Monday, December 1, 2014

National Core Arts Standards

Not only is there Common Core within the regular classroom, but the various national arts education organizations have written a National Core Arts Standard for all the disciplines. I had an opportunity to read and try to apply them to some of my recent lessons, and I actually like them.

The Standards make sense to me as an art teacher and practicing artist. They emphasize creative processes and the fact that they are teachable. In the art classes I have taken recently, we call them "systems." They are strategies for initiating, and generating creative ideas and all "creatives" use them and to get going on problem solving.
This part of the Standard really resonates with me because, I know for a fact that visual art is completely teachable. It is an old myth that a talented person, wakes up and creates a masterpiece. It just doesn't happen, in any media or discipline. Fine and transcendent work is the result of learning and practicing skills and having time to think. None of us performs our best when rushed, especially when thinking and sorting is required.

Here is a link to the Standards.

I like getting to know them and plan on including them in to my lessons here at Capitol Hill School.

Happy Winter.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

We just completed the first 2 months of school and students are settled in a working productively.

An interesting idea arose a few weeks ago, when a mom told me that her child felt bad that he/she couldn't draw realistically at age ~8.
As a teacher I am clear in my appreciation for realism and desire to have students develop the focus and perseverance to try to build skills for accurate rendering.
BUT when children work at drawing from a still life or realism, their work has a certain charm. Children hone in on certain details and "interpret" the object, often with a strong drawn line and bold style. Their work is great to look at and interesting in its inclusion of some detail, and absence of other features.
I love it.

Please know that photographic realism is never the goal with children; not only is it not a reasonable expectation developmentally, but would be missing the beauty of the childrens' interpretations of the world around them.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Capitol Hill shows student art at BESC (pps headquarters)

Friday after school I took some of our students' art work to BESC and hung it on the bulletin boards across from the main auditorium. The work will hang for the month of October.

As it is a large space, but still not big enough to hold work from our 460+ students, I had to limit the show.

Included is work from 3rd grade and 2/3 Merrill, 4th grade and 5th grade. Even this is only part of each classroom.

As I was hanging the work, people stopped to complement the quality and as one person said "I wish my son had that depth of program at his school." too!

Here are some pictures of the display.

2/3 rd grade Lichtenstein Self Portraits

5th grade Fauves

4th grade Symbolic Self-Portraits

3rd grade Lichtenstein Self Portrait

4th grade Symbolic Self Portrait

5th grade Fauves

3rd grade Lichtenstein Self Portraits

Saturday, September 27, 2014

We are all just shades of brown!

This year I purchased a class set of "multi-cultural" markers. Any of us who have tried to lead a self-portrait lesson using regular markers knows it is a challenge to find a correct skin color.

My experience working with children and using other types of crayons, construction paper or paint, know that kids are uninhibited by any social convention about their choice of skin color.

First and second graders used these markers for their particular self-portrait lesson at the start of this school year.
I set the markers out organized on the front table with sample cards. Students used the cards to match their skin color and chose their marker to complete their drawing.

They did a great job and hopefully they reflect the variety of students we have at our school.

Friday, September 26, 2014


This past week, I have seen students really settle in to the routine and expectations of school.
The kids are calmer and it becomes easier for them to be more focused and productive.

Every two weeks I have an extra art period to share with a class. I would like to use it as a reward for self-control, cooperative and calm, focused behavior in my classroom.
The first half of September, the Mr. J's 4th graders won.

Today, Mrs.J's 1st. graders won the award!!! and were invited to come to art class for a free-choice time.
Congratulations to them. Good Job!

Pretty soon it will be hard for me to choose winners.

Friday, September 12, 2014


As Mrs. Wilson wrote our school has record numbers of children which means our class sizes are robust. This reality supports a very organized classroom, with calm expectations for behavior, even in the art room where students are traditionally more relaxed.  We still are relaxed, but are working to extend the calm focus of the classroom to the art studio.

Many classes are doing quite well with this expectation, and there is a reward.

The class that has the smoothest behavior in a two week period, reaching about 85% level of cooperation and personal responsibility, is offed a bonus art period, and the honor of hosting the
"Tribute- Polar Bear."
The bi-monthly first winner is:

4th graders Mr. Jayquiss' class


Yay to them!
Hopefully Tribute will visit many more classes this year!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The week is half over! and we are already being productive in the art room.

