fotoplay for you : complete the zebra

I’m pleased to offer you the first of many free fotoplay pages! Feel free to print it out for your children, your students, or yourself.  When the page is completed, you can email your work to me. I’m creating a gallery of work created by you, which will soon be on this site.

Also, keep an eye on the fotoplay pages link widget on my sidebar. This is where you’ll soon be able to access all of my free pages.

To download today’s “complete the zebra” page, click HERE.

I look forward to seeing your work!


{note: Sale or publication of fotoplay is prohibited without the written approval of M.J. Bronstein.}


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fotoplay : images and hieroglyphs

It’s easy to be wowed by the variety of approaches that students have taken to complete my fotoplay pages. It’s also easy to love these “finished” pages for obvious reasons: they’re unpredictable, clever, imaginative, and very personal.

What might not be so obvious is what takes place while the pages are being completed: the process. Sometimes I’m able to literally watch or hear (some children talk while they draw) what goes on in the process of completing a page. But other times the creative choices (and the connections between them) are more elusive, private, and symbolic.

The page above was completed by an eight year old boy, who very quickly drew his animal in response to the line/leash. This is a deceptive little drawing. So many choices were made! : The scale of the dog; the careful connection of a new (but similar) leash to the one I drew; the direction the dog faces…

The five year old girl who completed this page spent a lot of time interacting with the letters in the words at the top of the page. Back and forth between the sun and the dog, she focused on the words, the spaces between the words, and then the sentence as it’s own visual element.

The eight year old boy who completed this page created a full narrative, with another dog, a man, a far away landscape, a playground and a ball. The connection between the man in the background and the dog on the leash in the foreground is crystal clear.

The page above was created by a five year old girl who is one of my ArtLab students. Week after week I’ve been struck by her work and her repeated use of certain lines and shapes. Like many artists (young or old), she’s created her own alphabet of symbols, her own vocabulary: a personal iconography or system of hieroglyphs where marks made are words and sentences in a private story.


one image, once a year


I knew that November was near, and I had realized that day by day, it had become colder and colder. But I still wasn’t prepared to open my back door to this morning’s snowfall. I think of the obvious (getting out scarves and gloves and coats), but I also think about something that I only think about in the cold month of November: my once-a-year holiday card.

For about 20 years, I’ve sent out a few hundred cards to friends, family, and collectors, with an image I’ve created for the holiday season or for the new year. While I can usually count on a few weeks of total frustration, feeling that I don’t have any ideas that interest me, somehow it always gets resolved. In truth, it’s one of my favorite creative challenges of the year. I take the holiday card seriously because I’m creating and printing one image only, not a series.

I think I might have an idea for this year, and this one, like many, became clear when I was hiking with my friend Pat. (Hiking and yoga and swimming are great creative idea generators.) Hopefully I’ll post this year’s card in a couple of months, but in the meantime, I thought that today, on this snow day, I’d share a small selection of my cards from past years. There is of course a direct reflection in the cards of the arc of my personal photographic work: the use of children’s drawings, negative imagery, and throughout all of the years, hand-colored imagery.

{ 2002 }

{ 2003 }

{ 2004 }

{ 2006 }

{ 2007 }

{ 2009 }



BIG inspiration : BIG magazine

A big thank you to Jo Pollitt and Lilly Blue, the creative team behind BIG Magazine, for featuring my work and this Playground on their fabulous blog! If you haven’t yet read (or read about) BIG Kids Magazine you’re in for an inspiring surprise. BIG is an Australian-made biannual contemporary creative arts magazine/blog devoted to promoting creativity and innovative collaboration between and amongst artists and children. Each issue of the magazine features a free artist’s print and two key projects: Side By Side which publishes collaborative artwork by children and artists, and The Child Artist Response Project which is an initiative where children and artists respond directly to each other’s work. You can subscribe to BIG here, like them on their Facebook page here, and, you can submit your child’s artwork to BIG as well!

Bravo BIG!


a child’s vision : eliot bee

It’s not unusual for a child to make wondrous, unique creations. (All children do.) But it’s rare for a child to make a collection of works that evolve into a cohesive series. Eliot Bee is a five year old girl who has been creating “fairies” out of found objects since before the age of four. In Eliot’s words: I use materials that I find when I’m walking around, or toys I’m not using anymore. I use wooden bodies a lot, but sometimes I use other stuff. I made one from a penny and my daddy’s guitar pick. (See image above.)

