What Your Kids Did at Art Camp – Week 3

I am flying to England on Sunday, so I’m writing about this week’s camp before the week is even over! I also am a little thin on photos, but I’ll update this post with more pictorial evidence later today, or you can click here.
I have been very busy, and this blog post may sound a bit muddled and rushed, but I’m glad to say that, this week’s camp was not. As usual there were many impromptu moments, and kid driven projects, and much mess was generated.

In addition to the art making, there was a sweaty game of basketball, lots of tree climbing, an afternoon running through the town sprinklers, and some raucous games of musical chairs. The weather is sweltering, the kids fade quickly every day, and we have limited most of our projects to the mornings, leaving the second half of the day to play indoor games and flop in armchairs, and on my picnic blanket. I’m surprised at just how much we have managed to get done this week.

The theme is Graphic Design, and the kids were surprised that no computers were involved , but ummm sorry, I don’t actually own fifteen computers loaded up with Adobe Creative Suite! But you don’t need a computer to learn about the fundamentals of graphic design. We talked about design in general, and how it impacts everybody’s life. We looked at public transport systems in different cities, and examined Harry Beck‘s designs for the London Underground map. The kids tried their hand at designing transit systems for the Town of Vienna, and produced simple, color coded maps for them. They realized that this is a lot harder than it actually sounds!


After that brain boggling project, I handed out rolls of colored masking tape and the kids started to make abstract compositions inspired by their transit maps. This turned out to be a stroke of genius. If you ever have a bunch of tired and resistant kids in art class, break out the colored masking tape. I believe that the best ideas come to you when you are in a state of play, and this project is the perfect example of that – it just kept going on and on and on. The more pieces the campers produced, the more they began to understand about how the elements of design work. They were exploring and playing with scale, balance, color, value, and direction without even realizing it! This led to some color paper collage work that focused on using negative space creatively, and looking at static versus dynamic compositions. Sounds complicated, but they were really into it. Also, they started wrapping rocks in masking tape for the Vienna Rock Hunt, and were pretty good at it.




Even the littlest kid got into it!


Around this time, some kids were also playing around with lettering in their spare time. I brought in some sumi ink, and they happily experimented with brush lettering and calligraphy. So I changed direction and started a typography project, aided by Chip Kidd’s brilliant book on graphic design for kids. We looked at different typefaces, and discussed what they could be used for, and we also talked about color symbolism. I asked the campers to draw words so that they would make people think of their opposite meaning when they looked at them. The kids are taking a while to grasp this, but I think they are getting it, and will produce some amazing work tomorrow morning.


Tomorrow afternoon will probably end with a LOT of cleaning up, and bribes in the form of chocolate covered Oreos, and then … it’s time to pack for London, and four weeks of good tea, great art, and old friends.

I’ll be in touch with some pictures! Happy Friday!




What Your Kids did at Art camp – Running wild with town planning

One of the very best things about running my own summer camp is the many freedoms it involves. I write my own curriculum, and I plan things in great detail, but I don’t always stick with my plans.

I firmly believe that a child’s learning experiences and environment at camp should be distinct from school. I set the theme for the week, and I explain projects, sometimes the kids stick to the plan, sometimes they strike out in a new direction for the week. Camp is a flexible place where we ride waves of curiosity, it is a time of discovery for both myself, and my students. This week was the perfect example of this…

The theme this week was Cartography and Town Planning. We spent a morning looking at different kinds of maps, and discussing why we need maps. The kids were fascinated by the MacArthur’s Universal Corrective Map, and the idea that the world map doesn’t have to be oriented North up, and can look very different depending on the point of view of the people who make them (check out this website for interesting talking points). We discussed early ideas of the world being flat, and what that meant to navigators and explorers. Then we started planning out our first project, which was creating and mapping out a fantasy land. I expected the kids to work on these rapidly and with great enthusiasm, after a rollicking discussion about Narnia, Middle Earth, and Hogsmeade. However the project got off to a slow start with some students, who found the idea of creating a new land from scratch overwhelming.

At some point during this first project, we went on a walk along a trail, and discovered two brightly painted rocks. I found out that there was a rock hunt taking place in the Town of Vienna, and the kids were itching to take part in it. Every single break was spent feverishly searching for painted rocks. So, on Tuesday evening I drove to Home Depot and bought a large bag of stones and some varnish, and set up a rock painting table. The kids painted rocks and hid them around Vienna, which meant walking around the town a lot.


Perfect for the next project, Rethinking Vienna, where the kids worked in groups to redesign the Town of Vienna, adding and changing features of their home town, and thinking deeply about what makes a place more pleasant to live in. I had no idea how much this project would resonate with the campers, for most of Thursday and friday they worked solidly through breaks, and drove the project independently without much help from me.

The real world topic had caught their interest more than the the fantasy world!

One team wanted Vienna to be more inclusive, put a mosque, a synagogue  and a temple next door to an already existing church, and gave them a communal relaxation/meditation space. Another group built a metro station in the town, and looked at making people use their cars less while running their daily chores. A third group came up with the simple but brilliant idea of putting water fountains along the W/OD trail for bikers to use. I was so impressed by their ideas, and by the direction this project had taken… and so was our surprise guest.

The Mayor of Vienna stopped by to look at the kids’ work and discuss their maps with them, and they were so excited to present their ideas to her. Suddenly, all my cooler than thou ten and eleven year olds were acting starstruck, and asking for autographs!

It was a lovely week, and a lot of it just happened fluidly! Here it is in pictures:


Summer Art Camp, What Your Kids Did – Week 1

And so, the first week of this year’s summer camp has come to pass. I should have written this on the weekend, but I was exhausted, and chose to binge read Howl’s Moving Castle instead (excellent book by the way), take long naps, and drop in on the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which is happening right now on the Mall.
This is the first time that I have left a gap between two weeks of camp, and I’ve got to say…. I like it!

Doing a camp the first week of the summer vacation was tough on both myself and the kids, they were exhausted from school, and I was bitter about having to still pack lunches. So, we took it a little easy, and followed our instincts. A lot of art making was done, but we also took very long breaks to play frisbee, nap under trees (the kids, not me – honest!), play monster games of Apples to Apples, and listen to Percy Jackson quietly. Summer is, after all, a time to decompress, and process, and I think the week was pretty well balanced.

The week’s theme was Food and Art, with a particular focus on cakes and desserts (yum!). We explored work by Joel Penkman and Wayne Thiebaud, and discussed Dutch still life and Hyperrealism. We designed cakes, block printed our designs, studied color theory, watched OK Go videos on it, and mixed delicious frosting colors with paint. We painted and and piped cakes onto canvas board, and then used our knowledge of color to paint and draw aerial landscapes (which was a bit of a detour from our theme). We drew our dream lunches with markers and pencils, and read some funny picture books about cake. On Friday, we baked mini cupcakes, and pretended that it was still all about art (well, we did use color theory for the food coloring!), but really we just wanted to eat cake! We played in the town green sprinklers, climbed trees, went for walks, and cleaned. We cleaned a lot, poor mites, that’s the downside to painting. Have a look at some pictures I took during the week:

The inspiration for this camp: our venue, Cocoa Vienna.




Impromptu Play-Doh baking contest


Dream lunchbox


Dream lunchbox in progress

Happy July 4th! I’ll be back with news of the next camp, and my birthday celebrations! Yessss!!!