Friday, December 30, 2011

How to Make a Plaster Tape Mask

Here are your tools: a container of water, a pile of newspaper, scissors (that you don't mind ruining), masking tape, plaster tape (I got mine from NASCO), a towel (that you don't mind ruining) for wiping your hands.

Cover your working space! This can get messy!

1.) Mash up the newspaper in the shape and size of your head. Tape the newspaper so it stays in the shape you want. You can measure your head if you want, but we just hold the lump up and ask, "Is this a good size for my head?"

2.) With more newspaper and tape, add the appendages of your choice - a big nose, horns, ears, warts, a beard.

3.) Cut the plaster tape into strips. I like them about 5" long and 3" wide, but it all depends on your mask.

4.) Dip the strips into water. Dip, don't soak. And immediately lay the strip over your newspaper shape. Smooth it a bit with your fingers. The plaster will fill in the gaps in the fabric mesh of the tape.

5.) FACE - Continue dipping, laying, smoothing the strips, criss-crossing them to add strength. Three layers of strips minimum. It dries stronger than you expect. Smooth it as much as you want. Cover the face of the mask, front only.

6.) EARS, HORNS, ETC - If you have small appendages - like the octopus legs, (don't worry, we know it only has 6 legs) - wrap the strips all the way around, front and back of the leg/horn/etc. Add a bit extra at the places where they connect to the face.

7.) Let it dry overnight.
(Don't throw the used water down the sink. Plaster is nasty in the drain. And don't wash the towel you've been wiping your hands on. Again, plaster is nasty in the drain.)

8.) When it's dry, pull out the newspaper. If it doesn't want to come out of the horns, let it stay. If there are any weak spots, you can add a few more strips of plaster tape.

That's better.

9.) Hold it up to your face; mark some eye holes. Take it away from your face; cut the eye holes with an X-acto knife.

10.) Decorate! Paint, markers, collage, feathers, beads, ribbon . . . .  It's lightweight and sturdy and the possibilities for plaster tape go way beyond mask making.

My CoachArt students' finished masks.

Please Note: These masks are primarily for fun and decoration. If you want to wear your mask, I recommend careful brushing and cleaning to remove any bits of plaster dust (especially around eyes) and then lining the inside with felt.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I Can't Wait to Get Back to My Students

After the long holiday break, I can't wait to get back to my students
and see what wonderful things they come up with next! 

Two new classes starting in the new year!
Excellence in Education in Monrovia beginning January 6
Urban Homeschoolers in Los Angeles beginning January 18

And of course, my "College Prep" classes at Otis start up again February 4

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Word for the New Year

Today, someone asked me to choose a word for the new year. I think I will choose listen. 

Listen more carefully and fully to those around me. Don't be so quick to add, fix, blame, or judge.
Remember that my students have much to offer. Don't always be too eager to prove, to explain, to be the expert.

But now I find another kind of listening. I am pausing in the silence of my house. Usually, there's noise in my head telling me: "You're not working hard enough, you're not producing. Is this really the best use of your time?"

But with a word like listen, it also means stop listening.  Stop hearing the negative.

So I'm pausing. Waiting.  Listening to the silence and the clock ticking the seconds by. It's ok. The clock continues to tick. The good silence continues. Just listen.

What's your word going to be?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Art Postcard (or is that Art Card Post)

Remember these?
They came in a little gift bag, given to me by a student.

Today I rummaged through the bag to help me make this.

It's a post card for

They send you a post card; you create a little piece of art;
you stick a stamp on it; you mail it back to them.
Open to anyone who calls themself an artist in L.A.
(I know "themself" isn't a word, but I'm still using it.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mask Making

My CoachArt students decided they wanted to make masks. Guess we should have done this before Halloween, but - oh well.  (Check out the How-To here.)

Here's what we've got so far . . .

This week, we'll add some plaster tape . . .

And next week, we'll paint them, then add feathers or beads or fabric or gosh, who knows - anything goes.

Can you imagine this as a mask . . . ?

Going to be great!

They even made a tiny Humpty Dumpty one for their little brother . . .

Here are their finished masks!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Homeschool Drawing Class for Los Angeles/West San Gabriel Valley

New Drawing Class for homeschoolers!

