I use this lesson to teach or reinforce the concept of cool ("ocean") and warm ("sunset" or "fire") colors. We check out and discuss some famous paintings that use warm palettes, like Van Gogh's Olive Trees with Yellow Sky and Sun, and others with cool palettes, like Monet's Water Lilies. Then students draw and paint several "suns" with warm colors (tempura block paints). I also use this project to teach a little about drawing different facial expressions mostly by changing mouth and eyebrow position and size, and I supply the students with several cartoon facial expression examples that they are free to copy or modify as they choose. They add expressions to their suns and then paint their backgrounds using only cool colors. The result is these boldly colored "Sun Expression" paintings.
This lesson is all about learning the primary colors and beginning to understand what makes them so important. It began with some "magical" color mixing of red, yellow, and blue colored water to make orange, green, and purple. We also read two books: Mouse Paint, the story of three mice who do their own color mixing, and Little Blue and Little Yellow, about two friends who make green when they hug. We also watched a short, fun video about the primary colors from Sesame Street. Students then traced their hands in pencil at least five times and went over their pencil lines with ink. In the second session they completed their artwork by using the primary colors to paint their hands and at least one of the "other" (secondary) colors for their background. For some of these students, this was their first experience with tempura block paints and water, and they did a great job!
First graders continued learning about how the primary colors mix to make the secondary colors and how the color wheel can be used to understand what the different pairs of primaries create. They first used circle tracers to fit six circles in a line across a 6" x 18" strip of drawing paper. Next, they used their own set of watercolor paints to paint the primaries in circles 1, 3, and 5, and the secondaries in the remaining circles. They referenced the classroom color wheel to make sure the correct secondary was painted between the primaries used to make it. In the first part of a second class, I showed them how they could turn their circles into birds facing forward, sideways, and up simply by adding simple shapes and lines. I really liked some of the personal touches the students added to their birds!
Because the 5th grade Social Studies curriculum expands to the entire United States, we began this unit with a discussion of how early expeditions into the western U.S. often included artists who visually documented the landscapes of famous places like Yellowstone and Yosemite. The students learned how the paintings of these and other landscape artists inspired a movement to preserve many of these special places as some of our first national parks.
Turning our attention to the art element of space, we analyzed how the landscape artist creates a sense of depth by varying the relative size of objects, the level of detail, and the color value (how light or dark a color is) from foreground to background in their work. Students started by drawing three levels of mountain ridges on their paper to create a foreground, middle ground, and background. Then, using acrylic paints in red and yellow, they painted a sunset sky above their background ridge. The real challenge came when students had to create light and medium values by mixing either blue, green, or purple with white. On their middle ground ridge, they added small trees with no detail. Finally, they used their pure (no white added) colors to paint their foreground ridge and added taller trees with a little mote detail to this foreground.
This is a complex lesson for elementary students, both in terms of thinking three-dimensionally on a two-dimensional surface and in terms of pulling off the sense of space with paints and brushes. I think they did a fantastic job, though -- their paintings have a real sense of depth!
Fourth graders have been learning about complimentary colors and an artist who put them to use with great success, Henri Matisse. Late in his life, when arthritis made it impossible for him to hold a paintbrush, Matisse focused instead on creating large collages by "drawing with scissors" using painted paper. Students were challenged not only to use complimentary colors in these cutouts, but also to keep their people, animals, objects and entire scenes abstract (not realistic) while also achieving a sense of balance in their overall compositions. While some of these works might appear to be just a collection of random shapes, I actually think these are some of the more challenging pieces our 4th graders attempt to create.
Third graders have been exploring the art principle of implied movement in 2D artworks. We begin by studying how artists use certain types of lines (swirling or diagonal, for example) to lend a sense of movement or energy to their works. Van Gogh's The Starry Night and many of the paintings of Thomas Hart Benton are great examples of achieving this sense of movement through lines.
