Creativity Inspiring Conservation: A Recycled Sculpture Workshop for High School Students at the Seattle Aquarium

CIC-2015-recruitment-posterI am expecting a baby in about 7 weeks.  As I’m making decisions like whether to use cloth or disposable diapers, I’ve been considering the impact of one person’s actions on our planet, which, multiplied by entire communities turn into global issues like overflowing landfills, fracking fields, suburban sprawl, deforestation, and polluted oceans. THIS is what I’m talking about.

I’m always looking for more ways to incorporate this message into my work as a teaching artist.  The Creativity Inspiring Conservation program at the Seattle Aquarium was the perfect opportunity to teach students about the consequences of our collective actions on a global scale, and to link this message with visual art.     096

Starting with salvaged cardboard boxes, students chose a sea creature to create in a 3-d sculpture.  We cut the cardboard into strips, and created an internal frame for our sculptural form.  This was the hardest part of the project – to translate a 2-d sketch into a 3-d framework that would eventually evolve into a sea otter, a nautilus, a penguin, a sea turtle, an angler fish, etc.

093  095

The students covered the framework with thin cardboard and brown paper, up-cycled from food cartons and packing materials, with the brown paper side out so that it would be an easier surface to paint.

098  099  102 Choosing from a wide assortment of salvaged and re-purposed materials, students then had the opportunity to add textural and decorative elements to their work. For example, the tentacles of this nautilus are created from stripped plastic bags, bubble wrap, food wrappers, old fishing nets pulled from Puget Sound, etc.

105  107  111

The results are large, stunning representations of the amazing creatures that live in our oceans.  These sculptures will be on display in the Seattle Aquarium galleries in the month of  August, 2015.  114119Needless to say, I’ve decided to go with reusable cloth diapers because I can’t in good conscience make the seals swim with more plastic, single-use diapers.  The seals don’t have a choice.  I do.



“The Deep” at Hanson Scott Gallery

“The Deep” at Hanson Scott Gallery
May 7 – May 30
Join us for First Thursday Artwalk May 7, 5 – 8 pm

312 S. Washington St. Studio D
Seattle, WA 98104

Appell_Untitled_mixed media on canvas

“Untitled” by Nicole Appell, 2015, mixed media on canvas, 18″ x 24″


Woodblock collage workshop at Garden Essentia

Join us June 13 for another woodblock collage workshop!


June 13, 2015 1:00 – 3:00 pm
$35 Per Seat

Back by popular demand! Hurry – sign up quickly. The last class sold out! Register here

Join professional teaching artist Nicole Appell as we create a unique mixed media collage on a woodblock, using a variety of interesting papers, matte medium, and acrylic paints.

Inspired by the multi-layered approach that Nicole takes in her own work, participants will have the opportunity to explore colorful and patterned papers to be incorporated into their personal collages. Optional: If you have any special photographs or images from home that you would like to incorporate into your piece, please bring a copy.

There are no mistakes in this playful process. No experience is necessary. All Materials Provided.


“Our Community” at McClure Middle School
An Artist-in-Residence Program


Nicole Appell in collaboration with Carolyn Grane and 7th grade students at McClure
1915 1st Ave W Seattle WA 98119

2014 – 2015, Mixed media on plywood panels, 36″ x 184″

New work and woodblock collage class at Garden Essentia

Here is a preview of some of my new work that is currently on display at Garden Essentia.  Stop by the gallery to check it out!


Over the weekend, I taught these techniques at a woodblock collage class at Garden Essentia.  What a fun group!  Everyone made something totally unique, and I was blown away by the results.  I can’t wait for the next workshop on June 13!  If you missed it, register early because this one filled up fast.  Online registration opens soon on the Garden Essentia website.

DSC_4312 DSC_4346 DSC_4345 DSC_4344 DSC_4343 DSC_4342 DSC_4341 DSC_4337 DSC_4338 DSC_4340 DSC_4326 DSC_4324 DSC_4321 DSC_4318 DSC_4317 DSC_4315   Photo credit: Colette Highberger

“Our Community” at Catherine Blaine


zentangleAnother community art series with my good friend and colleague Carolyn Grane!  This time we worked with 3rd grade students at Catherine Blaine K – 8, right here in my own neighborhood, Magnolia.  (Seattle, WA)  The 3rd graders had been studying about the concept of community, what it means to be a member of a community, and how communities can be small groups of people to larger neighborhoods, cities, states, countries, and even larger, to the entire world.

In our first art session, students were introduced to “zentangle,” a widely popular drawing/doodling method.  If you’re not familiar with zentangle, check out the many inspiring images and techniques available on the web.zentangle

As this project is all about community, we played “pass the paper,” and had students draw for several minutes on one sheet of paper, then pass the paper to the next person and receive another doodle to elaborate on.  For some kids, it was an exercise in sharing and letting go.  For everyone, it was a chance to learn from each other, and to create something greater than one mind and one hand can accomplish alone.zentangle

Students finished the first art session with cutting out circles from tissue paper in preparation for lesson two.  We did not use templates, as we were not looking for perfect circles, but rather, taught the “chop off the corners of a square” method, which I thought was great practice in dexterity for little hands, and again, right-brain problem-solving.  I remember learning this technique in kindergarten or 1st grade, so I am always happy when I come across students who haven’t yet had that type of artistic learning, and I have the chance to share something useful and magical with them.

