Week 4 – Drawing from Life

February 27, 2009 - Leave a Response

Today went really well. Normally our session happens in a big cafeteria, but a big meeting was being held so we had to go into this small back room. We’d brought objects this time – a buddha candle, a votive, rocks and crystals, fools gold, a sphinx sculpturette, a maraca, shells; a wooden Adinkra symbol (Gyname). Because of the meeting we weren’t allowed to drum at all but they spent most of the time painting.

KT joked earlier that she’d bring in lighted candles (already lit)! The night before, we’d talked about what to do and both of us (for the seond time) had similar ideas. I woke up that morning looking at a pillar candle trying to rack my brain for last minute ideas. I thought it was too simple, but later when I talked to her just by virtue of her mentioning she’d thought of it I decided it would be worth a try. Once seated at the table she did lite them, andthe chattering quieted as they watched the flame. There was definitely more of a focus this time around. We arranged our objects in the middle of the long table on a black cloth and asked if there was any they each wanted to draw.

Almost immediately after I handed out paper they looked for the paintbrushes, picked out what they wanted to draw and started trying. Two of them really surprised us. One was really good at capturing the details of an African Spice holder, engraved with intricate lines. His drawing reminded me of an Incan mask. Later he would go on to paint two more pictures without being asked, that were very interesting; the eye of Horus above an ankh (from his imagination) and a portrait of me that wasn’t so bad! The second started drawing a face from his imagination that really intrigued me. “This definitely seems to be more of an artistic group” KT remarked.

Another  student wasn’t feeling his maraca drawing, but he used the watercolor pencil anyway to draw fine lines in every shade of the rainbow which gave a very bright, colorful quality to his drawing. When I pointed out the quality it had, and brought over the security guard for his approval, and held it up against the wall so he could see how the colors stood out from far away I could see he appreciated it more. Then he asked, in a hopeful way, “are ya’ll going to be here every week? Because, I wouldn’t know what to do [with myself] if ya’ll weren’t here!” That enthusiasm is what I use to measure success.

What was different about this time than last week? They tried harder. They had something to measure against. They focused more. I really feel having the candle lit helped initiate that space of concentration; helped suggest that something needs to happen.

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Week 3 – abstract art and rhythm

February 27, 2009 - Leave a Response

Didn’t quite go as I’d hoped. I didn’t bring in an object for the students to draw or paint, so KT played some music from Mali and I asked them to paint (watercolor) any images and colors that came to mind. After the class KT suggested that was probably way too abstract for them to relate to.

The response to the art and music ranged from laughter at the music, to total disbelief as to why we would want to play it, and what did I mean by “drawing colors from music”? They spent most of the art segment idly talking, painting a little but not really getting into it. After I tried to demonstrate, they didn’t know “what” to paint. They didn’t understand the concept of “seeing” color to music with the imagination. (Later I felt maybe a visual like a Kandinsky video would help). After I asked them what they would rather hear they named popular rap artists (none of them with clean lyrics). So we mentioned they could bring their own music in to see what happens. Last week, one student came up with a pretty complex beat on KT’s bass drum we all liked from a popular song and we asked him to bring the CD with him this time but he’d forgotten.

The drumming segment turned out great; a flood of choir students from the Milwaukee High School of the Arts (my alma mater!) poured in near the end of our session to practice for a Black History program and they joined in with us. KT has some audio for that – we’ll post it soon. The students were definetely more rythmic this time around and we were able to groove for a good 20 minutes or more, coming up with several different rhythms.

After the class KT and I had our “debrief” talk and she suggested something they could draw from in life, an object like the plant we did last time. I remembered she has this shelf full of natural things she and her kids have collected over the years, like a bird skeleton, rocks, fossils, crystals, plant matter, wood and pine cones. Some were delicate, others not so delicate. She said she didn’t mind bringing in the bird skeleton even though it’s fragile; her family has had it for awhile and if it gets destroyed she felt it would be time for it to go. I thought that was a fabulous idea sure to generate some type of interest.

