Developing Character(s)

After-school Cartooning and Anatomy at Hamilton Grange Middle School
After-school Drawing and Painting at MS 45

Middle school is a time of huge changes. Tweens wrestle with who they are going to be when they grow up. They start to form opinions about what they like and what they don’t like. They try out different identities. New friendships are made and old ones are tested. All this makes for a lot of drama. Which is awesome, because drama makes for great art!

Students in our after-school drawing program at MS 45 in The Bronx and the cartooning and anatomy program at Hamilton Grange Middle School (HGMS) in Harlem are developing serious chops in draftsmanship, anatomy, portraiture and character design. Along the way, they are also developing sophisticated views about themselves and their relationship to the world around them. Whether they are drawing introspective self-portraits or creating fantastic cartoon characters, art programs offer young people a chance to develop original ideas and express them in perceptive and often precocious ways.

It’s complicated. The mini comic book, “My Miserable Life with my Bear & Boyfriend,” examines romance and sexual identity.

It Gets Weird

Frienemies. A devil girl and a loudmouth blonde develop a fraught relationship in “Unexpected Meeting.”

From human faces with animal features to black sludge oozing out of eye sockets, some of the drawings our young people create are, (how do we put this?) unexpected; however, CAW Teaching Artist Yaz Collazo is not surprised when her students produce dark or morbid drawings. “Images from video games make up a big part of the visual culture with my students at [MS 45], and that’s reflected in the art they produce.”

CAW Teaching Artist Ayla Rexroth, who teaches the Cartooning and Anatomy program at HGMS, thinks students may be processing their own thoughts and feelings.

Kids at this age are perfectly ready to create stories. Characters spill from their brains. [These characters] might be the product of an active imagination, or a response to something they read in books or saw on TV, or they may possibly be a way of processing their own personal development.
— Teaching Artist Ayla Rexroth

A self portrait from MS 45

Leadership and Teamwork

When they feel engaged in a project, middle school students are eager to take on responsibility and demonstrate leadership. Both Ayla and Yaz commended their students for rising to the occasion at culminating events where they presented their work to their peers and teachers.

At the opening of a pop-up gallery of student drawings at MS 45 in Fordham, students acted as docents for each other’s work, which reduced the pressure to talk about themselves.

At the opening of a pop-up gallery of student drawings at MS 45 in Fordham, students acted as docents for each other’s work, which reduced the pressure to talk about themselves.

Working under a tight deadline, students in the Cartooning and Anatomy program at HGMS installed the hallway displays for their own culminating event. Working in small teams, they curated the drawings and treated the art with the same care and respect they would give their own submissions.

Working under a tight deadline, students in the Cartooning and Anatomy program at HGMS installed the hallway displays for their own culminating event. Working in small teams, they curated the drawings and treated the art with the same care and respect they would give their own submissions.

Cartoon Character Profiles from Hamilton Grange Middle School

Self Portraits from MS 45

#RealArt
#TrueStories
#CreativeArtWorks

The Drawing and Painting program at MS 45 is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and Council Member Ritchie Torres.

The Cartooning and Anatomy program at Hamilton Grange Middle School is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and Council Member Mark D. Levine.

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