year three at brightworks

Every year I’ve tried to sum up the whole of the parts that make up a year at Brightworks, and I’ve discovered that it’s actually mostly impossible. What I do know how to say is that this year, we made progress in defining who we are and what we do in a more supportive environment than we’ve ever had. The kids grew in their self confidence and ability to question, we put systems in place that lasted the whole year, students developed greater trust in each other and their collaborators – and we are more Brightworks than ever. We are made up of the sum of the parts – kids, staff, parents, siblings, friends, supporters – and are solidly and wholly a community and a family.


brightworks at the ocean

We started a tradition last year of heading out to Ocean Beach on the last Thursday of the school year, so we were back in the sand for a day of playing, chatting, digging holes, playing in the water, exploring the dunes, and enjoying each other’s company. It was foggy, windy, and a little cold, but that didn’t stop sunburns the next day on everyone’s cheeks!




















We started the year with fires in our cabins at Mendocino, and ended with a bonfire at the beach. Full circle.





mirrors exposition night

Year three’s end-of-year celebration and Mirrors Exposition Night was last Monday, June 2. Our staff was so busy and excited that we didn’t get any pictures of the event, but Elizabeth – parent and fantastic documenter – snapped a few. The night brought excited parents and new community members, and the building was full and lively. The kids stood by their presentation boards ready to answer questions, showing their videos, demonstrating magic or makeup or rat runs, and were very proud of their accomplishments.

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

exposition night 2014

video links

Updates from the last week of school will be posted this week!

So many students made videos for their Mirrors arc projects that I wanted to showcase them on the blog. We weren’t able to get Tab or JP’s videos onto Youtube, but check out the following four from Jane, Max and Evan, and Grace.

Jane’s Brightworks Documentary

Max and Evan’s short film “Storm.”

Max and Evan’s “Towers,” a video about the fundraiser that Brightworks and Tinkering School put on for Salesforce.

Grace’s immense Mirror Compilation.

mirrors presentations, day 4

The high school students presented their projects on Friday afternoon, a mix of art spanning film, comics, self portraits, and music.

Grace presented the last eight minutes of her compilation of clips of mirrors from films as varied as romantic comedies, horror movies, French art films, and dramas. The full film is forty minutes long! The clips show characters giving themselves pep talks or looking at their appearance or just about to be scared, a sort of contemplative look at the power of the reflection.



Max and Evan talked about their filmmaking journey during the Mirrors arc and their trouble with finding the right script for the amount of time they had and the actors who were available. They started with a film idea about a character who gets lost inside an infinity mirror, but quickly realized the complications of filming such a movie. Their next idea came up short because of casting issues, but explored the impacts of living in a room with only the company of a mirror. They filmed one of a series of short films that was supposed to be a trilogy, called “Storm” about two people trying to find similarities about themselves. They also showed the documentary that they edited from footage that Max shot at the Salesforce fundraiser in Palm Springs, called “Towers”.



Madison began the project phase inspired by the work of Frida Kahlo and the story and pain behind her self portraits, and branched out from there to look at the self portraiture of a half a dozen artists. She ended up choosing to closely study the work of Kahlo, Vincent Van Gogh, and Andy Warhol, and used elements of their styles to create her own. In her series of self portraits, she borrowed the small strokes and colors of Van Gogh’s work, Andy Warhol’s way of sectioning his portraits in a single image, and the vivid shades of Kahlo’s paintings. She used chalk pastel, pencil, tempera paint, and acrylic paint to make her portraits.



Isaac’s project was again about his passion of making experimental music. In his explorations of playing and mixing music, he said that he’s come to discover experimental music is easy to make, but difficult to make well. For this arc, he started crafting an album that he will continue to work on through the summer, but made two complex and complete songs during Expression. His goal was to make a wall of sound with varied instruments and textures, and ended up with songs that used as many as fifteen layers of instruments. He demonstrated using the melodica and the singing saw, and played “Public Access” – his first song with his own vocals – and Every Light In The House Was On When I Woke Up. At the end of his presentation, he told us that music is a time of reflection – we like music because it resonates with us, and we see ourselves in the music that we love.



Tytus made a comic book during his arc at Brightworks, but informed us immediately that his presentation wouldn’t be about the comic itself, but more about storytelling – which, he said, is a kind of magic. Using post-it notes and the basic storytelling framework, he told the story of his experience during the arc in three acts. He set himself up as the character in the story: a visitor from Poland to a weird country with weird people, being asked to do a project in a short amount of time. During his story, he related the challenges and triumphs of making a comic, including the challenges of printing and the books he read to learn how a comic works, how to use ink and materials in drawing, how to draw, and theory about what makes things interesting, beautiful, or funny. His story was the story of projects – ups and downs – and a beautiful reflection on himself and the school.



mirrors presentations, day 3

Velocity’s presentations happened on Thursday afternoon, introduced one by one by Christie!





Zada told us about her explorations into the tricky and controversial world of makeup. She became aware of the issues surrounding makeup and asked the question, “How does makeup affect women’s self-esteem?” and determined, through her own research and her own use of makeup, that it depends on how you use it and how you view it. Throughout the Expression phase she talked with five different experts, read the book Survival of the Prettiest, grappled with questions about self esteem, and was determined to view makeup as a fun way to experiment with appearance, refusing to give it the power that society places on it. The art aspect was most appealing to her, as displayed in photos of work she did on herself and other people.




