02 May 2018

Art Educators with heART, featuring Jescia Hopper

I. Am. Late. 

For the past month or two, I have been working on projects back-to-back in between interviews and teaching. There have been parades--two of them. There have been book store windows. There has been the preparing for and installation of a solo show in Nashville (please see video above). There have been workshops and two art clubs and my regular full-time teaching duties. And I'm about to teach another floral painting class--my fourth one in three months, in fact. This two-hour adult painting workshop has been way more popular than I could have ever anticipated. I'm also in the process of moving and preparing for a summer teaching residency in North Carolina (more on this soon).

I say all of this because I am late. And I thought it only polite to tell you why. I made a promise to myself that I would blog every single Monday from the beginning of the year onward . . . That lasted only until things starting piling up (see list above). Around the beginning of March, maybe. I thought the wonderful interview below would be posted a few weeks ago, but it is only being posted now. 

I'm okay with this--this lateness--because there is a lot of really good stuff in this interview folks!

Oh, and if you happen to be in Nashville before June 1st, please stop by the Tibbott Gallery at the University School of Nashville and check out my show, Twizzle Sequence. We're having a little celebratory shin-dig for the show tomorrow afternoon (Thursday, May 3rd) from 4 - 6pm. Stop by if you are in the area! Hooray for things!

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I don't know Jescia very well. I think our paths crossed on occasion while she was at the Maryland Institute College of Art. She was working on her Master of Arts in Art Education degree while I was working on my Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art degree. Both programs were low-residency, so we would run into each other during the summertime. 

What struck me was her work. I immediately started following her on Instagram after seeing the painting below. This painting was so striking to me. Not only was it technically proficient, but it had this imaginative spirit that was both terrifying and playful. My favorite two things together.

From her website, she says this about her work, "My work is a challenge to the notion of the seriousness of adulthood. The playfulness and wonder of youth is offset by the transition from child to adult, from play to work, from fantasy to reality, aging and death. By putting on the costume or creating immersive environments, I seek to escape from the crushing weight of the socially acceptable adult archetype imposed on me."

Following her instagram has allowed me an entryway into her work as an educator. She obviously has an amazing relationship with her students, as evidenced by the work they produce. Check out the gorgeous pics below! She is a technically brilliant artist who is an incredibly inspiring mentor to her students. 

Plus, she loves cats. Always a win in my book

So without further ado, here is Jescia Hopper in her own words. Enjoy!!

What is your name and where do you teach (school/organization and city)? What do you teach? How long have you been teaching? Have you taught the same subjects throughout the entire time that you have been teaching?

Jescia Hopper, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Middle School, Dilworth, Minnesota - Visual Art teacher: grades 6-8. I have taught there for 6 years.

Minnesota State University Moorhead, Moorhead, Minnesota (also my undergrad alma mater)- Adjunct Faculty: Basic Drawing 101, Introduction to Illustration, Sequential Art. I am on my third semester there.

A pixelated image of Jescia created by one of her Grade 6 students.

Where are you from? Where did you do your teacher training? Why did you decide to become a teacher? Is anyone else in your family a teacher?

I am from Mandan, North Dakota.

I originally got a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Drawing and Printmaking from Minnesota State University Moorhead in 2009, then came back for my Bachelor of Science in Art Education (2011) after some tough life decisions kept me from attending Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art for my MFA (which ended up being probably one of the best decisions I’ve made!).

I have always been a “teacher” - in elementary school, I would get in trouble for finishing with my work early, then walking around to help other students… Beyond that, it has always been immensely rewarding for me to mentor and teach others. Combining teaching with art-making creates the perfect environment for me to share my passion with others, as well as be inspired by my students. It’s like I get paid to play all day!

My aunt and uncle are both teachers, and they actually used to teach in the same district that I am in currently! It has been enjoyable discussing educational policy, grant-writing, and other technical concepts with them now that I am in the same field.

What is/are your favorite subject/subjects to teach?

Although I am primarily a painter, I love to teach ceramics, which is not something I would have expected when I began my education. I was never very adept at three-dimensional work, and I found myself teaching AP Ceramics during my student teaching placement. I was terrified that the students would have more experience than me, so I spent an entire summer practicing and learning as much as I could before I started. It turns out that because I had such difficulty with 3-D work, I paid more attention to problem-solving and technique. This in turn made me a stronger teacher because I could explain the processes better, whereas with drawing, it comes so naturally to me that it is difficult to explain techniques. Teaching ceramics is also enjoyable because students are so engaged with the tactile process.

