I am born into this moment, one leg tucked under me, my head full of only bird song, the early sun, and her.

My only child sleeps beside me, one hand resting under her cheek, the rest of her tucked under a blanket.

This moment is so soft, so perfectly of itself, that I dare not stir. I sit, I breathe, I watch her face for signs of waking.

A whispering voice in my heart wonders: Why can I not love myself as much as I love her?

Why not the world?

The answer arrives in bright flash, revealing sharp edges of the world ripping gristle and bone, and I am unable to stop it;

a bullet, a bomb, a speeding car, a slip, a mistake;

destroying the kisses given on the roundness of her cheek, stealing the hand shaped to hold mine.

My heart breaks, and yet she survives.

I sit, and I breathe, until it fades, until all is sunlight again, and bird song, and I know I am meant to wake her, time for breakfast and school clothes, time to brush knots and dreams from her hair, but I let her sleep.

Her eyelids are too delicate to hide the rolling slumber-searching of her eyes, but strong enough to hold back the morning, hold back the moment when she will rise from the warmth and safety of her bed, rise into the world;

such a thin curtain between sleeping and wakefulness, between death and life.

I would stay here all morning, watching, but there is a crawling in my throat, first the size of an insect leg, then a claw, insistent, and I am forced from her room, fleeing down the hall, into the kitchen where the cough climbs free from my chest, over and over, the sound rattling the quiet, until it, too, fades.

I pour and sip a glass of water, begin to make coffee. I wonder if I have woken her, wonder how I can begin the routine of the day, wonder that anything soft remains in a world so full of sharp edges.

When my child awakes, it is a half an hour later, stumbling from her room with hair like a nest, not yet ready to be tamed.

I kneel down to hold her;

her arms reach around my neck to hold me.

Through her, I am born into love anew;

delivered into this moment, into life.

The Howling Wind

I walked home alone on Halloween night last year. I walked two blocks wearing a long skirt from high school and jewelry from my mother, dressed as a hippie. It wasn’t much of a costume, my friends had laughed, it was pretty much accurate on a day to day basis as well. I didn’t have far to walk, it wasn’t too late, but my friend had asked if I wanted a ride, anyway. What was I to say, except: This is a safe neighborhood, where we live. I will be fine. It’s only a few blocks. I like when the wind blows my skirt around my legs and tangles my hair. I like being out alone, at night. It’s fine.

I paused at the intersection at the top of the hill where four stop signs blaze red on each corner.  I watched an SUV came barreling down the road, straight toward me. I stepped back onto the grass. I wasn’t sure they would stop, then they did. They turned right and pulled over in front of the fence of the house on the corner, cater-corner from me. How I heard my voice in my head, then. “I’ll be fine.” Two men came out, slamming the doors behind them. “It’s fine, it’s not far.” I saw they were carrying sodas and bags full of fast food. I held still, the wind blew past me. “This is a safe neighborhood.” I watched them go in through the gate, with not even a glance in my direction. I continued home, pausing outside the backdoor. I stared up at the scattered stars that peeked through the clouds, and waited until my heart slowed, trying to pick out a constellation overhead. I could not find a single one I recognized. I slid open the door, came inside, and locked the door behind me.

Continue reading “The Howling Wind”

What is art?

Observation, imagination, and creation. At least, that’s how I see it. These three elements play a role in everything I do as an artist and as a teacher, and they influence each other in a continuous cycle. What we observe and imagine, we can create. What we create, we observe. The things we observe, along with the process of creation, work together to influence what fills our imagination and our very understanding of ourselves and others.

So why bother separating them? I have found that using these categories to figure out the overall goal for each art lesson helps me develop content best suited for developing a specific area, and decide what necessary supports I can provide to reduce the amount student effort required in the other areas. Of course, the ultimate goal of artistic training is to be able to execute a project that integrates all three in a self-directed way, but most students (and adults!) are far from that level of achievement. My role as an art teacher is to provide focused support and training for students to improve and become more comfortable in each area.

Definitions and Examples

Observation (also sometimes called visual literacy): the ability to observe, understand, and evaluate the things we see in the world, including our own art.

