Through generous support from the Deephaven PTA, artist Peyton Scott Russel has been "in residence" at Deephaven Elementary this month, working with students in Reid Anderson's fifth-grade art classes. Each student has had the privilege of working with Peyton during two class sessions.
In the first session, students designed their own names in collage form. "During one class period, there isn't time for me to go through a step-by-step, comprehensive lesson on how to design letters. So I tell students, "Grab some scissors and start cutting away ... cut your letters out. Whatever they have inside just comes out. It's just like your own signature—everyone has a unique look and a unique line, and that comes out in students' work when they don't have time to overthink it."
When Peyton has more time to spend with students, he helps them develop a unique look. "I'll watch what they do right away and then I'll continue to nurture the first few lines that came out. And then I'll show them tips and techniques for embellishment, including classic designs, and then the piece really starts taking shape."
Art Instructor Reid Anderson says that as students reach the fourth- or fifth-grade age range, that's when they know and can see if something isn't totally perfect. Some students can get discouraged, especially if they are trying something new. "The way Payton teaches this art form through graffiti and collage—cutting with scissors and letting your style come through—has been a big benefit to our kids here because it's different from the way they are used to working. It frees them up a bit. Peyton teaches that what we might think of as a mistake is really a student's personality showing through. Some of my kids are really taking off with this project, gaining confidence in ways that I haven't seen all year."
In the second session, students practice graffiti-inspired art with a sugar-based, non-toxic aerosol paint. They develop the background art on which they will affix their creative lettering. "During the demo I'm careful not to show too much, as that can influence what they do. I want them to experiment on their own, because that's when their original style comes out. Each student has only three to five minutes to create a piece, and most are using aerosol for the first time. It's raw experimentation. They are looking at each other and seeing what others are doing and really letting their personal feelings come out in their piece. I've found that in teaching, I let the students work first. After they get it, then I'll show them some art books or a video that can be an influence. It's backward from the way I learned art, but it works so much better."
Mr. Peyton Scott Russell demonstrates his aerosol technique before Deephaven students create their own piece.
During the class period, one student was developing a "virtual" name collage on her iPad, using Notability, an app that fifth-grade students use for note taking. She liked the colors a friend was using and wanted to try them with her own name.
"At this age level, the more they can learn from each other, the better," Mr. Anderson said. "This is what middle school is going to feel like, and what the real world feels like—working alongside and learning from your peers."
About Peyton Scott Russell
Mr. Russell is the founder and art director of Sprayfinger (www.sprayfinger.com). He is a graduate of the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in printmaking and has been practicing graffiti art for more than 30 years. Peyton discovered graffiti art as a 14-year-old youth after viewing the documentary film, Style Wars (Tony Silver and Henry Chalfant). The Sprayfinger program is a direct result of his work through a Bush Fellowship. Sprayfinger builds partnerships with artists, teachers, business owners, arts organizations, community leaders, parents, and students (youth to senior) to address and discuss culture, community, expression, and the process of graffiti writing as an artistic value. By developing curricula, outlines, and techniques that are in line with state artistic standards—and merging the language used by art teachers and the language of street art—Sprayfinger delivers high-quality arts instruction through history, drawing, collage, and aerosol. Information about his summer courses is coming soon to his website: www.sprayfinger.com or email@example.com.