How many students do you work with during a week's time?

I see the same 130-140 students every day for 12 weeks at the middle school. I have between 16-20 students in my college courses.

What kind of artwork do you make?

I am primarily a watercolor painter, but recently I have been exploring sculptural installations that are recreations of spaces within my paintings.


Do the students know you make things?

My students love that I make things. Many of them are subscribed to my YouTube channel, or follow my Instagram page to see my artwork.

Have you shown them your artwork before?

I just took my art club students (about 45 6-8th graders) to the Plains Art Museum to see my exhibit, Wonderlust, and experience the installations that I have been creating. I occasionally bring paintings to school to work on or make ceramic pieces while students are working. I like to work alongside them when I can.

What is your favorite thing about what you do?

I love being the “weird” teacher. I have a group of students that hang out in my room before school. In years past, they nicknamed me “Mother of Misfits,” and others have created badges for the “Weirdo Squad”. My “morning misfits” bring a lot of joy to my life, and it is very rewarding to know that my room gives them a place where they feel like they belong. Last spring, this group pooled together and bought me an inflatable t-rex costume with the best card that read, “Thank you for being the best teacher and keeping us away from awkward social interactions”. This year, I have become the official advisor for the “Angsty Teens Club,” where my job description is playing mopey music, providing kleenex for angst-fueled, mascara-tinged tears, and keeping things in perspective by reminding them that their problems are a minute speck in the scheme of the universe, transforming teenage angst to existential angst. I love these kiddos.

What abilities shift in you as a result of working with young people? Please explain.

Teaching reminds me to be empathetic.

One of the biggest things I notice about being a teacher is that I am more aware of how poverty and family/living situations can affect every aspect of a person. Seeing these issues play out in schools allows me to understand the larger issues at play in contemporary society, and makes me a more outspoken advocate for these people in our community and in the national political arena.

Do you host any large events that feature your students' artwork so that the larger community can see what the students are doing? What about school-specific events?

I have had a school-wide art show every spring, which has morphed into a Fine Arts night that incorporates band and choir with visual art. These are all community events. We have done a community-wide Empty Bowls fundraiser with Art Club that raised $1500 for a local food pantry by selling handmade bowls and soup.

How does collaboration fit into your teaching methods? What about personal choice? And imagination?

I do a collaborative project with a couple 8th grade teachers where students learn about the Holocaust, refugee crises and global diaspora in Language Arts and Geography, and then they create a stop-motion animation PSA about welcoming refugees to our community. Fargo-Moorhead receives a large number of refugees each year, and we were inspired to create this unit in response to a lot of fear-mongering through a city council member and a local news station (and nationally) about refugees bringing disease and crime to our city and costing taxpayers lots of money to support them, despite evidence claiming the opposite. Our purpose is to work on developing empathy for others with our students, as my district is quite rural and homogenous. Last year, the videos were judged by a local videographer, and the top 5 were chosen to be played before the Keynote address at the Building Bridges Conference in Fargo. The winning students got to attend, and their videos were played for around 500 people. It was very inspirational. 

I like to collaborate with Language Arts teachers and have students practice creative writing in conjunction with their art projects.

Much of my artistic philosophy is getting students to think for themselves and to question things. I love to offer them choices, whether in terms of subject matter or media. I do an expressive self-portrait in 8th grade where students are asked to create a self-portrait that is a metaphor for themselves or their experience. I give them free reign to use whatever media fits their vision, and I have not been disappointed. The depth of feeling and thought that goes into these projects is astounding!

Do you bring in people from the community to work with your students? Why or why not?

I have had local artists join us and talk about their careers or do demonstrations. I have done careers units at the middle school (when scheduling allowed) and brought in a variety of artists to discuss their jobs and their education. At the college, I have brought in caricature artists and freelance illustrators to demonstrate their process and discuss their careers.

What are your top five favorite art supplies to use with students, and why?

Ceramics - it’s tactile and automatically engaging 
Watercolor - students love to learn ways of creating different textures using salt, cheesecloth, alcohol, and gesso 
Tablet/Laptop - we create animations and memes using video and photo editing software 
Kneaded erasers - they’re just fun to play with :) 
Paper mache - the sculptural possibilities are endless 

What do you think is the best part of teaching?

