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Inventive Drawing: Zen Tangles

Students were tasked with designing their own sketchbook covers using abstract patterns in pen + ink. Students were encouraged to improvise personal designs as an exploration of the media and getting comfortable with drawing in an unstructured way. (Re: no hard “correct” designs) 

Observational Drawing

Students explored observational drawing in pencil with changing variables, such as time-length, direct + found references, and the inclusion of value and various forms of hatching to further render their work. 


At the beginning of my unit I decided to target one major roadblock in any students path:

What do I draw? 

I devised a game to randomize drawing prompts into specific descriptive combinations as a means to play with imagery in an often humorous low-stakes exploration, which is demonstrated the final lesson of the unit. I began referring to this style of prompt improvisation as the Chaos Generator. 


Over the course of several weeks students explored various ways to work with pen and ink, culminating in the creation of a two sided card used in a combined set. As 8th graders it was encouraged to make a game that could be left behind for future students of all grade levels to play with. We scaffolded the design by studying the following:

8th Grade:
Card Design Unit

Inventive Observational Hybrid

Students pushed their long-format observational drawings by incorporating invented elements over the original drawing using tracing paper, followed by a collaborative exercise using tracing paper to alter their classmates original drawings with new ideas 


Final Card Design 

Final Card Design for 

Chaos Generator 

After studying various kinds of card designs (Hanafuda, Generic 52, and Tarot) students were tasked with creating a personalized card to add to a set. Each card was to show a graphic on one side and game pieces on the other, as demonstrated in the following video. 


Clay Whistles:



Students were given the parameters of how clay whistles would work. They had complete freedom over the design otherwise, and had the choice between using the basic whistle design or that of an ocarina, which proved to be more difficult 



Students were taught various clay-building techniques (pinch pots, slipping/scoring, etc) to follow through with their initial vision. This proved to be difficult for some, as preserving the function of the whistle while building around it is no small feat, especially while we had limited time to test our whistles in an adapted outdoor workspace to stay safe from Covid. 


Students finished their whistles with several coats of glaze before firing their work in the kiln. For some, this time was spent hurriedly revising the whistles so that they would work. For others, this meant tediously working on the finer details of the final step. The results varied, and our final assessment emphasized the trial and error of the project instead over the performance of the whistle itself, awarding the risk-takers and those with persistence. 


Stars: This project gave me a means to test the role of play within a classroom in the context of older students. I view as a means of engaging inquiry and experimentation in a space that feels personal and familiar and something in a loophole in most creative processes. My favorite moments were with 3-5 students playing collaboratively to find the most ridiculous drawings, unconcerned with expectation or fearing failure.

Steps: I missed some golden opportunities for touching design principles early on! I would have loved to build up using a few other forms of media and emphasizing specifics, and given students some more free-form studio time outside my lesson work to perform their own individual inquiry. 

Also 20 subjects/modifiers is a lot. 10 work just fine. 

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