ART TREK: A one week summer camp at Montalvo Arts Center

Each day the students explore Montalvo’s beautiful grounds, get inspired by nature and choose things to observe and draw – things we may not take the time to usually pay attention to, like the pattern of a bark, the shape of a cone, a rock, a leaf. I take photos during the walk that I bring back printed the following day. Back to the outdoor studio the campers use different techniques to paint/draw some of the things we saw during our walks.

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Day 1
Outdoor studio: The students walked around and gathered leaves, twigs, cones, lichen and drew them. Decaying leaves are wonderful to draw!
Hiking around: Sketching one of the magnificent trees on Montalvo Grounds. I asked the students to ask me when they wanted to take a photo of something they were interested in and then I printed the images and brought them back the following day.

Day 2
Hiking around: sketching in the Phelan Cactus Garden.
Outdoor studio: watercolor and black oil pastel from photos taken the previous day.

Day 3
Hiking around: Sketching in the Redwood forest, on the Redwood Trail. At the top of the Lookout trail, embracing the view on the valley!
Outdoor studio:
Starting working on black paper with dry pastels, from photos taken the previous day in the Phelan Cactus Garden.

Day 4
Hiking around: A short hike to start the morning. Using a viewfinder, sketching from the top of the Orchard Trail: view on the artists residencies.
Outdoor studio:

Day 5
Outdoor studio:  Painting from photos taken in the Redwood forest. Tempera paint on paper. Preparing a show in the outdoor studio, and gathering all the sketches and drawings in our decorated portfolio.
Montalvo Arts Center


ART TREK Summer Camp at Montalvo Arts Center

I am thrilled to have a summer camp at Montalvo in June!

Let’s walk, get inspired by the amazing nature around us and make some art!
Art Discipline(s): Drawing, collage, watercolor, painting.

Each day we will explore Montalvo’s beautiful grounds and choose things to observe and draw on a sketchbook. Things we may not take the time to usually pay attention to, like the pattern of a bark, the shape of a cone, a rock, a leaf. In our journey through the woods, meadows and hills of Montalvo, we will also encounter some of the wonderful contemporary art pieces created by artists from the bay Area and we will make some drawings about those pieces.
Some of the exercises (like painting, watercolor and some collages) will be done indoor. At the end of the week, the participants will leave with their “outdoor sketchbook” and an ensemble of paintings, watercolor and collage on 15”x22” paper.

And here’s a link to all the great summer camps Montalvo is proposing for this summer.

Art+Science: Forces and Motion (2nd grade) session 2: Gravity Painting

Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center

Session 2 – Gravity Painting
Tempera paint on paper

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–gravity force, friction
art – primary colors, secondary colors, abstract, process

Science Curriculum
Gravity is a pulling force. Motion is the act of moving.

material: cardstock paper, tempera paint (primary colors and secondary colors)
video: about gravity work by new York artist Holton Rower.

How it works

1. We watch a short video (3mn) of New York artist Holton Rower, who works with gravity.

2. I give a short demo about the process we are going to use, which implies no use of tool, just the force of gravity.

3. The students experiment with the process.

4. Group discussion at the end of the session: we talk about abstract art and how it is open to interpretation. We talk about what we were seeing in the paintings. The students share their experiments/thoughts about gravity and paint, we comment the different results in front of us. We talk about the factors which matters when there is friction: in this case fluidity of the paint and smoothness of the paper.

5. After the art class the students write a few words about their experience.

Art+Science: Forces and Motion (2nd grade) session 3: Ball Painting

Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center

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Session 3 – Ball Painting
medium: Tempera paint on paper, plastic balls and marbles

–motion, friction, documenting
art – action painting, abstract, process, documenting

Science Curriculum
Objects in motion. Force changes the way an object moves.

material: all media paper 15″x11″, tempera paint (primary colors and secondary colors), cardboard box the same size as the paper (one for two students), plastic balls (bouncing type), large marbles.
video: Jackson Pollock at work

How it works

1. We watch a very short video showing Jackson Pollock at work.
– One of our art words is action painting. Pollock broke the rules of painting by painting without the brush touching the canvas.
– Another art word is process. Pollock’s process includes a lot of “paint in motion”, splashed and dripped by the energy of his gesture. Pollock definitely used forces in motion in his process. Using the same process over and over, he made many pieces with a different result each time.
Documenting the process: when we see an art piece, most of the time we do not understand how it was made. Seeing the artist at work is invaluable to understand the process and it is extremely recent in history.  So that’s why today we have teams of two students, one making a painting, the other one documenting (videotaping) with an iPad. We talk about how to videotape, trying to stay still while things move in the frame.
2. I give a short demo
What are the material we are using today? (They are on the table: cardboard box, all media paper, plastic balls and big marbles, paint). They are the material necessary for our process. There are primary and secondary colors to work with. The students are free to use as many colors as they want but I tell them that interesting results can be achieve by only using 2. They have to try and see for themselves. I show them how to pour the paint on the paper (to try to avoid large unmanageable pools of paint in the middle of the paper!). I make 2 balls roll in the paint and on the paper. The balls start tracing their trajectories. The motion of the balls changes when I change the way I move the box. I asked them to think about the fact that they would have to stop at a certain point, their piece would be finished. How do you know that? How not to work too much a piece?

