Friday, June 7, 2013

We've got a winning letter for the Craft Club

And dont the girls look super cute in the accompanying photo! This letter was published in the June 2013 edition of the IDEAS magazine and it was the winning letter.  Yeay for the club getting more publicity.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Economical Silicone Molding tutorial

I found this great tutorial on how to make silicone mould base.  I think we can do some really cool stuff with this!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Art Journals and boxes

When considering the route of projects for the the craft club, I thought that it might be a better idea to teach techniques rather than “copy and paste” projects that we have handled in the past. I feel that it would be better to allow the students to direct control of their creative expression and that the clubs projects should just provide the rudimentary hints into realising their own creative innovation. 
This year in an attempt to create a documented record of the all the cool stuff happening at the Craft Club – I have decided that we all need Art Journals!  In addition to being just wonderful to create, art journals would serve the purpose of the students keeping a physical copy of techniques, tips and tricks that we come up with in the club and a means for them to practise writing about something in a second language about an activity that is personally meaningful to them.   In the future –whenever the students attempt a project in the Craft Club – they will be required to document it in their art journal.
Pintrstartjournal2I showed the students some pictures of Art Journals shared by Art journalists online at Pinterest, to give them a hint of art journaling inspiration.  There was a reverent silence in the classroom as the students looked on in awe at the creative genius of some of the talented artists featured on one of the art journal pinboards.
Pintrstartjournal1   7324fd1601cfb7f5f00de9389c6f927b
For the first meeting – the students were required to find an A5 notebook, aluminium foil, different bits of textured materials, and either black paint or black shoe polish.  This was in addition to the regular “kit” of glue, scissors and rulers, pens and pencils.  As it was the first meeting the turn out was a little less than we had hoped it would be, but we did have a host of new members joining, and later on that day – we had apologies from old members who didn’t receive the message that the club was meeting. 
craftclub 040
As you are aware – the club at this point is not funded – all the materials, are sourced by the facilitator and the students efforts.  One of our better moments of the day was when Prof LJ Michell, of the Philosophy department, upon hearing on what the first project was going to be  generously donated - a roll of Aluminium Foil and some white craft glue.  This was the first time that we have received a donation outside of the club itself.  It was a great gesture on his part and the students were really moved by his kindness. Thank you Prof LJ Michell for your continual commitment to the students.  You certainly have a place in the craft club history as the first benefactor.
 craftclub 044For the first project of the club in 2013 - we were able to learn a fun technique that turns ordinary pages, with the help of aluminium foil, into a faux pewter effect.  The students got a jumpstart into creating the first page of their Art journal. Some students got so excited by rubbing the textures under the foil, and the cool effect it was producing that I had to remind them to make sure that they were leaving enough texture pieces for everyone to share the activity.
craftclub 053We also made little gift boxes from a pattern that students had chosen after browsing through a collection of “IDEAS” magazines. In terms of craft inspiration for projects, the IDEAS magazine has slowly begun to become our go-to source as the projects published in it can often be completed with a minimum amount of specialised craft tools, accessories and materials.  craftclub 038

For the boxes we downloaded the PDF gift box pattern contained in the March 2013 digital issue and scanned some wrapping paper.  The Department of Philosophy allowed us to print the pattern paper and gift-box template on their department printer and paper.  We would like to thank them for their generosity and support as well.  
craftclub 088craftclub 061 Students were encouraged to try and create their own box patterns. The day after the craft club – one of the students –Nobuhle Maphumulo (see left) brought in her notebook and gift box (see right) and I was able to photograph the start of her art journal book.  I hope that we will be able to continually document students work on this blog.

