Monday, December 29, 2014

How to Draw and Paint Folk Art Foxes

The breakdown of how to draw a fox based on the basic shapes.
How to Draw a Fox: Triangles, Ovals, Hearts, and Moons
Pinterest and Etsy are pretty foxy this year.

Whether you're into pottery, fabrics, figurines, or prints, you can find your favorite medium covered in foxes.

The abundance of foxes on these, my favorite Web sites, inspired me to paint a few of my own  foxes on an old canvas I'd been dying to cover.

Drawing and Designing Foxes

Before I could start painting, however, I had to design my own characters.  Folk figures are relatively simple to design when you think carefully about how basic shapes combine to create the "essence of" the animal. For example, as you can see in the blue illustration above, my fox's basic shapes are the triangle, heart, oval, and moon.

Practice Designs in a Sketchbook
After practicing the combination of basic shapes a few times, I started adding color detail in my sketchbook with Prismacolor pencils.   I used photographs of foxes help me choose the right color combinations and markings.

Painting Foxes - Supplies

In order to keep my painting folksy and simple, I chose to use the same three colors and a high gloss medium.

  • Mars Black
  • Titanium White
  • Red Ochre
  • High Gloss Medium

Painting Foxes - Step by Step

I started the painting by brushing alternate horizontal and vertical strokes, similar to a basket weave, using Mars Black mixed with the medium.

Red Ochre is the Perfect Fox Fur Color
Once the background black was dry, I outlined the basic shapes with a very fine line of red ochre. In order for the foxes to really "pop" on the canvas, I left the paint flat, unmixed with a medium, so the background would reflect light, but the foxes would not.  I then filled in all but the white spaces with the red ochre, following the general lay of the fur.  The key was to use a light, dry brush technique so as to allow some of the background black to show through the red ochre.

Before the paint was completely dry, I went back with a clean brush to fill in the white areas, letting the white and red mix slightly at the edges for a soft blend.

After the white paint was dry, I added a bit more red ochre where I would be painting the legs and black accents for shadows.  Lastly, I added the black nose, eyes, legs, ears, and shadows.  I mixed the black with the newly added red for an even softer look, wanting to avoid the look of a graphic design.

Happy with the results, I am glad to report the new painting now sits on my hearth next to the fireplace.  However, these little foxes were so much fun to draw and paint, I have a feeling I am not done with them yet.

Want to read more about painting?  Try

Painting Supplies for Beginning Acrylic Painters
Escoda MARFIL Series Brushes for Acrylic Painters
Golden Heavy Body Artist's Acrylic Paint

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Grief and the Holiday Season

There is a club to which many of us belong.  We didn't ask for membership. We didn't want membership, and we never want to see our friends join the club.  

Until a person becomes a member, he or she has no quantifiable way to understand how it feels to be such a member. The club is reserved for those who have dealt with loss on such a scale that "grief and grieving" aren't strong enough words to describe a member's raw emotions.

When people are lucky enough to have not yet been initiated, they may say things to members like, "Cheer up!  You'll feel better, soon!" or "It's been years.  Shouldn't you feel better by now?" Every so often, these lucky folks will even say, "My dog died when I was in high school, and I still miss her sometimes," or "When are you going to snap out of it?"

Although these sorts of comments are meant to help cheer the grieving, they more often than not do not. So what can the uninitiated say to the initiated to help ease them through what might be a difficult holiday season?

Here is a rundown of the two most common bits of advice offered by a variety of Web sites.

Assisting the Grieving

If the person just lost someone, identify a need the grieving person may have, like a need for a ride to the store or church, a tissue, a meal, or a batch of freshly laundered towels, and humbly help the person with that need. Offer that particular service, or depending on your relationship, you may feel comfortable jumping in to help.  If the person is experiencing grief or sadness because of the loss of a loved one in the past, you may want to ask what he or she might need or might want to do to honor that loved one during the holiday season.

Listening to the Grieving

Also, be sure to refrain from trivializing the loss by uttering platitudes such as "It was for the best," or "We all need to move on," even if the death took place several years prior.  Perhaps support the grieving person by letting that person speak while you listen.  On the other hand, the person may simply want to remain silent while you are there, in the person's presence. Recognize that everyone's grief and grieving process is different.  Avoid comparing your loss with that person's loss or telling the person how he or she should feel "because it's Christmas" or "because it's Hanukkah."

Most importantly, watch for warning signs of depression, and kindly encourage the person to seek help if necessary.

Although the holiday season is a time for joy and celebration, those people who have been initiated into the "grief and grieving" club may need a little more help from their friends than others, may need a little more time for quiet reflection than others, or may just need a hug or two extra. With sensitivity and compassion from friends and family, everyone can have a happier Hanukkah or a merrier Christmas.

Want to read more about the holidays?  Try

Using the Nice Dishes
It's Time to Count My Blessings (Instead of Sheep)
Crochet Christmas Tree Ornaments

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Critical Thinking and Argument: Grading the Argumentative Essay

The Breakdown and Assessment
of Argumentative Essays

Sylvan Barnet and Hugo Bedau define a formal argument as “a discussion that takes account of possible counterarguments, that relies chiefly on logic and little if at all on emotional appeal, and that draws a conclusion that seems irrefutable” (pg. 106). An argumentative essay is that formal argument shaped and crafted into a written document.   

Skills related to argumentation and the writing of argumentative essays span the breadth of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy.  In order to construct an argument, students must collect and evaluate sources, examine the available evidence, come to a conclusion, compose an original thesis statement, organize and draft a paper, and within that paper carefully and thoroughly explain their reasoning

Argumentation is a Process

Students who do not complete any one of the many tasks related to writing the argumentative essay are missing a key component of the overall activity.  Argumentation, after all, is a discussion, an ongoing process, not a product.  Therefore, faculty who have not already done so should shift the assessment or grading of the argumentative essay from an evaluation of the product to an evaluation of the process.

