Project Example

Visual Journals

Lessons Plans and Our Work

11 weeks : January 13th – March 25th

Inspired by the journals of  former Photojournalist, Dan Elden and the work of Writer/Illustrator, Lynda Barry, we created our own field journals.  We learned some basic drawing techniques, we painted, created collages, learned about several different Artists (Robert Frank and Peter Shank) and wrote about our experiences, dreams, memories and relationships.  This workshop, more than anything else, has served as a vehicle to establish our group, to open us up to ourselves through various forms of self-expression, to familiarize us with a new vocabulary and to see one another in a new light.

Click on the image to view a sampling of Lynda Barry’s incredible “visual text book”.  This book is beautifully assembled, drawn and written.  I only wish she had a copy in Spanish – the girls absolutely fell in love with the imagery and we translated many of the essay questions and “assignments”.  There is also a great interview with her about the importance of drawing and storytelling here on NPR’s Talk of the Nation.

Looking back on the workshop:
[The following is a collection of lesson plans, images of our work and my reflections, as lead learner, of each exercise.]


March 3rd, 4th, 10th and 11th:  Dreamscapes in Color….Continuing landscapes and perspectives, investigating the use of color with paintings inspired by Peter Shank.


These past couple of weeks we expounded upon Dylan’s exercise in creating depth and perspective with tonal range, by creating mixed media landscapes inspired by the artwork of Peter Shank.

Lesson Plan:


Continue thinking about how we can create perspective.  Experiment with color combinations.  Use our imaginations to create our own landscapes that reflect elements of reality and yet aren’t limited by having to represent a “real” place.  Keep it simple.  Focusing on the use of simple contour lines to create shape and space and on color selection to suggest depth.




colored pencils

collage materials


1. Look at Journey, a collection of Peter Shank’s paintings depicting various cities that have influenced him through both travel and relocation.  Observe how he uses  simple “blocks” of color to create dimension within each painting.  Which colors does he gravitate toward?  Which paintings reflect reality and which transport us to a more fantastical landscape?  How do the collage elements transform the pieces?

2. Imagine a fantastical place we would like to visit or live in.  Describe it (writing in our journals) visually in detail.

3. Rough Draft: Draw the landscape using only line and form to distinguish four levels.  Decide upon four or five colors to use within the final draft.

4. Search through magazines and books to find interesting people, animals, characters and objects to “live” within the painting.

5. Final draft: Use our choice of materials to paint/draw and collage our own Dreamscapes.



This assignment was daunting at first but everyone eventually developed a since of what they wanted to convey.  Several of us actually made multiple attempts and were greatly satisfied with our second runs.  The gravitation to adorn everything with details was the largest obstacle for almost the entire workshop.  Expressing objects like cars and houses as simple shapes felt unnatural and incomplete at first, but in the end it was interesting to be able to focus on the variation of saturation and color preference from one artist to the next.  After a vote on good color combinations within our own final pieces it was almost unanimous that we preferred the purple and yellow together in Dany’s piece.  From here we were able to naturally introduce the Color Wheel and the concept of complementary colors.  Then we went on to examine how and where we had utilized this concept in our own work. Finally we made our own Color Wheels to use as references in the next workshop when we are painting and sketching various portraits.


Movin’ right along….

SO….sorry for disappearing.  We have been busy and I have been in a whirlwind.  But these photos and summaries should catch you up with a few of things we have been doing.


February 17 – 18: Landscape by NumbersVisiting Artist shows us how to utilize tonal range:


This week we were lucky enough to have local artist, Dylan Williams, join us and teach us a little bit about tonal range and creating perspective with tonal differences.

The assignment was split into two activities.  The first was to create 10 boxes and then fill them with tones progressing from absolute white to absolute black and then number them from 1 to 10, labeling each gradient.  Then Dylan asked that on a new sheet of paper, we construct a landscape and he asked that we use specific numbers (tones) for each plane.

