Mud painting I got beats


I passed out at about 10 o’clock. The kids did a number on me today. A few too many young ones were around for the mural painting in the afternoon / evening. And they were excited. So while I was managing them, another group of teenagers were painting on the mural. They went over somethings that I think were finished, but that is fine. The push / pull of having different folks work on it is interesting… to a point. I think it was mistake to let them use big brushes. Regardless, the mural became a big spectacle this evening and I had to clear people out, not once, but twice. When the kids were done I rounded them up and got them to wash up and leave. I took a picture of the group and congratulated them for all their hard work. I told them it was time for the big kids to work on the mural now.

That went well for a while. After the basketball practice let up, we had a few more teenagers come to paint. By the time they started to lose focus by painting their hands more than the wall, I called it a night. In all it was a good session. Kevin took a leading roll on deciding what the mural should look like. They tried to avoid the mangroves a bit, but really brought them closer. Gahleel (sp?) came by afterwards to inspect and apologize for not making it. He had some critiques, saying that they “over did it in areas.” I let him tell me how I could fix it. We sat and chatted for a while.
I wanted to keep the swarm of younger kids from painting too much on the mural. At first, I showed them the red-clay dirt. I asked them what they know about it, what you can do with it. They were aware that you can fashion it into objects by putting water in it and molding it with your hands. They were excited when I told them you can also paint with it.

They had run off to the Sea Side area to collect mangrove sticks (I’m thinking to paint them and stick them in front of the mural…). They also came back with part of the dog skeleton. They were very excited about it and asked if the archeologists will like it.

After I demonstrated the paint, they asked if they could paint the dog skeleton. I said sure! Why not!? 8 of them swarmed around the skull and painted it brown and put it in the sun to dry. I had them paint on the ground in front of the research station with the mud. That provided about 30 minutes or so of entertainment for them and a few interesting markings on the ground. I told them which ones I liked and tried to get them to collobarate. They came together to draw the Marcello tower, which was cool. A good portion of them wrote my name on the ground, which was funny.
I was worried that Dwight might see it the next morning and think I let them paint on the concrete with brown paint, but it rained and washed off a little later in the evening.

After cooling them off from the mud painting, I was able to slowly work them into working on the mural. Keeping them from jumping in identified the ones really interested: they would stand and watch the teenagers quietly.

The next session will have to be drawing in a few creatures. A conch shell, and the marine animals that live in the mangrove roots on the side columns.

In the morning I had painted at the same picnic table spot under the tree at the high school. I intended to move a painting along as a demonstration that they could then come and look at. I had a steady trickle of students coming by on break to watch and ask questions. I talked with Jahraka (sp?) and found out he likes to make music. He grabs beats from the internet and records over them with audacity. I told him I have some beats that I can send his way and he seemed excited about that. He said it is hard, he learns all by himself and they don’t teach music here. I told him to stop by sometime before I leave and we can listen to some beats and try things out. He likes the dancehall style.

At the end of the school day, four students came to work on their own canvases. Mitzi (sp?), Wakida, Shaquille and Kahanic. 3 girls and 1 boy. The energy was more subdued for this session. I gave them several tips and an overview of what we would be doing. They were hesitant at first but then moved quickly into it.

Mitzi was the only one who painted in vertical format. She put her compostion together in a way that reminded me a bit of Frida Kahlo and perhaps a little bit of Matisse. Maybe she will like Roussoue? She created her own version of the landscape based off of what she was looking at. When she was about done, she said “I feel like a pro!” She put the red fruit in the tree at the end, which I asked “Where are those coming from?”

Wakida took immediately to the expressions possible from the brushwork in oil paint. She might be interested in some Renoir? Although I don’t really like his work, the brushwork can be exquisite sometimes. Wakida quickly painted a second canvas before we finished up. Wakida used loads of paint, which at times muddied up.

Kahanic used the easel and painted a “pink tree” full of blossoms across the meadow. She had a unique way of putting the composition together that seemed to echo her positivity while painting. At the end she dropped purple dots into the painting for apparently just a decorative reason.

Shaquille was quiet yet consistently making jokes. He possibly was the only one out of the three who did not over do it with the oil paints. He made some nice clouds by pulling the paint off the canvas, but his trees were a bit too symbol-like.

In all, I should have had them wrap up about 30 minutes earlier than I did. The oil paint can build up and become too wet for the work to be productive. I would say we worked for about 2 hours. Everybody took their work home with them and hopefully kept the paint smudges to a minimum.
I spoke with Mitzi later on at the mural and she said her Dad was really proud of her when she showed him the painting.

My approach still seems to be to get them enthusiastic and feeling capable. I try to sneak in lessons underneath that but I am not being too strict with the WHAT to teach. I am being adaptive. If they are pushing a particular way that seems intruiging and could lead to greater things, I try to offer relevant advice. If they are headed down a path that is closed off due to a technical constraint or blocking in their thinking, I try to pull them back.

Enthusiasm vs Technical ability. Is there a way to teach them more formally in such a short time? The school has a level of formality to it that I am not used to.

By Noel Hefele

Noel Hefele is an artist living in the Bronx