Design and Innovation on the Runway

23 04 2016

CC full group.jpg

This is one event we do that takes months to prepare for and then when it comes up it is over before I can catch my breath.  This project starts in October and concludes in late April.  My students start with a idea and then start gathering materials.  We have the task to create a wearable garment with 75% recycled/repurposed materials.  This is a very serious competition among my own students and with the whole State of Arkansas.  There are Senior Scholarship dollars on the line with additional award dollars at the runway show.  My group is hard working and dedicate all the hours outside of their regular school class schedules and other extra curricular activities.  The creation of the garments are done outside the studio art class.  We have several workshop design days on the weekends to help shape the progress of each individual but a lot of the work is done by the students at home late at night.


My studio explodes with random materials that come in multiples from household materials to industry castoffs.  It’s all viewed differently once it enters my studio.  The questions we answer when looking at the materials are:  Can it be cut, bent, colored, weaved, stitched, layered, etc.?  Then the concept the designer created is merged with the available materials and design solutions begin.  There are trials and errors, redos and failures. It’s all about the process.

I have had some of the designers for four years and some for one year.  I have even had one student model only and then turned designer this year.  We have a lot of fun and we learn so much from our explorations of the materials.  Our goal is always clear, create a wearable garment that doesn’t look like the original materials.  Reinvent, inspire, and make something amazing.  I am never disappointed.

This year we won first place, third place, and best creative design.  In addition my Seniors won both Thea Fashion Design Scholarships.  I could not be more impressed with how much my students have developed through this process.

I have many of my students moving on to college this next year but I know I have returning designers and a few hanging in the wings ready to take on the challenge next year.  I’m excited about the new possibilities.



so much left to accomplish

9 04 2016
Ally B. girls with pattern

A. Broadnax

April is the time of year to reap the rewards from a year of work in the studio. The showcases have concluded in the school building but the art contests are passing out awards. Awards are not the most important part of the studio practice but it adds excitement and challenge. We get to see how we measure up and how we have grown.

This year is the first year of full choice so the measurement of awards will be more of a comparison of student achievements from a modified choice program and further back a teacher directed program.



I am curious of how this all unfolds. So far my students have achieved record awards and scholarships but I will balance that with my own research and data collected from my students in the studio.  I am going to work with my students to figure out what they liked best about the program, what do they want to see change, add in their suggestions with my educated ideas and I’m hopeful I have a better program for next year.

Speaking of next year, my class-projected numbers are very high so I am trying to evaluate how can I maintain at this pace and rate. I know it is a heavy load and I am exhausted. I need to find a balance that helps me be able to meet my students needs without it becoming more than I can handle. Trust me, I can and have taken on a lot but that isn’t always the best for best teaching to happen. I believe you need to be honest with yourself and decide when it has become too much. I feel I need to make more modifications to my program that will require further research into digital platforms to help with the tracking and transparent communications/discussions between me and the art student. I am finding the volume that is built by my students is amazing but getting timely feedback with the amount of students is pushing my abilities. It’s not bad to push and learn and grow. I hope I model that for my students in the manner in which I have strived to create a full choice studio.

Areas I feel need more research are in the discussion areas and in the art proposals. I would like a more transparent document that flows back and forth that a Google form and a spreadsheet just cannot preform. I know many teachers use blogs but that isn’t going to work. Google classroom has this ability but I need to work within the platforms I have in my school. I still love Blendspace but we have had some connectivity issues and the comments on individual slides do not equal the kind of conversations I would like to support among students in my studio or between the individual artist and me.

We do conduct critiques, presentations, and conversations daily but I feel some method to communicate from our devices would spur more content building and sharing with more ease in sharing sites, research, and scaffolding techniques. Almost like an individualized class workbook for each student. Gosh, I wish I had the time and skills to build what I can imagine.

Sarah M hand on wheel.jpg

S. Maxwell

Well, next week we are preparing all of our work for the state competition and a full day outside together doing some on-site photo challenges. My students always do a great job and impress me with their take on the prompts. The weekend will be filled with Prom and then bookend with our recycle fashion runway show. It’s always exciting but pretty intense too. Keeping my AP artists on track hasn’t been too hard they are a great group. They have requested a lock-in for a wrap on the portfolios. (I am entertaining the idea.)


