A Monoprint Making Workshop

Today a group of eight girls had the opportunity to take a short trip down the road to visit the working studio of Ann Dergara, a painter and print maker living here in Brevard. Ann is a professional artist with more than 50 years of experience showing her work, writing and teaching, and she’s a great friend of Rockbrook.

monoprint roller.monoprint paintingmonoprint makingmonoprint resultWhen we arrived, we were greeted by Ann and her small dog, Alice Cooper. The girls enjoyed Alice’s greeting and were very eager to pet her furry back. Ann and Alice then led us into their cozy basement studio where Ann stores and creates some of her work. The girls immediately began taking in the different paintings and prints displayed around the room. Ann wasted no time as she described the unique art of print making. She informed the group we would be working on monoprints. The magic in monoprints is they are original and are only printed once. Ann flipped through several of the prints she has created telling us she has made around forty thousand in her career.

Ann then lead us through a doorway into the room where the fun happens. She had a table set up with a bright assortment of colored inks, a variety of fresh brayers (used to roll out the ink), and some clean plexiglass plates. As Ann spoke, she used a plate to demonstrate how monoprints can be made. She took a brayer and began rolling thick black ink onto her plate. She then grabbed a paint brush to add a layer of grey ink filling in the rest of the white space. Ann wrapped up her demonstration by adding textures onto her plate with different types of fabric. The girls were “ooo-ing” and “ahh-ing” every step of the way.

After aprons were on, each girl found an open spot around the table. Some immediately grabbed a paint brush or a brayer while others planned in their heads what colors they would use and what they would create. Similar to all aspects of camp, each girl had their own beautiful way of approaching their print. Voices chattered ideas back and forth while also applauding and encouraging one another. Those girls who hesitated at first quickly began to feel more empowered and confident in their decisions! In no time, each girl was happily creating their print with confidence and joy.

As the girls began completing their prints, Ann had them step up to her printing press. The printing press is where the magic happens. It is the machine that finishes up the printing process. Ann would place a decorated plate on the press before covering it with a damp piece of paper. The press was then slowly rolled over the plate and the final result of the one-of-a-kind monoprint is revealed. Once again, everyone applauded each other over the work being produced. After all of the prints were complete, the girls were then ready to begin the process again by creating a second print. This time they had some experience and felt more confident stepping up to their plates.

Like monoprints, Rockbrook girls are one-of-a-kind. We travel from different corners of the world to spend a few weeks of our summer at camp. Once here, we bring our diversity together to teach, encourage, empower, and support one another. At the end of our print making session we were able to go home with beautiful prints. Similarly, all of us at Rockbrook will be able to return to our homes with bits and pieces of our summer. Girls may come home with friendship bracelets, cabin-made t-shirts, other art projects, or bend-a-back beads. They bring home all of these gifts, along with their sweet memories, which they will cherish until they can once again return to the Heart of the Wooded Mountain.

mono print workshop

Creative Mistakes

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” — Scott Adams

creative weaving kidsWe are so fortunate here at camp to have the extra time to slow down and be creative. As head of Curosty, the weaving activity here at Rockbrook, I see firsthand everyday the results of this extra time. From circle weavings to baskets to woven headbands, the girls have made many a woven ware that they may not have had the chance to at home. Along with this opportunity to nourish their creative selves, the girls are also afforded the freedom to make what I like to call “creative mistakes.”

A creative mistake isn’t your conventional mistake. It isn’t a roadblock. It’s not a signal to rip up your project, throw it in the trash, and start all over again. It is a mistake that can lead to a new way of doing something and, as a result, lead to a more interesting finished project. It may feel disruptive in the moment, but when embraced, it is a thing of creative beauty.

Weaving ChildA day doesn’t go by that I don’t hear campers nervously proclaiming, “I made a mistake!” as they drop their project onto the table in defeat. I very quickly tell them there is no such thing as a mistake in Curosty, and encourage them to keep going with their project. Bumps of yarn sticking up from a woven bookmark makes for a cool texture. Running out of time to weave a rug turns into a little mat for your cat. Just recently, I had a camper who was working on a circle weaving make the decision to veer from weaving in the circle shape because she wanted to cover up the blue yarn she no longer liked. Her finished weaving had dashes of yarn across the center making for a really neat design with unexpected pops of color.

At school or at work we are not always given the space to make mistakes, but here at camp it is welcomed as a tool for learning and discovery. There is value in making mistakes in a creative endeavor because it can turn into something uniquely you.

As a camper once told her Curosty classmates: “The quirks are how you know it’s not from a store.”

fiber arts children

A Part of Something Bigger

The Pottery Workshop
Hello there friends, Emily the assistant director of pottery here at Rockbrook!  As camp draws to an end, we are busy loading and unloading kilns.  During this last activity rotation, there isn’t enough turnaround time for the girls to take home the pieces that they make.  Instead, we are making group projects (like a collection of mini animals that will decorate upper pottery and large coil pot planters that will be filled with beautiful floral creations).  The girls really enjoy leaving a piece of themselves behind at Rockbrook – they feel like they are part of something bigger.

