Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Capturing the Light

A while back I spotted a gorgeous vintage dress at the little shop close to my studio on Main Street in Woodstock.  It was a strapless, full length dress with layers of purple (I love purple!!!) and sheer black tulle.

I asked a lovely friend of mine to pose for me, in the dress, at my studio.  We aimed for a time in the afternoon when the sun would be pouring through the window.  I got hundreds of beautiful shots, and started working from one where she was sitting on the floor in the light.

At the start of the painting I blocked in the largest shapes and kept the colors a little darker and richer than they needed to be in the end.  I want to give the lightest accents some contrast.

As I kept developing the details, I realized I didn't like the position of the hand on her lap.  So I used a photo that was shot just a couple frames before, in the same light, and changed her hand.

My toughest critic showed up to give me her opinion....she said I'm pretty close!

I'm letting it dry for a little while, living with it for a bit, before I decide on the final touches.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Charcoal Sketches from the Live Model

I know I haven't been posting a lot of my art lately.  It's not for a lack of productivity.  I have been drawing and painting quite a bit.  But my mind, when not actually holding a brush, has been elsewhere.  I am very concerned about my son's diet, in fact the diet of my whole family.  I am incredibly depressed to see how much junk food children are allowed to eat in the classroom every day, and what a huge negative impact it can have on them mentally and physically.

SEE?! There I go again!  I'm here to show some drawings and back I go to ranting about the junk food!

So... FOCUS! Here are a couple recent black and white drawings from the live model.

This is the very beginning of the charcoal portrait below.  I find it helpful to block in the largest areas of light and shadow first - getting proportion and a sense of the light source before getting caught up in the tiny details.

I think this was just about an hour of drawing.  I used vine charcoal and then switched to charcoal pencil. 

This drawing is built up mainly from charcoal lines, similar to cross hatching techniques.  This was partly due to the paper.  I think this is a Canson drawing pad, and I find that I can't "smudge" as much as some other drawing papers.  It doesn't erase as cleanly, either, which kind of forces me to get it "right" in fewer strokes.

This figure drawing in charcoal was done in 30 minutes from the live model. I love compact poses like this, especially in short periods of time.  Strong lighting, a good pose, you can get a lot accomplished in a short time period if you look at the big picture - the largest areas of light and shadow first - and then work in to the details. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Stop the Junk Food in the Classroom

I've been thinking about how to start my blog for 2013.  A list of goals for the next 12 months? A re-cap of my favorite moments of 2012?  Both are important, and the lists are already in my head.  But for 2013, I have a goal and a mission that may be even more important than what is happening in my studio.

Ever since my son, Jack, started child care 2 days a week before the age of 2, we have been battling with issues of aggressive and anti-social behavior in the classroom.  It took a long time for me to make the connection that artificial food coloring and preservatives was a huge factor in my son's behavioral problems.
Once I finally made the connection - after Jack had two artificial-color-laden icees at a school event and he could not stop crying for 48 hours - did I start to see a disturbing pattern in every classroom that Jack has been in.

When Jack was only 18 months old, his little class would be lined up at the end of the (three hour) day to go home.  In each little fist was clutched a DumDum lolipop.  These treats were given to the children to "sit still" while waiting for mom and dad to pick them up.  I noticed that if Jack ate the treat, he would be miserable for the rest of the afternoon, so I started requesting that the teachers do NOT allow my son to eat the treat, we would take it home (where I would dispose of it).

The next year, at the same school, Jack spent more time in the office than in his classroom.  He was often aggressive  would not sit for circle time, and was not following directions.  I was called in one day - only 30 minutes after dropping him off for class - to pick him up.  I sat in the corner of the classroom to watch him in action.  While I was sitting there, Jack pointed to a cookie up on the shelf.  A colored frosting covered cookie from a store bakery.  This was not snack time.  There was no holiday party planned.  Yet Jack simply pointed to the cookie, and the assistant teacher reached up, gave him one, then went on her way.

I would like you to imagine how I felt at that moment.  I got three hours a day, two days a week, to work on my art or have a little time to myself.  My respite was supposed to be the time that Jack was in an environment where he should be learning to share, read, learn his colors, be creative, get outside and play, sing songs, etc.  Instead, what I witnessed was my 2 year old child being sabotaged by a chemical and sugar laden fake "food" that he didn't even have to say "Please" to get.

Fast forward through the next few years...I would request that Jack was not given milk for breakfast at a state-run Pre-k program.  I was called in for behavior issues.  My first question was "are you giving him milk in the morning? "  "yes" "Even though I asked you not to?" "Yes".  "And you did hear me tell you that milk makes Jack very hyper?"  "Yes.  But we didn't want him to eat dry cereal".  (Most milk is dyed and contains harmful chemical preservatives as well)


Another year, another teacher.  This one has colored M&M's on her desk to reward the children throughout the day.

Another year, another teacher.  This time, the children are rewarded for turning in their homework with a Startburst candy.  Not a good grade or a gold star.  A chemical laded square of high fructose corn syrup and petroleum.

And the parties are the worst.  My daughter comes home from school with a different colored frosting mustache more times than I would like to consider.  Holidays are jam packed with treats from friends, projects made out of various rainbow colored icings, and loads of juice at every occasion.

I know this is already long...but wait! There's more!

Here is where my New Years' Resolution for 2013 takes place.

I am not going to sit by and watch my children's success in the classroom be sabotaged by chemical laden, nutrition deprived foods.