3. The students work on their piece, taking turns.
It is interesting to see that for a lot of students, documenting the process was only about what was going on inside the box and not necessarily about the movements of the person making the piece.

4. End of the session discussion (science aspect/art aspect of the project and special words).

5. After art class art class the students write a few words about their experience.

Art+Science: Forces and Motion (2nd grade) session 4: Pendulum Painting

Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center – in Campbell, CA.
Village Elementary, Spring 2014.
Lynhaven Elementary, Spring 2014
Sherman Oaks Elementary, Fall 2014.

Forces: Push/pull, gravity and friction

For this exercise it is great to have quite a lot of space (to make the art and for it to dry).

material: 3 tripods, plastic bottles with Elmer glue caps, diluted student tempera paint, large sheets of black and white paper (sulfite paper is fine). One color per tripod/station. Use colors that can go either on black or on white paper. I use primary colors and white. One sheet of cardboard per tripod/station the size of the black/white paper (or a little bit bigger), to transport the painting once it is done.

To protect the floor: a large plastic sheet when making the paintings, and lots of butcher paper to protect the floor while the paintings are drying.

iPads to document the process

WARNING: very long drying time – about half a day – you will need a lot of spaces, the sheets are large, there is one per student. You will need a lot of space for the tripods. The process is easy but can be messy if a quick cleanup is not done after each painting.

Only use one color per painting. Two would be complicated.


Prepare the plastic water bottles
You will need at least one per color. You will need more bottles than the ones you are using, in case something happens.

Glue gun and duct tape an Elmer glue cap on the water bottle

Cut the bottom of the bottle, duct tape it to make it strong, make 3 holes on the side and attach a string through the 3 holes. Attach them together and attach a paper clip.


Prepare the tripods – 1 tripod for 7 students is OK
A string has to hang from the center of the tripod. Attach that string to the paperclip attached to the water bottle. The nose of the bottle should be between 1 and 2 inches from the paper (the paper is on a piece of cardboard).

Prepare the tempera paint
Filter the tempera paint through a thin sifter, to avoid clogging the Elmer glue cap when the paint will go through.
Add 50% tempera paint and 50% water. You will need a lot of paint. Prepare 32 OZ for each color for each class.

Prepare the room
Make lots of room. Place the plastic sheet on the floor, and the 3 tripods far enough from each other. The students need space to walk around them.
Prepare a bucket filled with water and several clean sponges that you place in the center of the plastic sheet. The students will have to do some clean –up AFTER EACH PAINTING is done.

Attach the bottles on the tripods. BE SURE that the Elmer caps are closed.
THEN fill the bottle half with diluted tempera.
Prepare a small empty container on the side for the dripping.
Be sure to have lots of dry rags handy.

How it works with the students

If you can set up 3 stations, you will approximately have 7 students per station. The students take turn. One is making the art, another one or more is documenting. The other ones can help and/or watch.
The organization is a little bit tricky but it is definitely feasible.

– The course of the bottle can be changed.
– There should be NO clean up while the art is being made – it can damage the art!

1. – One student puts a sheet of paper on the floor, underneath the tripod, on a piece of cardboard, as big as the paper. One student at a time does his/her pendulum painting, while the other students are watching or documenting with an iPad, making short videos.
2. The student takes the bottles towards her/him and keeps it above the small plastic container to avoid any spilling on the paper.
3. THEN he/she opens the cap, the paint start dripping in the container.
4. The student can let the bottle go and see what happens. The bottle starts making a geometric pattern on the paper.
5. When it is about to stop, the students have to grab swiftly the bottle, take it out of the surface of the paper and close the cap above the small plastic container.
6. The student take the paper AND the cardboard and go to the place in the room covered with newspapers for the painting to dry (it will take half a day).
7. Then it is clean up time before doing another painting. Clean up the spill on the plastic and on the cardboard piece with dry rags. Provide as many dry rags as needed.
8. The station is ready for another painting.

TIP: The bottles hanging underneath the tripods should be always half full. You need to have quit a lot of paint in the bottle for the weight to be big enough and gravity to work.

9. The whole class take some time for a group discussion looking at all  the paintings on the floor. Describe what happened when making the exercise. What are the forces, why? Can you find two paintings which look the same? Why?

10. Cleanup.

The Arts in Your Classroom: Engaging the students in the sciences through the arts.

