Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Cartoonist uses art to build childhood imagination

Banana Man and Marshmallow Monster showed up at Gearhart Elementary School on Feb. 8 in the form of cartoonist Mark Kistler, who presented two how-to-draw in 3D assemblies.

Kistler's television series, "Mark Kistler's Imagination Station" has been broadcast for more than 20 years on PBS stations across the nation. The Gearhart Elementary School's Parent Teacher Organization sponsored the cartoonist's visit.

Gearhart Principal Sande Brown described Kistler's presentation as a real hands-on lesson.

"The kids had paper and pencils so that they could participate and not just be observers," said Brown. "The students learn a lot better by doing and not just watching. That's why this presentation had so much more value to it."

According to Brown, Kistler's outgoing personality helps him connect with the students.

"Through this presentation, the children see someone other than a teacher who actually has a career doing something that they could aspire to be," said Brown. "Because we don't have an art teacher here at our school, this presentation also helps the students learn important art skills."

During the presentation, Kistler uses an overhead projector and a computer with the cartoons beamed to two screens in front of the assembly. He leads the students in drawing cartoon images like Banana Man and Marshmallow Monster.

But it is not a basic drawing or cartoon presentation. Kistler actually becomes one of the kids. Adding wild hair on one of the images, he draws and lets out yells. He also uses a small red sound box with crowd applause to reward the students for their drawings.

The students roar with laugher and cheers.

"I loved it, it was so much fun because he had so much entertainment along with it," said fourth grade student Dalton Smith. "He was making all the kids laugh while he was pretending to make the sounds of his (cartoon) characters, like screeching."

Fifth grade student Sami Thornton said she learned a lot at the presentation.

"I thought it was totally awesome," said Thornton. "Actually, I showed my mom, and she thought my drawings were awesome, too. The best part was when he was drawing the craters, I really liked his techniques."

"It was really fun doing the 3-D, because I've never seen a cartoonist before," said third grade student Angela Flores-Reyes.

Kistler noted his 35-year background as a teacher helps him connect to each student during the 3D presentation.

"I've learned by watching other master teachers," said Kistler. "But it is the teachers here at Gearhart School that are the heroes. They have the kids all day. I just have them for one hour. I have such admiration for the teachers here."

Kistler's goal is that each local student would appreciate drawing a little more after his presentation.

"This is like teaching someone how to read," Kistler said. "You know when you read a good book and how you get into that world. That's how drawing is for me. Time and space disappear. It's a joy and a passion for me."

Kistler calls drawing a fundamental human communication skill.

"It's an ability that we all have when we are kids, but at some point we believe we can't draw," Kistler said. "I want to shatter that myth. Everybody can draw."

Kistler acknowledges more and more college students are emerging with the skill to draw and using that skill to enter the entertainment field.

"Yes, I suspect we will see more and more full length 3D cartoon movies," Kistler said. "They are like the Internet. They are here to stay. The young cartoonists are able to hone that excitement they have for technology, for the computer, the social network, or for animation and put it to use using their imagination. But the first skill they must have is that drawing ability."

According to Kistler each child possess an imagination.

"That is the key," said Kistler. "They can use that imagination and go to infinity and beyond."

Kistler, 47, lives in Houston, Texas with his wife and their four children.

"I flew 4,000 miles to draw a screaming marshmallow with these children and their teachers," Kistler said. "Is this a great job or what? It is a dream come true."


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tips on signing up for an exercise program

If you want to look fabulous, feel great, boost your immune system, lift your mood, stay youthful and sleep well, there's something you can do: exercise.

Grab your gym bag -- or get it back out after your already waning New Year's enthusiasm -- and we'll help you through the basics of signing up for an exercise program and sticking with it.

Experts say the No. 1 reason we start enthusiastically and then taper off is because we are not motivated, so pick a reason that gets you going: You want to reduce your risk of disease, you want to lose weight and look better, you want more energy or you love your family and want to be around longer.

Once you have that, you need to skip the excuses: "I'm too tired" or "I don't have enough time," or the classic "I don't like exercise." Then you get to the last step: Make a plan and set your goal. Here's where you plan a fitness routine that includes cardio, strength training and other exercises that you can do with or without weights.

But first you need to find a gym: This is the time to do it. Most area gyms are offering deals right now for the start of the new year.

"The first thing you have to do is to take a good look ... and ask yourself, what has worked for you before? What are your goals? Try and write down what you want to achieve. And then join the gym," said Gregory Florez, 51, spokesperson for the National American Council on Exercise and a health and fitness coach. "Ask yourself if you need a hands on trainer? Or intense aerobic classes? Did you lose weight with high intensity kickboxing before? Then narrow down the choices." "It sometimes costs less than a dollar a day when it's a zero enrollment fee and $24.99 or $29.99 a month, like it is now," said Pat Cuoco-Barber, assistant manager at Gold's Gym in Niskayuna, N.Y. Cuoco-Barber, who has been in the fitness industry for 30 years, says the only foolproof way to ensure that you will like the gym is to sign up for the seven-day pass or the free trial they give out.

"Try out the gym at the time that you have to work out, then you get a feel for what it will be like when you come in, how crowded it will be, can you still work out on the equipment you want, etc.," she said.

"Do the free orientation, meet the trainers. Don't be afraid to ask if the trainers are nationally certified, don't be intimidated." And one more thing, she added, "Make sure it's clean." The time to check everything out is in the initial visit.

Contracts can be confusing. Here's the bottom line you need to focus on: Usually, there is an enrollment fee and then a monthly fee.

Sometimes, the monthly fee is a certain amount for say, two years and then it goes up or it stays at one consistent rate always. You need to check out the small print and check it out before you sign up with the gym.

Gym veterans like Shachi Chandra, 27, have joined one gym after the other and they always go for the small monthly fee.

"It works best for me. I don't want to pay an arm and a leg to work out," said Chandra, who goes to Gold's Gym.

Some gyms offer a flat fee but then have a higher fee that includes classes.

"Find what fits your budget best. Think about location. If you're taking classes up here but you live in New York City or Syracuse, you will then have access to a gym near you when you go home," said Noah Poissant, fitness coach at Bally's in Crossgates Mall in Guilderland.

Make it a point to ask when you join a chain whether they will allow you to work out in different locations.

Bally's will allow you all access all over the state, but most are location-specific. Be sure to check this out first before you join.

But Poissant finds the logistics are not the main thing consumers worry about.

"The biggest misconception newcomers have is that the gym is very crowded and they will have no place to work out, but that's not true, and even when we are crazy packed, there's always machines available," he said.

Make sure you're comfortable: If you want a women-only gym, there are places like Curves, which design 30-minute workouts specifically for women. They go through a circuit of machines twice.

So, no more excuses. Just pick a gym and start the journey to a newer, fitter you.