Are you an artist? Have you always known you wanted to dedicate your life to creating art? I didn't until quite recently.
I've been extremely creative since I was a little girl. Not only did I like to draw, but I also liked to do all sorts of DIY's, collaging and writing. I wrote A LOT. I kept journals, wrote short stories and also poetry in both English and Spanish. I've always had my head full of different ideas and never really paid any mind to doing things the way others around me did them. At an early age I already knew that life is too short to spend doing things that we don't really want to do.
That said, I've also always known that it takes hard work, determination and patience to get to where we want to be in life. Most of us have to be willing to ¨pay our dues¨ and do whatever it takes to eventually get there (within reason). Of course, before any of that happens, we have to find out what our life goals truly are and make sure that they are coming from within ourselves and not external factors that are pressuring us to be specific types of people. This journey, in itself, takes time and courage. It is not easy to find out what will truly make us happy. The lucky ones are able to figure out their goals early in life and start paving their road towards success early on, others take longer. We are all different. Personally, I had to experience a lot of different things before realizing that what truly makes me happy is to create art and to feel the confidence that I can make something of this gift that I have been given.
When I finished High School I decided Graphic Design would be the best option for me because, in my head, it was Art-related and I would have more of a chance to pursue steadier job opportunities as opposed to the Fine/Studio Arts Major. I have a wonderful mother who always supported my decisions and taught me that I could achieve anything that I put my mind and effort to, but I never really saw becoming a ¨Fine Artist¨ per se as a serious option for my future. I guess I bought into the whole ¨starving artist" mentality somehow and thought of it more as a hobby than something that could actually generate an income to life off of.
I maintained a scholarship while in university and went off to work at Graphic Design and Advertising agencies after graduation. I enjoyed it and learned A LOT from very talented people but eventually I started to feel like something was missing. Though I enjoy Graphic Design and will probably always do design work in some way, I discovered through those job experiences that I didn't want to spend all day in front of a computer. I wanted to experiment with supplies, get my hands dirty and create something from scratch. And though I firmly believe that the best Graphic Design work initiates with hand-drawn sketches, in day-to-day agency life the workload, tight timeframes, and the need to use pre-determined style guidelines doesn't allow for much experimentation and creation as I would have liked. So after a while I decided to resign and look for something that would make me happier, though I was completely lost at that point and had no idea what that might be. Sure, I sketched every now and then, but that was pretty much it. I don't regret choosing Graphic Design as a major. What I learned in university and these first Graphic Design jobs will forever be engrained in my head and will probably always influence my artwork in some way. Also, what I learned regarding design software and technology will only improve my work.
After resigning, I spent several months doing freelance work just to keep some money coming in and my portfolio fresh, but I was really confused as to what to do next. Part of me felt like I had wasted 6+ years (between my studies and first jobs) in a field that would end up draining me out. I had a little devil standing on my shoulder telling me that I was never going to find a job that would make me happy and I was simply going to have to accept that work is not meant to be enjoyed.
I was running out of the money I had saved up and, out of nowhere, came this opportunity to work as a First Grade Teacher's Assistant at a great private school. I went for it and I really enjoyed it. Later on in the year I became interested in the Art Teaching position and started learning more about what the job entailed. It seemed like a blast, but I surely didn't have the experience of organizing and managing a functional Art room for over 250 students at a time. A new campus of the same school was opening in a different part of the city and, with it, came the possibility of applying for the job. So I did and that is how I ended up in the position I was in for the last five years. I honestly lucked-out big time and thank my lucky stars for the opportunity I was given!
I quickly learned that teaching Art in a school environment is extremely difficult. I have posted about it before (read my post about Arts Advocacy in the School Environment/My Ideas for Effective Student Art Exhibits here and my post about The Dangers of Striving for Artistic Perfection here). Obviously, when you are teaching its more about what your students learn and experience during your classes that what you do personally, so you firstly have to love children and education. Between class planning, grading, meetings, professional developments, communicating with parents, and organizing/mounting student Art Exhibits, there is little time for anything else. When my work days ended I felt completely exhausted, but fulfilled. I felt like I was leaving something positive in others by using my own gifts and there's simply nothing like it. I was on my feet for most of the day, using my hands to experiment with a wide array of supplies and it seemed like my mind had to be working non-stop throughout the day to solve a million things at once in creative ways.
