I haven’t written a blog post in three weeks. It’s not because I am no longer teaching art. It’s not because I’m not living a life I feel like commenting on. I’m just crazy busy. I stayed on at the department store I wrapped for during the holidays, selling women’s clothing. All told, it’s as if I’m working full-time now, plus doing the Mom and Wife thing, plus serving in my church. And oddly enough, I find that I need empty space in my schedule for writing. I’m calling it “Brain-space.” It’s that quiet time that is left AFTER you have used up the planning time and the to-do list and the needed conversations, when your brain can be quiet for a bit and dream up new things. Apparently my own art uses that same “Brain-space” as well.
But, here I have a strangely sleepless night, having tossed and turned a couple of hours, and I’ve finally reached my Brain-space. So I thought I would use this time to show you a little of our Mexican wrap-up. My focus on Mexican art was its folk-art, and especially its bright colors and patterns. Third through sixth grades tackled form in the medium of paper mache, inspired by Oaxican alebrijas. Paper mache is NOT something I am skilled at, and apparently even less at teaching it. However, it was an introduction to something new, and the students who were willing to be patient and careful were quite successful, I think.
A 4th grader's alligator.
A 5th grader's cameleon.
6th grade butterfly
Kindergarten practiced a guided observation of a Mexican toucan, followed by a guided drawing. These were fun!
a homeschool kinder toucan with a grape
another homeschool kinder
I’ll add a school kinder toucan as soon as I find where I put those photos!
Here in my third year of teaching, I have only just introduced Cubism to my students, and to my younger students, at that. It is not one of my favorite schools of art, and I hadn’t really settled on how to communicate its principals. And then it struck me: PLAY! Kids relate to someone asking those “What if?” questions. They can understand someone just playing around with something, and so I took our fall inspiration to Cubism for my first through fourth grades. So after explaining Cubism’s invention as the result of a couple of artists asking those questions and playing with ideas on canvas, I introduced in Powerpoint several different Cubist artworks as examples of some of its principals. I was so thrilled when the children, instead of complaining of the strangeness of the artworks, were delighted to look for ways in which each artwork showed how the artist was playing around with the chosen element or principal.
First and Second grades then took sample leaves I had gathered that day and used them for reference in drawing contours for several overlapping leaves of their own in oil pastel. They then took straight edges and added several lines running through their artwork. They observed the colors of their fall leaves, and we began painting the shapes we had created breaking up our leaves with lines, changing color as we crossed a line. We also used a limited pallette of red and yellow, with much blending encouraged! I hoped for lots of tones of orange! I am really enjoying these.
also first grade
Third and Fourth grades needed a quick one-day version, so after the presentation I passed out stencils of fall items: leaves, turkeys, acorns. They overlapped these, colored solid in oil pastels. But then, after drawing lines through their artwork, they were to rearrange their new, broken pieces, glued as a collage on a new paper. They had a lot of fun with this, and really, that was my goal. PLAY with your art!
third grade collage
fourth grade collage
I love playing with Van Gogh, especially with children, because his powerful lines and strong images are so easy to reach them with. So when I saw Katie’s fall-themed Starry Night for her scarecrow, I was inspired to try something similar with my homeschool class. Our inspiration was “Landscape with Wheat Sheaves and Rising Moon”:
Van Gogh's "Landscape"
We used oil pastels to create our own “Landscape,” but our moons rose over pumpkin patches, with simple persepective showing size changing as we moved from foreground to midground, and attempting to show highlights and shadow relative to our light source. I think these second and third graders did a great job!
There are a few tried and true lessons that kinders can be counted on to really enjoy and feel successful with, and as much as I love to try new art projects, I can’t deny these fledgling artists the opportunity to crow with the sense of accomplishment. In the fall particularly, they love to tell parents “I did that!” when they draw their pumpkins after the annual pumpkin patch field trip, and when they paint their sunflowers.
I love how quickly these little ones catch on to the concept of contour lines, but this year’s kinder class was especially sharp. After I followed a glue bottle’s contour on the white board with marker and showed the result, before I even called up a student to be my next contour model, one of them cried out, “We have a contour line!” They were excited to try to transfer their perception of my pumpkin’s contour to their papers in oil pastel. This was also their first formal oil pastel project, and they were so excited to see how the colors layered and blended. This year’s class at Faith may be a rambunctious little group, but they are also excited to learn and quick to apply what they do learn. Some first pumpkins:
Homeschoolers get to draw pumpkins, too. Note that our pumpkins are still growing out of the ground, like the ones they visit on their field trip.