To see some of Dylan’s work, visit his website or join myself and Rebeca at his show next week!  Tuesday, March 23rd 2010 8:30pm at Museo del Pueblo.


February 3/4 & 10/11:  Art as Conversation

Talking back to Robert Frank


This week we looked at the photography generated throughout Robert Frank’s journey across America in the 1950’s on a Guggenheim Fellowship.  The Americans, as a book, has become a classic and has a history of its own aside from the history it so adeptly sliced open and exposed to the world and to ourselves.

“Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand and he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world.”

-Jack Kerouak

We discussed Art this week as an exchange between the viewer and the artist.  That the creation of the piece is equally important to the process and response of the viewer.  Furthering this concept, we focused on Photography as a means to convey a feeling, an idea or story.  Where does the idea come from from?  Who decides what story the image is telling?  And is the feeling felt by the Photographer the same as that of the viewer?

So often this exchange between artist and viewer, between writer and reader are unidirectional.  Any response triggered within the latter usually remains internal. This assignment was meant to bend this process and allow us the opportunity to “talk back” to Robert Frank.

The Lesson:


1. To transfer focus from an emotional connection with an image to it’s composition

2. To create new image using the same composition

3. To create a collage using the prominent imagery and shapes found in our photos


2 copies of the photograph

Tracing paper

Markers and Colored pencils


Magazines, Books and other Collage materials


Time: 3 class periods

First, each of us looked through the book and chose an image that we felt “spoke” to us in some manner.  We made two copies of the image and then used tracing paper to outline the figures and forms that seemed to be the most important in the image.  Next we used colored pencils and markers to create a new landscape with different lines and colors to represent each shape and plane within our image.

The following week we used our copies to create a collage.  After cutting out several figures we used them as patterns to cut out multiple versions of the same shape. Using a multitude of magazines and books, we were able to diversify the imagery.  Then we assembled collages using the shapes as well as the actual cut-outs.  Here are a few examples of what we produced:


January 20-21 2010:

Who are we and what is Design?


WEEK TWO: This week another friend of mine joined us on Wednesday’s session.  Rebecca has lived, learned, taught and worked in Mexico and various other countries throughout Central America since she was fifteen years old.  Her interests also lie in Photography, Communications and Media Literacy and Education.  And like Camilla, her Spanish is Goliath to my David….

Wednesday: The goals this week were concise enough….yet, incredibly abstract in nature when you consider the fact that these girls have had limited access to art and it’s language and I am trying to explain these concepts in a second language.

Elements of Design:

Foreground vs. Background

Creating depth with scale

The Rule of Thirds

Visual Weight (importance)

Photo Courtesy of Rebeca Beeman

I brought in two books of illustrations:  Amphigorey Also, by Edward Gorey, and a book of the legends of Guanajuato with water color and ink illustrations far more contemporary, almost pop or comic in nature, than the usually prints of oil painting created by a local artist of whom I cannot remember his name.  I originally purchased the book because the artwork caught my eye, and after a good look at the content, I thought that it might be good Spanish reading comprehension for me.  I am sure I will get around to it in ALL of my free time!

Photo Courtesy of Rebeca Beeman

I “lectured” and questioned the girls for their thoughts on the chosen example illustrations.  This lasted TOO long…for them and for me.  It was a total struggle for me to communicate, but we got through it and in the end they actually had an understanding of creating depth within a 2-dimensional piece using scale and or weight.  Paulina was the one that seemed to immediately grasp the concept of visual weight and she was then able to translate and convey her own definition to the rest of the group.  Then we tackled the Rule of Thirds and each constructed our own design using three or more figures/shapes to construct a piece that had depth and one dominant element.

I talked to the girls about the elimination of magazines dominated by pop culture.  Explaining that there were things of greater significance in their lives and about them as individuals than the celebrities that they like at this moment.  I recognize the importance of fantasy and escapism that these magazines, TV shows and songs might offer.  But I believe they are capable of applying their imagination and creativity to something other than the Jonas Brothers.  No offense boys….

