What a mural project teaches us!

Students working together on a group of tiles to make sure they line up correctly!

The 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students at Otto Petersen Elementary school in Scappoose, OR collaborated on a community mural which is slated to be officially presented to the public on June 21st, 2017! The mural contains 9 owls, a raccoon family, earthworms, canines, a rabbit, a mouse, a horse, bats, and even a Pegasus. This mural of 570 tiles, 6″ squares, represents efforts from students and artists Jennifer Hanson and Veronica Reeves (myself), who guided this project.

The students, teachers, and other members of the Otto Petersen Elementary community all shared in the experience of collaborating in an intention to enhance their community and their neighborhood. I hope there are many more projects like this in the near future for Scappoose!

While the broad goal of the mural project was an art experience that resulted in an aesthetic fixture for the school, let me tell you what students (and maybe even adults) learned along the way!

At the very start, we asked students to submit designs via a call for mural design proposals. This introduces students to what professional artists experience when looking for opportunities, along with some other professional vocabulary such as:

Materials, Media, Mural, Ceramic, Collage, Concept, Submit, Proposal, Landscape, Multi-media, Texture, Line, Contrast, Dimensions, Proportional…

and Collaborative!!!

We discussed the definition of collaborative and then, we experienced it! Except in a few cases, participants had to work together, lining up their tiles to make sure the image was coming across just right. This was why it was very important to start out by sketching in pencil first. Sometimes the sketches did not line up so I would ask the students how they wanted to fix that, which they were able to do. Sometimes students would place their tile in the spot on the mural and compare it to the tiles around it and decide they wanted to alter the color or add more details.

These are some of the important lessons learned during collaboration:

  • working in a group means being flexible (finding ways to compromise, trying new things)
  • working toward a similar goal that includes everyone (allowing for differences)
  • doing your part for the greater good of the whole (every tile represents an individual’s participation)
  • being considerate of others (the importance of encouragement)
  • problem solving is easier with a positive attitude (pencil is erasable, we can paint over that, try again, make it work)
  • taking your turn as a leader and a listener

Because this is a public mural it is important to consider the participation and collaboration as members of a community. The most specific, main goal was for this mural to represent the Otto Petersen Elementary school community. This is why Jennifer and I were very careful in how much guidance and structure we offered. We asked students to consider their identities as a part of this community during the design process, and they came through with fantastic observations of their/our community. In the submissions for mural designs, students conveyed these cultconcepts:

  • other life in our community (animals, plants, trees, flowers, insects, invertebrates)
  • architecture (barns, the school)
  • landscape (Mount St. Helens, Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, farmland, fields, forest)
  • monument (Scappoose Peace Candle of the World)
  • planetary view (clouds, moon, stars, atmospheric qualities)
  • personal expectations and education (report cards, graduation hats, books of learning)

Here is a list of techniques and materials that students experimented with in the art laboratory:

  • Painting – tempera paint, watercolor, oil pastel
  • Drawing – colored pencil, pastel, crayon, marker
  • Collage – textiles, handmade paper, yarn, beads, glitter glue, moss, feathers, magazine, plastic grass, felt, crepe paper, and more…

I wanted to know how the students felt about art, so I interviewed some students about their experience with art while they were working on the multi-media tiles.


What is art?

What does art do differently?

Why do you like art?

“Art is enjoyable because you get to take your mind and throw it out on the paper.”

“It’s fun. I like to do it. I like to draw.”

“It’s really how people can express how they feel. Every color has meaning. There’s no right or wrong answer.”

“I like art because it is a way to express your feelings.”

“Art is like a way to help you through tough times.”                     “I can put down on paper what I like and I like to do.”

“It’s fun to do. You can do whatever you want with art!”

“Art is adventure.”

“It’s vibrant, colorful, cheery!”

“Art is the only way I can express my emotions and feel what I want to feel.”

“It’s something people do for fun. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can be good at it. Art is never wrong.”

“I don’t know why I like art. Maybe you don’t have to know why.”

“[Art is] a place you can let your emotions out. It’s yours and nobody else’s.”

“[Art is] something you can do whenever.”

“Art is more fun. It’s not boring.”

“I want a piece of tile on the wall forever.”

“Art is something for people to get their emotions out.”

“I like making up my own people. I like mixing colors. It started when I was real young and I thought it was real pretty.”

“It’s a way to put things on paper to show your love for others.”

“I like working in different materials.”

“Because you don’t really have to think and you can’t ever go wrong.”

“Art is different from other subjects because you can do whatever.”

“Expressing your feelings with no instructions and no one can tell you what to do.”

“Art is fun!”


By V2R2

Veronica Reeves is an artist living and working in the Pacific Northwest, USA.

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