Sunday, November 28, 2010

Action Figures

4th graders will be spending the next 2 class sessions creating action figures (with focus on proportion) and a background that demonstrates an understanding of the color wheel and color systems.

We start with kids measuring their own heads and figuring out how many heads tall they are (a little math never hurt anybody!). They'll use paper pieces (cut to 7 1/2 heads to the body) to position a figure doing something active.  I like to use Keith Haring's "Six Dancing People" and Bernard Stanley Hoyes, "In the Spirit" to illustrate how artists use movement in the human body. We often brainstorm some activities that people do that involve body movement. Sometimes kids pose for each other to get the joints and angles the way they want them.  Then I have them loosely make a contour drawing around the pieces.  I have to caution them NOT to trace or we end up with strange block figures!!
Next, students paint their figure using tints of acrylics.  If kids finish early they can use the body pieces to make other poses and try some gesture drawings.

On another day, when the paint is dry, children draw a ground line and cut off the bottom portion of their painting (cutting around the legs).

They glue their painting on a piece of construction paper that is the complement color of their figure.  After drawing a few lines to divide the upper part of their drawing they use crayons, oil pastels or markers to make line designs in each section.  I ask that one segment be colored solid in the same color as their bottom construction paper and that each section demonstrate some color system that they can explain (ie. primary colors, complementary colors, warm colors, etc).  I usually use Matisse's "Woman in a Purple Robe" when I talk about background patterns and colors.

Also, when I did this lesson as a regular classroom teacher, we also wrote cinquains (link: to illustrate the action of the figure and attached them to the final mounting.  I don't think I'll have time for that this year, though. 
I'll post some finished results when I get them.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

It's time to start thinking about cooking now.  Hope everyone has a happy turkey day!! 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Chihuly Inspired

Early this school year, fueled with ideas from many blogs on Dale Chiluly's glass art, I started shopping for #6 plastic (found it at our local Smart & Final)

and saving my large cranberry juice bottles to use as a base. A few of the blogs I remember particularly are MaryMaking (, Art With Mr. E, ( and .  There was one other where the teacher used 9 oz. clear cups that was interesting, too, but I can't find it now.

Anyway, the other day I went to my box of recycled stuff where I had dumped my large plastic bottles and every last one of them was GONE!!  Perhaps someone thought he or she was being helpful by dumping them for me -- I don't know -- but I knew I couldn't drink enough juice in the time left before we started the lesson, so I went to the 4th grades and put out the call to the kids, hoping I wouldn't get 100 large bottles!!! (I only needed 4 or 5.)

A few years ago, when visiting Seattle, I had the opportunity to see a lot of Chihuly's work (including his Bridge of Glass) and visit the Museum of Glass in Tacoma where they have a "hot shop" with guest artists making glass art.  It was fascinating!!  I showed my class some video clips from Dale Chihuly's website (see my gadget of Sites I Like for the link).  We talked about line designs and how placing complementary colors next to each other creates contrast, and then they were off,  armed with permanent markers and the clear plastic.

When the kids were finished I popped their work into a small convection oven we have at school and watched the magic happen.
I did this outside in the hallway today. It was a breezy day -- perfect,  because I couldn't find any definitive info on the web guaranteeing me that the fumes wouldn't give me some dreaded disease.  I wasn't taking any chances.

After the shapes "baked and curled" I used a glue gun to attach them to the large bottle bases and "Lo and behold..."

Each class got one of their "teamwork" creations and the Art Room gets one, too.  Before I started hot gluing I tied a heavy piece of fish line around the neck of the bottle so we could hang the installation from the ceiling.  I know a lot of folks have posted Dale Chihuly inspired photos lately, but these turned out so whimsical that I couldn't resist the temptation to share!!

CA Content Standard - 2.8 Use complementary colors in an original composition to show contrast and emphasis.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Watercolor Practice Puzzle

Last year my students loved a set of cardboard quilting squares that could be assembled in a variety of ways to create different "quilt" tops.  I thought that this year's students could make similar quilt squares to practice using watercolors and mixing secondary colors.

Each child will have 4-6 squares of watercolor paper cut 3" X 3".  They'll draw a diagonal line from corner to corner and then another from the midpoint of that line to one of the other corners. (see sample)
They will trace over the pencil lines with a heavy crayon line. This creates one large triangle and 2 smaller triangles.

Using watercolors, kids will paint the 2 smaller triangles with any 2 primary colors and then mix those 2 colors together to get a secondary color to use to paint the larger triangle.

When the squares dry, students can move them around like puzzle pieces to make different designs.  They will soon want to combine their squares with those of their neighbors and pretty soon I anticipate seeing a large quilt design materializing on the rug!! What fun!!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Work Behind the Art Lessons

I may have mentioned that a generous art framing shop in our town is contributing their scraps to me for our art room.  Once a week I hop in my little Subaru
(yes, Phyl a silver Forester -- but no cute flowers like on yours!) and haul my stash over to school. Then it's load up all the illustration board into my cart, negotiate the stairs by the trash area to get into the building and start cutting the beveled edges off the matt board so that it is safe for the kids to use.  I usually work as long as my fingers and back can stand it and a parent usually stops by on Thursdays to help me out.

What made it all worth it today was looking out onto my patio at the great view and, as always, knowing that all this board is going to become exciting art!!
Oh, the things we do for art!!!!!!!!!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Watercolor Control

Since this week is the start of Parent Conferences and I don't have any classes on Wednesday, I have extra time to think and plan.  I had my first meeting with 4th graders last week and noticed that many seemed unsure of how to control their watercolors. Some forgot to blot the brush and ended up with puddles of water, others didn't add enough water to get a "flow" and some never did get the hang of cleaning the brush in water before changing colors.  So I am thinking about having them do a short project designed to address these issues.

First they'll trace a contour line around some art tools, having at least one media or tool go "off the page." We'll use a watercolor tray for sure, and then maybe scissors, paintbrush, pencil, etc.

Next we'll paint the watercolors themselves using different techniques:  wet on wet, wet on dry, salt, plastic wrap blotting, etc. Because the area is so confined, I am thinking kids can really focus on the media.

When the painting is done, students will outline loosely with black markers.  Finally, thinking about composition, they'll cut out the arrangement and glue on a black background.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sketchbook Project

Our school has a furlough day today (due to budget issues), which means nobody has access to the school even if they want to go in.  So I thought it would be a good time to focus on my Sketchbook Project (see icon on my sidebar for link).  I learned about the project from Phyl's blog, There's a Dragon in my Art Room, and immediately was intrigued and sent away for the sketchbook.  Like Phyl said in her blog when she received the book in the mail, it is a bit daunting to look at 40 empty, white pages and know that you have committed to filling them by a deadline in January.  However, I gave it some thought for a few days and then plunged in.  You choose a topic when you register -- mine is "it's raining dogs and cats", which they say you can consider loosely as your direction.  I decided to divide my book into 6 chapters, which helped give me direction and a structure for variety. The biggest challenge for me is actually that the pages are quite thin. You can see how some of the watercolor and ink from the previous page bleeds through on the left. I am using ballpoint pen to minimize that.
If I had it to do over again, I would probably take the time to replace them with thicker paper to accommodate watercolor (it wouldn't have taken then much extra time), but I was impatient to start in.

It has really been fun and not nearly as time consuming as I originally feared.  Each of my chapters has incorporated dogs and/or cats in some way. The last chapter is going to be some kind of collage with photos of pets (past and present) that have touched my life.  I went over to my mom's yesterday to plow through her old photo albums to get pictures of our childhood pets to scan, print, alter and collage into the sketchbook.
It was fun sharing the search with my mother and now it's time to get busy.  If anyone is looking for a fun project click on the icon at the bottom of this blog for details. They have extended the deadline for registering until Nov. 15 and the sketchbook is due back Jan. 15. They have also added some good new topics (that I'd have chosen if they had been available when I registered!!)

The only thing that might impede my progress today is that since I started writing a large, noisy machine filled with icky black tar has arrived next door to begin a roofing project.  Not sure I can stand the smell for long -- might have to go shopping instead (oh, well!!).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Classroom Mural

This week I have only one art class, so am using the time to clean up my laptop desktop a bit.  I came across this picture of the mixed media Underground Railroad mural that my 2nd graders did last year in our regular classroom.  Based on Jeanette Winter's book, Follow the Drinking Gourd and F. N. Monjo's, Drinking Gourd, it took several weeks to complete with children working in teams on various sections.  The first team was responsible for laying in the background with tempera.  They did this on a big piece of butcher paper outside (as the mural was probably about 9 or 10 feet long).  Next, each child created his or her own "safe house" log cabin out of cut, notched construction paper "logs" that they assembled much like Lincoln Logs and the people who lived in it.  Each safe house had a "secret symbol" to designate whether or not it was a part of the Underground Railroad. Then groups of 3 or 4 kids worked together to plan their sections of the mural and execute the collaged parts.  We had a group for the plantation, one for the stars, forests, roadways, Lake Erie, etc.
One of our parents photographed the finished mural at Open House and posted it on a webpage.  He and his son created it so that when you drag your mouse over certain areas of the mural pop-ups explain the significance of that spot.  Soooo clever!! Here is a link to that page:
I would encourage classroom teachers who haven't done this recently to give thought to trying out a mural project, perhaps linking the subject matter to a social studies or literature unit.  It isn't something I am likely going to be able to accomplish in our Art Studio this year, but it is such a fun learning experience for kids. I like that it interjects art into the curriculum, but even more, I love the spirit in the classroom when everyone is working together on a project like this!

Thursday, November 4, 2010


Every summer I spend a couple of weeks with my brother and sister-in-law in Montana.  This is the view from their back yard. I packed my traveling watercolors last summer and spent some time with my sketchbook looking at this scene and recording the sight.  I  remember thinking about how I would paint the background with all those trees fading off as far as the eye could see.  

Since we've spent some time drawing and shading bamboo in art class this week, I want to have the kids transfer that lesson to some other cylinders, so I plan to use this photo (and a few others I got from Google images) as a springboard for our forest watercolor. We'll focus on what colors you see behind all the trees and how the trunks are shaded.

The first part of this lesson will be to discuss and model masking the trunks with Scotch Painter's Tape (I got the kind for delicate surfaces).  It is important that the kids NOT press too hard on the tape as they are applying it. Once the trunks are taped, students will use watercolors to quickly paint the background colors, working on keeping the watercolors fluid and loose.
Next, the students will remove the tape carefully.  Even if it sticks a bit, that's OK because it will give the trunks more texture and a more uneven contour line.
When the watercolor has dried a bit more (10 minutes in our warm weather!!), children will again use watercolors to paint the trunks, mixing complementary colors to make the browns.  I would like them to try all 3 sets of complements so they have experiences with the various browns they can mix. (red/green, orange/blue, purple/yellow) While each trunk is still wet, they will mix a teeny bit of black with the brown used to paint that trunk to create a shade to drop in on the side of the trunk away from their light source, giving the illusion of 3 dimension.

Our next project (about Dale Chihuly) will be working with complementary colors used next to each other to create contrast, so I want this lesson to look at complements with another purpose in mind.
Students can add some extra texture on the trunks using crayon and a few skinny trees in the background, if they wish. We'll lightly sponge tempera paint to give the illusion of foliage as a final step. 

This is a fun project to do and there are many images on Google images to share with the class for reference as they are working.  

CA Content Standard 2.1 Use shading (value) to transform a two-dimensional shape into what appears to be a three-dimensional form

Monday, November 1, 2010

Light Source #2

This week I start with a new group of students -- 4th graders.  They will be starting with the bamboo cylinder lesson that I posted earlier, with emphasis on light source and glass artist, Dale Chihuly.  I have the kids use a little icon of light to remind themselves where the highlights and shadows will be.

During this study of light source, kids who finish their cylinders early have a chance to choose apples, gourds, pumpkins, etc. to try pencil studies.  I just cut some 5" X 5" donated scratch paper and let them experiment away!  I always find I have to remind children to actually look at the object and draw what they see.  With little ones there is often the inclination to work fast and forget to look up at their still life!!  Since we have limited time together, I am hoping kids will try this at home.