One night, at an Artists Working in Education meeting (an organization I contract with that partners artists with schools)  about project planning, I talked to a friend about her experience working with the high-school demographic. She mentioned they self-criticize the most, so I have to “drive the ship” and let them use the oars. Giving them to much reign opens up the space for “I don’t paint”, or I don’t do that” or “mine is ugly”. This self-criticism easily erodes a project and ones self-esteem. Her work comes from a therapeutic approach, which is why I can relate to her and want to build more with her on that to get some ideas.

It’s difficult for me, this stage of the game. Building concrete ideas around how to support self-esteem building in a tangible way. I mean, I know how to nurture it, but too much plain nurturing can lead to… well, they don’t want to feel patronized or pandered to. They want to feel empowered, that something they do is appreciated.

That led me to the thought, well, maybe I need to pose the question to them “what do people appreciate about something it is that you’ve done, or  do?”. Then, if they can recognize something within them that they already can do I can build from that. Because right now, I get the impression that they haven’t thought about what it is they can do that people actually appreciate.  90% of their life is probably reinforced negatively by the way they behave in society.

Week 2 – New Sound ‘N Vision Semester!

February 12, 2009 - Leave a Response
  • We got approved for a second 8 weeks at the transitional facility this semester! I was REALLY excited to know this, as I’d been hoping for more work along these lines. Today was our second session. Last week, KT came up with the idea to take the boys on a field trip to Growing Power when we can get approval. I was feeling this, as I was trying to think of a way to get them more into art than last semester and it’d be good inspiration for a project theme.

    Last semester they didn’t like the idea of using crayola crayons and markers, so my strategy was to use non-kid branded, unpackaged supplies like cray-pas, pastels, watercolors and ink. As is usually the case, I ended up winging it the day of and decided to bring in watercolors and brushes since it’s a more fluid medium. You know, apply water and the paint does the rest. This is a new group, only 5 boys to start with, so my initial impression coming into the room was very relaxed. Not to mention I was greeted with three of them fast asleep in various positions with heads resting on tables and sprawled across chairs in the hot sunlight coming through the window. It was very funny!

    Of course there was the usual “I don’t paint”, but once we got them going on some abstract basic techniques they rolled with it for 45 minutes. We did a little drumming after that, but the majority of the session was spent painting and the vibe was pretty receptive and laid-back.

    Today, I definitely felt I got their interest by choosing to paint something from life – KT brought in an avocado plant that had a story behind it (now I wanna grow one!) and I guided them through painting the pot, stem and leaves on watercolor paper. I feel it was successful in that half of the paintings actually looked like a plant, very colorful, and aside from the negative comments initially like not being good enough, the response to seeing new colors and techniques was pretty receptive and positive. One guy who’d said he didn’t know how to paint ended up creating something from nothing – a parallel I saw to a poem KT read by the poet Hafiz called “Roots” and it tied into (my philosophical interpretation) the idea of taking a seed, a root, and color and substance growing from it.

    After that we drummed again, this time a little longer than last week. KT remarked this group seemed more like a painting group! It felt good to think that the boys actually seem to enjoy painting, one of them asking if we’d be back every week. Two of the 5 were with us last semester; the rest are new. I remember feeling very disenchanted last semester with the initial response to the art portion being lukewarm at best. It warmed up near the middle and by the last day we left feeling like they really appreciated us (we brought them brownies on the last day – one still talks about that!) I kept saying to KT how I felt it was easier for them to relate to the drumming – and it was. They all looked forward to it and rhythms came naturally and easy to them. This group though, catches on a little slow to the beats and I didn’t expect that. I thought it would’ve been in their blood. I’m sure there’ll be those moments, but all in all it’s starting out warm and open to possibilities.

    I’m trying to think of ways to keep them painting without getting bored… Week after week they are going to tire of just painting the same thing. So getting them into Growing Power to paint live will be a different experience. After that, I don’t know… what usually ends up happening is me and KT will talk the day before a class and generate ideas. It’s usually last minute for me. The space is wide open for us to do anything we want, and since the chakra mobile went flat last time I haven’t thought about bringing it back – until today. I figure, they like to paint, and it’s a quiet group, so maybe they’re open to working on something a little more reflective. Especially one guy. He really gets into the paint by himself and creates elaborate images any art therapist would love to analyze.

