february’s artist: njideka crosby

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Njideka Akunyili Crosby was born in 1983 in Enugu Nigeria. Her father was a surgeon and her mother was a professor of pharmacology at the University of Nigeria. They highly valued education and sent her and her 5 siblings to the best schools possible. At age 10, she was sent to Queen’s College boarding school (one of the best in the country) which was 9 hours away from her parents. A few years later, her mother was able to get green cards for her and her sister to study in America. They moved to Philadelphia where she took an art class while working on her undergraduate work for a medical degree. She did not get into the medical school she wanted to attend, but found that her interest had changed to art. She changed her course of study and ultimately received a Masters in Fine Art from Yale in 2011.

During her studies she met and married musical artist, Justin Crosby and had a son, Jideora, in 2016. In the last nine years, Njideka has won many prestigious prizes and fellowships for her art, including being named the artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem and was named a 2017 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.

Her primary mediums include collage, photo transfer, acrylic paint, charcoal, fabric, and colored pencil. She layers paint, with the collage elements to create an intricate scene that shows both a domestic moment and the biographical information that creates those moments. Njideka often portrays herself and family members in her work and uses copies of the photos her family has in their single family album. She says that this is her most treasured belonging. She also uses “portrait fabric” which is made for weddings, burials, campaigns or any important life events in Africa. This creates a complex story for each scene she paints. She lays out what she wants to do in an initial sketch, then chooses the media to add and problem solves how to best use it in the space. Crosby says it takes about 12 sketches to get to the final piece where everything is laid out well together. It is an incredibly time consuming process each painting takes an average of three month of daily, full time work.

Today we will create our own multimedia scene. You may want to pick an average moment from your life, maybe including family members like Njideka does.

1. Choose your scene and sketch it on the card stock. Go over the lines if needed to make sure they are fairly bold.

2. Use the magazine pages and scrapbook paper to add interesting elements to your design. Trim them to the size and shape needed then glue them down.

3. Now use the colored pencils and pastels to tie everything together and add in details.

january’s artist: leonardo da vinci

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Leonardo da Vinci was born on the 14th or 15th of April, 1452. Da Vinci refers to the town he was born in (Vinci, which is in the Florence region). His full name is Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci, which translates to Leonardo, son of Piero, from Venice. His father was a notary, which was an upper middle class position and his mother was a peasant woman. Because he was born out of wedlock he wasn’t considered part of the family and not much was recorded of his early life. Around the age of 14, he went to work in the studio of a local artist, Verrocchio. His studies included drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics, and wood-work, as well as artistic skills like drawing, painting, sculpting, and modeling. He finished his apprenticeship and was accepted into Guild of Saint Luke, for artists and doctors of medicine around age 20. He continued to work and live closely with Verrocchio whom he admired greatly. (We know this from his extensive writings).

Around the late 1400-early 1500’s he worked primarily as a military architect and engineer, designing weaponry and defenses in Milan and Venice. In 1502 he created a map of the Imola region for Cesare Borgia (the son of the Pope and a great military leader). Maps were extremely rare at this point and it was this project that put Leonardo into a position of recognition. By 1503, he was back in Florence and working with the Guild of St. Luke again. This was when he began the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, which would become known as the Mona Lisa. He would continue to work on this piece for the rest of his life. Many people comment on Lisa’s mysterious smile, but there are many other reasons why this piece is so impressive. The background is an unusual mythical landscape, unlike anything Leonardo would have seen in his lifetime. Such inventive painting was never done in Leonardo’s time. Most importantly though, is his mastery of the sfumato technique of painting. This is a painstaking method of subtly shading to a very fine point. There aren’t any solid lines in the Mona Lisa; the edges are created with very precise shading. This gives everything, a well turned three dimensional feel.

In 1513, he was invited to Rome and was the guest of the Pope’s family (the Medicis) where Raphael and Michelangelo were both working. Here he was free to pursue anything that interested him, from gardening, to dissecting cadavers to write a treatise on how vocal chords work. It was during this time that historians think he had the first of a series of strokes that eventually lead to his death. However he was still prolific during this time; creating the plans for palace for King Francis I of France (he was one of the King’s favorite people). He also built a mechanical lion that walked toward the king during a ceremony, then when it was tapped with a special wand, the chest opened revealing a cluster of lilies. Reports of him becoming more ill, as well the loss of mobility in his right arm are recorded over the next few years. He died at Clos Lucé, France on 2 May 1519 at the age of 67, possibly of a stroke.

It is interesting that popular culture remembers Leonardo da Vinci most for his paintings because he produced relatively few painted works. Although he was among the first to use oil paint, which replaced tempera as the most popular medium in the late 1400s and continues to be the most common media for fine art. Da Vinci produced many, many more drawings. He was a skilled draftsman and came up with ideas for an armored tank, flying machine, hydraulic pump, crossbow, and parachute that inspired the real creations when technology finally caught up to his imagination. He even created his own mirrored, short hand “language” to write in. Even though he had little formal education growing up, he had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and sought out answers to all of the questions that came to mind. It was his interest in so many different disciplines that made Leonardo da Vinci such a remarkable person and one of the greatest thinkers in history.

Today we will try thinking like Leonardo. Take a moment to think about what you do on a daily basis. What could you make to make life run more smoothly, make a job you don’t like easier, or just make your daily routine a little more interesting? Draw all of the specifications for your invention with any explanations needed written next to your drawings.

See what students can think of, then spend a little time letting the students share their ideas with each other.