A journal of creativity with my daughter Grace

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This is my journal the creative ideas I try with my daughter Grace over this school year. I'm posting them so that kids, teachers and parents might be encouraged to try some of them, or be inspired to make up their own. It's to show you I practice what I preach, and hopefully you'll like some of the ideas and pictures of what we try. Grace is five, but things we do could be done with any young child, and the art and music we listen to are certainly useful for any age. Come, join us on our journey! It should be great fun!

Past months:

• January


Monday, January 3

Grace is now five! She celebrated her birthday this weekend, and a proud five-year-old she is. One of her favorite gifts -- among usual dolls and a princess dress -- was this felt board and characters. After inventing tales (with different voices) for some time, she said, "I love telling stories for people to hear."

Toys that encourage the imagination are the best toys. My rule of thumb is: the more the battery power, the less the brain power. I'm looking forward to making our own felt shapes for this board!

Tuesday, January 4

While leafing through a book of art from the Andes, Grace and I came upon this funny sculpture. It's from Peru and it's about 800 years old! I asked Grace what she thought he was saying. She replied, "He's saying:

"All right everybody -- stand back with your cars! The band is crossing the street!"

You'd never know she had brothers in the band, would you?

I want to break out of just looking at Western art. Same with music. But it's hard to come up with good resources. We'll have to travel to a different library, since we've mostly used up the one nearby.

Wednesday, January 5

When Grace saw me painting this snowman on slate, she was just itching to try doing her own. She asked me if she could do anything she wanted, and I said sure. So flowers, once again, appeared in her painting. Grace does love flowers. (These were painted with craft paint.)

I have to say, it's really fun painting on a different surface. We both enjoyed it immensely. Doing art on paper can be so "same old same old". But now, how do I hang this heavy square of slate on the wall? Any suggestions out there?

Friday, January 7

"We have to go to the grocery store this morning," I said to Grace. We looked at each other. One of us said, "But I don't want to go." I won't say who. So we decided to make it fun by going on a "Triangle Search" along the way, taking with us our handy little digital camera.

All of these triangles were found by Grace (I was busy shopping). She'd call, "Look, Daddy!" and point excitedly to the triangle. Even some of these shots were taken by Grace . I was especially impressed with the one that shows triangles in the molded form of the apple juice bottle. Amazing. It was a bit strange, I guess to be holding up a camera and taking flash pictures in the store, but it wasn't near the height of lunacy that I established with Mr. Pickelnose's Grand Day Out. They're all probably getting used to me.

Then, in keeping with our theme, I made this "triangle lunch" for Grace. It was fun to go on a little personal triangle search in my own kitchen. She really enjoyed this one. Is they mean by "sharp" cheese?

Tuesday, January 11

On a cold, wintry Pennsylvania day, what better picture to make than one of a cardinal? This morning, Grace asked if we could do a "project". I asked her what she wanted to do. She said, "Make a bird". So we began to tear construction paper and glue them down over a background I had her do in pastel.

We also cleaned out the bird feeder and filled it with fresh sunflower seeds, and read about cardinals in a book on birdwatching by my good friend Scott Weidensaul.

Soon Alison and the boys will be back from early dismissal. Once they're here, "Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow."

Wednesday, January 12

Nothing much happened today. Grace is tired, so am I. I was in the Middle School in the morning, doing a brainstorming story-session. Grace was at her grandma's. As we drove around town, we heard music that was new to both of us: Chabrier's Suite Pastoral. It's classical music, written by a French composer in the 19th century. I thought it sounded like undersea music; Grace added that it sounded like mermaid music. And so it did! We imagined interesting visuals as we made our way home. I then bought it on iTunes so we could listen to it again.

Sunday, January 16
I looked down at one point while teaching Junior Church and saw this on the floor. Call it a trace of Grace.

Tuesday, January 18

Today's art at breakfast was from Japan. I'm working our way through a series of museum books from around the world. We looked through this last week, but this time through, we lingered on this action figure on the left.

We decided he was a guard. What should he be guarding? Grace thought a golden crown. I changed it to a golden dotaku, which is the bell on the right, which was on another page. (I called a Japanese friend in town to ask exactly how to pronounce it.)

Grace asked me to make up the story. As I told it, she drew a map of the key scenes -- her idea, and a great one!

The Tale of the Golden Dotaku
Story by Bruce Van Patter • Picture by Grace Van Patter

On a mountain in Japan, a girl collects water every morning. As she goes down to the river, she passes the tower of the Golden Dotaku, which is guarded by a fierce soldier. He has been told by the king to make sure that no one rings it, for the person who rings the dotaku will get a wish granted. Though he is a little scary, the guard and the girl become friends.
Then one day, three thieves are sent by a distant prince to steal the bell. He wants all his wishes to come true. The girl hears the sound of fighting, and comes running. The guard has defeated the one attacker, and the girl swings her bucket to knock down the second, but she slips in the spilled water and is grabbed by the second thief and dragged down to the river.

