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Chalkboard artists. (Children's art diary).

During a morning visit to the school office, I noticed two boys nervously waiting to see the principal. They were polishing their excuses for being caught drawing on the chalkboard. "It was a picture of my new puppy, so Eric could see him," one boy explained. I wish I could have seen this great drawing, I thought to myself.

The chalkboard is the largest canvas in most classrooms, and its magic surface is a great temptation to children. A big board is a public space to advertise one's presence and dreams through art. It is also a private place that feels good to mark, leave carefree doodles, and sneak some fast lines. It has a funny-sounding surface that is mysteriously erasable, just what a fun art canvas should be. I felt sorry for the chalkboard artists awaiting punishment and thought of the many school surfaces that could be prime canvases if they were not off limits to children.

ATTENDANCE ART "Yes," "Here," "Present," are familiar sounds of role call. In the art room, we take role on the chalkboard by having students sign a sketch of their favorite lunch box. Children are welcomed to the art room by art. We regularly ask students for quick sketches as a form of attendance-taking and a secret clue to the day's lesson. Being welcomed at the chalkboard suggests to students that the art room is their studio and every surface can be used for art. New chalk shapes, and new or unusual colors, wait to be discovered beneath the board.

One day, attendance is taken by custom-frosting birthday cakes. Another class signs in by creating personal license plates. At the start of the school year, frames, silhouettes and grids divide the chalkboard, offering individual plots to everyone. As the school year progresses and artists loosen up, fewer fences between artists are required.

TIME-0UT Time-out is not a form of punishment, but an acknowledgement that artists of all ages need and often benefit from briefly walking away from their work-in-progress--or a piece just completed. Students in our art class take a time-out by gravitating to the chalkboard to draw and doodle on it. A continuous opportunity to make playful marks, to just have fun with lines, to scribble, needs to be a legitimate part of the artist's day. Drawing on the chalkboard does not threaten grades or involve fine-art paper fears. Children drawn to the chalkboard stand there, as if before a mirror, just being themselves.

A PLACE WE MEET I have my morning cup of coffee and then start to draw. This is not my private studio, but I like to greet the student who will be coming in with happy markings on the chalkboard. To be an artist in my classroom, I cannot set up an easel every day, but I can be playful and inventive on the board that students will also be using.

Students are very aware of any new marks on the board each day and don't hesitate to praise or even make fun of my images. But there we are, side by side, in art dialogues that could not exist over individual art papers. I certainly would not draw on anyone's art, but we can comfortably share the vast chalkboard space. This "morning art" is a means to welcome artists, to playfully suggest the day's lesson, and it just feels so good for the art teacher to start each day by making art.

THE REHEARSAL STAGE Fact or myth? The visions of great artists are so well defined, that they simply place flawless marks on an art surface. Great artists simply don't make mistakes and therefore don't need to make changes or corrections during the art process. When children look at an artist's product hanging on a museum wall, it all seems to fit, and little remains of the battleground that may have been the artist's canvas.

Viewing school reproductions of art also makes it difficult to understand, and like dancers and musicians, the visual artist requires extensive rehearsal. The fact is that art making is a long journey for all artists, from the first mark placed on a surface, through the many difficult changes, adjustments and constant choices that follow. A challenge of art teaching is to portray the art process realistically, to explore building and taking apart, to examine the risks in making marks and the courage required to erase them.

In our classes, we make drawings in the air and erase them with magic erasers. We rehearse drawing with real erasers on paper and chalkboards. Rehearsals may take place on throw-away materials like napkins able surfaces like laptop computers. Each art session has to offer rehearsal time using media and surfaces that are easily changeable. In deciding on changes, students learn from their art, which itself becomes their lifelong art teacher. In school, we need to provide rehearsal stages such as chalkboards for young artists to test their ideas and to feel comfortable with being an artist who makes constant changes.

LAPTOPS I have a big bundle of art-room keys held together by a tiny chalkboard key chain. Since it is hard to find chalk small enough to use on this miniature board, we make our own chalk in paper-cup molds, filled with unusual color mixes. We use a variety of laptop chalkboards to accompany us on outdoor trips and classroom adventures.

Art teaching should always include learning from observing home players, so we adopt chalkboards for menu art in class food plays, or use them to advertise the upcoming stars of art-room circus performances. Students are fascinated by my collection of old chalkboards that children in the past carried to their art classes. I share fine slate boards framed in oak and others with built in paper stencils. Beautifully illustrated, old chalk boxes are also a part of the rich visual history of the chalkboard.

An art class is always an unofficial test site and should be the first place to try new and exciting products. Students are eager to review a new neon board, many new wipe-off boards, Etch-A-Sketch[R], Magna Doodle[R] and exciting computerized drawing boards. Test drawings from new boards can be traced, scanned or photocopied for preservation.

Children who play with their art tools as they would with a toy don't mechanically grip the tools like school utensils. Of course kids also explore a sandbox more freely than a school drawing paper. Laptop boards have the advantage of being viewed as a play surface, to be steered across freely and explored inventively.

BULLETIN-BOARD ARTISTS A recent gallery exhibit celebrating children's art featured 25 bulletin boards originally found hanging in children's rooms. It was the culmination of a longtime dream of mine to bring these great art treasures to public attention. Children are constantly renovating and rearranging their bulletin boards, using photo stickers, elegant candy wrappers, hall passes, school souvenirs and tickets from memorable events. Bulletin boards become an intricate design of personal collections.

Children's design education is not based on adult design formulas, but instead derives from their vast experiences decorating with select objects over informal surfaces. Pre-framed corkboards, reframed with stickers and colorful Band-Aids[R], are significant art canvases in children's artistic lives. Although there are many corkboards for purchase, children in our art class enjoy the smell and feel of unrolling long "highways" of cork and stretching their own custom canvases.

Art-class bulletin boards are massive canvases, too often frozen by permanent displays of adult art and outdated gallery notices. They tend to be dotted with ordinary pushpins and not the hundreds of exciting new shapes and colors of pins that kids collect and apply nail polish over. A corkboard with pins and a chalkboard with erasers have similar appeal to the rearranging and redesigning young artist. We need to open classroom boards to individual collectors and lease them to groups of display designers.

A FEARLESS ART With carbon papers facing down over white paper tablecloths, the children demonstrate great control in not looking under the carbon. They skate and glide their tracing wheels (used in sewing) over the top of the carbons. No one claims he or she can't draw in class this day. Students wait in suspense, focusing on the carbon cover and what it will soon reveal. Children move lines on chalkboard surfaces also in a spirit of fun. With chalk in hand, celebrations continue outdoors on blacktop surfaces, on old fires in the playground, or over found rocks and bricks. Chalkboard artists expand their range, rediscovering the fun of art that is fearless.

Professor George Szekely is Senior Professor of Art Education at the University of Kentucky, Lexington. Currently, he serves as President of the Kentucky Art Education Association, and Vice President of the National Art Education Association.
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Author:Szekely, George
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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