The end of the year is always crazy but also challenging due to some of my students becoming increasingly distracted. So I am coming up with some prompts to keep them engaged and inspired. A little bit more modified choice but we need to do it to keep it moving in my studio.

Haylee dress1

H. Greer

I hope everyone is working hard to finish strong. I know it’s hard but this is the time of year we need to show what we are made of. I’m taking time to relax and even short moments during my hectic days to center myself. I look at my calendar and knock one date down at a time; it’s all I can manage right now.

I’m writing this on my patio in the sunshine and trying to motivate myself to tackle my grade book. I cannot wait until I can convert to more of a reflection with my students instead of a letter grade. I don’t think I’m too far away from that reality.

Will. C sandy beach

W. Conyer

Light speed to the end and then summer.


NAEA16 Chicago

23 03 2016


I came back with a new “twist” from the carefully crafted presentation I prepared to share at the National Art Convention on my Transition to a Choice Based Studio.  It is proof that if you have something to share and you are passionate about it, you can share it with or without technology.

My morning started by arriving at the assigned room at the convention center.  I enter the room and there is no projector or screen.  No problem, the NAEA assured that all rooms would have a projector and screen in every room.  So I wait a few minutes… time passes and I don’t see any tech people around to get some assistance.  Next jumps in two educators that take super hero action to help resolve the situation. One is calling anyone she can on the phone to get tech support and the other runs all the way from the fourth floor in the North building to the support desk in the lower level of the Lakeside building.  NO Results- but not from lack of trying.  Thank you friends. (Tim Bogatz and the wonderful lady I could not remember her name in my panic state)  So resourceful as I am, I head into a room a few doors down and swipe the projector from the other room that was not using it.  I was halfway to my room when one of the convention workers stopped me and said I could not take it out of that room.  Even after I explained my plight, he did not agree.

Imagine walking to the room that has every seat filled, people sitting in the isle and down the sides of wall, plus people still trying to enter the room.  I was sweating already from running around and now- stress sweat is no fun.  I contemplated making a run for it, not presenting, or standing tall and just do it!  I decided I’m doing this!  (Self-talk:Hopefully, I can engage and inspire this group.  I’m an art educator and I do this everyday for over 26 years. ) I open my PowerPoint as my guide and encourage everyone to look at my Instagram or Google me for all the content I have online as a reference.  At this time I didn’t have my presentation uploaded on the NAEA16 app but you bet I did after the session.


I was very sequential in my presentation and very clear on how I came to my organization of the running of a Choice Based Studio.  I shared a few stories about my students and tried to paint pictures about my studio with my words.  The audience was engaged and asked great questions.  I maintained my composure and delivered.  I wanted to share so many great visuals and videos but I guess it wasn’t meant to be.  I lived through my worst nightmare.  I believe I had an out of body experience while standing at the podium.  After I presented I had a rush of teachers asking me so many questions and I was able to share a portion of my presentation on my laptop.  By the time I left the room, I was uncertain if I did a good job.  In fact I felt disappointed, frustrated, and angry.  I took a few minutes to calm myself down before I spoke to anyone about the tech issue and I made sure my presentation was uploaded immediately.  It was uploaded so I spread the word about it on the convention app and Twitter.



For a while I just wanted to crawl into a hole.  I traveled alone and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about this unfortunate experience.  I was feeling really bad.

Then a woman came to me and told me she learned so much from my session.  I was pleased but I couldn’t help but feel she was sensing my disappointment and was being kind to me.  I appreciated it but it really wasn’t what I planned.  Trust me, I am a planner and super organized so this was a hard pill to swallow.

But then more comments were posted on the app about the session.  I was at first terrified to even look at it.  I’m so glad I read a few comments.  The comments were positive and supportive. Then a few more messages popped up through my email and my other social media sites.  Okay- maybe I can finally admit to myself that I accomplished what I wanted to do in spite of the situation.


