One-ISH, Two-ISH, Me-ISH, You-ISH

Peter H. Reynolds has been a favorite author/illustrator of mine since the moment I first laid fingertips on his story, Ish. Reynolds’ simple line drawings and messages of risk taking and individuality make him a hero among art teachers. The first few weeks in the art studio would be a wash without sharing Reynolds’ wisdom via read-aloud–a time of mutual enjoyment for both teachers and students of all ages.  After introducing students to their new pal, the sketchbook, we hunkered down and admitted to the beautiful fact that deep down, we are all ish-artists, ish-writers, ish-athletes, and ish-individuals. Life without the kinda, almost, sort of, nearly, and just about parts of us would be a life of boredom. It’s the ish-isms that keep us unique, keep us striving, and keep us humble.

I like to start the year off with a few sketchbook activities. It’s fun to have an archive of student progress throughout the year. This week, all classes created ISH self portraits. These portraits were supposed to be as true to life as possible, which is why I introduced mirrors into the lesson. As beginning artists, we are always drawing from memory, drawing what we think we look like, and relying on tricks and old habits picked up along the way. In just 45 minutes, students began sharing with me how they had never actually looked at themselves before. The idea that their eyes were made up of lids, lashes, brows, tear ducts, irises, pupils, etc. was like magic. Did you know we needed nostrils to breathe? Neither did we, until we actually learned to look! Freckles, scars, bangs, missing teeth, hair styles, earrings, and birthmarks make us all unique and are worth including as indicators of our individuality.

Children are naturally and developmentally self-centered at this age. Even knowing that going into it, I was still blown away by their dedication to really getting themselves right and their attention to detail. Best of all, there was absolutely no discouraging words heard around the studio, no snickering, and little frustration. We were all challenging ourselves, all creating the ish-versions of us, and all delighted in the outcome. Personal insecurities became badges of pride. We were all eager to share what made our faces one of a kind.

Check out this ish-face! Watch out world!

I was thrilled to see this 4th grade artist applying the technique of contour lines to the foundation of his ish-portrait. Not all is lost over the long summer after all!!

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