Simple Ideas for Getting Started with Digital Art (Ep. 197)

The possibilities available with digital art are endless, but it is sometimes difficult to know where to start. Tim welcomes Don Masse back to the show to talk about his best lessons and ideas for digital art. Listen as they discuss the best experiments to try with your students, the benefits of working digitally with your students, and the best way to balance digital and traditional work in your curriculum. Full Episode Transcript Below.

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Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host Tim Bogatz. As you know, we’ve been working on bringing on new voices, talking to new people, and sharing new ideas over the past couple of months. This week on this episode we are going to focus on digital art and I will be welcoming Don Masse to the show. You’re probably familiar with Don if you ever attend Art Ed Now conferences. He has presented at almost every single conference we have put on and every time he shows up he is amazing, and I knew he had been a guest on the podcast before, but I also knew it had been a while, so I was curious. I looked it up and it’s been a long while. Don was on episode nine which was released on April 12th, 2016. All right, this is episode 197, so three and a half years and 188 episodes ago.

And just by the way, as an aside, that was a great episode. It was early on in the life of this podcast and the quality’s a little rough, but it was a great one. It’s called No More Dead White Guys and it was all about how we need to find more contemporary artists and more relevant artists to show our students. Don does a great job with that throughout all of his teaching, has been doing it for a long time. So it wouldn’t surprise me if he mentions a few artists in the course of our chat about digital art today. But if you have time, go back and give that episode a listen, I think you will enjoy it.

But like I said, we are here today to talk digital art, so let’s get moving in that direction and bring Don on the line so we can start the conversation. All right, and from San Diego, California, Mr. Don Masse is joining me now. Don, how are you?

Don: Good. Not too bad. We might actually get a little bit of rain here at San Diego.

Tim: Oh nice. Well we’re still all going to continue to be jealous that you’re in San Diego. I wanted to have you on so we could talk about digital art, digital experiments. You do so many really, really cool things with your kids. I think you have a lot to offer, a lot people can learn. So can we just start off with something kind of broad, kind of general, can you just talk about some of your more popular experiments that you’ve been doing digitally over the past couple of years?

Don: Yeah, sure. One thing that I started to experiment with last year, and my third graders are actually doing it right now, we’ve been experimenting with green screen. There’s an app called Do Ink, and my third graders have been creating these paper sculpture playgrounds. So they are playground designers, right? The prompt is if you were to build a playground, what would you include? What would it look like? So they’re using paper techniques, paper sculpture techniques. And I’ve gone out and shot photographs of our north campus playground that they play on every day, and we take their sculptures back to the green screen, we take a photograph of it, and then we use that app and put them together. And their sculptures are there in the present and the kids are totally stoked about it. They get super excited when they go from the green background, all of a sudden it shows up in the photograph, you know?

Tim: Yeah, that’s great.

Don: So I think that’s been really exciting for them. And for me. It’s always cool to see that. The enthusiasm for learning and how much they’re engaged in it. And another one that I’ve done for a few years is they create digital sculptures in this app called Morphi. And with that it has an AR feature. So they can build the sculpture, we’ll do it in the classroom, they hit this 3D button and it basically turns their flat design into a 3D solid. And then we go outside and they can play with scale, they can play with perspective and point of view, where they go outside, they interact with our playground or our school campus. So it looks like their sculpture is physically out there on the playground or floating in the air. I talk about Pokémon Go to start with it, you know?

Tim: Yes.

Don: It makes it so relevant for them and they’re like, yeah, all right. That project is really cool because they’re building it and they’re going outside but they are doing a little bit of roleplay too. They’re going out with a partner and so they’ll be posing with the sculptures and things like that. So that’s been really fun to play with. And then I do a lot of stop motion too. Some of it is, there’s an app called FlipaClip, which is basically just like the old school flipbooks, and the kids can create stories or narratives with those. There’s another stop motion app, well an app called Assembly, and we create moving gifs with it. Gifs or jifs? I can’t ever decide.

Tim: You know, I always go jifs, but just because the guy who created them thought that’s how they should be pronounced. So I figure…

Don: There you go.

Tim: I’ll take his opinion, but anyway, that’s not important right now. So…

Don: So those are a few that I’ve revisited over the past couple of years that the kids have been pretty hooked on.

Tim: Yeah. That’s really cool. You know, I love that project where kids are outside taking digital photos at your school and then creating work that’s kind of specific to the location. You know, can you talk a little bit more about that? Just the different things you’ve done with lessons similar to that. And, I guess, why you think that’s been so successful with your kids?

Don: That is a project that I do with second graders, and it’s with an app called Assembly. And what they do is, they don’t actually take the photographs. I see my students two times out of every six weeks. So for them to add the photography element into it can be kind of challenging if we want to fit as much in as possible.

Tim: Right.

Don: So I’ll go out and I’ll document spots on the campus for that activity. So they’ve got those loaded into the iPad already, but they choose a wall and they use that as the background in this app called Assembly. It’s basically like a digital collage app. There’s really nothing else like it out there. So it’s really fun to play with.

