Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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Thursday 04.30.09

Words to Inspire!

Art at the middle school level for most children is the last opportunity to challenge their artistic skills.  Most middle schoolers don’t believe in their artistic abilities, heck, they don’t believe in any of their abilities.  

When students first come into the art room I have them fill out an information sheet.  I ask them pertinent information like their name, address, parent’s name, and phone number.  I can get all of that information in the office but I feel it connects me to them by allowing them to tell me who they are.  I then ask them to list two additional pieces of information.  First I want to know something they like to do on their own, it could be a sport, dance, read, skateboard, etc.  Everyone loves to share his or her skills and passions.  The second thing I ask is “What do you like about art? or, if you don’t like art, “Why don’t you like art?”  By asking them this it allows them to express their fears and insecurities.

I read all of those cards just to get to know my kids a little better.  I take every one of those students who wrote, “I hate art cards” and try very hard to make them lovers of art.  Many times at the end of the ten-week marking period I will quietly ask those non-art enthusiasts how they feel about art and they smile and say, “I love it.  I didn’t think I could do this!”  Then I know I have made a difference

I was fortunate to be selected this year as NAEA Middle School Art Educator of the Year.  This honor was awarded to me at NAEA in Minneapolis last week.  I am thrilled to be acknowledged by the NAEA and thankful for all of your support.

AENJ people

AENJ Members at the 2009 NAEA National Convention, Minneapolis, MN

NJ people

AENJ Members at the 2009 NAEA National Convention, Minneapolis, MN

Deb Greh 

Deb Greh at the AENJ Happy Hour Bash, Minneapolis, MN

What can I say to inspire you to reach for the stars?  This thought has been haunting me for the past few weeks.

As I thought about the highs and lows, the good and the bad, the ups and downs of my 33 years of teaching, I came to settle for the beginning, … while standing here towards the end.  As a student teacher I did ok, I’m sure my cooperating teacher Inara Pelsis never envisioned me here!  She provided me with many productive and helpful suggestions for my future, but I really only remember one.  She advised me to speak up!   She feared I was too quiet.  The classroom would demand a larger voice to keep the art room focused.

Now as I look back I believe her advise is the best advice I can give to you.   Speak Up …. For ART, or I fear you won’t be heard.  Have a voice and strengthen it as you pass through the journey.  Believe in what you do and you will not only find your voice but create yourself as you go.

I have enjoyed writing this Monthly Mentor for the NAEA Website.  I hope that perhaps my words and thoughts have helped you to feel the kinship we need to share.  Please feel free to drop me an email anytime and we can banter around stories and ideas about Teaching Art to the Middle School Student! 

Linda Devlin

Friday 04.24.09

Affordable Art for The Middle Level

As my art budget has slowly shrunk and the cost of supplies has hit an all time high, I have tried to work with inexpensive materials or even free materials.  Paper offers an affordable material and provides a wealth of textures, diverse density, and numerous manipulations options.

Origami: I am always amazed by the amount of students who are proficient in origami.  It really renews my faith in children’s ability to self teach and create.   Yes, thank you, they can do something more than Guitar Hero.  Students love to learn more origami and they gladly will teach other the skills to create!

If you don’t have Origami Paper you can use copy paper.

This is my favorite Origami book:

Paper Creations Easy to Make Origami Projects
By Gay Merrill Gross
Friedman Fairfax

Bas relief_sm         Bas Relief 2_sm

3-D Bas Relief:  When supplies come in July the first thing I do is put everything away but the second thing I do is break down the boxes for a Bas Relief creation that my 7th graders love.  All that cardboard plus donations from my local auto body shop will be the base for student’s creation.

Altered books: Our town library always has a shelf of free books.  From this shelf I gather books.  If the librarian knew I was going to allow my students to cut tear, draw, or paste into these books she might have a stroke.  Never the less, the books are free and used as the springboard for our altered book projects.

Here are two of my favorite books on Altered Books

Altered Books Workshop
18 Creative Techniques for Self-Expression
By Bev Brazelton
North Light Books

Altered Books, Journals and other Adventures in Bookmaking
By Holly Harrison

Cereal Box Sculpture:  This year I wanted to touch upon recycled art so I asked my staff and parents to save cereal boxes.  Students studied Cubism, which helped them to understand abstracting an animals figure, and I believe the results were amazing!  An interesting observation was the direction of the creative process my students took.  Most students were linear thinkers.  They placed one box on top of the other.  A few students were able to create angles and cantilevered constructions.

Cereal boxes_314

Ceral Boxes 2_160x213

Book Making: Over the years I have taught Book Making in many forms.  The process is relatively inexpensive.  You can use simple copy paper for the pages of the book.  The covers are made from mat board from my local frame shop.  The frame shop donates their scrapes.  Book covers can embellished with specialty papers, wrapping paper, aluminum foil etc.

