New Work by the Sun Room

It was so nice to have a helper for my Sun Room classes last Tuesday. It gave me a chance to sit down with each of the children and do a quick walk through their portfolio. Some had taken home most of their work and the portfolio was empty or almost empty, others had saved every piece of paper they drew on this year. I asked each artist to pick a work they feel is a W.O.W. (Wonderful, Original, Work of Art) so I could hang it up. Here is a selection of some of the chosen pieces. To see more, check out the bulletin board at the bottom of the back stairs. The work showcased includes drawing and collage media.

“Flying Pizzas” by Ivo (scratch art)
Tissue Collage by Kayla


“Banana Boy” by Brody
“Cyborg Frog Puppet” by Jasper


Photo Collage by India
Colored Pencil Drawing by Sophia

Drawing (K-8)

Drawing with Pen and Ink

I always like to start the school year with drawing. I think of drawing as the foundation of all art, no matter what the medium. It is important to draw. Lessons this year started with:

*all the ways to use a #2 pencil to draw

*colored pencils


*oil pastels

*drawing from life (I have some plastic animals for the children to draw)

*drawing from images (I have some “how to draw” books and books filled with images)

*markers (Crayola and Sharpie)


*texture plates



*pen and ink

*charcoal and chalk pastel


*scratch art (manufactured paper and homemade)

*oil pastel transfers


*using clipboards

*using magnifying lenses

All of the above were covered in K-8 classes to varying degrees of complexity and speed. Students learned that artists create from what they see, what they feel, what they imagine, and what they remember. As materials were introduced, the children chose their subject matter and materials. They are producing a huge variety of projects!

Drawing with Pastel


Talking to Your Child About Their Art

The artwork coming home is going to look different this year. For the younger students, it may be scribbles for a while! Many students are first experimenting with different art making materials. The depth of the work will increase over time. As they discover new techniques, students will no longer be afraid to take risks. Student creativity will evolve as they go through the learning process.

What can you do?

  • Be open to student art that looks different than what you are used to.
  • Ask the artist (student) questions like:
  1. What is this artwork about?
  2. Where did you get this idea?
  3. What inspired you?
  4. How did you make this?
  5. Why is this important to you?
  6. What was your favorite part of making this?

“Arts and music education programs are mandatory in countries that rank consistently among the highest for math and science test scores, like Japan, Hungary, and the Netherlands.” (Lessons from PISA for the United States, Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education”, OECD Publishing, 2011)

What Happens in the Synergy Art Studio?

What Happens in the Synergy Art Studio?

I see all the students in 50-minute class periods. Kindergarten through grade three is twice a week, and fourth through eighth grade is once a week.

The minutes below are a rough estimation of how class time is spent:

3 Minutes       Students arrive to class and get settled

7 Minutes       Mini Lesson (Introduce a center, technique, studio habit, artist, style, process, etc)

30 Minutes    Art making, small group instruction, assessment, collaboration, conferencing
with teacher

5 Minutes       Clean Up

5 Minutes       Reflect, share, critique

Students create their own projects. For those who are stuck, I remind them that artists create art from what they see, what they remember, what they feel, and what they imagine. I am also working on a list of big ideas for the artists who are really blocked.

Max sharing his pigeon drawing!
Pigeons visiting the art room, charcoal on paper, by Max I.

Potential Centers:




Recycled Materials Sculpture


Print Making

Fiber Arts

Puppet Making

Book Making


Jewelry Making

Digital Art

Mask Making

And More…

Being that this is my first year introducing TAB, I don’t expect to open all the centers above. As students become more comfortable with the process and show success in taking out and returning materials in a neat and timely manner, more materials will become available. I am told it takes a couple years to achieve the ideal flow, engagement, and production of art. Knowing the Synergy students, they will probably be a little faster than average (in my humble opinion)!

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.” (Albert Einstein)


The Eight Studio Habits of Mind

Over a decade ago, researchers Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Shirley Veenema and Kimberly M. Sheridan with Harvard’s “Project Zero” (an organization focused on studying and improving arts education) identified The Studio Habits of Mind. The research breaks down artistic practice into eight studio habits. By introducing the habits into the art room, students become more mindful about their practice.

I will be introducing the habits to the Synergy artists one at a time throughout the year. Middle school students will be using a rubric of the studio habits to reflect on their strengths as artists and look for ways to improve their practice.

1. Develop Craft

Improving your art skills through practice. Learning more about your art idea. Seeing connections between your art and the work of others. Learning to organize and care for your art materials, tools, and art making space.