The guard now has a hard choice. Will he rescue the girl or do his duty to protect the bell from the third thief? He chooses to save the girl, but is cut badly by the thief before the guard throws him into the river.
The girl then makes her own fateful choice. Risking the anger of the king, she runs up the tower and rings the bell. She wishes for the guard to be healed. Golden light flows out of the bell and down the path, then wraps the guard like a coccoon. Then it flows back into the bell.

When the light disappears, the girl suddenly remembers her friend. She rushes to the edge of the tower and looks down the path. He's gone! The light has taken him, she thinks. She begins to weep. Then she feels a gentle touch on her shoulder. It's the guard! He's all better! He had been climbing the tower while she was looking for him.
The girl is still frightened of what the king will do now that he has heard the forbidden bell echo through the valley, but whatever happens, the guard promises to stand by her. They will face it together.

Friday, January 21

It seemed to me to be a natural step to make our own golden dotaku. Here's what it looked like before Grace cut it out. I hadn't thought about this beforehand, but drawing this gave Grace a wonderful opportunity to think about pattern -- triangle, spiral, triangle, spiral.

Then we added the rim. We both think it looks great.

As we drove around doing errands today, we had ongoing mock arguments about what to call the bell. I'd shout "Dotaku!" in my fiercest Samurai voice. (Having watched The Seven Samurai a couple times, I think I've got it down.) She'd shout back, "Bell!" And back and forth it would go, until she'd reverse it and I'd be the one shouting bell to her dotaku. Fun stuff. We were both laughing over it.
Stopped by the library and got a ton of books in preparation for a snowy weekend. We continued our journey to museums around the world by getting an art book from a new location -- Leningrad!

Sunday, January 23

While shoveling the driveway, I heard Grace call. When I looked over, she showed me the drawing she had made in the snow. It's just an abstract pattern, I know, but I was impressed that she had seen a clean, undisturbed field of snow as a canvas.
It's an intriguing challenge -- not unlike an Etch-a-Sketch. One has to make the drawing with one continuous line. Hmmm. I might be up for that challenge! But what should I draw?

Monday, January 24

Grace helped me come up with something at breakfast. Her first idea was a rat. Interesting. Nasty the Snow Rat? I thought not. We settled on a bunny. After drawing a quick sketch, I went out and marched it off. Here are some pics to show the process.

I included this last one because I was proud of the "fur" I gave the bunny using a little plastic rake I found outside.

It was fun! We'll have to do it again sometime.

Wednesday, January 26

Today, we were looking through our book of the museum in Leningrad, which turned out to have little Russian art but had many examples of art throughout the world. Grace and I talked for a while about this painting by Rembrandt.
What I pointed out to her is that artists have a strange power. They can make you look at things without you really thinking about it. I taught her the idea of a focal point. Here, it's Jesus being taken down. That's the first place Rembrandt wanted you to look. Then, he wanted you to see Mary over on the right, fainting. Finally, you're to see the people in the lower left corner, dividing up his clothes. He gets you to look at those three points by using strong contrast of light and dark. We artists call this "high contrast". He also does this by making triangles, which are dynamic shapes. See how the light area around Jesus is a triangle, helped by the ladders? Notice also that you can make a triangle with the three areas of light. Cool, huh?
I love his work. His paintings are filled with real-looking people, not the usual perfect models.

Thursday, January 27

Not much happened today, since Grace went to her grandparents for the morning. But she made an interesting comment in the evening. Alison and I were getting ready to go to a memorial service. Grace asked why we were in black; we explained that black was the color people wore when people died. She thought for a second and replied, "I think it should be blue. Blue is the color of tears."

Friday, January 28

Just ramblling around, trying different things today, seeing where our creative currents take us. We listened to jazz, read a book about dancing, then got up and danced to the jazz. Then Grace said, "Dad, remember how we talked about light and dark? Well, on Between the Lions, when they were spelling things, the bright words were right next to the darkness. It's like that painting."
Okay, I was impressed. So I taught her the real word for high contrast paintings: chiaroscuro. I hadn't thought of that word for ages, and wasn't sure how to pronounce it. So we looked it up and practiced saying it. Then, to help us remember, I wrote a little song (to the tune of London Bridge):

Chiaroscuro, light and dark,
light and dark, light and dark.
Chiaroscuro, light and dark
together in a painting.

Not great lyrics, I know. But we'll see if it helps us to remember it.

Sunday, January 30

Alison and I took Grace to a museum today. It had a temporary show of a personal collection of pieces, including some by Cassatt, Winslow Homer, Church, and this one by Georgia O'Keefe.
I was suprised by Grace's response. She really wasn't interested. It disappointed me, but in her defense, she was visiting her brother at college, and was really distracted.

I've got to try again sometime when there aren't distractions. I'm really curious to see if there is something inherently different for a kid looking at paintings in a book at home or on the wall in a museum.

That was a fun month! On to February!

all material ©2005 Bruce Van Patter

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