Basket Weaving Resources and Links

Weintraub_SchoolArts_Weaving Nests_Teacher Sample of Basket.jpg

Here is a list of resources and links I used for my weaving article in SchoolArts Magazine. At the bottom you will find an illustrated handout that is helpful in learning to weave.

My YouTube Tutorials:

Melody Weintraub’s, Teaching Basket Weaving-Part 1

Melody Weintraub’s, Teaching Basket Weaving-Part 2

Other Helpful Resources:

Quick and Easy Bramble Basket

Introduction to Weaving a Round Reed Basket

Cherokee Basket Weaver Bessie Russell:

Oklahoma Cherokee Basketsby Karen Coody Cooper (History Press, 2016). Explores the history and legacy of the Cherokee Basket Weavers.

Do not reprint this handout to sell or in order to post on any other website without permission. Melody Weintraub, 2019.

Do not reprint this handout to sell or in order to post on any other website without permission. Melody Weintraub, 2019.

The Art of the Plan

“Tennessee Sounds” Art Guitar by Melody Weintraub. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION

“Tennessee Sounds” Art Guitar by Melody Weintraub. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION

I was recently selected to design one of the art guitars for the Tennessee Arts Academy Auction. One of the steps in the selection process was to design and submit a plan for the guitar. The general idea of that plan was used for my final design, but as my work developed, I made some changes along the way. My idea was to create a roadmap of Tennessee on the face of the guitar with caricatures of Tennessee celebrities from various parts of the state. However, in doing my research, I decided instead to only focus on famous musicians, singers and songwriters from Tennessee or who found their fame in Tennessee.

Plan for “Tennessee Sounds,” by Melody Weintraub. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION.

Plan for “Tennessee Sounds,” by Melody Weintraub. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION.

“Tennessee Sounds” by Melody Weintraub. Detail. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION

“Tennessee Sounds” by Melody Weintraub. Detail. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION

I also wanted to focus on the state song, “Tennessee Waltz,” by placing a 45 vinyl of it over the sound hole of the guitar. After a couple of hours searching for it in a local record shop, the owner finally found a copy of it by Sam Cooke! Perfect! (You should listen to that version on YouTube sometime). I also recently learned about the history of the song that was ironically written during a road trip on a matchbox.

I could not include all of the famous musicians from Tennessee on the montage, so I looked at several lists and then made choices based on who really stood out to me. I had my reasons. Having been in the music business a little myself during my teens and through acquaintances, I have been blessed to meet several of the personalities included, so there is intent to my choices as well as how they are pictured.

Neck details for “Tennessee Sounds,” by Melody Weintraub. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION.

Neck details for “Tennessee Sounds,” by Melody Weintraub. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION.

Quite possibly the easiest part for me was Tennessee’s state flower (Iris) on the head of the guitar. However, I also learned about several new processes while completing the guitar. The back of the guitar and the area around the strap knob are engraved. This is my first solid attempt at engraving. I practiced on a scrap piece of wood until I learned which Dremel tips to use to get the desired effect. I scoured the Internet for techniques and tips. Finally, I “invented” processes by experimenting with some new materials.

While I was working on the guitar, I wanted to bring unity to the front and back of the guitar, so I repeated the color of the Iris to the engraved area on the back of the guitar which represented wings of Tennesseans who have passed on but whose music remains. 

Back of “Tennessee Sounds” art guitar by Melody Weintraub. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION.

Back of “Tennessee Sounds” art guitar by Melody Weintraub. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION.

Working on this guitar was good preparation for me as I plan my lessons for the coming year. I always like to look over last year’s lessons, reflect, and see how I can change them. But, in the process of creating this guitar, I am reminded of the importance of the artist’s (student’s) planning, choices and experimentation. The teacher’s objective is important, but we must remain flexible enough to allow our student artists to take this project places where they find personal meaning. We must allow them time and space for practice, experimentation and risk. If our students’ work looks strangely similar to our own, we must consider that we might possibly be “spoon-feeding” our ideas, techniques and personal voice a little too often.  Most of the iconic musical artists on this guitar are notable because they broke conventional molds. They exploded stereotypes. They bent the “rules” in half. Imagine if any of them settled for becoming a copy one another or of their teacher. Forgive the idiom, but their music would sound like a “broken record.” Nothing is wrong with making “suggestions,” to our students. But perhaps we need to learn to ask them questions instead of giving them answers. Or better yet, allow them ask their own questions. We need to let them find their own solutions. We need to step back if we want our students find their own visual voice and make their own wonderful visual “music.”

