I’m finishing up my Fall partnership with PS 73 through the Bronx Museum and wanted to reflect on one of the final projects I did with a class there. The idea sprung from a conversation with a fellow Teaching Artist at the museum who had done a negative space project. They covered paper with tape to form various letters and shapes then after the paint dried had students remove the tape to reveal what was left in the white space covered by the tape.
I thought this could be a great project to display the final, collaborative praise poem that one of the classes made. In this way it would allow the letters to be the student’s own work without any writing or re-writing from the adults to help with clarity.
I started by tracing some letters on thick construction paper and cutting these letters out to be arranged into words on a piece of mural paper. Once the words were formed I taped them down securely so that they’d stay in place while getting painted over.
Eventually, I smartened up a bit and realized that I could arrange the letters in a way that would both save paper and time by using the very edges of construction paper.
Even this didn’t save me that much time though! This was an incredibly time intensive project! If I didn’t have the resources of the Bronx Museum at my disposal, I’m not sure I would have accomplished the vision. Not only was the abundance of high quality supplies important, but I had to recruit the help of the museum’s Education Intern to help finish the prep work.
If a parent or teacher reading wants to try something like this, I’d recommend doing it on a smaller scale! For example: maybe only doing four or five words or (if you want to get form specific) doing a haiku. The time needed for the prep on a large scale mural like this is unrealistic for what teachers are provided and for the time I imagine most parents have on top of their responsibilities.
Another thought would to get the poets involved in the tracing and cutting of the letters rather than have it be prepped. The way the timing worked out in my partnership didn’t really allow for it this season, but the more the poets are involved in the structuring and refining of their own work the better. Plus all the tracing and cutting is amazing fine motor work!
The next step was bringing it from the museum workspace into the museum classroom at the school. This involved me walking through a busy and blustery Grand Concourse, with the paper folded, hopping none of the letters slipped off and blew away to get crunched under morning rush hour traffic!
Fortunately, Patrick, the Bronx Museum Education Director, let me use some of the special mural paper the museum has on hand for their teen programs. This paper is made to withstand both a lot of media and material son it and some weathering. It’s composed of paper and cotton pulp and it feels soft to the touch, but is nearly impossible to tear. Part of the fun of this project was taking sensory, tactile, time at the start of the session to simply introduce and explain the material to the poets after they had all felt the paper and taken guesses about what gave it that texture.
The painting got a little (maybe lotta) bit messy. I should have come prepared with some smocks, but in all the excitement over the scale of the project it had totally slipped my mind! Rookie mistake! The poets weren’t particularly bothered by it, but their teacher’s were a little concerned over how some of the parents might react to paint covered clothes.
One of the teachers suggested rather than using brushes and giving every poet a spot of the poster, to have them take turns with paint rollers which I thought was a really wonderful idea and something I’ll implement when doing this project again. While there’s something fun about the unevenness of the paint, having a more linear structure from the pattern of the roller could be a cool effect and the class management side of turn taking with only 2 or 3 rollers is also appealing. The trick would be keeping poets not painting equally engaged and a part of the group activity. Perhaps a challenge for the Spring!
After drying, the mural was hung in the museum class space and recited as part of a performance for the entire grade. The poets also have an opportunity to read it at the museum as part of a closing ceremony for the exhibit we visited.
If you’re interested in trying this with your own poets I’ve supplied the list of materials below. As I mentioned, I was making use of some higher end museum supplies, so the list has the basic materials with no prices attached. Be aware that when using poster paper or butcher paper paint might bleed through and cause tears so make sure your poets don’t go as thick as some of mine! Also, keep in mind that different paints will have different results. I was using specific mural paints purchased by the museum, what’s available to you might apply and dry differently.
Reference poem (what you’ll be painting)
Traceable Letters / Stencils
Large table and/or work space