My First Summer Art Camp
'Oreo Talk' and Other Kid's Adventures
“Do you have any children?”
I hear that question more often than any other when meeting
“Yes, a four-footed feline born in 1996.” I retort
“Wow, you’re free!” I hear back in ten different
ways or through other subliminal cues.
And I smile.
This is the life I chose — married life without children
(for now, anyway). Not having children of my own makes me
love being around other people’s children for SHORT periods
of time, especially when it involves having creative fun.
A couple of months ago I was in the company of an older woman
and her grandson. She asked me that famous question, and when
I said “no”, she exclaimed, “Then you know
how to talk to them!” Meaning, because I was not a parent,
I treated children without that parental filter and related
to them on a different level. I liked that.
What dreams are made of
One of my creative dreams is to work with kids in an art-creativity
capacity. I don't necessarily want to become an elementary
school art teacher, but would like to experience a similar
role in a not so 9-to-3 kind of way.
To test this dream of mine, I decided to do some volunteer
work as a teacher's assistant in a week-long art camp for pre-teens.
The group consisted of about a dozen 11- and 12-year-olds,
with scheduled projects of clay, drawing, painting, and sculpture.
As I write this, it’s been exactly one week since the
first day of art camp, and I’m sitting here reviewing
the events of week in my mind. There are so many aspects to
the experience to relate back that I’m not sure where
to begin. I’ll tell you what. I’ll summarize the
class activities and then give my observations.
Art Camp Day 1: Clay Mask Making
Our first project was clay mask making. We watched a short
demo video on the process and then got hands-on with the clay.
The mask-making process goes like this:
- Work a ¼” slab of clay over a plastic “face” template
to form an interesting mask base.
- Allow the masks to air dry several days before firing
in the kiln. Afterwards, decorate the masks with paints,
strands, beads, and other embellishments.
The mask making plan was to have the kids create the masks
on Monday, allow them to dry for a few days before firing,
and then paint them on Friday. What really happened was due
to time constraints, the masks didn’t get fired until
the weekend, and the kids were asked to come back the following
week to decorate them.
Observations: The first day is always the hardest. As the
kids arrived to the class, some knew each other and some didn’t.
Everyone was pretty shy and quiet, especially during the introductions.
They livened up a bit when we got hands-on with the project,
but they barely spoke as a group.
The first day was most challenging for me as well. We all
had name tags on to help us learn each other’s names,
and I was tickled that mine had the word “teacher” written
under my name. I had a real title!
My biggest challenge was merging into each child’s personal
space to help them out, gently guide, and encourage them with
the mask making project. There weren’t enough face templates
to go around, so some kids had to improvise with other types
of molds to build their faces on. Not trying to succumb to
the “unfairness” of that, I instead paid extra
attention to those who were struggling, and never once heard
anyone complain about the disadvantage.
By the end of the class, every child had completed their mask.
And surprising to me, a few of the “no template” masks
were quite innovative and just as nice as the template ones.
Art Camp Day 2: Drawing
The second day’s project was drawing. The kids were
asked to bring in several favorite pictures with them posing
with friends or family members. One picture would become the
source for their drawing.
The lead teacher started them with some warm-up exercises,
which I also participated in. She had us fold up a big piece
of paper into eight squares and use lines to illustrate a variety
of emotional states in each one: nervous, going with the flow,
happy, mad, high energy, depressed, bliss. Next she had them
do the famous “draw your shoe” exercise, and you
should have seen how quickly the table was inundated with flip-flops,
sandals, and running shoes. Oh, I skipped that one.
After the warm-up exercises, the kids spent the rest of the
class drawing scenes from their pictures.
Observations: The kids who loved drawing quickly dove right
in to this project, and the ones who didn’t were easy
to spot by their apprehension. I began to mentally separate
the group by age and ability, and started to form a mentoring
relationship with those who kept pulling me aside to help
them each time I rounded the tables.
Because drawing is my own primary “art challenge”,
I knew it would be to some of the kids as well. I made it a
point to dig out one of my white “Magic Rub” erasers
at home and slipped it into my pocket for the class. If you
know what I’m referring to, it’s an eraser that
lifts pencil lines easier and cleaner than the standard ones
in class (which reminded me of taffy apple caramels).
I had the opportunity to pull out my eraser after circling
the group several times and getting stopped at “11-year-old
corner”. Between each “teacher” one clever
girl had each of us help her draw a little more on her picture
each time we passed by. I was amused by her antics, but understood
her frustrations completely. Some of the kids were taking this
class way too seriously, and in my best humor I tried to put
them at ease. The “Magic Rub” eraser became a hit
at that corner and was used so much it broke into two.
Art Camp Day 3: Finish Drawing, Start Printmaking
The third day (mid-week) the kids worked on finishing their
drawings and then moved onto printmaking with linoleum blocks.
