top of page

Spirit and Energy

In honor of Earth Day, we began the week in ART YARD Advanced Studio on Zoom considering different approaches to environmental activist art and think expansively about how we can leverage a range of art media to communicate environmental concerns with Iviva Olenick. It was a particularly engaging dialogue in which we allowed ourselves to dive into consideration of ideas and puzzle over approaches.  We acknowledged how invigorating this approach is when we are quite often expected to present answers and honed opinions.

Iviva presents on zoom

Iviva summarizes: “We discussed the intersections of environmental activism and art, puzzling over the question: How does one make art that is also an effective form of environmental activism? We looked at works by Ana Mendieta, including her Nile Born sculpture, a mound of sand in the shape of her body that also resembles a spiritual object:

Ana Mendieta, Nile Born, 1984, Sand and binder on wood

We then viewed and discussed Mary Mattingly's installation at Storm King, Along the Lines of Displacement: A Tropical Food Forest. Without much information on Mattingly's work, we puzzled over the treatment of plants as sculpture; it was unclear whether the tropical palm trees were planted in the ground or ceremonially displayed on top of the earth's surface.

Mary Mattingly, Along the Lines of Displacement, 2018, Storm King installation

Karla then introduced us to Patricia Johanson, whose art "heals the earth" through garden and environmental installations and design. We then made our own work in response to ideas of environmental care and preservation, some of us incorporating earth, leaves and other natural materials. 

Patricia Johansen, Fair Park Lagoon, 1981-86, Site specific landscaping with native plans and gunite sculpture

Meridith made a cut-paper bird on a "nest" of fallen leaves she collected from the backyard. The bird was painted with dirt and was inspired by a bird in her backyard.

Meridith McNeal, Big Black Bird in the back garden, dirt and fallen leaves from garden

Karla made a collage with recycled packing material and a stem of leaves. Her piece depicts impacts of global warming.

Karla Prickett, Global Warming, Recycled paper collage

Pat made an assemblage with folded paper and orange peels. Pat ideally will compost the orange peel, and use non-compostable materials in her work, turning the paper pieces into flowers.

Pat Larash, Composting Cycle and Plants, Orange Peels and recycled paper

I (Iviva) spent the morning gardening and discovered last year's calendula in bloom. She used her photos of the calendula plant as inspiration for an embroidery on an old denim skirt of a uterus surrounded by reproductive health plants. Calendula has many medicinal uses, including soothing menstrual cramps. Class ended with group critique.” 

Iviva Olenick, Reproductive Health Plants, embroidery on denim skirt


On Tuesday in ART YARD Advanced Studio in person at our studio at BWAC Evelyn Beliveau presented the first of a three-week cycle of portraiture from life.  Evelyn recaps this successful session: “I’m thrilled to be teaching this favorite subject of mine. 

Evelyn presenting portraiture

This week, we used pencil and 11” x 14” drawing paper. We had great turnout this week, and started off the session by discussing the mixed levels of experience with portraiture and pencil drawing among the participants. 

Drawing portraits in pairs

While looking at pencil drawings by Gwen John, Avigdor Arikha, and Sylvia Sleigh, plus a charcoal drawing by me (shown in that order below) , I introduced several rules of thumb for the ratios and alignment of facial features.


These rules of thumb can be used as a map when drawing someone head-on, to sort out the general structure of the face and then dive into that person’s specific characteristics. To name a few:

  • the eyes are located about halfway between the top and bottom of the head, and the head is about five eyes wide;

  • the outside edges of the nostrils fall directly below the inner corners of the eyes; 

  • the corners of the mouth fall directly below the pupils; 

  • and the bend in the eyebrow indicates where the front-facing plane of the forehead meets the temple.


We discussed more rules of thumb while I demonstrated with a quick sketch (for which Kevin enthusiastically volunteered as model).

Evelyn Beliveau (Kevin)

Every drawing from life is an act of simplification. From the information-rich, three-dimensional forms of the face, the artist must select the details that are most important to include in order to get a sense of the head’s structure and the particularities that make the person unique. For example, I tend to simplify the face into geometric planes at first, and then hone in on specific curves and contours after the structure is in place. I encouraged participants to follow their own instincts when selecting information to include in their drawing.

After the demo, participants paired off and took turns drawing and modeling for one another during two 30-minute drawing sessions. As I walked around the table, it was clear that each participant was absorbed in the process. Some asked questions, which by their specificity and thoughtfulness revealed how engaged they were, and I offered advice for how to solve whatever discrepancy had arisen between what they saw in the model’s face and in their drawing.

Artist (Portrait) in order: Evelyn Beliveau (Roman), Roman B. (Evelyn), Molly Willis (Tangie), Tangie Murray (Molly), Marley Haynes (Christine), Christine Willis (Marley), Ailey Haynes (Kevin), Kevin Anderson (Ailey), Liv Collins (Jules), Jules Lorenzo (Liv).

Use arrows to scroll through portraits

The results surpassed my hopes for the session: when we gathered the drawings on the stage for critique, I saw page after page of confident, well-proportioned, and finely observed portrait heads. Participants had made good use of the rules of thumb to create portraits that suggest the real volume and structure of a head, neck, and shoulders. What’s more, the likenesses were striking, and there were many exclamations as participants recognized their peers in the drawings. This can only happen when the artist has closely observed the specific shape of a jawline, a lip, an eyelid; the sum of these small details is a sense of the person’s characteristic expression. In the drawings, we can also see a good deal of variation in the style or hand of each artist— fine, delicate, and precise contours; sensitive shading with a soft pencil; texture created by repeated, gestural marks; bold or stylized outlines. Each and every participant stepped up to the challenge and achieved a beautiful drawing.”