Imagination: using our creative mental muscles to solve problems, and to practice combining ideas, feelings, concepts, and images together in unique ways.

Creation: the fundamental artistic ability of making images and objects, which includes the mastery of various art tools, materials, and processes.

Now lets look at these areas of focus in terms of a broad subject — drawing human faces. For many, this can be a very intimidating task. That’s because faces don’t look like we expect, and certainly not how we are taught how to draw them as young children. The disconnect between our creation, our observation of the real world, and what we imagine in our heads, can lead to a lot of frustration, especially as students become aware of these differences. For many, this awareness happens around fourth or fifth grade, but some students notice and become upset at younger ages, leading to a feeling that their art “sucks,” no matter what others may say. The only solution is not to reassure them that it’s “good” but to help them work to create work that matches the images they have in their head.

How does this happen? By strengthening skills of observation and creation, which circle around and feed a student’s imagination. It doesn’t matter whether observation or creation comes first, but both need to built up in alternating lessons.

An example lesson for explicitly teaching observation would be as follows:

Show one or more mostly realistic image of a face. This can be a famous piece of art (such as the Mona Lisa, but there are so many other options), a photograph, or a work by a local artist. I’ve used my own art below as an example, but as you revisit this project, I recommend expanding your search into areas that interest you. There are so many great resources available online!

Ask students to notice what they observe about this picture. Visual Thinking Strategies suggests this simple line of questioning:

  • What’s going on in this picture?
  • What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What more can you find?

Remember: there are no right or wrong answers! It is only what they observe, and you can learn a LOT about the students by how they answer. It can help to rephrase their answer to make it concise and clear enough for the whole class to hear different answers, but be careful to check in with the student to ensure you caught the essence of what they were trying to express. Spend time with this, depending on the image you can get information about different topics like location and emotion.

Next step is to deepen observation to include proportions. Where on the face are the eyes? How big is the nose? How wide is the mouth? Have students use their fingers to roughly measure their own faces. The reason for this step is that our minds (our imagination) don’t store information they don’t find important… like our foreheads. That is a lot of mostly empty space up there above our eyebrows! Most students, without training in observation, will draw a face with the eyes up near the hairline, when they are usually are at about the halfway mark. The bottom of the nose is about halfway between the eyes and the chin, and the mouth halfway between that.

Once students begin to really notice where the different pars of a face are in relation to each other, they are step closer to being able to draw them in a more realistic fashion.

The next step is looking for familiar shapes (which is a whole lesson in itself, but I digress). Circles, ovals, footballs, the letters “m” and “c”, these are all present in our faces. On a profile, the eye is more of a sideways “v” shape.

Beginning to notice where different types of shapes are in relation to each other is a vital skill in art. It’s what helps a student move from the drawing on the left to the one on the right.

The other element important is practice with creation. The simple physical act of picking picking up a pencil, or pen. How to hold it. How hard to press, how to keep the paper from moving or crumpling. The simple motor skills involved in these tasks can requires explicit teaching or modeling (peer modeling is excellent — simply letting students draw together with their friends!) and lots of practice. Using markers or another medium to draw circles, ovals, zig zags, any sort of abstract drawing, over and over again. Practicing these sort of skills without any expectations about the end product is crucial to development, and assists with development and improvement of handwriting as well. Providing students with ample paper (using old flyers, junk mail, even envelopes) and providing unstructured free time to simply draw, doodle, and create, is so crucial to development of artistic skills, as well as self regulation.

The important thing to remember as an adult interacting with a student in the process of creation is to focus on effort instead of talent or outcome. “You really focused on coloring in that whole side of the paper!” “I can tell you spent a lot of time working on this.” “Look how carefully you drew that circle!” This encourages them to keep going. Telling a child (really… just about anyone) that their art is “Beautiful!” gives no way forward, and can feel disingenuous if they’re not happy with their art. It also makes it devastating when they go somewhere and don’t get the same positive response, which will inevitably happen. A teacher, friend, or even you (when you’re tired, maybe?) will inevitably react in a way that’s less than enthusiastic. How to keep going from there? The only answer is to for them to know they put in a good effort, regardless of the outcome, and that the effort is valued.