A Little CreationIn fact, everyone at Rockbrook is part of something bigger – all together, every smile, counselor, dip in the chilly lake, skinned knee, hug, squeal, and camper join together to form the spirit of Rockbrook.

One striking part of this spirit is the drive that the girls put into their activities.  Since the girls get to choose their activities, they are very eager to learn and participate.  I get such joy when girls sign up for pottery for more than one activity rotation.  Soon, girls that have been pottery regulars can pipe in during class to remind their friends to slip and score the handle onto their mug so that it stays.  We do a lot of handbuilding, but the activity that the girls love the most is going on the wheel.  I have had a handful of girls that have become so invested in throwing on the wheel that they have signed up every rotation period.  Now, throwing is much more difficult than it looks, and I always tell the girls that throwing is still fun whether you get a beautiful bowl, or a silly looking pile of flopped clay.  We want the girls to feel accomplished with their pot that they make on the wheel, so they do (almost) every step on their own.  After we center their clay for them (just because it is too difficult for beginners to learn!) they do everything else on their own, the opening, widening, pulling up of walls, and shaping of the pot.

Getting it Just RightMy dedicated wheel throwing girls have progressed so much this session.  They started with half pound balls of clay.  Each time they came back, they requested heavier balls of clay.  They finished out the session throwing almost three pounds of clay with minimal help!  At camp, the girls are able to come into an activity with no knowledge, and if they have the desire and dedication to keep signing up for the activity, they walk away with a new skill.  So parents, when your campers return home so soon (too soon!) be prepared to hear stories of crazy camp antics, their favorite muffin flavors, and facts about their new friends, but also get them to tell you what they made and what they learned.  Encourage them to keep working on their new skills, and to hold onto their drive and Rockbrook spirit.

Emily Williams

Assistant Head of Pottery

Kids Sculpting with Clay

Camp Clay Sculpture ProjectIn addition to all of the clay vessels we make at camp, the cups, bowls, trays, dishes, pitchers and so forth, another fun part of the Rockbrook ceramics program is making sculpture. This means using the same hand building techniques, and even wheel-thrown pottery techniques, and combining pieces to build three-dimensional objects.

One important technique to learn for clay sculpting is using something called “slip.” Slip is a form of liquid clay, or a runny mixture of clay and water. It can be used a number of ways, but when building a clay sculpture, slip is applied to join two pieces of wet clay together. For example, you might want to connect a coil to a slab, or a dome shape to something turned on the potter’s wheel. The slip acts as a sort of glue helping the pieces stick together.

So what kinds of things can you sculpt out of clay? Anything your imagination might dream up! Recently at camp we’ve seen some great representational figures— fish, horses (of course!), turtles, snakes, and other animals. The campers have also made amazing human forms like faces and hands. Natural objects like leaves, ferns and branches make great textures to be incorporated as well. Need some other ideas? Here’s a great web site with links to amazing examples of sculptural ceramics.

Seeing what the Rockbrook girls are sculpting in our pottery classes, it’s easy to be amazed, and to understand why this arts and crafts activity is so popular at camp.

Dude, Do you Extrude?

extruded pottery and glazed ceramicsOne of the ceramics hand-building techniques we teach in Rockbrook pottery classes is extruding. This involves creating clay forms, or consistent shapes, by pressing clay through an extruder, a simple hand-powered machine. An extruder is really a piston of sorts operated by a lever. On one end of the piston’s cylinder is a wooden or metal plate called a die. Different dies have different shapes cut out of them. The whole thing works by filling the cylinder with clay, and pulling the lever of the extruder, thereby forcing the piston to push the clay through the die, and out in the shape of the cutout. It takes muscles to pull that lever, but it’s so cool to see the extruded clay come out!

Some dies extrude circular tubes, but there are also square, hexagonal and octagonal tubes as well. You can extrude slabs, coils and even half-spherical shapes. Extruders are great at making long, even forms of clay.

Of course, these shapes then can become the building blocks for more complex hand-building projects. Extruded clay can be combined to make really complex sculptures, for example when extruded tubes are cut at different angles and joined to make multi-sided vessels.

And don’t forget glazing and firing these pieces. Like all the pottery and ceramics projects at camp, the results are beautiful! Yep, at Rockbrook, we do extrude.

