Outdoor Art · summer art/math

Flowers, Shapes, and 4- & 5-year-olds

Flower petals, leaves, rock and corn
Flower petals, leaves, rock and corn



It’s summer. We’re surrounded by nature here in rural upstate New York.

There’s no question that I want the kids that I am working with to play with plants.. I haven’t had much practice with using summer-time foliage in my workshops. Well, I have more practice now.

holding yellow flower

I tried out a couple of ideas with my groups of soon-to-be-kindergartners. The little figures pictured here are the second project we did with things gathered from my backyard. I can’t stop looking at them, I like them so much.

Stick and petal figure
Stick and petal figure

I have goals that this project fulfills. I want the children to use their fingers mindfully, which is necessary to place the materials just so. I want to notice the shape of plants, including learning that most plants have round stems but mint plants have square stems, which they can feel when rolling the stems between their fingers. I want to talk to them about the names of plants. One of children surprised me by knowing the names of many of the plants: his “Nona” taught him.

The first plant related project I did with these kids had to do with geometric shapes. I found out that straight lines and plants don’t go together well.

Foliage, squared
Foliage, squared

Because I’ve done projects like this with numbers and letters, it seemed just fine to me to expand into doing shapes. Wrong.

Making Shapes
Making Shapes

I realized too late that doing geometry with plants is different than using plants so make numbers. The defining difference for these projects is that a wonky number 5 is still a five, but a wonky square is something entirely different from a square.


I compensated for the geometric imprecision by photoshopping in the requisite shapes.

I brought these photo reproductions of the childrens’ work in the week after we made them. I loved how the kids were up for me challenging their logic: What are these shapes? Triangles! Are they the same shape? NO!!! Huh? But you just told me they are both triangles, so they must be the same shape?!?! NO!!?! They’re different shaped triangles!

Tomorrow is the last day I see these kids. I will be bringing in cards with the flower people on them, and we’ll play a game with them that works on using words that describe relationship and position. I’ll be taking notes and writing about how that goes.


In the meantime, I’m just loving looking at these pictures.

monoprints · Outdoor Art

Elementary Nature Printing

In my last post I wrote about making prints from leaves  inked up with stamp pads.  I have discovered, however,  that I can’t use stamp pads with youngsters.  More often than not they will apply so much pressure to the stamp pad that everything that can go wrong does go wrong.

At some point I discovered that standard issue Crayola markers do a fine job of marking up leaves for printing.

The most important things about the markers is that they are fresh. If they are dried up at all they just don’t work.

It helps if the leaves are fresh, too. I forage around in the grass for volunteers. I will gather tree leaves right from the branches. Leaves that are gathered from the ground are dry and brittle, and don’t ink up as well as fresh leaves. When I know that I am going to be using markers for my inking I look for leaves that are sturdy, like raspberry, burdock, maple, and apple leaves.

Here’s a catalpa leaf getting inked up with a marker. I generally mix colors on each leaf. Here’s another most important thing to keep in mind: ink up the BACK SIDE of the leaf: it’s the back side of the leaf that shows all the interesing details.

After inking I place the inked side down on a piece of paper, lay some wax paper on top of the leaf and press firmly with my fingers. I give special attention to press my fingers right up next to the veins of the leaves so that there won’t be big white gaps at the spots where the veins meet. I use wax paper on top so that I can firmly press down on the leaf without tearing it.

Viola! I can re-ink and print each leaf several times before it becomes too fragile.

Sometimes I will edit my prints with hand drawing. For instance, the maple leaf prints below seemed too “thin” for my liking:

I edited these prints with pencil and colored pencil. See below.

I doctored up this leaf using pencils around the outside as well as the  inside of the print. These leaves are from our sugar maple tree out front.

Here’s a burdock leaf. These are all over the place, in every size.

These are wild geranium leaves. This plant puts out a tiny little purple flower and grows in any available nook and cranny. When it gets inked up it puts out a strong, lovely fragrance. Sage leaves also scent the room when they are being inked.

When I do this activity with students I hope that they really notice the different textures, shapes, and smells of the plants that they are using.

Ferns and wild grape leaves make great prints, too. Unfortunately they are gone from here for the season.

The prints don’t always turn out lovely and detailed, but when they do, it’s a real treat.

monoprints · Outdoor Art

Nature Printing

Nature Prints on Envelopes

I’ve been in need of some color. Lucky for me autumn’s colors are peaking here on the NY/ Vermont border.

Red Maple on Tiplady

I took a drive, then collected some leaves, wanting to capture the last hurrah of the growing season.

setting up

There are a couple of ways that I do nature printing. One way is to use pigment stamp pads. I like these Petal Point sets because it is easy to use different colors on the same leaf.

I lay out my leaf with the front of the leaf face down, so that it’s the underside of the leaf that I ink it up. I generally use a blend of colors….

REady to press
I love wax paper

…then lay the leaf, inked side down, on my paper, and cover with some wax paper.  Wth my finger tips, I  press firmly down all over the leaf. Pressing too hard or too lightly compromises good results, but it’s easy to get the feel for the right amount of pressure to use.

Nature Prints
Prints that will probably be cut up and used as cards,..or maybe not

The leaf on the bottom left is a small burdock leaf. The feathery ones are from our asparagus patch. A raspberry leaf is falling off to the right. The fancy leaf is an invasive, tall, beautiful garden plant whose name I forget right now. What all of these leaves have in common is that they have a good bit of dimension. Leaves that are too flat, like clover leaves, just don’t make good prints.

Burdock Leaf

Here’s a burdock leaf again. Leaves can be used numerous times before they get too flat or too fragile. Usually, the first print from a leaf doesn’t turn out well for me. So don’t be discouraged if you try this and your first try isn’t great.

autumn scene

For me, the best part about nature printing is that when I am choosing  the plants to pluck I have to look really closely at what’s growing around me.  It’s a fun thing to do in cities, too, as it’s fairly incredible to realize all that can be gathered in a decidedly paved over environment.

I think I am going to have to stroll around again tomorrow, before all of this disappears.

Outdoor Art

School Garden, Dancing Scarecrows

Dancing Scarecrow

A  lovely  garden is springing up  outside the windows  of school children in Indian Lake,  New York.   Students and teachers have been working  together to plant strawberries, lettuce, and other vegetables and flowers.   The fourth grade teacher,  Deb Starling,  invited me up to the school to help the students put together something that would celebrate the garden. We made two dancing figures, which I thought of as kids in the garden.  Because they are shiny, I hope that they will be discourage birds from raiding the bounty.  We also made shiny garlands to hang on the nets around the garden.

Students from Pre-K  through Fifth grade participated in creating the garlands and the figures.  We did our  work  in the air-conditioned library (thank you, Ms Starling).  At the end of the day the fourth grade class carried everything out to the garden.

Garlands aroudn the garden

Wood and recycled materials were used to  make the garlands and these dancing scarecrows.

We began by scrunching up the metalic ribbon that is left over from making sequins.  The Pre-K and Kindergardeners were excellent scrunchers. Students  then wrapped these ribbons around picece that my dear husband  had made  late Sunday afternoon.  The pieces he made resembled large tinker-toys.    

Making Scarecrow limbs

The garlands were made by scrunching many ribbons together.  At occasional intervals we hung a tassle of colorful surveyers tape.  The school librarian, George, recommended that we also hang some of these ribbons from the hands of the figures.  This touch help to further create a sense of movement. 

The heads were made from wrapped soda bottles. 

In a few days the students will be out of school for the summer.  Hopefully these dancing figures will keep the garden filled with the feeling of their presence.