Wednesday, January 1, 2014


2013 has come and gone and I didn’t post a single entry.

I took many pictures of student work, of bulletin boards, of (fully clothed) life drawing with students and bicycle drawing sessions, all with great intentions of writing about art at the early childhood center and projects at the main campus, with my 1st-5th graders. My fifth and sixth year in China. But 2013 has come and gone and I didn’t post a single entry.

Because 2013 has not been a year about elementary art. That has still been a part of my life, but also being a youth group leader, a high school art history teacher, a WASC (accreditation) visiting committee member for a school in Japan, the WASC coordinator at our own school in China, head of Fine Arts, and taking three trips to the Thai-Burma border.

As I start 2014, I am starting my last semester as an elementary art teacher. I always thought I’d teach for 3, maybe 5 years, and then I’d have children. Well no marriage, no biological kids, but after 6 years as an art teacher at an international school in China, I’m moving to the Thai-Burma border and, as I joke with my friends, I’m becoming a stay-at-home mom. I'm not dumping the teacher role entirely, as I’ll likely teach English at the local Thai school, maybe a day or two a week, but my primary responsibilities will be with Blessed Homes.

Art will still be a part of my life, and my interactions with children. It’s a venue I love when it comes to building relationships and goes deep into my soul (maybe because I have no skills when it comes to football/soccer—the other universal language of kids).

In my first two trips to the Thai-Burma border, I brought lots of art supplies and even attacked the walls at two of the homes with paint and handprint murals. This trip has been more tame, a shorter trip and more about joining in their Christmas festivities. And transitioning my life. Because my heart has already moved here, and now my body is just waiting to catch up. To be here with my kids.

So I go back to China this weekend and start my last semester as an elementary art teacher. Maybe forever. I don’t know if elementary art teacher will ever again follow my name, be printed on a business card. But what I do know is I will still be living and loving and learning abroad, and art will be along for the journey. 

A new phase of art.abroad

If anyone would like more information, they can check out my newsletters
(and even sign up to get future newsletters in their inbox):

[the practical] blessings along the border--ministry facts and figures

[the personal] blessings along the border--a journal into what God has been teaching me on this journey

Sunday, November 18, 2012

What's that smell?

While I can't manage to post regularly on this blog, I am a recently published writer! (Not my first published work--there was that amazing poem I wrote in 3rd grade that was published in an anthology of kids' poetry...) A local language club asked our school to contribute an article on art education for their Nov/Dec issue. I wrote the following article and had a fellow staff member and friend Judy Guo translate it into Chinese. She was my faithful translator during the summer of 2011 when I taught a week long course about Western approaches to art education for local Chinese educators so I knew she could translate the content-specific vocabulary.

If you want to see the article in the e-zine, you can try clicking on the online version here. I can't get it to work but maybe it will load on your computer. Oh and my article made the cover--it's that random explosion of pink, orange, blue and green letters across those kids. No, I did not pick the colors...

BTW, if you're my mom or grandma, I have an actual print copy of the magazine for you.


The Aroma of Art Education—by Stephanie Melachrinos 麦世宁, Translation by Judy Guo 郭凤杰

成年人只要一走进我的教室就会立即注意到里面的气味并对之加以评论。我却没注意到有什么气味。很明显,这气味就是颜料、画纸、蜡笔和黏土的味道,因为这是艺术教室。但是在这充满魔力的空间会发生什么事情呢?因为大部分人 都不会跨过门槛进教室来,所以他们就无法发现艺术课不仅仅是编篮子和用夏令营的剩料做挂链了。艺术课也并非模仿哪位大家,它的内涵远非这些。Adults walk into my classroom and immediately comment on the smell.  I don’t even notice it.  Apparently it smells like paint, paper, crayons, and clay.  It is the art room.  But what happens in this magical space?  Most will never cross the threshold to discover that art class is more than basket weaving and lanyards from summer camp.  It is also not defined by copying from a master.  It is much more. 

艺术课是学生参与创作、探索世界之美的地方。艺术创作是人的本质。它使我们与动物区分开来;也使我们与机器区分开来。借着艺术,我们才能与灵魂相连,我们的心灵才能得到滋养,我们才能创造更多的美。Art class is a place where students participate in the act of creation and explore beauty in the world.  To make art is to be human.  It separates us from animals; it separates us from machines.  Through art, we connect with our soul.  We nurture our spirit.  We add to the beauty.    

