Left to their own devices and given a few simple materials, kids will make art on their own. Shouldn't this tell us something about our innate need to create, to beautify, to express ourselves?
Give a Kindergartner some sidewalk chalk and leave him or her alone and some happy things might happen! These two sidewalk chalk drawings were done by Kindergartners at recess on two separate occasions. In each case, no adult told them what to draw, how to draw it, or made any suggestions.
The drawing of the person was done on a cloudy day when rain was threatening. It is hard to tell from this photo, but the drawing was much larger than life size, stretching across the sidewalk to a length far beyond the height of its artist.
Seeing this on the sidewalk outside the grocery store was a happy surprise that made me smile. I hope many others smiled when they saw it, too!
Got a sidewalk?
Go out and make some art!
Monday, June 23, 2014
Sunday, April 13, 2014
We started with my standard question: "What do you notice?" I charted the students' responses, encouraging them to identify whether their "noticing" was of the Picasso, the Klee, or whether it applied to both of the works. I asked students to use the artists' names rather than saying "the one on the left" or pointing and saying "that one" or "the round one" or "the pencil one." Those attributes that applied to both were charted down the center. Since these particular second graders are familiar with Venn Diagrams, they understood right away how to read this finished chart after I added the "boxes" around the lists.
I started with a short demonstration of the "mystery painting" technique, drawing a large face with lots of lines for hair and showing students how I could almost see the drawing if I held the paper up to the light. I added a line pattern in the background for interest, and then modeled painting in blocks of color. I emphasized that I was not following the lines, but letting the drawing come through on its own as I painted.
As they drew, I reminded students to press hard with the crayon and try to use the whole paper, either adding more to their subject matter or perhaps including a pattern in the background for interest. As they were ready, they painted over their drawings.
Looking at these two art works helps the students see how a face can take up a whole page, and to realize that one doesn't need to "follow lines" when painting. It also gives students the opportunity to see and talk about representational abstract art, and to become comfortable with the idea that a face drawing does not need to be absolutely realistic to be successful.
All in all, a successful lesson, during which a good time was had by all!
Friday, January 31, 2014
One day in a second grade class, with a little free time to kill, I just thought I'd have students draw a large heart and make it beautiful. The word "decorate" just didn't seem right to me, but it was precisely that word that finally made the difference. I did do a little modeling to begin with, just to give them some ideas, and invited them to use as many colors as they wanted, as many designs as they wanted, and to fill the paper completely.
It was interesting watching them work. While most of the students really got into it and showed some thought in their designs, a few seemed at a complete loss as to what they could do with their heart. When I teach art lessons to kids, I always emphasize how artists usually create a plan, think about what they want to do and choose colors carefully. There are so many times that I see students just slap something together, or don't really look at the space they have to work with. It's very intriguing.
In the end, the results of this activity were interesting. We only worked with crayon on this particular day, but if I had planned it out beforehand I might have had some watercolors available, or some scraps of paper, especially decorative paper, for them to use to enhance their hearts even more. I might have done more modeling (as much as I hate to!) or a short lesson on patterning, or bordering, or ways to combine different types of lines. I guess I just really believed they would do all that all by themselves. They did produce some fun designs, and they had a good time, and maybe that's the best thing.
The most interesting thing of all to me in this whole lesson is that this is the same class that created some beautiful Zentangles just a few weeks before. I fully expected that would carry over to this activity, and it did not, but maybe that's ok too!
Friday, October 25, 2013
We started with a picture walk through the book Look! Look! Look! by Tana Hoban, then I taught them how to make a small viewfinder. I had them look at my face, move the viewfinder closer and further away, look at their own hand, and look around the room in general. This was to give them an opportunity to look at the environment the way an artist does, blocking out unneeded parts and just experimenting with placement in the viewing window.
Next, they made a cropping window and placed it over their drawing to help them choose how to crop their composition. This was kind of like using a giant viewfinder. They drew a pencil line for the cropping lines, then sponge painted inside that square with orange watercolor.