We also paint sunflowers. We observe real sunflowers, too, and start their centers with oil pastel. In the past, we have painted our petals, double dipping to mix our paint on the paper. This year I wanted to try something new, and tested it on my class of 5 homeschoolers first. (Poor guinea pigs.) This time I introduced spatter painting and we spattered yellow and black over our center dots. Then we glued torn tissue paper (using liquid starch) petals around our center dot, and then painted our black outline. The kids seemed to have a lot of fun, and I think their sunflowers turned out quite dramatic, but it was a MESS. The capital M kind. I’ve done all these things before, but never all on one project. I had a wonderful time and would repeat it again with any group of a half dozen or less kinders, but I do NOT plan to take it to school! Those kinders will joyfully paint their sunflowers.
I had the joy and privilege of creating art with my homeschool class today. I have nine students grades K through 3, and they really are a joy to teach. Sometimes they get the benefit of my experience with lessons with my school students, and sometimes it’s the other way around. Sometimes, with the homeschoolers, I may even still be working out the kinks in a new lesson. I know I can do that with them. Today was one of those days.
The younger students are doing a variation on the Faith Lutheran kinders’ colorwheel caterpillar, a project I KNOW I saw somewhere on a blog, but for my life cannot find it now. (Anyone care to help me so I can credit it?) We painted 4×4 squares with large dots, inspired by The Dot last week, mixing primaries for secondary colors. We double-dipped our brushes, so they would have to remember that red and yellow make orange every time they reloaded.
But my older students practiced mixing secondary colors with a project idea I just came up with this week. It sounded like fun to me, so I ran with it, even though it was only half-developed in my head. I knew I wanted to draw umbrellas. We would draw primary umbrellas in a row, and then under them mix oil pastels for secondary-colored umbrellas, located according to their parent colors, like so:
the mistakes from which I learned
I kept looking at them, thinking something wasn’t right. Then I realized I had made the umbrellas like tulips, all messed up on the scallops. They should be curved up, and they are pointed. Obviously, I taught them differently than my model showed. I also really didn’t like how dark the red and blue made the purple, so I decided to walk the kids through my evaluation and point them to light blue and red instead. See the heart in the corner where I tested the new color combo? It was only this morning that I worked through what shapes to direct to make people for the umbrellas, but it was a great place to introduce neutrals. The background was their idea, during the lesson! And then we added rain as a watercolor wash, as prayerful hope to end the drought.
One student’s proof that I did fix some things!
I had fun walking through this little lesson (review for most) in color mixing. Teaching really benefits from being able to adjust on the fly. I would love to hear other examples of tweaking lessons in the last minute!
Kindergarten finished up the year with paper sculpture Carle caterpillars on oil pastel fruits. I emphasized the circle hidden in each fruit that they can build on, and they chose which of the book’s fruit to draw for their caterpillar. This idea was courtesy of B-Art-Z. I don’t have my model anymore, so offer a student’s adorable version:
A Hungry Caterpillar and an orange
Filed under Art, Teaching
For some reason most of my February lessons seem to be hanging around into March. I thought I would be done with these, but the kids showed me differently. We are currently wrapping up first and second grade still life collages:
model for bowl of grapes
Some of the grapes still have no highlights or shadows, because I have yet to demonstrate this to the class (will do Thursday), and this is my demo piece, after all. I hope they see how magically their grapes become 3D! We have stickers to help them remember the direction of their light source, but I know this will be challenging. This project will be accompanied by a very little lesson on John 15:5.
Kindergarten will finish their springtime snowshoe hare collage:
- spring showshoe
The primary goal of this project is really to practice cutting curves, which is another goal on the above older classes’ grapes as well. They also practice overlapping, which so far has only partially been successful. But that is what practice is for, right?
And yesterday we had another day of illuminated manuscripts in fifth and sixth grades (which I think will finish up next week), and abstract landscapes of the Flint Hills in third and fourth grades, which are sooooo close to being finished! My demo included some “mistakes” to help the children see the importance of stroke direction with their oil pastels. It originally had some hills left blank as well, so I could demo how to get the light effect of the waving brown grasses.