Friday afternoons, starting in January, I'll be teaching at Excellence in Education in Monrovia, CA.

In this class, everyone's ability to make, look at, and talk about art is emphasized. Through explorations in value, line, composition, perspective, color, and content, students will discover the excitement of drawing. Most class work is from observation (interesting still life set-ups). Each class includes at least one group critique when students learn to look at and talk about each other's drawings. They learn to have confidence in their own ability to draw, as well as seeing "what makes a drawing work."

Each month will have a different focus, concentrating on new drawing materials and content. Continuing students will begin to develop and incorporate individual interests and meaning into their work. New students are welcome to join in at the beginning of any monthly session.

We'll explore drawing with charcoal, oil pastel, pencil, collage, and other alternative art materials.

No previous art or drawing experience is required. Projects can be modified for all levels of art and drawing experience.

Foundations of Drawing
Age: 12 and up
Parents welcome to join in - $10 tuition discount for parents
Class Mettings: Fridays, 1:30 - 2:30 pm
Location: Excellence in Education, 2640 S. Myrtle, Monrovia, CA 91016
Length of Session: Monthly
First Session: January 6, 13, 20, 27
Cost: $45 tuition + $10 materials fee (continuing students $5 discount on materials fee)

Contact me for further info:

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Accidental Hawaiian Crooner

A few years ago, at a Lynda Barry writing workshop, I met Jason Poole.

I thank Lynda Barry's "Writing the Unthinkable" for many things in my life, including Jason Poole.

He's The Accidental Hawaiian Crooner and the story of how Hawaiian music changed his life is one of my all-time favorite stories. Now he studies Hawaiian culture and music; he sings (oh, how he sings), plays ukulele, and tells stories. He generously shares, never holds back.

Here's a recent blogpost from his site (

Strumming with Kids and Planting Seeds (Part 2)

An afternoon of sharing the ʻukulele and the ipu heke. (NYC 11.17.11)

Last Thursday, I wrote about a new 6-week residency that I have at an elementary school in NYC as part of their after-school program.

I’ve been brought in, one day a week, to share the joys of strumming the ʻukulele. And if you’ve ever met me, you know that I can’t talk about the ʻukulele without sharing stories about Molokai and the other Hawaiian islands–and even a little school-kid-kine keiki hula for fun. In my mind, they’re not exclusive. Each supports the other.

Here’s the funny thing: they bring me to the school to educate as well as to enrich the school experience for these amazing kids.

And I can honestly say that I am being educated–and absolutely enriched–by my time working with them.

No joke.

Today I brought my ipu heke, a double headed gourd that is often used for percussion in hula and Hawaiian music.

We worked out simple traditional paʻi, hula beats and rhythms. A beat such as (U-T-U-T-T) is something they are very familiar with. During the school day, their teachers clap that rhythm as part of a call and response way to get the kids’ attention. I was so excited to say “Hey! You already know this beat!” And they were excited to share some of the other rhythms they know. (They are exposed to world music through workshops like the one I’m sharing, so they’d had some experience with drumming.)

Then we took those very same rhythms we’d been clapping and strummed them on the ʻukuleles.

Um…totally awesome!

Working on chord progressions with them can be - well - a challenge.

I might have up to 18 students at a time, ranging in age from kindergarten to second grade. And I’m getting them after a full day of classes. So attention spans tend to be shorter. And I’m one teacher trying to share hand positions with18 kids all at once. We do a lot of open chord strumming on the ʻukulele!

But I have to tell you…

It’s like magic when they’re all strumming together.

Some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.

And I love watching them dance. And I LOVE hearing them sing. (And it’s so much fun to hear them scream with delight when I sound the pū, my conch shell trumpet! I think they’re hoping I’ll blow out some of the windows–Ha!)

It’s an awesome way to spend an afternoon.

Yes, I’m exhausted afterwards. But it’s a good kind of exhaustion. It comes from doing something fantastic.

Right on

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Gift From a Student

A few Saturdays ago, one of my students gave me a little gift bag. We were soon to be starting a collage project in class, and she said this was for collage. I took the bag and briefly thanked her.

