In this interview you will get to know Karen Phillips and she is an Elementary Visual Arts teacher. She is also the creator of Masterpiece Momma and offers a plethora of art teaching resources. You can find all her resources and follow her in all the right social places by finding her links by clicking here.
How do you find inspiration or ideas for creating or designing art resources or art projects?
I am really into art history, so I find a lot of good ideas for lessons by reading books about artists, watching documentaries on the History channel, or listening to podcasts. My favorite topics are about Ancient Egypt, Impressionism, or art thefts (like of the “Mona Lisa” or “The Scream”). I think one of my skills is taking these complicated art history topics and breaking them down into language that kids can understand and enjoy. I also think about what I wanted to learn about as a kid and I create lessons about those things.
What areas of teaching art would you like to get better at?
I want to learn more about making my own art materials to use in the classroom. I’ve successfully made some dyed fabrics with onion skins, turmeric, and red cabbage. I have tried making paints with berries and food but it just turned out okay. More experimentation is needed! I also read about making ink with oak galls that are these spherical growths on oak trees. If you smash them up and boil them you can make a rich, black ink. I want to try that!
Do you have any particular things that you add into your curriculum that you feel are important for your students to learn, but aren’t necessarily in the standards?
I think it is really important for everyone to learn how to sew. It is a life skill that so many adults have never learned. We are really starting to see how vital this skill is now that volunteers are sewing masks for healthcare workers because there is a shortage of masks. Sewing is literally saving lives right now during the Covid-19 crisis! I add a sewing lesson into my 5th grade curriculum each year so that the kids have experience threading a needle, tying knots, and making a running stitch and whip stitch.
Have you ever had an awkward teaching moment?
I have had many awkward teaching moments over the years. One that stands out in my memory is when I was teaching a class of second graders how to make a symmetrical collage. One student had tried to fold and cut out this large 12 x 18 piece of paper, messed it up, put glue on it, and then came to ask me for help. I told him to start over and I quickly set his paper on my chair and got a new piece of paper for him. Later in class I called all the students to come sit on the rug while I explained the next step of the project. I sat in my chair, and quickly jumped up when I realized I had glued a big piece of paper to my butt. They roared with laughter!
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What advice would you give to a first year teacher?
My advice to first year teachers is that is it okay to make mistakes. You are going to make a ton of them during your career. I still make them and I’ve been teaching art for 18 years! Every mess up I’ve made has given me an opportunity to grow and learn. The mistakes I’ve made have helped me refine how to introduce lessons better, create clarity, reduce confusion, streamline clean up routines, and know what not to do or say. My response to each mistake has shaped me into the teacher I am today.
What is your biggest daily challenge?
My biggest daily challenge is taking a moment for myself. Sometimes I really feel like I am rushing all day long from one thing to the next . I am a “To Do” list person and love to check things off my list. There is always so much to do and not enough hours to do it all. I have to stop myself and make myself sit still for a few minutes, take a few deep breaths, and remember that there will be time tomorrow to do things I didn’t finish today. It’s okay!
Do you create art in your own time? What do you create? What is/are your favorite medium(s)?
I love to create art during my free time. I am a painter, mostly with watercolors or acrylics. Subjects like desserts, fruit, landscapes, and abstract shapes really interest me. I have also been a portrait and travel photographer for many years. Before I had children, I also made and sold over 100 modern quilted pillows in festivals and stores in my hometown. And more recently I’ve been learning how to create clip art and repeating patterns in Adobe Illustrator. I always have multiple projects going on!
What is your earliest memory of being an artist?
Both of my grandmothers were artists so some of my earliest memories were sitting with each of them to make art. Meemaw painted and worked with clay. I have fond memories of making tiny clay pigs with her at the beach. My Grandmother Low made stained glass, quilts, and copper enamels. She would let me cut out pieces of fabric for the Dutch doll quilt she made me, or sprinkle glass powder on a piece of copper and put it in the kiln. Taking the copper enamel out of the kiln always resulted in a big surprise- sometimes good, sometimes bad! I learned from an early age that sometimes things in the kiln don’t always turn out how you think they will!
How do you help students find ideas for creating artworks?
If a student is having a hard time coming up with an idea for their artwork, I ask them about their hobbies and interests to see if they want to use any of those as an idea. We also look at books for things to draw. Sometimes we will do an Internet search for an image to draw from. Students often get great ideas from talking to their friends or seeing what their classmates are making. A quick walk around the room will often help that child that doesn’t know what to do and give them a starting point to jump off from.
If you could have dinner with any artist (past or present), who would you choose and why?
I really love Impressionism and Paris so I would want to have dinner with Mary Cassatt and hear all about her life in France in the late 1800s. She’s really interesting because she grew up in a time when of course women weren’t supposed to be artists and against her families’ wishes she moved from Pennsylvania to Paris and hung out with a bunch of male artists. I love her soft pastel drawings and sense of color and emotion. She never married or had children but she painted about mothers and their children all the time. She seems like she would be a feisty and fun lady to talk to and I would learn a lot from her.
Helpful Art Resources for Teachers
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Kathleen McGiveron (Ms Artastic)
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