Kids are amazed by the book assignments and love to create unique books.   Here are some great reference books:

Unique Handmade Books
By Alisa Golden
Sterling Publishing Co.

The Art and Craft of Handmade Cards
By Diane Maurer – Mathison
Watson – Guptill Publications

Picture Frames: My local frame shop is a wonderful source for donations.  The shop owner saves me any old frames that a customer might discard when having a piece of artwork reframed.

I now have a large collection of frames in all sizes and shapes. Students gesso the frames and paint them black.  Children then add bright color patterns and designs to the frames to create beautiful finished frames.

Then I took old file cabinet metal and cut and fitted the metal into the frames.  The frames were hung in the cafeteria.  Using Small Magnets I can mount student artwork inside the frames to the metal sheet.  Changing the artwork is so simple with the magnets and each artwork has a beautiful frame around it.

I’m sure you have lots of ways to allow your students to create on a shoestring budget.  Why don’t you share your ideas below?

Thursday 04.23.09

Finding happiness in the middle school child.

If you have ever been a middle school teacher you surely will recognize the stages of torture that this age child goes through.  I often think of the character ‘the incredible hulk’ as he morphed from a normal Joe into a big green monster machine.

This metamorphosis is constant in the average day of a middle school adolescent.  The bottom line is you never know who or what is going to walk into your art class.   They often feel uncomfortable with themselves due to peer pressure and behave accordingly.  So this creates the task of making your art room a safe haven for middle schoolers to feel at ease, comfortable with the troubles and pressures of the academics subject and their peers.

It is a great balancing act for you, the teacher, as you obviously have Standards and a Curriculum to follow.  The key is to teach with a twist!  Find the most innovative way to grab their attention and make them look forward to learning.

Art in my school is available to most students in a ten-week period.  I have found their behavior starts out as rigid and uptight initially, but as the weeks progress students become more relaxed and comfortable with their environment. 

For this reason I begin my marking period with content and assignments that take greater concentration and finer motor skills. As they become more relaxed in the art room environment, I work towards more inventive and expressive opportunities for students to create work and learn from.   My experience has taught me that it is impossible to go back to the first after visiting the last and that the expressive styles are always better in this sequence.

The bottom line is to create and environment where they feel sufficiently comfortable to let their creative side flow. 


Fox_307x410   Giraffe_319x425

How do you handle the morphing madness of the middle school adolescent?

Monday 04.20.09

Top 10 Websites for Art Teachers at Middle and High School Levels

I’d like to share with you some really great web sites.  Some I find really useful for teaching and some are just informational and inspiring sites.

#1  Wesmont Hilltop School District
I wish this were my home page! Michael Begenly from Wesmont Hilltop School District in Pennsylvania has created this well organized and exemplary web page for Middle School Art.  I especially like his art history study cards!

#2   Albright–Knox Art Gallery
If you live in and around Buffalo, NY you probably know about the Albright –Know Art Gallery.  I have never been there but this Gallery has a great lesson plan page.  The content is based on their collection, however, you don’t have to go there to use them.  There are plenty of pictures to assist your teaching and understanding of the artwork.  GOOD STUFF!

#3   PBS Teachers
You can definitely get lost looking around this site.  There are so many options for lesson plans.  You can choose from Art History and Visual Art lesson plans.  They have worksheets and videos to support the lessons.

#4  AICT Free ART Images for teachers
At this web site you can download hundreds of artwork for free. Art historian Allan T. Kohl who is Visual Resources Librarian at the Minneapolis College of Art & Design created this web site.

#5   Artist’s signatures
This is one of those sites that might inspire you to create a new lesson.  Here you can see hundreds of artists’ signatures.  How about a collage of famous signatures?

#6    Color Matters
The definitive guide to information about color.  You’ll find so many factoids you’ll be amazed!

#7    Box Templates
I love to make paper structures with my students.  Creating something 3-D out of a piece of paper always amazes them.  Try some of these templates in your classroom.

#8    Spiral Art Education
This is an amazing professional page that includes a Cool Curriculum tab as well as Art Education Articles.

#9   Web Quest
Here are hundreds of opportunities to increase the depth of your program through web quests.  Hey jump on the technology bandwagon.

#10   Ann Ayers and Ellen McMillan
I first met Ellen and Ann in Denver NEAE.  They are phenomenal art teachers and great presenters!  I knew they were good when the room was standing room only before the presentation began.  I was so inspired by their presentations that I invited them to NJ to present at our fall conference.  PEOPLE LOVED THEM!  Ann and Ellen are the creators of Pinwheels for Peace a grassroots movement for peace awareness through art.

Thursday 04.16.09

Advocating In Your School

After my first few years of teaching, I began to notice a trend that I’m sure is rampant in your school.  America, parents, administration and students revere the arts!  