I love being a mentor for young people - knowing that my guidance has helped influence the futures of people is crazy! I currently have two students enrolled in my college drawing course that I had as 8th grade students my first year teaching, and they want to be art teachers because of me. That brings tears to my eyes. If I can so much as change the way a student sees themselves or their world for the better, that is enough for me. 

Do you have a favorite lesson plan that you could share with us? 

Unit Plan for Holistic Teaching

Self Portrait Series: You Gotta Learn the Rules to Break the Rules

I. Teacher: Jescia Hopper

II. Learner (student, grade level): 8th grade, 20-25 students per class . . .

Developmental Rationale:

At this developmental level, students are intensely curious, they show a preference for peer interaction, the beginning of complex existential thought processes, and seek affirmation and acceptance from peers and role models. Students’ artistic development is at a precarious stage. Students are likely to “drop out” if their ideas are more complex than their level of technical ability. Adolescents are concerned about their place in the world and the changes taking place within them, physically and mentally. Because of these concerns, art making should be hands-on, “embodied” learning to help them explore ideas and processes more freely. Art concepts should address narrative and feelings to help students express the emotions they encounter as they grow and change. Exploring identity through self-portraiture is an excellent avenue for students at this age. Through the first portion of the unit, students will gain observational drawing skills to boost confidence levels, while the latter portion of the unit will help students understand that realistic art is not necessary to express a concept.

III. Environment

Students will be grouped into tables of three or four surrounding the SmartBoard. Each student will have a mirror at their desk for observing themselves during the unit. During the final mixed media portion of the unit, students may work throughout the room at various stations depending on the media chosen for their artwork.

Students are allowed to talk quietly during the project, asking for advice from their table-mates. During the mixed media portion, the classroom dynamic may become more lively due to the environment of exploration and experimentation taking place.

IV. Unit Objective: Students will understand that facial proportions and anatomy help create an observational self-portrait, while also understanding that portraits do not have to be realistic to be considered accurate.

V. Unit Art Problem: Learn the rules to create a series of self-portraits beginning with observational realism, then break the rules to create an expressive self-portrait that exhibits an emotion or personal characteristic.

VI. Unit Big Idea: Identity

VII. Essential Questions

A. How can I see myself through artist’s eyes?

B. How can my portrait communicate something to others?

C. How do artists express emotions through portraiture?

VIII. Lesson titles within unit

A. “Before” Self Portrait without instruction (2 days)

B. Anatomy and Proportions (introduce flipped model) (3 days)

C. “After” Self Portrait, incorporating new knowledge (3-5 days)

D. Expressive Portrait Artists (1 day)

E. Expressive Portrait Construction (5-7 days)

F. Display and Reflect (1-2 days)

IX. Standards for Visual Art: Minnesota State Visual Arts Standards . . . Demonstrate the characteristics of the tools, materials and techniques of various two- and three-dimensional media for intentional effects in original artworks. Analyze the meanings and functions of visual arts. Create original two- and three-dimensional artworks in a variety of artistic contexts. Assemble and prepare personal artworks for public exhibition.

X. Concepts, skills, and dispositions


1. Students will know that using proportions helps create realistic-looking portraits.

2. Students will know that metaphors can communicate important ideas.

3. Students will know that artists use color and marks to communicate emotions.

1. Students will be able to create a portrait using accurate proportions.

2. Students will be able to create contrast by using value in their portrait.

3. Students will be able to visually express an emotion or characteristic within a portrait.

C. Dispositions (Using Studio Thinking 2’s “Artist Habits of Mind”)

1. Students will practice observational skills while drawing a self-portrait. (“Observe”)

2. Students will practice exploring mixed media to create an expressive self-portrait. (“Stretch and Explore,” “Express”)

3. Students will practice communicating their concepts through informal group critiques. (“Reflect”)

XI. Assessment Students will be formatively assessed through notes, sketches, and a short quiz covering proportions and anatomy within the tutorial videos. Students will be summatively assessed through a 4-point rubric, self-reflection and class participation covering the concepts, skills and dispositions listed above.

XII. Vocabulary

Self-portrait: an artwork that represents you, the artist.

Anatomy: the structure of a living thing, in our case, humans.

Proportion: comparing parts of a whole in terms of size

Value: the relative lightness or darkness of something.