Now back to address specific skills in drawing a face. One activity would be to practice mirroring — being able to flip an image from one side to the other. While faces aren’t perfectly symmetrical, it is particularly frustrating for a beginning artist to be unable to make both eyes about the same size and shape, the ears the same, to make the mouth curve the same way on both sides.

Another practice would involve the ability to draw simple shapes of different dimensions. When I first began teaching art, I was surprised to find sixth grade students who were unable to make a flatter “football” shape, and were drawing circles instead. They certainly found it difficult to draw the iris of the eye, because it takes practice to be able to draw a circle that touches another shape on the top and the bottom. To be able to draw a circle, period. To draw a straight line — horizontal, vertical, angled. Doing warm up activities which involve simple practice of copying abstract shapes and patterns is so vital.

As students improve their skills, practicing copying ever more intricate and delicate curves can help with their control over the medium, and this also ties in with their observation skills. They can also begin to learn how to do shading, different types of which require different hand skills, such as varying the darkness of the line, the width of the line, and being able to draw many lines in the same direction, in equal distances apart. Learning what colors work together, and how to combine them in ways that show the natural shade and highlights of an image.

Last but certainly not least, what about imagination? That comes partly from increasing visual input — careful observation of a diversity of images will feed imagination. But it’s not only images themselves, but stories, ideas, concepts. Listening to books on tape, telling a story, these require the listener to imagine the images in their head — and they can then pull upon these images for use in creating art.

But the real difference is in having the skill sets available to be able to begin to draw the images in a student’s head. This gives them the confidence to continue to use art as a way to process and understand themselves and the world around them, and to ultimately come up with and recombine different ideas in new ways. As a teacher, parent, or caregiver, the act of nurturing the supporting skills of observation and creation are crucial to also nurturing a student’s imagination.

Paper sculptures for the littles

Who knew strips of paper could be so much fun? Kindergarteners, that’s who. They know what’s up.

This project was easy to prep with a large paper cutter. I cut strips of different colors from construction paper, enough for 10 per student, plus about 5 extra sets for students who wanted to make two versions (one made three, and he usually has a hard time participating at all. It was a proud teacher moment.) I sorted the sets so they all got the same rainbow of colors, and paper clipped them to a piece of card stock (we have a bunch of green so that’s what I used) to make it easy for storing and handing out. If you only have a few students you can skip that step and let them pick out their own strips.

I introduced the project by having them sit on the floor and asked, “What is a sculpture?” Some students weren’t sure, or had just heard the term, but in 2 out of the 3 classes a student came up with “a statue.” I explained that was right! So a statue, something wasn’t flat like a drawing, but something that was called “3D” and came up off the page. And that’s what we were going to make today! Yay! Then we talked about different materials to make sculptures, and told them one material we could use was paper.

I then held up an example strip to show how to bend the edges of a strip of paper to make a little “tab” where they could glue it on to the base, and showed how it would look. I then told them they were welcome to start gluing OR they could decorate their strips first with patterns and shapes if they wanted when they got to their desks (I like giving options). I handed out the sets one by one. In the first class I left the paperclips on the sets and a number of them were immediately twisted and turned into other shapes, which is fine if you have enough paperclips for them to play with them like that… learning is learning! I took them off in the other classes though.

Public school art budgets. Sigh.

I put this image up on the projector (I drew it by hand for my classes but you do you). I explained that the paper started out flat, like the first shape, but we were going to make the second shape, and demonstrated the flap glue technique again. The students moved at very very different speeds in this project so assure the ones done quickly that yes, they can do more than one strip, or they can move on to the next shape if they want.

For the spiral, we had the best luck by wrapping the paper tight around a pencil. Some students turned the spiral into a loop-de-loop like on a racetrack. The zig-zag required one on one instruction with a number of students, and I found it best to have them fold the paper on the table, and showed them how to “fold, flip, fold, flip…” Some had trouble getting the idea that you need to fold up the whole little pile of folded parts all together, and others had trouble with the pattern and wanted to just fold, fold, fold, fold, so it rolled up. If a student is stressed, let it go and encourage them to move on and experiment with different shapes and colors. Or if they’re happy with their creation, whatever it looks like, this is one of those times that it’s good let that go too.