One of the greatest satisfactions I personally derive from facilitating the club is witnessing how the students take on a tutorial role with other students.  There is an unparalleled spirit of camaraderie.  The imaginative ways that the students themselves develop in elucidating a concept or technique, always has me pleasantly thrilled at the novelty of their approach, the creativity of their analogies and innovative teaching style.
craftclub 080The comfortable interaction created by this environment has also contributed to students in the club creating their own academic tutorial groups for the academic subjects that the students are undertaking.  This was more than I could have hoped for in terms of the club cultivating an educational camaraderie.
My aim for the club has always been sneakily educational in nature.  As part of my research on the role of creativity in the learning process – I have become fully convicted that creativity fosters a multi-pronged gain in terms of fine tuning academic capability and process. 
craftclub 079One of the problems that I have identified in the enterprise of mainstream learning is that there is a disconnect between writing with intention of communicating a personally convicted thought, idea, or process (which by nature is an activity that forces the student to be as clear, logical and relevant in the relaying of the message), and trying to get the student to transfer those skills to write logically, clearly and relevantly about something that is not meaningful to the student – such as the volumes of information they are required to repeat by mainstream standards of what constitutes an “educated” student. 
It is my belief that ALL students do have latent, inherent ability to make sense, be logical, and be relevant if the work is meaningful enough to them and that ability is as good as the greatest students in our time.  I believe that once this latent ability is fine-tuned through the process of meaningful writing, that they will be able to superimpose the mechanics of such writing onto material that is not as personally meaningful to them.  I am convinced by the fact that the action of independent creativity indeed stimulates all parts of intellectual venture and that through expressing one’s creativity in a blend of both written and artistic endeavour – a workable “medium” could be found.
craftclub 064 craftclub 078 craftclub 074

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dreamcatcher Review

Cries of unbridled envy rang out from the ladies at this week’s craft meeting, as it  quickly became apparent that the men in the group were a tad more adept at wielding thread and needles than them. 
The dreamcatcher project proved highly gratifying to the students who grasped the concept quickly and were able to turn an ordinary piece of string into an intricately woven pattern, and super frustrating to those students whose attempts at working out which loop to weave the string through next yielded undesirable results.  The general consensus reached, was that the men would obviously  have the best dreams later that night.

The most thrilling part of the meeting was the fantastic discussion and debate that happened around the table while we set to work at weaving dreamcatchers.  We we were pleased to have been graced by the presence of three different staff members, one of whom is the current Head of Department of Philosophy who observed and joined in on the lively discussion.  021s
The discussions at the craft club are often free-flowing and largely conversational in nature.   An idea or opinion is thrown out to the crowd and from there on students participate in expressing their own reactions and thoughts about the subject.  There is no structured pattern – anyone may speak, anyone may say what they think and anyone may object or agree. 
Students are free in the sense that they do not feel the burden of providing academic proof for the ideas that are occurring to them in the moment.  It is my opinion that this is what helps them to explore their creative thoughts and convictions in a safe environment.  It is my belief that this is where students are first able to get a “hands on” exposure to the method of making a real argument. As mentioned earlier – the students are not confined to particular system – and where they end up at the end of the discussion may have moved a few degrees from the initial idea suggested to them. 

The way I process what is happening – is that students are convicted enough to argue their point from a place of meaningful interaction.  They are meaningfully engaged with the subject matter as they themselves direct the subject matter.  What has been remarkable for me to note is that I see the students begin to feel their feet through the science of argument.  They are able to organise what they hope to convey and logically proceed through their argument.  They are able to express their ideas clearly, using language and method that best illustrates what they hope to convey. 

The discussion that arose out of this particular meet was fascinating – students came up with insightful observations, well argued opinions and a few of them were even able to persuade other students who originally opposed that particular point of view. 

015sThe initial questions centred around culture, whether cultural icons, and certain rites of culture were the property of the originating pratictioners.  They discussed whether culture was static or dynamic.  How far back does one have to go to render something the property of that culture, when does that thing become inherently sacred and thus not open to appropriation or adoption by other groups who may not intend to exercise the reverance afforded to the item as the originating custodians offered.  From there on the students were left to follow a sort of stream of consciousnsess and it enventually led into discussions of centering around religious and cultural freedom. 

There were some strong arguments made that sought to distinguish the nuance between “enforcing” and “respecting” the cultural norms and values of groups of people.  There were arguments made in favour of global respect of person’s right to choose whatever cultural norms and values he or she wishes to adopt regardless of territorial situation.  The conversation extended to music and the commericalisation of Maskandi rhythms and students discussed whether they felt it was okay that certain “western” or “white” music artists adopted the Maskandi style and profited from that enterprise. 
Eventually, students were even discussing homophobia and how it has its roots in culturally enforced taboos, and I could see that they were beginning to critically reflect on topical issues that arose from this discussion, without much prompting.  They began to meaningfully engage in the process of critical reflection.

