The Visual Arts Process

It’s easy to be seduced by the finished product and rush to our imagined goal. The creative process is, however, just that – a process. As with any creative endeavor be it writing, composing music, acting, dancing, or painting, creators must lose themselves in the making in order to discover something new along the way. And in that journey, they look for and find inspiration, which results in the unexpected.

Many of us are wowed by the end product of the MTS art room. What we don’t often see is the process and creative choices that go into making the artwork. In this issue we highlight two recent projects, one an MTS tradition and one new, that shed light on the role that process plays in art at MTS.

"The creative process is a process of surrender, not control." - Julia Cameron

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Kindergartners and Dino Land

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“What’s the first thing you do with the clay?” asks art teacher Evy Packer of the kindergarteners sitting around her at the table. Students respond with various answers, and she echoes it enthusiastically, “We roll out the clay into the shape of a burrito!” The “Dino Project” that kindergartners work on in Tyler Bewley and Evy Packer's visual arts class is an MTS tradition. The beauty of the project is two-fold: most obvious is the ceramic dinosaur which many students  cherish for years to come (8th graders often still have and talk about theirs), less obvious, but just as important is the creative process.

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Students start out researching, looking at pictures of and drawing their favorite dinosaurs. Next, they create clay versions of the dinosaurs from the drawings. After creating the 3-dimensional version, students look at the unfinished clay model and make another drawing - this one to envision the colors they’d like to glaze the dinosaur. The kindergartners then have the opportunity to mix the colors and glaze their dinosaur, which is baked in the kiln. Once they have their final dinosaur, which they all give names – this year’s include Isabelle and Rainbow – they create a second dinosaur out of clay to be a friend of the dinosaur. After going through similar steps to create the second dinosaur, students then work together to create a “Dino Land” where the dinosaurs can live among volcanoes, trees, rocks, rivers, and waterfalls. The entire process allows students to experience multiple ways of looking at the same idea, a dinosaur, and to watch their creation go through various phases before they have the final dinosaur in hand.

Weaving in the 6th Grade

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Local Oakland artist, Alicia McCarthy, is the inspiration behind the Weaving project 6th graders are working on this spring. Considered an integral member of the Mission School, a group of young artists associated with San Francisco Art Institute in the 90’s particularly known for graffiti art, McCarthy has developed a style of painting that weaves interlocking colors in a grid-like fashion in simultaneously casual, yet structured compositions.

McCarthy’s process is central to this project. After learning about McCarthy’s work, the students started by writing down their thoughts about what might inspire them to make their own compositions. They were encouraged to think about what feeling they’d like their work to elicit, and they looked at color wheels to help figure out a palette that would best reflect that feeling. Next, they began to sketch out ideas for what their weave patterns might look like before setting out to work with strips of paper to create their own woven compositions with the idea that the notes they’re taking are part of the final piece. Like McCarthy, the process included numerous, intentional creative choices along the way.

In an interview McCarthy had with SFMOMA about her early graffiti days, she says, “There wasn’t a preciousness about what we were doing, where we were doing it, or what materials we were using. It wasn’t about a particular end. I didn’t necessarily go paint on the street wanting other people to see it. It wasn’t about showing. It was just an activity that was thrilling and freaky and fun… It was about the act of doing it, and it was also a way of digesting the urban environment…” In a similar way, Evy and Tyler encourage MTS art students to find meaning in and lose themselves along the way of a project, to see each step as an integral part of what they’re making, and to take pleasure in and learn from those steps as much as they do from their final, woven piece that they hang on the wall.