“Tennessee Sounds” art guitar by Melody Weintraub. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION.

“Tennessee Sounds” art guitar by Melody Weintraub. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION.

Melody Weintraub with her art guitar, “Tennessee Sounds.” 2019. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION.

Melody Weintraub with her art guitar, “Tennessee Sounds.” 2019. DO NOT USE WITHOUT PERMISSION.

A Letter to a Friend..

Photo by Melody Weintraub

Photo by Melody Weintraub

Dear Art Room,

Looks like it’s going to be a pretty quiet, clean summer for you. Just go ahead and bask in the shine of those thoroughly waxed floors as you put on an even coat of paint. The days will pass quickly. I must say you look a little funny without all that visual stimuli you usually have up, but maybe it will be calming for you…or boring. You might miss the music from the hot pink boom box that’s usually played during class and I know you’ll miss the chatter and laughter of those who usually occupy your space.

Oh, by the way, while I was packing and cleaning you up for the summer, I found a few things you might have been missing. I guess it pays to dust on top of the high cabinets. I found three pencils, four white plastic erasers, two blending stumps and a nail file. You’d think they would have been comfy in the nice sketch bag I ordered for each student, but I guess it’s as good of a place as any to quickly stash a few items before heading to Math. I also found a note, “Hi, Mrs. Weintraub,” in the change basket. Was that from you? No? Well, whoever wrote it knew I’d find it. And probably knew I needed a smile.

Baby Socks for Stools by Melody Weintraub

Baby Socks for Stools by Melody Weintraub

Okay, so I hope you won’t mind a few changes for next year. You’re getting some new cabinets from some generous people. So we can free up some of your counter space. You’re welcome. Also, I don’t want you to get too used to how shiny clean your pottery wheels look, there will be a nice little mask of mud on them soon enough. Also, you can stop looking at your reflection on those table tops. Mod Podge and Acrylic Paint will find their way there once again. Oh, I have a question, whose brilliant idea was it, yours or mine, to color sort the markers and throw out those empty boxes? I had to put the markers back in sets and all I had were Ziploc bags! Thanks a lot. Oh, in case you’re missing them, I took all the baby socks off of the stools and I brought them home to wash. They were pretty nasty from all that scooting around on the floor.

One more thing, thanks for letting me linger a little while after I’d packed my Jeep and finished up today. I didn’t really need to sit there and answer email.. I just wanted to hang out and dream up new ideas for you and me to bring to students next year. We are a team. In a lot of ways, you’re my home away from home. Hope it’s that way for all of those silly middle school artists as well. We need to make them feel really glad about coming to school every day. It’s a high calling. A privileged position. The best job in the world.

So, enjoy your little break while it lasts, creativity can get pretty messy sometimes and things are going to be really rockin’ come August!



Art Room by Melody Weintraub

Art Room by Melody Weintraub

My Peeps

Cartoon Drawing by Melody Weintraub. Do not reprint or post without permission.

Cartoon Drawing by Melody Weintraub. Do not reprint or post without permission.

There’s this picture. I had just begun my first year teaching Middle School Art, back in 2000, when my administrator asked who was interested in getting some professional development at the National Middle School Association Conference and Exhibit in St. Louis, I think I was the first person to raise my hand. Road trip! I was so excited about learning how to better reach middle school students and I was really excited about getting to go to some practical sessions to learn new media skills and techniques for the art classroom.

Silhouettes NMSConference_2001.jpg

Although I did get to hear Harry Wong speak (highly motivating) and Paul Stookey sing (Peter, Paul and Mary), and although I had a wonderful time with my colleagues (Math, English, Science), I was disappointed to learn that there were no workshops or applicable sessions specifically geared to Middle School Art. I wasn’t interested in returning, but what I was interested in was finding a convention that better matched my field of study.

So, I began asking around and eventually, I was lead to the National Art Education Association Convention. It was in Minneapolis that year. I didn’t know a soul. Didn’t even know about our state’s organization (found out later). But, I signed up and went anyway. It was beyond all of my expectations. My school even paid the way for me to go!

