The “Check-out” card.

20141020_081445Accommodating large class sizes along with their tool and supply use in the high school classroom is not easy! My classes have on average 36 students and are allowed to go as high as 38. That is a lot of students, a lot of questions, and a lot of stuff  to keep track of! One item I use to help try to keep track of some of this is a “check-out” card.

Students are all given a 3″x5″ card at the beginning of the year. They list their first and last name in the top left corner of the card with their period number below it. The right hand corner of the card contains their locker (drawer) number and combination so that, should an item go missing for some reason, I know the first place to look. Now having their locker number and combo on the card does run the same risks as leaving a key lying around, but I am able to reset combinations if it is a problem and the cards are so easily returned if left out.

After recording attendance and the usual introduction of the day’s work, students may bring their check-out cards up to my desk to get the tools they may need. For this it is a simple one-for-one exchange, tool (scissors, glue stick, colored pencil set, etc.) for card to be traded back at the end of the period. This allows me to ensure that I have a consistent inventory of tools available for student use.

Students often need to borrow tools and supplies from the classroom to complete work elsewhere. In a case like this the check-out cards become similar to library cards in which a student may check a supply or tool out by writing the name of the tool and the date on which it was checked out on the card and leaving it with me. they may then take a tool home with them to complete the work and return it at a later date. When that supply or tool is returned I cross it out and initial the card on the line. This card is then effectively taken out of use until the tool or supplies returned. Students also use this card to check out the restroom pass so becomes important to them to return tools and supplies in a timely manner.

20141020_083054I found it useful to purchase (or in my case, make) a card organizer in which the cards can be kept available for when the teacher or student needs it. I’ve also found it useful that my organizer can be arranged to support long-term checkouts (library cards) by dividing the cards according to period number. This way I can quickly return the cards as students return supplies.

I suppose it’s important to note that this is not without problems or drawbacks . I often end up with quite a lot of students at the end of the period waiting to turn supplies in. This can take some time given stack of cards I have to go through to make the exchange. In my classroom however, I’ve made the decision to sacrifice this time to save from the time and additional cost of replacing tools.

Although the check-out card may not be perfect and I’m sure other solutions exist, I find that it is an effective tool for managing some of the “stuff” that goes into the average art classroom with large class sizes. I hope you’ve found some of my ideas useful. If you have, or have other ideas on ways to manage tools and supplies in the classroom, please leave a comment below. Thank you!

Just as it starts, it’s over…

It seems like it has been a short time at the ND studio. On the other hand it has been intense and I’ve been able to put some time in at the wheel and behind the camera.

Ceramics started out a bit slow as it always seams to as I have to relearn everything I’ve forgotten about the way it feels to center the clay and slowly work it up into the form I’m looking for. One of my goals this year was to throw a few more coffee cups and to work with a slip made from clay found locally. The first part went well as the cups I’ve thrown appear to have dried well and the handles do not show any cracking where they attach to the cup. The second part appears to have gone well too but I will not know for sure until after they are fired. in order to work with scrifitto, or at least to have a direction in which to go, I selected a barley motif and used it in a variety of ways. This motif found a place on almost all of the cups and on a small flowerpot.

Northwest McIntosh-20110716-00180

I worked with two different clays this summer; a white and a red. I generally preferred the red as it felt smoother as I threw with it and did not lose its structural integrity quite as readily.

Northwest McIntosh-20110716-00181

At the beginning of this summer I picked up a new lens and a few filters. The lens has a fairly good macro feature and I used that as much as I could. I found it difficult to focus as the feel of the zoom was about the same as it was to focus. None the less I dug up some subjects I thought might be worth a photo for their potential for interpretation as well as simple documentation. I’ll develop the film next year and will see how well the photos turn out then. My initial opinion is that I should have shot in color rather than black and white. The muted color seemed to work well with the subjects as seen through the viewfinder. Of course, I can only develop black and white so the idea of shooting in color is a bit of a moot point. The suspense would still be there, however, so perhaps I’ll consider it next year depending on how the b/w turns out.


As I begin one of my summer reads I’m taken by Peter Clothier’s discussion of the barriers he (and many artists) place between themselves and their work. In my case, at least this summer, this barrier (or “Big Lie”) is my daughter’s “chicken experiment.”

Long concerned about the ethical treatment of animals she’s decided that she would like to care for a small flock of chickens and harvest their eggs to ensure the animals that contribute to her food supply are humanely treated. As a result, I‘ve been brought in as a part of the team working to provide shelter for these chickens. When I say “provide shelter,” what I really mean is “building resurrection” because what my father (the other half of the team) and I do is really bring buildings back from the dead.