As the picture drawings were completed, the kids were encouraged
to color them with oil pastels. The advanced artists were also
shown a “painting” technique used to blend the
pastels with some kind of thinner.
Observations: I was really amazed at some
of the pictures that came out of the drawing project. Even
more so, I was intrigued
by the “self-portrait” rendering the older kids
did of themselves. Of course many criticized their work, but
I was delighted at their “folk art” flavor. The
color really enhanced their work, as did the blended painting
effects. I would have proudly framed some of the pictures for
my gallery inspirational wall. There is such honesty in children’s
Art Camp Day 4: Printmaking
Day four was all about traditional printmaking. The kids began
by drawing a simple picture on paper, and then learned how
to transfer it to a linoleum block through “carbon copy” transferring
(rubbing pencil graphite on the back of their drawing and re-tracing
the drawing onto the block). Next, they learned how to carefully
carve their art out of the block with thin and thick lines.
Finally, they took their blocks to the print area, where they
spent the rest of the class making colorful prints with “washable” ink
Observations: This was a fun hands-on project and very interesting
to observe. One teacher invited me to participate in it as
well, so I did a cat (see pictures).
One cool part of this project was teaching the kids the “backwards” aspect
of their carvings, and demonstrating how they had to write
any type or text backwards in order for it to come out right-side-up
in the printing stage. As a graphic designer, this is something
familiar to me from my printing press education, as printing
plates are also created “backwards”. I had to
help fix a few blunders on that one, but it was great watching
the kids “get it”. Much of the art produced
in this project was whimsical and upbeat.
This was also the day the “11-year-old” corner
turned into a trio. Three girls who were all friends outside
of class dominated my attention and amused me to no end. This
was also the day we coined “Oreo Talk”, a phrase
I came up with after noticing two of the trio exchanging whispers
behind their cookie-holding hands during a break. That became
our inside joke for the rest of the week.
Art Camp Day 5: Wood Sculpture
The last project was abstract wood sculpture.
The kids were each given a couple of sheets of easy-to-cut
wood veneer and
chunks of oddly-shaped wood they could use to form a base
for their sculpture. With carefully loaded (and supervised!)
hot-glue-guns at their side, they spent the class building
and spray-painting their own abstract sculptures.
Observations: By Friday most of the kids were completely at
ease with each other and thrived on this “loose” project.
Starkly contrasted with Monday’s mask making, the kids
chatted and giggled, teased and played. Oh, and they uninhibitedly
called out to me (“Help Chris!”) and the other
teachers for assistance whenever they pleased.
The 11-year-old trio totally amused me during a “group” sculpture
they decided to do before running out of time (“too many
hands spoil…”). During their creative silliness,
I wished I had a video camera and laughed at the thought of
showing them in 15 or 20 years how much they enjoyed their
collaborative efforts intermixed with glue going in all of
the *wrong* places. What a priceless thing to watch. It all
cleaned up well.
Near the end of the class ALL of the kids were rowdy (maybe
the spray-paint fumes?) and were running and mucking about;
playing tag and giving payback for the lighthearted teasing
that had been building up all week.
The lead teacher settled them all down for the last few minutes
of class. The kids sat around the table with their sculptures,
and after a final lecture on naming and pricing their art when
they’re “famous” each took turns sharing
the names of their sculptures. “Disease”, “Untitled”,
and “Walk the Plank” were my favorites.
When class was over I felt that familiar “okay this
is it!” welling up inside. Before I got too sentimental,
one of the older girls blurted out “Are you going to
be here next year, Chris?” Others quickly chimed in with “yeah,
are you? Not knowing what the future holds, I replied with
a grinning “We’ll see. Are YOU?” She looked
at me with certainty and sarcastically said as well as any
pre-teen could “Well, yeah!”
We said our goodbyes, and one by one each kid walked out the
door with their final works of art. The 11-year-old “drawing
antic” girl spent a good ten seconds thanking me for
all the help I gave her during the week, and specifically thanked
me for my “Magic Eraser.” If I didn’t know
any better, I think she was really 25.
I wrapped it up with the teachers, and they both praised me
for my “wonderful” interaction and humor with the
kids. They confirmed what I suspected, that working with creative
kids was awesome, and I thanked them for the opportunity.
On the way to my car, the 11-year-old trio was still outside
with their parents. On seeing me they rushed over and reiterated
how much fun they had in class.
“We’re really related!” one exclaimed as
she put her arm around the other two’s shoulders in a
“No you’re not. … Are you?” I played
“In friendship!” She grinned in big closed-eye
I laughed and wished them a happy 4th weekend. In a sing-songy
chorus they said goodbye again, and as I turned around to walk
towards my car I heard one of them trail off, “You were
the best teacher!” a nearby mother overhead and chuckled
for me. Although I knew it wasn't really true (the other teachers
were much more seasoned) I just grinned to myself and kept
walking, thinking quietly yeah,
I'll be back next year. •