I think the first thing that impressed me was that so many lessons that I thought I had “invented” were being “invented” by others as well. Every stranger I met seemed like an old friend. We laughed, shared stories and had such meaningful conversations. Then there was….(drum roll)…THE VENDOR EXHIBIT! So many freebies and so little time! I think I had to buy an extra suitcase while I was there! Also the sessions were not only enlightening, but practical. I learned so much that I still use today. It was fun to meet new people to see how they dressed and to learn how they teach art. I had found my peeps.

I knew that I wanted to become more involved, so I got involved with my state organization (Tennessee Art Education Association) as well. Next January, I will be signing on as President of TAEA. Funny how a little PD trip to St. Louis can change your life!

As I write this, I’m packing for the NAEA Convention in Boston! I will see my peeps. As a state leader, I will attend Delegates. I will learn new things. I will see old friends. I will meet new friends. I will present my lesson on Altered Books and I will fly back next Sunday exhausted and rejuvenated. What a great way to spend Spring Break…with my peeps.

Art Legacy

The Legacy  by Stanley Bleifeld. Do not use photo without permission.

The Legacy by Stanley Bleifeld. Do not use photo without permission.

As art educators, we often hope that what goes on in our classrooms will spark or fan the flame of a future Ringgold, Picasso, Kahlo, Haring or Van Gogh, but how often do we consider the art legacy we are nurturing among our close friends and family? Let’s not discount the impact that our passion for the arts can make among those closest to us.

My first art lessons came from my dad at the dinner table..drawing cowboys. He was a maker. Shells gathered on vacation became a mosaic on masonite scraps he brought home from a construction site. He built step stools for all of his nieces and nephews. He loved decorating for Christmas and even made some of the displays.

My mother and her sisters loved to sew, crochet, embroider and two of them especially loved painting. My aunt Sibyl had a beautiful old cabinet filled with craft paint and a basket full of gourds, oyster shells and cypress stumps. When we came for a visit we were always welcomed to sit and paint.

And then, I married into a wonderful family that valued the arts and nourished my talent. When I began painting classes in my late twenties, my mother-in-law and father-in-law were my very first patrons. They also introduced me to the work of a relative, my father-in-law’s first cousin, sculptor Stanley Bleifeld.

Melody Weintraub with Stanley Bleifeld at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, “It Seemed Like Reaching for the Moon.” Do not use photo without permission.

Melody Weintraub with Stanley Bleifeld at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, “It Seemed Like Reaching for the Moon.” Do not use photo without permission.

Knowing Stanley had a huge influence on my career. As soon as Stanley knew I was taking watercolor classes, he and his wife Nicky shared a book with me by their close friend, Burton Silverman, a master watercolorist. Stanley always seemed like an icon to me. I only met in him in person for the first time after my father-in-law passed away in 1993, but I heard so much about him from my in-laws on their visits to his art openings around the world and visits to his studio in Pietrasanta, Italy. Life Magazine featured Stanley early in his career. Stanley’s work included the Vatican Pavillion Bas Relief at the 1964 World’s Fair, The Lone Sailor at the U.S. Navy Memorial in Washington, several statues at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, The Virginia Civil Rights Memorial- It Seemed Like Reaching for the Moon and ironically enough…The Legacy.

My in-laws bought a rather large scaled bronze of The Legacy, which now lives at our house. My mother-in-law asked me to make a card with a quote for it when she first brought it home, which Stanley liked to associate with the sculpture. It’s from John Mellencamp, “There is nothing more sad or glorious than generations changing hands.”

Later this month, I will be presenting a lecture for the Virginia Art Education Association on the work of Stanley, specifically the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial and how his work can be used in the classroom. Our family had a reunion at the dedication of this monument. I have thought a lot about legacy in the last several months. Stanley left behind a large looming legacy in our family.

Painting with my grandson. Do not use photo without permission.

Painting with my grandson. Do not use photo without permission.

I often wonder what kind of art influence I am nurturing among my family and friends; hopefully those art camps with my children in my garage, drawing and painting with my grandson, painting rocks with my nieces and nephews at the lake house and family crafts at Thanksgiving will become more than a memory..hopefully it will become something that will transcend beyond the changing of hands for generations to come.

