Books Made by Hand





I teach Central American/Dominican teachers creative strategies and techniques to use in their rural schools back home. we've been making books and illustrating personal stories.

The photos above are a selection of illustrations from the SEED team. They'll take home the process to establish or expand libraries in their schools with books made by students, parents and community members.


Design Workshop with Central American Teachers


Today, (a couple of days this and next week) I'm working at Palo Alto College in San Antonio with 20 Central American and Caribbean teachers -- part of an international education program that I have been part of for the past 10 years. These teachers (and those who have been here over the years) come to San Antonio for the equivalent of an education degree from rural "underserved" communities in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Dominican Republic for 6 month or 1 year terms of study. They return to share their knowledge in their schools, communities and nations. This program, funded by USAID and administered by an international expert staff at Georgetown University (and our own Alamo Colleges International Programs) is one reason I don't mind paying taxes. 

These teachers who work under conditions that most U.S. teachers would find impossible (50-60 kids in a SMALL classroom, few if any books and supplies, often limited electricity and no running water, in communities with high incidence of absentee fathers, illiteracy and poor nutrition. They work long hours for not much pay -- many of them work second jobs to make enough to support their families.

Today I am facilitating a design workshop to help them find their strongest illustration style for personal stories that will become the first books in their classroom and school libraries of handmade books. These are simple products, made with inexpensive and recycled materials, and the teachers return home to teach their students and parents how to make the books based on their own experiences. I LOVE these books and have a great collection of art from throughout the past years -- I'll share some favorites over the next few days.



In the Trenches, Teaching via Video, en español.

The catch-up: The past two weeks we've been working on the global stage, as part of a teaching team at Palo Alto College, one of the Alamo Colleges in San Antonio. One of my hats this year is as a creative learning specialist for international programs here. I've been working with this program for about 10 years in various capacities -- some of which relate to my fabric/textile life, but most to my creative process and arts education interests.

Teachers from Central American and the Dominican Republic come here for scholarship residency education programs, funded by USAID to us through grants from Georgetown University SEED/SEMILLA project. I also work with teen youth ambassadors from the same region, and these two weeks, through distance learning via computer, with 6 univerisities in the border areas of Mexico. Whew....

This most recent project also involved our teacher/students as demonstrators of activities on our little makeshift television studio in the portable buildings at PAC that we are lucky to have use of for the program -- this is only the second year we have had permanent space at the university and it's been wonderful as we can use the design of the space, changing the space and making exhibits of work that mirror the kinds of classrooms our teachers go home to -- a portable here is a space that in most cases would be a luxury classroom in their rural hometowns.

Our new website is in progress, but you can see more here -- take note of the student blogs! And here.


Here's one of the videos informing this work. It's quite controversial, as you will understand when you see. it

Illustration Workshop with the Maestros


Today twenty Central American teachers are at El Cielo for the first of four design workshops. Today, we looked at several children's books (they will be making their own later in the summer), and at how the artist's had worked in different and varied styles. Like many adults some of the teachers are shy about their ability to draw --- though I think they have fewer reservations than most Norte Americanos I know!


One of the great books I shared was Faith Ringgold's Tar Beach, with illustrations similar to those that she used on her amazing and groundbreaking art quilt Tar Beach, made in 1988. The story combines autobiography and fictional narrative, and the pictures are delightful, as is the story. (Photo above from the Brooklyn Museum)

ANd here are my illustrators. Each teacher had to produce four versions of an illustration of an event from his or her childhood. THey worked in paper collage, magazine collage, ink and watercolor, crayon/oil pastel resist. We discussed their strongest style, what was most fun, most challenging. Next Friday we'll do a printmaking workshop that works with the same narrative images.



Art with CAYA -- Youth Ambassadors


The week flew by with work at Bamberger Ranch and then at Southwest School of Art with the CAYA group, Texas host kids and families and the year-long residency group of SEED teachers. On this post, we just wanted to share some of the graphic and visual forms we worked on -- you can see more photos of the various aspects of the program, and the kids at work, on the Posterous SEED blog, if you're interested.

This is what I love about these graphic forms, and why I think they work as collaborative art projects:

First,  limit the palette in use  to some degree -- kraft paper brown, black, white and red  construction paper were the choices here (We loosen up on these color restrictions as the day goes on, figuring that the repetition will hold the general design together).

In the projects, we emphasize cutting over drawing or sketching. First, its less intimidating for kids who don't think they are good artists. Secondly, it keeps things simple and strong and bold. Black cutout letters and shapes are the bones for any little fussy stuff on top!

The t-shirts start with cutout "logos' for air, earth and water. Each kid makes a logo. I gang them together reduce each to a grid that will fit on a thermofax and the kids get to print their own shirts. Then, with colored fabric markers, each one can individualize and personalize his or her design. Again, the black ink on white shirt holds the whole design together.

The "dream towers" included collage work (each person cutout  a large word that described a personal dream, then collaged it with magazine pictures), a few notan designs, etc. Again, the color palette holds it together. I used the model of the Eames "house of cards" as patterns for the large foam board cards. These notch together with slits and make relatively stable and sturdy set/exhibit pieces that can be easily stored, recycled with new images with a new group, and infinitely rearranged. Since our final exhibit and presentation was in a gallery where we could not attach anything to the walls, these towers provided display space for work -- and they could be quickly assembled and disassembled and moved easily in the van or even a passenger car backseat!

The black foam  board cards were just taped into triangles (for stability) and stacked on top of each other. Kid wrote their recipes and remedies and cures for issues facing their world on these with chalk -- again, the boards can be wiped clean and reused. The blackboard form was fun, gave shape to the thinking and message, and was un-intimidating since if one made a mistake you could erase and do it again. And I love the black and white with the other forms.

The mask forms are simple paper bag masks using limited colors and mostly cut out shapes and forms. The kids (each in their group of either water, earth or air) chose a creature or element to personify as a mask and to "speak" for -- their assignment was to be a voice for those without words -- the animals, plants and elements of nature that depend upon survival with our solutions for the difficult problems facing the environment and our stewardship of the world, our partnership with the rest of the world. We used recycled packing materials from our lunches and other meals in these, as well.

After years  (and years) of doing collaborative (and quickly produced) art forms with kids and adults with all kinds of content, I do have my bag of tricks and approaches that help with visual strength and form, but still give everyone the sense of personal contribution and expression. I think that providing a few "rules" in terms of setting a strong format, limiting materials, and structuring the work experience all add up in the end.

Central American Youth Arrive Today

From the studio this morning, I travel to Selah, Bamberger Ranch, to help facilitate a workshop for youth ambassadors from Central America and South America. The kids, arriving here from Idaho (I think the weather will please) are participating in a three week program hosted by USAID and Georgetown University. After staying at the Ranch and participating in some media workshops, they will join Texas families for the rest of their stay. We'll be presenting work, thoughts, art and more on our themes related to leadership and entrepreneurship on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. at the Southwest School of Art.

Yesterday, I met the new group of SEED teachers -- Central American rural teachers here at Palo Alto College for a year of training. A wonderful team of spirited, strong women and men worked with me learning to lead and assist in some of the activities with the youth ambassadors. A team of ten will join us at the ranch and another team will assist in activities on the river and at the art school. If you'd like to follow along with some of the ongoing projects I do with these international programs, click over to the posterous blog at and subscribe for updates -- or just check in occasionally to see what's going on.