Some students looped the shapes around the other pieces to make a chain, some glued them on sideways onto the paper so they faced up… so many possibilities.

One of the things I enjoyed about this were the stories the students came up with about their projects. Some told me they were making playgrounds, houses, stairs, race tracks, amusement parks… even a zoo! So many possibilities. One student that finished early made two, then made a “bridge” between his two projects.

After all the students were finished (or it was almost time to go, whichever came first), we lined all the projects in the back of the classroom, and then lined up the students up outside to come in and do a “gallery walk.” I reminded them to be respectful of the other projects, to look with our eyes and not our hands or feet, and to pay attention to the colors and shapes they saw. They were really excited to see each other’s work, and proud to have their own work being displayed in this way.

Gotta love the littles.

Kapa inspired cork stamps

This project took about 2.5 hours from start to finish. Including a few snack breaks because it’s a rainy Saturday. Good thing was that I made a few for my daughter to play with and she was happily occupied creating a complicated story picture about magic crystals, a friendly bunny, and a fish that used to be good but now is bad.

I created this project for the fourth graders, as their focus this year is on Hawaiian culture and history.

Okay, ready? Here we go!

1) Read this great website from Dalani Tanahy. Kapa is decorated both with watermarks as part of the process of creating the cloth, but also by ‘ohe kapala which are bamboo stamps. Since I don’t have easy access to bamboo, I decided to try this project instead to still give students the experience of everyone creating original designs from the same simple shapes. I will also have a discussion with them about the fact that people everywhere have used whatever materials they have available to create tools and art, and are inspired by the world around them. It’s important to remind students as well that the art of kapa making in Hawaii has been revived, and isn’t something that only belongs to ancient history but is still being created by artists today.

I like this image in particular, and will share it with the students to give them some ideas of ways to create patterns using different rotations and repetition.


2) Gather corks. I used to work at Kalapawai Cafe and remembered that they saved corks from the bottles. They gave me a gallon bag full!

3) Sort them. Some will have been pretty broken by the corkscrew. The ones made of compressed cork are better for angled/complicated designs but are tougher to cut. The more natural ones are good to use as is for textured circles, or for cutting squares (with the grain, of course).


4) Soak in hot water for ten minutes. I read this online and thought it sounded like a good idea to soften them. Then put them in the water was reminded that corks float, duh. I put the strainer insert and the lid on top to push them into the water, but I imagine a heavy plate would also work.


5) Cut off the wine soaked ends. Optional, but this is the part that smells the strongest of wine. Not really an appropriate scent for children. 🙂


6) Cut out the shapes! Be careful, obviously. I cut the outline out with them straight up and down, then turned it onto the side and cut from the edge inward until the extra piece came off. Some of the corners broke off, so have extras on hand in case of that.



7) Label the tops. I used a permanent marker. And yes, my hands are very sore now after making 30 of these!


8) Have fun stamping! I will update this post with student work once I bring it into class. I used a regular stamp pad for this. You can visit Dalani’s website again for inspiration about ways to use color to create different effects.

9) Future goals. Eventually, I would like to start growing some of the plants used in dye making on our school campus, or at least go harvest natural materials to have the students make their own dyes to use. One step at a time, though!

10) Alternative materials. Another idea for printing would be to have students cut out their own shapes from cardboard or craft foam and glue it onto a bigger piece of cardboard backing, and we may still do that, but right now I wanted to have some reusable versions to use over and over in different grade levels.

Just Keep Swimming

My daughter took a quick breath, a sound like she was gasping, afraid. Then she plunged off the side of the pool and into the water, sinking straight to the bottom. Beside me I heard my mother gasp and hold her breath until she saw her granddaughter’s face come swimming back up out of the turquoise water, breaking the ripples with a determined splash, her pink goggles half filled with water, her mouth open like a fish, breathing in another quick breath before pushing off the edge of the pool and swimming straight into my mother’s arms.

