Studio Update from Ben, Emily, Habiba and Meryl

blogpic_1We’ve spent the past couple months of studio time learning new materials and techniques in object making.  We’ve built sculptures from wire, wood and plaster as well as taken molds of  found objects, hands and our own clay sculptures.  These smaller projects have helped to expand our knowledge of sculpture and prepare us as we move into building larger self guided projects in the second half of the semester.

blogpic_2 We discuss how to apply these new techniques to our ideas and everyone takes part in brainstorming and problem solving.  There’s been a lot of unexpected discoveries and exciting improvisations as we learn new possible ways of realizing our ideas in three dimensions.  With a whole new set of skills, we’ll tackle our final projects with an expanded vocabulary of what is possible.  As an artist mentor, it’s been impressive to see how Ben, Emily and Habiba have been able to apply new skills in ways I never could have anticipated.  And no one is afraid to get their hands dirty!



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The Update


By Florencia Escudero and her mentees- Taiwo and Fanny

For the past weeks we have been meeting at my studio, learning about sculpture art and working with fabric. As we move on we are setting goals for the pieces we want to make and figuring out how. Before that I thought it would be a good to do some short fun exercises that could help everyone loosen up and sketch out ideas. Some of these exercises included playing around with materials by making handbags out of found objects and a pedestal for a grapefruit. This past week we experimented with different ways of dyeing fabric. I’ll let Taiwo and Fanny tell you more about their experience below!


Taiwo: I learnt several ways to apply dye step by step. One of the ways include direct application which involves the application of dye through the use of dye bottles. I think the fun part of the lesson was experimenting on different designs that could be created with dye. We got to use several dye materials which include fabric, soda ash, stainless steel measuring spoons etc. The process was very messy but it was worth every minute spent. Having a great mentor also contributed to our little successes over the course of this program. We had access to every materials needed and unconditional support – more like a big family. As an introvert, I think I was able to make friends with students around me which is very unlikely and that was made possible because of the support system around me.



Fanny: Today at Florencia’s studio, I learned how to do and make dye on clothes. This is my first time doing it and the process of making the dye is simple but filled with caution. Safety masks and protective gloves were provided in the operation to avoid contact on our skin and clothes. To make the dye, need gallons pot of water heated, add depending on the amount of soda ash of tablespoons and stirs thoroughly and teaspoons of dye powder. The number of tablespoons for soda ash depends on how much the fiber can absorb the dye. It’s very interesting and useful information. We did tie dye, immersion dye, dry application and Shibori . Making dye clothes is fun. I enjoy my time being at Florencia’s studio to learn more about textiles, sewing, making clothes, etc.




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Three sessions in, this is what’s up:

By Gina Goico and the amazing mentees –
Sarah, Tabb (Esther) and Nicholas.


Goal Setting

Ideas, goals, tea, hands and some crocodiles is how I could resume these 3 sessions of Art Ready with my mentees. Figuring out the ways in which we can explore and grow our creative practices. I’m excited to have this creative and powerful individuals coming into my studio every Wednesday and watching them push themselves to where they want to be. I’m happy that all of them want to explore similar things (3D and sewing/embroidery), ’cause that’s making my life a bit easier! But that’s enough from my perspective –

Below, the youth says what’s up with their experience:


My process has been enjoyable, helpful in bettering my art. With the weeks that I’ve been with Gina I’ve learned more about art, I’ve improved my skills in drawing hands. I’ve also learned to pay more attention to simple details that I’ve always missed when drawing. I’m looking forward to learning how to create 3D art and how to help create a greater emotion with my art. I’m honestly looking forward to learning anything Gina teaches me.


Practice: Sarah is revisiting a pose she used for a drawing to see how she could make it more realistic.