Flint Hills demo
Seventh grade began their watercolor landscapes of the Flint Hills two weeks ago. They have very little experience with watercolor, or landscape for that matter, so we are taking it very slowly, small steps at a time. I expect to finish toward the end of March.
I really thought long on how to do our Laurel Burch-style cats. I wanted vibrant colors and patterns like hers, but I need the kids to be successful without making a mess of their work. I tried a cat in chalk pastel, with oil pastel details, on black paper.
Then I tried oil pastels on white paper, glued to black paper decorated with chalk pastels, outlined in silver sharpie. I think white oil pastel may sub for the silver. I just don’t have that many. Definitely, I prefer this.
I can get luminescence from the chalk, but not vibrancy. Now I just need to put my Powerpoint together!
This was a full and rewarding teaching week (partly evidenced by an empty week of blogging, having to wait until a weekend morning to write!). Fifth grades and up worked on a snowman I found at For the Love of Art that really excited me for having the potential to introduce so many concepts for creating space. The snowmen were a hit with the students, and in a single class period served as a pretest for which concepts need the most work in future for these kids who are just seeing some of these concepts for the first time. We also don’t work with colored pencils very often, so I was glad for a chance to reinforce how to get the most out of them!
Kinders finished their torn paper owls, mostly. A few are just SNAILS with anything with glue. Unfortunately, my owl model flew the coop, TWICE. The first time I lost it, it had blown away without my noticing, and I found it against the school’s fence. This time, I have no idea where it is. Put somewhere for safekeeping, no doubt.
Homeschoolers have moved on to Post Impressionists and created their own Van Gogh Starry Nights using oil pastels. They also did a little pointillistic flower. We walked through this study of his most popular work together, and here is my result:
My students’ studies can be found on their Artsonia, linked at right.
February should see the completion of all the Blue Dogs at the school, which have been as big a hit as I could have hoped for. It has also spurred some creative variations, which I have loved! Snow globes will be their next project. The homeschoolers will move on to the penguins the first and second graders were so successful with earlier this month. Fifth-seventh grades will learn how to polish an artwork using their Thiebauds, and then try Laurel Burch-inspired abstract cats.
I am so encouraged lately! I took on this job with a plan that I believed would enable children to be more artistic and enthusiastic about art, but I had never taught art in a school setting. I didn’t KNOW that it would; I just believed in it. In teaching, and with art especially, you want to see that students are actually absorbing what you teach in such a way that they can apply it elsewhere. Really, my philosophy in art ed is to equip and empower children to express themselves visually. Sometimes it may not look like I am doing that, because my lessons may use guided drawings, a required subject or method, or very rarely, tracers or templates. Some art ed philosophies support just turning children loose to explore. I want to turn children loose within certain parameters, a fenced field as it were, to explore. And I want to train them in the use of their tools of exploration. It has been my experience that children begin to grow discouraged with their art skills somewhere around 3-5th grades. My hope is to avoid as much of that as possible, and retain and feed their enthusiasm for creating and creativity within a semi-formal art program.
This week leads me to believe I AM on the right track! I guided the first and second grades through an oil pastel of a baby penguin (all neutrals and simple shapes), first observation, then drawing.
The photo we used for our drawing.
Then I turned them loose with photos of a variety of adult penguins and told them to pick one to observe and draw. I had been told that the baby penguin drawing has shown up in chalk at recess and in free times during class, which is wonderful, of course. But I get most excited when I hear our earlier lesson on horizon line is showing up in other landscape drawings for class! And this week I got to see them take off with their own skills! Every penguin was set outdoors in a suitable environment with a horizon line, and almost every penguin is uniquely identifiable. They have come SO FAR! I am proud of them, but especially excited at how excited THEY are to find that they can look at something and reproduce it in their own way!
PLEASE check out my students’ awesome penguins at Artsonia!
Oddly enough, that sense of validation came in very handy this morning at our library’s new Kid Lit Book Club for grown-ups. We were discussing Patricia Polacco, one of my many fav children’s book authors. They showed a little video she made discussing her life and home and philosophy and such, and one of her comments was about NOT inflicting formal art programs on children. I just thought to myself, “I guess it depends on the formal art program. And on the little art student.” My kids love discovering that they can make their own colors. Or in the case of primaries, that they can’t. They were excited to realize that the sky meets the ground, and they could show that in their pictures. Almost none of them feels restricted, but rather freed! We don’t make it a bunch of rules, but rather a quest of discovery. I am loving teaching art!