Turning Over a New Leaf

How can you help your students turn over a new leaf when it comes to living more sustainably on the earth?  I asked my pre-service students to do just that this year, and not surprisingly they gave a range of responses, from recycling to upcycling, to doing more with less, to hatching new ideas.  This inspired their latest eco-art project, which has just been installed at OISE.  I introduced them to the field of eco-art in a workshop, and then together we created over a hundred clay leaves that capture their ideas in both text and image, which were glazed and fired.  Working with artist/student Angela Johnson, we created a large metal branch on which to hang the vibrant leaves.  As this work hangs in our stairwell as part of the Take the Stairs energy conservation campaign, we hope that Turning over a new Leaf will help others think about how they can take positive change towards sustainability in their lives and those of their students, one step at a time!


Teaching and Learning in the OISE Eco-art Projects

No time to blog last month – we’re midway on the OISE eco-art projects, and it’s been busy!  We’ve got four projects underway, thanks to efforts of my dedicated students, as I couldn’t have done that many on top of teaching and research duties this last month.  I’m working on a nature-based mural project with a class of grade 1s at our lab school, the Institute of Child Study, in collaboration with the art teacher, Tara Rousseau.  We have 2 8 ft. high murals underway with the students, demonstrating what they have learned about tree habitats this last fall.  Tara and I have also been working alongside OISE student Stephanie Heim and a grade six class who are creating a clay tile installation based on the Environmental Rights of Children, and OISE student Hayley Chown, who has been working with the grade 5s to create energy conservation stickers for the light switches at OISE.  Another team of OISE students, Aidan Hammond, Wynette Tavares and Nikolaos Katsiou, are running eco-art workshops to explore their fellow students’ conceptions of nature. 

Lessons are being learned (and re-confirmed) each time we step into the classroom – about how creative kids are, how knowledgeable they are about the world around them, and how adults enjoy the process of art-making just as much as kids, even if they haven’t done it since their own childhoods.  We’re striving to be an environmentally-friendly as possible with the materials we are using – by capturing waste water from the acrylic paints’ clean-up, by aiming for waste minimization, and by using naturally-derived materials like clay.  But these projects have also been a good reminder that contemporary art supplies are not particularly sustainable in their composition or their use, and that there is a huge need for more eco-friendly materials.

We’re also working on dealing with the typical challenge of public art projects.  One of the reasons we’re using clay is that it is inflammable – one of the conditions of installing artworks in the stairwells as they are a fire evacuation route.  If anyone has information on the fire ratings of art supplies I’d love to hear about it!  More to come on these projects shortly…

Does nature make art?

The fall has gotten away from me as usual – so much work to get a new academic year up and running.  But I have been making more space to make art this fall – I’m finding this a necessary component in achieving my own version of work-life balance.  My latest project has been looking more closely at the way nature makes art all on its own – or perhaps the way that I frame it as art through my own personal lens.  Inspired by the winter workshop I took on nature-journaling last winter, I’ve been drawing from nature on my summer canoe trips and on fall hikes – Canadian trees in particular are stunning this time of year.  Leaves have been capturing my attention and inducing me to paint – small watercolours, replicating and riffing on the colours and shapes that I find aesthetically pleasing.  I’m up to about thirty of them, and will keep at it until the leaves are gone and winter and settled in.  I’m going to turn them into a handmade book, along with some of my thoughts on art/nature connections.  I’m attaching a few images to share –hoping to inspire others to look at the beauty and aesthetic interventions all around in every season. 

Get outside and draw!

