Saturday, April 4, 2015

Composing with Traditional and Digital Media: 5 Projects

I have been participating in the Digital Maker Playground and this has caused me to think about composing art using traditional drawing, paint and sculpture media (i.e., charcoal, gesso, encaustic paint, watercolor, acrylic, batik, finger paint, papier-mâché, substrates), analog photography, and digital composition (i.e., digital photography, graphic arts software).  I realized as I looked at much of the work I have composed that I am often moving among these different art methods.  In this post I outline five arts-based literacy projects I have developed and the compositions that were composed. Most of these projects included students and teachers from elementary and secondary schools, as well as college.

I. The Spoken and Visual Poem

This film I made in a tenth grade classroom a few years ago. I made the images first, using newspaper and white and black gesso. The idea was to demonstrate to the high school students and their teachers that story can begin with image. I tore newspaper and spilled the gesso, creating a series of images that I then photographed. I imported the images into my MacBook and began to think about a poem that might accompany the images. Using iMovie I began to assemble the images and based on what I was seeing, I started to compose a poem. I worked back and forth between the images and the poem I was writing. As I worked I thought about the value of writing. I completed the poem and considered how the words might be connected to the images. I then recorded the poem (using GarageBand) and used it as the background for the iMovie. The finished product took about 40 minutes to complete.

20 Collages
II. The Collage Journal

For 100 days (from May 25, 2014 to September 1, 2014) I read newspapers, most often, The New York Times, and then created a daily collage based on some aspect of the news. The collage was most often a combination of traditional paint media and digital media. The finished collages were photographed and imported to this blog (Collage Journal 2014 Part 1, Collage Journal 2014, Part 2). I also outlined the project in this post, Keeping a Collage Journal Based on Daily Newspaper Reading: Channeling Peter Jacobs. 

Click here to view this photo book larger
Photo Book Tip: Create an adventurous travel photo album at

III. Spilled Paint Stories

A few weeks ago, I introduced fourth graders and their teachers to a storytelling technique that used spilled paint, conversation, and story making. The slide share below chronicles the process I used to create a Spilled Paint Story. The finished work was composed using acrylic paint, paper, photography, and power point.

IV. Semiotic Masks

A Student Life Mapping (Reilly)
When I worked as a professor, I taught arts-based literacy courses. One project I did with elementary school children and their teachers from a public school in New York was the creation of semiotic masks and monologues. The five classes of students and their teachers had been engaged in a study of identity. To complement and complicate that work, I created a series of art (visual & written) engagements with the teachers and the school's art teacher, Paulo Fiorino that culminated in students wearing masks they had made and performing monologues (poems) that revealed identity.  

Polaroid Images (Reilly)
To do this work we began by: 

1.     creating life maps 
2.    using points on the map to compose poems based on George Ella Lyon’s poem, “Where I’m From"
3.    creating papier-mâché masks based in part on polaroid images that students made of one another
4.    painting and collaging the masks
5.    rehearsing  & recording monologues
6.    performing
Paulo Fiorino with student shaping mask (Reilly)

Completed mask (Reilly)

This is the recipe for the paste:

Cooking the Paste (Reilly
Materials Needed: Water, Flour, Salt 

  1. Bring 4 parts water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil.
  2. While waiting for the water to boil, mix 1 part flour and 1 part warm water, stir briskly to remove lumps.
  3. Remove boiling water from heat. Slowly stir the water and flour mixture into the boiling water. Continue to stir for one minute to prevent lumps. Paste should be smooth and have the constancy of pancake batter. If necessary, add water or flour in small amounts until the desired consistency is reached. 
  4. Allow to cool completely before use. Store paste in a covered bowl or jar in the refrigerator, for a few days.

V. Semiotic Mask Making with Graduate Students

I also made masks with graduate students and this work culminated in the book, (un)Masked: Semiotic Masks & Monologues. The text chronicled just one of the many arts-based engagements that took place during a course I taught. Students created semiotic masks (Albers 2007) and wrote a response based on this initiating prompt: Think about a time of great emotional intensity. After recalling an intense emotional moment, each student studied her face in a mirror and then worked to create a mask using construction paper, raffia, newspaper, beads, watered glue, and different types of clips. When the masks were complete, some students then wrote a brief monologue/poem that they could perform while being masked. Other students worked between the mask making and the writing, moving between the two as they created. I did not establish a single method for the work and so was interested in observing how students composed.

While my students worked, I photographed them (with their permission).  I was thinking about the interplay between being masked and unmasked.

Here are a few images from the book.

Front & Back Cover

Work Cited:
Albers, Peggy. (2007). Finding the artist within: Creating and reading visual texts in the English language arts classroom. Newark, DE: IRA.


  1. I love all of this sharing, of ideas and examples. It pushes our thinking of how students (and ourselves) can create to learn....

    1. Yes, all that works well. Community matters in many ways.

  2. Thank you for sharing so many great ideas. I find that digital composition bleeds into so many fields including the arts, just as you've shown here.

    1. I agree Julie. I try to think of digital composing as a a means of expression. Lots of ways to use it across experiences.


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