在艺术课上,学生的交流技能---就是视觉读写能力,可以得到锻炼和提高。除创作艺术之外,我们还对艺术作品进行鉴赏、思考和讨论(其中包括口头形式和书面形式)。大部分成年人不会就他们每天看到、想到或谈到的一切而坐下来画幅风景画或构画个肖像图,而艺术课却是一个有目的地对以上这些过程进行思考的时间。你看到了什么?作者想传达什么信息?这意味着什么?你如何把它解释给他人?在我们现今的文化中,即使不出家门,只要坐在电脑前就会有各种图画和广告充斥着我们的视线。你对这些是被动地去接受呢还是主动地去观察呢?来艺术课上锻炼这些技能吧。Within the art room, students develop communication skills—visual literacy.  In addition to creating art, we look at art, think about art, and speak about art (orally and in writing).  While most adults do not sit down to paint a landscape or sketch a portrait, they are looking, thinking, and speaking every day of their life.  Art class is a time to be thoughtful and intentional about these processes.  What do you see?  What is being communicated?  What does it mean?  How do you explain that to another person?  We live in a culture where we are bombarded by images and advertisements, even from our own computer screen before we’ve left the comfort of our apartment.  Are you a passive receiver or an engaged viewer?  Hone these skills in the art room.

在艺术课上,人的批判性思维能力和创造力也会得到提高。我喜欢给学生布置要求较少的作业。只要学生作品符合这些要求,他们想怎么创作就怎么创作。例如,去年我教的每个小学生都做了一个作业,他们的设计只需要符合以下要求:Critical thinking skills and creativity also grow in the art room.  I love to give assignments with a small set of criteria.  As long as the students do not break these rules, they are free to do as they want.  For example, each elementary student made a design last year with the following parameters:

作品要有对称性The design must be symmetrical.
作品要有边界The design must have a border.
作品中要有你的名字The design must include your name.
作品必须要用老师指定的某种颜色的铅笔做成The design must be made in colored pencil using one assigned color.

如果限制学生只用一种颜色,他们怎么能创作出有趣的作品呢?对初学者来说,我们为他们提供四、五种不同的“蓝色”铅笔。对每只铅笔,他们都可以用力不同(轻按、力度适中或力度较大)而创造出不同的明暗。另外,他们还可以使用层次来增加作品的多样性。With the limitation of one color, how were they to create an interesting design?  For starters, we had four or five different “blue” colored pencils.  With each pencil, they could press lightly, medium strength, or hard to create different values.  Additionally, they could layer the blues to create more variety. 

名字也是比较难的要求。名字怎么写成对称的?学生必须有创意地思考才能符合这个要求。学生的最终作品会在小学艺术盛会(Elementary Fine Arts Gala)中展出。The name was also a struggle.  How could it be symmetrical?  Students had to think creatively to meet this requirement.  The finished pieces were hung together in a display for the Elementary Fine Arts Gala.    

在创作这种或其他艺术品的过程中,我们会探索使用不同的材料,锻炼肢体精细动作的协调能力并运用其他学科的一些概念。我们会对艺术品进行测量,用尺子画边框,画格子把几个作品隔开,用名词、动词和形容词来描述艺术作品,画非洲大草原上的动物风景画,发现有关艺术家的事实并发表个人观点,画自己最喜欢的艺术材料或者学习画圆柱、立方体等的三维物体。艺术课的时间可以帮助学生强化以上这些和其他的跨学科概念和技能。这是一个其他学科老师播下的知识之种发出的艺术之花,这是一个全面学习的环境。In the process of making this and other art, we explore different materials, develop fine motor skills, and apply concepts from other disciplines.  We measure our artwork, use a ruler to draw a border, divide the composition with a grid, describe artwork using nouns, verbs, and adjectives, paint a landscape with animals from the African Savannah, identify facts about artists and express opinions, graph favorite art materials, or learn to draw 3D solids such as cylinders and cubes.  Time in the art room reinforces these and many other concepts and skills from across the subjects.  It is a holistic learning environment where the seeds of knowledge planted by other teachers sprout into works of art.

下次路过艺术教室时,停下来,去闻一闻里面的气息,去看一看诞生美的摇篮吧!Next time you walk by the art room, pause, take in the smell, and watch the beauty grow.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Twist on the Bottlecap Art

Though I intended to do a second bottlecap panel last year, I never got around to it.
This year, I'm committed to it--I am the advisor to the high school art club and will use their energy to make it happen!

