Erika Roberts: Visiting Artist

Last week Lamplighter had the privilege of welcoming local watercolor artist Erika Roberts to our campus for a day long workshop exploring the beauty of watercolor paintings. Mrs. Roberts is a mixed media artist whose work primarily explores different avenues of the southern landscape. In her workshop, Mrs. Roberts shared the wonder of watercolor and oil pastels with our students as they created their own Memphis skyline paintings.

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Our morning started with Mrs. Roberts giving a formal presentation about herself and her work, sharing with our students the progression of abstract to completely recognizable content, followed by very eager questions from all of our students. Immediately after Mrs. Roberts conducted customized workshops for our students from Early Childhood all the way to Upper Elementary.

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Upper and Lower Elementary classes each had sessions where Mrs. Roberts gave a formal demonstration and assisted with students as they created a skyline of their very own. With the usage of oil pastels, students were able to see the merger of oil and water as their paintings took shape. As she made her rounds to all of the children, Mrs. Roberts provided a brief introduction into the connection between color and emotion, demonstrating how saturation and hue can provide incredible insight into how an artist was feeling when they produced their work.

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Later in the afternoon, Mrs. Roberts welcomed our Early Childhood students into the MakerSpace for a less formal exploration of watercolors. Students were provided stencils to jumpstart their skylines and then allowed color and water to breathe life into their paintings. We are incredibly fortunate at Lamplighter to have had such a specialized artist come and share their knowledge and skillset with our students, who in every account blossomed in the room as each workshop took place.

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Mary Hall Surface: Visiting Artist

We are so grateful to the Orpheum for choosing Lamplighter Montessori School as a teaching site for their workshop, “A Playful Approach to Writing”. Internationally-recognized playwright Mary Hall Surface has been a teaching artist for over 30 years, and we were excited to experience one of her lessons.

Upper Elementary and Lower Elementary classes each had their own workshop session, which started with Mrs. Surface having them cup their hands and imagine holding something from their home. They turned to a partner and described their objects in five descriptive words. This exercise gave students the foundation of how imaginative and detailed they would be getting in the session!

Mrs. Surface then broke students up into groups of three, giving them a rolled up piece of paper to use as an object – any object. Stop for a second and imagine what your object might be. This was not a guessing game – it was an act of storytelling. Students took the paper and wordlessly acted out a story – beginning, middle, and end – not just a simple action. Another friend from their group then described what had happened in the story.

Everyone came back together for instructions on the second draft of their story – adding a conflict. It’s a great start to have your roll of paper be a hockey stick as you score a winning goal for your team, but what if… Students brainstormed possible conflicts, then broke back into small groups to act out their latest draft. Group mates interpreted the actions once again and identified the conflict.

The third draft of the story involved changing who was involved. Many students were acting as themselves, but what if you were suddenly a professional hockey player during the last two minutes of the championship game? How would you feel? What if you slipped on the ice? What emotions would we think the player would feel? What might be a resolution? How would different resolutions make him feel?

Students transformed rolled-up paper into creative objects that sparked fascinating stories. They put their ideas in a graphic organizer to explore later in class and MakerSpace. The session was a great exercise in imagination, storytelling, and empathy. Thank you again to the Orpheum and Mary Hall Surface for this experience!

Chuck Jones, Songwriter: Visiting Artist

Singer/songwriter Chuck Jones visited Lamplighter School to teach students how to write songs. As always, the best way to learn is by doing, so we now have three hit songs under our belts! Songwriting pulls from various creative outlets – in addition to musical talent, one can also be skilled with words and language and craft a beautiful song. Our students learned that they can write a song about anything, with some loose guidelines and space to let their imagination roam.

Mr. Jones explained to each class some background of songwriting, like deciding on a theme or idea, and then picking a style for the music (country, rock ‘n’ roll, etc), a tempo (is it upbeat or slow?), and loosely planning the structure of the song. One song had a more traditional style of a verse followed by a chorus, a second verse, and a repeat of the chorus. Another started with the chorus, then had a verse before repeating the chorus again. One song didn’t really have a chorus, but instead repeated one of the catchy verses to finish it out. There are so many different ways to write a song!

Upper Elementary students brainstormed about what they like to do, and it came up that recess is their favorite part of the day. Mr. Jones taught them how to pick a word or phrase to be the “hook” of the song, and how to structure a chorus around that. With a song like “Recess”, students decided they wanted to have the verses follow the course of the school day. Mr. Jones said it was sometimes easiest to start with rhyming words and work backwards, so they would find a good word like “grammar” and put it at the end of a line, then think of a rhyming word to end the next line. Listen to their song here!

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Lower Elementary students wanted to write about something they were excited about, which was tonight’s “Kid’s Night Out”! The theme of the night is building, so they started writing about things they like to build, works they like to do in MakerSpace, and other fun activities they love at school. Some of their word choices had great rhyming words (perfect rhymes), but some were a bit harder, until Mr. Jones explained “soft rhymes”, which are words that are similar but don’t exactly rhyme. When the song was finished, all the students sang along! Listen to them sing along!

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Kindergarten students also got to write a song! After lunch, they were wound up and couldn’t focus on just one idea, so they went with the general theme of “Silly”! You can imagine how loud the room got while students came up with silly words and sounds and couldn’t hold their laughter in! They loved Mr. Jones’ guitar playing, and kept asking him to switch from county to rock ‘n’ roll, so their song is definitely a silly mash-up of styles that will have you laughing and singing along! Listen to it here!

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We’d like to send a huge THANK YOU to Chuck Jones for giving his time to our school and inspiring our students! They absolutely came alive during these sessions, and it is inspiring for them to see working artists making a living from the creative lives they love.

Youngblood Studio: Visiting Artist

Visiting artists from Youngblood Studio, Tylur French and Amanda Nalley, gave a presentation about being working artists and shared some of the projects they’ve created, such as sculptures at Overton Park, structures at the skate park, and artwork for Le Bonheur and St. Jude hospitals.

Whether they are working on a large project or a smaller scale, Mr. French starts with an idea, then takes to paper with a loose sketch. A partner in the studio transforms the sketch into a detailed watercolor piece. From there, Ms. Nalley uses computer mapping to see how the completed piece might look and how it can be assembled.

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The concept changed slightly between the watercolor stage and the finished piece. Mr. French explained how projects can take several years and go through multiple design changes.

After the presentation, Mr. French and Ms. Nalley facilitated a scarecrow brainstorming session with Lower and Upper Elementary students. Each student sketched one to three ideas for Lichterman Nature Center’s Scarecrow Contest, then came back together as a group to explain their thought processes.

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Some students were very specific about how to build their scarecrows. There were many innovative ideas that incorporated technology, movement, and even trap doors!

Our students’ designs were creative and unique. Since it would be too hard to pick just one, Youngblood Studio is going to create composite designs, meaning they will take aspects of everyone’s ideas to be incorporated into our scarecrow.

Youngblood Studio will send three composites back early next week, and the school will vote for their favorite. Then we will choose what materials to use and decide how to manage our workload. We plan to start building at the end of next week, with all students from Early Childhood, Lower Elementary, and Upper Elementary helping out.

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Clockwise from top left: Mr. French answers questions about being a working artist; Mr. French and Upper Elementary students check out the scarecrow frame; Ms. Nalley and a student have a great time with the sketching process

A bonus quest: Students learned that Mr. French hid a golden squirrel eating a diamond in the bike arch at Overton Park. Try to find it whenever you visit the park!