“Light is more than watts and foot candles”

Just a few weeks to winter break, and more than anything it is the change in light that seems so important. Light and dark literally change life in Washington DC in December. Street lights are on by 6:00pm, and the playground is deserted. Dinnertime is dark and evening and morning are pretty darn cold. Routines change.

One ritual at SWS is our annual Solstice celebration. It is time to make the one project that is done every year, Lantern Creating. Of course, it is never the same lantern. That means this year the kids are creating the 15th different style lantern in the history of the school. Just because it is a product project, does not mean that depth is eliminated. So I take you on a journey of  this process.

It starts with a self portrait. The kids did not have a formal chance in the studio to revisit looking at themselves yet and finding something new within their faces. This is always rich, just having individual mirrors creates experimentation and discovery! For many, there was a lot of conversations how to draw a nose. I had them use their hands and feel their nose bridge. This was the first time for many to touch and look and feel the wonders of something they don’t look much at, their own face.

This is Kenneth’s first time doing this type of work. He just stated at SWS a few weeks ago, and look at his concentration.

In each small group there was conversation about light and dark, day and night. I asked them what symbols they thought represented these opposites. I then asked children to choose to be “Kenneth Day” or “Kenneth Night” and suround their self portraits with these symbolic marks.

Archer chose to be light. This is him adding bees and insects. Because this is an all school project, it is thrilling to observe the pre-K’s intent as they do this very challenging symbolic thinking. At the same time, it is also thrilling to watch Kindergarten students who have had an extra year and a half in the studio (and life!) to tackle the same challenge.

The following part of this project is to think about which colors are day or night, light or dark. I asked the children to sort crayons into two categories which led to rich debate and thoughtful dialog.

“Yellow is a day color! It’s the sun!”

“No, yellow is the stars glowing!”

“White is a day color it’s clouds.”

“The moon is white it’s a night color.”

“In the day there is a blue sky, and the ocean in the summer is blue.”

“Blue is the night sky.”

It was discovered that perhaps it is all how you think about color that makes it what it “is.”

This conversation repeated with each small group.

I usually attend to color provocations on a separate day then line or drawing provocations. This is because I want the children to have the opportunity to dedicate each type of thinking without rush or stress. The richness in thought and choice is able to emerge when you have the luxury of time to ponder one at a time..

Since I assured children that this was no longer an observational self portrait but an artist becoming day or night, they were able to explore the feeling of color. Joseph, Kindergarten (above) makes his face a rich blue. A tree stands to the left, with no green leaves. To the right planets and stars and a firefly glow.

Jasper, Kindergarten (below) thinks about the light at night as richly colored and multi hued. As he chose colors he elaborated about planets , spaceships, and that the sun is still present in the solar system even when it is night.

Maya, Kindergarten (below) imagined fireworks, something you view at night.

Those who chose to “be” day  also were thoughtful.

Zander, PreK (below) used the same bright green color to show leaves and his face. He added a bumble bee, something that is now a thing of the past season.

Matteo Z, PreK (below) uses color and line that shows the energy of the sun in his face.

While Claire, Kindergarten (below) also is day light, she adds some symbolic imagery like the green heart which looks very similar to a summer leaf.

Moving from an observational self portrait, to graphic representation of an idea (day  or night) to the symbolic use of color offered intentional ways of thinking with media.

The next part, I always call the magic part. I asked the children to flip over their finished work and see how much of the drawing they could see through the paper. I asked them to hold it up to the light and asked how much light could get through. Since their drawing was to be turned into a lantern, it was time to transform the paper into translucent paper. Lanterns must have some way to let light shine through.

By brushing vegetable oil on the back side of the paper, an exciting thing happens. Katie is thrilled as she sees her “self” magically appear.

Below, Natalie, Brigid and Maya experiment to see if the picture can be seen on both sides at the same time.

The next part of the project is the adult part, hot gluing the transformed paper into a cylannder and onto a round piece of cardboard. Thank you to all my parent volunteers who took home cardboard to cut into circles or came in and tag teamed the construction.

The very last step is more social. Children sit around talking and socializing while stringing a beaded handle and gluing strips of plastic recycled newspaper bags as a tassel or wind catcher. A funny story: I asked one group “Does anyone know what beading is?’ One child replied and said : “Yes!” and stood up and play acted hitting or beating his own behind. I had a good laugh and assured him that we were doing a different type of beading!

Kiran as Day, Kindergarten and Jack as Night, Prek (above)

Kindergarten students as Night (above) used different approaches to color. Anja on the left chose deep, mostly cool tones to represent night, while Adinath on the right used warm colors to show the glow of things in the night.

There were some really overcast and dark days last week. So I used the opportunity to slip a small LED votive light into Gus’s, PreK lantern. The reaction was so gleeful from classmates Zuri and Eva that their jumping up and down  created a photo blur (I think I joined them). I still posted it because  you can see/feel the joy and energy that occurred. That small little flicker glowing in the child made lantern on a dark dreary day filled all of us with smiles, laughter and warmth.

Ever since we crawled out of that primordial slime, that’s been our unifying cry, “More light.”  Sunlight.  Torchlight.  Candlelight.  Neon, incandescent lights that banish the darkness from our caves to illuminate our roads, the insides of our refrigerators.  Big floods for the night games at Soldier’s Field.  Little tiny flashlights for those books we read under the covers when we’re supposed to be asleep.  Light is more than watts and foot candles.  Light is metaphor.  Light is knowledge, light is life, light is light.  ~Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider