Posts Tagged ‘art lesson’

Paul Cezanne, The Basket of Apples c. 1893 25 7/16 x 31 1/2 in. (65 x 80 cm) Art Institute of Chicago

The same Fifth graders who got into Abstract Expressionism tried their hands at Post-Impressionism. And, it was a sunny day just a week before school let out. So they weren’t exactly calm, and yet did fabulous work. The image above is the inspiration, which the kids each talked about. We went around and each kid said something they noticed or liked (or didn’t) about the picture – things like the color juxtapositions, how he made the fruit look round, the strange perspective that makes the table look tipped. We also looked at images of paintings by Henri Matisse.

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gotham news 1957
Gotham News, 1955 by Willem de Kooning ( 69 x 79” Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo)

We looked at images of paintings by Helen Frankenthaler, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning, including pictures of the paintings in galleries, and Helen Frankenthaler and Jackson Pollock working in their studios, to show the very large scale of pictures in this school. I also told them where some of these pictures are, and had a snapshot of one (Small’s Paradise, by Helen Frankenthaler) I took in Washington D. C. in March.

I told them how Abstract Expressionism was painting that was not of something, but was the thing, in the words of Jackson Pollock. And how painting is a language, in which you can express things you can’t put into words.

The paintings they liked were both by de Kooning: Excavation and Gotham News, which is the one we talked about. The kids each noted something about the picture, and brought out the bright colors, and how it references people, dogs, layers, cities, noise, excitement, heavy equipment, Batman, buildings and other structures, without being pictures of those things.

It could be too that they were drawn to this picture because it holds up better on the rather dim “interactive white board” projectors the school has. You don’t get the benefit of the brilliant colors of Helen Frankenthaler’s work. We held up the laptop so they could get an idea of the brilliance of the actual paintings.

Inspired by the picture, they made paintings in the manner of Abstract Expressionism. I think some of them felt like they were being naughty, by using a finger or their hands, in making layer on layer, in using gobs of paint, and even in scraping back to get to layers below. But they were not naughty, they were all fully involved in the paint and what it was doing. This was the most energetic and focused group I’ve had, as far as everyone diving in.

We asked them to mix at least 3 colors, and this time not to make a picture of a thing but to paint with colors and shapes and lines, and to try different brush sizes.

As in other classes, each kid got a paper plate palette with primary colors and white, a yogurt container of water, paper towels, a plate to mix colors on, and they had had a short reminder of how you rinse your brush between dipping into the color.

We even had time to clean up and to spend a few minutes looking at our work.


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Over spring break I did a workshop for the Artspaces program of the Sitka Fine Arts Camp and the Sitka Artists’ Coop on painting still life in tempera paint, using overlap, shading, highlights, and perspective to make it look 3-dimensional.

We did this in two two-and-a-half-hour-long sessions. It was a bit long for some of the kids, but they all hung in there, worked hard and got a little beyond their skills they had coming in. It was aimed at kids in grades 4-6. Some of the kids were in second grade, and one was in 8th, but they all had solid skills, and most importantly, confidence.

We set up still life objects on drapes down the center of two tables: fruit and vegetables (I bought a couple of paper bags of overripe veggies at the downtown grocery store), an imitation rooster and sombrero from the Fine Arts Camp, a teapot, toy guitar, some plush toys, and a couple of bottles.

First showed kids slides of Cezanne and Matisse still lifes, for inspiration and for a mini lesson on Modern Art.

Then had them paint a still life they set up, with some objects overlapping others, and had them mix colors. Once they got their big shapes in, had them add shading, cast shadows, and highlights.

Part of the lesson was color complements, the way you can make a color “pop out” by putting its opposite next to it. I pointed that out in the slides, and helped the kids figure out what might make a good background color for an object.

Kids wanted to put their still life objects into a landscape, so second day showed them about the horizon line, and viewpoint: how having the ground or horizon at the bottom of the page, the way most kids start out, indicates the viewpoint, your eye level, even with the ground (or table), which is not a common way to look at things.

I made sketches to show how moving the horizon changes how we read the viewpoint. Horizon high on the paper = high viewpoint, like from a plane or mountain top. It’s not something you can really explain, but I think this made a big difference in the kids’ artwork, that understanding that you can see the ground, or table, under your objects; that in a picture, the ground actually comes up the page.

The second and last session had them start out with just black and white, mixing five grays. I had to help them with that so they’d mix enough. Kids (all of us) are often too lazy to mix enough of a color for our picture.

This is a challenging exercise but very good for stretching the brain. And, the product looks very “advanced.”

We had red, yellow, blue and white tempera paint on paper plate palettes. Most used a second plate for mixing more colors. Each kid had a container of water and folded paper towels for blotting the brush.

This year I have been working with (playing with) entire classes of first and second graders, with the aim of enjoying and looking at great art, and enjoying creating their own, making a safe space for them to try things and not be “wrong.” So it was fun to do something different, and help kids who already have some confidence to work on their technical skills.

And finally, photo of the ratatouille (came out pretty good – used this recipe, with some variation:  http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Ratatouille-with-Penne-102256 ) made with the pretty, if over ripe, peppers, eggplant and tomatoes we painted.

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