Collaborative and healing art with Waldorf Kindergarten Teacher Sarah Whitmore
I’ve long admired the healing spaces of Waldorf classrooms, and often paused to look at the lovely wall art. These paintings and drawings are often created using soft pastels or watercolor and depict enchanting scenes from nature. The framed art is evocative, but the wool displays tucked in corners and on shelves about the rooms are what truly inspire whimsy for me… Who makes this art? Where do they learn to do this? How does it all combine to create a sense of warmth, calm, and awe of nature? Waldorf Kindergarten Teacher, Sarah Whitmore, invited Bryles and I to come explore her beloved interpretation of healing art through a special collaborative process.
Art and Creating Healing Environments
We met Miss Sarah in the Yellow Rose Kindergarten room one day when school was closed and the grounds were quiet. It was unusual for us to visit the Summerfield campus on a non-school day, and even more unusual for us to venture into a kindergarten classroom as Bryles is a part of the Rosebud preschool. Miss Sarah greeted us at her door with broom in hand and apron on, busily tiding her room and enjoying her domestic arts as a way of welcoming us and focusing herself.
Bryles left our sides to explore the hand made toys and play spaces in the room, while Sarah and I talked about her dual passions of teaching and making art. For Sarah, these two things go together beautifully when striving to create a nurturing environment for children. We strolled about the room as she pointed out the many paintings and felted pieces she created for the enjoyment of her students.
“Children like simple, soft, subtle tastes and stimulation. Imagine the taste of breast milk, rice or bananas and how sweet and mild they are. I consider visual “feeding” equally important and like to offer children soft, nurturing, visuals that are easy for them to digest. A Waldorf Kindergarten classroom is like mother’s milk for children with its soft, warm, natural feel,” shares Sarah passionately.
Sarah reflected on the way today’s baby toys are often created using bold, black, white and red colors. Big companies promote these colors as stimulating for children. Sarah recalls when her oldest daughter was born receiving lots of presents that her daughter could kick or shake and how she’d tremble with perceived excitement. Sarah didn’t believe this response was necessarily positive saying, “Children also ‘respond’ to corn syrup but it is not healthy for a child. If a baby’s vision is soft focused, it is because they themselves are only softly here in a dream-like state.”
I thought about the pink walls in the children’s classrooms, the softness of felted toys, and the natural, grounding power of all of the wooden toys. Suddenly, I began to understand why the Waldorf classrooms can feel so supremely calming.
What is Collaborative Art?
I listened carefully as Sarah took the lessons of a healing environment, and translated this to helping others get joy out of the art process as well as creating art that could contribute to a healing space in their own homes. “Why do we think of paying exorbitant prices for prints of known artists’ work when we are moved to decorate our homes? Why do we think we can’t be artists ourselves? Why wouldn’t we want to create something personalized and meaningful as part of our home environment?”
Sarah enjoys helping people rediscover the arts through what she calls “collaborative art”. She defines this as “a collaboration between a patron and an artist who work together to create beautiful, personalized art. It’s a chance for you to engage in the creative process with a patient, inspired artist who is interested in your vision. We get together in my studio or your home and – with your guidance and vision – we create a sketch and a composition that suits you. Next, I finish the piece in my studio and deliver it to you.”
Mediums such as water color, pastels, and specific acrylics abound in Sarah’s work. Sarah likes to mix these mediums, explaining that she can let go with the hard to control water colors, knowing she can later go back and add in pastel or acrylic. Sarah gives children a chance to add to her canvas by using pastels over her painting. Sarah saves acrylics for use with adults, using true pigment formulas, which are less toxic than other acrylic products on the market. The idea is that everyone gets a chance to contribute to the piece through visioning together and composing the scene for the canvas.
Sarah loves the process and its magical resulting work. “We all create something we could not have imagined or accomplished as individuals.” The process of working together makes the piece more meaningful to the whole group who can see how their individual contributions fuse together to make a comprehensive piece of beauty.