Thomas Hart Benton, The Wreck of the Old 97, 1943
We also look specifically at the work of Impressionist Edgar Degas, who often repeated the same essential form in his paintings to accomplish this feeling of movement. Students begin their own work by drawing a subject that moves several times across the page, then coloring these subjects with oil pastels. (Because the subject is less important than capturing a feeling of movement, I provide tracers of moving subjects for them to use if desired.) Then they add "movement" types of lines using more oil pastels before finishing off their paintings with tempura block paints, ideally using brushstrokes that also emphasize movement. All in all, the abstract nature of this principle is challenging for young students to grasp, much less portray in an artwork, but this year I think the students did a particularly great job!
After creating abstract art with basic lines and shapes last week (see previous post), this lesson emphasized how simply combining several kinds of simple lines can also create something realisticand familiar, too. The kinders used horizontal ("flat"), diagonal ("slanted"), and zig-zag lines for the cupcake cup, a "bumpy" line for the frosting, and a couple of curved lines for the cherry and its stem. Students then colored sprinkles, the cup, and their cherry with crayons and painted their background with the liquid watercolors I make from my dried out markers. The kids seemed pretty amazed that they could create such a realistic cupcake! (Many thanks to Mrs. Seitz for the basis of this lesson.)
For other teachers reading about this lesson, one key this year that made these a little more successful for the kinders was asking them to trace their pencil lines in sharpie and keep their frosting white (i.e. unpainted). Some did and some didn't, but I've found that when they only use pencil and paint their entire paper, the cupcake usually gets a little lost among all the blending colors.
With the younger grades especially, I put a major emphasis at the beginning of the year on reinforcing the idea that even the greatest art often begins with simple lines and shapes. Over the past two weeks, our first graders have been creating these birds, mostly with a series of simple semi-circles. The lesson is also a great way to reinforce simple concepts of proportion -- both the birds and the semi-circles that comprise them are basically "large," "medium," and "small" versions of the same shapes. Of course, beyond the basic "stack of three birds," the students get to add their own special details, with an emphasis of "filling up the space," something all grades hear from me a lot. Some did an especially awesome job on this work.
I use this brief lesson to teach the students block lettering and then let them individualize their "name art" even more with sections of pattern and color. I teach them to envision the letters of their name written as simple lines as just a "skeleton" -- they've only drawn the "bones" with lines. They draw these "bones" very lightly and then draw block letters ("putting some muscle on their bones") around these lines. (It's not as morbid as it sounds, I promise!). Then they divide the remainder of their space into sections and add different repeating lines and shapes -- or anything other pattern they choose to make their background interesting. Finally, they paint their name art, ideally in a way that makes their block letter name contrast with the background. In the past, the second grade teachers have decorated their hallway with these fancy names, so keep an eye out for them in the 200 building if you're visiting.
Since many of our Kinders are still gaining confidence in creating art, I like to emphasize early on how it only takes "the basics" of lines, shapes, and colors to start. In this lesson which expands on the tale of "The Dot" (see previous post), I teach students that their art doesn't even have to look "realistic" - that it can really be "anything." (In doing so, I'm also introducing them to the idea of abstract art, as well as some of our basic elementsof art -- line, shape, and color.) I feel this sort of work builds confidence by removing the pressure of making something look "real."
We start this lesson by discussing some of the artwork in the room. I ask them to tell me what they see in some of the more figurative works, and they are able to list specific subjects: "trees," "a boat," "a mountain," "a big person," for example. Then I show them a work like Joan Miro's Melancholic Singer, and their answers change to "circles," "shapes," "a lot of red," "lines," as well as some pretty imaginative interpretations!
Joan Miro, The Meloncholic Singer (1955)
Then we get to work on our own abstracts. We call this our "4-3-2-1 Countdown" art. Using the Smartboard for my own example, but encouraging them to make their work their own, I show them how to fill their page with four kinds of lines (straight, curvy, zigzag, and broken), three circles, two triangles, and one square. They can make these elements any size and put them anywhere -- I only encourage them to "fill up the space." After these more specific instructions, I let them add their own lines and shapes for a few minutes before handing out the colored markers and suggesting they color some parts of their work. Despite the similar start, the works are always very different, and, hopefully, a good preparation for when we start using the same elements to create more figurative art.