Gina’s lessons have actually been extremely useful in bettering my art. Many of the practices at first seemed like they wouldn’t actually help me in art outside the Smack Mellon setting. But I have been proven wrong. School art assignments seem easier and in general I am quicker to pinpoint mistakes and fix them. Having character design, that I have been planning to do but never got around to, as homework assignments have also been a good thing. I would like to explore the basics of other mediums in this program as well, such as clay, and embroidery. Gina is a really good mentor and I trust her ability to teach me well and leave an impact.


Crocodiles and Alligators are used as reference for Tabb’s characters. Here they are looking at different perspectives (rotation) of character’s head.


My experience in this process has been wonderful, I feel motivated to improve my skill and to get better at drawing. In the past few weeks, I’ve been with Gina I learned a lot of interesting ways that would help me increase my knowledge of art. Also, I learned how to take my time with sketching and not rushing to finish it. I’m excited to learn more about creating art with pastel and how I could use it to make portraits. I’m grateful to be with Gina and I’m looking forward to learning more about what she knows.



Blind contours – 1 minute and then 3 minutes


Finally able to see the pages, the practice continues.

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Florencia Escudero


There are two sides to life and art: its humor and seriousness. Balancing these two sides could be difficult when creating work that seeks to engage with both. However, after visiting Florencia Escudero’s solo exhibition at the Kristen Lorello Gallery, it became apparent that Escudero melds both serious topics and humor into her work in an intriguing and successful manner. 


Florencia Escudero is a Brooklyn based artist who specializes in hand-sewn, digitally printed sculptures that highlight elements of the female body, fashion, and culture. Her work includes sculpted handbags and other found objects–such as stockings and wearable blankets–that form torsos, appendages, and portions of the female figure. Escudero states: “When making these pieces I am thinking about the history of feminist art that looks at the objectification of women’s bodies. I want to flip the expectation and look at how objects become human. We currently live in a time in which AI and robots are no longer limited to the realm of science fiction, but are part of our reality. I wonder how the design of automata reflects and inherits both positive and negative traits.” Through this, Escudero makes a comparison between the world of science fiction and reality–which has, ultimately, been altered by technological advancement. She considers her artworks as containers for ideas and desires and uses them as a way to understand what lies behind the illusions of fantasized women. This notion stems from the history of feminist art; a movement which Escudero looks to for inspiration.


During the visit to the Kristen Lorello gallery, we spoke about Escudero’s current trajectory regarding her work–where it is going and how her conceptual framework is driving/altering the work as it progresses. The gallery’s small exhibition space lent itself to a rather intimate viewing of the work. This allowed the students to see and draw connections between the varying pieces given their close proximity. Seeing Escudero’s work  in this setting also fostered conversations regarding her own concepts and influences. The major takeaway after visiting Florencia Escudero’s exhibition is that art can become a way of connecting people through the dialogue it creates.  


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Michael Paul Britto

Our visit with Michael Paul Britto was incredible. Michael presented a slideshow in the media lab at Smack Mellon, and we were all amazed at how varied his work was. He showed us a wide range of work including collage, performance, sculpture, video, and social practice. He works in so many different media because he “gets bored easily.”


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Michael shared a lot of information about his upbringing, what drew him to make art, and his experiences as a teacher. He teaches at Downtown Community Television, a program that offers low cost media production workshops and job training for underserved populations. A lot of Michael’s work responds to race relations, police brutality, and systemic injustice. His teaching practice is very much an extension of his work to empower underrepresented communities and people of color.

One project he shared that I found particularly interesting was a photo series in which he approached men of color and asked them to share something they would like people to know about them. Participants wrote their answers on a dry erase board and then were photographed holding them up. Michael aims to empower these men by giving them the opportunity to challenge stereotypes commonly held about men of color. He draws on his own experience feeling underwritten by others as a man of color, and uses this project to put the power of perception into the hands of the individual.

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Michael also makes vibrant collage portraits of historical black figures and friends, working in both with paper and digital programs. His subjects have included Spike Lee, Malcolm X, Prince, and Harriet Tubman. He prints some of his images on t-shirts, and is interested in expanding the work into a fashion line.

