BUY THE BOOK

Camp Creations is my first book featuring art projects I facilitated with multi-aged students over the course of a summer teaching residency. Each project in this 60-page book is laid out like a recipe with easy-to-follow instructions and full-color images. Titled Camp Creations as an ode to summertime, this book is written for artists of all ages and capabilities, for people looking for independent project ideas or as adaptable lessons for a classroom full of students.

100 hard copies are available in this limited run. Purchase your copy by scanning the code below and emailing me your shipping address: . Please make sure to include your first and last name. Thank you so much for your support!

GATE Conference in Budapest

In early October, I attended GATE in Budapest. GATE stands for Global Art Teachers Exchange. Since beginning to teach overseas in 2012, I have been looking for conferences that I could attend that combined my love of teaching art with my love of travel and learning. GATE started a year before Covid hit, so I am lucky to attend its third gathering of arts professionals from around the globe. 

I was encouraged to attend and present at this year’s exchange by Robyn Zellar, who started GATE. She teaches at the American School of London and found me on LinkedIn. I presented on Costuming in Elementary and Middle School. For years, I have been teaching two different costuming projects with my students: Improv Costuming and Cardboard Armor. Both projects immerse students in a variety of skills such as communication, collaboration, learning about the body as sculpture, recognition of space and boundaries, construction and management of tools, the effect and use of color, and creative commitment. Improv costuming is a quick hands-on project that allows for a lot of play with a variety of outcomes (think about the rules of theatre improv involving participation: “Yes, and”), while Cardboard Armor is a project that takes anywhere between 5 and 10 weeks to complete. With Cardboard Armor, there is a lot of planning and preparation that takes place, both from the teacher and the student.

This year GATE hosted 72 art teachers from 27 countries. I was the only educator from China, and almost won for traveling the farthest (came in second place to a Brazilian art teacher). Each day of the exchange, there were different activities to participate in. On the first day, we all met for breakfast and could choose from the following cultural activities: Victor Vasarely Museum, Art Nouveau Treasures of Budapest, a Photo walk along the Danube, and an Urban Street Art tour. In the afternoon, the activities were steeped in history, ranging from the Photography Center to Architecture, Graffiti painting to visiting the Kerepesi Cemetery. On the second and third days, workshops were organized to participate in, like adult art camp. On the first day I took a Mindfulness and Mandalas workshop with Rani Ferriaolo of the American School of Paris and an Assessment workshop from Faith Kumaraswamy of Aarhus International School in Denmark. On the second day, I took a Paper Dress workshop from Lucie Wiedemann of the International School of Augsburg and presented my workshop on Cardboard Armor and Improv Costuming. And the third day of the exchange consisted of two workshops and open studio time. So, on that day, I was able to take a Needle Felting workshop from Maribeth Relano from the host school, American School of Budapest, and Nature’s Ink from Piroska Nagy and Agnes Kemendi, both local Hungarians.

I learned so much in the short four days that I was in Budapest – my travel time was nearly the same amount of time as I was on the ground in Budapest. But, it was so worth it! All of the workshops provided me with new and exciting knowledge to bring back to my students at Dulwich College Beijing. Attending conferences, exchanges, workshops, and doing presentations regularly with teachers in respective fields helps invigorate, stimulate, and extend my teaching and learning. It helps teachers to become better educators, enhance our expertise, excite our students with new and interesting ideas, and stay lifelong learners.  

Back in China!

I moved back to China on August 12th, and it’s been the best decision I’ve made in the past 3 years! My school is reliable and established (Dulwich as an entity is nearly 400 years old!). My apartment is beautiful and surrounded by roses and wildflowers. And, my pets are comfortable and pleased. It’s very easy to walk the dog where I live and most everyone around me has pets, both cats and dogs. There is a large pond in the center of my community that connects all of the surrounding neighborhoods to my school. I suppose it reads more like a koi-filled canal, but it is a lovely place to walk the dog. Beanie’s hair is also growing back quite nicely after his “flesh-eating virus” in Cambodia.