Throughout those five years I not only developed both personal and professional skills that are extremely valuable to have, but once more I got closer to what I really wanted to dedicate my life to. I was able to conclude that I enjoyed Art more than I enjoyed Graphic Design. Of course, the art I was making was mostly for class purposes or for school events and I did little to no art for myself probably until my last year teaching. During my first few years in the position I didn't have the usual teaching vacation periods because I was studying to get my Master in Education degree during times off from work (sometimes even simultaneously), so I didn't even have that. Most Art Teachers I got to know (especially school Art Teachers), stopped making Art for themselves because they simply didn't have time to between keeping up with job responsibilities and/or taking care of their families. All of these things started to bother me more and more.
At the end of the last school year I had made the decision to get serious about my art and that I wasn't going to approach it as a hobby or something secondary. I discovered that I adored teaching but, at a personal level, I NEEDED to make art for myself. I YEARNED to have the time to experiment with different techniques, improve my skills and find a personal art style that I could eventually share with the world. I KNEW that if I made time for this, I would not only be much happier, but I would also be able to offer a lot more to my students in the future. I knew that I had to make a decision about what to do soon, especially because I was already over 30.
And thus came my decision to resign from my wonderful full-time teaching position and only teach part time. It took me around 14 years of studies and jobs to discover what is important to me and what I need to do to be happy, but I realize that those years were not lost. I personally needed to go through that time of self-discovery. I also needed to build up those personal and professional skills that will help me pave the road towards success. I can honestly say that my true objectives in life became clear to me until recently and it isn't until now that I actually have the courage to ignore other people's expectations and dedicate my time/energy to becoming an artist.
There are people that live their whole lives and never pay any special attention to what they TRULY want. Many of us are too pressured by external factors (time, money, OTHER PEOPLE, difficult situations in our living environments, etc.) that we simply give in to the idea that life has to be lived a certain specific way. We ignore that little voice in our heads that asks ¨What if I had....?" every now and then, doing what is safe and what is expected. I am extremely thankful that I finally have discovered what makes me happy and that, after a lot of hard work (and perhaps some luck), I am in a position to be able to work towards my dreams.
Thank you for reading this extremely long and personal post. I'd LOVE to hear from you! Did you decide to go for a ¨safe¨ career choice due to external pressures? Was it always clear for you that you wanted to dedicate every available moment to make art and that you wanted to make a career of it? Are you an artist that is struggling to live from your art? Drop me a line and I'll write back!
Hey all! So nice to have you here! If I could offer you some coffee I totally would.
Here are some pictures of yesterday's event. Another very successful student art show! Everyone was so happy. The weeks of hard work definitely paid off! With this, I end my final year as full-time Art Teacher at this wonderful school I've been working at for the last five years. My work here is done and I am off to start with personal art projects full-time as soon as I turn in my classroom keys.
It's all very bittersweet for me, as I grew SO much, at both personal and professional levels with this job. However, I am eager and excited to get started with so many personal projects that I have! Please enjoy the following pictures and if you are an Art Teacher do not hesitate to take ideas and/or get in touch with me to ask any questions about specific projects or Art Show prep. Simply click on the "About Me/Contact¨ page and write me a message! I'd love to hear from you. :)
In my opinion, an amazing Art Teacher is one who, aside from all obvious teaching responsibilities, makes time and is continuously seeking ways to advocate for the Arts within the community he/she teaches in. It is hard, especially when we work in a society that doesn't give the Arts the importance that they deserve.
If you are an Art Teacher, and you are as unfortunate as I am in this department, this means that you will be constantly fighting for time, resources, and validation from students' parents, and even co-workers that seem to think that what you do is easy and/or not as important as their subjects. You may even be the ONLY Art Teacher in the entire school, as I was for several years, which means you are entirely on your own.
My advice? Don't get discouraged and don't let any of this stop you. Continuously seek ways to engage students and educate the rest of the school community about how engaging in creative processes is nothing to joke about. Help both students AND adults understand that thinking of an idea, creating something from scratch, and putting it out for the world to see is probably one of the most difficult things in the world. It is imperative for people to understand that these kinds of classes will help students develop skills that more "academic" classes won't and will be essential for their future success.