At the point where she gave me this little gift bag, I hadn't yet brought in my own work to share with them, which often includes tiny frames.

Oh, how I hope I thanked her, beacuse I'm only now, nearly a week after the end of the 10-week session, getting a chance to look carefully through the bag. Here's what's inside, to thrill and amaze me. I don't know how they know me so well. I don't know if I ever thank them as I should.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I just finished another session of Portfolio Development classes at Otis. You'd think, after all these years, that I'd be tired of it. Nope.

It just keeps getting better. My students continue to delight and surprise me. They laugh at my jokes and occasionally even sing along when I spontaneously and uncontrollably burst into song. Around class #5, we had a lovely rendition of "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." More about that later.

For 10 weeks they have been listening to me yell, "Draw, I tell you! Draw! Show me something I've never seen before! Draw, draw, draw some more!" Even so, they still had nice things to say to me at the end. More about that later, also.

But for now, what I really want to say is - - -
Look at what one of them did.
Look at This.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Pet Post

Ok. I know this blog is supposed to be about the teaching/mentoring side of my life. But everyone else seems to have a post or two about their animals - so here goes . . .

This is our "Donkey." If I had made a list of everything I wanted in a dog, I could not have gotten as wonderful a dog as Donkey.

I found him at the Pasadena Humane Society, a pretty nice place as far as the dog shelters go.

Donkey and I go on long walks in our urban neighborhood and into the open hills of Northeast Los Angeles where I find some amazing things. . .

. . .like these snail shells and animal bones which I take into my studio and, what else, sparkle 'em up with gold and copper leaf.

But back to the pet story . . .

Tuesday, as the weather turned cold, Donkey started to limp. We don't know exactly how old Donkey is. The estimate is between 5 and 7 years. As he limped around, I thought about arthritis and hip problems setting in. I stood at the stove, making dinner, and imagined our sweet Donkey, old and unable to walk, needing to be taken to the veterinarian to be put down, euthanized.

As I stood at the stove, all I could see was that horrible trip to the vet, imagining every detail. I stood there, crying into my taco meat.

We've only had him since April, and already I can't imagine our home without him.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Turning the Critical Voice to Good

This weekend I worked in the yard. I pulled and cut at ivy. I gathered bags full of carob leaves. I picked up small handfuls of wrinkled nasturtium seeds and threw them somewhere else, while thinking of orange-, red-, and yellow-crinkled petals for spring. I worked on things for myself, thinking of nothing much in particular. And then I paused, to take in the yard, to try to see it as someone else might.

It's all too easy to hear the most critical voice; to notice only the untrimmed trees, the dirty lawn furniture, the dying vegetable patch.

So I am careful, in those moments, whose eyes I choose to look through.

I like to imagine to be my friend Wendy - turning about, noticing things I hadn't ever considered. Things turn to good when I look through her eyes.

There, I see a neglected succulent with long ugly stems and funky, leggy roots trailing down to make an unkempt spider web to the ground.

"Fabulous," Wendy says with a giggle. "You must tie it up with a big red bow!"

I spent a fair amount of time this weekend, wandering and wondering. And it all felt like good progress.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Running Into Former Students at Otis

I love it when I run into my former students at Otis, now full-time students in the BFA program. (I love it even more when I can remember their names!)

Last week, I separately ran into two former students. One had been in my beginning drawing class in Summer of Art, where he was clever, funny, and very hard-working. The other had been in both my beginning and advanced Saturday portfolio development classes. In my class he was quiet, thoughtful, and hard-working. These were two students with very different backgrounds and personalities.

Whenever I have the lovely occasion to see my former students, I always make sure to ask them if they are happy at the college; if the program is giving them what they want and need. I always ask. And I always get the same reply: "Yes!"

I love it when my enthusiasm for something is reciprocated. The reward is great, knowing I've helped someone achieve a place where they can, with a smile on their face, say, "Yes, I'm happy."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Drawing, Side by Side

CoachArt improves the quality of life for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and their siblings by providing free lessons in the arts and athletics.

The other day I showed you my 11-year-old student's drawing.

