Tuesday, September 18, 2018
Last school year, due to a late delivery of clay, the second graders (this year's third graders) never did a ceramic project. So I promised them in May that we'd do two clay projects this year! While their second will be a Mother's Day gift made with real clay and will have to wait until next spring, I let them create something with self-drying Crayola Model Magic clay this quarter. Initially we started with the idea of creating goldfish, but I ended up giving them much more creative latitude. That turned out to be much more fun. (One note for other art teachers: This was my first experience with Model Magic, and while it's definitely easy for elementary students to manipulate and paint, it's definitely not durable. Creations with longer, relatively thinner parts were fragile to the point that I ended up sending a few students home with a new chunk of Model Magic to try again.
One way artists convey space (or in this case, depth) is by using perspective. This lesson builds on the fifth graders' previous landscape painting unit, where they learned to depict depth through relative size, detail, and color value.
Fifth graders took a crack at perspective by creating these one-point perspective drawings, learning how to construct their perspectives using a horizon line, vanishing point, and multiple guidelines. They also studied how one-point perspective was used in DaVinci's The Last Supper and other paintings. In this lesson, I de-emphasized the realism of the student's details (for example, letting them know that "lollipop" trees were perfectly acceptable), preferring instead that they concentrated on learning how perspective works to show space or depth. In their final session working on the drawings, I gave students the choice of either adding more details to their landscapes or adding color with watercolor paint.
One rewarding aspect of this lesson was noting how some students who aren't necessarily adept at more "freewheeling" types of art quickly adapted to this more "mechanical" type of drawing. Maybe some future architects and engineers were born!
First graders traveled to the Mexican state of Oaxaca to discover its beautifully carved and painted wooden sculptures called alebrijes. These carvings helped to inspire the recent animated movie, Coco, and I took advantage of the students' familiarity with the movie by starting the lesson with a showing of a video read-aloud called Coca and the Amazing Alebrijes. They also watched a brief video of Oaxacan carvers and painters at work on the real thing.
A bold use of intricate pattern and vivid color is especially evident in these works, so they offer the students great examples of both elements. Students choose an animal tracer from my collection, trace it onto cardstock, and then fill it with any patterns of lines, shapes, and colors their imaginations can come up with. I passed our alebrijes on to Senora Mullock, our Spanish teacher, and she'll soon be temporarily decorating her room with some of the students' creations.
Monday, September 3, 2018
From a science standpoint, the lesson gives us a chance to expand the students' understanding of solar systems (part of the 3rd grade science curriculum) to those new systems of planets that are now being discovered far from our own sun. We discuss the hundreds of new planets orbiting distant stars and currently being discovered by astronomers and how scientists convey what these "exoplanets" might look like with the help of professional artists.
Returning to our own art, we look at the professional planetary renderings and conclude that the artists who drew them made the planets look spherical (gave form to shape) through the use of shadows on one side and highlights on the other (essentially, different color values). Students then use circle tracers to make four or five planets of different sizes on white cardstock. Then they use oil pastels to color in their planets with a "crescent moon" shape of shadow on one side. They then drag this color (with fingers or thumb) across their planets to leave behind increasingly lighter values and then go back and re-emphasize their shadow side.
After cutting out their planets, the artists play with various compositions on a 9x12 piece of black construction paper. They are encouraged to consider visual balance. Of course, the planets must also be arranged so that all their highlight sides and shadow sides face in the same direction, as their system's star is somewhere off the paper. Finally, with white (and occasionally other colored) pencils, the students add astronomical features such as distant stars, moons, comets, meteors, and galaxies. I'm always pleased with how these turn out, and I think the lesson works well both to reinforce a number of important art concepts, with the bonus of being able to explore a science topic a little more deeply.
So far this year, kindergartners have focused mostly on the most basic of the elements of art -- line. This lesson transitions into the next most elemental -- shape. It also exercises a lot of fine motor skills, especially with all the scissor work needed to make this collage, which for many of the students is their first. By making their shapes out of the three primary colors, it's also a chance to reinforce a concept of color they'll be getting into much more in the coming weeks. I also give them some quick pointers on how to make their eyes look a little more realistic with the addition of a reflection dot, a skill they can repeat in a lot of their creations. In the meantime, the students and I get a kick out of how funny these simply made "monsters" turn out.