You haven’t noticed that yet and you’ve been teaching for 20 years?

Ah, well I assure you people everywhere can and will appreciate and celebrate art if you provide them with the challenge and the opportunity.

Getting the support of parents is difficult in this day and age BUT not impossible!  Parents, nowadays, are busy working.  Sitting down with their children to draw or paint has suffered greatly because of the change in the dynamics of the parental role.

But there are ways to help parents remember the joys of ART!

Here’s an idea that is born of this era of technologies.  How about take digital photos of your students work and email it to the parents.  Write just a short note to Mom or Dad.  Something like “Wow!  Look what Jose created today in art!

Post your student’s artwork on Artsonia!  If you’re not familiar with Artsonia it’s an online student gallery where teachers can post their student’s art for everyone to view (of course with parental permission).  The good thing for the young artist is that both grandma in Ohio and a cousin in Tibet can jump online, see the artwork, and make comments to the student. Everyone can go to Artsonia’s online store and purchase all kinds of merchandise decorated with the student’s artwork.   And there’s a bonus for the teacher!  Artsonia will send you 15% of the  sales to use in your classroom.

Paint Murals!  Nothing makes a bigger statement in a school than a mural.  In my last school building we painted a mural filled with characters from literature. Here at the new middle school my coworker and I decided that the walls in the stairwell were bare and needed color.  After collaborating and brainstorming we decided to have students design murals in styles of POP artists.  The kids rose to the challenge and we now have four beautiful murals, which honor the art styles of Keith Haring, Peter Max, Elizabeth Murray, and Roy Lichtenstein.


My favorite way to make art viewable to my community is to create a permanent Museum in our school.  Many years ago I had the idea that student’s work should be honored by professionally framing.  So I selected 3 or 4 pieces that I thought were outstanding.  I approached our PTA and Administration and asked them to provide the funding for this worthwhile project.  After getting the nod for framing I visited the local frame shop and discussed my project.  The Forked River Frame Shop has been wonderful!  I deliver the work to them in June and they have it ready in September.  I allow them to select the frames and mats.  This gives them some freedom to find low cost but high quality mats and frames to keep the price down.  They always come out beautiful!   

Now after more than 2 decades of working this project my schools hallways are filled with great art! I have over 100 pieces of art gracing our schools walls.   People are astounded by the accomplishments of my middle school students.  They can’t help but notice the art, it’s everywhere!  It’s professionally presented and given the respect it deserves.  The Administration proudly walk parents through the school, pointing out the great work.


If you don’t think your school will be able to afford the framing ask how much money is spent on sports uniforms.  Think of creative ways to get the money.  How about run a school dance for the arts! 

Monday 04.13.09

ART: Expect the Unexpected.

As a student I remember asking many times “Why do I have to learn this? Why do I need to know the answers to questions like these?

  • When will the bathtub will be full if the water drips at a certain speed?

  • In what year did Lincoln make his Gettysburg Address? 

  • What is the role of electrical and electrochemical processes in the plant's life cycle?”

I, however, never questioned the challenge and delight of learning in the art room. The rules were mine and the conclusions were astounding. 

Today, with the constraints of NCLB we hear terms like “minimize the arts” and ”teach to the test.” We, as Art Educators, need to stand tall and teach our students to be individuals, to know that answers to life are found in the problem solving skills they are learning within the arts. We know that creative thinking is a more valuable skill than just memorizing facts and formulas, especially in the Internet Era, where everything is online. Students who use their creativity and individualism will step ahead of the test takers and the ‘date rememberers’. They will know to turn off the dripping water and not worry about when the tub will be full. They will lead us to the future if we teach them through the arts to dream the impossible and EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED!

Attend this year’s NAEA convention will the attitude of EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED. There you will find the tools you need to better prepare for your quest to enlighten your students. I have already spent countless moments searching through the convention schedule, which you can find on the NAEA web site. Download it and start your search!  

The NAEA Executive Board, the NAEA Staff, and all of the volunteers who help make this convention happen every year do it with you in mind. We owe our gratitude to them and the hundreds of teachers who support this convention by taking the initiative to share their philosophies, discoveries and best practices. I am EXPECTING THE UNEXPCTED when I explore Minneapolis where hopefully the cherry will be repainted and replaced on the famous sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen! 

Finally, I would like to encourage you to get involved with NAEA.Share your ideas and talents with others in our profession through this organization. The more you give the more you get! 

Most Sincerely,

Linda Devlin  

Thursday 04. 9.09

Sanity in the Middle School Art Room

Organization- I can’t say enough about being organized. If YOU can’t find it how can kids. And so I’ve got a few suggestions that help with my classroom management.

