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Final Design: Mock-up

Once the students finished researching and drawing a variety of native crops and migratory species of butterflies that live in Wisconsin, we (Gabi and Jenie) got together to collage them together into a final composition.

Our goals:

  • creating a design that reflected our collaborative effort and unified our styles in one beautiful composition
  • creating a plan that made good use of the space and was practical for our supplies budget and time frame. We estimated 4 painting days and $800 for the mural supplies. You can see the breakdown of our supplies here.

Here is the final mock-up of our mural. Now we were ready to get supplies and start painting.

Collage of Escuela Verde Root Drawings FINAL_lowres
The students’ and instructors’ drawings collaged together in Photoshop for the final design, to be 12 x 30 feet.
Collage of Escuela Verde Root Drawings FINAL_lowres_grid
We divided the design into 24 5×3 foot panels, the size of the cement boards we would be using. The plan was to set up a workflow with a projector for each of the panels and then space on the ground and floor to finish painting and detailing each panel.
Final text design by Jenie Gao. We came to a consensus on the words, “Our Stories Share the Same Roots,” to drive the message of our mural.
Photoshop mock-up of the location and scale of the mural once installed on the building.

Why butterflies, roots, and triangles?

The following video shares an exercise we did with our students at Escuela Verde.

In one of our workshops, we learned about fractals, and how this mathematical set can explain all the diversity that we see.

What is a fractal?

A fractal is a repeated, geometrical shape. It is itself repeated, and this repetition results in the complex patterns and systems that we see. We can see examples of fractals all throughout nature, and in our own, human-designed systems.

An example of a fractal.
Examples of fractals in nature.
Examples of fractals in nature.

Final imagery for the mural

After all our discussions of the role immigration plays in our markets, economics, and cultural development, we decided on two “images” to represent our ideas:

  1. Crops that now grow natively in Wisconsin, that have traveled to different regions as people have migrated and agricultural societies have developed.
  2. Migratory species of butterflies that travel thousands of miles every year, and are essential to the health of our ecosystem. The fact that the Butterfly Effect is a concept related to fractal theory is a nod to our explanation of diversity, via fractals. (The butterfly theory states that small causes can have large effects. When and where a butterfly flaps its wings can determine whether or not a hurricane occurs on the other side of the planet.)

We combined our imagery via the shared patterns of root structures, butterfly wings, and their underlying tessellations.

Crops drawn by Marysol Bermudes.
Butterflies by Isabel Castro.
Question Mark Butterfly by Jenie Gao.
Butterfly with roots by Marysol Bermudes.
Yellow sulphur butterfly by Gabriela Riveros.

Visual Problem Solving: Practical & Conceptual

Our top question: How do you create an image to match your image with your message?

Our goal for our students and curriculum: 

  1. to learn how to dissect and image
  2. to learn how to work backwards from a goal, to find the right images to represent your concept

Breaking Visual Problem Solving into Workshops

The “practical” side: Image Composition

1 workshop focused on Image Composition. We studied examples of different techniques artists used to weight or draw the viewers’ focus through the piece. We created our own compositions from still life objects. Each student received two objects to use as reference and had to try and come up with a composition that conveyed an “opposite” sense of what the object was. How do you draw a feather to look heavy? A small bauble to look large? A stable, symmetrical container to look off balance?

Here are some of the results.

Drawing using a a sunflower and eagle brooch for reference, by Isabel Castro.
Drawing of a jar on the edge of the table, by German Vasquez.

The “creative” side: Image to Concept

We did a number of different exercises and games to flex our creative skills, including:

  1. Doodle Wars and improvisation
  2. Identifying metaphors and common themes through sharing our own immigration stories
  3. Studying the metaphors in existing artworks
  4. Studying how different murals have incorporated the wall itself into the design
  5. Researching different subjects related to our theme of immigration.

We ultimately chose to incorporate different migratory butterflies and crops that are grown in Wisconsin into our final imagery.

Our list of different migratory species of butterflies and crops that grow in Wisconsin.
One of the students’ thumbnail sketches of different possible compositions.
A composite sketch by student Isabel Castro of crops grown by different cultures in Wisconsin, with different roots.

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Doodle Wars

Talking about our concepts is one thing. But how do you translate words into image? Where do you even begin?

We spent a day exercising our creative chops and spontaneity. We started with the improv game, “Yes, and…” Good improvisation depends on trust, and the purpose of the game is to foster collaboration. The rule is that whatever your partner throws down as a prompt, you follow with, “Yes, and…” to continue building the scene. If you disagree with your partner and kill their prompt, you effectively end the scene and the story.

Translating that same idea into image, we played the drawing game, Doodle Wars. Everyone draws on the same large sheets of paper, and every minute, a timer goes off and you have to move to another spot and create a new drawing in response to what somebody else has already put down. The goal is to be quick, keep moving, and keep expanding upon the scenes that already exist.







The Arts and Activism

We dedicated a few of our workshops to the role of the arts in social movements. Here are some of the examples from our classes.

