Offices & Resources

From a Distance: Visual Art Still Flourishing for St. Markers
From a Distance: Visual Art Still Flourishing for St. Markers

During this time of remote learning, the visual arts remain an integral part of the St. Mark's curriculum. Veteran art teachers Barbara Putnam and Aggie Belt have been assigning art projects to their students and have been receiving the results of St. Markers' creative and resourceful efforts.


The initial assignments from Ms. Putnam to her Studio I and Studio II students were hampered by the fact that not everyone had immediate access to art supplies. So student artists were encouraged to create with whatever materials might be at hand. Their first assignment was called YOU ARE HERE and students were asked to "disconnect from the internet, work only from life, and provide a sense of where you are right now." Students used pencil, felt tip pen, colored pencils, colored markers, sharpie, nail polish, and paint. They were executed on post-it notes, paper bags, old newspaper, notebook paper, construction paper, stationery, a chocolate candy wrapper, cardboard, a piece of a lesson planner, an Apple Store bag, an old blue box, and even a plastic tray from a takeout dinner.

Some students worked from quarantine, like Madison Huang '23, Ingrid Yeung '23, Nancy Suriyaammaranon '20, and Mandy Hui '23, all students in Studio I. Mandy only had a plastic tray for a "canvas" and a sharpie to draw on it. Studio II student KT Mao '22 recorded her quarantine surroundings in Beijing—her mask, her mug, the bottle of spray alcohol she used to disinfect everything three times daily, and the quarantine security tent she could see from her hotel window.

The second assignments were somewhat easier to manage, as Ms. Putnam sent packages of art supplies to her far-flung students. Studio I artists were asked to "find things in your house that would give a good self portrait of you from maybe five or more years ago. Did you have a horse craze? A favorite part of your room that you have not been to since you being away at school? Maybe ask your parents for a little bit of your history, they may remind you of the old too-small hockey equipment you wore or the lessons you took on a Suzuki violin or your favorite book. Places in the house, stuffed animals, toys, and place these together in an interesting composition. You can even include a photo from years past. You can lay them out on your quilt or blanket or onto clothing you used to use; for the background feel free to move to a different location." Their task was then "to create a composition that is a historical self-portrait on the small sketch pad in pencil. Render the whole tiny gem completely— no white spaces unless there really is a need for white. Bring up all in tones and avoid any outlines." Students then discussed their answers to critique questions: What materials work together? What did you try that did not work?

Studio I continued with an assignment entitled COLOR SCAVENGER HUNT. Students were given color wheels and a sample piece from Ms. Putnam. Students were asked "to make an organized circle of color objects and items, being careful to keep the alignment of hues (colors) and opposites clear. Make your circle vibrant with multiple variants of each color, for example darker and lighter orange, and by finding unexpected contributions from overlooked things we use every day." Questions to answer: For what types of products did you find the most objects of similar color? Do you tend to buy or own things that are your favorite color?

The following week, they were assigned to draw in color using the photograph of their color wheel as reference and making drawings that use layers of color. Subsequent assignments included "Layers and Destinations," describing chosen objects and their relationship to one another through color, layering colors to arrive at a "destination" color. Later assignments included "Back to Square One."

CLICK HERE to visit this spring's Studio I gallery

The second assignment for Studio II students was called RELATIONSHIPS. Students were asked to create a diptych: a single work made with two pieces of paper, wood, or other materials. In art history, a diptych was a painting or carving, two flat pieces attached with a hinge. Closed, they could travel and be protected when not being viewed, practical for different climates. Open they revealed different but related scenes, illustrations from the Bible, literature, theater, nature. Two images side by side can give grew points of view or angles, framed or physically joined and displayed on a stand at right angles. These particular St. Mark's diptych's were to be made by choosing two handmade sheets of paper. Using them either horizontally or vertically, working descriptively and without a phone camera, students were charged with creating a dialogue within a single work of art through the relationship— the conversation— between two works placed side by side. Contrasts like close and far, moving and still, order and chaos, light and shadow, and different times of day were among the concepts encouraged. Their critique would be answering the question "What expands in the narrative by having two images side by side?"

Another Studio II assignment was called PRETTY GOOD METAPHOR. The intention is to explore ways to join literature and writing to the students' visual work, asking "How do you join what you read with how you communicate visually?" using literature to inspire visual arts. Terms in English writing such as simile, metaphor, antonym, debate, lend themselves as prompts to artistic thinking as the class moves from descriptive imagery to issue generated content with emotion coming thorough subject matter, compositional organization, and mark making. Students in the past have used this assignment to compare two cultures, for example. Ms. Putnam asked her Studio II students to "consider two ways to give the viewer access to the topic. Borrow from English courses and think about how you can as a reporter, present perhaps information, differing points of view, symbolism, detail, personal experience. Work on one of the sheets of colored paper this week and create one response with the other response blocked out on scrap paper. You may use watercolor or gouache to change the color of the paper you have in places to manipulate our eyes." Critique questions include "What is metaphor in this context?" and "How does color interact with symbolism in your work?"

Subsequent assignments included three dimensional drawings – a single sheet book structure, nature journaling, and "stories to tell."

CLICK here for this spring's Studio II gallery

The more advanced Studio III students are working independently, to create new pieces for their portfolios. They have regular Zoom meetings with Ms. Putnam to review their progress. Each is exploring a different topic over the course of an entire year: cultural identity, relationships within two families, and toxicity in textile design and manufacturing.

After completing their portfolios, Studio III students closed out the school year by creating special St. Mark's coloring book pages.

CLICK HERE to see this spring's Studio III gallery


Ms. Belt is teaching three sections of ceramics and one of sculpture. Materials are also an issue here, but Ms. Belt has been assigning "Assemblage Projects"—the grouping or joining together of unrelated objects using a collage process, gluing and affixing commonplace objects together to take on a new meaning. She presented examples of 20th Century abstract art and artists as prompts.

For this assignment, St. Markers were asked to create an "assemblage story" utilizing themes like Identity, Diversity, Justice, Family, Community, History. They needed to collect at least 8 objects but they only needed to use 5. Ms Belt encouraged her students to "wonder thoughtfully and really look at the objects around you; think about their purpose, symbolism and history; choose objects that you are drawn to for one reason or another. At least one object should carry some meaning to you personally and have some "history" to it (meaning it has been used). Strive to create an interesting composition by joining these objects together to produce a story, message, or poem that is meaningful to you. Go beyond duplication and put your own personal mark on it. Seek to create work that has a feeling of inevitability." Remote learning under current circumstances, with little or no at-home access to pottery wheels or clay and few conventional sculpture materials at hand, Ms. Belt has crafted assignments where students can get creative with whatever materials they can find.

A more recent Ceramics assignment was a "Conversation Cup." Realizing that her students did not have wheels or clay with which to work, Ms. Belt asked her students "to design a cup that can spark a conversation."

For her Sculpture students, they were given a "Cardboard Project" - to fabricate from scratch a multiple-part three-dimensional object.

CLICK HERE to view a gallery of work by Ms. Belt's sculpture and ceramics students this spring