Value Contrast: the amount of difference between light and dark; Can be high (large difference between values) or low (small difference between values)
Mixed-Media: using multiple materials, or media, to create

Metaphor: conveying meaning by using one thing to symbolize something else

XIII. References

Frida Kahlo: Roots, 1943. Oil/metal. 

Friedensreich Hundertwasser: Checkered Self Portrait, 1950. Mixed media.

Salvador Dali: Soft Self Portrait with Bacon, 1941. Oil on canvas.

Marisol Escobar: Self Portrait Looking at the Last Supper (detail), 1986. Wood. 

Stefan Zsaitsits: House, 2014. Graphite. Monster, 2014. Graphite. Methusela, 2013. Graphite. The Valley, 2012. Graphite.

Francis Bacon: Self Portrait, 1969. Oil on canvas.

Jean Metzinger: Portrait of Albert Gleizes, 1912. Oil on canvas.

Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., & Sheridan, K. (2013). Observe: Really seeing, not just looking. In Studio thinking 2: The real benefits of visual arts education, (pp. 73-80). Teachers College Press: New York.

Hetland, et. al. (2013) discussed the studio habit Observe, how it affects the way artists see the world and how students are taught to look closely in order to practice “careful, mindful Observation” (p. 73). The job of the teacher is to help students define expressive characteristics, small shifts in elements of the composition, while also paying closer attention to negative space and basic structural properties in order to see “the world as design” (p. 74). The chapter contains vignettes of the process two artist-teachers undertake to teach observational skills. The chapter concludes with connections “Observe” has with other studio habits, as well as how it is used across disciplines.

The authors argue that teaching studio habits of mind, such as observational skills, makes students stronger, more confident artists, as well as more perceptive observers of everyday life. Hetland et. al.’s description of teaching observational skills successfully describes the methods teachers offer to students to “really see” the world around them. Every year, I relate to my students my own experience of how I learned to “see,” and how that change affected my art-making and how I perceive the world. Teaching students how to observe closely the world they live in is the first stage of teaching students how to create art from life, something most adolescents desire.

The self-portrait unit I intend to implement is based heavily on careful observation. Students must learn to see the basic shapes and proportions of the human face in order to see past existing schemas. Many of the strategies used by the educators in the chapter are very similar to my approach to observational drawing. Artists see the world differently than most people, noticing things that may be invisible to others, simplifying complex objects into basic shapes, and focusing less on an object and more on its constituent elements. In “Example 9.2”, Jim demonstrates how to break a complex object down into simple shapes first, then slowly add details (p. 76). When teaching students how to draw facial features, I begin my demonstration with simple shapes, which create the underlying structure of the features.

Castro, J.C. (2007). Constraints that enable: Creating spaces for artistic inquiry. Proceedings of the 2007 Complexity Science and Educational Research Conference, 75-86. Vancouver, British Columbia.

Castro (2007) explained his process for presenting students with inquiry-based curriculum through the use of enabling constraints, creating an environment that more closely matches the way artists work. Rather than present vocabulary, art history and other artistic concepts separately, Castro found that these items naturally led their way into classroom discussion when using the process of artistic inquiry (p.80). Students are given an existential prompt that provides them with enough structure to guide them, yet remains challenging enough to promote elaboration and extension. The process of inquiry is not modeled by the educator, but rather created within the classroom environment.

The primary purpose of the text was to promote curriculum that teaches students how to think and act like artists through the process of inquiry, rather than modeling artistic behaviors through the study of technique or art history. By using artistic inquiry, such as questioning or enabling constraints, students are able to delve into themselves and their world, pushing into uncertain territory in the same manner artists do. Through the creation of an inquiry-based environment, students have the possibility of becoming stronger thinkers and creating more conceptual artwork. Students may be hesitant at the onset of a curriculum such as this due to the ambiguous nature of the prompts, but with teacher support and classroom dialogue, I believe this style of curriculum could be powerful.

At the end of the self-portrait unit, students will have an understanding of proportion and anatomy, but will be asked to create a non-traditional portrait with the use of enabling constraints. Castro uses prompts that are existential in nature, allowing students to delve deeply into themselves to find ideas. Due to the already personal nature of the self-portrait, the prompts students will be given in my unit are also existential. I intend to offer my students three prompts, one of which is similar to Castro’s, “What would your self-portrait look like if you couldn’t include yourself directly?” (p.76). He discusses the importance of creating metaphors out of our everyday objects, which is something I believe my students are ready to begin exploring.