Sustainable Design


Sustainable-of, relating to, or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged—Merriam-Webster

My students are working in small groups to design a sustainable city. It’s actually an application of a lesson in linear perspective. First, we discuss the detrimental effects of things like pollution and plastics on our environment. Next, we talk about city design. We look at ways that some communities are dealing with these issues. I teach in a religious school, so we also talk about how we should be “good stewards” of this gift of our Creator.


Next I discuss the roles of each member of this “City Design Group.”

Project Manager-Facilitator who works with all members to make sure that everything is going smoothly and that the list of criteria is being followed.

Bid Manager/Writer-This person writes down all suggestions and keeps a tally of what everyone needs to accomplish the task.

Time Keeper/Monitor- This person is in charge of keeping everything on schedule and watches the clock for 5 minutes of clean-up before class ends.

Architect- This person draws out the city that is decided upon by the group. Others may help add color, but this person does the drawing.


As I walk around and observe the process of these students learning to work together, I remind them that all ideas that group members offer should be considered. It is the Project Manager’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has a voice. I also began to notice a trend. The students who were working most cooperatively, giving everyone a voice, supporting one another in their roles, seem to make the most progress in their work.

In one group, a student architect “demanded” that he be allowed to just do his own job without any interference. This dispute seemed to be causing his group to make little progress. I also noticed that the other group members seemed to want to assume his role, because he didn’t want to listen to criticism or suggestions. When I pointed this out to them, I tried to speak from both of their perspectives. I reminded the architect that although it was his job to draw, his responsibility was to draw what is suggested by his group. If people do not feel they have a voice, they will try to assume your position. He understood. His group members nodded.


This event caused me to think about “sustainability” in a different context and from a different “perspective.” Do we realize the importance of sustaining our working relationship with others at our schools, in our homes and in our communities? Not only do we need to constantly seek new ways to keep our planet’s resources sustainable, but since we live and work together with others who think and act differently than we do, we must work hard to move past our differences and find common ground where we can work together. If we simply focus on how others are keeping us from doing our job, then we are not open to the real possibility that others may have a significant impact on how to help us do our job better. Instead of focusing on how others are not listening to us, perhaps we could focus more on listening to them. Instead of focusing on how others are never going to change, perhaps we should focus more on the direction they are moving. Giving others a voice in decision making empowers everyone to want to engage in more meaningful conversations which may help us all focus more on a unified purpose. Above all, when we engage with others, we should do so with an attitude of respect and love.

3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”- Philippians 2:3-4

By the way, that group made some progress today. When I asked what changed, they all agreed that it was because they were having more discussions and writing down more ideas. They were being energized by one another. That would be “sustainable” energy. Shine on!

First Week of School and Fresh Starts

IMG_4256 2.JPG

Okay..I have a confession to make..I have always loved the first week of a student..a parent and a teacher. The first week of school with fresh supplies, new backpacks and most of all a fresh start to a brand new year. The first day of school filled my heart with hope. I always had the sense as a student that, THIS is the year that I will pull it all together, make better grades, do all my homework, read the ENTIRE book assigned and never be late for school again. I projected that great expectation to my children as we shopped K-Mart for the coolest super-hero lunch boxes and Lisa Frank know the ones..and as the student lists unfolded before our eyes on decorated doors we entered the classroom together. I still occasionally call my grown children to see how they're doing with ballpoint pens when I see the back-to-school sales at Office Depot. Old habits are hard to break.

 As a teacher I have those same feelings of renewal. I want to be a better teacher this year. I want to engage my students more. I want to give them more choices and instill more independency in their art making. I want to ask more questions instead of giving more answers. I want to learn new skills and be introduced to new materials so that I can share them. I want to learn what I can do to be a better teacher. And I really feel that THIS is the year! I need to remember that my students feel that way too. So, although its a good idea to spend the first week going over rules, procedures and expectations, it's also a good idea to set aside a little time to give them a reason to want to come back tomorrow. So, on Friday of the first week of school, we set the syllabus and made a little macramé swag for their portfolios. After all, they have brand new portfolios and it's a brand new year!


Share Like An Art Teacher!

Debi Dunavant West and me at NAEA18.

Debi Dunavant West and me at NAEA18.

Debi Dunavant West has a saying she uses quite a lot, "Together We Art Better." She ought to know. She has received numerous awards for teaching including Georgia State Educator of the Year (2009) and National Elementary Art Educator of the Year (2005). There are more. Her students have received numerous awards as well. She is a powerful speaker/motivator. She also writes for several national publications. Debi believes in sharing. I do too.

Early in my art career, I was hesitant to share. Probably insecurity. It followed me early into my art teaching career. Not sure why. I guess I thought that I wanted to be the only person with such a great idea. Which in itself is a bad idea. Then after attending my first NAEA Convention, I realized that I was indeed NOT the only art teacher with good ideas. (Someone else designed cereal boxes? Really?) I was amazed at how freely the presenters shared what worked for them. That inspired me to "grab" what I could from others and give back what had worked for me in the classroom. 

Donalyn and me Co-Presenting at NAEA Convention in 2009.

Donalyn and me Co-Presenting at NAEA Convention in 2009.

Then in 2007, I was recruited by The University of Memphis to teach Art Education. Sharing became a way of life for me. It became the kind of giving with no regrets. My colleague at the university, Dr. Donalyn Heise modeled that kind of giving for me. Knowing that what I had learned, lessons that rocked, methods that motivated could be multiplied into the classrooms of others was exhilarating! When I returned to the classroom, I was then able to use my own advice, tweak some old lessons and create new ones, based on the feeling that what I was doing could be shared later with others I sometimes mentor. That's also where this blog came from as well as my YouTube Channel demos.

Nancy Walkup and me at NAEA 18 SchoolArts Vendors Booth.

Nancy Walkup and me at NAEA 18 SchoolArts Vendors Booth.

Writing has now also become a way of mentoring. I primarily write for SchoolArts Magazine. This has been a wonderful way for me to share and also inspires me to create new lessons, try them out and then write about them. I take lots of high quality images of students working, as well as photos of materials set up and products. When I know that I might write about it, I send out media permissions for parents to sign, so I'll be ready to submit.

If you have a great lesson, that's never been published, I highly recommend that you submit the lesson to a publication like SchoolArts in order to share it. Nancy Walkup is the Editor.
The link for the Writers Guidelines is below:

Here is one of the latest article I had published. It appeared in the March 2018 issue which was distributed at the NAEA 2018 Convention in Seattle. Enjoy and uh...feel free to Share Like An Art Teacher!

Getting Back to the Basics-Exerpt from My MTAEA Keynote


On May 30, I delivered a Keynote Address to the Middle Tennessee Art Teachers at The Frist in Nashville. This was not my first presentation, but it was my first keynote. For weeks I deliberated over what to say and how to say it until I was reminded that it might be better to think about what those teachers needed to hear at the close of the school year. Or as a retired teacher-friend reminded me, "Remember, Mel, they are exhausted." Once I focused on them instead of myself, everything fell into place. Here are a few excerpts. If you are a teacher too, I hope it will uplift and encourage you.

Today I'd like to explore two basic questions: 1) How can we motivate students? and 2) How can we motivate ourselves? We are, at times, oceans apart from our students..socially, demographically, emotionally…We don’t always know what’s going on in their heads or their lives..we might THINK we do. And we also probably have no idea how much it means for them to come to art. Art class for these students can be more than a place where they learn about the Principles of Art and Design, or where they learn to identify masterpieces, or where they learn skills, techniques and methods. It can be more that a place where they learn to draw..forms. Don't get me wrong, these things are important but they cannot be all that we teach anymore. We have to help students utilize these tools to make connections and respond to the world around them.


Can we make students LIKE art? No. But we can design lessons where their concerns are addressed and where they feel connected. Can we make students HATE art? Absolutely. Isn't that scary? However, if we give students more choices within their lessons, and if we design lessons they can relate to, art class can be that place where they feel safe to express their own uniquely wonderful voice.

How can we motivate ourselves? 1) Find an Interest (unrelated to teaching). Not only do we need a break, but it will make us more interesting as teachers. 2) Find a Workshop. Learning new skills and techniques always seems to rejuvenate my teaching! 3) Find a Group. Following a positive professional group of art educators via social media or meeting for coffee or dinner regularly makes for meaningful dialogue and can be a springboard for new ideas.