Now, here is her
9-year-old brother's
drawing of the same
vase of ivy, bird of
paradise, etc

In case you misssed his sister's drawing, here it is:

We meet, the three of us, once a week. I love how we sit side by side, drawing and talking, looking at the exact same objects, and end up with very different-looking drawings.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

How to Start an Oil Pastel Drawing

This post is in response to a student who will be missing class this Saturday. (Darn that PSAT.) We'll be starting color, using oil pastels.

I rarely demonstrate for my students. I prefer for them to jump in, up to their necks, splash around, and figure things out. I want their drawings to look like their drawings, not mine. But for the beginning of our exploration into color, I do demonstrate. A little. Another reason I don't demonstrate very often is that I simply LOVE to draw. I will draw, and draw, and draw, my students waiting patiently behind me, while I have a jolly time all the way. But instead, my students could have been at work on their own drawings, having their own jolly good time.

So now, a quick example from a student:

This is the first step in a well developed, beautifully mixed, oil pastel color drawing.

We start with white and two blues. We begin to build the form of the objects, making them appear 3-dimensional. Remember how we used the eraser to create lights in the charcoal drawings? Now use the white pastel.

Think about the form (shape) of the object and how the object turns away from the light source. As it turns away, it will get darker. Switch to the middle-blue pastel. Then, as it gets really in shadow, switch to the darker blue.

BUT WATCH OUT! Don't let your color get too thick! Notice in the example how the grey paper is always showing through. You aren't creating a blue drawing - just a beginning of form. Lots more needs to happen with all those beautiful colors in your box. If you get the blues too heavy, your final drawing will look either childlike or muddy.

Look back up that blue and white drawing. Notice the color on the Easter egg? Now look at the drawing below:

That same Easter egg is now a reddish-orange. She used a little of the compliment (or opposite) in the darkest areas of that egg. The opposite of red is green; yellow - purple; orange - blue.

Now look at that little yellow cube. Look again. One more time. Is it gorgeous? Yes! Is it gorgeous because a little plastic cube is an amazingly interesting object? No. It is gorgeous because she slowly built up color (blue, white, pink, purple, orange) in the darker spots, and used the local color (yellow) to unify them. The only place where it's just yellow is in the brightest spots where the light shines directly on it.

And be sure, before you go off to start your own amazing drawing, that you take a close look at browns in the little wooden block.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

Look and Look and Look Some More

My 11-year-old CoachArt student finished this drawing/collage today. I'm very proud of her. We meet once a week for only one hour and she jumps in with both feet, eager and ready to work.

We looked at a simple glass vase with some ivy, bird of paradise, and other plants that I have no idea what their names are. And this is what she created!

At one point, she pointed out an ivy leaf and asked, "How do I get my leaf to look just like this one?"

I told her the secret:

You look, and look, and look. You draw a little bit. You look again. Then you draw, and then you look some more. You'll see what you missed the first, second, and third time. You'll find that you LOVE that stupid ivy leaf. And you'll NEED to show someone - show them what you've found to love in that simple, seemingly uniteresting thing.

Artwork used with permission.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

52 Weeks of Mail

I have had my best friend since 2nd grade. That's a long time - 1968-ish.

But we go long stretches without hearing from each other. We rarely speak on the phone or email.

A few years ago, my Christmas gift to her was a handwritten letter each week, for a year. I know she loved receiving those letters. And I know that I was changed, for the better, by the entire process.

And so, this year I am joining in with many others at "52 Weeks of Mail." and committing again to a year of letter writing.

I have started making little collages on file cards and other discarded/unwanted casualties of the digital era. I'll probably be using a few of them as cards for note writing.

I haven't yet decided who to give this letter-writing gift to this year. Should it be you?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Is It Just Me?

One of my long-time teaching gigs is a beginning drawing class for highschool and early-college-age artists. Although open to anyone, generally they are students who are planning on applying to art college. Besides giving them info on observational drawing, I help them begin, continue, or round out their portfolios.

I've been teaching this and similar classes for a long time. In the last few years I've noticed that the level of skill that students are bringing to my class has leaped forward exponentially.

For example, take a look at this drawing from last session's beginning class:

It's not just me, right? It's amazing! This kind of drawing has become more typical than atypical.

Every semester it astonishes me, the level of work coming out of these people (average age 17). I was nowhere near that level of skill at their age. Where is it coming from? I'm flabbergasted.

