colors+medium into one cup to create a marbled effect.

Group Painting at Corvallis Multicultural Literacy Center
– Opportunities to Grow in Relationship

The CMLC is a special organization to me, and one that I am quite honored to serve as a board member (at the time of this writing, I’m the new board chair). The work of this organization is about sharing educational and community resources for folks arriving to Corvallis from outside of the US. As a university town, we do tend to see a lot of international students and their families, but our organization also supports folks who are arriving to Corvallis for permanent residence and to pursue citizenship.

As I became a new board member this summer, I was in good company with other new members and staff at the organization. I wanted to get to know the people who were also invested in the organization and to also share my interests in community building through creativity by hosting a group paint session.

I set up this group paint event to focus on sharing creative space with one another, and for the opportunity to connect and talk with each other. For that reason, I specifically avoided a more standard paint with me tutorial, and instead brought a bunch of paints, canvases, brushes and music and while I made suggestions for how to approach the project, I didn’t lead the participants in creating anything specific. I simply guided us all in selecting color, brush, and putting paint onto the canvas.

This was a bit riskier for being the most loose-form project, and the lack of structure for some folks did create discomfort and confusion. But I’m not sure that I’d change any of that. In hindsight, I would prime the community more with discussion about staying present rather than focusing on what something “should” look like. This was an eye-opening experience for me and the community participants and I’m so grateful for the experience.

Materials for Group Painting

  • Four 6-ft tables
  • Chairs
  • Table covers
  • Wooden easels, offered to each participant
  • Acrylic paints in red, blue, yellow, black, white, gold, pink, teal, purple, plus modeling paste, glazing medium, and iridescent medium
  • Brushes of various sizes and shapes
  • Stretched and panel canvas of various sizes
  • Plastic tubs (like yogurt or hummus containers) for water
  • Pencils
  • Plastic-coated paper plates
  • Rags

Set up & Tips

  • The Round Table: All the tables were actually rectangular, but I set them up in ao open rectangle so folks could all see each other and chat. With our group of about 14 people, that meant three or so to a table. Outdoors and with space to move around and everyone vaccinated (and COVID infection rates low for the summer), we felt comfortable enough to take off our masks and see each other.
  • Setting a tone: Being outside in the shade was a nice touch, plus having music from a portable speaker that create atmosphere but didn’t compete with conversation helped create a celebratory tone, like a community meal, except with paint.
  • A variety of possibilities: I made some suggestions to pick colors that jumped out at folks as they surveyed their options, with the intent to encourage leaning into instinct and trusting themselves with the process. This was uncomfortable for some folks, who perhaps already felt vulnerable with art-making. As a community educator, I have the privilege to help people push their comforts and try new things, as well as help them to see possibilities in that trying.
  • Showcasing special materials: I did bring along modeling paste, glazing medium, and iridescent medium. Throughout the session, I introduced those separate mediums whenever someone asked about them or there had been some time for folks to settle into what they had begun to make. This meant announcing to the group that a material was available to them, and if they’d like to try it, there were a couple of ways I was familiar with the material, but they could try it out themselves. The sparkly stuff was, of course, the most popular.

Glass Painting at Jackson Street Youth Services
– Observing Each Other’s Skills and Experience

Part of my volunteering with Jackson Street this year was offering enrichment activities for the mentorship program. It was a real joy for me to spend time with the mentors and mentees in this program, and get to see their relationships come together.

This faux stained glass project turned out to be a really cool way for the groups to share their interests and skills with each other. The set up was classic: basic materials and process with enough possibility that participants could dig deep into the project.

The finished pieces came out looking so cool, and there were so many instances of genuine astonishment and joy at what each person could create with dark lines and glass paint (and it makes me want to add glass paint to my personal collection for sure!)

One of the challenges of hosting monthly art sessions is to come up with enough interesting and different subjects and practices for participants. As an illustrator, sure, I could spend all day everyday drawing, and that’s great if the goal of the art practice is to develop skill and style. But in community arts, that’s emphatically NOT the goal. Focusing on skill has the chance to create a split between who’s “good” at art and everyone else, which in the best of circumstances becomes one or two people making gorgeous art and everyone else watching. The worst outcome would be some of those spectators feel discouraged about trying the project. For community arts, I want to hold space for all participants with any skill level to share their exploration with each other. This is why unique and surprising projects can be perfect, like this faux stained glass project. Although there was linework and painting involved in the process, there was enough adaptation for someone who hasn’t practiced those artistic skills to still create something unique and for those who did have that practice, to share their skills with others. It also wasn’t something anyone at the table had tried before (I did one practice the previous night), and so there was zero mastery at the table, just as I like it 🙂