Thank you for all who attended my session and who spoke to me in person and posted comments on the convention app and on social media.  It was reassuring that I accomplished what I wanted to do.  I am grateful.


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Supporting a Culture of Artists

13 02 2016

Alisha sketch portrait

One of the most important tasks I have as an art educator is creating a culture of creativity.  I am finding the more I offer choice, and the more I hold the standard up high to develop a personal connection to their art, the stronger the students voices become.  Teens are looking for a way to express themselves and to make a mark in the community.  

In my studio, I still share and demonstrate techniques, skills, and push art history, but at the pace the individual student requires it.  Most of my students will not move on to art school or do art beyond my studio.  I hope they will, but I feel most will not do it as a regular practice.  So, I do want to prepare my students to be able to analyze a work of art, evaluate the quality, decipher the process, and engage in the meaning of the work.  

DSC_0616My students will be future leaders, parents, business owners, and activists.  I want to model a method of developing their point of view through research, trial and error, risk and reward, humility, generosity, and inner strength.  These are not often thought of as areas of development in the art studio, but I believe students need to experience this in education with guidance in how to manage their opinions, feelings, thoughts, and actions.  Educators are in education to help shape young people; we care about young people.  Young people look to us for answers, support, guidance, and examples of role models.

As an educator in the school, as an art educator, I can manage the studio space and materials in a routine manner so all of my students can locate materials and feel structure surrounding them.  Students need to feel support and routine.  Students also need space to develop at their own pace.  This year, it has been a challenge for me to step back and let the pace unfold for each individual. It has been my experience that most of my students have taken to the choice based program and have accelerated beyond my expectations.  A few of my students need more guidance, modeling, and the occasional discipline.  

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What has become more apparent to me is that my students want to feel they can contribute to the school and community culture.  They desire to feel they belong and that they count.  I strive to provide that attention and opportunity for my students to make a meaningful mark in the community.  Building a culture around mutual respect, cooperation, and admiration is key to bring understanding of differences and to spur innovation and positive change.  The conversation about how we teach needs to encompass how we are developing young teens character.  

Art Advocacy

I have embarked on a large-scale project to support the Garden Club in town.  A request was made to paint 12 large scale canvas paintings for a special Garden Convention that will be held at the Art Center for people from five different states.    Our canvas paintings will be used as the tabletop covers for the event and then they will be auctioned off for a charity I selected.  I chose to donate all the money for a non-profit to support local low-income public visual arts programs.  I made a request for students to step up to do the murals.  Many chose to do a mural by themselves and others formed teams.  As our deadline approached we needed more support to complete a few of the murals and more students jumped into help.  The students loved being a part of the project, even if it was just adding a little color to the background.  The students enjoyed the idea of making a change for someone else.  My goal is to raise enough funds to change the outcome of several art programs in the state.  Not adding $100.00 to the art budget but really make a contribution to change the program to serve young art students who need it.  I tell my students all the time, “Go big, make it count.”  We have so much opportunity and talent so I feel we need to make it count to make a difference in the world.  

This project has been a magnet for the studio and it has collected students in the school who don’t normally take a studio class.  Students feel empowered to join in and help with the guidance of other experienced artists in the studio.  Often the conversation begins as to who designed it, what is this for, and how can they help.  I am raising awareness of the needs of our public school art programs and the importance of art in the lives of children.  I am also engaging students with art and artists and bringing confidence to students who may not have felt they could contribute in a creative way.

DSC_0681I have also been able to pull more students into the art studio to view the many projects that my students are creating.  The students comment and are impressed with the artwork in the studio.  My artists hear the positive comments and are encouraged to continue to improve and step up to add clarity to the work they are developing.  



It has been several long evenings to push the murals to completion but it is worth it.  

Advocacy is a important part of art programs.  Find a way to involve your school community in a project that reaches outside the school walls.  Educate the needs of the program, empower the students, and encourage non-artists to participate.  You will see, feel, and witness a grand change immediately in the interest in what is happening in the art studio.

Busy Studio

4 02 2016

Alisha mural close up.jpg

Many students have selected different media to explore and the artist proposals are being carefully planned, researched, and recorded.  I am very excited with all the progress we have made on our individual projects.