By now it was about one hour before the end of the day. There was just enough time left to cut on the pencil lines to trim the excess off their drawings and mount their "close up" compositions on black paper. And to show off.
This turned out to be a pretty successful lesson with a lot going for it. The students were intrigued by the viewfinders, and I was thrilled to see that hardly anyone drew tiny pictures. I think making the preliminary sketches (and modeling that process) helped a lot. If I had wanted to stretch this lesson out even further, I could have had the students do all the measuring for their cropping window mats; I would definitely do that if I were teaching this to an older group. And just to show how great this class is, they put all the painting sponges back into color-coded baggies with no mistakes!
Saturday, September 28, 2013
The actual art-making part of this activity was very simple: Trace some shapes onto white paper (I had brought my collection of cardboard and plastic shapes with me) and then color in the resulting spaces.
I introduced the words overlap and intersect and modeled tracing a few shapes to demonstrate the meanings of the words. I made sure students understood that each shape needed to overlap at least one other shape, so that all the lines would intersect. I then explained that each resulting shape/section would need to be filled with a pattern, and that no pattern could be repeated. And just to throw in another math concept, I asked them to trace an odd number of shapes, more than two and less than ten. They traced the shapes with a pencil first, then colored the spaces in, and then went back and outlined each original shape with a black crayon.
This was an easy, easy lesson that needed no prep at all. It would be great for a substitute (well, I was substituting!). I happened to have shapes with me, but I would bet that in most primary classrooms one would be able to find some shapes to trace. If not, students could make their own, with each student making one shape and then all students at that table sharing each others'. And there's no rule that says they have to use geometric shapes, but I do think the resulting shapes from overlapping are very interesting and it would be a great math extension to have them name all the resulting shapes, or some additional art concepts could be included by having students use all warm or all cool colors, or some other defined color combination.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Choose a color.
Cut into strips.
Glue onto black paper.
I can't begin to count the number of second and third grade students I've seen in the past few years who could not efficiently use a pair of scissors. So when working as a support helper for the first three days of school in Kindergarten, I manned a center where the kids only needed to cut. Not on lines, not on shapes, just cut. I showed them how to use the scissors -- thumb in the small hole, fingers in the big hole -- and how to hold the paper -- vertically, with the scissors pointing to the sky -- and asked them to cut their paper into strips.
Each student was able to choose a color, and in a group of six, everyone had a different color (there were about nine bright colors to choose from) so nobody's strips got mixed up on the table. Everyone also got a sheet of black paper to glue their strips on, and to make things easy, I brushed watered-down white glue all over the black paper and they just needed to lay their cuttings down onto the wet glue. This job was all about cutting and nothing else.
When they were all finished, we had a beautiful assortment of line art, all ready to go on the wall. Even though each child had the same directions, no two of these were alike. I think they made a perfect first art activity!
Thursday, August 1, 2013
When I taught art in Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grades for two years, I had the luxury of a generous budget and was able to buy all the art materials I needed for a basic art curriculum. I didn't wander off into anything fancy; I stuck to the basics and the process of creative art-making. These days, I am retired and subbing in other peoples' classrooms, and I am intrigued (and sorry to say, not in a very good way) about the lack of quality art materials out there for kids to use. When it comes to buying art materials, my philosophy is to always buy the best quality possible. The cost may be initially higher, but the returns are greater: they generally last longer, work better, and produce much better results. I stick pretty much to the basics and stay away from most "specialty" items like glittery watercolor or tapping glue bottles. I follow this philosophy both for classroom art materials and for my own art-making process, because I want kids to feel like artists when they are making art, not to struggle with the materials they are using.
What do I consider basic? And are some brands better than others? Does it really matter what brand you buy? You bet! My favorites...