Gude, O. (2004). Postmodern principles: In search of a 21st century art education. Art Education, 57(1), 6-14.

Gude (2004) argued that teaching the traditional seven elements and seven principles of art as the singular vocabulary for art curricula is naive and outdated. Curricula using these terms as its foundation becomes Westernized and loses any original cultural context. With the founding of Spiral Workshop, Gude and others created a curriculum that was relevant to students, used contemporary art references and focused on an inquiry-based environment. She discusses the eight additional postmodern principles she has determined describe much of contemporary art: appropriation, juxtaposition, recontextualization, layering, interaction of text and image, hybridity, gazing, and representin’ (p.9-11). Contemporary art education should be based not on simplified set standards, but rather on the complexity of the art itself.

Gude’s reasoning for writing “Postmodern Principles” is based on the notion that most contemporary art education is still focused on curricula that was current 100 years ago. Although most art educators state that teaching the elements and principles is their primary focus for the curriculum, Gude states there are few significant connections between the vocabulary and the artwork (p.6). In response to this concern, Gude developed a list of relevant postmodern principles that focus not only on the visual, but the conceptual. Many teachers could agree that teaching the elements and principles is not the most exciting experience for students. Gude’s incorporation of contemporary art, cultural connections and visual culture into the postmodern principles brings a breath of fresh air the landscape of art education.

Much like Castro’s (2007) prompts, Gude’s principles will be used within this self-portrait unit to discuss concepts and techniques used by students and by contemporary artists to create non-traditional self-portraits. The postmodern principle of Representin’ will help students determine their artistic style through affiliations and personal history. Hybridity, Layering, and Appropriation are all terms that are likely to be discussed when experimenting with media and looking at contemporary self-portraits, such as Marisol Escobar’s Self Portrait Looking at the Last Supper. The third self-portrait problem will be inquiry-based, allowing students to solve their own problems and make connections that are relevant to themselves. When students can work more freely to develop their own style and concept, the principles listed by Gude seem to naturally arise in work and critique.

XIV. Strategies

In addition to three in-class videos, students will be asked to watch two instructional videos at home, implementing a flipped classroom model. To ensure learner accountability, students will be asked to practice techniques and answer questions while watching the video. They will also need to come to class prepared with their sketches and notes or a question about the video. Students will take a short quiz on the content of some of the videos.

When beginning the expressive self-portrait lesson, students will look at artists who look at self-portraits in a different way. 

Some questions to consider:

What do you think about these portraits? Are they better or worse for not being realistic?

What are some benefits to representing yourself without being realistic?

What are some ways you can represent yourself without being realistic?

Do you have to show an image of a person for it to be considered a portrait?

Following the discussion of artists, students will be led through a series of prompts to help them brainstorm ideas for the final, expressive self-portrait. These prompts will be in the form of a concept map.

Imagine you could only show someone who you are by giving them an object. What would it be?

Think about the strongest emotion you’ve ever felt. What did it look like? What color would represent it best?

Think about the different artistic media we have in the classroom. What kinds of marks, constructions or colors would best represent who you are?

If I asked you when you were five what you wanted to be when you grew up, what might you have said?

A paleontologist, or a marine biologist, or an artist (at least I make art with dinosaurs in it now, so not much has changed…)

What is the best thing that happened to you in the past week (teaching or otherwise)?

While working a “Kid Quest” at the Plains Art Museum in conjunction with my exhibit, museum staff praised how much traffic and interest my exhibit has brought to the Center for Creativity. They had never had so many people go through an exhibit in that gallery before, and said that the visitors were leaving more comments and sharing my work more than they had seen before with an exhibit. That was immensely gratifying to know all the stress and sweat and blood and tears created something that people related to and felt moved by.

And finally, what is your favorite song right now?

This is an impossible question! Depends on my mood . . . It’s a snow day today, so “Winter Is Coming” by Radical Face. If I’m kicking out the jams, “Come Down” by Anderson Paak.

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Inspiring, yes? Do you remember your art teacher in elementary, middle, or high school? A college art professor, perhaps? If so, what made that person memorable to you? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

Check out more interviews here:
Camilla Spadafino
Adrienne Hodge
Nicholas Wozniak
Sarah Johnson
Courtney Rock
Jason M. Stewart

Up next! Another fabulous interview with an art educator out of Pittsburgh, my upcoming summer teaching residency, and all of the parade hoopla in Thomasville, Georgia!

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