Image result for Michael Paul BrittoMichael Paul Britto, YachtRock © 2019
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Felicita “Felli” Maynard

Art Ready students ventured to Williamsburg on December 4th to meet Felicita “Felli” Maynard, an Afrolatinx-American artist who uses photography to investigate and explore identity, gender, history, and the black body.

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On the way we stopped by Artists & Craftsman to pick up donated sketchbooks. Adam, the store’s outreach coordinator, shared his own experiences as an artist and offered words of encouragement.

Upon arriving at Felli’s studio, we were met with a daunting staircase. After a successful ascent, students filed in to Felli’s cozy studio space, where walls are lined with photographs and photo-collages spanning a wide range of analog and digital technologies.

Felli chooses to work in analog because they enjoy the process of working with their hands, which is harder to come by with contemporary digital photography. Their work is also driven by a need to create positive and diverse representations of black subjects. In their studies of early photography, Felli found that depictions of black people were rare, and those that did exist were of people who were enslaved. Felli is out to change that, utilizing early photographic techniques such as tintypes, “to dismantle history’s romance with the exploitation of Black bodies by non-Black protagonists.”

Representation is not an issue of the past. Specifically, Felli spoke about a pressing need to document diverse life in their neighborhood in the face of growing gentrification and displacement.

Students also had the opportunity to pass around one of Felli’s old large format cameras, met with an upside-down image while peering through the lens.

While mentoring Art Ready students, Felli is also entering a mentorship program of their own, working with photographer Lola Flash. Artists continue to learn from and support each other through every stage of their careers.Screen Shot 2019-12-18 at 3.24.51 PM.png

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A Fascination with Animals

The secret to good artwork is surprising. Art can exist in different forms like painting, architecture, and more. Another form of art that Art Ready students got to explore a few weeks ago is sculpting. Students met up with an artist named Meryl Bennett, whose artwork was unexpected. Meryl is a Brooklyn based artist who earned her BA in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Most of her pieces are large sculptures of animals from her imagination, like snakes with two heads or huge crabs. In addition to Meryl’s creative skills, her work showcases a wide range of materials. We were so thrilled to see the creativity that could be expressed through sculpting.IMG_0127 (1).jpg

Students watched a brief slide show of some of Meryl’s artwork. The entire discussion was full of never-ending questions and amazing ideas that students brought up to contribute to Meryl’s artwork. Some students suggested that she add motion to the pieces so the audience could not only see but also feel and understand the nature of animals. Meryl thought this was a great idea.

While answering students’ questions Meryl explained, “A sculpture’s best setting and complement is nature.” To wrap up the conversation, Meryl said, “There is something that will always be true about sculpture – It’s a reflection of an artists’ heart and it will always remain special and irreducible.”

We were reluctant to leave as they were engulfed in the conversation. A big takeaway was that sculptures occupy real space as humans do, and they are very capable of conveying an artists’ thoughts and ideas. 


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Visit to Sage and Coombe

On our last field trip we visited Sage and Coombes Architects. We sat at a conference table and were met by Sam Lee, one of the Art Ready Mentors who works for the firm. Sam gave us an inside look at projects he has worked on such as the Noguchi Museum, Rockaway Beach, Parks, Universities, and other public services. It was really exciting to see how much work is put into something we take for granted like public bathrooms, and the effort put into buildings we see everyday. It was impressive to be able to see what Sage and Coombe has achieved through their years of working.

IMG_0085 (1).jpg Sage and Coombe is decorated with wooden architecture models, which allowed us to get a closer look at the detail that goes into building a structure. We were also able to experience a VR simulation of a university made for the clients to give them a better feel of the end product, the simulations were full of computer generated people walking around, speaking with each other and interacting with the building so the experience was realistic and the client can see all of the functions being used. Being able to learn about the work they put into satisfying a client was insightful.