I was heartened by the progression toward critical reflection – because I could see that they really began to “feel” the process of critical reflection. 

One of the biggest challenges I face as a teacher of Philosophy at the University of Zululand, is to embody the spirit of critical reflection in my attempts to explain what it is, in way that the students themselves would be able to “feel” what it was like to be critically reflective.  This challenge arises out of my observation that students merely seem to learn the facts of a critically reflective argument, without themselves actually going through the process of critical reflection. 
It has been my observation, that students have in some way repressed the desire to be internally critical.  I felt that they had adopted a way of surviving by merely repeating “facts", that they somehow felt unable or unconfident in trusting their own intuitive reflection process and began to depend on the “without” to cue them on what was “critical reflection”. 

In the process – they have begun to think that “critical reflection” means learning to repeat both the protest and support of a particular issue.  It became apparent to me – that although they knew rules of critical reflection, the conception of it was merely a superficial acknowledgement of the rules.  So the students would learn off by rote the opinions of both the protestors and the supporters of an issue, but they didn’t feel comfortable in trusting their own intuitive reflection.

Personally – I felt that this craft meeting was one of the most meaningful for me.  I was moved by the students enthusiasm for both the craft and for the opportunity to freely participate in the process of open free philosophical debate.  I was convicted by the fact that even though our students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and schools that are not as well equipped as our first world community – this does not have an profound altering effect on their intellectual ability to reason, argue and critically reflect just as vigorously as their first world counterparts.  Even though they might not have the advantage of first language English skills, this does not make a resounding difference in their ability to convey an idea.  I have noted that the students are so enthusiastic about what they have to say and what they are doing – that they try to say it in a way that makes sense.  The clearer the idea is to them, the clearer they find a way of saying it – even in a language that is not their natural mode of expression. 

I am positively encouraged by the overwhelming interest, observation and comments that the club has been garnering to date.  What started for me as a mere inkling of a theory and a conviction that it must be attempted has proven to exceed my expectations of what it is facilitating and where it can go.  Professor EC Wait - the Head of Department of Philosophy at the University of Zululand - was kind enough to send me this comment -
"I popped in at the craft session on Tuesday intending to spend a
minute or two and found it very difficult to leave. What was
intriguing was the total concentration with which each student was
focused on their creations.  Without look up they seemed to find it
very easy to contribute to the flow of the discussion. Rather than
distracting them, the work on the dream catcher seemed to release a
new wave of confidence and creative thinking. Perhaps, having their
eyes glued to their work released them from a certain kind of “stage
fright” which normally inhibits them from thinking freely and
creatively in class and in the oral exams.
In many instances bad experiences at school could be inhibiting their
willingness to explore new ideas and come up with fresh insights. We
need to find ways of releasing this potential. The role of craft work
may provide that release for many."
I am sincerely touched by the comments left on Facebook page of the club (Hands on Craft at Unizulu), where I see a young man so enthused by the club that he tries his hardest to write his thoughts in English so that others may also share in the discoveries he has made and what he has learned.  

I am convicted by the idea that all it takes to encourage or to coax out our students inherent intellectual stamina, or to allow them to move from a level of superficial educational dependence to profound educational independence is the willingness on our part to let them direct their own path.  Students are able to come into their own strengths if they are given the freedom to get there themselves and I am becoming more and more convinced that this yields a far more meaningful and deeper, embodied conception of the skills and knowledge that we hope to impart. 

Picture 114
As an educator – this is a personal challenge that I have to work on.  I have to curb my desire to control-freak their route. I find myself constantly wanting to tell them what something is and how it should be done instead of giving them the freedom to make sense of it on their own.  I have to remember this little mantra:  to enable a "hands on experience" – I must keep my hands off!  Until next time!

Facebook Picture album of Project Dreamcatcher - click here

Monday, April 30, 2012

Catching a dream

For the next craft club – we are going to try our hand at making dreamcatchers.  They are deceptively easy to make and look fantastic strung up.