1. Folders - Every child makes a folder to keep their work in. Folders are color coded by class. Period one has orange, period two has red and so on. Students can easily find their pile of work and a folder that is left out can be returned to it’s home. Folders are stored by classes.


2. Label Things and Make Signs -  Labeling thing helps kids remember where things are. Middle School student do not possess a gene called Memory!  Labeling things helps them to find the obvious and locate it day after day.

3. Bull Clips - Several years ago I realized that my blackboard was magnetic. So I just use magnetic bull clips to put all of my project samples up on the board. I also label each project and have laminated vocabulary words that go with the project. All these are easy up and down with magnets.

B4a_Bull Clips_314

4. Recycled Paint Palettes - I always felt guilty about throwing away the extra paper when sizing a piece of 18x 24 oak tag to an18x18 paper. Now I just trim the waste to 6x9 paper palettes for student to tap their acrylic paint onto. Clean up is easy just toss the paper away and wash your brush. Middle Schoolers don’t posses the Clean Up gene either!

5. Substitute NoteBook - I have created over time a notebook filled with step-by-step small samples of my class assignments. The notebook stays on my desk for a possible sub but I use it daily to teach.  It’s a great resource for catching up the child who was absent for the lesson of just to help remind a student of the next step. (Remember no memory gene!). Pages are all in plastic slips so they remain neat and easy to pull out is need be.  Also I include resources such as magazine picture or photos of previous students work.

B4e_Sub folder4_235'

B4c_sub folder 2_120       B4d_sub folder 3_120

6. Scholastic Art Magazine. I love this periodical. I save them all. I have 20 years of back issues.  YIKES! I place them into a binder, (actually 3) and use this as a resource. They are alphabetized by artist. When I need a new project I can easily find the reference or information about the artist. The information is written for kids so it’s exactly what you want to tell them in the right words. Additionally I have had 5 student teachers and I gave each of them a copy of each magazine for their future classrooms.

Monday 04. 6.09

NAEA Convention an ART Tsunami!

I remember 6 years ago getting ready to attend my first NAEA Convention which was in Denver. I was thrilled to be asked to present for what was then the Sanford Ice Cream Social. So I scraped together my pennies and committed to the big step.

As I planned my presentation and tested the ideas with my students they too became excited to having their work viewed by art teacher from around the world. They raised the bar on their level of achievement voluntarily.

When my pre-conference brochure arrived I spent hours pouring over the schedule of presentations, circling and underlining the interesting possibilities.

None of this preparation prepared me for the amazing growth of knowledge and regeneration of enthusiasm for teaching art that I gained. I remember after attending my first two session the jolt of energy and the flow of creativity that seemed to fill my body. It was an Art Education Tsunami!!

Conv1_160         Conv2_160

On of my big fears was being in a strange city, knowing no one, and presenting to “Super Art Teachers”.  But that fear was a waste of energy. I felt comfortable here.  These people spoke the language of art education! My native language!

That NAEA Convention was a beacon for my teaching. I constantly implemented theories, strategies and practices that I learned about there.           


NAEA Conventions have become a tradition in my teaching carrier. Since Denver (photo below), I have not missed on NAEA Convention. This Convention allows me to forge pathways to better educate my students. The ides and opportunities to promote my students accomplishments are astounding.


So for those of you who are about to attend NAEA for the first time I know that you will find this convention amazing. Strap on you life preserver ‘cause here comes the NAEA Tsunami

Thursday 04. 2.09

Beyond YAM

Now that YAM is behind us, we, as art educators, can’t stop promoting art education beyond the walls of our classrooms and individual schools. Thinking beyond our daily events we need to remember that Art is Integral to Learning.

One of the ways that I have promoted my student’s accomplishments is through an "Intergeneration Art Show."  I identified parents and senior citizens living in our town who created art. This was a lot easier than you might think. I made contact with local artist guilds, and the town library. I contacted the local newspaper, which wrote an article on my planned art show and request for participants. The best source I had was from my students. I asked them about their parents and grandparents. Before I knew it I had a list of 15 possible participants. 

I then asked each district art teacher K-12 to select, mount and label 5 pieces of artwork to be hung in the show. I called this show "Art Through the Generations." I secured a room at the community library for the month of May. It was an amazing thing to see a Kindergartener’s artwork hung next to an accomplished senior citizen’s watercolor. I had an opening celebration and the line of attendees went out the door. The community response was overwhelming! 


As the years went by the submissions of adult artwork grew and I added a workshop for the high school, middle school students and the adults. It is an amazing experience to have these people come together to make art and talk. The student was able to express why they enjoyed art and how it would work into their future plans. The adults explained how art had been part of their occupation of just a love that had filled their lives with compassion.

We all have to look beyond our classroom to promote our children’s work, our program and art in our community. If WE don’t  ………. WHO WILL?