Tiffany McDonald is a friend and the mother of two beautiful daughters, Lily, age 7, and Sadie, age 2. She is an artist (even though she calls herself a wanna-be!) and also volunteers in Lily's classroom teaching art. The photo above is from a month or so ago when she came over for some tea (or was it coffee?) and a chat.
JEAN: First, can you tell us how you got started volunteering in your daughter's classroom?
TIFFANY: When Lily started kindergarten there were many forms asking for volunteers in different areas. I really wanted to be with Lily during the day, and to be involved. There was an initial shock at the amount of individual attention some kids needed and at how thin the teachers are spread. (And this was a relatively small class – I've seen larger classes with more behavioral and learning challenges). The teacher said it would be helpful if I came in regularly to work with a few kids, then she could focus attention on some that needed help.
I have to add, Lily's teacher and school are great in this way [Isaac Dickson Elementary School in Asheville, NC]. We are encouraged to be a part of the class and daily events. Parents in her class are either volunteering in the class, the garden, or just coming in for lunch pretty much every day. We meet with the teacher to find out how we can most help – tutoring, projects, demonstrations, cleaning, organizing and chaperoning field trips, etc.
JEAN: What are some of your (and their!) favorite art projects that you've done with the students?
TIFFANY: I think this year the kids really loved making mobiles. (We have the same class and teacher for 3 years). The teacher read a story about Calder. I gave a presentation on him and showed a YouTube video of his circus – they loved it! I left supplies for mobiles – and the kids came up with some of their own. The teacher set up a mobile station, so the kids could work on it as part of their centers.
I love doing the artist presentations. I enjoy learning about the art and artists and coming up with ways to make the information fun for the kids. When I talked about Romare Bearden we also played Duke Ellington's music – since he was part of the Harlem Renaissance and a friend of Romare Bearden's. The kids really like the video or music as part of the talk. I don't have a degree or training in this area, but I've considered it so I could do more of this!
JEAN: Where do you get the ideas for your projects?
TIFFANY: I use websites for kids' art projects (The Incredible Art Department, NGA Kids The Art Zone), take suggestions from the teacher, check out books on artists and kids' projects. I also just go with ideas that I really like. I love Calder and making mobiles – Lily and I made a mobile for Sadie when she was born. I loved the Goldsworthy video, Rivers and Tides – and the kids really enjoyed watching it. I also love anything for kids that uses found objects and nature.
JEAN: I'm especially interested in hearing about the Andy Goldsworthy-inspired project that you did with your daughter's kindergarten class last year. Can you tell us about that?
TIFFANY: First we looked at an Andy Goldsworthy book (Andy Goldsworthy: A Collaboration with Nature). Then, I took a group of 3 or 4 kids each week onto the nature trail at school where we found twigs, leaves, acorns, moss, etc. The kids created an art piece and we photographed it. After all the kids had taken a turn we viewed the photos and each group came up with captions to go with their artwork. Next, I took small groups to make paper for the book covers. Finally, we arranged the printed photo pages into a book, using yarn and a twig for the binding. The project took almost all year from beginning to end.
The final book was wonderful! The printing was pricey though – I would try to do it myself next time or look for a deal. The kids were really proud of the books, and displayed them at their open house.
JEAN: Thanks! I loved the copy you showed me! How about at home-What do you do to encourage Lily and Sadie's creativity?
TIFFANY: I try to keep art supplies available. I'm working to organize the art stuff – inspired by your art space organization! I love what they create and tell them so. We hang things up – usually just taped or tacked, but I'd love to frame some items. Lily goes through the recycling, the fabric and sewing, the garage, etc to create her work. She loves to make houses for her stuffed or plastic animals, or for bugs. She also makes houses for little creatures she makes out of paper (called champs).
There is so much problem-solving, creating, and fun involved. The mess can be huge, but I love to see what she comes up with (and she is learning to clean up a little too). The other day she made a card for a tadpole that died – saying she loved it. She pointed out to me that in the center of the drawing she had taped the dead tadpole. She plans to bury it in a box.
JEAN: That's wonderful that you're open to the messes involved in creativity! How does being an artist yourself help you create an artful home environment for your daughters?
TIFFANY: I'm more of an artist in training or an artist-wannabe! I do think we are all artists of some form though – whether it is the artful way we garden, cook, raise our kids, dress ourselves, express ourselves, etc. I just love art – the process of creating, the history, seeing works by others, working on skills. I think and hope my enjoyment and passion passes on to my girls. It is something I genuinely enjoy doing with them and I truly love to see their creations. I try to make sure they know that they are artists and there is no right way to create art. I encourage them to experiment and give them some helpful information. We look at art books, see art exhibits, and talk about art. Hectic schedules get in the way of creative time. School and lessons occupy so much time. I am working to have more time when there isn't something scheduled. Creativity really seems to blossom during big blocks of free time.
JEAN: Can you tell us about your own art and where you get your inspiration?
TIFFANY: I haven't been working on my art since Sadie was born 2 year ago. I've attempted to start projects, but get too distracted. I was really enjoying portrait painting – I love Alice Neel's portraits – not stuffy – but intense and slightly humorous. I like the portrait I did of my husband, and would love to do more.
Fortunately, for now, I can get my art fix through the artist talks at Lily's school, and with art books. I find inspiration from other artists – I love to check out books on artists and visit museums/galleries.
I am really inspired by the art that Lily and other kids create. I'd love to do a series of works inspired by Lily's works and show them together someday. I think there is endless inspiration in nature. I'm taking a class at Penland School of Crafts this summer. I hope my experience will be so inspiring that I will be moved to make more time for my art (as Sadie becomes a little more self sufficient!).
JEAN: Thanks! Anything else you would like to add?
TIFFANY: Part of keeping art and creativity alive in my family is reading your blog! I learn so much from it. And, it inspires me (always) and keeps the importance of including art and creativity in my children's lives in my thoughts (as I read your blog daily)!
JEAN: Thank you, Tif! I love hearing about the art you and your daughters do, the messes, and the inspiration! And I think it's great how you translate some of the great artists' work into accessible projects for the students.