Towards the end Sam Lee explains that none of the work done is done by one person, and that everyone works together to get the end product and how they all make sure the client gets what they want by collaborating with each other. The advice is important to us as a group of young artists because we were able to see a perfect example of what collaboration really means and see the outcome of working together firsthand.

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Second Day at Smack Mellon: Gallery Visits.

By Taiwo.O

The students participating in the ArtReady Program set off to visit the Cindy Rucker Gallery located at 141, Attorney Street NY. The exhibition, I’m Not Allowed to be Mad, featured works by Crystal Z. Campbell, Joiri Minaya, and Malcolm Peacock. All of the artists in the show challenge a pre-existing history and share their individual stories.

 After looking around, students got the opportunity to speak with Malcolm Peacock and ask questions about his artworks. Malcolm spoke about his journey towards becoming an artist, how he sustains himself and his artworks financially, and the implicit themes behind his artworks.  Through his work, which is participatory and experiential for the students, Malcolm covers a lot of ground and brings up issues of race, gender, sexuality, history, and the core of his practice. From Malcolm’s artworks and speech, students were able to derive that art is not what you see, but what you make others see. Without a deep understanding of Malcolm’s artwork, one may only make an assumption about the story behind it. With Malcolm’s detailed analysis, students were able to learn that certain stories are neglected by what we know as history and public memory and the best way to express these stories are through artworks. 


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Our next visit was to Lesley Heller gallery to see Rachelle Dang artworks. The introductory speech by Rachelle reflected her experiences which included her struggles and the advantages of being an artist or choosing the career path. Her sculpture, Uncertain Haven, was made from wood, acrylic spray paint, clay, wire, stained glass, metal, and other materials.

Artwork by Rachelle Dang

 This piece was modeled after an 18th-century French watercolor drawing, which was originally produced to transport living tropical plant species across oceans to Europe and to other colonial territories. This piece made Rachelle feel like she was able to intertwine her ecological, colonial, and personal narratives. Students were able to ask questions and get information about expectations in regard to choosing a career field relating to art. The cabinet resembles a small house with an A-frame structure that alludes to a cage. The leaf forms were placed between the glass panes and the boarded inner chamber of the carrier on one side. Dang made reference to the cabinet structure which was surrounded with an undulating floor of worn and misshapen clay cushions. She further explained that the rigid and cracked surface of the cushions evoke a barren topography while the carrier and its surrounding elements suggest an unsettling landscape of loss and displacement in an Uncertain Haven.

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First Day At Smack Mellon

By Taiwo. O

It is fun meeting people from diverse backgrounds. The first activity was the “New Friend ” scavenger hunt. Everyone introduced themselves to each other and asked each other questions to find out more about one another. Each student had to find someone who could answer yes to each of the identifying questions; for example, do you have a dog? At first, students were reluctant but as communications began to increase, interns became more comfortable and open to discussion.


After engaging in the scavenger hunt game, interns got to meet the Executive Director – Kathleen Gilrain. She gave details about her motive behind the idea to create the Art Ready Program, which is to further high school students’ interest in every form of art. Following Kathleen’s amazing speech, students got to meet two artists – Esperanza Cortés and Gina Goico – who discussed in full detail their artwork, which represents their background, ideas regarding colonialism and how arts could take different forms.



Similar to Esperanza Cortés, Goico’s work includes the use of fabric. Goico’s work connects to the Carribean as Cortés uses fabrics that connect to Columbia. Goico makes pillows that are shaped like hands for users’ comfort. At first, we played the “Guess the theme,” a fun game in which everyone developed an idea on what each of the drawings passed around was trying to portray. Goico went on to talk about her experience with art and made interns pass around the pillows. 

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Towards the end of the day, we all connected our thumbs in a circle, which was difficult, but in the end we all were able to. The connection of thumbs symbolizes unity and friendship.

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