*I can practice new art skills and techniques

*I can improve my existing skills and techniques

*I can experiment with new art materials

2. Engage and Persist

Focus on your work and stick with it, even when it gets hard.

*I can create art from sketch to final piece

*I can turn mistakes into new beginnings

*I can focus my attention on my artwork

*I can use my time in art productively

3. Envision

Picture ideas in your head plan the next steps in your mind as you work. Ask yourself: what will my art be about? What materials will I use? How big will it be? How long will it take?

*I can plan the next steps of my project

*I can generate ideas through sketches

*I can design and imagine what I hope to make.

4. Express

Learning to create works that convey an idea, feeling, or personal meaning. Your expression changes with your choice of: Ideas, Media, and Techniques.

*I can create art that tells a story

*I can create art that shows a mood

*I can explain why I made my art.

5. Observe

Taking time to notice details in your environment through sight, touch, taste, sound and smell.

*I can observe objects closely and draw what I see.

*I can identify shapes in objects and draw them

*I can draw from imagination. I can do this because I observe objects closely for details

*I can learn from other artist by looking closely at their art.

*I can look closely at the world around me.

6. Reflect

Looking back on the work you have done (may include talking and writing).

Ask yourself: What’s working and why? What’s not working? Why not? What can I add? What can I change? How can I challenge myself further?

*I can learn to talk about my art

*I can think about new things I discovered…

*I can look back and make changes and additions to my work

7. Stretch and Explore

Trying things that might be difficult and discovering new ideas and ways of working.

*I can use mistakes as an opportunity to learn.

*I can experiment with new materials and ideas.

*I can try new things.

8. Understand Art World

Learning about art history, see how contemporary artists make art, understand the roles of artists, galleries and museums.

*I can learn from other artists by looking closely at their art.

*I can interact as an artist with other artists.

*I can observe art from other cultures.

*I can create art inspired by other culture’s art.

“Here’s to the [creative] ones who see things differently. They push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.” (Steve Jobs)

Official “Project Zero” website:

Buy a copy of “Studio Thinking 2”:

What is TAB?

Greetings and welcome to the 2017-2018 school year!

As a career educator, I am always pushing myself to learn more about the craft of teaching. Over the years I found myself wanting to give my students a more authentic and meaningful art experience, one that would not only build student creativity and confidence, but also help them build thinking skills that could be used in their future, regardless of if they go into an art career or not.

Drawing with the Rainbow Room

A year ago I discovered TAB in a presentation at the California Art Educators Conference. “Teaching for Artistic Behavior (TAB) is a style of choice-based art education that focuses on the students, their interests, and their ideas. Students are viewed as authentic artists, and groups of materials are made available and introduced to the students one by one.” (Douglas & Jaquith, “Engaging Learners Through Artmaking”, 2009.) I immediately started reading every book and article I could on the pedagogy and experimented with implementing aspects of TAB in some of my classes. Over the summer I had the privilege of attending a week of TAB training at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in Boston. The authors of the TAB books as well as other experienced educators taught the class. It was by far the best teacher training I have ever attended. I came home filled with inspiration and ideas, ready to implement TAB at Synergy School.

Waiting for the T with my TAB classmates!

As a TAB art teacher my work is to guide students as they explore their artistic thoughts and abilities. They will work and grow at their own pace. I will introduce the students to art materials and techniques, as well as other artists in history. With TAB I will encourage them to look inward to give their artwork personal meaning and purpose. Students will be encouraged to challenge themselves by trying new things, and facing “mistakes” as learning opportunities. I will help them develop skills and abilities for the future.

Students Will:

*Express and explore their original thought and ideas

*Value and respect the thoughts and ideas of their peers

*Collaborate with peers

*Work independently

*Learn responsibility and time management

*Solve problems and ask questions

*Learn to research, plan, execute, and modify their art and ideas

*Experiment, invent, create, and learn through the use of art and art materials

*Learn from mistakes rather than fear them

*Overcome challenges

*Reflect on their work and learning process

*Grow as learners and thinkers

*Make choices about their artwork

*Think creativity

*Contribute to their school community

*Nurture their identity and voice

*Create and invent with a purpose

*Be acknowledged as artists

*And more…

Students Will Not:

*Create meaningless reproductions or copies of famous artworks

*Have their “neatness” or “craftsmanship” valued over their ideas

*Create things that have little or no meaning/purpose to them as artists and individuals

*Create nearly identical works as their peers

*Doubt their creative abilities

*Grow up to hate art

*Have a “free for all” or “just do whatever they want”

Drawing with the Sun Room

The Three Pillars of TAB:

  1. The student is the artist
  2. The art room is the child’s studio
  3. What do artist’s do?

TAB is a nationally recognized, choice-based (studio/learning) centers approach to teaching art. Choice-based teaching and learning delivers in-depth curriculum in the context of student-centered work. This art teaching concept allows curriculum to be presented in-depth within the context of work chosen by student artists. Given broad responsibilities and high standards, children are able to organize their reality into authentic images.