     In the meantime, this happened.

I was there when it first occurred. The PE teacher took his empty bottle and that of the IT guy, walked up to the wall, and screwed them in. I thought it was hilarious. I thought it was even funnier how it shocked people.

     How have we never thought of this before?

Well, we have. When I first started the project, the head principal suggested I make a reverse mural wherein I cut off the screw threads from the top of bottles, attach them to a board, then have an reuseable bottlecap mosaic base. We could move the colors around, screwing and unscrewing bottlecaps to make different pictures. I've never figured out how to do it, but I think a small board would be a great extra time art center in my classroom.

The bottle installation has grown to five bottles. I would be more inclined to leave the bottles up except you can see the remaining liquid in this unclean trash. The bottlecaps were all washed before being used to remove dirt, sugar,and other germs. I'm afraid fresh liquid will turn the inside of those caps nasty.

For now, the bottles have brought a smile to many and freshness to the collaborative art.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

That which by any other name...

Are you familiar with marshmallow?

No, I don't mean the puffy sugar treat that is excellent when paired with hot chocolate, rice krispies, or graham crackers and chocolate. Especially with graham crackers and chocolate.

I mean the color. Marshmallow.

This year, my classpack of Crayola markers got a few new friends due to an ordering mistake at the early childhood center. The 10 pack of assorted colors added some variety to our marker sets. Laser Lemon is a favorite, as is Marshmallow. At least that is what the second graders call it. No, it is not white, off-white, or cream. To me, I would call it light purple. But apparently the name is Marshmallow. They have said it so many times that yesterday, when I reached for a marker and debated which color I wanted, I vocalized to myself "Marshmallow." It was then I decided to enlighten the (blog) world about such a tint of purple. Until I looked at the barrel of the marker. Tropical Purple.

What!?! This color is called Marshmallow!
Don't the people at Crayola know that?

I still have no idea why my students insist on calling it marshmallow. While pink marshmallows are nearly as common as white (outside the US), I have never seen a purple marshmallow.

Until I began drawing with it...

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Artist's Achilles Heel

Interesting thing about being an art teacher---you might not excel in every area of art. I recently described photography and handwriting as my left and right Achilles heels as an art teacher. I have, not one, but two colleagues who put me to shame in both categories. And I just got back from a trip to Mongolia with both of them...

I understand the theory of good photography. I know some of the technical stuff like f-stop and shutter speed. Had to learn that stuff for Praxis. I even co-taught photography with the tech teacher during my first student teaching. Plus I understand composition, value, texture---all those elements and principles of art. I just can't manage to make it work when I'm behind the lens of a camera! These days, I don't even own a camera. It died during my second year in China and I haven't bother to replaced it. I did buy a Nikon DSLR for the art department at the end of that year, and have been known to borrow it on occasion, but I live most of my life abroad without a camera. I was thankful to my photography-talented friends for documenting our adventures in the steppe of Mongolia.

And then it happened.

We were in a ger of a local family. My friend was sitting on the floor, learning a game similar to jacks from the wife. He passed the camera over so someone could document the game. While I had the camera, the daughter made her way to the door. I snapped this shot. And then I clicked a few more times. Just in case the first one didn't turn out.

It might be the only good photo I've ever taken. And my friends---they each have 400 amazing shots from the week---but I'm especially enamored with my sweet picture of this little girl, looking out into the world from the safety of her humble home.

After I referred to handwriting and photography as my left and right Achilles heels, I realized I am also embarrassed by my inability to draw from my imagination. Drawing from observation, no problem--but drawing from my head, drawing anything in a cartoon-style, no way! I guess I am a three-legged artist, or at least a three-heeled one...

Do you have an area of art where you struggle? Are you embarrassed by it? Have you found ways to work around your weakness?

I will print a poster
rather than make it by hand because I prefer fonts to anything I can handwrite, or could. Just this week, I decided to view handwriting as an exercise in observational drawing---mimic the letters of favorite fonts when writing by hand.

Maybe this will be a turning point in my relationship with my handwriting.

Photo processing credits to Warren.
Not sure how much he tweaked it. I know I didn't shot in black and white, but I love it as a black and white image.

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