I love the level of seriousness each student takes in planning the and practice to create a strong outcome.  We have inspired graphic designers, industrial design, 3D printing designers, aspiring graphic novelist, potter’s, and many other forms of visual artists.


We are also closing in on some important deadlines for the Curbside Couture Recycle Runway Show, our Garden Murals for a big Garden Convention Art Auction, and several other art competitions.

It’s exciting to see all the changes in my students confidence in planning projects and following through with artist studio habits.  The documentation of the artists progress is  impressive.

If you want to learn how it all happens please tune into the Winter STEAM Arts Integration Conference.  Winter Arts Integration Conference

Weekend Workshop- Art Teacher’s Day Off

17 01 2016

DSC_0422We started this Saturday with a recycle fashion workshop mixed with a garden mural workday.  I have been busy preparing a session for the Winter Integration STEAM Conference including a Twitterchat and launching my new semester so a few of my big projects have taken a back seat.  Today we changed that and spent time in the studio designing.  The deadlines are approaching to complete our garments and murals; so the time was now.

The students trickle in and the materials I have collected over time, are piled in the studio for students to select for their designs.  Many of my students have prepared sketches, research, and materials so my offerings add to the mix.



It was busy the whole time and the structures emerged quickly.  This is a wonderful opportunity for my students to discover how to build garments and to play with unconventional materials. Students collaborate with one another on ideas and offer suggestions.  The conversations are a mixture of upcoming events and ideas for accessories for the runway.  The workshop never seems long enough and we anticipate the next workshop so we can see what everyone has accomplished.  I see these projects as a direct growth of what I do in the studio everyday but it has a team feel to it.  We are a school that is out to impress and hopefully win a few awards in the process.





Today we also had several artists who have volunteered to paint large garden murals for a local garden club for an upcoming Floral Convention.  The students planned the concepts and most students had a drawing complete so it was” block it in day”.

I am thrilled the end results of the auction of our murals will go to a organization that provides money for art supplies for public school art programs.  My students get a opportunity to paint on a large scale and contribute to other young artists development.

Providing time and programs to extent the discovery of new skills is a great way to build and advocate for an art program.  See you on the runway!





Happy New Year!

1 01 2016

Screen Shot 2015-12-18 at 9.04.39 AMFeeling like I have been neglecting my blog lately but I have been busy with life and preparing for a new semester.  I am proud to let you know I have also been working on my presentation for the Winter STEAM Integration Conference.  I have only 25 minutes but it will be filled with great imagery of my studio and information on how you might modify or blend your art studio.  Winter Arts Integration Conference

If you haven’t ever prepared a presentation to be viewed on-line, I would encourage you to try.  I knew well in advance that I would be discussing my transition to a Choice Blended Artist Studio, so I kept that in mind all semester while I was documenting my journey with my students.  I do find it difficult to really capture what is happening between me and my students without live video.   I am sharing small video clips to let you see through my student’s eyes, the way they see the studio.  I am also trying to share how I created my environment with my student learning platforms with plenty of room for each viewer to glean something that could be implemented into their studio.  Each course is different and each class has a culture, so taking what one educator creates and placing it into your space may not be effective.

I view what I have created and accomplished with my students as a joint system that works for our studio.  I have already made adjustments for the new semester based on feedback from my current students.  I will be including my seasoned artists as studio mentors to help continue to build and shape the program.


I don’t feel I fit into a particular group of educators so placing a label on what I am doing is not really my goal.  I know I am a student-centered educator that wants to engage my students to achieve something beyond what they believed possible.  If my studio is a pathway to spark creative thinking, open their minds to new possibilities, engage them with the world in a new way, empower them to have a voice, than that is what I do.

I am an educator with many skills, talents, ideas, and passions. If we look at ourselves as educators and what we can offer students beyond our own disciplines, our students will be better for the experience. I spend more time with my students than most people in my life. I love it and I believe it shows in my dedication and faith in my students. I may not have all the answers but I will keep after it until I feel I have met the expectations.


Wishing you a Happy New Year and looking forward to the National Art Education Conference in Chicago. Hope to see many of you there.



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