Beijing has incredible weather. It’s similar – maybe – to upstate New York. So there is a nice autumn and a longish winter – two of my favorite seasons. The city is huge, so it offers a variety of all sorts of things that people can get involved in. There is a big swing dance community here, a thriving arts scene, awesome food culture, interesting history (more than 3,000 years of it), and a lot of outdoor activities (hiking, biking, swimming, running, horseback riding, golf, etc.).

There is little to no feeling of past or present Covid here. The expat population isn’t back to where it was prior to Covid, but it’s growing nearly every day. There are currently around 50,000 expats living in Beijing (down from 150,000 in 2020). These numbers might not be exact, but are referenced from an introductory presentation given by my school. 

The things I am finding difficult are few and far between, and I am learning through these challenges. It’s hard to get money to the United States, US airlines are no longer an option to fly in and out of China, and my school’s established art curriculum feels a bit prescriptive, dated, and too reliant on technology. Translation, too, is sometimes iffy, but that’s generally more entertaining than anything else. 

When I first moved back to China in August, I was having to transfer money to a random person on WeChat (a Chinese app) and they were sending money through PayPal to my account. It was ridiculously expensive – I lost a lot of money this way. It was also tricky: I was sending money to someone I did not know and who I have never met and hoping * TRUSTING * they would transfer the money to my account  like I asked. Thankfully no issues there. But, it’s a bit nuts to do this with complete strangers! I kept asking friends if I could PayPal them money and then they could transfer it into my account, but everyone thought I was crazy. Unfortunately, these are the kinds of things you have to do when you live in faraway places. There are always ways to do things, but they are roundabout ways. Thankfully my school has now started transferring money to my account in the US for me, which is nice and less costly. But even sometimes that doesn’t work because I bank with a very small and somewhat backwards bank in the States who occasionally freezes my account when money shows up from China. Oh! What fun! 

The curriculum we use in art is based on the British Art and Design Curriculum. I teach 10 classes a week, each for 180 minutes. The entire year is planned out and mirrors the homeroom class instruction that each year level is learning. So, if Year 3 students are talking about health and well-being in their homeroom class, we are also doing a project that relates to health and well-being in the art room. I teach Year 3 – 6 students, which is essentially Grades 2 – 5. While I am quite pleased at the ease made available to me by starting at a school where the whole year is planned out for me, this is challenging. There is no room for one-off projects or student collaborations or large-scale projects: all of which I excel at facilitating. It is also important to me that teachers allow for worldly things to enter the classroom. If a dignitary passes away, we might stop what we are doing to pay our respects and draw portraits of that person. If a famous church catches on fire, we might discuss its importance to architecture and culture and do a watercolor inspired by this famous building. It’s also really important for students to have time to free-make and free-draw. Both of these activities allow for students’ brains to recharge, inspiring imagination and creative problem-solving. I am also a huge fan of the arts permeating through every part of campus; making sure the arts are a part of Sports Day, Open Houses, Interdisciplinary collaborations (particularly with Music and Drama), Professional Development activities, Winter and Summer camps, campus art shows, and parades featuring signage and wearable art during special holidays. I like to plan new things weekly, try out new projects yearly, and create community through the arts in the schools I work in. This is where I am feeling like I am coming up short in my new position. I love my co-workers, but there isn’t room for new experiences or whole-school art things. And that makes me a bit sad, and feeling lackluster.

Due to the Design part of the British Curriculum, the art teachers at my new school are in charge of teaching cooking and kitchen prep to our students. While I certainly consider cooking and the culinary arts a creative venture, it is definitely not what I am trained in. And, since living in Asia for the past 12-ish years, I have all but stopped cooking at home. So, jumping into a teaching kitchen with 24 students cutting and grating things is a bit daunting. It’s also quite a bit of prep for each class – weighing out ingredients, wiping down surfaces, carrying over aprons, figuring out a clean-up routine, managing technology with students who have doughy hands, etc. It’s a lot! But, I have learned that even if the lesson is tough, when the students taste something that they have made on their own, there is a special moment: a little glimmer in their eyes and a gleeful silence throughout the classroom. It’s delightful to watch.   

