Friday, January 30, 2015

A scouting we will go...

I've been absent for a good long while....partly because I've been busy, partly because I was using all of my blogging time to write about Once Upon a Time....but honestly, one of the things that has had me dragging my heels about diving back in is the self-imposed pressure to return with some spectacular account of an amazing costume I made or a kick-ass party I threw.  This isn't that.  This post isn't even going to have pictures, I don't think.

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to help Max's Webelos den earn their art activity badge.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.  I printed out the requirements, ambitiously decided they would earn both their belt loop AND the activity badge, and planned out lesson 1 of a four-week series.  I figured I would shepherd the boys through the requirements for the belt loop on the first meeting, and then ask their opinions on which of the other suggested activities we would try next.

Week One was a great success, by all accounts.  I was afraid of being too teacherly, of the meeting being too boring and school-like, but the scouts (three of them, including Max - yes, it's the world's tiniest Cub Scout den) were engaged and possibly even a wee bit enthralled.  We talked about jobs you could have in the art field, we brainstormed materials you could use to make art (how pleased I was when I finally got them to realize that you can use anything, ANYTHING! to make art!), and then I gave them a short overview of color theory, my secret love.  This is where I expected them to groan from boredom, but they really didn't.  I handed out blank color wheels, and all three of them happily and methodically filled them in.  It was interesting to see their personalities appear during this activity.....Max, quickly and confidently, if somewhat messily, mixing his own secondary and tertiary colors with layered colored pencil, Z. very deliberately and neatly shading in each slice of the wheel with precision and great care, and D. demanding I dig through my bin of colored pencils to find all the ones of the same brand so that his wheel would "match."  Then I gave them instructions on making 3-D hand drawings - you know, you've seen it all over Pinterest - which they all more-or-less completed with a minimum of fuss.

At the end of the meeting, I shared the list of other suggested activities with the boys, and they unanimously shouted "CLAY!" for their next project.  So I got some clay, and, figuring that wouldn't hold their attention for an entire meeting, planned they would begin their mobile project for the following week.

On Monday night, I hauled ten pounds of clay up to the Scout room, gave the boys a brief talk on the different methods of working with clay (wheel, slab building, coil building, pinch) and explained to them that I didn't want them to bother about tools or get caught up in technique, that they should just get their hands in the clay and make whatever they felt like.  I did give a few suggestions - make a pot! Make a figurine! Make a handprint for your mom!

I had Milo with me, as Adrian was held up at work, and he immediately and quite happily set about coiling up long rolls of clay to make a pot.

I lied.  Here's a photo of Milo's coil pot.  Not bad for a
5 year old!

The Scouts took their great lumps of clay and started working them.  Pounding, squishing, rolling....yeah!  Get those hands in there!  Make some art!  Let it speak to you!

About half-way through the meeting, I became aware that none of the Scouts were actually producing anything.  So I started making gentle of the dads started Googling "things made with clay" and showing them pictures....another grabbed a piece of clay and started making a silly sculpture, poking fun at his lack of artistry as he worked.....another started copying Milo's rather industrious approach to coil building, musing aloud about all the things he could use a clay cup or pot for....

NOTHING.  These three Scouts were, as a den, having complete sculptor's-block.  I was equally fascinated and dismayed.  As their collective stress level rose, so did our frantic attempts to cajole them into making something.  ANYTHING.  My visions of starting next week's project flew out the window.

Finally, with the clock ticking towards the end of the meeting, each Scout reluctantly placed a clay creation or two on my drying tray, and called it a day.

The final products. 

So what happened here? I am SO curious!!!  Clay was the boys' first choice of medium, and the thing they were most vocally enthusiastic about working with, of any of the projects I initially suggested.  Why was it ultimately so difficult for them to produce a piece of art they were satisfied with?

Was it the lack of direction? The previous week, the lesson was fairly rigid, and the guidelines for filling in the color wheel and creating the drawing did not give them much freedom.  All three boys successfully completed their objectives, though, with a minimum of fuss or stress.  But going into that lesson, I, as the artist, was concerned that they would find the activities too constricting, that they wouldn't be able to explore art and be creatively free.  I was excited to give them great big lumps of clay to work with however they wanted to, and eager to see what their young, fertile imaginations would come up with.  Why the vapor-lock?  These boys are only 9 and 10 years old. Are they already so self-conscious about expressing themselves?  Are they already so aware of trying to make something "cool", of trying to be the "best" at every activity, of trying to impress their peers?  Their teachers?

By contrast, my five year old had no hesitation, and no stress, about making a simple coil pot.  I didn't tell him to make it, he chose it, and he executed it with very little assistance or direction from me.  Would I have had more success telling the Scouts, "Tonight we're making coil pots," and NOT giving them freedom?  That goes against what I consider artistic expression, I think.  But maybe this isn't the age for artistic expression?  Max draws and makes things all the time that are purely out of his imagination, I didn't think it would be so hard for them.  But he struggled as much, if not more, than his friends.  So I can't even say "Oh, D. and Z. had trouble because they go to school, where they have rules and specific projects to do and don't get to experiment, and look how Max excelled because he's a loosey-goosey homeschooler."

So I guess what I'm saying is....I don't know what went wrong.  Does anyone have any insight?  Was it the wrong approach for the age?  Or did I just happen to get three atypical ten year olds?

I have to guide these boys through two more projects.  Again, I let them choose, so we are making mobiles and collages.  I think the mobile project I have planned has enough guidelines that they will be happy with it, but I'm rethinking my collage plans.  I had originally thought of doing a short introduction to Matisse, and letting them do cut-paper collages, but now I'm thinking maybe I'd better stick to cutting words and pictures out of magazines?  That honestly doesn't excite me nearly as much...or seem as much like "art"....but I don't think I can bear to watch these kids agonize over another open-ended assignment.

Any advice?


  1. Caveat: as you know full well, an artist I am NOT. But I was a 10 year old boy who got asked to work with clay in art class. Another caveat, I had a lousy elementary school art teacher. I had stomach aches the night before art because I hated the class so much. Not art, the class. Big difference. Anyhow, this really struck me because I distinctly remember being asked to make "somehting" out of clay and going into vapor lock. I don't know why, but to me clay always seemed so open-ended, like you could make ANYTHING with it because you had three dimensions, ya know. Not like drawing or painting where it had to be flat. In my mind anyhting you could see in the real world or dream up in your imagination could be shaped out of clay. Theoretically. That's where my problem came. I knew what I wanted to make but then making that blob look like what I had in my head never worked. It never looked JUST like what I wanted, and because it was clay and COULD be made to look like anything, it was unacceptable when it didn't. So I'd crush it up (which was fun) and start on something else. Then again. And again. And again. The I'd turn in a snake at the end of class (despite hating snakes, it was all I could make look close to right) and be humiliated in front of the class for my lack of imagination/talent/skill. Then I'd cry.

    Anyhow. I think maybe it might be they had imagination overload. Maybe a theme to start with? Either tell them to make something useful (pot, cup, bowl, hash pipe) or sculpt something from a category (animal, transportation, person, tool) or pretty much anything to sort of narrow down the wide world of possibilities while leaving plenty of room to be creative.


So, whaddya think?