Making and animating Forest Creatures

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Most of the children have now completed their Forest Creature sculptures, using assemblage techniques and a natural pallette. Most have also animated these using the stop motion gear that I set up in the Ellipse room. Documentation of this process, and some of the results are shown below. Our documentary photographers were the children themselves – thus expanding their technical capabilities in working with the cameras as well as developing their aesthetic skills.

Since, for privacy reasons, the photos can’t show the children’s faces I’ve tried to find those that convey their engagement, concentration and excitement in what they were doing through hands and body language. The photos selected show the process of Making the Forest Creatures: our pallette (from the forest), making wings, the Forest Creature sculptures themselves, reflections and discussions such as how the light affects the sculptures… as well as the process of animating.

Inspired student, inspiring assemblage

Student workI was delightfully surprised when a student brought this in to show me after lunch the other day. He had found the flower bud (camelia?) and leaves and carefully turned the latter into the former during his break. His explanation of his process was succinct but detailed; while the result is a simple but beautifully delicate and colourful composition – balanced, with a harmonious choice of colours, a range of textures and repeating forms that unify it into a whole new form.

Student work

It is worth noting that he was not instructed, either in HOW or that he SHOULD do this. It was purely his own initiative. Perhaps he was inspired by Andy Goldsworthy’s work and process, as well as our work creating assemblage from found natural objects. Certainly the result is inspiring!

Thaumatropes of Winged Creatures

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Most of the children have now completed their Thaumatrope drawings. These drawings are based on a template sheet that I made. This uses a branch on one side, inspired by Joel M.’s thaumatrope discussed here in an earlier post. The children were asked to draw a winged creature on the other circle, and they could develop the branch or winged creature as they wished. They also have a second pair of circles if they wish to make a second Thaumatrope, with whatever content they desire. The variety of ‘winged creatures’ is pretty impressive, ranging from birds to insects, planes and more creative, imaginative creatures… even some that could be Forest Creatures like the assemblage they are currently animating. The results are shown below. I will update this post with the remaining students’ images who haven’t done theirs yet, over the next couple of weeks.

Over the coming weeks they will be cutting out the circles and gluing them onto the sticks to make the completed Thaumatropes. For sticks we will be using unsharpened, round pencils…

Artist reflections on perspective maps and mirror drawing on the “right side of the brain”

I would like to take a moment to draw a few threads together. Firstly however, I’ll relate a personal experience:

Many years ago a little boy was drawing the most beautiful, elaborate birds. They had wings, eyes, tails, legs, feathers in a range of colours. They were very detailed and considered images that involved the act of looking at birds and recording their features. Then one day the drawings stopped. Instead the boy was drawing an icon of a bird: a big letter ‘M’ for wings with a triangle for a beak. His mother was devastated. What had happened? It turns out someone at school had told him that his (original) birds did not look like birds, and showed him how to draw them the “right” way. It was a tragedy! The bird drawings were reduced to symbols, a means of communicating the concept of a bird rather than rich, creative explorations that involved looking and learning from was observed. I don’t know if she (the mother) ever got that door open again…

I feel very strongly that people – children especially – should be encouraged towards creative exploration. And I think that acknowledging there are many ways of seeing plays a role in this (such as our different points of view when taking the photos that make up our collaborative perspective maps). Another very tangible aspect to this position is the way the brain works, theory which informed our earlier mirror-symmetry drawing exercises. These ideas relate to one-another as follows:

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Day 9: Stop motion animation, Persistence of Vision and the Thaumatrope

Today I started working individually with the children. I am helping them to complete their ”forest creature” by attaching the finished wings to the body. We then animate these wings using stop motion techniques. The creatures are animated against a light table.

We only got through about 6 people today. The process will be ongoing over the next few sessions.