It’s difficult teaching what I am told to teach. But, I am enjoying the learning aspect of it and it is keeping me on my toes. It’s interesting to use Seesaw as a facilitator. I definitely think we could use less technology in the art room, but it does seem to help with assessments. I just think students are on devices way too much during their lives, so art should be that one place where they don’t have to do that – they can take a break from looking at screens. I am certainly not against technology as a whole. I just think – as with anything – there is a time and place for it.

I won’t be going home for Christmas this year. Because there are no US flights coming in and out of China, the flights to the US are very expensive, generally operated by European airlines, and have multiple stops along the way. Teachers are given a stipend for flights to use throughout the year. I used part of mine to fly to Budapest for a presentation I was giving at Global Art Teachers Exchange – more on that soon. And, I will use part of mine to fly to Scotland for Hogmanay. But, the remainder I will use to fly home for the summer in July. Our stipend changes next year, so I am trying to get in some important visits before that happens. 

Aside from a few minor stressors here and there, it has been so nice to be back in China. I know I have said this a billion times, but in the effort to kick a dead horse: thank goodness the past two school years are behind me! They were two of the hardest years I have ever experienced and I can definitely feel a positive shift happening. I plan to be in Beijing for a while and am very much looking forward to it!

Coming next month: My first experience at GATE!

Moving

“You know what’s inside of a chrysalis? Like when a caterpillar is turning into a butterfly? It’s just goo. It’s just like butterfly soup in there. Maybe that’s like you right now. You’re butterfly goo, and before you know it you will emerge and surprise everyone with some new amazing thing, then flutter off and make it look like it was no big deal.” – from a friend on IG

People ask me all the time why I move around so much. It always sort of takes me by surprise and I think to myself, I don’t ask other people about their whereabouts, so why do people always ask me about mine? If they don’t ask me directly about moving around, they will make small comments, like: your pets must be used to this by now or always on the go!

I’ve been thinking a lot about moving lately, as I get prepared to transition from Phnom Penh to Beijing. It’s an expensive move. Not as expensive as moving my pets and things from China to the United States, but still expensive considering the flight is only about 5 hours.

I don’t like moving. I don’t like saying goodbye to my students and classrooms. And, I don’t like upending my pets so much. It’s not healthy or financially sound. But, I got into full time teaching nearly 12 years ago with one goal: to keep the integrity of art alive in elementary and secondary educational facilities. 

Before I started teaching in schools full time, I was teaching in schools and museums as a visiting artist. I made connections to educational programmers and museum education departments and just sort of inserted myself. I also started teaching out of my house. I taught art camps and homeschoolers, adults and after school students. And through all of this, I would ask my students about the art education they were receiving in their schools and, for the adults, what they remembered about their art education.

My students would tell me they didn’t have art in schools or the teacher just handed out worksheets or that they never got to build anything and only drew things on computer paper. It wasn’t fun, they would say. My teacher tells me I’m not good at art was another popular response.

This was offensive to me.

I was furious that this was happening in schools and classrooms. It’s bad enough that very few people appreciate teachers. But even less appreciate art education and this was the kind of art education that was happening? No! And I have been determined to change this ever since.

Nearly every year of my full-time teaching career, my classes and what I do with my students has been used to market for whatever school I am working at. And nearly every year, I have to beg and plead and prove why I need this, that, or the other supply in my classroom. Why? If the school is going to use what I do in my classroom as marketing material and they are getting students based on this, then the school should be handing me supplies at every chance possible so that I can keep doing what I do with my students for the school’s benefit. 