Thursday: We organized our supplies and divided many things into individual supply boxes that they can easily take with them home on the weekends etc.

We discussed the question and answer in Lynda Barry’s book that I posed to them on Wednesday night.

“Q: What is an idea made of? A: Of Future, Past and also Meanwhile.”

We all drew and relaxed while we took turns sharing important people, stories or aspects of our lives, in our past, future and our present.  This was an easy way for the group to start to lay the ground work of self expression and shared experiences.  It was clear to see that many of them are facing similar struggles and that for most of them their past might differ, but their present is very similar.  Their stories are layered and complicated but they are willing to share.  This is not a common practice in educational constructs here and these girls are required to be very solid and “well behaved”.  After hearing what is important to them now and the challenges that many of them have faced and are facing, I am confident that this experience is invaluable.  I left that night feeling  a great sadness and sense of purpose….anxiously awaiting the work they will produce.


Beginnings are always interesting.  Imagination, expectation and reality collide….and as I have found time and time again, it all works out in the end.  If you can manage to ride the waves instead of fight them to look more like you thought it would be or should be.  Existing in and observing the present as much as possible, so that you don’t miss the moments when these three overlap in a favorable, yet unpredictable manner.  This is one of the most exciting aspects of starting a new class…a new team, anything involving a group, the dynamic that exists without our input.


January 13 -14th 2010:Introducing ourselves and our featured Artists: Dan Eldon and Lynda Barry.


WEEK ONE: UNEXPECTED!!!! Last week my friend Camilla volunteered to assist me during class.  I was relieved and excited. Her Spanish is killer and she is hilarious, sweet and strong to boot….so, in my mind, she is a great role model for these girls.  And honestly, (selfishly) her presence eased my mind considerably as the “teacher/lead learner.”  It was the first official class, and as usual, I was prepared with a plethora of material, activities and concepts to discuss… and yet the loosest reminiscence of a plan actually written and committed to….and then there is my language. Let’s just say that things could have easily gone rapidly in either direction.

Regardless of my bizarre over prepared and under committed lesson planning, the first two classes went extremely well.  I could actually see the slightest shift in their eyes when I told them the journals were their own to keep and create whenever and wherever they felt the notion.  The simple sensation of a blank notebook, for your thoughts, ideas, stories and explorations and most importantly, YOUR EYES AND MIND ALONE… ownership, is something I think they all are in need of.  So much of there lives are still vigorously out of their control, and there are incredible expectations upon them to share their personal space and time with the thirty-something people that live at Buen Pastor with them.

Perhaps that is the connection between these last few classes – establishing ownership. Ownership of individual behavior and the ability to participate, as well as a collective ownership of this project and of the workshop time period as a new addition to all of our lives.  Ownership of our past, present and our future….mistakes and successes.  The challenge is developing a time and space that allows for this sense of ownership to occur naturally and collectively.


I wanted to introduce Dan Eldon and Lynda Barry – two considerably different examples of visual journaling.

I wanted them to examine the work for interesting materials and for effective use of repetition.

Have them look at their own space with a new perspective following this examination.

*****I imagined a big clear work space that offered enough room for everyone to spread out, without distraction and interruption.


“Can WE use Spray Paint (stencils)?!?!” – Luz

Material “Wish lists” were a page long each

Thoughtful discussion about the significance behind each piece of Dan Eldon’s – Lead predominantly by Luz

Strong desire to understand and create

Very little timidity

Furo – plastic to cover the books


No previous Art education/experience

Pop culture visuals are predominantly chosen to express ideas of self

Language barrier -ahhhhhhh!!!!

Time – wish I wasn’t tired and I wish we had a half hour longer to work.

I wasn’t able to fully explain the concepts behind the workshop itself.  Very different platform than their formal education


One thought on “Project Example

  1. Pingback: Every picture tells a story. «

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