Before I started working with them to animate these creatures, I reminded them about the process. (I’d given an overview last week). I also demonstrated the principle of persistence of vision. This enables us to perceive a series of changing things as moving, or as constituting some sort of illusion. It is achieved through the rapid succession of images, each of which persists as something called an ”afterimage” (which seems to stay on your eyes like an image of a bright light remains on your retina after you close your eyes). In this way a ‘blend’ occurs with the next image. A sustained, continuous illusion of an object that seems to move or of a bird that seems to be sitting on a branch (below) can be created in this way.

I demonstrated this by showing them the Thaumatrope and providing them with simple materials to make one. They will be able to continue working on their Thaumatropes over the next few sessions, individually. Its a fun exercise…

Bird Thaumatrope

There are many examples of Thaumatropes available online. I find the Bird Thaumatrope designed by Joel M quite beautiful. It can be downloaded here for printing out, cutting out and gluing onto a round stick, such as a pencil. Of course I’m very excited by what the children will come up with to draw on theirs – the limit here is only their imagination!

Artist reflections on Gestalt discussions

Explaining the concept of Gestalt or a composition to 6-10 year olds has challenged (and improved! 🙂 my ability to communicate it.

When I talk about Gestalt I mean ”visual composition” or where ”the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. Art theorist, author and perceptual psychologist Rudolf Arnheim is very articulate on the subject: he describes Gestalt Perception as a foundation of visual perception and draws on an 1890 essay by Christian von Ehrenfels to explain it with evidence from an example: “if each of 12 observers listened to 1 of 12 tones of a melody, the sum of their experiences would not correspond to what would be perceived if someone listened to the whole melody.” (“Gestaltqualitäten.” Vierteljahrsschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie, 1890, vol. 14, pp.249-292.) For Arnheim, “all perceiving is also thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention.” Furthermore, Gestalt psychology’s position ‘’that vision is creative and not just a ‘mechanical recording of sensory elements’” asserts that the experience of seeing is not just “an entirely subjective imposition of shape and meaning upon reality” but rather “the process of looking at the world [is] an interplay between properties supplied by the object and the nature of the observing subject.” (See Arnheim, R., Introduction, in Art and Visual Perception A Psychology of the Creative Eye. 1954, University of California Press: Berkeley. pp. i-ix.)

While Gestalt, composition, the role of interpretation and the subjectivity of seeing are difficult concepts to convey to people who are only just learning to think abstractly; I am finding that these children are getting there. Remarkably quickly, in fact. Even by the end of Thursday I  had seen an improvement in their comprehension of these ideas. (Their open-ness and flexibility in learning has impressed me, along with how good the teaching staff are with facilitating this development and student absorption and exploration of ideas).

In attempting to convey the concepts we have been talking about Recipes as opposed to a mish mash of ingredients; of the balance, perseverance and ‘heart’ or spiritual aspects involved in Andy Goldsworthy‘s landscape artworks as opposed to them being simply a pile of stones. We have also talked about the face composition that emerges from what otherwise could be simply a collection of food scraps or utensils in Jan Svankmajer’s “Dimensions of Dialogue” stop motion animation or Arcimboldo’s Summer oil on canvas.

So now when I point to a picture of a spoon in an artwork to ask ‘what is this?’ the answers I get include spoon but also ‘nose’; acknowledging the role of the composition and their understanding in what they see. Thus we also reinforce their understanding that perception is constructed, that interpretation plays a role in what we see, and that there are many different “ways of seeing“.

Day 8: Typologies, Perspective maps and Composites

One of the exercises I had prepared for the students, and a primary reason for acquiring the digital cameras, was the creation of what I term “Perspective Maps”. These draw on the Typologies of the Bechers, mentioned earlier. However, instead of comparing different instances of the same object type (watertower or gas tank, for example), the perspective maps compare different perspectives of the same object. They are intended to reveal the different ways we see the same thing; our different perspectives. This is, in a sense, an inversion of how the Bechers’ typologies function. That is, in their work the ideal form of the object – the idea of what a water tower is, for example – is being compared. On the other hand in the Perspective maps it is the subjectivity of the observer that is being compared.

In our perspective maps we are studying the different ways we – people – see the forest. So we are photographing trees. The children’s differences in perspective include looking up, looking down, standing far away to take the whole tree in, photographing it up close to focus on the texture, etc. All of these are different perspectives of the same object.