Jillian can swim, now. But for the five years previous, she wasn’t even close.

Before this month, she has always objected to getting any water on her face with loud screams and cries of disapproval. I remember taking Jillian to a swimming class at the YMCA when she was a little over six months old. At that class, I made friends with a mother of a little girl who was close to Jill’s age. We talked and got to know each other as we led our children through the games and maneuvers designed to get them comfortable in the water. It was obvious that Jillian was more cautious of the two girls, clinging to me when it was time to do a back float, grasping my arms with desperation when I would try a small toss in the air. Beside me, my new friend threw her daughter high up in the air and they both laughed when she caught her with a splash, over and over again. I watched, and secretly wondered if I was doing something wrong.

And here’s the thing, the fear that threatens to keep all mothers up at night: maybe I had been doing something wrong all along. Maybe I should have started sooner. Maybe I did too much or too little or did not give her enough warning. Maybe I should have taken her swimming in this pool or that one instead, or in the ocean more often. Maybe I was too gentle or too rough, too consoling or not enough. Maybe. Maybe it was my fault that my daughter took five years to stop screaming when water would come anywhere close to her eyes, her precious cheeks, her upturned nose.

And maybe it’s simply that now is the right time, for her, and before now, it wasn’t.

I’m finally beginning to understand, and to let go of something that has been wound tight around my heart since the first time I noticed Jillian was different than the other kids we knew. She clung tighter, demanded more attention. She struggled with too much activity; was more sensitive to bumps and bruises. We once went to a bike riding play date and she was the only one on a tricycle, and she melted down when I tried to get her to go farther or faster. The other moms gently suggested getting her a different ride, or maybe try this idea or that one. Instead I took Jillian home, put her in front of the tv, went into my bedroom and cried. Eventually, I bought her a gliding bike on Craigslist, and a friend gave us a princess bike with training wheels. She rides both of those now and then, but she’d rather dance. She’d rather draw, or read a book. She’d rather just be… Jillian.

So this is what I’m learning to understand, and it is the most important lesson I’ve ever had to learn: I have to stop looking at other children and simply see my daughter for who she is: a playful, curious, loving, thoughtful, imaginative child. She holds tight, she holds back, she watches, she considers. And when she’s ready, she leaps, and she’s brilliant.

Recently, I was walking Jillian home from school and she was tired, walking slowly, while I impatiently surged forward, pulling her little body along behind me, until I stopped, and looked back at her, and saw her, my sleepy little Kindergartner, and I understood. I saw our entire relationship distilled into that one moment: me, pulling her forward, onward, challenging her to do more, grow, learn, push past her fears. And Jillian, holding back, looking at the flowers. I saw how much we learn and gain from each other, this beautifully challenging dynamic which includes the times when she rushes ahead, more ready for some changes than I am. And then I gathered my daughter up into my arms and carried her the rest of the way home.

And now I have my answer. Maybe the only thing wrong, is that when I looked around at the other children and parents and saw something different, I worried about that difference, instead of embracing it.

Mochi and pumpkin pie

Is sorrow transmissible by air? Can it float across the boundaries of property and walls, settling like a fine dust in my home? It would explain the weight I have felt all morning, moving slowly from laundry to washing dishes. Yesterday, I kept walking to the front door, thinking that someone was knocking, but the sound, like the sorrow, came from next door. It was the sound of car doors slamming, family and friends arriving and leaving as they prepared for the funeral, knocking on the door of a home with one less occupant. Eventually, I sprinkled salt across our entryway, the grains whispering a prayer as they fall, asking for a boundary between our life and the death of the old woman who had lived next door to our home for the past three decades.

The day after Mrs. Hashimoto died, I was delivering bananas I had harvested from my parents’ yard to all the neighbors. I visited their home last, meeting her daughter, Rosemary, as she was coming back from checking the mail. Before I could ask how things were going, she told me her mom had died last night, and she laughed. She told me the story filled with a sort of giddy relief after a year of caregiving, of waiting for the cancer to take her mother’s last breath. “How like my mom,” she told me, “to die in the evening, right after suppertime. So thoughtful.” When the hearse arrived, it was dark, so no one could she her being wheeled out, and the almost-full moon was rising behind the house, beautiful.

