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Ocean Academy & The Grandfather Tree

In Children, Creative By Nature Art Blog, Trees + Plants by Lisa LipsettLeave a Comment

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Teachers- if you think you don’t have enough plants and animals in your school yard to teach Creative Nature Connection, celebrate the various ways a diverse class of students connects with one particular plant or animal. Like seeing only the elephant’s eyes, ears, feet, or tail in your field of view, each connection holds a lens through which to imagine into and learn about the elephant. Each connection is as diverse as we are. There is diversity in nature and there is diversity in our response to it.

Yesterday I headed out on a warm morning walk to the grounds surrounding Ocean Academy on Caye Caulker, Belize. Ocean Academy is a plucky upstart of a high school only three years in operation. It is a parent initiated and ultimately global community-sponsored endeavor that aims to provide this small island community with a high school of their own. I like to create with a plant or animal beforehand in the area near where I am teaching so I wandered about opening myself to what attracts.

Giant fig tree aka The Grandfather Tree

As I approached the school I noticed a tangle of roots and vines hanging from a tree on the corner where the sandy road meets the school driveway. I instantly loved this coarse hair-like material. In recent days I had been doing battle with my own hair’s tendency to form dreadlocks if left unbraided. Untangling is something I know about. I loved the sheer number of strands and their seeming old age. Individual strands were long, coarse and weathered. So I got out my folded book and black fine liner and drew the texture with each hand. Then I focused on a small close up pattern on one strand while I drew with each hand and both hands together. I finished by drawing the pattern of a larger field of view- patterns of the old man’s beard and variegated bark on the trunk. Soon I saw two lizards, noticed the white paint-like marks on the trunk and for the first time noticed small green leaves. I learned later that this fig tree is also called a grandfather tree, is beloved by birds for fruit, and humans for shade. What a wonderful tree to have nourishing the entry to a place of learning.

That afternoon, I invited the students of the Graphic Design elective led by Isobel Melgarejo of the Art Institute of New York City, to draw the texture and patterns of their favorite part of this tree. I taught them S-L-O-W, the acronym for remembering the key components of Creative Nature Connection.

Ocean Academy students drawing textures and patterns

S is for solo, silent, slow drawing, staying still in the same spot

L is for love, following what attracts. Also L is for one continuous line

O is for open attention, drinking in the plant or animal

W is for whole brain-using both hands. Also W is for wonder and curiosity.

Many studemts worked with the beard, others with leaves, a particular strand, or bark. Students focused on their chosen leaf or root strand for 45 minutes, carefully feeling texture and observing patterns as they drew.

completed drawings

They said it was intriguing to work with their non-dominant hand and with both hands simultaneously. No one had tried that before. I explained that this kind of drawing is more about tracking our experience in the moment. This CNC session was not only a drawing exercise for some students who said they don’t know how to draw, this was also a quiet connecting exercise for a boisterous group of adolescents who walk by this tree daily. I encouraged students to try other ways to draw and to give painting a try in much the same way. They will be using their drawings in a graphic collage of words and images abouth themselves.

Thanks so much Ocean Academy for the opportunity to create together. I can’t wait to see how your work turns out!

One tree, one beautifully complex tree can be inspiration for a year of creative connection. Visit your special tree over and over again. What simple plant or animal would inspire you and your students today?

Lisa LipsettOcean Academy & The Grandfather Tree

I'd love to know what you think.