Welcome to ColorWheels!
I'm Betsy Etchart, the founder of ColorWheels Mobile Art Room.
Fall of 2021 marks the fifth year of bringing kids together after school to make art. (Of course, last year, we had to take a break, but we did make some art outside!)
WHY MAKE ART?
Humans of all ages respond to color, pattern, and texture like we respond to music. It can make us happy or sad, can make us laugh or cry; it can repulse us or delight us.
Making visual art ourselves gives us the power to express ourselves, communicate, and create objects not only of beauty, humor, and whimsy, but sometimes of ugliness, sadness, and grief. All of these are important to express, and art is a safe, encouraging environment to do so.
Making visual art teaches us about our world: how colors affect one another mixed or side-by-side; how structures balance; how items connect.
Art-making at ColorWheels is a whole-body experience. Students aren't just sitting down. They're moving around gathering materials, sometimes creating patterns with the soles of their shoes, and definitely dancing to get the wiggles out.
Art, like math, is about making choices and solving problems:
-How do I make something that's pleasing for me to look at?
-How do I get it to stand up?
-What's the most effective way to connect this to that so it looks how I want it to, and does what I'd hoped it would do?
-Which color do I like next to that one?
But unlike math, in which there's often only one right answer, in art, there are MANY RIGHT ANSWERS.
Art-making is full of surprises. Which makes it the perfect activity for confidence building. As students (and even masters!) gain skill with materials and tools, making marks or shapes or connections--either on impulse or purposefully, the unforeseen eventually occurs, and we create something we hadn't been able to imagine.
The response might be an "Oh!" of delight--or an "Agh!" of dismay.
If it's the first, the student learns they are capable of doing something they couldn't have imagined possible.
If it's the second, the student is in a safe environment, with low stakes, to learn how to move through perceived failure and the frustration that accompanies it. They're taught how to make positive change, and that positive change sometimes starts with believing they can make it, and sometimes starts with just making another mark, and another, and another, until they believe. Students are given the technical skills, materials, and encouragement to make positive change. And they make it.
The art-making process builds confidence: kids can make something cool! It builds their confidence not only in themselves, but in the universe. Because really, if they can turn a toilet paper tube and a few cotton balls into a llama, with attitude and personality? What can't they do.
THE ORIGIN STORY
ColorWheels originated as a panic response to my four-year-old's first show-and-tell.
As a professional writer, I'd kept my artist hat crumpled up in my back pocket since earning a B.A. in art history from Mount Holyoke College in the late 1900s. As a starter mom, I didn't know I could reach under the sofa and pull out pretty much anything that would be great for preschool show-and-tell. So instead, I jammed the mothballed artist hat on my head, and built a robot-guy out of cracker boxes and toilet paper tubes. As I built it, it got more and more elaborate. It had articulated arms and a secret stomach compartment for secret stuff. My preschooler did not help much. But he took it to show-and-tell. When he brought it home, he played with it. And when it broke the next day, I could fix it myself. I could fix it myself! This was very empowering. Not to mention free. Also fun. So I made more.
Since then (2012), I've brought the Recycle Robot League to schools and festivals in the West Valley of Phoenix, where I help kids (and grown ups) build their own (often kinetic) sculptures out of the recycle bin.
I was enjoying the artist hat. So I said yes when West Valley Arts Council and Estrella Mountain Community College offered me a position as Master Artist for Gallery 37 in 2015. Gallery 37 is a national program that unites teenage artists with established artists to create public works of art. I worked with another Master Artist and mosaic expert Leslie Scott, helping her lead 20 high school students design and build "Chelonia," a large-scale mosaic for the new splashpad in Avondale's Friendship Park. Again: FUN.
I led the program again in 2018, this time teaming with another local artist and teacher, Lichen Frank, to renovate a section of the Elsie McCarthy Sensory Garden for the City of Glendale. The result is a multi-sensory installation with a shade structure, wind chimes, spray painted pillars, a sandblasted bench, and lavender plants that smell sweet and attract hummingbirds. More fun.
After several semesters teaching elementary art at a charter school, I decided that West Side schools needed 3D art programs, where students are provided materials and instruction so they can make stuff. I love to introduce students to tools and techniques, and then basically ride shotgun while they take the wheel of the artmobile,
In my classroom, students aren't allowed to say, "I CAN'T." It's the opposite of Yoda's philosophy, "Do or do not. There is no try." ColorWheels's philosophy is "If you try not, there is no do." Bottom line: I won't do it for you. You want your cereal box body to balance on your toilet paper roll legs? You learn to make a flange. Which is just a fancy-schmancy word for foot. All you need is scissors. Not even grown-up scissors. Little kid scissors.
Simple stuff like a flange is magic.
And when students do it themselves, and their robot stands up, what follows? PRIDE. CONFIDENCE. A desire to do more.
Recycle robots are still a favorite ColorWheels activity each spring. In the words of a third-grader: "I feel so creative when I'm sitting in front of a pile of trash!" But as you see from the Student Gallery, we work with everything from plaster cloth and papier-mache to fibers to polymer clay and kiln-fired ceramics.
In addition to the ColorWheels after-school art program, I lead professional development classes for art teachers through the West Valley Arts Council, host the occasional art party for kiddos or adults, and provide private tutoring. Because sharing art and art ideas is never old hat!
Here's the emergency velociraptor hat I whipped up for a friend's five-year-old son just in time for Halloween. Repurposed toy fire helmet, cardboard, tin foil, tape, Activa RidgedWrap plaster cloth, foam sheet, paint, and love.
What hat are YOU wearing today?