But they create a symmetrical design on, it could be a Wallball wall, it could be a wall somewhere else on campus, and we have a really rich mural program already at our school. So when they create these digital murals on the walls, they’re familiar with it and there’s an enthusiasm built into that whole process because of the familiarity with it. We look at the artist Maya Hayuk when we start the project to kind of connect it to a contemporary artist. And as far as what they need to include, they just need to include symmetry and geometric shapes. And that really opens up a whole lot of possibilities in terms of what the visual product is going to look like. You know, there’s not a whole lot of constraints there. So you get stuff that’s figurative, you get stuff that’s really non objective.

So there’s a really wonderful variety of end products that happen with that. And so I do that in second grade. And then last year I actually revisited that project too. You know, I was talking about the murals that I do on campus where, that the fifth graders do, and we looked at an artist named Lequena MacGyver who creates these very inspirational murals and public works, where she combines graphic elements with inspirational or positive quotes, positive messages. And I tasked the fifth graders, if you were to design a mural like this for Zamorano, what would it look like? You know, what would you say to other students with this mural? And that was really engaging. There were a lot of interesting phrases and stuff that came out of it.

And with that project, what we ended up doing is selecting one of those digital murals to turn it into our fifth-grade legacy mural last year. And the kids were just super, super excited about that. And most of the time when I do the designing, well when we do the murals, I do the designing for them. But with this, using this app, using this process, that’s what’s going to happen with the rest of them. It’s going to be student designs, they can handle it with the app. It’s very user-friendly and they can create these really dynamic images that we can then turn into real murals and beautify our campus.

Tim: Yeah, that’s really cool. I love the idea of, yeah, just having those student-led projects. I think that’s, yeah. That will leave a really nice legacy and…

Don: Yeah.

Tim: Kids will love to be able to be a part of that.

Don: Yeah. And I just really liked the idea of, you know, some of that project in particular, or the playground project, connecting the digital but then also the real world, playing with the back and forth and the duality of it, you know?

Tim: Yeah. Absolutely.

Don: To be able to do something digital and turn it into a real thing.

Tim: Yeah. That’s really nice. Now another thing I wanted to ask you about, something, we’ve talked before, you’ve told me that kids get most excited about those digital experiments, those ideas that they relate to, the things that they’re consuming outside of school, with green screen and animations and pixel art. So, why do you make those topics an important part of your curriculum?

Don: Well, I think first and foremost it’s extremely relevant to them. You know, they’re around that stuff on an everyday basis. So why not teach them and let them see how these things work. You know? They’re consuming them on a daily basis. I think it’s really important to give them the, or empower them to learn how to use the technology themselves. You know? So if they’re seeing something on their computer screen at home, they get, oh, I know how they did that. Or they’re watching a movie, they’re watching the Avengers or something like that, they’re like, oh well they’re using green screen technology in there. Building up the literacy with these forms that they’re digesting every day, I think it’s really important.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s really true. Were you going to say something else? I’m sorry.

Don: No, no, no. I was just giving them a chance to kind of peek behind the curtain. Like I, when I talk about this stuff, I think about The Wizard of Oz when they, the curtain gets rolled back and the wizard, the little guys right there, it’s like giving them that point of view, you know? So it’s, there’s a magic to it, but this is how they’re actually doing it. You can do the same thing.

Tim: Yeah, that’s a really good point. Now I guess going a little bit further there, beyond just giving them that knowledge, that look behind the scenes, what are some of the other benefits that you’ve seen in working with digital with your kids?

Don: One of the biggest bonuses that I’ve seen is that, having that undo button, or that delete, the little trashcan there has really freed kids up. You know, people that get super tight if they make a mistake with the eraser, or we’re working with other materials, they’re working with watercolor and they put a color down, that delete, that non-history really frees kids up and allows them to take more risks with the creative process. You know? They don’t get caught up at the very beginning of it. They just hit delete and then they can move on. So I think that that’s really important. One of the other things too is that it gives kids that struggle with some fine motor abilities or capabilities, opportunities to shine in your curriculum as well. You know, they may get frustrated that it doesn’t look a certain way. Well with certain apps that you use, like Assembly for instance, you’re moving around shapes, changing colors, things like that. It rises them up or gives them an opportunity to shine as well. Right? I think when you’re trying to reach everybody, these apps and these tools are really important to have in your curriculum.

Tim: Yeah, absolutely. And there’s a lot of value there in, like you said, letting those kids shine. And that leads me into my next question too. You know, as you’re getting into more of these digital art experiments and digital art lessons, do you find yourself getting away from more traditional materials, or how do you try and balance things for your kids?

Don: Well I definitely want to maintain that balance. I don’t want to take away from the traditional concepts and materials because I think it’s really important to have that firsthand experience with chalk pastel, or relief printmaking…

Tim: Yeah.