The perspective maps investigate the different ways we all see the same thing. They are group efforts at making a composition. Like the Bechers, the approach taken is quite clinical:

  1. Divide into groups of 10-15 students
  2. Each group to choose a tree. This was done during the walk on our excursion to Walkabout Creek in The Gap on 28 July.
  3. Take turns photographing this tree. Thus each person takes one photograph of it. This choice of vantage point and composition is a personal, private step.
  4. Consolidate all the photographs into a matrix. Study and compare these to understand and discuss this tree, our understandings of this tree and of nature. Discussions of composition within the frame, such as decisions made by the photographer, are also facilitated by this process.

During our excursion we broke into 3 groups. The 3 Perspective maps are shown below.

      

Composites

During the process of assembling the perspective maps I also had the idea of compositing, or layering them on top of one-another. The resulting 3 images are, I think quite successful aesthetically. They are shown below.

We discussed all of these in class on Thursday 4th August. Our discussion reviewed how each of these composite images reveals something about the perspective maps – whether its pulling out distinct features such as the sillhoutte of the trunk and strangler fig vine in group 3 or the fan palm fronds as a texture in group 2 or a combination of these in group 1’s maps.

 

Perhaps it was inevitable, but I didn’t see it coming: during this class discussion one of the students said she wondered what would happen if we were to combine ALL the images (i.e. all the children’s photos of all 3 different trees)?? I quickly combined them there and then, and we discussed the result. It is also shown below. The students commented on how it was ‘blurry’ and I agreed that often things can turn ‘muddy’ when you mix too many elements, or colours… Some other students however asserted that they could still see all of the individual elements of sillhouetted trunks and the textures made by contrasting leaves and sunlight. Upon reflection now it occurs to me that colour palette is another aspect of these different compositions that prevailed and provided visual unity – the same could not be said if some of the maps were of urban images or taken at sunrise or in the moonlight.

Class reflections on “Rivers and Tides”

 

What did we learn or gain from this video? The following are some notes from Jackie’s discussion with the class about my presentation of the Andy Goldsworthy documentary video, “Rivers and Tides” [see also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3TWBSMc47bw]. Some are Jackie’s comments but mostly they are the children’s comments on what they learnt from the video:

  • enjoyment of making art
  • confidence in making art
  • if you do it slowly, it gets more detailed and if you rush it won’t look as good
  • inspired by the work
  • That art isn’t always about having to paint it. You can use nature to do it.
  • “what about Permanency – does it have to last forever?” No…
  • Time in nature itself. “Although he looked at his watch, he was also using the tides of nature, the time of nature, to challenge him”
  • “It was good to see adults getting challenged. Learnt about perseverance.” Adults never get challenged “- yes we do! “
  • Didn’t use tools to do it. Use nature to make it. And all the elements… as shown in the whiteboard snapshot above..
This effort was extended and developed in class on day 8 when the students were asked to reflect further on this presentation by writing about it in their diaries.

Day 7: Gestalt for abstract thinking as evidenced in landscape art, animation and painting

This post aims to provide some theoretical background to the art and landscape activities undertaken during the residency – collaboration. Much of this material was presented on day 7 of the residency. As the project progresses its influence and implications for learning and art will become more explicit.

Becher & Becher

Typologies are a conceptual art technique pursued by contemporary photographers the Bechers. The Bechers are a husband-and-wife team of artists who have influenced an entire generation of German photographers. The reference material below includes illustrations from their Water towers series.

  

This exemplifies their ‘typological approach’ where a single archetypal subject (the water tower) is described through an accumulation of diverse examples. When objects of a single ‘type’ are seen ‘en masse’ a new understanding of those objects also becomes apparent; that is a ‘whole’ emerges that is greater than the sum of the parts. This is the definition of a ‘Gestalt’, a key conceptual strategy in the Forest Reflections project.