BEFORE: So this is (was) the chicken coop when we started. You can see a little of the roof over the door and that is because that is all the was still above the walls. The rest of the roof had rotted and fallen into the interior of the coop. (No, the picture isn’t skewed, the building is actually leaning and held up by the boards in the right hand corner.)


AFTER: Four days later we’ve ended up with this. Ok, so it may not be pretty but it does have a roof that works and it is straight. In fact, (You can’t see them here) it even has chickens in it. With some good fortune it’ll soon have eggs in it as well.

Now, as this barrier has reached a point at which I am no longer needed (or I am able to work past this “Big Lie), it is time to get back into my summer studio. Actually, this little project isn’t too terribly far from one of my concerns and that is sustainability. I really enjoyed Thoreau’s “Walden” for its intellectual approach to the very core of human existence, subsistence. None-the-less, it is time to get back into the studio and I will do that over the next couple of days to get it started up and begin work on some projects I’ve been looking forward to for a while.

A little “Wyeth -esque” watercolor.

When I am working in the studio in North Dakota I have to consider the portable nature of the media. As a result the ceramics do not travel but the rest of the work must be light an small. As a result, watercolor and printmaking are great media as they pack well and travel lightly.

This painting is a quick study of the light on the prairie as it falls around mid-day. Buildings similar to this one are ubiquitous on the plains as farming has grown in size and families living on the plains have fallen in number. Once essential, many of these structures have lost their usefulness and stand as reminders of a past agricultural era.

The artist’s community

I’ve been mulling over some ideas about artist communities and how I think they should be established. As I work to get my own studio off the ground while earning a regular salary as a high school teacher I wonder how difficult it must be for those fresh out of college. Where would one start? “Flip burgers” or work an empty job just to pay the student loans seems to be the common path though I would propose that the frustration faced by the average artist must be exacerbated when also faced with a dead end job where time spent does little for the future. A far greater guarantee seems to be some sort of parental support or other means of income such as that enjoyed by Cezanne or Frankenthaler. This kind of security appears to allow a certain amount of freedom as both Cezanne and Frankethaler were able to pursue new ways of making art without initial commercial success. I can’t help but wonder if Frankenthaler might not have painting happy little trees in an impressionist manner if she depended on the sales of her work for the food on her table. If that were the case she may have stayed “safe” rather than risk being sorry for her large color stain paintings. (I don’t think she was “sorry,” probably just the opposite, I am just trying draw attention to the risks an artist faces when exploring individual expression.) Now if security is not available from some preexisting source as in these last two cases it must be made up by the first, that is unless the community is willing to accept some of this risk faced by artists.

Why would a community even want to accept some of this risk? I mean, does the accept any risk for its other members? Sure it does! Tax breaks are often advertised to businesses to relocate to a community. Local newspapers promote new business as if they were real news items all the time. These are just a couple of examples of the risk as it is accepted by the community for the sake of its members. Of course it is the community in general that benefits from the acceptance of some of these “risky” endeavors: Jobs are created, the tax base is expanded so additional services and civic works can be completed, and of course citizens hear about a lot of tasty new restaurants that open up.

“What about art?” you might ask. Why would a community accept the risk inherent in any new art form? Why should we care if an artist sinks or swims? The answer to that lies in humanity itself- that is the big answer- in that as human beings we derive a large part of our lifes quality from the things we see around us. Proof for this can be found in the cars we drive, the shoes we wear, and the shape of the cell phone we keep on our being at all times. “Sure.” you might say, “but those are things we need and as we all know “art is useless.” (I’m not saying that, Andy Warhol did- besides that would contradict myself- ooh, sorry, almost another quote, I’ll try to stop myself) “Form always follows function” you might say but I say, “function fills a need that’s true, but form sells- form is what we want!” So, in short, by having artists around we get what we want and that promotes a greater quality of life. (Was that too much of a jump to the simplistic? Probably.) Therefor, most artists need communities and communities want artists.

Now it is important for me to admit ignorance on the details of many communities though I am familiar with a few and I have, at least a bit of information on a number of civic programs to promote the arts in communities in my area of the United States. Artists need three things for initial establishment assuming, of course, their work is of reasonable merit (this is not required, however). I think I’ll focus on these three things in my next few posts: I want to look at each one in some depth to explain what I think is needed and what a community can do to promote a healthy environment for the arts to develop.