I am not going to let another mother spend years questioning every choice she makes as a parent because she simply does not know that food coloring and additives may be a huge contributing factor to her child's bad behavior.

I am not going to let another teacher go on thinking that their Students will not LIKE them if they don't hand out candy every chance they get.  I promise: your students WILL like you for a whole bunch of other reasons!

I will not be afraid to be the unpopular or uncool mom because I believe that healthy food is important for our children, and that crap does not belong in the classroom.

I will be the first best example for my children when it comes to eating healthy and making the right choices for our body.  I will always encourage them to ask themselves how certain foods make them feel - energized and focused? Or sluggish and fuzzy?

I will empower every teacher and administrator with the understanding that they can have a HUGE, positive impact on every child's future by instilling healthy eating habits and leading by example.

Just before I wrote this, I looked on-line to see if I could find some good examples of letters to teachers about food in the classroom.  I was hardly surprised to come across this excellent post.  It showed me that I was definitely not alone in my hope to clean my children's classroom of crap.  Read the post - and the comments - and you will see that this is a battle being waged in classrooms all over.  I especially like the Food in the Classroom Manifesto

More food for thought comes from the Feingold website.  The Feingold diet focuses on removing the biggest factors in behavioral issues in children: artificial food coloring, artificial preservatives, and Salicylites (a natural occurring chemical in some fruits and vegetables).  There is an excellent section on Schools and Food.  There are several examples of schools changing their food and how it had nothing but a positive impact on their school.

Now, I know the biggest issues are going to be 1)but will my children (or my students!) not LIKE me if I don't have parties or treats?  2)will the other parents think I'm foolish and over reacting or just plain mean?

1 - yes.  Your children will still love you, your students will still LIKE you!  Their affection is not based on sugar, not enhanced by petroleum based Red 40.  We just need to give them that chance.  I remember when Jack had his first t-ball practice.  After he was done running, catching and playing I asked him "did you like it? was it fun? did you make new friends?" and Jack looked at me with a HUGE grin and said "Mom - the coach knows my name!"  My point being - all it took was the coach showing a little extra interest, a personal connection, and Jack was won over.  Compliment a child's drawing, give them extra congratulations on a job well done, ask them about their pet, anything!  Attention is what they crave - not sugar.  If Jack had been just one of the crowd, rewarded with a sucker at the end of practice, the sucker would be long forgotten by now.

2) Yes.  Many parents will think you're mean, or over reacting, but you know what - who cares?  It's not your job to be liked by everyone.  It's your job to give every child/student the best opportunity to succeed.  Insisting on carrot sticks and hummus instead of cookies and frosting makes you a better example to the students and starts them on a road to healthy eating choices that could last the rest of their lives.  When Jack was in first grade, he was not a fan of many fruits and vegetables.  One day he came home from school BEGGING for a banana in his lunch.  "Why?" I asked.  He told be that if he gets caught eating a banana, he could get a new pencil or a sticker from the lunchroom lady!  Well, from that moment on Jack has loved eating bananas.  Imagine that!  A REWARD for good food choices, that led to a young boy being WILLING to eat a healthy food!

There are so many reasons, from this day forward, to eliminate candy and junk food from the classroom.  These students are the next generation of consumers.  Let's encourage this generation to desire healthy, chemical-free foods.  Let's teach the children that they should eat when they are hungry - not just when junk food is in front of them.

A few simple things to keep in mind...

Water is all that is ever needed at school.  Skip the fruit juices and colored drinks.

Parents: instead of sending in a candy treat for a class room party, ask the teacher what supplies she needs:  a few boxes of crayons or glue sticks cost the same as junk food, and you'll be helping your child's class in a much better way.  And stickers - great incentives and my daughter loves collecting them!  A few sheets of stickers for the teacher's stash instead of candy is a great idea :)

Teachers: take a stand in 2013 to turn your classroom into a healthy environment.  Be brave.  Talk to a few other teachers and you'll find many are willing to stand with you on this.  You are not alone.  By asking for healthy snacks and treats, you are doing NO HARM to your children.  In fact...you could be doing so much more than you'll ever know to set them on a path for health and success.

Teachers: take a look at your students.  Is there anyone who is especially emotional? who has trouble focusing? who obviously has potential but can't "get it together" long enough to succeed in class?  They might have a chemical sensitivity that causes that behavior (food coloring is made from Petroleum - once you start looking at red, yellow, blue, and green as the poison as they are, you won't want to give them to your child/student at all!). Read into the Feingold diet, help your student, and their parents, by suggesting a change in diet.

Remember: many people believe that there is a chemical laden magic "pill" that can cure our problems if we swallow it.  What we also need to understand that there are chemical laded foods CAUSING those problems to begin with.  Why fight a chemical with a chemical?  Try eliminating chemicals them first.  There is NO HARM in eating healthy.  There is no failure in trying.

As for me?  My first goal will be to help the teachers come up with a fun way to reward their students.  I love doing projects with my kids' classes, so maybe a brag book would be a good one to start off the year?  I'm thinking of a colorful book with sections for stickers, proud notes from the teachers, special places where friends can write notes of "thanks!" or why they like being your friend.  Imagine, at the end of the year, if every good job, every task accomplished, every turned in paper, was captured in a sticker/brag book that the children could keep long after the year was done.  The candy may have lasted a couple minutes...but that book could last a lifetime.

I hope 2013 is just the start of the healthier, happier, and more successful classroom for everyone!