In the second classroom session, students cut out silhouettes of buildings, houses, and people shapes from their collaborative doodle drawings.  We also created the “fireworks” background on the panels, which would become a 15′ mural in the entryway to the school.  Additionally, the students made a mini version on paper that they could take home.  Their take-home piece tied in with a geometry lesson, as they were learning about shapes such as trapezoids, etc. and cut out these shapes to create buildings in their mini collage.


Finally, Carolyn and I put it all together in three panels, one for each 3rd grade class.  One class created Magnolia, an urban neighborhood near downtown with steep hills, crowded with houses and apartments.


The next class created the downtown Seattle skyline.


And the third class created the world, with dancing people all around.  The earth was created using text in the many languages that the families at Blaine speak in their homes.  There are around 15 languages spoken, and we translated various definitions of community into these languages to create a further layer of community collaboration within the piece.


We are so excited to see it installed!  A big thank you to Julie Cox, Principal at Blaine, who wrote for a grant from the Seattle School District to fund this program.  Also, thank you to the wonderful 3rd grade team of teachers, and the parent volunteers.  We couldn’t have done it without you!

Hero’s Journey photos: An artist residency with the EMP and Seattle Public Schools

AdamsEMPIf you could write a fantasy novel, who would your hero be?  If you could create a model of your character out of clay and found objects, what would she look like?  These marvelous sculptures are the work of a 5th grade class, who did that very thing.

AdamsEMP2They wrote a fantasy story from first person perspective, narrated by their main character.  Then, over the course of one week of art classes, they sketched and created a 3-d model of their character using clay and mixed media.  They also had the opportunity to construct a stand or platform and tools or accessories for their character using scrap wood and found objects.

This program is a collaboration between the EMP and Seattle Public Schools, connecting the arts to core curricula.  To learn more about this program, please see my earlier post Hero’s Journey.



Thank you to the Experience Learning Community Foundation for funding the arts in public schools.AdamsEMP5.2 AdamsEMP6

Hero’s Journey: An Artist Residency with the EMP

EMPI’m excited to be working with the Experience Music Project this year as Artist-in-Residence, in the Curriculum connections program, doing outreach with schools.

The EMP is an adventure in inspiration.  Their curators blend art, music, and technology in innovative, interactive exhibits that invite museum visitors to “play.”  Many of the exhibits delve so deeply into a topic, you could spend a couple/few hours exploring one thing.EMP_1

I especially enjoyed seeing the Hendrix exhibit.


Icons of Science FictionIcons of Science Fiction is pretty cool too.

Fantasy Worlds of Myth and MagicI am working with the Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic exhibit, and connecting exhibit content to literacy/creative writing through visual art.  (*The program serves students in grades 5 – 12.)  My first session was with a 5th grade class.  Students had been writing fantasy stories, creating characters, and mapping their imaginary worlds, like Tolkien with Middle Earth or Terry Brooks with Shannara.

middle earth mapmixed media art dollWe worked on character development through drawing and sculpture, and over the course of 5 art classes in a week, they created storyboards, character studies, and a 3-d model of their main character and narrator of the story.

I decided my character here needs a bow and arrow like Katniss Everdeen to complete her Hero’s Journey.  Who would your hero be?

A huge bonus in teaching with the EMP is that the staff photographer is scheduled to come photograph the students’ work so that when the class visits the museum, photos of their artworks will be projected onto the Sky Church Screen.  What a cool experience for the kids!

Thank you to the Experience Learning Community Foundation for funding the arts in public schools.

shadow box imaginary worlds and a playground for a flea


shadowbox_stageinamagicalforestWhere is your imaginary world?  Is it a chocolate lake with a sugar beach, cotton candy palms and licorice vines?  Perhaps it is in the middle of a volcano, with molten lava rivers and bizarre rock formations that must be scaled, jumped, and climbed.  Through imaginative play, we journeyed to our own imaginary worlds to determine the setting for this artwork.


Each child deconstructed and transformed a cereal box, decorating it in layers to create a background, middle ground, and foreground.


We explored paper sculpture techniques such as quilling (or rolling), folding, and creating tabs to make things pop-up.


Building dimensionally in layers was the challenge for most students, resisting the temptation to just glue everything flat on the background.

shadowbox_ WP_002496 WP_002501 WP_002516

playgroundforafleaMy overflow project: a playground for a flea.  Students build upon their new paper sculpture skills, this time in a fully 3-d format, building from the ground up.

For more shadow box art, see my earlier post, Shadow Box Art Books.