I’ve had the great pleasure of working with Eliot many times at the Starrett Center, a wonderful multi-age daycare center in my town. While I’ve never made fairies with her, I’ve watched her approach every other project with the same clear sense of focus and inner direction; a total connection to the materials and the process of creating images or objects.

Eliot began making her fairies at Starrett with her teacher Linda Stec (who is the Executive Director of the Center, as well as a funky and fascinating ceramic artist/puppeteer). It began without fanfare one day, when, not wanting or needing to sleep at nap time, Eliot simply asked: Can I make a fairy? Linda gathered some materials and heated up a hot glue gun.


Then every day like clockwork, for many days and weeks and months thereafter, Eliot made fairies while Linda assisted. Linda’s words to her from the outset were: You’re the artist. I’m just the gluer.

Eliot continued making fairies at home, with her Mom and her Dad. No matter where she worked, the adults were there solely as assistants, ready with a glue gun, but without “suggestions” or directions.

When I first saw Eliot’s collection (months before her one-person show at Waterfall Arts in Belfast last year), I was moved not only by the works themselves, but by the sense that this completely personal work was born of an open environment, where a child’s vision was given infinite space to grow.

{ Many thanks to Eliot’s father, Ethan Andrews, for the photographs in this post. }


monoprinting : a point of departure


Yesterday at the ArtLab, my five year olds drew on styrofoam sheets with wooden styluses to make monoprints. While so many aspects of this process were completely new for all of the students (drawing on foam, rolling with a brayer, pressing the foam onto the paper, burnishing with the back of a spoon), I spent very little time explaining or demonstrating technique. We dove right into the work and the materials.

After the first prints were pressed, the children began asking for more colors beyond the orange we had mixed. And it wasn’t long before they realized that their monoprints were simply paintings they were transferring to another surface. Their focus shifted to the painting of the styrofoam sheet…

…then the addition of more colors…experimenting with different ways of holding the brush…

…investigation into the effect of pressing paint into those carved lines…


…until finally sponge brushes were traded for a carefully selected group of small paintbrushes.

At this point, it seemed clear that they were looking at the styrofoam sheets as “finished works.”

Each of these shifts in focus (refined choices) were initiated by the children, as they moved deeper and deeper into the process of making images by carving, exploring the materials, and coating the monoprint sheets. They themselves opened the doors to so many more projects: textural carved paintings, paintings created with different kinds of brushes, and of course, monoprint sheets that might not then make monoprints.



art hero : roy decarava

Roy DeCarava was one of my first art heroes, and the first photo-based artist whose images opened my eyes to photography’s uniquely poetic power. This is probably the most important book in my photo library, and it has been with me for almost thirty years. DeCarava’s images placed an early, indelible stamp on my sensibilities. And as with all great art, I was physically affected by these works: they took my breath away; they made me shiver. And then, they raised my proverbial bar.

I can’t think of many other images that move me the way this image does. It’s an image that I carry around inside of me as a gauge for timelessness. DeCarava himself said: My pictures are immediate and yet at the same time they’re forever. They present a moment so profoundly a moment that it becomes eternity. It’s almost like physics; there’s an arc of being. There’s a beginning, then the peak is reached and then there’s the end… The moment when all the forces fuse, when all is in equilibrium, that’s the eternal…

Roy DeCarava showed me how personal image-making could be. How emotional. How quiet and strong and clear and communicative, all at the same time. How poignant.

His images taught me about framing space. They taught me that each photograph must emanate its own, extraordinary sense of light.

His images taught me about graciousness. How to align yourself with the rhythm of your subject.

The only way to do this is to be in tune… he said… to have the same sense of time that the subject has. This means you have to give yourself to the subject, accept their sense of time.

In 1987 DeCarava came to speak about his work at Hampshire College, where I was completing my degree in film/photography. As the slide show of his work was presented, he sat in the front row, watching along with his audience. When the presentation of images ended and the questions began, he did not quite turn all the way around. He answered our questions, speaking partly to himself, partly to the images that lingered, still, in front of the room. It was as if he were entranced by his own work.