I had the pleasure recently of attending a workshop led by naturalist Clare Walker Leslie, who is a prolific artist and author.  Clare is a passionate proponent of art-based nature journalling, well-evidenced in her many journals.  Seeing her journals is a delight – they are rich with drawings of the natural world, observations, and connections to her experiences.  Her drawing style is beautiful – in some cases, quick and gestural to capture the shape of a bird before it flies off into the bush; in others, detailed, well-worked watercolours or coloured pencil drawings created in her studio from outdoor sketches and field guides.  She spends a lot of time in classrooms with students, encouraging them to use drawing (or mark-making, as she prefers to call it) as a way to closely observe the flora and fauna around them – an important step towards developing their ecological literacy.  Clare delivered three workshops in Toronto, including one at the Master of Teaching Environmental Education conference at OISE.  It was refreshing to get outside – yes, even in a cold Ontario winter – just to draw, and to be reminded of the power of journaling as an ongoing learning activity for learners of all ages.  For more info on Clare, or to order one of her books, please visit her website at:  


Art Education & Eco-Awareness

As part of a conference I presented at in the fall (All Hands in the Dirt, at Evergreen Brick Works) I was asked to present on how to keep students making art outside when the weather turns cold.  That day we did some outdoor stenciling, but it reminded me of the power of taking art learners of all ages outside year-round to learn from the natural world.  A colleague in the States, Heather Anderson, has written a new book on just this topic that’s worth a look:  Art Education & Eco-Awareness:  A Teacher’s Guide to Art and the Natural Environment.  This resource is a compilation of art lessons on land, water, sky, plants and wildlife, all accompanied by colour illustrations of professional artists’ work on these themes and exemplars of children’s work.  For those looking for new ideas to get your students outside to make art all year long, this is a great start.  It’s available from Davis Publications:   


New ideas growing in BC

Spring has finally sprung in Toronto after a long winter, and I feel like new ideas and approaches to eco-art education are popping up around me like tulips and daffodils!  I’ve been busy finishing off a year of teaching, writing, and presenting at conferences, hence the lack of blogging.  But in my travels I’ve been meeting some fascinating artists and educators, all dedicated to more sustainable ways of art-making.  One of these is an artist from Vancouver named Sharon Kallis   What caught my eye was her work with natural materials, in particular invasive species; I hadn’t thought of art-making as a way to creatively re-purpose the biomatter that comes from getting rid of large amounts of plants like English Ivy (in BC), grapevine or dog strangling vine (here in Ontario.)  Sharon has done some really interesting things with the ivy in particular, so check out her website to learn more  [http://sharonkallis.com/community-engaged-practice/]

Another project I learned about recently is also from Vancouver – I met jil p. weaving at the same time as Sharon.  This project took its starting point from the destructive wind storm that hit Stanley Park in 2006, and used artists as one of its ways of addressing the physical and emotional damage caused by this event.  In many ways, I think it presents a model for how to deal with environmental damage in sensitive and innovative ways.  Check it out at [http://www.stanleyparkecology.ca/programs/public/SPEA.php].

Green Arts at Evergreen Brick Works

I have been lucky over the last year to be involved in a small way in the thinking around ‘Green Arts’ at the new Evergreen Brick Works site, which has just opened in Toronto in October. Evergreen Brick Works is quickly becoming the environmental community centre of the city, with environmental education programs for schools, a plant nursery of indigenous plant species, a series of demonstration gardens, and a wonderful market featuring organic and fair trade food. It will also become the centre of environmental arts in Canada over time, acting as a much needed hub for artists, musicians, dancers and actors who share similar goals in sustainability through their practice.

The rejuvenation of the site is an art installation in its own right – the century old brick kilns and factory buildings are taking on a new life as classrooms, meeting places, exhibit spaces and performance venues. Artist-in-residence Ferruccio Sardella worked closely with the architects to ensure that the some of the patina and history of these spaces was left intact, including some of the existing street art, like the large graffiti murals that were created on the walls years ago. Ferruccio’s own works are slowly being added to the site, not only to build its own eco-art collection but also to materialize Evergreen’s ideals in aesthetic form. Other works on site include Dan Bergeron’s large-scale photo murals of the former brick workers in the kiln buildings, and art videos inside the kilns themselves!

