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Art Lesson Inspiration: Making Marks, creating tools, & cutting

You can use this is inspiration for a long lesson, or a short one class activity. I find that it’s a fun way to get students experimenting, creating, and curious.

Episode #212: This episode features Joan Jonas drawing in her Manhattan studio, and on stage at the Umeå Jazz Festival in Sweden. “Drawing is like practicing the piano, because the first ones that I do often don’t come out so I have to practice,” says Jonas who handicaps herself by attaching her ink brushes and oil sticks to long rods or branches. “It’s almost accidental if they turn out.” While showing archived drawings of her dogs and an owl, Jonas discusses her interest in capturing an animal’s character through portraiture.

Working in performance, video, installation, sculpture, and drawing, Jonas finds inspiration in mythic stories, investing texts from the past with the politics of the present. Wearing masks and drawing while performing on stage, Jonas disrupts the conventions of theatrical storytelling to emphasize potent symbols and critical self-awareness.


– Can you play with holding your drawing tool in a loser manner?
– What kind of drawing tools can you create?
– What if you draw really quickly?

Episode #198: Ellen Gallagher discusses the paper cutouts that she’s embedded into paintings throughout her career. Shown at the New Museum, seated in her solo exhibition “Don’t Axe Me” (2013), she explains how she scrapped away areas of her thickly painted canvases and inlaid black paper birds, leaving their sharply cut edges distinctly visible. Gallagher traces her interest in cutting to when she first began working with penmanship paper and needed to release air bubbles trapped under its surface. Her fondness for cut paper is most evident in her “Watery Ecstatic” series (2001–2009), which depicts sea creatures on intricately incised paper.

Repetition and revision are central to Ellen Gallagher’s paintings, collages, and films. From afar, Gallagher’s work often appears abstract and minimal, but upon closer inspection details reveal complex narratives that borrow from maritime history, science fiction, popular culture, and the experiences of African Americans. Although the work has often been interpreted as an examination of race, Gallagher also suggests a more formal reading with respect to materials, processes, and formal structures.

– What can of tools can you use to cut into your paper or puncture your paper?
– What if you create layers?
– How does the type of paper that you use , respond differently to being cut or punctured?