One of my friends told me that I potentially make what I do look too easy. And I told her that the schools I have worked at are always shocked when the person comes in after me and can’t do what I did. So my thought is, stop taking me for granted! I do not have two masters degrees in art because it’s easy. I have two masters degrees in art because I am a select few at the top-however-many-percentage of my field and I take what I do very seriously. This is not a boast, it’s a fact.

No school has ever asked me to leave. Ever. I choose to leave schools based on their treatment and behavior towards the arts and by association, me. I can not be the best I can be for my students, if the school I am at is not treating my position with respect. As was always my goal from the very beginning, my commitment is to the integrity and value of art. Always and forever.

I know that this is really only the tip of the iceberg. That morale in teaching is incredibly low, that our model of education globally needs to change, that there are so many other things at play within this arena of conversation. But I hope that maybe people will take a pause before asking a pointed question about my choice to leave this position or that. In my current case, there are about 20 other items that went into making this decision, including my dog being very sick in Phnom Penh because of the tropical climate and his skin type. Please feel free to reach out privately if you’d like to know more.

I can’t wait to be in Beijing and set down roots. I will keep you posted! HAPPY SUMMER!

Cardboard Armor

I believe the first time I decided to do cardboard costuming with students was when I was in Thomasville, Georgia. I remember doing research on cardboard costuming while I was in Singapore, but it only came to fruition when I was in Thomasville. At the time, I was thinking strictly about traditional armor that you would see in historical documents from the Middle Ages; like chainmail, shields, swords, and helmets with face guards that raise up

I was teaching middle school students and researching lots of longer term projects that would be fun and engaging for students between the ages of 11 and 13. But, the more I thought about this armor project for middle school students, the more I realized that armor could mean anything. And my students ran with that idea!

Don’t we get out of bed every morning and put on some kind of armor to deal with the day? And isn’t middle school, for some of us, the most challenging point in our schooling experience? Wouldn’t it be great to create armor that shields us from hurt and pain and crushes and embarrassments? Is it possible to create something that lets us hide in plain sight?

So, as I continued on with this project throughout my time in Thomasville, and then throughout my years in China, and over this past year in Cambodia, I engaged students to explore costuming and design by investigating the concept of “armor” and how we utilize devices to protect ourselves on a daily basis.

This year in Cambodia was particularly special because the students worked on their armor and costumes in the Makerspace, which is run by my friend Steve. He is a master engineer and tech guru. He is brilliant at coming up with MacGyver-style craft solutions that encourage my students to think outside the box and really use their materials to the fullest of potential.

During this project, my students employed a variety of expertise in creating these pieces: drawing, improvisation, cutting, painting, gluing, crafting, digital media play, and design. We spent about 12 weeks working on this project and could have worked on it for another 12 weeks. But, I had to give a final cut off date or the tinkering never would’ve ended! As it stands now, ever since this project has taken place, my Grade 6 students have spent time making their own creations in the Makerspace during recess, advisory, and lunch. They are inspired!!

Step 1: Students spend one or two class periods designing and researching. I allow them to work in groups of 3 or individually. They make drawings that include front, side, and back profiles plus a variety of accessories that they think they might need. Their designs need to be drawn in full detail, outlined in black thin-tipped permanent markers, and fully colored so that I know exactly what they are thinking heading into this project. I need to understand their ideas before I can help them construct. I also want my students to understand that their drawings need to be able to stand alone as a work of art and that the drawings will potentially be shown with their finished armor projects during our art show.

Step 2: Students are given a full tour of the Makerspace and tool options by Steve. This included demonstrations on different ways to attach cardboard, how to cut pipe, and all the ways you can fasten things (glue gun, heavy duty stapler, zip ties, and string). He also went over the rules and expectations for using the Makerspace. This step was an absolute game-changer for this project and will be a guide for how I navigate this assignment in the future.

Step 3: Students start the construction phase. They use their drawings as a map and make a plan for how many sheets of cardboard they might need and what tools they need to begin. This year, my students had to meet with either Steve or myself to explain their starting points and next steps. This was crucial for getting the students moving forward and helped to ward off creative blocks and fear of making a mistake.

