Monday #50: What I Do


When people ask me what I do, there’s never really just one answer. I write, I paint, I make books, I teach, I blog, I coach, I give talks. And, depending on the time of year, I can be doing all these things simultaneously. This summer, I am working at the arts council in Princeton, NJ where I teach art camp. Last week, I had a group of teenagers for five days of a class I called Explorations in Drawing & Painting. I am a very “off the cuff” kind of teacher and like to give my art classes titles that include words like “explorations” and “creativity” because it gives me lots of room to find out what the kids really want to do instead of delivering a preset bunch of lesson plans that make half the kids groan. What I’ve discovered about community-based art classes is that, unfortunately, many of the children don’t really want to be there and end up enrolled because their parents either think that it’s a good idea for being well-rounded or simply because they need a place to put them, as is so often the case in summer camps.

This group of kids spent their morning with another instructor who did a very traditional figurative drawing class. The kids used each other as models and spent the week understanding and representing the scale, ratio and movement of the human body. After lunch, they came to me for an assortment of quirky, offbeat and very untraditional exercises. Over the first two days, I did demonstrations of nearly fifteen projects and, during their week with me, they could choose whatever they wanted to work on. What amazed me is how prolific they were! They made so much art, even did extra at home, which I taped up on the walls around us so that we could all look at it.

At first glance, one might have thought we were just goofing around making funny pictures but, upon closer inspection, the kids were truly learning all sorts of things about art.

1074382_10151746946472438_1548657488_oWe learned about layering transparent colors and the properties of wet on wet and dry on dry watercolors by adding all kinds of media and turning these blobs into…

1097055_10151746945182438_1468211551_oWeird creatures…

1074588_10151748408087438_1019134969_oAnd even…

1077709_10151746945607438_954597669_oCranky Birds! (Hey, this bird looks disturbingly similar to one of my birds!)

1102398_10151748407447438_1054033682_oWe learned about water soluble media and what we could do with a set of markers and a wet paintbrush.

1077450_10151746944982438_2032774738_oWe played with lines and line weight by abandoning neatness and intention and scribbling out the “worst dog scribble” we could.

1076946_10151746944767438_453297893_oWe called it our Gallery of Ugly Dogs, but some of the dogs were downright adorable.

892512_10151746946102438_2070854563_oWe practiced what we knew about pattern and motif by zentangling.

1093789_10151748407347438_1932036538_oWe took those same patterns and motifs and decorated the lyrical prose we found on old book pages…

1077087_10151746946017438_416007001_o… as well as the metaphors we invented for the things in the world we love.

1085066_10151746946167438_1269181448_oAnd then, we worked together on an intuitive painting where we took all the things we had been doing and, as a group, turned this…

1073152_10151746945142438_1223041865_o… into this…

1096983_10151748407642438_1103716101_o… and, then, into this…

IMG_2867… and, finally, into this…

IMG_2897I had such a great week with this group of young people. They were engaged, enthusiastic, focused and creative beyond all my expectations. And, in a world where many of us are so self -critical about our artistic abilities, I was so pleased to see them admire and talk about the work they’d all made at the end of each day.

1077221_10151746946312438_171334154_oI love what I do.

TRY THIS WEEK: Scribble out your own imagination.


















About Dar Hosta James

I am an artist living in New Jersey. I write and illustrate children's books, paint, draw, blog, coach, teach and speak about creativity.
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4 Responses to Monday #50: What I Do

  1. Peggy Jarvis says:

    Their work is really stunning! What a meaningful experience for them and for you! This is my favorite way to “teach” ART. I share your philosophy of exploration! I’ve been fortunate to work on bringing puppetry to schools, libraries, Farmer’s Markets, private homes and parties, etc. After exploring the basic techniques for making your puppet “LIVE” , the kids get to make their own, and perform using simple scripts and improvisation … the results are amazing. Take a peek on our website …

  2. lwostl says:

    I want to be in your class!

  3. Dee says:

    Wonderful! And thanks for teaching me through your blog.
    I looked up what zentanging was. Seems that is the type of doodling I do when I was bored in college. Will have to try it again.

  4. Pingback: Monday #50: What I Do | warnowarno18

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