Students in Kara Cook’s ninth grade Studio Art classes at North Syracuse Junior High School have teamed up with Jill Welsh’s third-graders at Allen Road Elementary for a creative experience now on display at NOPL @ Cicero.
The project, inspired by the work of contemporary artist Mica Angela Hendricks, combines the realistic artwork of the ninth-graders with the childlike creativity of the younger children.
The collaboration began when Welsh saw a post on a friend’s Facebook page about a project Hendricks, an illustrator and graphic artist, had done with her 4-year-old daughter Myla. In a post on her blog, Hendricks shared that she had sketched heads from vintage black-and-white movie stills, then allowed Myla to draw bodies for them. Hendricks then revisited the drawings, adding color, texture and highlights.
“I shared the link with Kara, knowing she was an art teacher of older students and said, ‘Let’s do this with our students,’” Welsh said. “She replied right away, set up a time to meet at her house to go over details of what we wanted the finished project to look like, and we started.”
First, Cook wanted to try it out for herself, so she tested Hendricks’ method with her own guinea pigs: her sons, Landon, 6, and Parker, 4.
“I drew some portraits from vintage photos and let my two boys draw the bodies, like Mica Angela Hendricks,” Cook said. “I then experimented with adding color with pastels and the drawing came to life. I knew we had to do this as a lesson.”
The Studio Art students first drew realistically shaded portraits to start their composition.
“This project fit nicely with our Figure Drawing Unit,” Cook said. “Students have just completed activities of learning proportions of the human body and portraiture. The students explored blending with the drawing pencils, and also focused on having successful value when blending.”
Meanwhile, since Cook had three classes and Welsh only one, Welsh had to come up with a multitude of activities for her students. So her classes undertook several activities. During their science and animal research, students researched and presented an animal, drew its body and its habitat and sent the drawing to the ninth-graders. They also studied fables and folktales, after which they had to choose a fable and draw a character’s body and the setting of the story.
Along with each unit, the third-graders completed a poetry unit, where they reviewed parts of speech, concentrating on adverbs and adjectives. The students ultimately wrote poems to go along with their drawings.
The final unit completed by the younger students centered on fantasy and realism.
“We brainstormed things we would see in a fantasy story, read fantasy and realistic stories to compare,” Welsh said. “Then they had the freedom to draw anything that came to their mind when I said fantasy.”
Those drawings were also sent to the ninth-graders, who had just finished a unit on color. They used pastels to bring dimension to the drawings and bring them to life.
Once the project was completed, Welsh and Cook were eager to show off what their students had accomplished. They began to seek out a place to display the works their charges had created.
“We brainstormed places that had a community room, because we knew we wanted to have some sort of a showing for the families to see how hard their children worked and for the ninth-graders to meet up with the third-graders,” Welsh said.
Their search brought them to NOPL @ Cicero.
“We both have been to the library for their story hour, plays, puppet shows, etc., and remembered seeing photographs hung in the community room and wondered if we could hang our art work there,” Welsh said. “We also had to think of a place that could hold all of students and families, a place that would keep the pieces up for a while, and it helps that it’s free to get into. So we met with Jill Youngs from the NOPL Cicero library and she loved the idea before we even finished our pitch. The artwork will stay up throughout the holiday for the public to see. It’s a nice reminder that there are libraries out there with books, movies, computers, shows, etc. [It’s] good place to visit!”
Both teachers said the collaboration was a success and planned to do something similar in the future.
“Definitely,” Welsh said, “if not this exact project, then some sort of collaboration project, for sure.”
To view the students’ artwork, visit NOPL @ Cicero, 8686 Knowledge Lane, Cicero. The display will be up through the end of December.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.