Literatura de Cordel: “String Literature”

These are inexpensive booklets sold at fairs and by street vendors in Brazil. They cover topics from popular songs and poetry to politics and education. This format for spreading a message quickly and cheaply has been used in social and political movements across cultures (chapbooks in Europe and papel volante in Portugal).

The invention of printing played an instrumental, disruptive role in human society. It democratized literacy, information, and education. These pamphlets are just one of many examples of how printing gave us the power to communicate and share with the masses.



Wikipedia Article on Literatura de Cordel

Social Media and Activism

Like print, social media has become the tool for disseminating information quickly and inciting social movements. Our online posts are our modern-day “pamphlets,” and hashtags are a way to organize our messages into a movement that others can easily follow, find, and share. Here are some examples of how different people and groups have made their messages travel using social media and hashtags.

Example 1: #TheRealUW

#TheRealUW is a hashtag that UW-Madison Athletics created, but after three racial hate incidents occurred on campus in March towards students of color, outraged students usurped #TheRealUW hashtag to point out the racial problems on campus that the school has not addressed.

If you Google #TheRealUW the top search results all have to do with race and the students’ movement.

Photo courtesy #TheRealUW Facebook page. These were also exhibited at the Chazen Art Museum.
Photo courtesy #TheRealUW Facebook page. These were also exhibited at the Chazen Art Museum.
Photo courtesy #TheRealUW Facebook page. These were also exhibited at the Chazen Art Museum.
Photo courtesy #TheRealUW Facebook page. These were also exhibited at the Chazen Art Museum.
Photo courtesy #TheRealUW Facebook page. These were also exhibited at the Chazen Art Museum.
Photo courtesy #TheRealUW Facebook page. These were also exhibited at the Chazen Art Museum.
Photo courtesy #TheRealUW Facebook page. These were also exhibited at the Chazen Art Museum.
Photo courtesy #TheRealUW Facebook page. These were also exhibited at the Chazen Art Museum.

Articles about #TheRealUW

#TheRealUW: A Social Media Movement is Forcing UW-Madison to confront its race problems

Inside #TheRealUW

#TheRealUW: Students tell stories of racial bias, UW not doing enough

The story after it got picked up by BuzzFeed

The Movement’s Facebook Page

Example 2: #IWillProtectYou

A mother shared the above Facebook Status when Trump’s claim that he would ban all Muslims scared her daughter that their family would be deported. The status went viral, and military veterans responded with the following messages and the hashtag #IWillProtectYou.


News Story on #IWillProtectYou


Technology is undoubtedly powerful. How can we harness this power effectively, ethically, and meaningfully? How can we use it not only to drive our own ideas, but also empower others to ask good questions and imagine new possibilities?

For further reading on our use of social media, check out this article on how Social Media was used after the Paris attacks and ways to build a caring community.

Let’s talk about immigration

Setting Expectations

Escuela Verde designs its courses around project-based and student-led learning.

Immigration is a salient–and sensitive–topic in our current political and social climate. It’s something that impacts many of us directly, as first- and second-generation immigrant families, as the members of families that include both documented and undocumented relatives. And while many people in the U.S. have been here for generations, the vast majority are the descendants of immigrants who also migrated in search of opportunities and a better life.

Together as staff and students, we set some expectations upfront to guide our conversations and concepts.

What we did not want:

  • a propagandistic campaign
  • a political agenda
  • too narrow of a focus or oversimplified viewpoint on an issue that impacts many different groups

What we did want:

  • to better understand the role that immigration and migration has played in human history
  • to educate ourselves on the patterns of history
  • to find the common ground in our stories
  • to show how in spite of the current conversations surrounding the Mexico-US border, immigration is not new, and neither are the problems we are currently trying to work through as a country
  • to use art as a tool to foster community conversations around this topic and the role immigration plays in shaping us, from the local level of our neighborhoods and cities to the national and global levels of how we all identify, interact, relate, and exchange with one another

Understanding the Role of Immigration

Immigration isn’t new, and it has always been necessary in the development and progress of human societies, culturally and economically. It isn’t unique to humans, either. It has always been a means for growth, development, and the renewal of the resources we depend on.

So if we know this, how can we write our policies to facilitate the benefits of immigration, rather than hinder our progress, or worse, divide us and further drive our inequities?

To better understand this subject matter, we spent some time talking about the different effects of immigration, and the positives and negatives that come with those effects.

Our brainstorm web on the concept of immigration.
Gabriela Riveros at the whiteboard during our discussion of the topics related to and influenced by immigration.

Storytelling as a Way of Finding Common Ground

For one of our workshops, we asked students to bring in immigrant stories. They could be stories from their own families or from their neighbors.

Here are two drawings that show some of the common themes that emerged from our story sharing.

A student’s depiction of his Irish ancestors being denied to enter the US. His family instead went to Canada and crossed the border illegally, settling in Montana.
A student’s illustration inspired by peaceful marches in the face of violence. The quote at the bottom of the drawing reads, “They tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we could grow.”