    We laugh alot, and KT enjoys the new art experience. I come away from it feeling really joyous and like I accomplished something. We both like working together – I get to drum and she gets to paint, something we both don’t do very often. It feels like play. It feels good just being appreciated. I know the boys get something out of it, because we appreciate them just participating and I feel like that energy we give them is something they don’t get to experience easily and/or very often. In my mind that’s the healing space we want to create.

  • colorful
  • colorful
  • Re-cap of our Experience

    February 6, 2009 - Leave a Response

    We spent 10 weeks in the Fall of 2008 working with boys at an MPS Transitional Corrections High School. Our goal was to expose them to drumming and visual art. To inspire them by working with us as artists. To explore ideas and approaches to by learning something new together. To teach them to jam together, that is – create improvisational music, through listening to each other and simply doing it.

    Our theme became:
    “Barack Obama” through the senses. After working together on our Obama pieces, we would drum.
    KT and Tia also read poetry written by the Persian poet Hafiz and poetry written by Tashi, a Tibetan refugee youth living in India and friend of KT. We created art related to the chakras or energy centers of the body. We asked the kids to reflect on “What do you need to survive?” (1st chakra).
    Who do you feel close to and why?” (2nd chakra)
    “What makes you feel powerful?” (Third chakra)
    Who or what inspires you? (4th chakra) and MORE!

    Teaching these guys was sometimes a bit of a challenge. For example we would be greeted occasionally by “Go Home” and other unmentionable phrases. But inside, we know these guys are soft as cotton. We love their art and music and we wish them all the best.

    So guys, if you happen to read this page – know that we are waiting to be invited to your high school graduation (you can collect your Tia and KT special treat!) and we wish each of you happiness and success. And we will be back in the Spring.

    Some feedback from the youth:
    “We will remember them old times with Tia and KT”
    “Love the drumming”
    “Love the hair do’s”

    Our last day!!!

    December 13, 2008 - One Response


    We cannot photograph the youth, but here are a few results. We found that collages seem to work out better than individual art works. We think this is because cutting and pasting on a theme is a little less intimidating than drawing.

    So… today was our last day of 10 weeks at the Holton Youth Facility working with corrections youth (high school boys). My partner was KT Rusch (musician). We did art and music in a non-structured way with them. It was my first time working with this demographic and my experience was heart-warming. It wasn’t KT’s first time working with the boys at this facility. She told me they were the best group she’s ever had. It can be a tough bunch.

    Every week we came up with something new or piggybacked off of what we did the week before. Today we gave them short survey’s to fill out for our personal curiosities. We brought brownies. All the survey’s came back with some surprising, but not really, things. Though not all participated, the majority showed their appreciation for us being there verbally or on the survey, and throughout the session by wanting to participate even if they didn’t have to. There were no grades, only a space to express themselves creatively or not.

    My favorite project, where I felt the most positive feedback from the group, was the Obama collage. I outlined Obama’s face on a large poster board, brought in magazines like Ebony, the Source, the Aspectarian, Essence, Black Enterprise, Well, and some the staff brought. I wrote things like “I See”, I hear”, I speak”, “What would Obama Do?” over his eyes, mouth, head, and ears. They cut out some really great photos and words to go along with it, like “soul”, Vision”, “essence”, “#1”. and “top dog” with little guidance from me. Where they recieved the most input from me, and their receptivity to my input, was what made me feel this project was the best. I asked questions about what they chose to put on there. Why the gun? Why the bling, gold tooth, or whiskey label, or Big Mac? The ones that stayed had good answers, those that didn’t, didn’t. Out of it came a very coherent collage that would one day make a good mural idea that I envision wrapping up into another proposal for a different organization. Their reaction to it was “I didn’t know it would look so good.”. And, “it actually doesn’t look messed up!”

    Some of them let us know in not so many words we will be missed. We let them know, likewise, and it’s true. According to one answer from the survey question “What will you remember most about this experience?” Answer: “Them good ‘ol days.” I will miss them.

    KT and I hope to go back and recount most weeks and our experiences, and post them here for recollection and regeneration.