Living in a society that sees the Arts as something secondary (or not at all) only means that, as Art Teachers, we should use our position to wake people up. Even if change is slow, I am convinced that through hard work and consistency, you will start changing people's minds about the subject. I have definitely seen a change after five years of working at my school. Throughout these years I have managed to help establish a Fine Arts Department that offers Music and Visual Arts extracurricular workshops after school. Before, it was only offering Sports classes.
I have also really improved the quality of student Art Exhibits and have incorporated different things into them that have helped transmit the importance of Art Education to the school community. These exhibits are what I will be giving you some ideas about today. Student Art Exhibits are amazing opportunities to show everyone about the learning processes that happen inside the Art Room. Moreover, they are a great opportunity to transmit the fact that creating an artwork isn't just about making something pretty, but about planning, experimenting, persistence and communication.
My 5 Main Tips for Creating Amazing and Effective Student Art Exhibits
1. Before starting the semester (or school year), establish and organize what projects you will be working on with each grade you'll be having. Depending on the amount of classes you will have with each grade and the time you have each class, set a tangible amount for you and determine what techniques you will be using for each. I love incorporating a variety of techniques for each grade because this gives them a chance to experiment with different supplies and get to know what types of art projects they enjoy the most. I create combinations of painting, oil pastels, mixed-media, collage and do my best to work on a 3D project with each grade. This variety in techniques and supplies really impacts the audience at the time of the exhibit as well. With all this in mind, be flexible and understand that, even with a laid out plan, thing can change.
2. Give yourself PLENTY (and I mean PLENTY) of time for preparation if you want to keep your sanity, especially if you will be receiving little to no help throughout the organization, project preparation and mounting, like myself. I personally start with project titles a month and a half before the exhibit on my off time from work. During class, I focus on students and continue working with them on their projects until literally the week before the exhibit. But I realize I am an insane person. By this point, I focus on students which require extra attention in order to arrive at the two pieces they will be exhibiting at the event. I like including two pieces per student even though I have over 250 student each semester. Again, I realize I am an insane person. Previous teachers at the school only did one.
3. Presentation is EVERYTHING. I dont know if it is my inner Graphic Designer speaking, but the way you decide to display student projects really transmits the level of importance you give to your students artwork. It tells people that you value your students work and others should value them as well. I decided early on that I would be cutting and pasting selected student projects on colored cardboard to create a margin for them. Yes, this means cutting them all myself in weekends. I pick different colors for different projects. Both the projects and their title (more about them in a bit), have the same color. I try not to repeat colors in one same grade.
4. Find ways to incorporate technology into the exhibit and use it to help get the message across. In my exhibits, each project has a title that includes a QR code leading the viewer to videos of my students explaining a bit about their projects. In them they talk about what they learned before starting projects, parts of the process, etc. Yes, I record these videos during classes. Yes, I edit these videos. And yes, most of this is done on my off time from work. After the event, I set up links to these videos in a blog that I made for my Art classes years ago in which I post pictures of students at work throughout the semester. This way, parents can find them and view them again at home after the exhibit. There is usually a lot of noise during the exhibit and they ask me where they can view them later. *Awesome suggestion: I love sending an email to my administrators with the links to some of these videos so they can see how much students learn in my class.
5. Include brief project descriptions that tell viewers what knowledge students gained from this specific project, what techniques/supplies were used and what part of the Art Curriculum is being covered by it. This helps people understand that, yes, you also have specific curriculum topics to teach and that there is a reason behind everything you do in the Art classroom. I have found that this also helps parents understand that there are specific things that are graded in each project. The more you get the message across about how there are specific, objective things you grade in each assignment, the less you'll have to deal with parents asking why you took of points off from their child's beautiful work of art.
That's it! It's time for me to make time for my own art today. Which, in itself, is another important thing. Share your own projects with both students and co-workers and show them that art is important to you. Show them you take art seriously and are constantly working on improving your own skills.
If you have any questions or comments, shoot me an email through the About Me/Contact section of my site. I'd love to help you out! Also, if you'd like to view more pictures of past Art Shows, click on the "Art Shows" button in the Categories section of the sidebar. My students' Art Show is next Friday and I will be posting pictures on Instagram all throughout next week of what I am doing in terms of preparation!