Landscape architect Heidi Campbell is working on a creative, interactive space for children to play and create their own eco-artworks made of natural and found materials – this should be ready for the spring of 2011. Artists Shannon Crossman and Morgan Zigler have been supporting its development by sharing their innovative activities with children and families in the children’s garden over the past two summers.

Be sure to visit the Evergreen Brick Works website for more info at [http://ebw.evergreen.ca/] or better yet, visit in person!

Using art as a part of environmental education

Just finished a summer institute for teachers in Toronto that took an integrated approach environmental education (EE) and ecological literacy by using art, science, outdoor ed and mapping as a way to get teachers and students outside to learn about the environment. What a great time! Hosted by Evergreen (an amazing Canadian EE non-profit) and the EE dept. at the Toronto District School Board, about 30 teachers came to Runnymede PS in the west end of the city for four days of tours, learning activities, and stimulating discussions, all centred on EE. I was lucky to work with co-facilitator and science educator extraordinaire Pam Miller (for the fourth summer in a row), new Evergreen staffer Erin Wood, as well as four inspiring lead teachers from schools around the city – Anne Lakoff, Karen Goodfellow, Ryan Adams and Jennet Poffenroth.

We organized the institute on learning in, about and for the environment, themes drawn from the TDSB’s approach to developing students’ ecoliteracy. We combined this with a focus on learning trails, a type of guided learning experience that gets teachers and students outside to access the range of environments in their communities. We modeled interpretative, self-guided and investigative trails, and then had the teachers develop their own for the upcoming school year.

Of course there was a strong art component to this institute as we encouraged teachers to experiment with age-appropriate environmental action with their students. Part of this was manifested via creative approaches to mapping, but a few of us also played with developing the Yellow Fish Road concept to make it more eye-catching. Here is the result of our efforts – a stenciled fish near the Humber River that reminds people of the rich range of life in our rivers and lakes in the city.

Overall it was a wonderful week of PD for all of us as the teacher-participants always end up teaching us just as much as we teach them. I’m hoping some of the ideas from the institute take on a life of their own in schools across Toronto over the course of the school year.


Best eco-art site found this summer!

I’ve had a lovely few weeks of vacation, and was lucky enough to visit a wonderful eco-art spot in England as part of my travels. I’ve been wanting to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for a few years, as I knew that Andy Goldsworthy had exhibited there on a number of occasions. It was well worth the pilgrimage to the north of England – acres and acres of farmland and forest, with dozens of art sculptures and installations sprinkled throughout the park. Like many museums in Britain it was free to the public, with only a small fee for parking.

What a place! I got to combine two of my favourite activities – hiking and looking at art – in one stunning location in the Yorkshire hills. I was thrilled to experience Goldsworthy’s work firsthand, walking in and around his Shadow Stonefold, Outclosure and Hanging Tree installations from 2007. His stonework is absolutely beautiful, and the siting is inspired. My teenage boys seemed to enjoy their interactive elements as much as I did. I also enjoyed seeing James Turrell’s Deer Shelter Skyspace (also from 2007). His work emphasizes our connection to the sky, and again was a wonderful integration with the open fields and animals of the park.

It was also lovely to see Henry Moore sculptures in their ‘natural setting’, surrounded by the very countryside that inspired them. See the accompanying photo one of these surrounded by English sheep and Canadian geese – a thoughtful addition for a bunch of visiting Canucks!

The highlight of the day however was a retrospective of the work of David Nash, who is a nature-based artist working mainly with trees and wood. What a stunning series of works – I was completely captivated. His work honours the beauty and majesty of trees while articulating his own relationship to them through his connections to the present and the past. If you’re not familiar with his artistry, check out the YSP website for a great series of links on his work [http://www.ysp.co.uk/view.aspx?id=691].

So if you’re heading to England, I highly recommend making the Yorkshire Sculpture Park one of your destinations – it is a wonderful place for nature-based and environmental art!