Tuesday, July 7, 2015

What happens when you give knives to a bunch of teenage campers? Magic.

This was my ninth summer teaching papercutting at Camp Newman in Northern California.

Nine years driving my mobile studio up to wine country. Nice years eating in a dining hall and sleeping in a faculty cabin. Nine years living and praying and making with my camp community – my camp family, really.

It's a great experience to make art in a different physical space – sometimes I'm lucky enough to find a different mental space as well, allowing me to experiment with new ideas and new approaches. But no matter how conducive I may find it to my own art, it's always a wonderful experience to show a room full of campers what I do, and to show them how they can do it as well. How they can develop ideas and make art that expresses something within them.

Papercutting is a new medium for many of these campers, and maybe that's why they're so successful. They might have had time in their 15 years to learn to say "I can't draw" (unfortunately) but it's the rare high school kid who has enough time holding an X-acto knife to know whether they can do it or not – and so, not knowing any better yet, they succeed. Each camper gives it their all – they commit to the process, and they find they are more than capable of expressing themselves with knife and paper.

It's a real pleasure to see them surprise themselves with their newfound ability – it's like seeing Barry Allen realize that the lightning bolt has given him super speed.

The first project the campers work on is a mizrach, an ornamental wall plaque used to indicate the direction of prayer (east) in Jewish homes. We brainstormed as a group to get some ideas going, but each student designed their own, and then backed it with comics. One idea that had everyone starting in the same place, but every mizrach was unique.

 Our second, BIG project was (as usual) paper midrash – each camper had to identify a story or character from Jewish tradition, and explore and develop it with the aid of knife and paper. Some worked with one of the session rabbis to find fascinating little tidbits, others made up their own commentaries, and all of them created stunning work.

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