Children’s art is not adult art; therefore the aesthetic value that is placed upon children’s art should be focused on the learning that takes place. The authenticity is in the creative problem solving and intrinsic motivation that takes place within a choice-based model.

The stages of artistic development follow the same sequence for every student, yet they do not happen at the same age for everyone. TAB naturally differentiates learning, because students can learn and explore at their own pace.

I have a lot more to say of the subject of TAB and art education at Synergy, so I’m going to break up my thoughts into multiple blog posts. I hope you find this as helpful, interesting and inspiring as I do!

“Creative people invent, imagine, problem-solve, create, and communicate in fresh, new ways. Every business requires creative thinkers in the form of scientists, engineers, medical researchers, technology innovators, business entrepreneurs, artists, performers, writers and illustrators, designers, inventors, educators and parents. Those with the ability to “think outside the box” will lead the future and make special things happen.” (Crayola 2017)

For the Official TAB website, check out:

George shares his newest creation!

Middle School Curriculum Night

Hi Everyone!

Welcome to the 2017-2018 school year! I’m so happy to be here and teaching art to all the wonderful Synergy kids. Tonight I will be doing a 2 minute or less presentation about the art program at our middle school curriculum night. Because it is so short I have opted not to project my PowerPoint presentation. I’m posting my slide show here so you can see what I have worked on. Some exciting changes are happening to the program. I will be posting more information as I catch my breath with the always hectic start of school.  Please ask me questions! I love to talk about art education!  Click here:


Art to See This Summer

Happy Last Day of the 2016-2017 School Year!

Abstraction by Jemma

I always remind the children that if you go on a trip, make sure you check out any art museums where you go. Also, bring a sketchbook and camera. Whether you are visiting Paris, France or a local park, there are inspiring visuals everywhere.

Here are some wonderful exhibits to see right here in the Bay Area this summer:

SFMOMA, San Francisco

Edvard Munch – June 24 – October 9


DeYoung, San Francisco

Stuart Davis – April 1 – August 6


Legion of Honor, San Francisco

Degas, Impressionism, and the Paris Millinery Trade – June 24 – September 24


Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

Flower Power – June 23 – October 1


Oakland Museum, Oakland

Roy De Forest – April 29 – August 20

Dorothea Lang – May 13 – August 13


Other museums:

MOAD, San Francisco

BAMPFA, Berkeley

Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford

San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose

Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento

Biographical Puppets by the Sun Room

Sacajawea by Maggie M.
Hellen Keller by Brody
Coretta Scott King by Maggie O.

The Sun Room has been studying biographies of famous people. I helped out with the puppet part of the project. The children came to art class with books about their chosen person. I gave each of them a pre-made (plain) canvas puppet. On the first day they painted the front and back of their person’s clothes with acrylic.

On another day, they traced templates for hands and the face on felt that was similar to their their subject’s skin color. The felt was cut out. The children were instructed on how to use hot glue and they attached the felt and other objects. It took at least one more class to finish. Yarn hair was attached and the pupped were made to hold something that had meaning to them. Other materials used were buttons, pipe cleaners, feathers, beads, cardboard, paper, and popsicle sticks. It was fun to watch everyone working. The class was very focused and attached to their work.

Albert Einstein by Leo Y.
Neil Armstrong by Ishaan
John Brown by Jaro


Figurative Independent Study by 7th Grade

Figurative Independent Study by Lauren
Figurative Independent Study by Zoe
Figurative Independent Study by Nikolai
Figurative Independent Study by JP

The human face and figure can be among the most challenging things to render. For the past few months the 7th grade has been practicing! First, the students were guided in drawing a generic face with proportion. This was followed up with a one day self-portrait done in pencil. We moved on to the figure and the students were guided in drawing a person with proportion. In another class, figures were drawn in various active positions using basic shapes.

