Curiosity and Imagination at ArtWorks II

Celestial Post-it note drawing by Kim

This summer’s ArtWorks II program was all about transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary! Teens worked with visual artist Meghan Samson to tap into childlike curiosity, embrace the creative process, and create works of art from surprising and unconventional materials.

Prior to the start of this program, AIR staff delivered packages of art supplies to participants that included some typical and atypical items…. Teens received the standard paper, pencils, tape and sharpeners, but they also received a roll of aluminum foil, photosensitive paper, cheesecloth, vintage photographs, and a cigar box “treasure chest” full of small bits and peculiarities. We imagine the teens were a little perplexed when they first examined their packages, and excited to find out what they’d be making!

Here’s a look at our creative explorations from ArtWorks II…

Monday: Both/And and The Paradoxical Crown 

Sabby modelling her foil Paradoxical Crown

We kicked off our week by learning about AIR’s 2020-21 program theme, “Both/And: Celebrating Contradictions.” AIR Program Director, Becca Romanoski, led us through writing prompts that helped us brainstorm pairs of paradoxical words that describe ourselves and our emotions. We were then asked to cut out our words and set them aside for later use.

For our first project, we made “Paradoxical Crowns” from aluminum foil. Our crowns could be as representational or abstract as we wished. Meghan encouraged us to make preliminary sketches, and to play with visual contradiction and contrast in our designs. For inspiration, we looked at the work of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988), who often used the crown motif to symbolize power, elevate identity, and honor influences. As we sculpted, we embedded the paper dualities we brainstormed inside of our crowns, or affixed them to the surface. Since our words represented complicated emotions and parts of ourselves, our crowns became physical embodiments of our paradoxical complexities, and a tangible means to “wear” and celebrate them with honor and pride.

Pakeezah’s crown showcases her paradoxical words

Maddee’s crown is both delicate and bold

We looked at the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat to get us thinking about crown iconography

Tuesday: Sun Stuff 

We couldn’t wait to explore photograms with Meghan!

On Tuesday, we harnessed creativity from the sun and used it to add beauty to the ordinary. 

We started with an investigation of shadow! Meghan instructed us to head outdoors, or to sunny areas in our homes, in search of interesting shadows to trace to paper. We focused on composition as we found natural, soft, rigid, and manmade silhouettes to capture with line.  Our shadows could overlap to create a conglomerate of shapes, an abstract linear drawing, or a foundation for a later work. 

For our longer project, we explored cameraless photography via our Sun Print kits! Meghan explained that we would be using a nearly 200-year old photographic technology to create negatives by placing objects on iron salt-coated paper exposed to UV light. To emphasize the history of this technique, we looked at its early use via the work of botanist Anna Atkins, who used cyanotypes – a similar process – to capture and categorize varieties of algae for publication. 

After our lesson, we were able to hit the ground running on our own prints!! Meghan instilled that we had to act fast to arrange objects on our paper once it was removed from its light proof bag. Depending on the strength of the sun, we exposed our paper for 3-7 minutes, rinsed it under cold water to stop development, and hung it to dry as our prints emerged. Teens used objects from nature and their treasure boxes to create methodical, diverse, and textured monochromatic prints. Our kits contained twelve sheets of the Sun Print paper — so we were able to experiment and record our methods for next time.

Abstract Sun Print by Olivia

We looked at early cyanotypes by botanist Anna Atkins for inspiration!

Shadow tracing by Mikel

Wednesday: Build a Drawing, Leave a Sculpture 

Post-it note drawing by Aiyana

Midweek, our group experienced Post-it notes in a whole new way… we used them as building blocks to construct a 2D drawing installation! Meghan prepared us for the warm up a day prior, encouraging us to reinhabit our childlike imagination and to approach artmaking intuitively, without concern for outcome.

We began by making a quick, linear drawing on a single Post-it, leaving six “points of entry” at its edges. Next, we added four Post-its around its perimeter to form a plus sign. After this step, we could add Post-its in any shape that felt right, as long as we were adding them four-at-a-time. Meghan encouraged us to work instinctually and to let the lines dictate our next moves. Once the skeleton of our drawing was finished, we worked more intentionally to supplement with color or additional drawing where needed.

Our imaginations continued to soar with our second project, “Leave a Sculpture.” For this assignment, we were to create a 2D or 3D piece for someone else to find! Meghan reminded us not to overthink, and to be playful and free with our creations. Our group had been so engrossed in “creative surprise” all week- this was an opportunity for us to pay that sentiment forward to an unsuspecting individual!

Hannah’s hidden sculpture

Brygida’s “Literal Idioms” await discovery!

Johanna left a natural sculpture for someone to find!

Thursday: Imagination and Empathy

Grace memorialized an old chapstick for her “Leave a Sculpture” project

Thursday’s warmup revolved around two vintage photographs from our treasure boxes. Using our imaginations, we were asked to respond to one or both of the photographs. No media or artform was off limits; we had full permission to run with our imaginations and creative spontaneity. Meghan offered prompts to spark ideas:

Draw a picture or write a story about the image or the things in the image. What might have happened next…or right before the picture was taken? OR IN AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE? Be silly or be serious. How does this photo inspire you?

Our last project, “Object Empathy,” was inspired by the PBS program, The Art Assignment, and the work of artist Diana Shpungin. The mission was to find a discarded, neglected, damaged, or broken object, and to empathize and repair it via an “art intervention!” We were to feel for it and fix it! Repairs were to be bold and obvious as they were to symbolize the artistic act.

Bayleigh used drawing and writing for her vintage photo response.

Olivia showed empathy for an old sock and transformed it into a little critter!

Friday: Celebration! 

On Friday, we honored participants with a celebration and certificate ceremony! As is standard with our final sessions, we began with a gratitude check in. We were prompted to share either something we learned in the program, or something that we were thankful for about our group, or the inclusive, creative space we created. Many teens expressed appreciation for our week’s curriculum and the opportunity to explore new artforms and materials with freedom and imagination. Next, we had a brief open studio before moving into a share of one of our projects from the week, and watching our gallery slideshow! Our teens created an astounding number of work in this program and it was moving to see it all together.

Another highlight from our celebration was Meghan’s sharing of her own artistic journey. She spoke about her early identification with the artist identity, her first exposure to clay, and her journey to becoming the first member of her family to graduate college. These days, she’s a postgraduate educator living her dream of owning a community clay studio!

On the last day of our program, we honored participants with a celebration and certificate ceremony!

We are so grateful for participants in our AW II program and the imaginative thinking they brought to our sessions. We hope that this program heightened their creative intuition and left them with the understanding that anything can be an art supply!

Meghan prepares “treasure boxes” for participants prior to program.

A look inside!


Click here to watch our celebration slideshow and see our teen’s wonderful creations from the week:

Want to learn more about our projects from the week? Click here to watch Meghan’s PowerPoint lesson. Prepare to get inspired!

Click here to watch the inspiration behind our Object Empathy assignment, from the PBS show, The Art Assignment