In one example, a family visioned a painting to hang in the nursery of a soon to be born baby. The little girl wanted a field of flowers and imagined playing with the baby. The mother added in a vision of angels that came to her in a dream. Sarah brought their ideas together in the touching painting shown above. Each of her collaborating artists could see their flowers, playing image, and angels, but each agrees they never could have imagined this all coming together so beautifully. It was so beautiful to them, I think they could almost believe the coming baby and its angels helped their brushes move across the canvas.
I can only imagine the family sharing the story of creating this painting with their new wee one someday. How special this painting will always be to this family!
Collaborative Art Experience and Process
Preparing for her collaborative art session with my family, Sarah laid a beautiful table with a clean canvas as well as a few samples of her work. She later brought out a wax bag of chalk pastels and large sheets of newsprint for sketching ideas. To begin the process, she called Bryles to her side, and gently engaged him in a simple conversation about his favorite color. I noticed that she did not provide an overview of “today we are going to …” opting instead to slowly draw out his curiosity. Bryles immediately hooked in, sharing his favorite color is red.
Sarah then culled through the pastels finding all the shades and hues of red, and created small scribble samples with each pastel while naming it “Petal pink, purply red…”
Some of the pastel chalk was broken and free of its paper label, while others “still had their coats on” and needed peeling. Sarah handed Bryles a pastel to peel, and then sat back to see if he’d go further and start to draw on the paper as well. In a matter of moments they were both happily sketching. “This is nice…try this” were the only directive comments Sarah gave Bryles. Noting his hands were covered with chalk, she showed him how we could print his hand print on the paper – rather than admonishing him not to touch anything (as I might have done!)
Sarah then annotated some of her sketching in a casual, playful way, to further encourage Bryles to create and share ideas with her. “I think I’ll make…” said Sarah. A moment later Bryles shared, “I like to draw silly things!” and “Watch me – around and around it goes!” After a bit of free drawing, Sarah nudged us both towards selecting an image or theme. “What do you like, Bryles?” He thought for a bit and then shared, “Tacky” – his teddy bear. He then said he liked bagpipers and the song the little drummer boy. I began to sing his favorite line, “I played my drum for him…” and Sarah quickly sketched images from our conversation.
As our energy wound down, Sarah rolled up some paper and selected a few red pastels to share with Bryles as a gift. “You can try drawing some more at home if you wish,” she said with a smile. Bryles was very pleased. We parted ways, and Sarah promised to contact us soon to show us her final creation on canvas, and to allow Bryles to add a few of his own artistic touches to the painting.
Stay tuned and we’ll share the final piece in an upcoming article! We can’t wait to bring it home to add our own nurturing, warm, self made art to adorn our home.
More about the Artist and Teacher Sarah Whitmore
Sarah grew up in California, but began traveling and living abroad in High School when she first spent a year living in Paraguya as a exchange student. Later, Sarah traveled through Mexico and then studied fine art in Spain. Sarah began teaching Kindergarten at a Waldorf School Initiative in Mexico in 1997. She taught Spanish to grades six through eight and Kindergarten at the Waldorf School of Mendocino County. Sarah received her Waldorf teacher training at Rudolf Steiner College. She will teach her 14th year of teaching at Summerfield Waldorf’s Yellow Rose Kindergarten this year. (via Summerfield Waldorf School Directory)
Making art with families feeds her soul in a powerful way. Her art work gives her meaningful work in the summer time, and allows her to earn money towards her girls’ college educations. She’s thrilled that she’s managed to find space in her life for both her teaching efforts and her passion for making art, and will soon move into a new studio she’s created at her home. Sarah thinks her studio will offer a safe and novel space for her collaborative art process. Find out for yourself when you schedule your “collaborative art” process!
Upcoming Workshops, Classes, and Art Opportunities
Ready for your turn to make your own piece of personalized art? Excited about sharing this process with your family or a larger group? Sarah says, “Our collaborative creation can be a painting for your child’s room, nursery, or any room in your home. It will make a cherished gift for a birthday, Mother’s or Father’s Day.” Sarah also suggests using collaborative art as a central activity for your child’s birthday party.
Contact Sarah today at 707.824-9749 or firstname.lastname@example.org for your own custom session or sign up for one of her workshops featured below – felting workshop included!