Finally, they were asked to create an artwork of their choice using the human face or figure with proportion. How this was interpreted was up to them. I asked the class to look to other artists or styles they like, consider self-portraits or portraits of people they know, apply the project to issues they are passionate about, or just focus on materials and go from there. Students used paper maché, acrylic paint on canvas board, tempera paint on paper, watercolor, pencil, marker, collage, and glitter. Here are some of the finished pieces. They are varied, expressive and thought provoking.

Figurative Independent Study by Griffin
Figurative Independent Study by Sasha H.
Figurative Independent Study by Liam
Figurative Independent Study by Clint
Figurative Independent Study by Hana


Daily Monster by the Eastenders and Skylights

Daily Monster by Jason
Daily Monster by Cecile
Daily Monster by Francis

For this project I introduced the students to Stefan G Bucher’s “Daily Monster” website. Bucher is a British artist and designer. He splatters a little ink on a sheet of paper, blows it across the page with an condensed air canister, and makes the ink design into a monster by drawing with markers. He has created hundreds of monsters! I highly recommend checking out his website. Bucher has hundreds of videos of the monsters being drawn, images, his monster book, an app, and even a class in monster making!

For this project, we watched a few short videos of monsters being created and the “First Hundred Monsters” video. The children dropped a little ink or liquid watercolor onto their paper. They used a straw to blow the ink. When dry, they turned their paper different directions and made their ink design into a monster. We talked about using different thicknesses of markers to vary the line and add details. Students also added details with colored pencils, rubber stamps, and stencils.  This project forced us to use the right side of our brains and think creatively!

Daily Monster by Milo
Daily Monster by Siena
Daily Monster by Julian

Paul Klee Inspired Paintings by 6th Grade

Paul Klee (Emotion and Color Painting) by Sam
Paul Klee (Emotion and Color Painting) by Mase
Paul Klee (Emotion and Color Painting) by Olivia

This lesson was an exploration in color and feeling. After looking at paintings by Paul Klee and a short discussion about color evoking emotions, the students were guided in making a list. They listed three emotions, next to each emotion they wrote the name of a color and type of line that reflects that emotion. For example, happy = yellow = wavy line. The children chose one of their emotions and drew lines that went with it.

For the painting portion of the project, the students painted the shapes formed by their lines. The rule was, every color they painted needed to have their chosen color mixed into it. So, like in the example given above, they would need to mix yellow with everything before painting. The result is a fantastic exploration of color filled with surprises and new learning.

We looked at some of Paul Klee’s drawings. His delicate, bold, and always expressive and playful lines offer inspiration. The students turned their painting different directions to see what it reminded them of. Once they had an idea, they painted their design/picture/shapes on top using black line.

The result is a collection of unique, colorful, expressive works of art.

Paul Klee (Emotion and Color Painting) by Taé Aurie
Paul Klee (Emotion and Color Painting) by Diego
Paul Klee (Emotion and Color Painting) by Nithan


Zentangles by 8th Grade

Zentangle by Anaya
Zentangle by Annabel

This was a drawing project focusing on pattern and design. I showed the students images of various Zentangles and gave them a practice packet. They experimented with patterns based on the Elements of Art and Principles of Design. In a Zentangle, the artist draws an outline shape, then fills the shape with “strings” (lines that divide the shape into parts), then fills each section with a “tangle” or pattern. Patterns may include, line, shape, color, value, or more. The “Zen” in Zentangle comes from quiet meditative experience of drawing repetitive patterns. The work on this post is in various stages of being finished and includes different interpretations of the assignment. Most students worked with pencil, colored pencil, Sharpie, or a combination of all three.

Zentangle by Benito
Zentangle by Sam
Zentangle by Anaya

Collagraphs by the Rainbow Room

Yarn Print by Zev
Yarn Print by India (includes a print reworked with marker)

I love collagraph prints. Collagraphs are made by gluing objects to a board (such as cardboard). In this project, the students worked with yarn. It was cut and glued to a sheet of cardboard. Some created recognizable scenes, others worked non-representationally. When dry, the children chose an ink color. I demonstrated how to ink a plexiglass plate using a brayer, and apply the ink to the printing plate. Every student made four prints. We discussed how some prints will come out better than others, a natural part of the printing process. When the prints were dry, some students reworked them with markers and colored pencils.