Materials for Faux Stained Glass

  • Glass sheets (like from thrift store picture frames)
  • Black fabric/ puff paint
  • Black Sharpie
  • Glass paint in various colors
  • Paint brushes
  • Paper
  • Optional (suggested): outline drawings of flowers, mandalas, shapes printed on paper

Process

  1. Draw a design on a piece of paper that can fit inside the area of the glass sheet, or select shapes and drawings that are printed on paper.
  2. Place the drawing/ print under the glass.
  3. Use the sharpie to trace the drawing or outline onto the glass.
  4. Use the puff paint to paint the lines of the drawing. Allow to dry completely.
  5. Use glass paint to paint inside and around the puff paint lines.

Set up & Tips

  • An example is worth 1000 questions: I prepped the evening before the class by creating an example at home. I also prepped some glass sheets with basic lotus and star designs with the puff paint so they would be dry and ready to paint for the class.
  • Note: the drying time of the puff paint was about 45 minutes, which for the 90 minute session means that participants were able to sketch out their designs and trace with puff paint and then color with the glass paint in the same session, which was cool.
  • Opportunities to work together: Some of the glass we had, which we took out of old picture frames from the thrift store, were various sizes, and one was quite large. For that one, the pair that used it created something together using this method, which was actually really neat to see and made a very unique keepsake for that pair.

Family Art Classes at Corvallis Multicultural Literacy Center
– Building Community

In an on-going collaboration with the CMLC, I’ve been hosting family classes for community members to create together at the center. As our global community continues to grapple with the effects of living during a pandemic, staying safe and building connection can feel like they are at odds.

Mediating between those choices are our obligations as community leaders and educators.

For these family art programs, I have been working alongside the CMLC program coordinator to plan for safety and health and maximum engagement. Good communication and planning has helped us successfully bring folks together.

Working closely with staff and volunteers for community projects has been essential. Together, we have covered as many possible questions and scenarios as we can to make sure we put safety and health above all. Our art projects have been a way to invite community members back into space with each other, while observing cautions for safety.

The first project we made together was decorating masks, both papier mache masks (which I had for a different project that was disrupted by COVID issues earlier in the year), and cloth face masks. This project brought us together into the center to share creative ideas and also practice healthfulness with sanitation and observing social distancing.

For our second project, we made posters and stickers, which is simple but honestly my favorite thing (yay stickers!). This second project was more focused on being together and exploring the space and opportunities the center offered.

Part of each of our activities has been to offer snacks to the young children, which is a matter of principle for me as a community educator. It’s another way for us to highlight the resources available at the CMLC. For our pandemic-friendly snacks, we offer a perusal of our packaged snack closet for kids to select from.

Materials for Mask Decorating

  • Papier mache masks
  • Cloth masks for adults and children
  • Fabric markers
  • Coloring markers (keep separate)
  • Glitter glue (the superior form of glitter)

Materials for Posters and Sticker making

  • Poster board paper
  • Sticker sheets (I used the kind for die cut machines)
  • Markers
  • Pencils
  • Glitter glue (love this stuff)

Set up & Tips

  • Room enough: A challenge at the CMLC is to make physical space for participants and observe social distancing. We manage this by separating participants into different rooms with the same supplies and a volunteer or staff in each room.
  • Keep it simple sweetie: These projects are so simple, they’re really drawing and coloring. And because of this, parents who attend the sessions with their children can chat and meet each other, which children can be imaginative and have freedom to create.

As a community arts educator, my work is focused on bringing folks together over creative projects, with an artistic perspective and methodology. I’ve learned from my experiences with organizations like The Center for Artistic Activism and Theatre of the Oppressed NYC about approaching opportunities for learning and conversation with an artistic framework, which is confronting challenges and taking on new opportunities to learn new skills and see from others’ perspectives. Looking back on the creative projects I’ve been a part of over the year, I’m struck by how naturally art and creativity became sources of community building, and our collaboration was affected by careful consideration of the particular challenges and desire for connection and growth our participants experienced.

In 2022, I’m looking forward to a new year of collaboration with these and other local and national organizations. Are you a community educator? How do you engage your community through arts and creativity? I’d love to hear about what other folks are doing to bring communities together!

Lane Arts Design Apprenticeship 2021

This winter, I joined Lane Arts Council as a design mentor for Lane County youth. I had the privilege to work with four amazing teens in the Eugene area, discussing design work, personal expression, and market design strategies. We were definitely not without challenges in this project; our group met entirely virtually and we had to compete with our own hectict school and work schedules to prioritize our collaborative process. Through the experience, I aimed to mentor the youth with experience-based guidance in creative collaboration work, as we focused on a final presentation that wrapped up last Friday at the Eugene First Friday Artwalk.