Camp Life is Handmade

harry potter costume pottery camperThere was a little bit of Potter Mania at Rockbrook today. Marking the release in theaters of the final Harry Potter film, we decided to decorate RBC in all things HP. We of course had plenty of campers and counselors dressing up as characters from the series— lots of maroon and gold, green and black stripes, Harry Potter shaped eye glasses, and lightning bolt shaped scars (drawn with dark eye liner or paint) on dozens of foreheads. Some of the campers clearly planned for this day because their costumes included more elaborate hats, capes, wigs and make up. Girls were decorating magic wands, and carrying them around, would shout out spells now and then with a sly giggle and in their best English accent. Several of the counselors and the Hi-Ups really pulled out the stops by decorating the dining hall like the Great Hall of the Hogwarts Castle: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Slytherin, and Ravenclaw, all represented. The equestrian staff even put together a game of Quiddich for the girls, keeping the theme going. This involved riding around a series of cones and, from atop their horse, trying to toss a small ball through a hula hoop at one end of the ring. The whole day was very imaginative and fun.

Girls making ceramics at summer campYou may have noticed this from checking the online photo gallery, but one of the neat things about life at Rockbrook is how much time the campers here spend doing things with their hands. Everywhere the girls are making things, building things, and decorating things. All of the arts and crafts activities are examples of this (weaving, painting, sewing, ceramics, etc.), but so are the adventure activities (climbing and paddling, e.g.), the sports (archery and riflery, e.g.) and even the horseback riding. These girls are working with all kinds of physical materials, manipulating, shaping and arranging real, not virtual, things. They are, in this way, connecting to the physical world, often to nature, and to their own sensations and feelings.

Girls playing hand game with summer camp friendsWhat’s important about this “hands on” experience central to camp life is how much the girls really love it. This may be because the rest of the year lacks the same opportunity for kids to do much with their hands, and it’s simply novel and fun, but it could also be because camp is feeding a hunger. Perhaps kids need chances to work with their hands, to make things, to forge real connections with the physical world, and modern life, with its pre-processing of almost everything, is making “hand work” (working “by hand”) less common. The manual character of camp is satisfying an important need kids don’t even know they have. Instead, they simply know it’s really fun, really satisfying, to make stuff, whether it be a clay pot, a tie dye t-shirt, or even a magic wand. Maybe, we as human beings need this kind of manual experience, and we’ve forgotten it. Thankfully, there is camp to remind our children! As they grow older, we can hope they’ll remember the satisfaction they gained from working with their hands at camp. If so, I suspect they’ll be happier.

Scoubidou, Boondoggle, Gimp

Boondoggle Lanyard

What is a gimp? Originating in France and popular even today at summer camps worldwide, it’s what we call a lanyard. Did you know that “Scoubidou” (pronounced in your best french accent) is its original name? They’re called “Scoubies” for short, and can refer to either the colorful plastic strands used or the final project of repeated knots. Sometimes, when the material is braided, it is called a “Boondoggle,” a name that appears to have come from the boy scouts and their tradition of braiding a ring of leather straps to hold a neckerchief.

This lanyard material is also referred to as “Gimp,” following the name for twisted treads (usually silk, cotton or wool) used as decorative trimming on dresses. Our familiar lanyards have quite a history!

The world record for the longest Scoubidou (Boondoggle, Gimp, Lanyard) is held by Manuela Dos Santos of Brancourt, France. On November 11, 2008, she finished her Scoubi— 1,673 feet and 2 inches! An amazing project. It makes us wonder if the strands she used were single long pieces or sections tied together.

Want to learn more? Check out these links:
Basic Lanyard patterns
Fun Scoubidou projects
Cool Boondoggle videos

How to Make a Lanyard!

Summer Camp Lanyard Patterns

It just wouldn’t be camp without making a lanyard. That flat colorful cord, twisted and tied, seems to be a part of every girl’s summer arts and crafts. Even camp alumni speak fondly of learning to make decorative lanyards.

There are lots of patterns to tie also. Have you seen these four?  That first pattern to the left is called the “Diamond Braid” or “Round Braid.”  Like most of these braids, getting started is the hardest part.  This one is unique too because it’s more braiding that tying knots, and will require a knot at the end to keep it from unraveling.

The second one is usually called the “Cobra Braid” because it makes a flat lanyard reminiscent of a cobra’s head.  Some people also call it the “Ladder Knot.”  If you know how to tie a square knot, or even how to tie your shoes, you’ll be able to make this lanyard.

The third pattern is probably the best known camp lanyard pattern.  Known as the “Box Braid” or the “Square Braid,” it makes a regular 4-sided strand.  The important things for this arts and crafts project is keeping your strands straight and your knots tight.

The last pattern shown here is a variation on the box braid, and is usually called the “Round Braid.”  To make it, use the same 4-strand weaving knot, but each new knot makes a slight turn crossing over (rather than parallel to) the previous knot.  Like all these patterns, you repeat the knot and braiding over and over until your lanyard is long enough or you run out of cord.

Don’t forget that these are just starting points. You can combine them, switch from one the other, add a twist to a strand, or maybe even add a bead to create your own summer arts and crafts project. Go ahead and experiment, and you’ll have something really cool.