By Linda White
Davis School students and teachers returned to school on January 3 following a 10-day recess. Talk about vacations away, gifts received, and holiday fun were in the air. Vacation chat did not diminish the buzz of excitement at seeing the school’s mural, created before vacation in collaboration with Bren Bataclan, the artist-in-residence who worked with students to create a lasting reminder of his visit for the Davis cafeteria.
Imaginative, simple designs from Davis students sparked the creativity of Bren Bataclan’s artistry while he was designing and painting an original mural for the students and their school. The result is a colorful, energetic, and joyful mural and individual compositions that delight all who have the privilege to view the outcome. Bataclan has designed close to 120 murals in his career.
Davis Principal Beth Benoit commented, “The week prior to the December holiday recess is known to be a week characterized by an undercurrent of excitement, pent up energy, and long TO DO lists for students and staff alike. However, seeing how engaged the children are on this first day of meeting and working with Bataclan, I am convinced this was the perfect activity and way to channel the highly charged energy/anxiety of both students and staff. We are grateful for the generosity of BEST and to BEST President Dawn Kociubes for making this enrichment opportunity available for us, and to Jess Colby, our Davis Assistant Principal, for introducing us to Bren’s work.”
As students and teachers made their way to the gymnasium for their first one-hour meeting with Bataclan, he was at the doorway to personally greet everyone with a smile and warm welcome. He quickly established a sense of ease in the large, open space and demonstrated a unique level of rapport with the students that would suggest he had a master’s degree in Early Education and not in graphic animation with teaching experience on the college level.
Through an initial Q&A time, Bataclan shared with the audience his family is from the Philippines and they moved to California when he was 12 years old. Growing up in San Francisco, he observed many examples of street art. He explained his love of drawing began in childhood and over time has only increased as he has gotten older. He spoke about his desire to personally make a difference in the lives of others by leaving his art in public spaces for others to find. His goal was simple, to comfort and touch the hearts of those who find his drawings and to elicit as many smiles as possible. In fact, through his “Smile Project” he has given away more than 2,500 paintings throughout the world and in all 50 states to encourage others to perform random acts of kindness. His family and friends have also helped him to distribute his art.
“Creating school murals is special to me because it provides a lasting artistic focus for the students and supports the basic philosophy of the school,” explained Bataclan. He continued, “My color choices are inspired by the colors of the Philippines. You will notice my drawings which are primarily of animal characters do not have noses, have eyes of different sizes and do not have names. This is intentional. My goal is to have the children and adults take away a personal feeling and/or emotion from each of the characters. I hope it will allow the children to develop a sense of acceptance and tolerance of those who are different – something that has been important to me since I was a child.”
Bataclan explained his process of creating a mural and invited the students to create drawings of their own. He provided straight-forward examples and suggestions on how to easily detail and personalize their drawings. He then requested the students to draw a series of simple animal forms and an alphabet letter from their name. The letters were quickly transformed into fanciful animal characters. Students were encouraged and inspired to share their drawings with the audience. Throughout the process, Bataclan consistently showed respect for the students by asking their names when he called upon them, praising their efforts, and encouraging them to be fearless when sharing their drawings. His only rule was, “Don’t erase your work because it is a creation by you, and everything you draw is great and special. I love seeing you smile as you draw!”
The hour flew by as Bataclan led the students from one drawing to another. The last drawing requests became more specific and were based upon suggestions from the student audience. Bataclan’s final request was for each individual class group to work on a specific element that would be incorporated into the mural design, i.e. a rainbow, a heart, a house, a globe, a thumb’s up image, etc. Students added their name, grade level and teacher name to each page. All pages from the session were collected at the end of the assembly for Bataclan to use as input for the mural. Commenting on the assembly, a student from Mrs. Falherty-Dawson’s second-grade class was overheard to exclaim, “This was very, very good.”
Throughout the week, Bataclan, transferred his pencil sketches to the cafeteria walls. Details and color followed making the walls come alive. Students during their lunch periods and parents picking up children at the end of the day were able to observe the process and track the progress. Bataclan spent about 40 hours completing the project. As you might imagine, the student smile meter exceeded all expectations.
Learn more about Bren Bataclan and his work at www.bataclan.com.