A Model for Assessing the Argumentative Essay

One such model for assessing argumentation and the argumentative essay includes an assignment for each of the major elements of argumentation: a prewriting activity to help students find and narrow a topic, an annotated bibliography to help students learn to evaluate sources, an outline to show organization skills, and a paper taken through several drafts to demonstrate an ability to formulate complete thoughts and explain their reasoning to others.  Faculty evaluation of each of these four assignments can help assess students’ strengths and weaknesses before a final paper is submitted.

Subdividing Measurable Skills and Tasks

If and when necessary, generally depending on students’ levels of knowledge about the writing process, each of those four assignments can be further subdivided.  Students in a 100-level research writing course will, in other words, generally need more assistance than those in a 300 or 400-level research writing course.  For example, a prewriting assignment can be divided into several subsections: discussion of a topic, preliminary research, brainstorming, clustering, or the drafting of research questions.  The annotated bibliography can be introduced and created over the course of several lessons about research and information literacy, citations and style guides, or types of sources and evidence.  Because the outline can only be created after a student comes to a conclusion about the argumentative topic, a natural subsection is the composition of the thesis statement and topic sentences, which can even be introduced before or after an informal in-class debate.  This type of teamwork can also serve students who work together to revise one another’s papers.

An additional way to think of these assignments, or subdivided assignments, is to think of them as learning objectives for the overall course broken into lesson or assignment outcomes for individual units within the course.  Whereas an overall learning objective of the course might be for students to “evaluate source content,” the annotated bibliography unit may break that objective into much smaller pieces.  Before evaluating source content, students must first be able to “find authoritative source content,” “summarize the main ideas within a source,” and “research opposing views or authors.”   

Whereas the course objective may be difficult to assess or grade without taking into account multiple tasks, the lesson outcomes can be assessed and remediated in the immediate.  When students have difficulty “evaluating,” there could be a number of factors contributing to the confusion: The confusion could stem from an inability to find appropriate sources, to skim or comprehend the sources, or to learn more about the credentials of the source author or authors.

A Proficiency Rubric

A rubric associated with the main course objective, therefore, must also include a breakdown of the aggregate skills.  Is isn't enough to grade a student’s work based on whether or not the student evaluated a source, a simple “yes” or “no.”  To truly assess a student’s ability, we should also perhaps ask, “At what level of proficiency was the student able to accurately summarize or paraphrase the claims and evidence within the original source?”  “At what level of proficiency was the student able to explain or compare and contrast opposing views?”  Furthermore, we must make judgments about the level of proficiency we expect students to demonstrate by the end of a course.  Grades should align, mathematically, with the level of proficiency we expect students to have in each of the skills and subskills.

Argumentation is a process, not a product.  There are several skillful tasks that must be mastered in order for a student to argue successfully.  In the assessment of argumentative essay writing, each of these tasks related to writing and argumentation must be taken into account.  This can be accomplished with the breakdown of the written essay assignment into several smaller skills and tasks, rubric graded to reflect proficiency in each skill or task.


Barnet, S. & Bedau, H. (2014). Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing: A Brief Guide to Argument. (8th ed. ). Boston, MA: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Grief and Healing: Using the Nice Dishes

Family China from the early 20th Century, trimmed in red and gold and decorated with Magnolia flowers.
Using the Special Dishes for Everyday Occasions

Last night I drank my tea from one of my great grandmother's tea cups. I even used a saucer, and I thought, "This is special.  Why don't I do this more often?"  I've had her set of dishes for over a year, now, and it's only the second time I've used one of those beautiful little cups.  

The Positive Effect of Special Things

There is evidence to show that things can have a positive effect on affect, especially special things. Family heirlooms, for example, offer owners a "sense of continuity" or belonging, and "provide meaning and self-expression" or a sense of identity (Abelson & Prentice, 1989, pg. 365). These things, though perhaps unimportant or redundant on a functional level, can connect owners to their pasts, their fond memories, and thus to positive emotions.

Using Special Things for Special Days

Yet, if these special things make us feel good, why don't we use the nice dishes every day?  Why do we only pull them our for the holidays?  We should stop asking, "Why use the nice cups when I have everyday cups," and start thinking of every day as a special occasion.

Fear of Loss, Identity, and Memory

Generally, people do not use the nice dishes every day because of fear, mostly fear of loss, like accidentally breaking something irreplaceable.  If we break something irreplaceable, we fear we may therefore lose some piece of our identity or a connection with the past, relatives, or memories. However, it is unhealthy to allow the fear of the loss of an item to prevent that item's potential positive effect on our emotions.  It's important to remember that memories and identity are not products of things, but rather extensions of the memories and identity.  Even without things, we remain who we.  Even without things, we retain our memories.

So, as this holiday season comes and goes, think about leaving a few of the nice cups in the everyday cabinet and a few pieces of silver in the everyday drawer.  Start thinking of every day as a special occasion and allowing special things to have a positive effect on your affect.


Abelson, R. P. & Prentice, D. A. (1989). Beliefs as Possessions: A Functional Perspective. In Pratkanis, A. R., Breckler, S. J., & Greenwald, A. G. (Eds). Attitude, Structure, and Function. (pp. 361-381). Florence, KY: Psychology Press.

Want to read more?  Try

It's Time to Count My Blessings (Instead of Sheep)
Learn to Crochet for Stress Relief
Instead of Watching Television

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Contact the author for permission to republish.