Many grade levels are starting the year with a self-portrait. They are children and they grow and change, so none of us even get tired of getting a glimpse of how they see themselves!

I am madly trying to update the blog, with more specifics about their first assignments; and please check back in 10 days or so and see images of completed work.

My 2nd year at Capitol Hill is going to be even better. I feel so good knowing the students from day one and being overall more familiar with the community and how the school is run.

Some of the grade level projects will stay the same (within that grade level year) and there will be some new projects. It is no fun doing the same thing year after year, and there is always some new idea out there.

Thank you for your support last year and I hope you will feel your children are learning and growing as creative folks.
I believe in their potential! and I say that with honesty and sincerity.

Nancy Helmsworth

Monday, August 25, 2014


Welcome back to school!
Teachers begin preparing tomorrow (actually teachers think, plan, gather materials throughout the summer).

I think this is going to be a fun and productive year, as the second year of Visual Arts at Capitol Hill School. Last year the students were quite receptive to the new ideas and hard working. I expect the same quality work this year as well.

What is not to like?
I am happy to be back, connecting and reconnecting with the students, your children.


Nancy Helmsworth

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Feedback from Hillsdale Library Art Display

Hi Nancy --

This art show has been so popular! We have received many compliments from staff and the public. Whenever I am near the artwork, patrons comment on how impressed they are with the quality of the work. It's not unusual to hear "Wow!" and "How old are these students?" 

The Hillsdale staff and our Director of Neighborhood Libraries delighted in discussing the chameleons during our staff meeting.

Thank you for a wonderful show, and please pass our thanks along to your student artists!


Barbara J Head
Youth Librarian
Hillsdale Regional Library, Multnomah County

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Benefit of offering Arts in schools.
link to article in the Washington Post

"...In short, the arts can’t save failing schools — certainly not on their own. The focus has to be on academic fundamentals. Yet I ended my morning at Savoy more convinced that arts programs can be more than a gracious dollop of artsy noblesse oblige for poor kids; rather, they can serve as a building block toward academic success."

From my years of teaching and observations of students, I have seen first hand how a positive art experience can serve as a building block for academic success. A student gains mastery in art* and then confidence. That confidence then spreads into the other areas of his/her academic life and gives them the courage and belief in their potential for success. It happens!

(and all of my art curriculum is developmentally geared to practically guarantee student success)

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

May 13, 2014

As I wrote earlier, we have some opportunity to show student work outside of our school building. Selecting work is harder than you might think as there is really too much quality work to choose from and too many consistently dedicated students at Capitol Hill to honor.

Umpqua Bank in Multnomah Village-  the month of May

5th grade Action Figure Sculptures are on display. The bank graciously hosted an Opening Reception for the students on Friday May 9th. The work will be on display (using the extra space at their discretion) for the next couple weeks.
All completed sculptures were included plus the additional 2-D work of some of our most dedicated art students.
Congratulations 5th Graders!

Hillsdale Library - May 12- May 25

Yesterday I hung art work from many students in 4th, 3rd and 2nd grade at the Hillsdale library.

You will find some wonderful examples of the 3rd graders' paintings- Bridge - Abstractions in the foyer of the library.

A sampling of the 4th graders, 3-dimensional Backpacks are in the display case in the foyer as well. Some Backpack Paintings are in the meeting room within the building.

A collection of the 2nd graders compositional work "Chameleons are Cool" are hung in the meeting room in the SE corner of the library.
I am told that many public meetings are held in that particular room and giving us the chance to introduce many citizens to our student work.

I am pleased to share with the public, some examples of what the Arts Tax has brought to Capitol Hill School.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Well the fun never stops!
Capitol Hill students have created very beautiful and interesting art work this year. -no exaggeration-
There are several other art show opportunities off-site coming up soon.  Yesterday I was walking around the art show trying to pick pieces for the next show on the calendar. I could literally select any piece on display and be proud to show it to a stranger!
Strong students did well, middling students surprised themselves and weaker or less engaged students stepped up and did some stunning and creative work. 
Sorry to brag....but I don't know how the work could be better.

Kudo to the Artists of Capitol Hill
and of course to the
dedicated crew of parents who made this event a true celebration.

Next up:
PPS hired many visual arts teacher with the new funds from the art tax. The salary for my position at Capitol Hill is fully funded with that money. To clarify, the Dash 4 Dollars will pay for art supplies and materials for the students plus additional Artist-in-Residence events and workshops as requested by classroom teachers.
The new hire art teachers within PPS have banded together to thank the community at large for the Arts Tax funding and to share some of what the children of Portland have accomplished this first year within their new programs.