Apart from the aesthetic magnificence of a dreamcatcher, this woven talisman has a noble metaphysical purpose – it catches your bad dreams, traps it its web and then only filters through the pleasant ones.  The pleasant dreams slip down the fluffy feathers into the sleeper’s restful mind.

A cultural vestige of the Ojibwa Native American Tribal Nation of North America, the dream catcher gained enormous commercial popularity as an ubiquitous pop-symbol in the 60’s and 70’s as it came to be adopted by New Age Groups and the Hippy-movement. Most Pan-Indian Tribal groups consider this to be an offensive misappropriation of sacred culture. 

As we reflect on this – I have a few questions I would like you to consider – what do you think?  Who controls culture?  Are items that associated with certain cultural traditions the property and control of the custodians of the originating culture?  When does a lifestyle something become “culture”, what begins culture and who has the right to control who or what adopts it.  When does something shift from being iconic to sacred?  For instance are blue denims, white stars and red stripes the property of the American sacred culture?  Should it be that the reverence afforded to it become perverted by commercial pop-culturalisation, would Americans have a right to claim authority and/or injustice based on the fact that these symbols both originated in that particular form  and are an integral part of the sacred culture of America.  Is culture itself inherently sacred and incontrovertible?

What you are going to need to bring is:

1.  A thin bangle

2. a few  beads

3. a few feathers (if you want to make it look really authentic)

4.  some crochet cotton (enough to weave-fill the the area inside of the bangle)

5.  some thin cloth or silk ribbon [NOTE: not the plastic kind or curling gift wrapping ribbon.  You need proper cloth ribbon, the kind that you get from a fabric store for clothes].  You need enough to wind around the entire diameter of the bangle twice.

6.  a needle (that has an eye big enough to thread your crochet cotton)

7.  a pair of sharp scissors

8.  patience

Here is the little dreamcatcher I just made:

Well, what do you think?  Are you up for the challenge?  I hope you are!  See you at the next craft club.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Origami madness...

It was a mess of paper, laughter and cramped fingers as we got down to making little origami dresses to use as embellishments for a gift series consisting of a birthday calendar book, fridge magnet and card for Mothers Day.

It was a project that had to be created from scratch.  A serendipitous side-effect of having to prepare materials for the club on a budget that is non-existent - is that it is forcing me to find creative solutions to work around our little obstacles.  In the process I am discovering things that I otherwise would not have had the opportunity to engage, had it not be born out of this particular necessity.  I am grateful that it is constantly challenging my own creativity and hones my problem solving skills. 

We did not have proper Origami paper squares at our disposal.  So before the class, I set to work at creating the Origami Squares themselves  - I used Microsoft's design tools in Power Point to draw 10 by 10 squares and fill them with patterns and designs that a mom might find appealing.  I also brought along various scraps of gift wrap, patterned paper and media paraphernalia that I could spare out of my house. 

Students then had the unfortunate task of painstakingly cutting out the squares so that it was an absolutely perfect square.  They were meticulous in this regard.  One could almost touch the intense concentration in the room.

 The thing that drew the most laughter during the club meet that day was big, burly boys, with big clunky fingers folding itty bitty paper dresses.  They were really fantastic sports though and tackled the project with the same kind of spirit they would devote to a manly Rugby match but with the fine tuned finesse of a ballerina. 

We began the club at 1:30pm - by 3:30pm they were still furiously folding - I reluctantly asked them to pack up and finish their projects at home.  I have a feeling we could have been there until 5pm, if I had allowed them to.  They were really serious about those little paper dresses.....but alas we were already an hour over time - I had marking to finish and a paper to finalize and we needed to vacate the Philosophy Boardroom. 

By the next morning I had the suspicion that it might very well be that Origami Fever has virulently taken hold of the all the students, as I discovered upon entering my office - a few students had left notes that they had come by earlier to show me what they had come up with.   Fortunately I did manage to see Pona Litheko in the morning and was able to get some wonderful pictures of her project.