Ariel Abdullah (Ed), Ariel Abdullah (Ardelia), Ardelia Lovelace (Ariel)

Ed Rath (Ariel), Ed Rath (Ardelia)


Wednesday found Managing Director Dennis Buonagura, Teaching Artists Giannina Guttierez and Evelyn Beliveau at ART YARD Art Matters at PS 17 with elementary and junior high students both in school hours and after school.


Evelyn writes: “This year, with several wonderful classes of 7th, 6th, 1st, and 4th graders, we are exploring the work of Andy Warhol. We have a few lessons planned for the different grade levels, each focusing on a different series of Warhol’s Pop Art paintings and silk screen prints.


With the students in grades 6 and 7, we discussed Warhol’s bold, bright, simplified aesthetic inspired by advertising and his depiction of commonplace objects and products, such as Campbell’s soup cans and Coca-Cola bottles. We discussed the following quote:


My fascination with letting images repeat and repeat … manifests my belief that we spend much of our lives seeing without observing.” - Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol, Dollar Sign, 1981, Acrylic paint and silkscreen on canvas

Students had plenty of ideas about what it means to just SEE without OBSERVING, and how Warhol’s attention to the visual details of banal objects can help us to observe the world around us a little more closely.

We then learned about contour drawing (drawing the outlines of an object without shading), which each student will use to make detailed observational pencil drawings of four objects on watercolor paper. I encouraged students to choose simple, unassuming, everyday objects from the classroom or their bags. Most students made good progress on their first drawing, and some even finished and started the second. Later, we will use watercolor to emulate Warhol’s flat, mechanical application of color.


The students in grades 1 and 4 learned about Warhol’s use of repetition and the flat, simplified advertising aesthetic on traditional artistic subject matter, like fruits and flowers. 

Evelyn demonstrates for students

Grade 1 students will be making collages inspired by Warhol’s Flowers series. They are excited to experiment with many different colors and flower shapes! We dove right into using stencils to trace and cut out many copies of a flower shape from colored paper. Some students used stencils that I provided, and others enthusiastically made their own.

Grade 4 students are using stencils, too. Their project is inspired by Warhol’s Space Fruit series. We discussed how the fruits in his paintings are so simplified and bizarrely colored that a viewer almost can’t distinguish one type of fruit from another—they become abstract shapes that Warhol could manipulate to create compositions. Using my stencils or creating their own, Grade 4 students traced the outlines of various fruits—pears, lemons, strawberries, and more—in different combinations on squares of watercolor paper. These pencil drawings will soon come to life with bright watercolors."


Dennis enthuses: “The after school mural project is in full swing at PS 17 led by our fantastic new AYB teaching artist, Giannina Guttierez. Gia, a muralist, showed images of her work and explained what inspires her and how she collects ideas from students and clients to arrive at her final piece. Students learned about abstract art, the pop art movement, symbolism, and color.  


Giannina Gutierrez, Spirit Of The Jungle, Underhill Walls Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY 2018

Giannina Gutierrez,  You Belong, GenEquality Inclusive Safety Mural Series, Polo Grounds Houses, NYC, 2021


Giannina Gutierrez, Strength In Unity, First Spanish Methodist Church, East Harlem, NY, 2020

Students took ideas from their drafts from last week's class and learned how to make them abstract. While working, students listed their ideas and thought about adding color.  Drafts will be reviewed and delivered to the school's principal - and/or they'll be combined into a composite for presentation. These drafts will become paintings for exhibition.  

Newest ART YARD BKLYN Teaching Artist Giannina (Gia) Guttierez

Gia adds: “I was truly impressed by my first day at PS 17, the school itself and the entire staff are super welcoming. The students were all very engaged and receptive to the mural project and drawing activity, demonstrating lots of skill and highly creative ideas. I also noted some of the students reflected some of the ideas I discussed during my presentation. Overall, I truly enjoyed my experience with the students, and feel confident that we will create a wonderful mural reflective of the spirit and energy of the school.” 



Dennis sums up: “Today at ART YARD Art Matters at PS 6, in Jersey City, Evelyn’s excellent lesson on the realism movement led to questions about what’s real and what’s fantasy or imaginary.  In her well planned lesson and presentation; students viewed the works Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste- Camille Corot and discussed the ordinary day to day lives of people in the 18th century.  

Evelyn demonstrated drawing people in the foreground first before adding any background.  

Jumping forward to the 21st century, these 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders created pencil drawings of what they view during their usual routines - teachers, postal deliverers, family, dog walkers, pizza delivery people, in such places as a banana tree field, the streets of Jersey City, and a family farm in India.  

Watercolors are planned for next week while will surely turn these drawings into wonderful realistic paintings.”


Other Art News


All are welcome to join ART YARD Advanced Studio for our next art viewing field trip this Saturday April 27th. We will meet 3pm at BravinLee offsite, 207 Front Street in South Street Seaport to view The Golden Thread: A Fiber Art Exhibition. From there we will carry on to Brooklyn (544 Park Avenue) to visit the open studio of Allie Wilkinson.


Capucine Bourcart, Act 4, 2023


You are encouraged to apply for the Artists Residency at Sugar Hill Museum! This is a gorgeous museum with a spectacular vibe and wonderful staff, in short, a splendid location for a residency! Applications are due by April 30, 2024.



87 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page