Cheers my friends! Thanks for reading!
I am naturally kind of an obsessive person. I tend to put too much of myself into everything I do to the point that I have put my own health behind completing tasks to the absolute best of my abilities. And I mean WHATEVER task, not only art-related. I didn't know how to say ¨no¨ and didn't stop working until I was completely spent, always striving for perfection. This is one of the reasons why, about two years ago, I made a commitment to myself to put my own priorities and health first, before anything/anyone else. I know there are a lot of people out there like me.
I also studied Graphic Design in which presentation is a very important part of projects. I remember the first semesters were extremely tough because professors took off points for nearly non-existing pencil/eraser marks, etc. So I learned that, to be a designer, I wasn't only expected to find super creative and highly effective visual solutions to problems, but also that they have to be presented in a professional and organized manner, fully backed up by research and facts. After graduating with a BA in Graphic Design, I worked in agencies and advertising firms for several years. I was surrounded by very talented people that I was able to learn a lot from and I also learned a lot about technology/software. I am extremely thankful for that.
Then came a HUGE shift in my professional life in which, after burning out from working so many extra hours (and not being paid extra for a single one of those hours- Yay Mexico!), I ended up as an Art Teacher at a private school teaching around 250 students each semester. At the beginning, my mind kind of imploded. It is safe to say that neat freaks would not last in this kind of job. Trying to get 25 students at a time to advance their art projects in a period of 48 minutes (clean-up included), while also grading and managing behavior problems, is INSANE. Several times throughout the day, you have another group waiting outside that is expecting to come into a relatively clean and organized classroom and will be working on a project completely different from the group before it (at times I go from 5th to 7th or 8th to 6th, etc.). Those first two years, I taught art to levels Kinder all through to Middle School students with no experience teaching Pre-School and with no assistant at all. Perfectionism, cleanliness and neatness was simply out-of-the-question. There is constant chaos going on and you have to keep calm to make things work. As a teacher in general, I think you have to learn to let go of things. There is so much going on at once, that you have to learn to discern what is most important from what isn't and keep moving forward or you simply will not get through the day. All of this while being patient and always well-mannered. You are an example for your students after all.
After five years on this beautiful roller coaster, I have learned many things at both professional and personal levels. For one, I learned that perfectionism is not as good as I initially thought it was. It is not good because, in life, one of the most important things is to keep moving forward and perfection hinders our progression. Think about it. Life goes by fast and, once we have decided what it is we truly want, we have to use our time wisely in order to get there. Perfectionism comes together with anxiety and fear and, in my opinion, is a complete waste of time. Whether something is perfect or not, it doesn't matter. What matters is that we are learning and improving. Once we understand that and the fact that EVERYONE else is also a work in progress, it becomes easier to put ourselves and our creations out there for the world to see, even if it is scary. I think this is an essential part of being an artist.
I am also extremely thankful for having the opportunity to teach Art because I have learned that I love Art and Illustration perhaps even more than I like Graphic Design. Throughout these years teaching, I have drawn, painted and experimented with different types of media much more than I ever did before. I have discovered my passion for traditional media and working with my hands. I have learned that we, as humans, are imperfect and it would be, therefore, ridiculous to expect constant perfection. Finally, I have learned that we should embrace life as an opportunity to progress towards who we want to be and what we want to create, always remembering (and not being ashamed of) the work we put in to get there.
I've been crazy busy lately. It is a crazy time at school with numerous events going simultaneously. I've had no time to draw or paint after work, which saddens me. However, I am happy that I will be having Spring Break soon. Though I will probably already be working on titles and movie editing for the end-of-semester Art Exhibit during my break. I will make sure to post a lot of pictures of the process I go through from preparation to set-up for that later.
I had mentioned before that, aside from working full time as an Art Teacher for grades Fourth through Ninth, I also teach Acrylic and Oil Pastel classes after school. Even though these after school classes will continue for, at least, another month after coming back from Spring Break, we held our exhibit now because it ties in with other events that are going on. Also, it was super important for the other Art Teacher and myself to have this extra work now and not during the weeks of prep leading up to the larger end-of-semester exhibit. It's going to be my tenth larger Art Exhibit here at the school!
Here are a few pictures of last night's exhibit!
