Friday, January 16, 2009

Figure Drawing with Fourth Grade

Back during my glory days at Kutztown, NAEA invited Sandy (retired teacher from Boyertown and Crayola Rep) to come and do a Crayola demonstration. She also spoke to my Early Field class. In all her projects and comments, one thing that stood out to me was doing figure drawing with elementary students! It seemed crazy--very ambitious! I didn't do figure drawings until Art III in 12th grade!

Her results were beautiful. I was convinced.

My drawing curriculum involves a lot of drawing from life. My 3rd graders drew the bicycle for four weeks. That's also a project I did in high school. But these kids can handle it! It challenges them, but if you give them the tools (three types of lines: straight, angled, curved, and some ENCOURAGEMENT and CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM), they can see it and learn to put that down on paper!

One thing Sandy said about doing this project: She always put the kids in costumes.

There are lots of benefits to costumes. Costumes lighten the mood. They can create a social studies tie-in, with the appropriate dress and props. Most importantly, they deflect the attention from the child, and their body, to the inanimate clothing, and its folds, bumps, lumps, seaming, etc.

I find this to be very important to my children. In Asian cultures, standing out from the group is not viewed as a good thing. It is a collectivist society, and you want to fit in. There may be pressure to fit in in the states, but we still put extreme value on being an individual. You're a star. Here's your chance to shine!

My students can be very shy when singled out. The costume puts a barrier between them and the group, and makes it about the clothing.

It also makes it so much easier for me to offer constructive criticism. Excuse me, you didn't make her butt big enough... Instead, I can say, look at the way the costume bumps out in the back. Make sure you draw that line. None of the costumes are fitted (check out how long most of the sleeves are!), so it always provides that option to comment on the thickness created by the costume.

I am also very careful to redirect any comments that might hurt the model's feelings. When a student is bold enough to hold up their drawing and say "look at how crazy you look," I am quick to add that it's not because the model is weird-looking, but because the drawing is crazy.

All of the students blew me away with the results! Here's an album of some of the highlights. Click on the link below the slideshow to look through the images slowly and read my captions...

I rearrange the classroom before the students come in the room. I put two small tables together in the center, making a square. The longer tables are then arranged, all six, around the perimeter of the room. I randomly place the students at the six tables, looking into the center. Any student that wants a chance to model writes their name on a small piece of paper. All the names are put in a bowl and I pick out two models for that class period. The first model comes with me to get a costume from my office, which is directly across the hall (remember, I have a TA, so she is still in the room with the kids). We come back, everyone giggles, and the model hops up onto the table. Each model does three poses. Usually one standing, one sitting on a chair, and one sitting directly on the table. These poses only last 5-7 minutes. Being still for that long is VERY challenging for the models! I remind the students not to worry about drawing eyes, noses,'s about the clothing! After all three poses, the model takes off the costume (just worn over his or her clothes) and the new model comes to get a new costume. Lather, rinse, and repeat!

Interestingly, most of the kids can finish a decent drawing in those few minutes. I remember wanting at least 15 minutes, maybe more, when we did figure drawing in high school.

One of my students is incredibly talented! I've seen her gifting in other projects, but the drawings make it very apparent.

I was showing her drawings from our second class to Mrs. Greene (the secondary art teacher). I told her that I couldn't take any credit for her skill level. Looking back at her first drawing, I do see improvement based on my suggestions. Her first drawing is "perfect" in a bad way. It's more like a fashion drawing and less like an actual person. I talked to her about not drawing a straight line if the belt actually is at a slight angle. We talked about the specific folds, seaming, and all the details of the pose.

The drawing on the left is her first drawing. The drawing on the right is from the second class.

The shirt had puffing at the shoulders, and the LONG skirt with a stretchy, gathered waist, was actually inside out, so the unfinished fabric edges were visible down the back of the skirt.

I made an album with some of her drawings.

You can see two of her drawings from the first week, and five from the second week, after I talked to her about drawing the specific folds, seams, draping, etc.

I'm not sure I can draw this well, and certainly not in five minutes!

By the way, I didn't say ANYTHING to the class or invidual students about line quality or using value, yet some of the students used both very effectively!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Turning into my "mother"

I don't actually mean that I'm turning into Momma Mel. (Well, that might be true too...)

I was thinking about that perennial story, that one where new parents realize they are literally turning into their parents--the things they do, the things they say.

It's not that I'm intentionally replicating the art teachers I've's just the main experience I have to go from when deciding how to do things.

About a month ago, I was overwhelmed by a bunch of pieces of scrap paper. It was all A4 copy paper, some white, some colored, and all used on one side. I didn't want to put it in the recycling bin. I also didn't have a jelly jar cabinet with that teal tray where we collected scrap paper in my kitchen in Pennsylvania.

I don't know where the idea came from, but I went to my paper cutter and chopped the paper into quarters. I think that means the paper is now A6.

I took the stack and put it on my desk. Now I use it to write quick notes, to do lists, etc. I wish I had a little beige metal tray to contain the stack. Then I would truly be copying one of my high school art teachers, Cathy Kammler!

In another such moment, I found myself singing (in my head) about the primary colors:

Red, yellow and blue
Red, yellow and blue
I see you, I see you
You are the primary colors
You make all other colors
I wish I were a color like
Red, yellow and blue

My elementary art teacher, Mrs. Blahut, used to sing this song to us. It wasn't until I was thinking about writing about this experience, "turning into my art teachers," that I realized the song is actually Three Blind Mice.

This week, I also did one of those things I thought I'd never do: I had my third grade students paint a value scale.

It's not that I intentionally made a pact against the task. It's just so traditional. It's a meaningless,* skill-based, production task.

Especially at the elementary level, students can learn about value and color mixing without making value scales and color wheels! At a basic level, my PreK kids understand tints. Color plus White makes it LIGHT! Adding black makes a color darker. (I wish I could figure out a rhyme for this.)

My kids learn color theory and value through experience. PreK, Kindergarten, and First Grade don't know I have bottles of orange, purple, green, brown, pink paint! I've only given them the primaries, white, and black. They've had to "find" all the other colors!

I haven't painted with second grade yet, but I don't think I'll let them use anything but the primaries, black, and white. I let fourth grade choose from the whole array, but encouraged them to mix A LOT. We were looking at The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks. As a class, we established that he didn't use any color directly from the bottle (we don't have bottles of yellow ochre, otherwise that might not have been true...). They were intentional about creating just the right blue for their sky (or blue-gray, gray, blue-green, pink-purple sunset, etc.), the right greens for the vegetation, and the right natural colors for their animals.

In third grade, we're painting cakes, Wayne Thiebaud style! I did a lesson with 6th graders in England, so I was very excited when Miss Emily told me about a lesson she did with her third grade students in Pennsylvania. I decided it sounded like fun, plus it didn't require me to make enough cake for the whole class! (In England, I made two layer cakes. Each student got one slice and drew it, using contour lines, in their sketchbook. We then used tracing paper to repeat the image three more times so we had four slices of cake to paint. Of course, at the end of the class, if they had behaved, they got to eat their slice! Drawing from life, classroom management, and a tasty treat all in one!)

For Miss Emily's lesson, we spent the first class period looking at Wayne Thiebaud's paintings and learning to draw 3D solids. Cylinders for the cakes, triangular prisms for just one slice! We also used cones to draw none other than an ice cream cone! A sphere of ice cream, or a rectangular prism brownie! I'm getting hungry...

Between the first class and the second class, I started paging through some old Art Ed magazines in our office. Low and behold, a School Arts from 5 or 6 years ago includes this EXACT lesson! Drawing 3D solids, painting with tints, all while looking at the work of Wayne Thiebaud! I know there's nothing new under the sun, but really! Coming across this exact issue, in China, in the middle of my project!!! I don't know where Miss Emily got her idea, but I doubt she was reading a copy of School Arts from when we were still in high school!

This article talked about having the students do a value scale with different colors, noticing how colors respond when mixed with white or black. I read the paragraph a few times and eventually decided the author had a point. Some colors react funny when mixed with white or black. Who would think that yellow plus black would look greenish?

About 15 minutes before my kids showed up, I made the decision. We would do a simple value scale of the primary and secondary colors. My PreK kids may know what happens when you mix white with a color, but I didn't teach my third graders when they were in PreK. I have no idea what they have learned and how they've learned it! Before they waste a lot of paint and slop some crazy tints on their final piece, they should have a basic understanding of color mixing.

This class period also served as a chance for students to practice mixing on a palette, cleaning their brush, and painting neatly (in the box).

I went around and discussed some of the scenarios with the students. You need a lot of white to really change the color, but only a little bit of black. White is weak, but black is very strong.

One of my students got sick of washing out his brush between colors. He wised up and counted how many more tints he had to make...four. He made four small dabs of white paint on his palette, one on each side of the square palette, and washed out his brush. Then he counted how many more shades...five (he must have stopped in the middle of second color). He made five small dabs of black on his palette, one in each corner and one in the center. He had a little 9 square checkerboard on his palette! He then went color by color, mixing his primaries and secondaries with the white and black dots on his palette.

Surprisingly, the kids weren't bored with the task. They got quite excited about the results, especially the shades. Orange and black looked like chocolate!

This week, we'll revisit Thiebaud's paintings, comparing his colors to the colors on our chart. Hopefully, the kids will decide they need to use lots of tints in their final painting. Then we'll be ready to start painting...

*Not that the task has no value, or that there isn't a place to refine skill to this level, but there is no greater meaning, enduring understanding, big idea to reproducing a color wheel or value scale. I think this type of skill development is a better fit for secondary/post-secondary. Skill development in elementary goes hand in hand with exploration, creativity, and tasks with broader meanings.

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