But then, I remember what I tell my students, explaining why I work them (and myself) so hard, expect so much out of them:

Yes, class is all about them. Our goal: great drawings, fabulous portfolios, exploring art in new ways. But really, I tell them, bottom line it's all about me. Their wonderful drawings make me, as their teacher, look good.

Is it just me? Sorta. I like to think so, anyway.

Student drawing used by permission.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I volunteer with CoachArt.

Their mission:
CoachArt improves the quality of life for children with chronic and life-threatening illnesses and their siblings by providing free lessons in the arts and athletics.

Today was my second lesson with a brother and sister here in my neighborhood. We had a good time, drawing, talking, laughing. Our time was up, and I could not believe it had already been one hour.

At my car, I fumbled with my gear, trying to find my keys, when I heard a voice calling. I looked up and saw my young student's happy face in the window. He called down, "I could go to college. I could be an art teacher!"

I called back up to him, "And I bet you would love it!"

(Next week I'll share their finished drawings. They're doing some great work.)

Monday, September 12, 2011

Happy Anniversary

On Saturday I began teaching a new session of Portfolio Development classes at Otis College of Art and Design. These classes are geared for young artists hoping to attend art school. We mostly concentrate on observational drawing (think still life with crazy objects).

As I walked around the classroom, giving instruction on how to achieve correct proportions and create interesting compositions, I told my students, "It's all about relationships between the objects." I went droning on about "Relationships, relationships, relationships, rela . . . ." When it suddenly dawned on me.

"Hey, Monday's my 29th wedding anniversary."

Relationships indeed.

In drawing as in art, relationships are the key.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Counting Peaches

As many of you know, I’m a homeschooler. Er, I was a homeschooler.

Last year, my son chose school - brick and mortar school with homework, principals, and fundraisers.

I was sad that our homeschooling adventure was coming to an end, but I must admit that my son chose a wonderful school with devoted faculty and administrators.
And although the course load has been demanding, sometimes overwhelming, he has made a pile of faithful friends, and learned much about himself. (That's him in the above photo, with his zipper pants, at his school's art show.)

As for me, I was left to reinvent my role in the family, and to re-examine my personal goals.

By spring my son was successfully navigating his way through his first year in school. I, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to find my way. I continued to bumble along, wondering each day if my actions had been fruitful, if I was making the best use of my time.

On the first day of spring, alone in the yard, I noticed our little peach tree suddenly full of tiny peaches, still with purple-pink flowers attached. The next day, I stood by the tree again and began to count them. After having counted six or seven, I scolded myself for wasting time in so obsessively frivolous an occupation. But then, I imagined myself a child, counting the fruit buds so I could tell my mother. I imagined her surprise, eyes opening wide as I triumphantly told her, “There are 51 new baby peaches on the tree! Did you know that?” She would say no, she didn’t know that, and would praise me for counting so well, for being so clever in noticing the beginning of spring.

Standing by the little peach tree, this seemed reason enough for me, now at age 48, my mother dead for 20 years.

I stopped scolding myself and continued counting . . . 29, 30, 31 . . . many more still to count, when I imagined a different voice in my head. It was my 14-year-old’s voice, with an accusing, “What DO you do all day while I’m at school, Mom?”

I heard myself answer, contentedly, “I count peaches.” And hoped I would actually have the courage to do just that.

(Excerpt from article originally published in California HomeSchooler, a publication of the HomeSchool Association of California.)

Friday, September 9, 2011

Reworking my blog

I'm reworking my blog to be more about the teaching/mentoring side of my life.

Mentoring with CoachArt

Yesterday was my first day as a mentor with CoachArt.

I have a brother and sister, sweet as can be. We spent the hour making squiggly marks on paper, talking about our favorite TV shows, and making textured color rubbings by laying our paper over everything bumpy or lumpy that we could find outside - the walls, the sidewalk, the trees, the stairs, the car tires, the trashcans. (Cool numbers and letters from the trashcans.)

Next week we are going to use our textures to cut, glue, and draw to make collages like the one above.

As I was getting ready to leave, the little boy asked, "Can you come back tomorrow?"

I wish.