My students' Art Show just took place last Friday and first semester is quickly coming to an end. I can't believe that this was my ninth time organizing and setting up a student art exhibit! They seem to be getting better and better each time, which is my goal. There were a lot of people and a lot of positive comments.
This year, there is FINALLY another full-time Art Teacher in the school, which means I am no longer alone and have someone else that understands the hard work involved in teaching this wonderful subject in a school environment. Here are some pictures of work created by my students. If you are interested in knowing anything about any of these projects let me know. I am willing to send over keynote presentations, templates and any other information you may need to make these happen!
Most of these projects are ideas of my own or variations of projects found online.
You will notice that project titles include a QR code. During the exhibit, parents are able to use iPads in order to see videos of students explaining each project. These videos can be found at my teaching YouTube channel (just look for Erika Lancaster).
Have a great week!
This school year's Fall Art Show went extremely well. As always, I made sure to plan a bunch of new projects for each grade in order to keep things fresh and exciting for everyone. This exhibit included work from Kinder, Second, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh and the Elective group (a mixture of Eighth and Ninth) graders. Fortunately, There is another Art Teacher this year who is teaching Kinder and First Graders. I still have Second through Ninth myself.
Hope you enjoy the pictures! If you have any questions about any of these projects feel free to contact me using the format in the Contact section! I love hearing from you and would love to help out any other Art teachers with ideas.
So I am already hard at work in order to have everything ready for this semester's Art Show. Been putting in many hours after school and during weekends. Because I basically have to help 250-300 students complete projects, create videos (the school I work at is big at involving technology as much as possible), select projects and mount everything pretty much by myself, it is essential for me to begin, at least, a month in advance. Aside from helping students finish up projects, I find myself doing everything else after work. Between grading, planning and preparing supplies for artwork, I have almost no time during the day.
The first thing I do is work on project titles, which this year, were a total of 18 (each grade does between 3-4 projects that can be selected for the exhibit). This is the way I make them. I download some cool fonts, prepare pdfs in Illustrator with 2-3 letters per page, print them out, cut them (I the whole stack of papers home and work on cutting them during free moments), and tape together two 65x50 cm. colored cardboards to paste them on. Aside from the project titles, I include the grade level and a description of each project which includes the techniques used as well as the Elements of Art that were studied during the process. These titles also will contain the QR codes that will essentially link to the videos of students explaining about their projects. I record these videos myself during class time and edit them in iMovie.
So much to do still! But I'm excited and looking forward to creating a better and better event each year.
This school year ended with an amazing student Art Show (once again). I am excited for next year and the great things the kids will come up with. I have only a few days left of summer vacation before starting with professional development courses, which means I have to begin with the long range planning for all the grades I will be having next year! For me, this means not only selecting the projects that will help me fulfill curriculum requirements, but organizing them in a sequence that makes sense for students. I rarely repeat projects, except for the ones that I feel my students enjoyed and learned from most. This means a lot more work, but it is worth it! Cheers!
The last student art exhibit was a blast! This year I am teaching grades 2nd to 9th and, finally, there is another Art teacher in the school that I can bounce ideas off of. Being the only Art teacher in the school was very difficult the last couple of years, so I am very happy!
We had been using QR codes (pasted on project titles) that visitors could use to view videos of students explaining about projects. This time, we used an app called Aurasma to switch things up. Personally, I found QR codes more friendly for this kind of purpose, but it was nice to try something new! Here's the link if you want to find out more about it:
I can't believe half of the school year is over already!
This school year started off with a bang and I am looking forward to what's to come. I work at a relatively new campus and am missing a few things, but am making it work with what I do have! It is essential for me to build an environment in which my students will feel comfortable and inspired to create. Here are a few pics. :)
I can't believe my second year teaching Art is over! It has been such a roller coaster! Especially doing my Master in Education at the same time (I just finished the program a couple of weeks ago). Being a teacher has been the most difficult, and at the same time, most rewarding experience I have been through. I enjoy it so much and love being able to help students develop skills through art. There is such a personal growth that comes from it as well.
This has been my fourth time organizing and mounting the exhibit and I think they are getting better and better! Everyone enjoyed it so much.