I was thrilled to see how students adapted the original design and added their own touches to it. I loved her addition of frothy, frilly "tissue-paper lace" to the top of the dresses.  I also loved the effect of the burned edges on the book text background and how it added dramatic contrast to the focal point.  Every single time we have held the craft club, and the students bring back their own projects - I am always blown away by the genius of their creative spirit. 

Pona Litheko

I must apologise to the students whose projects I didn't manage to photograph.  I will post your pictures and projects to this blog post once I have managed to photograph your fantastic work.

It was a bit of a busy day, I was scheduled to deliver a paper at the Lunch Hour Seminar on the Hands On Craft Project later on in that day to members of the Faculty of Arts and I was perhaps a little preoccupied with that, in addition to managing all my regular work effectively.

  Unfortunately, there were three different seminars scheduled on campus for that day and at that time so the turnout to the seminar was a little more scant than usual - but we were pleased to have been supported by members of the English, Sociology, Education, and Psychology and Development Studies departments.  We also had support from the craft club members and a few well known and respected senior students. 

In terms of feedback I am not sure if the fact that there were no visual or verbal indications of resistance, criticism or negative feedback qualify my assessment.  My impressions were that there was an overall decidedly positive reaction to the philosophical underpinnings of the Craft Club project, as presented in this talk.   I do hope though that we will be able to reach a greater audience and I hope that we will be granted another opportunity at a time when there are not so many other things going on campus to redeliver our vision for this venture.

Apologies for the blurry pictures of this event.  For some reason, the usually reliable camera turned out a series of blurred images and I wasn't able to find a clean, sharp picture - the three posted above were the best of the of the lot. 

And with that I conclude this report. I hope that you will be able to check in on us every now and again and let us know what you think.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Proposed Next Project - things for Mothers Day!

japanese traditional origami kusudama
Mother's day is around the corner and as a student on a tight budget - the pressure is on to find something meaningful and beautiful as mum that is within our economic grasp.  For our next project I thought that we could make a little gift pack series using the ancient craft of origami.

Origami is a traditional art form that originally began in China but was adopted and subsequently gained popularity and master craftsmanship by the Japanese. This form of art became part of the cultural heritage of the Japanese people. Today the word and artform Origami is synonymous with the Japanese.  The word Origami derives from two Japanese words - "orimasu" to fold and "kami" paper. 

Thus Origami is the art of folding paper into delicate shapes and patterns.  One of the first known (if not the first) books on Origami was published in Japan in 1797 and it was called "How to fold 1000 paper cranes".  The Crane is regarded as a sacred bird in Japan, and it became popular myth that if you folded 1000 paper cranes you would be granted 1 wish.  The 1000 paper cranes also  became the subject of a very famous woodblock print (ukiyo-e), another artfrom that the Japanese are famous for, in 1819.  It was called "A magician turns sheets of birds" 

The variety of Origami shapes in the modern world have progressed from the original sacred traditional shapes. Today there are many different fun and modern origami patterns that we can fold.  Since it is Mother's Day - I thought we might learn to fold an Origami Dress and use that as the theme for lovely Mothers Day Card, a birthday and Anniversary Calendar and a little fridge magnet. 

 You will need:   
  1. some scissors. 
  2. some patterned paper - you can draw your own designs on a piece of paper - or you can use some ironed out giftwarp, a colourful magazine page or anything that has a nice pattern or colour..  Cut out some of the paper so that so that you have three squares that must measure 10cm by 10cm, 8cm by 8cm, and 5cm by 5cm.  You will also need some paper to cover the front of your Birthday and Anniversary Calendar - this would look nice if the paper for this contrasts with the patterned paper.  For example a very trendy look right now is to use old book pages as a background - so if you have an old book somewhere that is out of date and no longer relevant that you were going to throw away - save it and use the pages for your art projects.
  3.  a wooden clothes peg as well.
  4. Very strong glue - I always keep loads of White PVA or craft glue on hand - it is a super strong and versatile glue
  5. Sticky tape or cellophane tape to make tabs for the calendar
Here are some lovely examples of the origami dress that we will be making:

We will attach that onto a card front, onto the cover of the Birthday and Anniversary Calendar and onto the front of a clothes peg.  We will attach a magnet to the back of the clothes peg and our gift will be ready to go....