After I heard the news, I went home and made a double batch of banana bread muffins with Jillian. The half I had planned to deliver to Mrs. Hashimoto, I instead put in the freezer to save for her funeral. As we mixed the batter, I thought of all the times she had brought treats for us, before she was bedridden. A bag of mountain apples when they were in season. Baby lettuce in tiny pots which I could never keep alive long enough to harvest. She brought advice for keeping our yard alive, gentle admonishment to pay more attention to the weeds and watering. She made mochi for the New Year, and for Girls’ Day brought over crispy rice crackers in a cellophane wrapper that looked like a girl in kimono. She made her grandson deliver a bag of those crackers this year; even though she could not get out of bed, she wanted to make sure Jillian had some treats to mark the day. Unbeknownst to me, Jill took two of the crackers which were decorated with girls in pink kimonos and stored them in her music box, her place for her most precious things.

Over the past five years we’ve lived in this house, I’ve tried to bring over a few things in return, like liliko’i bars made with the fruits from the neighbor’s yard on the other side of us. I would pick the gardenia which grew on their side of our house and bring them over, especially after I found out Rosemary had been watering our plants to help keep them alive the past few years. In March, I brought over a pumpkin pie that I had baked out of season on a whim, and I made it again when Rosemary told me she had scolded her mother for eating nothing but slices of my pie for a whole day. And I brought over banana bread muffins, which Rosemary would freeze and bring out one at a time, placing in a plastic bag beside her mother’s bed for her to eat when she woke up hungry at the unpredictable hours of one who spends all day in bed.

At first, when I brought over treats during the year Mrs. Hashimoto was in hospice care, she would come to the door herself, aided by a walker and with an oxygen tank trailing behind her. Later, I would only hear her voice as she shouted at her husband, a man sometimes so folded in half by age it seems as if he’s looking on the ground for something he had dropped, years ago. Near the end, I would quietly leave our gift hanging from the handle of the screen door.

Her funeral was held today at St. John Vianney, a Catholic Church in Kailua. I felt out of place as my Methodist upbringing had a different set of call and responses, and included no kneeling or holy water. The words to the hymns were printed in the program without music, and the music I did hear was unfamiliar and uplifting. The service was centered on celebrating her ascent to heaven, all while her coffin stood in mute testimony to her body’s final rest.

One of the ministers at the church had been a neighbor of the Hashimotos when he was a young boy. He told a story of how Mrs. Hashimoto looked after him as a child, admonishing him when he got into trouble when his parents weren’t looking. “Love our neighbors as ourselves,” he reminded us. Later in the service, I watched as he placed his hand tenderly on her casket as he walked past, just for a moment.

There was piles of food to eat after the mass. Rosemary apologized for the sushi being store-bought, and not as good as when her mother had made it. She told me she had been talked out of ordering chicken feet, which had been her mother’s favorite, but her siblings had thought it would go to waste. I looked around the lanai and everyone’s plate was piled high with food, and there was still more left over. No one went home hungry, which is exactly what Jitsuko Hashimoto have wanted.

Stephanie Arne

I first met Stephanie when she was a semi-finalist in the nationwide contest search for Wild Kingdom’s next Wild Guide. I created a website for her to showcase her life-long devotion to animals, travel, and education, and also did a photo-shoot to provide her with a headshot to send to all the journalists asking for an interview. We had so much fun taking photos that we also went into a nearby forest and continued the shoot to show off her athletic and gymnastic abilities.

Stephanie went on to win the contest and is now the host of the Wild Kingdom show, and travels all over the country to film webisodes and give interviews with news organizations about animals and how to help protect them. She also gives fun, energy and animal-filled presentations to schools and organizations with the non-profit she started with Tim Davidson, the Creative Animal Foundation. When they returned to Hawaii this fall to attend the IUCN conference, I jumped on the chance to photograph Steph and Tim in action at some local schools.

Stephanie has devoted her life to sharing her love and knowledge of animals, and to promoting conservation and sustainability. I’m happy I have been able help her in her mission in my own way.