A few weeks ago, I commented on a post by a discouraged art teacher. What I said to her, I'd like to say to you today. I’d like to say how much I appreciate everything you do EVERYDAY for your students. I appreciate all the worrying, planning, lifting, stacking, measuring, pouring, monitoring, CLEANING, distributing, listening, caring, inspiring, questioning, reading, writing, assessing, drawing, painting, printing, sculpting, installing, emailing, classroom managing, and teaching you do every single day and the next. I appreciate all the projects you bring home because there’s just not time enough in one day to breathe. I appreciate all the Friday’s you work until it’s too late to go to dinner with friends. I appreciate your choosing to become an art teacher..your students’ lives are different because of YOU!  You don’t make it different by teaching stuff. You make it different by showing up and unlocking a door. That door just happens to be to your classroom and it just happens to be to their imagination. You make it different because you bring them to a place where they can express how they feel about what's going on in THEIR world.


..and for 45 minutes they might be expressing how they feel about these problems or they might just be able to process they work on getting the textures just right on that collograph or fixing the crack in their ceramic slab or altering the pages of an old discarded book..or gluing snowflakes on a piece of blue construction paper. So, when they take a little longer on projects, maybe it’s because they're still working on some deeper issues...But that student who has faced those challenges this year would probably tell you, “Maybe I didn’t always show it, or tell you, but Art saved my life this year. Some days, it is why I even showed up for school. You called me by name, and you saw potential in me. I saw my friends feel better about themselves not because of art, but because of you."

Thank you, Teachers. Have a great summer! 

Armchair Studio


Some people make art daily in their lives. They are not necessarily art teachers or professional artists, but they make everything around their lives more beautiful by just living. A little illustration on the outside of a box you get in the mail, vignettes around their home, the way a table is set or food is served, and the list goes on. Several years ago, a dear friend and mentor, Lynda Letey passed away. When I went to her home in Phoenix after the service, I was especially touched by a little table next to her favorite armchair. Nestled on the small table, was a perfect basket filled with colored pencils and brushes, and beside the basket and her Bible was a sketchbook. I thought back to all the lovely notes I had received from her that included her illustrations which have always been treasures to me.

We tell our students that in order to improve their art, they need to make art and keep visual journals outside of the time they spend in the art classroom. But how many of us practice this as well? “Use it or lose it,” is a mantra that also applies to art educators. I know that unless I have an upcoming exhibit or a teaching workshop, I am spending little time in my studio upstairs and more time in my favorite chair watching British mysteries on Netflix with my family. So, I decided to set up a portable studio next to my chair, so that I will practice what I preach to my students.


I keep an assortment of supplies accessible, such as my Windsor Newton Travel Palette, a small jar of water, an inspirational magazine, an assortment of brushes, markers, drawing pens, colored pencils, drawing supplies, a set of watercolor cards and envelopes, a small pad of watercolor postcards and my sketchbook. I use images that I have taken on my cell phone for references, work from a small still life, or I just paint designs. Sometimes, I keep these small studies to send as cards to friends and family or to frame and give as gifts. One Christmas, I hand painted 350 Holiday cards and at our open house, I let everyone select a card-size painting as a parting gift. 


I am finding that the convenience and accessibility of these supplies inspires me to build a healthy habit of making art every day. And every day, I am reclaiming a personal love for making art. This enthusiasm cannot help but trickle into my teaching. Sometimes I will share with students what I am painting from this little nook. Hopefully my practice will inspire them as well to make art daily in their lives. 


The Power of Staples

Richard Lou addressing art teachers at the West TN Art Ed Spring Conference. Photo by Melody Weintraub

Richard Lou addressing art teachers at the West TN Art Ed Spring Conference. Photo by Melody Weintraub

"Art That Builds Community," was the theme of our West Tennessee Art Ed Spring Conference yesterday at The University of Memphis (UM). Our Keynote address was given by Richard Lou, UM Art Department Chair. He started his talk by first commending the group for choosing to teach art. He then shared the impact that those who taught him about art made on his early life. Next he took us on a visual journey through a project he was part of in the early 90's, "The Borders Sutures Project, " where he and a team of artists traveled the boundaries between Mexico and The United States placing large iron staples in the earth between the borders to make a statement about healing. I was emotionally impacted to see the power of art to communicate a message so passionately and peacefully. It impacted me on multiple levels.