Yarn Print by Pia
Yarn Print by Ivo (includes a print reworked with marker)

Synergeyes Art Show 2017

Front Hall with 6th grade Chia Pets
Downstairs Hall with Rainbow, Sun, and Star Room Art
Upstairs Hall with 6th, 7th and 8th Grade Art
Work by the Eastenders and Skylights at the Top of the Back Stairs
Shoe Drawings by the Eastenders and Skylights

Friday, April 28th was the 5th Annual Synergeyes Art Show! Here are a few pictures I took right before the show opened and as the event was happening. The school was packed with art! We had a great turnout. Folks snacked in the big room, took a tour of the “galleries”, made collages in the art room, and listened to a special performance of “Soul Rat” our middle school neo soul band. It was a fun and special night for everyone. Thank you so much for attending, and a huge thank you to the Art Committee for their hard work.

Collage Making in the Art Room
Collage Making in the Art Room
Collage Making in the Art Room
Collage Making in the Art Room
The Tour Begins
Griffin Explains the Butterfly Making Process
Docent Tour
“Soul Rat” Getting Ready to Perform in the Big Room
Enjoying the Sounds of “Soul Rat”

Chia Pets by the 6th Grade

Chia Pets by Argus and Barasa
Chia Pets by Gemma and Nithan

This year’s clay project was making chia pets! The students looked at many examples of chia pets, from the traditional to child made. They started by making a pinch pot with clay and closing the top lip enough to allow for a small opening. Parts were added and attached using a scoring technique. Finally, ridges were drawn in the areas where the seeds would go. After firing, the “pet” was glazed everywhere expect the bottom and where the seeds would sprout. After the glaze fire, soaked chia seeds were applied to the ridges. The chia pets were filled with water, spritzed, and placed in a tray of shallow water so the clay would soak up the moisture. I am thrilled they are sprouting! They are only about a week old in these pictures and will hopefully continue to sprout and look like bushy chia pets.

Chia Pets by Aidan and Avery
Chia Pets by Julius and Emiliano
Chia Pets by Sam, Olivia, and Ryden

Synergeyes Art Show 2017

Hey Everyone!

It’s that time again! The Synergy Art Show is this Friday, April 28th from 6-8pm at Synergy School! This is the 5th Anniversary of Synergeyes!!! We have an awesome line-up.

*2-4 works of art on display per student

*Docent tours by Pam at 6:30 and 7:30

*Collage making in the art room

*Snacks/refreshments in the Big Room

*Lastly, the art show is the debut of “Hey Dan” our awesome middle school neo soul band. They are going to perform several songs for you in the Big Room at 7pm.

I’m really looking forward to celebrating Synergy’s creativity with you!

“Hey Dan” performing at 7pm

Pinch Pot Monsters by the Eastenders and Skylights

Pinch Pot Monsters by Oliver, Ruby, and Vivien
Pinch Pot Monsters by Marcus, Zoe and Solomon

For this year’s big ceramic project, the Eastenders and Skylights made pinch pot monsters! I reviewed how to make a pinch pot and how to score clay to attach pieces. We brainstormed all the things a monster might have and how to add texture to their piece. They could make any kind of monster they wanted so there is a great variety of creatures. After firing the monsters were coated them with 2-3 layers of glaze and fired again. They are on display in the display case next to the art room.

Pinch Pot Monsters by Naomi, Marina, and Noa
Pinch Pot Monsters by Owen, Sophia L, and Simone

Color Mixing Challenge by 1st and 2nd Grade

Rising Fire Color by Lila
Swamp Water Color by Mikel
The Spy Color by Zoe

This project was started on a studio day. I demonstrated how one might make their own tempera paint color swatch, similar to the ones picked up at the hardware store when buying house paint. The challenge was to create at least 100 colors. I demonstrated how to put colors on a palette and mix. The new color was painted on a card. I then slowly added white in increments and painted the color getting lighter. When I finished I named my color. Many students were drawn to this center and they created a total of 56 colors over two class periods. I love the colors, but I think I love the names even more. Very poetic and mysterious!

Bone Dry Water Color by Jasper
Work Color by Kayla

Pinch Pot Animals by the Rainbow Room

Pinch Pot Cow by Ollie
Pinch Pot Owl by Rei

For this project the students were given the task of combining an animal with a pinch pot in clay. I started by showing them lots of examples of student and professional made ceramic pinch pot animals. They sketched their ideas on a sheet of scrap paper. I demonstrated how to make a pinch pot and how to add pieces using scoring so they don’t fall off. As the children worked, some chose to use reference tools to see what their animal looked like, while others worked from memory. After drying for a couple weeks and firing in the kiln, the students applied 3 layers of glaze and the work was fired a final time.

Pinch Pot Pig by Kayla
Pinch Pot Sea Turtle by Zalli