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Monday, June 20, 2011

Art Activity in Riparian Workshop for science teachers grades 5 -8.

Today I assisted Joseph O'Neil at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center. Joseph O'Neil explained that the object of the entire workshop activities was to help students learn the skill of being scientifically inquisitive and solve problems by thinking outside of the box. The activities were designed for scientific enquiry outdoors. The art project, however, was inside and asked students to close their eyes and imagine being in a healthy riparian meadow with a stream live with flora and fauna.

Usually I work by painting something in general and then the colors and random shapes suggest an imaginary scene. But I thought I knew how to help students put the mind's eye image on paper. I asked them to count the elements in their riparian image and keep the total 5 or under. Pick the one that is most important to them first and decide if it should go on a landscape orientation or a portrait. Then decide if the paper needs to be wider or more narrow and crop as desired. Figure out where to place your most important image and maybe draw the cookie cutter outline of it. Keep it big so there is room for you to comfortably paint the general color upon which you will come back later with detail after it dries. When you have your favorite image planned, the others can be placed.

Some students had five images completed with white space around them. The white was a little stark. So after the paint dries they put very faint color in with a paper towel leaving some white of the paper. Some had nice atmospheric effects in the background but some hard edges where the back of the river met the misty grass. The edges were softened with a cleaned wet brush.

Even without my saying they needed to think about concepts that they had been learning in other exercises. Some did illustrate them in spite of my help. For example, trees bending over the river creating shade for fish spawns. Or the grass being greener closer to the river.

There was discussion on how the experience of painting an imaginary riparian zone could be utilized in their classrooms. Several made suggestions on how the experience could be more vital outdoors. There are watercolor infused papers and watercolor pencils that could be used with much less problems.

In retrospect, I think the paintings could be started outdoors. All the students need is one rock and one paper for each student; two containers to be shared, one with clean water and one with a dilute watercolor. Students could pour clean water on their paper. Then drop the dilute color into the water and watch it spread. Then leave it on slightly sloped ground with a rock weighting it down so it won't blow away. The rock will leave an image of a rock with water swirling around it. After several hours the painting should be dry enough to take inside. The faint image on the paper helps break the terrible feeling of facing a blank page. The image stimulates imagination. Further help could come from listening to Beethoven's Symphony Pastoral. The instructor could read poetry. Real poetry and maybe only parts of what the syllabus suggested.

I would say the text book reading was written by a scientist and would be better if by a poet. Someone suggested music and recorded sounds from a creek. I suggested bringing history into the assignment. That riparian environments have good clays. On river banks the potter's wheel was invented and then the idea of the invention was carried to far away continents by ship. Also the Scythian bronzes were made with bi-lateral symmetry of dragons around the 8th century B.C.. These dragons look like logs reflected in a river at low tide. Early inventions were made when man had leisure time. Inventive investigation and making art were one and the same activity.Inventions can be used in so many different ways that an artist perspective is necessary to insure the use of inventions really does improve the quality of life.

Joseph O'Neil says there is science in everything we do including art. And that in research there is a need for art skills that young researchers do not have. He says many of his research students come to him deficient in building and welding skills.

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