Julian, during his first project at Brightworks, built a periscope and spoke in front of us like a natural. He explained that a periscope is used in war to spy on the enemy without being seen, or on the neighbors relax in their yard using mirrors angled at opposing 45 degree angles. He explained being inspired by war and spy techniques and made a goal of building a periscope tall enough to see over the mezzanine wall. During the Expression phase, Julian built four prototypes. The first was solid and made of wood and too heavy. The second solved the weight problem, but he accidentally angled the mirrors incorrectly. The third was too short, but the fourth was stable, light, adjustable, and angled correctly. He told us that the most important thing he learned during the project is that prototypes are very important.




Josh is an extremely prolific writer and has written over an estimated 50,000 words this year between his collection of novels, short stories, poems, research papers, and journal entries. For Mirrors, he wrote five short stories and nine poems about mirrors. He described four ways that a mirror can be used in fiction: a description of a physical mirror, a palindrome, parallel characters, or a reflection on the past. He read aloud his short story “Reflection” – a myth about the creation of the mirror – with utter confidence and expression, a difficult feat for any writer, and followed up with a reading of three of his poems: “Cracked”, about a physical mirror, “Let’s Take a Walk”, a palindrome, and “Had Me at Hello”, again about a physical mirror.




Harry and Ian explained the trials and tribulations of creating a parabolic mirror for their solar forge. They learned trigonometry principles for triangles and angles to create a precise focal point. Though they worked out the math, their first prototype was just a fraction out of alignment, so it ended up not working. They built a second prototype, which they were going to test in Joshua Tree, but a gust of wind knocked it over in the desert and the mirrors broke. Harry and Ian went on to describe mirror after mirror shattering as they tried to create their forge, and bemoaned the fact that every test failed except one, which brought a plastic box up to 110 degrees.




Quinn worked long hours to get his magic show ready for the big debut. Dressed in a long black coat and a top hat, Quinn the Magnificent explained that he wasn’t a sorcerer and what he was doing was just allusions, but asked us to believe in magic while he did his show since magic shows – and magic itself is all about perspective and beliefs. He explained the use of mirrors in magic and allusions to hide objects and showed us a few tricks that took the mirror as its central focus. He did disappearing tricks, card tricks, sleight of hand, and even disappeared into a mirror himself.





JP’s first project at Brightworks was a film, but what he ended up with was not what he initially started with. His first project idea was based on a long, intense script and storyline, which would have been far too complicated and time consuming to film. He ended up doing a more fascinating and beautiful film experiment with a very simple premise: discovering what a subject does in a quiet room lit by a single clamp light in front of a mirror. The result was a wonderful documentary called “Reflectworks” that highlighted some of the more telling moments from the different community members at Brightworks who participated in this wonderful, awkward, moment of pause where the subject sat with just his or her reflection.



mirrors presentations, day 2

Day two of presentations came from the Kleine Band. Phillip gave us an overview of the band’s arc, including their explorations of art, psychology, and leaps in understanding of math, as well as their trip to Joshua Tree.



Tab started us off with a presentation of his film-making project. He began with a quote from Blaine Pascal: “I would have written you a shorter letter but I didn’t have enough time,” and explained that it was an inspiration and source of excitement because small things are just as hard to do as big things. He explained his scriptwriting process, showed us a short film exploration of different kinds of movie shots and the effects a shot has in telling a story, and screened his short film “Sweet and Sour”. The movie was an experiment in using color to show your mood changing the way you see people and how you see yourself.



Jane made a documentary about Brightworks for her project, reflecting her experiences at the school and her unique perspective about life here. She explained the differences between a movie and a documentary – nonfictional, real people not actors – and told us the six types of documentaries. Hers is an expository documentary. To make it, she took about twenty hours of footage and only used about 10% of it, using storyboarding and intensive editing to create her final beautiful piece.



Matylda talked to us about her self portrait series done in graphite. Her goal was to improve her drawing skills and come out of the arc with five well-drawn pictures. She explained the research she did on the history of self-portraiture, expanding her drawing techniques, and studying body and facial proportions. With guidance from her experts Phillip and our artist-in-residence Kate, she made seven portraits that reflect her improving skills, her attention to detail, and her playfulness as a subject and as an artist.



Alicia also studied self portraiture, beginning with examining four self-portraits done by well-known artists. She began by studying these artists’ lives and absolutely loved looking at their work, and described each one of them with care that indicated her true respect and regard for them. As she worked on her self portraits, she said she developed her own style as an artist and techniques for the difficult facial features – like the nose! – and came out of the arc with four incredible drawings of herself.



Aidan explained his interest in the mirror maze that the bands visited at the beginning of the arc and talked to us about the mirror maze he made for rats. He told us about the types of mazes that scientists usually use to test rat intelligence and memory, and said that during his test runs the rats took longer in the maze when he covered the mirrors versus when they were uncovered. His prediction was that the mirror maze kept the rats more motivated because they would often stop to look at themselves in the mirror and might have been scared to see another rat in the same space.



Theo wrote a series of short plays inspired by his Kimochis, which help kids express emotions, and filmed one of them with the message, “It’s okay to be mad, but it’s never okay to be mean.” He was inspired by one of his experiences during the Joshua Tree trip.