stamped impressions

Saturday’s Family ArtLab stamping workshop was not only almost standing room only, it was also jam-packed with one gorgeous art-making moment after another. Parents and children in the community created their own stamps, made prints on blank greeting cards, and then embellished the printed cards with watercolors, markers, and crayons.

I set out piles of small wooden blocks (thank you for the donation Viking Lumber!), sheets of adhesive foam, palettes, brushes, tempera, and stacks of blank greeting cards and envelopes. Then, working alone or together, children and their parents dove into their work.

Here is one of the many cards made by the father/daughter team above:

A young girl created this series of cards using a positive stamp (the primary shape) and a negative stamp (the piece of the foam from which the shape came).

Many people made positive and negative stamps and focused on composing their shapes on the card.

Others spent a great deal of time painting or drawing on the stamped images. Here is a dreamy card made by a young girl. She combined the two stamp impressions with beautiful blobs of watercolor.

In the background of the photograph below you see the making of that card… In the foreground there’s a red piece of foam, which I later found when I was cleaning up the room…

I took the piece of foam and made a stamp for myself.

And then I printed some cards and brought them home for my husband and son to complete:

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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.


fotoplay : adults jump in

The first thing the participants in Saturday’s workshop found when they came into the ArtLab was a fotoplay prompt. (Looking back at previous posts, I imagine that my love for creating visual prompts is by now clear!) The best part about what then happened, was what is usually the best part about “teaching” : It was I who learned something. What I had thought would be a basic ice-breaker at the beginning of the workshop, turned out to be one of the most loved parts of the day.

Not only did my workshop participants create beautiful, sweet, odd imagery, but they did so using a full spectrum of media: crayon, marker, watercolor, collage…

And then, for the first time ever, I worked on one of my own fotoplay pages. Honestly, in all the days of sharing this work with other people, of creating, printing, and giving out my pages, it never occurred to me to do one myself. I used a small foam stamp, one of the other exercises/projects we did that morning:

I’m really pleased that I did:

*Please note:

fotoplay is a trademark of the Marcie Jan Bronstein art studio.

Please email me if you’re interested in publishing this work for commercial purposes.


creative flow : power in a group

Yesterday’s Shake Up Your Art workshop at the Center For Maine Contemporary Art was fabulous. With a completely game group of adults, lots of art supplies, a great musical soundtrack, and fotoplay (a separate post on this coming soon!), a full collection of strange, funky, surprising work was made. We began as I often do in a workshop, with pencil on paper, moving in response to the sound of Bach:

Then we moved into crayon

and collaborative drawing and painting with a partner (in silence).

We made stamps based on a fragment of a newly-made painting


and then it wasn’t long before those same paintings and drawings were torn up as material for collage

and for those mesmerizing-to-work-on boxes:

At the end of the day, I too was shaken up… completely delighted by the work that had been created.


freefall : the infinite box project

Tomorrow’s daylong workshop at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art is entitled “Shake Up Your Art” for good reason. Adults who are “trying” to make art need shaking up. And what better way to upend stiff, ingrained art-making habits then drawing with crayons? Or inverting the painting you’re making (that you think is so great) so that you can more clearly see what it may be, instead of what you believe it to be? It may sound like the Anything Goes approach to leading a workshop, but there is a method to my madness. A few years ago I read Natalie Goldberg’s seminal work, Writing Down the Bones, which refines and crystallizes the idea of a “writing practice.” In essence, Goldberg encourages writers to “keep your hand moving, lose control, and don’t think.” These ideas, in combination with a her brilliant illumination of the Zen concept of First Thoughts culminated in what is easily one of the most popular books ever written about writing.

At the time of reading Writing Down the Bones, I was looking for a new way to begin my mornings, a way to immediately, without a formal idea or plan, immerse myself in color and shape and form. I honestly can’t remember precisely how I then began making boxes, but I can tell you that like most things that we dive into with curiosity and no expectations, it bloomed into something special.

I created my boxes from squares of foamcore (I have loads of it in my studio because I frame my own photographs), and then approached them with no idea or intent, other than to make a mark, and then respond, with color, shape, line, pattern or texture. These intuitive, spontaneous, unedited, un-erased marks evolved into a unique, free-flowing visual dialogue.

I found that making boxes placed me in a deep state of beginner’s mind, where I was so fully present, that I had no sense of the direction in which a box might move. If only I could step out of my own way, especially when a box seemed to be going in a particular direction, it might become what it wanted to be, as in the box below, which unfortunately seemed to be moving toward a literal writing practice/chakra symbol thing:

Until my very upset friend called me, and we spoke for a long time about the complicated crisis she was navigating. When I returned to my box, I completed it for her, and entitled it My Friend is Having an Awakening.

My collection of boxes grew and grew, and the completion of each one only inspired me to create another. This one is called Flow:

And this is called Lower East Side:

At a certain point I began to use them in my workshops and I immediately saw that I wasn’t alone in feeling captivated by the white box as a canvas.

So tomorrow afternoon, after coloring with crayons and making paintings alone and as a group, and after making collages and drawings prompted by words, the participants in my workshop will be given their own small, white, empty, six-sided box.


fotoplay : complete the body

Through the years, I’ve created a number of photo-based projects for students. This past spring, I created my first fotoplay book, 65 pages of photo-based prompts for children (or adults!). I’ve been fascinated with children’s drawings for a long time, but the idea for creating a book was inspired by something I noticed last winter, as I was watching children draw, in direct response to photographic prompts I’d created. The level of concentration was intense, and the approach to engaging with my images was wildly creative. There is much to be considered about what I observed, and what it all might say about a hand-drawn response to a photographic prompt. (And as an added layer of inquiry and wonder, there’s much to be considered about the difference between fotoplay and a hand-drawn response to a hand-drawn prompt or “doodle.”) Art educators, cognitive development scientists, I’d love to hear from you!

But for the moment, I’ll let the drawings speak:

Created by a five year old:

This four year old child told me that in the space above and to the right of her green elephant body, there was another “story” happening:

Created by a five year old:

And finally, this was created by a three year old:

Please stay tuned for free downloads of pages you can give to your children (or yourself), which you can then upload to the gallery space I’m creating in this playground.

*And please note:

fotoplay is a trademark of the Marcie Jan Bronstein art studio.

Please email me if you’re interested in publishing this work for commercial purposes.


roll the dice and draw

This is just one of a few sets of foam core drawing prompt cubes I created. They’re a bit rough and tumble, but kids love them. Each cube’s side has a small plastic sleeve into which I put words, either nouns or adjectives. A child rolls one adjective cube and one noun cube and there you have it: an irresistible prompt.

Here is the scary sailboat that was created by a 7 year old:

A smelly sandwich, created by a 5 year old:

An angry elephant, created by an 8 year old:

And a shy monster, by an 8 year old: