Full Circle Teaching with Artist Flo Oy Wong

We are pleased to share another intergenerational art experience from visual artist FLO OY WONG, who previously shared a drawing and poetry experience looking at trees with her granddaughter’s classroom. This time, Flo leads a contour drawing lesson in her grandson’s second grade classroom. The lesson travels full circle, as her daughter-in-law and grandson slow down and take the time to see more with ‘Nai Nai.’

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On May 21st, I had the privilege of teaching an art lesson in my 8 year old grandson’s second grade class taught by Margaret Haney. Having given art lessons in my granddaughter’s classes in Hastings on Hudson in New York I wanted to do the same for my grandson. Following my initial contact with Miss Haney we decided I would teach a blind contour dominant/non-dominant hand lesson with pencil and paper. I like teaching classes where clean up is minimum for both the homeroom teacher and myself.

My husband and I arrived at Newport Heights Elementary School in Bellevue, WA in plenty of time for the morning lesson. We checked in at the office and waited for our grandson to escort us to his classroom. I was excited to see his school environment. Walking into Miss Haney’s class I found a stimulating atmosphere. The children knew I was coming.

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Settling in, I introduced myself as my grandson’s ‘Nai Nai,’ my husband as ‘Yeh Yeh.’ I told the eager children they could call me Mrs. Flo. Or maybe it was Mrs. Wong. I wrote my Chinese name, telling the classroom my maiden Chinese name means red. I showed them my hearing aids, saying I am hearing impaired. They laughed when I explained that I talk fast and that they could stop me by collectively saying, “Whoa, Mrs. Flo.” Of course, they had to practice. Their hands shot up, pushing their palms and fingers towards me while saying, “Whoa, Mrs. Flo.” They laughed heartily, the first of many times of mirth while learning art vocabulary and practices. Miss Haney and I comfortably exchanged teaching ideas after the introduction. She suggested we switch to markers after I mentioned that I don’t allow erasing in my teaching.

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After telling the attentive children my job as an artist was to teach them to “see” I wrote the following words on the board: contour, blind contour, dominant, non-dominant. It is a special pleasure of mine to introduce and to expand the vocabulary of young students. I asked them to raise the hand they use almost all of the time, explaining that hand is their dominant hand. They caught on immediately. They didn’t need an explanation of non-dominant although I reinforced their knowledge by saying “non-dominant.” I showed them how to draw as if the tip of their markers were actually touching the outline of their subjects.

At the board I demonstrated a blind contour drawing with students sitting in front of me on the floor.  I showed them how to draw as if the tip of their markers were actually touching the outline of their subjects. “Don’t let me peek at the board.” The young girl whom I drew suddenly realized she was my model and sat at attention. When I finished the few lines the children smiled, hopefully in appreciation of what I had done without looking at the board.

Back at their desks I gave them short assignments, asking them to draw someone who sat near them starting with a blind contour dominant hand task.

“Don’t look at the paper,” I reminded them.

Their eyes, glued to their models, guided their markers.

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Excitement built up as their lines wiggled and danced on the paper.

“Slow down,” I said when I saw their markers racing.

Miss Haney noticed some students were lifting their markers off the paper. She advised them not to lift their markers. They cooperated. Then she sat down to draw along with her pupils. Her drawing – beautiful.

All the results were highly satisfying. Giggles of joy filled the classroom.

Giving several short assignments meant they had to return to the front of the room for more listening. Some were deeply engaged and wanted to stay with their drawings.

The time flew.

In the meantime my husband had been taking photos. The children lined up to show me their drawings. When I looked at them with much appreciation I sent some to have their photos taken.

They returned one last time to sit at the front after completing several drawings. Several shared what they had learned. Some gave me one of their art work. Exhilarated and fatigued I left Miss Haney’s classroom sated with their energy even after visiting the upstairs classroom of the regular art teacher at Newport Heights Elementary School.

Following my art lesson in my grandson’s second grade classroom our family went to Orcas Island for the Memorial Day weekend.  Early in our stay I heard my grandson talking to his mother. I went into the living room to see my daughter-in-law drawing without looking at the paper. He told her how much fun the art lesson was and he encouraged her to try it.

“It’s fun,” he said.  “Easy.” So she posed for him.

I came out to join them after my grandson finished his blind contour drawing of his mother.  She and I continued drawing, taking turns to sketch and to pose for one another, always careful not to look at the paper.  She was surprised by what she captured.  In elementary school in China she had art lessons and had not drawn since.

By not looking at the paper she concentrated on me, carefully seeing me sitting on the couch wrapped under a throw.  In her many years as a family member she had seen me many times before.  She thought she knew what I looked like.  Being present in her observation during our art time together she was surprised by the clarity of her “seeing.”  She could see that the exercise of contour drawing put everyone in an equal position, lessening the gap between ordinary people and professional artists, adult and child.  Her son had passed it forward.  Perhaps one day she will pass it forward to someone else by telling them not to look the paper as they draw.

Two weeks later I received an email from my grandson’s mother. She forwarded me an email from Miss Haney. Miss Haney wrote “… I extended the learning to the afternoon students. The students in both classes had fun drawing each other, without taking their eyes off the subjects. I’ve included a sample on the back of this page…”

I don’t know which is sweeter – to see the second graders engaged in the process of artistic discovery with amazing results or to know that my grandson and his teacher continued the teaching.

Passing it forward as an artist and a teacher is highly rewarding.

Our gratitude to Flo Oy Wong and family and teacher Margaret Haney and her second grade students at Newport Heights Elementary School in Bellevue, WA for sharing their expressive art work and their thoughtful reflections about the experience of making art together. Photography by Edward Wong.

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