CRAYONS. Good quality crayons have better color, probably due to the ratio of pigment to wax (I'm not a crayon scientist, so I'm guessing here). Poor quality crayons have more wax and the colors are not as bright, no matter how hard you press. I won't buy anything but Crayola. The reds are bright. The yellows are strong. Many teachers buy cheaper brands and my experience is that the colors are just very bland. And by the way, I want the colors to be named what they are. I came across some crayons in a friend's classroom that had color names like Blueberry Swirl or Grape Soda (I am making those up, but you get the gist), which are very cute and all, but were not even that accurate. Colors have names and don't need to be cutified. I like that Crayola names their blues Indigo, Blue, Cerulean. These are real names that artists use.
CONSTRUCTION PAPER CRAYONS are great to have on hand. They are made for drawing on dark colored construction paper. They have some kind of reflective material in them. Kids love using them! They are made by Crayola, and are wrapped with black paper so they are easily distinguished if they get mixed with regular crayons. For general storage, I like to keep crayons in zip baggies instead of in their boxes. It's easy for kids to find the color they need, and a whole class set will fit in one shoebox-sized plastic tub.
MARKERS: I like Crayola markers for kids' use. They seem to last a pretty long time and the colors are pretty bright. I always store them with the tips facing down. This way, the ink is always saturating the tip and they stay nice and "juicy" instead of drying out. Laying them down in a tub works, also. For my own use, on charts and for art lessons where I do demonstrations, I use Mr. Sketch. The colors are very vibrant and the chisel point lets me make bolder lines so that the charts are easy to read. I like the smelly ones.
COLORED PENCILS: Crayola again, although there are other brands that are pretty good, too. I like having a good supply of multiple, basic colors. I generally buy boxes of 12 colors and then dump them all in a plastic tub. They are great for still-life and other observation drawing.
GLUE STICKS: I only buy UHU. It's firmer than cheaper glue sticks, doesn't clump or squish into a mess, and lasts a lot longer than any other brand I've used. I once put in an order for UHU glue sticks when I was teaching art, and the school secretary substituted a cheaper brand. I was working in three schools at the time, and guess at which school the glue sticks got used up first? These are definitely noticeably more expensive than other brands, but very well worth it in the long run. They have a "screw" top which I like. For some reason, kids seem to smoosh them less. Maybe because they are less smooshable.
WHITE GLUE: Elmers. The regular kind. Not the washable kind, the school glue kind, the clear gel kind (oh, that's the worst). Just the regular "Glue-All" kind. What I really really hate is those tapping bottles that drive me crazy when kids are doing collages. I think teachers buy them because they are tired of kids wasting glue, but it's not that hard to teach kids how to use small dots of glue. As for longevity, I always made sure to remind kids to close the stopper and wipe the glue off the tip, and then store the bottles standing up. It's that easy. The bottles will last practically forever.
SCISSORS: I like "pointy" scissors, even for Kindergartners. They just seem to cut better. They seem more serious. Fiskars makes a pretty nice pair of scissors for little hands, and they seem to work fine for either hand, so you don't need any special left-handed ones.
PENCILS: Dixon Ticonderoga. Nothing else will do. They are great for drawing. They have good, soft erasers. They sharpen well without breaking. They are worth the extra few cents per dozen. They last longer, write smoother, sharpen easier, and erase without smudging. I could write a whole blog post just about pencils. Another time. When the erasers go, as they will, I offer Pink Pearl erasers, not one for each student, but several stored near the pencil sharpener. (Which is a whole other post, but I swear by a good pencil sharpener.)
And last, but definitely not least ..... PAPER!
I like good quality CONSTRUCTION PAPER, like Tru-Ray, because the paper is smoother and the colors are nice and bright. And by all means.... save all the scraps for collage-making! It's a good idea to invest in some white DRAWING PAPER. It comes in reams and is not too expensive. I like having both 9x12 and 12x18 on hand. It can be used when construction paper is not really needed but copy paper or newsprint is too thin. Regular, ordinary COPY PAPER is great for pencil drawing. It's nice and white, relatively inexpensive, and looks great on the wall in a gallery. Under no circumstances would I ever use any kind of newsprint for art lessons. Ever. Not even for sketching. It's just too ugly.
***FOR BEST RESULTS, TREAT STUDENTS LIKE ARTISTS
Treat students like artists, and maybe they will make great art!