After two days of brushing our 12 x 7 canvas with skates, skateboard, and scooters, we are ready for the bike: a Magna Excitor with 20-inch wheels, a bike that turns out to be too big for a couple of the smaller campers. My assistants push them across our work space.
The painting is looking good: multiple layers of red, blue, yellow, green, orange, purple. . . a little brown where things have gotten "muddy." Almost all the gesso is now covered. It's going to be a short session, because the paint needs to dry before we can roll up the canvas and call it a day.
The bike will produce the richest lines of all our "brushes." It has knobby mountain tires that leave a thick, fractured track. We have two paint dispensers?one trickles paint to the front tire's center; the other has two small holes that push paint to the tire's perimeter, to enable a full-width track. The smaller dispenser makes for a wispier line. Whipping the handlebars back and forth throws paint to the side of the tires, making thin spidery lines, punctuated occasionally by a small, slower-to-dry blob.
As with the other vehicles, riders' skill levels vary. Most of the kids are constrained by the size of our workspace. They're used to skating, riding, scooting in open spaces for long distances. Painting on a 12 x 7 canvas requires tight, fast turns. Toward that end, some kids with long enough legs opt for pushing the bike along by foot instead of pedaling. I've brought along an assortment of old shoes and socks they can wear to avoid covering their shoes with paint.
Of the four vehicles used for paint application, skates are favored by a majority of the group, several of whose members want to go on skates again. I apologize for the lack of time, so a few kids don skates and roll paintless around the pavement. One of my assistants and I hop on the bike and put down a few final white tracks to help break up the density of accumulated layers of hues. Other than that, it's all the kids' work.
For first-time trAction Painters, they have done a remarkable job. The canvas has a nice mix of color, lines, and patterns. One of my next tasks is to get it hung and get a good digital image for reproduction purposes.
Ending up with a beautiful painting is an undoubted benefit of this four-day camp. But more important is for the kids to have fun and learn in the process. During the course of our time together, we've not only learned something about art but also created a painting in the process. We related the kids' efforts to math (geometry), science (viscosity, flow, friction), and environment (proper disposal of paint-infused water). More important, however, is for kids to realize that they don't necessarily have to be constrained by rote learning and conventional wisdom. A bike, for example, is a means of transportation?unless it's transformed into a brush.
I handed out journals at the beginning of camp and asked the kids to write, draw, doodle, whatever during the week. I'm still going through their thoughts and images, but a comment from one of the kids sums up what we were trying to accomplish:
"This week I experienced that if you do anything with colors, it could still be art. Art can be really fun. You can use skates, bikes, and skateboards to make art. So today we made art, and it was fun." That word, fun, crops up in several students' comments.
My hope is that some of these kids will remember this experience and apply it later in life, especially when they enter the workforce. An increasingly tech-based economy needs employees who can apply creativity and "outside the box" thinking to problem-solving of all varieties.
If even one of these kids builds upon this experience in life, career, and/or creation, my efforts (and those of my helpers) will have been a success. My goal now is to build upon this proof of concept for similar endeavors in the future.