I will be uploading pictures of individual projects in the ¨Classroom Art¨ section of the blog, so make sure to come back later. :)
I'm very proud of what my students created this semester! The Art Show featured work from Kinder, Second, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth graders. Check it out! See more individual projects in the Classroom Art section of this website.
I am going to be starting a new project with my Eighth graders soon that will involve designing and creating an Alebrije. Alebrijes are colorful Mexican sculptures of imaginary creatures, sometimes they are a unique representation of an already existing animal and sometimes they are wild combinations of several different animals in one. Some even combine human faces and elements with animal body parts.
We are going to be doing them the original way, using wire and paper mache. I can't wait to see their amazing creatures come to life! Since I always make my own example first, in order for me to try out the process personally and be able to explain to my students the best way to go about doing their projects, here is my initial sketch. I will be posting pictures of the final product later!
I had a very busy summer with Master courses and work.
A new school year is beginning and I still had not uploaded last May's Art Show pictures! It included work from 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 7th graders. QR codes were created in order for parents to view videos and student written reflections about the specific project displayed. An iPad kart was available for them. This certainly took the event to a whole new level!
Aside from choosing and planning which projects to do with my many grade levels throughout the semester, teaching and guiding over 300 students, I was in charge of organizing and mounting the year's Art Shows pretty much all by myself. Oh...and all this while also teaching PK, K and 1st grade Computer classes... Not bad for my first year!
To view pictures of individual projects, visit the Classroom Art section of my website!
I had previously made a post regarding the Kachina Doll project I did with my fifth graders this semester, but hadn't uploaded pictures of their creations! I'm so proud of what they achieved. Have a look. :)
If you are interested in knowing the materials and process followed to create these, click HERE to go to my previous post.
Soon I will be uploading pictures of the 2nd semester Art Show, in which more of these will be displayed, so be sure to visit later!
Thanks again to Julie Voigt and her wonderful blog Art for Small Hands, which was a great source of inspiration for me during my first year of teaching Art. The direct link to her Kachina Doll project instructions is: artforsmallhands.com/2011/12/papier-mache-kachina-dolls.html
So my Easter break has officially begun, which means that I have to take advantage of my off time from work and start with preparations for my students' end of semester projects and organizing the next Art Show. For my first graders, I decided to do a project which combined making homemade playdough and sculpting little monsters with it.
Of course, before actually doing this project, I had to find a good recipe which would a) Not leave the hands too dirty or oily, b) Could be put away easily, and c) Last as long as possible without drying and cracking once the final products are finished (I want the Monster Parade to look as awesome as possible at the Art Show).
I found different recipes and videos, but made my own modifications.
Ingredients: (this makes 1 batch of 1 color)
Packet of Cool Aid (or other COLORFUL powder beverage mixes)
1 Cup flour
2 Tablespoons Vegetable/Canola/Olive Oil
1/4 Cup salt
3 Tablespoons baking powder
1 Cup warm water
*If you want really vibrant colors, add drops of food coloring
1) In a saucepan mix flour, salt and baking powder. Add entire packet of Cool Aid and mix ingredients well.
2) Add warm water (I made sure to wait until the tap water was quite warm). Mix well.
3) Add oil. Mix well.
4) Using a low flame, heat while constantly mixing with spatula until a blob begins to form. :O
5) Leave heating for a minute or two longer.
6) Remove from saucepan and allow to cool.
7) Pretend you are a cat and knead thoroughly (*see .gif).
8) Store in individual zip-lock bags in refrigerator.
*If, for some reason, one batch comes out dryer/crumblier than another, add another tablespoon of oil and knead. I found this improved the texture greatly.
*If you want to change the color, or think the color is too muted, do not hesitate to add food coloring. This has to be done in between steps 3 and 4, before mixture starts to get thicker.
I love my beautiful blobs! :)
I love my job and the creative freedom I am given by the wonderful school I work at. My first semester as an Art teacher has come to an end and with it came my first Art Show. It was hard work throughout the semester and intense days of sorting and mounting, but it all paid off when I saw the reactions of my students and their surprised parents.
The following projects were made by my groups of Kinder, Second, Fourth and Sixth. I'm so proud of all of them!
Soon I will be posting images of individual projects so they can be viewed closely.
For daily inspiration, resources and updates on what I am currently working on, follow me on: