Friday, November 21, 2008

Awesome Autumn Art

When I started thinking about my elementary art curriculum, I decided I wanted to do eight types of art projects each year with my students. Structuring the program this way, I would expose the students to many types of art, and build on their knowledge each year. Ideally, we would do two types of art each marking quarter.

In the book The Art of Teaching Art to Children, the author has five or six categories. I started with this list, but adapted it to my leanings. My eight:

Design (product design, graphic design, architecture)

I don't know how successful I will be at touching all eight categories in each grade. Check back in June for that update.

2nd grade recently finished a printmaking project. I took Intro to Printmaking in college for my multiples requirement. Unfortunately, we did mostly intaglio printmaking--etching, aquatint, etc. I did entirely intaglio projects. Metal, acid, large printing presses. Not exactly appropriate for 7 and 8 year olds.

Our professor did introduce collagraph as an optional technique. I never tried it, but my roommate was a big fan of collagraphs. My other small taste of collagraphs was a lesson I observed while student teaching in the UK. The teacher made collagraphs with his 11th graders.

I decided to do collagraphs with the 2nd graders. The Art of Teaching Art to Children gave me good ideas about how to adapt this process for young children.

I wasn't sure what I wanted the students to make collagraphs of...what was the subject? I just knew I wanted them to explore collagraphs as a type of printmaking.

I wrestled with the subject matter for a while. I hate arbitrarily deciding subject matter. I really want my art projects to be an extention of learning in the classroom. Why should I draw ocean creatures with 4th grade if 3rd grade does a science unit on the ocean? I tried to find out more about the 2nd grade curriculum. They were about to start a science unit on solids, liquids, and gasses. I couldn't figure out how to tie that into collagraphs. The social studies unit--autumn and thanksgiving.

I wasn't very inspired. Eventually, it was the day to start the collagraphs and I still didn't have a subject matter for the project! Sometimes, all it takes is a little pressure. I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier, but autumn leaves! We could make collagraphs of leaves. The students could look at different types of leaves and draw one large leaf on their matboard "plate." Then, using string, cardboard, window screening, and fabric, students could define their leaf.

If I could do the lesson again, I would get real leaves for them to draw. Not having any trees that actually belong to me, I was nervous to begin snatching leaves from trees around China. In China, even without posted signs, everyone knows not to walk on the grass. Grass is for looking at, not walking or sitting on. I wasn't sure about the philosophy towards trees and their leaves, but I didn't want to test it. Even the trees on our school campus weren't up for picking. We rent our space from another school, and I think the tree leaves are probably not part of the rental agreement.

Instead of real leaves, I printed out photos of leaves from the internet. Students drew their leaf and started the collagraph fun! I suggested they use string to define the outside of leaf and the veins. Another material would be perfect for filling the background.

Some students picked up on defining shape through textures (or lack thereof). Other students could not think through the process and wanted to use green materials for their leaf.

After two classes, the plates were a collage of materials! My TA used some type of furniture varnish to seal the plates.

The printing day arrived! We didn't have printing ink, so I decided to mix up tempera paint in four autumn hues: deep red, rusty orange, mustard yellow, and brown.

I didn't test my plate first, but went right into the demonstration in front of the students. Ooops! Turns out brayers and tempera paint are a BAD combination.

Change of plans. We used wide paintbrushes to apply the paint to our plates.

I told the students to write their name on the lower right corner of their paper. They were also to number the print. One of the special things about printmaking, I explained, was once you have a plate, you can print it over and over and over and over and over again!

They were to leave their paper at their table, take their plate to the "inking" table, paint on one hue, take their plate back to their table, place it face up and put the paper down on top. We found it worked better to press the paper into the plate, rubbing our fingers all over the paper to press it into the plate, then trying to stamp the plate down onto paper.

The results were certainly mixed!

Here's one print that turned out great! I let the students switch their paint color, so this student has a little left over yellow mixing into his red print. I think it looks all the more charming for the yellow.

The first day of printing was just before parent/teacher conferences. I took some of the prints from each student and put them up on a bulletin board in the elementary building. Here's a shot of three different prints. The middle print is from the same plate as above. The other two prints are also quite successful for 7 and 8 year olds!

I decided to do a second class of printing. This class started with a mini-critique of the single-hue prints. We looked at some examples of prints and discussed which leaves were easy to see and which leaves were hidden. Looking at the plates, we talked about why certain plates hid their leaves, and other made them easy to see. We then talked about what we could do to make all the leaves more visible. Since we weren't going to change the plates, I suggested we use two different colors of paint--one for the leaf and one for the background!

Interestingly, many of the plates that did well with the single-hue prints seemed less successful in two colors. The leaves were so visible in the first set of printing because of the use of positive and negative space. Most often, the leaves were white with printed vein lines. The other plates, though, had printed textures inside and outside the leaf, so everything just printed in the one color.

Now, using two colors, the first set of successful plates didn't look any better. If anything, the second color distracted from the positive/negative space. On the other hand, the plates without negative space really benefited from the second color. Everything still printed as positive space, but inside the leaf was one color, and outside another. Here's two examples of these prints.

Here's the bulletin board. I'll need to change it soon since Autumn Art doesn't seem appropriate for December!

I think for an experimental project, the results were great!

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