The students came up with the focus of our project while I supported with facilitation and helping them determine objectives and deadlines.

Their focus was to create a fashion line that helped wearers express personal identities. In this work, we talked about the different ways folks identify themselves– everything from “food consumer” to “go-with-the-flower” and (my personal favorite) “challenger”. This conversation turned out to be a great way for us to get to know each other and begin developing genuine connections.

We also talked about the reasons for design work: for functionality, aethetics and communication. Being entirely virtual, we had the benefit to look around our own spaces and discuss the design of objects we interact with daily, creating comparissons between the different focuses in the designs of objects including utilitarian (functionality) to pure expression (aesthetics) to message-making (communication).

As our project clarified, the student designers focused on how to design fashion and accessories to tap into identity niches, which we dived into, fully imagining who our target fashion wearers would be and what their lives would be like.

Students designed sketches and drafts based on aesthetics and functionality for the target markets. They then worked with each others’ designs to create accessories and characters that captured those aesthetics plus ways to communicate to target markets about the designs created (marketing communication).

For the final presentation, we printed boards and stickers and students talked about their work with art walkers at Spark Labs during Eugene’s First Friday Artwalk. The stickers were super popular and really showed off the students’ work in graphic design to communicate style and person expression through aesthetics.

Interested in the Lane Arts Council Design Arts Apprenticeship program? Learn more about it here on their website: lanearts.org/arts-apprenticeships/


Student Presentations and Artist Statements

Artist Statement: Amelia

What is your design?  My design is the logo(s) for the fashion brand Lovebun. The logos shown are for the brand itself and three of its fashion lines. 

Who is your design for? Lovebun’s clothing and accessories are meant for young teens to adults so they can express what they feel makes them unique, whether it’s their aesthetic or their gender/sexual identity. Lovebun is “for everyone and anyone.” The people who are most expected to purchase from Lovebun are ‘alt’ teens who spend their time on tiktok or other social media and enjoy the products of similar brands. 

What was your experience like in this class?  Stressful at times due to school and other activities getting in my way, but overall it was a fun and great learning opportunity for me. I’d recommend it to others who want to step foot into a possibly new experience or want to learn what it may be like to go into a professional arts career. 🙂

Artist Statement: Lizzie

Describe your design: I drew 4 models with clothes I designed myself based on Harujuku streetwear. I also drew multiple mascot characters depicting different styles I’ve seen at school and on the internet. 

Who is your design for? I based my designs around people I’ve seen around school and on the internet. I tried to recreate styles directed toward girls around 14-17 years of age. These people want to express their style and personality through bold, cutesy fashion.

What was your experience like in this program? I had a good experience. I liked seeing everyone’s different art styles. It did get a little stressful when I tried to take on too much work, but I’m happy with my results.

Artist Statement: Joyce

My brand is called Esteem by Eve, and it is made for women who needs confidence. It is a formal attire, high fashioned one piece dress, perhaps worn with gold earrings and bag with gold chains. The clothing brand is targeting women 20-40 who needs to wear formal attire in work or events such as performances or exhibitions

We be Art Walkin

The Corvallis Arts Walk is back! It’s been a good amount of work and creative thinking, but I’m super proud to announce that we’re ready for ambulatory arts tomorrow (Thursday, September 16, 2021) 4:00 – 8:00 pm (check out the map and online gallery here).

The CAW was started in 2015 by local artists here in Corvallis. The walk highlights the people and places that make this community creative and it’s been a thrill to be part of the team that’s bringing it back from the brink after the global pandemic put everything on hold.

We don’t have all the answers, that’s for sure, and we know things will likely change again (and again), but we’re working on our collective agility and resiliency, starting out with this first comeback walk as a hybrid virtual and in-person event (with strong encouragement that all artists, galleries and walkers observe social distancing and wear masks to help keep folks safe and healthy.)

I’m going to be stretching my streaming legs with a Draw with Me Livestream during the event from 4-6 pm on my YouTube Channel.

This artwalk COULD NOT HAPPEN without the hardwork and perseverance of artists who are dedicated to community arts, especially Eileen Hinckle, Wanda Buck, and Jennifer Moreland from the Downtown Corvallis Association.

Check out all the artists and spaces on the CAW website at corvallisartswalk.com
If you’re in town, doing the walk, maybe I’ll see you as I go around taking pictures after my stream!