"Ceramic Cherub," glazed by Ruth Hryhorchuk (circa 1968). Photo by Melody Weintraub.

"Ceramic Cherub," glazed by Ruth Hryhorchuk (circa 1968). Photo by Melody Weintraub.

The healing aspect of the project reminded me of the ways that I have witnessed art being used therapeutically as people I know have faced adversity. I recalled how my sweet mother took a ceramics class in the late 60's as she went through cancer treatment. I thought of the oil painting class my mother-in-law and I attended when her daughter passed away. I think of countless individuals who took my community watercolor classes to "escape" life changes. I think of how art has been my healing balm time and time again. Even my children's book, "The Little Bluebird," began as a personal memorial gift for my dear friend after the loss of her young son. Some of the most powerful and memorable art in the world was created out of a need to make sense of life.


"Broken," by 8th Grade student. Photo by Melody Weintraub. 

"Broken," by 8th Grade student. Photo by Melody Weintraub. 

Then my thoughts turn to the staples from "The Sutures Project," and how staples hold things together to keep them from falling apart, as Richard said, "So that the healing can begin." I teach middle school, so I have always seen my role as an educator more as a directional guide as students face the crossroads of life. However, after hearing Richard's talk and seeing the staples, I see that as art educators, we are also the staples. The art classroom can be that place that is the constant for these students, the stability through the instability of life. The safe place where students can reflect and express their emotional responses to the situations they face. Art class can be the constant until the healing can begin. As a teacher in a religious school, I can remind students of their faith that transcends any temporal issue. Or as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently penned, "Faith is taking the first step when you don't see the whole staircase." But all art teachers can remind students of the power of art to express, to heal and  to make a difference in a world that at times seems like it is falling apart. Perhaps the best way to remind them is to model this in our own lives and to never underestimate the power of staples. 



As we approach the last couple of months of the school year, my 8th Grade Honors Art students are working on a grid drawing of an assortment of candy. This project began as a photo project which began as a composition project. Since I love to weave "choice" into my lessons whenever possible, I asked students for a list of candy I should buy for this lesson. They complied. Imagine that! After I supplied all of the delectable delights Walgreens had to offer, students were instructed to choose an odd number and variety of candy, and to position the candy in a random fashion on a piece of white paper. Next students were to take a cropped photo of this assemblage. I spoke briefly to them about camera angles and lighting and showed them how to enhance the lighting on their iPhones. They then printed their photos out and, using a grid transparency, they made another copy of the photos. They could skip the last step, if they used a GRID App to take the photo in the first place. Next students lightly drew a one-inch grid on the surface of a 15 x 20-inch piece of illustration board. 

Since this wasn't the first time these students had done a grid drawing, I gave them a few tips and told them if they needed to review, they could revisit my YouTube Channel's Lesson on Drawing Using a Grid which is posted at the end of this entry. They began with a line drawing which I periodically checked for accuracy. Some of them are now at the point where they will begin shading the drawing this week, referring to the gradient scale they made back in the Fall.

After students finish shading, they will add watercolor and colored pencil to complete this realistic drawing. Yes, they will add these right on top of the graphite.

I have been working on this project along with the students; drawing and painting a little ahead, so that I can better guide them with this lesson. It also seems to be inspirational for them to see my painting develop. However, they are all working at a different pace. And this project is a perfect example of how students approach learning differently.

Some of the students who are naturally talented at sketching, or who sketch a lot, seem to veer away from the grid and use a little “artistic license” when it comes to using the photo reference. Others move slower constantly having to find their place on the grid, while still others who meticulously follow the grid are pleasantly surprised at how well their drawings are coming together. 

As a teacher, I want my students to know my expectations, but I do not want to “standardize” their outcomes. I want them to learn from this project, I want them to stretch their talents and skills, but most of all, I want them to have a positive learning experience. I know that not all of their drawings will be at the same skill level. But it is my hope that each child will find something learned from this lesson that will help them with the next, or cause them to look a little closer at a work of art in a gallery, or notice how the Friday night lights effect the Tootsie Pop they buy at the ballgame.