Stop-motion animation involves changing the subject matter (e.g. forest creature) slightly for every camera frame. Here it is done by the children with the artist’s guidance. Surrealist animator Jan Švankmajer will be discussed as he used stop-motion techniques with everyday objects. Some of his work can also be seen to relate to the ideas of Gestalt. This is sequences from the animation Dimensions of Dialogue where many parts (broccoli, carrot, etc) are combined to become a picture of a face (see reference material on the DVD for still images from this). These ‘Arcimboldo-like heads gradually reduce each other to bland copies. Arcimboldo is also of interest and his painting ‘Summer’ is shown above. Švankmajer’s Dimensions of Dialogue won the “Golden Bear” Berlin 1983, prize for best animated film in Melbourne 1983, and in 1990 was awarded a prize for “the best film of all the years of the festival” at Annecy International Animation Festival. See a clip from this film online here.

The work of landscape installation artist Andy Goldsworthy will also be discussed as he often uses many similar elements to make up a whole composition; and the similarity between this technique and other Gestalt efforts; as well as his use of natural found objects and Assemblage make his work highly relevant to our project. The materials used in Andy Goldsworthy’s art often include brightly-coloured flowers, icicles, leaves, mud, pinecones, snow, stone, twigs, and thorns. For his ephemeral works, Goldsworthy often uses only his bare hands, teeth, and found tools to prepare and arrange the materials; however, for his permanent sculptures he has also employed machine tools. In the course of the project the children will be shown excerpts from “Rivers and Tides” a documentary of Goldsworthy’s work. Photographs of his work are shown above and a clip can be watched here.

Švankmajer and Goldsworthy also relate to our interest in Assemblage, an art process which consists of making a three-dimensional artistic composition from putting together found objects. 

Artists such as Arcimboldo, Svankmajer, Goldsworthy and the Bechers will be discussed throughout the project. Photography, Assemblage and stop-motion animation as well as other visual arts techniques and computer interaction will be explored. Typological approaches and Gestalt theory will combine to inform the creation of Perspective Maps as both an exercise in seeing and as a conceptual technique to facilitate (and teach) abstract thinking. Assemblage will also be explored as a conceptual mechanism. These efforts will parallel our ongoing poetic interpretation and reinterpretation of the landscape.

Jen Seevinck Lastly I am also showing examples of my own work and process as it brings together these concepts of Gestalt theory, abstraction from landscape using typological studies, extracting visual forms, reflecting using visual diaries and finally creating interactive artwork. This is especially the case with my art work +-now which uses sand as an interface and real-time computer generated imagery. It was installed at Beta_Space in the Sydney Powerhouse Museum in 2008 and developed from landscape studies made as early as 2003. The work is shown below. More information can be found on my website and publications (Jen Seevinck. “Tracing Moments.” Leonardo 43.3 (2010): 312-313. The MIT Press.)

Teacher reflections on Plant-a-Tree day

plant a tree day logo

“As part of Planet Ark’s National School Plant-a-Tree day on Friday 29th July, 2011, our Montessori Cycle Two class invited a number of guests to celebrate this day with us including:

  • The Honourable Mr Geoff Wilson, the Member for Ferny Grove and the Health Minister of QLD;
  • Mr Kent Eisling, the Faculty Director of Services and Environment, Grovely TAFE;
  • Ms Lee Durkin, Grovely TAFE;
  • Ms Jen Seevinck, our Artist in Residence at Grovely State School;
  • Mrs Vicki Baker, the Principal of Grovely State School; and
  • Parents and community members.

A number of children were tasked with greeting our invited guests, welcoming and opening our ceremony, introducing and thanking each of our guests, thanking the P and C for their donation of our tree, assisting Mr Wilson to plant our feature tree and finally extending an invitation to enjoy some light refreshments. The event was a great success.  Thank you to those parents who: were able to provide a plate of food or were able to attend the ceremony, your support is always appreciated.

Kind regards,

Miss Katrina Mills”

Photographs of the teachers and students efforts on this day are below. Minister Geoff Wilson also discusses the event on his website.

 

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