Don: Or watercolor painting, things like that. But I also think it’s important that they do, they have that balance. It’s a tool that’s out there that they’re exposed to. I think they deserve the opportunity to work with it. And as far as balancing things, I see my students, I think I mentioned it earlier, like twice out of every six weeks. So it’s really not that often. But I meet with them basically like 10 times a year. And with the lower kids it’s like one digital art project. With the upper grades, like third through fifth, it’s two, maybe three with 3D printing.

So I still think there’s a good balance there. But when I see my kids, one week let’s say we are… Like the Maya Hayuk digital mural example, they were doing a cut paper collage with symmetry the first week and then they come back the second week and they’ll do a digital experiment with that same vocabulary. So it allows them to kind of, it reinforces the same concepts, but you’re using different materials, the digital versus the cut paper. Or when the fourth graders do the Morphi AR project, the next week they come back and they’re creating these mirror drawings inspired by Heather Hanson. And it’s a whole different kind of collaboration where it’s silent and they’re doing this dance back and forth. But again, you’re reinforcing the same concepts, you know? So I kind of play it like that as far as going back and forth between digital and traditional so they can get as much out of the content as possible.

Tim: Yeah, makes a lot of sense. And I like that. Yeah. I think that balance is important and especially when you don’t get to see them as much. I think you need to be really conscious of that. I guess just a last question for you to wrap things up here. Do you have any suggestions or ideas that you can share with the audience? Just advice, recommendations for apps, ideas for lessons, or just anything else you want to share?

Don: Well, I think it’s important, like if you’re just starting with digital technology in your class, you need to, I think, carefully think about how it fits into it. You don’t want to just have this kind of one-off kind of thing, you know? I think you need to be careful and think about how it compliments and enhances the creative learning that your students are already involved with. You know? So you have that. And I think it’s important if you’re just starting too, don’t be afraid to just give it a try. You know? It wasn’t until, I think it was like four years ago, I had a whole iPad cart in my classroom for like a year and I didn’t know what to do with it. I was just like, it’s this daunting cube in the corner, you know?

I was very traditional, hands-on. And then I went to NAEA in New York and I saw a couple of people at a maker space using Morphi and things like that and I was like, you know what, it can’t hurt to try it. You know? What’s wrong with that? So I went back and then I was hooked. The kids were engaged. I was engaged. You know, so I think if there’s any hesitancy there, your kids are going to love it, so you should give it a try. I feel like I’ve grown so much as an educator and frankly as an artist, since I’ve started to experiment with the digital technology in my classroom. It’s started to inform my own artistic practice, the stuff that I do.

As far as apps, I think, like I mentioned, Assembly and Morphi. There’s a great pixel app called Pixel Studio. FlipaClip, the Do Ink green screen. There’s one that I haven’t talked about but in the winter conference I’ll be talking about and using Pixlr. It’s a photo editor. So that’s a great app that you can use with your students. And really, all these things apply K, 12, I think they all have applications. You can scale things up, you can scale things down.

When I work with digital technology, I have the kids partner up all the time. I do that for a few reasons. One of them is that it really allows them to develop their social skills, teamwork, or just the soft skills of collaboration and compromise and respecting each other’s opinions.

Tim: Yeah.

Don: It allows them to develop more ownership with the technology, they can teach one another. And it makes things more manageable for me. Instead of having 30 tablets out there, if I have 15 it just makes things more easy for me-

Tim: Okay.

Don: … to deal with too.

Tim: That’s important. Logistics are important.

Don: Yeah. You know if, and I’ve done a couple of projects with the fifth graders and fourth graders that, it’s individual iPads, and it gets too harried for me. So I think… you need to realize your limitations when it comes to the tech too. What can you handle in your classroom?

Tim: Yeah, that’s a good point. So cool. All right. Well Don, thank you so much for the advice, the recommendations, and thank you for giving us some time and sharing all these ideas. It’s been good to talk to you.

Don: Yeah, thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

Tim: As Don mentioned, he’ll be coming back to the Art Ed Now Winter Conference, which is happening on February 1st of next year. So on February 1st, 2020, that is a Saturday, we’ll have over 20 presentations at that conference that are all online, all incredible, and all relevant to what you’re doing right now in your classroom. So we have opportunities for artmaking, new ideas for your classrooms such as experiments in digital art and digital photography. We have inspiration for you and just a full day of relevant and engaging professional development. So all of those innovative and inspiring talks and new ideas and resources and downloads, you can use throughout the year. They are all going to work for you. So you can learn everything you need to know about the conference at www.artednow.com. So make sure you go check that out after this episode is over. But thank you to Don for coming on, and thank you to all of you for listening.

You know, I hope that you were able to take some new ideas away from this episode and implement them in your classroom. You’re probably not going to start with site-specific mural design, but you can start with something small. You know, like Don said, just give it a try, maybe it’s just one project. Maybe it’s just one class, you know? But find yourself a new app. You can go back to an old app if you need, but play, experiment, and create. See what piques your interest or what might be good for your students. Give it a try, and then once you’re feeling comfortable, let your students give it a try as well.

Art Ed Radio is produced by the Art of Education University with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Please make sure you tune in next week. We have a big name and a big announcement coming, so we will talk to you then.

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