Campus News

Teaching Art During Remote Learning
Rachel Freeman, communications/website manager

Art is one of the disciplines that most heavily relies on materials. Nueva art teachers, faced with this challenge, have created engaging art projects for our students to work on in this new learning environment.

In May Wilson’s Upper School advanced studio art course, she challenges students to choose one thing they will do every day. 

“This project helps students create ritual and routine,” May said. “They pick something of their choosing, perhaps drawing a piece of fruit as it changes over time, or pressing a plant and writing a description of where the plant came from. I’m really committed to helping students see this through every day.” 

For her printmaking class, May mailed her students cyanotype prints. Cyanotype is a photographic printing process that uses the sun and light-sensitive paper.

“It’s similar to the printmaking process, in that it involves textures, space, and laying things out,” May added. “This process also allows students to experiment, as there is a huge element of chance involved.” 

For art teacher Reenie Charriere, who teaches PreK through sixth grade, this need to adapt is right in her wheelhouse. “My strength in teaching is that I like to go as far as I can with ideas and push my flexibility,” she said. “When I started thinking about what kinds of projects students could do with limited materials at home, I began with this mindset.” 

Fifth graders have continued a project that began at school, drawing things in nature and using natural pigments to color their drawing. “Students have loved this activity, and it’s one that doesn’t require many materials, just a pencil and some paper. I received some really beautiful pictures; some students focused on architecture, others placed leaves in beautiful arrangements, and some did a mix of both.”

With third grade, Reenie has been working with students on illustration. Illustration is an art medium that works well in the remote learning space, and students have been tasked with creating a comic strip or flip book. They need only paper and pencil, but are welcome to add color if they’d like. 

“I feel like these students know me and they know that the projects I assign are always open-ended,” Reenie added. “I provide them with possibilities, and they know they can take those possibilities and push it in whatever direction they’d like.” 

In her Middle and Upper School courses, art teacher Rachel Dawson incorporates digital art where she can. Middle School students investigated the work of collage artist Barbara Hauzinger, who creates works of art that include sci-fi and fantasy. Students also thought about their own digital dreamscapes, and used photography, Photoshop, and other digital tools to create their collages. 

“Teaching asynchronously is challenging because I really like being part of the students’ creative process and seeing how they’re thinking,” Rachel said. “But I am still able to provide students with video demos and lessons, and introduce them to digital art tools.”

After spring break, Rachel will teach a 5/6 elective and a 7/8 elective, both focused on mixed media. “In particular, I’m really excited about my 7/8 mixed media class, because we are going to focus on our digital identities, in the style of contemporary artist Cindy Sherman,” she noted. “Students will use what’s available to them to cultivate a persona and then create art projects around that persona.”

Rachel’s Upper School painting course has had the easiest transition. “Since painting is an individual process anyway, it has worked really well,” she said. “Before the shelter-in-place order, students took their brush bags home with them, and we provided watercolor sets if students needed them.” 

Sophomore Anouschka B. shared, "Painting has been going surprisingly well in this remote learning space. While it’s not the same environment there was in the classroom, the way our painting class is set up via Zoom allows for us to still feel a sense of an art classroom and reach out to the teacher whenever we need help."

The class is currently working on a collaborative painting of a landfill, in which each student received one section of the whole picture to paint.

"The project is based on Vik Muñiz’s movie Wasteland, which follows his visit to the landfill Jardim Gramacho in Brazil," Anouschka B. said. "While he was there, he got to know the workers and created portraits of them using recyclable materials." 

A special element students learned for this project that they can continue at home if they choose is making their own watercolors out of natural substances. "What made this project so special is that in class, we learned how to make our own watercolors out of natural substances—turmeric for yellow, charcoal for black, paprika for red, beet powder for pink, spirulina for green, and ground cobalt for blue. I decided to remake some of the colors at home, finding plant powders from Whole Foods and mixing those with water and gum arabic to make my paint. I am excited to see everyone's pieces, as at the end of the project we will connect all the pieces back together into their original image. Although there may be some abstractions and they likely won't fit in perfectly, it will be amazing to see how all the different painting styles coalesce into a larger message." 

Our Nueva art teachers have really embraced our motto, "Learn by Caring, Learn by Doing” as they have navigated this new environment. While remote learning has its challenges, all three art teachers see the opportunities and positive effects this has had on their students. 

“We are happy that we can give students that time away from the screen,” Rachel said. “Our subject matter allows for that, and so we’re able to provide a little bit of happiness for them. That is our best success.” 

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