The construction phase varied in length for each project. Some of the students took the entire 9 weeks to build and three weeks to paint. And some of them took only two weeks to build. It depended on their drawings, their goals, and their investment.

One of my students created a Minecraft Steve. By all accounts, this is a blocky suit of armor because everything in Minecraft is constructed by blocks. So, building with cardboard boxes simplifies things. But, he was so invested and wanted it perfect that he spent the entire 12 weeks on the project and his piece was awesome! Like with anything, the more invested the kids are, the stronger the final projects will be.

Step 4: Once the students’ forms are in good shape and complete, they can begin painting. I had students asking me at every step of the process if they could start painting. I kept saying, “No!” No, no, no. Like how I was taught in college at The University of Texas at Austin: color should never even enter the project until the form can tell a story on its own.

So once the students have created their armor out of cardboard, tried it on, and are genuinely happy with how it fits and looks, they can begin to paint or add color. At this stage, they can use colorful paper, papier mache, or acrylic paint to create the finishing touches on their work. Some of them may use yarn, some may use sequins, and some may even add pipe cleaners into the mix. It doesn’t really matter how they finish it off, as long as they started this step with a completely realized form.

Step 5: Image capture. Students put on their artwork and model it for me. This is a very important step. They must be able to wear it properly and have it photographed. A clear photograph of this work needs to be used in their final step and uploaded to Google classroom for their grade. So, I take all of the pictures. Either in front of a white wall or a green screen. I take 3 – 5 images for each student and airdrop or email them their images. 

If the students worked in pairs or groups, each person in the group needs to be able to wear the costume for a photograph. And each individual student works on step 6 alone.

Step 6: For this final step, the students must use one of the photographs I took of them and place that image into a background that they found either on Google images or captured/created on their own. A lot of students use images from video games or something from pop culture. My favorite one from this year was a background featuring Rick Astley and mushrooms. 

Once they have inserted their image into a digital background, they need to send me their final image (through airdrop or email) and I will grade their project. Some of their final projects make me laugh out loud when I am looking through them: they are so funny! Humor is so important in art making! Especially with middle schoolers!

This is my last year working in middle school classrooms for a while. I will be teaching grades 2 – 5 next year, which I am super excited about. And while I won’t be able to do a big 12-week cardboard armor project with my Grade 5 students next year, I will be able to incorporate smaller cardboard-themed projects (like a mixed media mini-golf course and a relief sculpture shoe design with Posca pens).

I cannot thank my friend Steve enough for all of his help on this year’s cardboard armor project. He always knew just how to tweak something to make it work or take the students’ projects to the next level. So, if you have a Makerspace Steve in your school, make sure you plan to work with them on your next cardboard armor project!

Go. Make. Fun.

Beijing Bound!

I’m moving to Beijing in July.

I began toying with this idea in early October of 2022. I will stay in Beijing for the foreseeable future – it will become my “forever” home. I wanted to be somewhere that I knew I would have ample finances to start building up my studio practice again combined with new university coursework. Beijing is a creative hub and easy to travel in and out of. It is close to The Great Wall and Mongolia: both massive favorites. And my new school is phenomenal!

When I was younger, I thought moving around was the way I could reach the most amount of students across the globe through art. But, as I get older, I’m finding I’m more interested in building longer lasting relationships and watching growth take place . . . Both in my students and within myself, as I learn about and become part of a new community.

As I think about my time overseas, the place where I have been challenged the most and produced the greatest work (amount of and product-wise) with students has been in China. Even during the height of Covid, I felt healthiest and safest in China. I never should have left back in 2021, a setback that has been a huge source of frustration these past couple of years.

I am super excited to be returning to China in July and look forward to all that living in Beijing has to offer. I’m lucky that it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump from Cambodia – a quick and easy flight for the pets and me. 

Feel free to email me with any questions. 

[Images featured found via Google search or taken by me.]