March 3, 2014, Montalvo Arts Center, Saratoga, CA.
Presented in collaboration by Montalvo Arts Center, The Santa Clara County Office of Education, and the Lurie College of Education at San Jose State University.

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My two-hour workshop: “Sciences and Art through Close Observation: We are Artist-Naturalists!
Engaging students in the Sciences through the Arts means having students being excited about making art, being opened to new ideas and trusting their own thinking. The activities I propose are always personalized for each student: they can appropriate their rocks or any other finding; they can appropriate the photo of the unique landscape they are working on. That is one aspect that makes the experience unique for each student. Each exercise is anchored in their reality, for example the school. I like to make them think about the fact that any place, any element provided by nature is unique, so that the journey becomes a source of surprises. That appropriation help the students understand their world better. The more we look, the more we see, the more we can open our mind and think freely and get new ideas. The holistic aspect of the common core is for me very exciting because it is the way I see my practice: everything is interconnected.
The goals are clear but each student follows a personal path at a personal pace.
I am careful that the exercises are not too technically driven.

Making the best use of the resources we have in our immediate environment and creating a journey for the students in which they become enthusiastic artist-scientists, connecting with nature by observation of its infinite diversity. A new look at the students’ environment – the mundane becomes extraordinary.
Handout document here.

Art+Science: Rocks and Soil (2nd grade) session 2 / Sequencing the view

Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center in Campbell, CA.

I took photos of the landscape one can see from the school yard and made a montage. I divided the photo in 22 pieces (22 is the most students I have in one class). I printed them, each of them letter size. I displayed the series of photos on a table and as the students entered the room we took some time to look at the panoramic landscape: background (The Santa Cruz Mountains), middle ground (trees and constructions) and foreground (empty blacktop).

We talked about the differences between seeing the landscape vs. looking at a photo of the same landscape.

Then each student chose a piece and traced the main lines of their portion of landscape (I had a projection with an example of what are “main lines”) on a white paper for wet medium. They retraced the lines with an oil pastel when they were fine with their first tracing and then they started painting. For this exercise I prepared the colors in advance. It helps for matching all the pieces of the landscape together.
We talked about proportions and empty spaces. the fact that trees look very “bushy” when they are next to each other, and it is important to pay attention to the photo and not to try to “draw” the shape of a tree when there is none. Paying attention to what we see is an important part of this exercise. Does the mountain look pointy? No, it does not. And why? Because it is very old and lost a lot of rocks.
Looking, looking and looking more! It’s about taking the time to pay attention to what is around us.

Art+Science: Rocks and Soil (2nd grade) session 3 / Sequencing the view

 Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center in Campbell, CA.

At the beginning of the session we talked about what was already done and what we were going to do. To have both the series of photos of the landscape and the series of paintings was interesting. The idea of working on a little piece which is part of the whole ensemble was clear.

We took some time – with the print of the satellite photo of the Bay Area – to situate Campbell. And I asked them “Where is the mountain in the landscape you painted?”

Also: “Can you tell where is nature and where is the landscape transformed by us, humans”? They can point to the blacktop which covers the ground (and all the structures visible from the playground), vs. the mountain, which looks untouched, and the trees (although most of the ones we see were planted).

I told them we are trying to understand that landscape we see every day, trying to look at it with new eyes. Do trees have a defined shape when they are grouped? Not really. We can see that on the photo. Trees together look “bushy”. Trees together become a green “mass” with texture. As opposed to the sky, which has a fairly even color in the photos.

Then I gave them a short demo about how to use the brush with tempera paint.

They spent the rest of the session painting.

Art+Science: Rocks and Soil (2nd grade) session 5 / Painting the rocks

Arts Integration Residency with Montalvo Arts Center in Campbell, CA.

Here’s what happened during session 5 this week.
One by one the students washed the rocks they brought back at the end of the last session, from the place at school which is non-constructed and not landscaped. All the rocks have interesting shapes and after washing them the students could see that the rocks have interesting colors too.
Meanwhile the other students started a drawing of their rock(s).

Then I gave them a short demo about how to find different shades of tan/brownish colors, starting with a palette of blue/red/yellow [in each class one or two students knew about the primary colors)] and white. I added some black to help them make very dark greys. I also showed them how to try to follow the contour they traced with the pencil, so that once painted we can still see the interesting shape of the rock – that’s the most difficult part!


The session was about observing closely the rocks and mixing little by little the paint to match the colors with the colors of the rocks. The students had a lot of fun mixing but were concentrated enough to get beautiful and different shades of grey-browns.
At the end of the class, the rocks have been put in lunch bags with the names of the students and will be re-used during the next session.
This week we talked a lot about colors and shades/tints. Next week we need to make a stronger link with the students’ sciences studies (can we identify the rocks found at school and tell if they are metamorphic, igneous or sedimentary?).Some of the students are becoming attached to their rocks and have asked if they can bring them to their home!