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Art Classes Search for Studio Culture Online By: Rebekah Lindsay

In a normal year, many of North Creek’s artistically inclined students would flock to the studios in the third building to work alongside their peers and talented teachers in a creative haven for collaboration and creative expression.

But this year Art Teacher Brittany Martin shares her studio with a four year-old and seven year-old. Senior Avery Larson’s studio is a portable mat. And, Senior Sydney Simmons’ dining room table serves as a space for artistic and nutritious fulfillment.

Senior Avery Larson sculpts her projects on a portable workspace. Larson uses this space for personal designs and for her ceramics class.

Like many other subjects, art classes are needing to adapt to the online environment that has become an inevitable fact of life in times of COVID-19. While classes like math or English could benefit from an in-person environment, they have the ability to adapt more easily to a virtual space than classes that rely on tangible experiences like art or PE. Some of the greatest challenges for teachers and students have been replicating the studio culture of a physical building and having available materials for a broad range of projects.

“So one of the biggest, the biggest challenge is just that the studio culture is different,” said Martin. Martin—who teaches Advanced Art, Intermediate Art, AP Art, and Architecture—thinks that studio culture is vital to any art or design class, but is missing in an online environment.

Senior and AP Studio Art student Sydney Simmons also values the studio culture prevalent in an in-person atmosphere. “Feedback on our work is the most important part of being part of an art community,” said Simmons.

Where students could easily weigh in and find inspiration in their peers' work in a classroom walk around, a screen barrier has proved difficult to overcome in replicating the same classroom community. “It’s easier to understand what people actually think of your work when they can say it out loud while holding it in their hands and demonstrating what they would do differently,” said Simmons. However, Martin and her students have found a creative work around.

“We use Padlet to show each other our work and give each other feedback, so that's been the equivalent of walking around the classroom to see other ideas,” said Martin. On Padlet, students can post an image of their work and others can respond with thoughts on composition and leave feedback for the artist.

Studio culture is an important part of art classes. While students may not be able to walk around and give feedback on each other's pieces, a creative use of Padlet allows them to mimic the same studio culture of collaboration.

The overall response to this format has been positive. “It’s helped us to keep the studio culture alive,” said Martin

In addition to having to create a studio culture unique to the virtual world, art classes have had to get creative with their materials and projects. For advanced art, Martin created kits with basic supplies for a variety of projects. For AP art, she tailored the kits to the students’ individual needs. “I gave them basically like a shopping list where they just chose what they needed, and I made it all into bags and they came by and picked it up so that they'd have the supplies at home,” said Martin.

Art teacher Brittany Martin created kits with basic art supplies—like the one above—for her advanced art students. Her AP Art students received a curated list to choose the materials for their preferred art medium.

Architecture and ceramics, on the other hand, were more difficult to transfer to distance learning. “I have changed my curriculum to be a lot more digital,” said Martin. Students start a typical architecture class period with a brief pencil-and-paper sketching warm-up. “Then they transition to something online with 3-D modeling programs like SketchUp which looks like this—a free platform, anyone can use it,” said Martin. Next week, students will be using SketchUp to design their dream houses.

A screenshot of a project in the online graphic program, SketchUp, that art teacher Brittany Martin created with her Architecture class. This pirate ship project helped students learn the basic skills they needed before moving on to their own designs.

Classes like ceramics required more materialistic solutions. Ceramics teacher Angelique Celori supplied her students with salt-dough to continue sculpting without the North Creek studio’s resources. Senior and first-year ceramics student Avery Larson finds the material difficult, but rewarding nevertheless. “It’s basically salt, flour, and water, so it acts more like food than clay. But considering the circumstances, I’m glad we get to sculpt at all,” said Larson.

Senior Avery Larson designed a spooky Halloween house for a ceramics project. Larson enjoys the freedom inherent in a remote environment that allows her to spend as much time as she wants on her projects.

While the transition has certainly been unlike the norm, students and teachers alike are enjoying the solace unique to artistic expression in the age of the coronavirus. “I love that I can spend as much time as I want on projects, because it’s at home. I get super invested and it’s so fun,” said Larson.

Similarly, Martin and Simmons are enjoying the perks specific to taking art online. “I really like about remote teaching is that it's easier to provide a menu of choices, and then let students work independently, with greater freedom than it was in the classroom,” said Martin. As a student, Simmons enjoys the independence found in asynchronous time. “I have a lot of time to work on it by myself and take as much time as I need to sit with my ideas,” said Simmons.

As the first of Senior Sydney Simmons' AP Portfolio, this piece answers her guiding question, 'What is political polarization and how is it affecting Americans as individuals?' Throughout the year Simmons will create a portfolio of 15 pieces surrounding this theme to submit to the College Board.