We are having a show. The art teachers are so enthusiastic, 25+ schools are sending work for display at City Hall. That is the good news. The bad news is that each school isn't allocated much room. I will bring 6 framed pieces of student work, but may be only able to display 3. As I wrote above, how do I choose 3-6 pieces from 800+ really great students' works? 
Guess it is a good problem to have.
Simply put, if your work is chosen to show, that is great, but if it isn't chosen, it's "not not great." I am looking for variety of ages, style, color and equal gender mix. I also confess I want strong effort rewarded, (which is about 40% of the students a really high number).
Selected students and their families will be notified.
  • April 22- May 3 - Art is Elementary - City Hall - 3-6 pieces
  • April 19 Lucky Lab - fundraising event for Wilson Area Arts Council-10-20 pieces
  • May- Hillsdale Library - sharing space with Hayhurst art program, will show as many pieces as I can fit. Will check the space again next week.
  • May (last 2 weeks) - Umpqua Bank - Multnomah Village- Again, need to go look.
  • Inline image 3Inline image 2

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Capitol Hill - Art Show
Is this coming Friday 4/4/14
Opening Reception is 5:30-7:30
800+ pieces of student work!
Please come celebrate their efforts and applaud their accomplishments.

Huge thanks to Darcy Petersen who has devoted more than a month of efforts to bring all the art together and prepare it for hanging. Big thanks to those parents who helped her.

This is my first CH event and I am excited to see it all come together.
I am pleased to share all this student work with you the parents and community.  I have sincerely enjoyed working with these students, your children.
Thank you.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Organization for the school-wide Art Show is underway.
As I am new to this school I am having a parent show me the "ropes" about how all is done. (At my previous job I did do a school-wide art show, so I have some idea of how this all works).

Capitol Hill Art Show is April 4, 2014, so now is the time to gather all the student work and get it matted and mounted.
ANYONE willing to help, please contact Darcy Peterson, (3rd grade parent). She is the lead on the whole show.

Other art shows are in the works.
ARTS TAX - thank you. 
Myself and 2 other art teachers have been meeting and planning how to thank and show the larger Portland community the results and benefits of the arts tax. Our goal is to get K-5 student work out into the community somewhere during the month of May.  I have done some legwork and have secured several venues, the meeting room at the Hillsdale library, Umpqua Bank in Multnomah Village (a couple weeks in May) and a downtown store Boys' Fort (date to be determined). Anthropologie in the Pearl is giving it a second thought as well.

As art teachers, we whole-heartedly believe in the benefits of a visual arts education, regardless of a persons' future career. In the meantime, we want to share some evidence of the students' self-expressions.

So stay turned. 
Students at Capitol Hill have produced some good work this year in their brand new art program and I am determined to get it shown, locally at CH and in the neighborhood of Multnomah and Hillsdale and downtown!
I guarantee you will be positively impressed!

Thank you for your support.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Grades were just entered this weekend and for most students their only mark is in "effort."*

Effort is quantified by observation of how the student uses his/her class time.  Are they talking to friends frequently, getting up and wandering around, or are they diving into the challenge of the assignment? Students usually get excited at the beginning of the project and then settle in to the real work of getting it planned and done.
"Effort" may seem nebulous, but really it isn't as in art class there is so much tangible evidence of work effort.  Remember when you were a kid and your parents would say "quit wrestling before someone gets hurt," and then one of you got hurt? I used to be amazed that the adults somehow knew it was going to happen.  Now we know the secret of watching and predictability.
Just standing and observing the students at work tells almost all of the effort story.

What if a child says "I'm not good at art"? After all my years of teaching I am confident that every child can learn art and definitely improve his/her skills. Art is one of the most learn-able, concrete skills in the K-5 curriculum.  I like to use the analogy of "personal best."
EVERYONE improves at their own rate, as long as they participate and TRY.

That is why "effort" is so important in art and everywhere else in life.

*Some of the other visual art grade level requirement were recently shared with us K-5 art teachers.  This year's curriculum certainly touches and will touch on all those understandings, but hasn't been organized to teach them directly.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Happy New Year

Winter is a very productive period in the art room.  There are lots of lessons in store for the students.

Please check the grade level pages in the next few days to learn the specifics of what is happening in your child's art classroom.