Monday, October 25, 2010

Who Am I? Third Grade Self-Portraits

I still remember the day, my first year in China, when third graders used the orange and brown crayons to color the skin of their classmates. True, it was only two years ago, but I was thoroughly embarrassed to see my students coloring each other with rainbow hues. Most of the students shared four broken pieces of "apricot," creating a class full of stereotypical peach people. One student even used a black crayon to color the skin of his Asian classmate. Before Christmas rolled around, I had ordered a few boxes of Crayola multicultural crayons.

Later that year, the same class did cut paper self-portraits. I looked at my abundant supply of construction paper, and to my dismay, realized naturalistic colors just would not do. For two years now, I have taught third graders about Fauvism mainly because I do not have appropriate paper for skin tones. Correction, did not have appropriate paper.

I ordered many shades of brown construction paper at the end of my first year, but our shipment from the states did not arrive until late fall, after third grade finished the project with Fauvist hues. This year, I almost considered keeping the Fauvism aspect; the kids love the results and it is a good experience to liberate color from the natural world. But I just had to try natural colors, at least once.

As we were working on facial proportions, I stumbled upon the book The Colors of Us in the kindergarten classroom. The young artist describes all the people in her neighborhood in food words: cinnamon, honey, peanut butter, etc.. I read the book to the third graders, then gave them swatches of the colored paper. They helped their classmates identify appropriate colors for their skin and hair.

I love the results! For many of the students, it was a review of drawing portraits, as they drew portraits of teachers at the end of last year. This time, a mirror replaced a small printout of yearbook photos. Another change was switching the media from tempera paint to cut paper. I loosely base my procedure off of these step-by-step instructions for cut paper portraits (though I make the paper 9 in x 12 in, add more emphasis to the drawing details, such as shapes of the jaw-line, eyes, facial proportions, etc., draw the nose differently, and don't use any sequins or other paper---only construction paper).

To display the work, I hung every self-portrait in the hallway with a sign "Who Am I?" Under each work, I stapled a folded piece of paper. Viewers can guess, then lift the flap to reveal the identify.

It's created quite a splash at school!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

(masterpieces) Autumn Tree

Here in my part of China, some of us ache for the vibrant leaves of a North-American autumn. Pennsylvania, where I grew up, might not be as nice as New England, but the leaves are still incredible. While I try to enjoy every yellow leaf of the ginkgo trees, it's hard to come by deep oranges or vibrant reds. I have a friend in the city who is hunting for a red October, primarily through her photography of beauty in our autumn and documented on her blog. Maybe this sweet painting by an even sweeter girl in 2nd grade can be a little source of red for her!

(teacher’s note)  Recently, 2nd grade began painting with the three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. Despite the color limitation, the students are able to mix almost any color by combining red, yellow, and blue in various amounts! Lucy mixed greens and browns for her fall tree. Great job Lucy!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

(masterpieces) Cardboard Sculpture

(teacher’s note) 3rd grade explored artwork in three dimensions! After looking at sculptures by Alexander Calder, 3rd graders cut and notched pieces of cardboard into 3D art. They finished their sculptures with a coat of paint. Sarah made a great little cat!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Peaceable Classroom

The masterpiece featured in yesterday's post, A Peaceful Family by Julia, is unique in the history of this project.  Though it is my third year doing this project, inspired by a project found online while researching Edward Hicks, never once have I had a student paint an interior scene.  Julia is not your average student, though.  She is very patient and has proven herself to be an excellent painter.  When she asked if she could do a cat and a mouse in a living room, I got out my school laptop and found her some pictures of those ordinary household creatures.  (My large supply of pages from two Planet Earth coloring books and 10 library books feature more "wild" creatures, not the domesticated variety.)

Then came the dilemma of how to show interior space.  While I had taught them some basic techniques to create perspective in their work, it was entirely based on an outdoor landscape.  Julia attempted to show a room with a doorway and a line of sight into the next room, but I thought she could take it further.  Bringing back the laptop, I googled some images of interiors.  We looked at the orthogonals in rooms drawn or photographed in one-point perspective.  Without getting technical on her, we talked about why the lines go in towards the center (things that are further away look smaller, and even though we know the wall is always the same height, the part that touches the back wall looks as if it is shorter).  Julia then worked independently to sketch her scene.

But despite her success, I don't feel like it is an accurate representation of the project.  And since I've never blogged about this project, I figured now is the time.  To to show you a broader view of the project, here are all 23 paintings from this year!

Apart from showing depth (using any of the following methods: decreasing size, overlapping shapes, place objects higher up on the picture plane, using less detail or lighter colors in the distance, etc.), student worked on

     drawing animals realistically from a source,
     drawing a story about people from their imagination,
and mixing paint colors, particularly to create more natural colors

As with all projects, the levels of success in the paintings are almost as diverse as the students.  Some students are great draftsman but have very little control with a brush; other students struggle equally with pencil and brush.  Some students insist on a cartoon-like style to their drawings; other students continually impress me with their imaginative ideas and inspiring outcomes.  

The students also titled their work as part of their art log.  Appropriately, peace appears frequently in the titles.  A curious case is A. R..  The artist has a natural gift for drawing, whether from life, sources, or his imagination.  His first few marks of the bird had me quite concerned, but he managed to pull off a convincing aerial view from inside the tree branches.  I only wish he had more control with a paintbrush.  He is often in his own art-filled world and doesn't apply my tips for how to paint more successfully (for example, waiting until the paint is dry before painting on top of a shape).  But maybe he'll surprise the world with his talent and non-traditional methods...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

(masterpieces) Peaceful Painting

For quite some time now, I've been thinking about displaying student work online. Sure, I (occasionally) blog about projects, but what about a site for the kids and parents?

I talked with our admissions and marketing guy two years ago. He runs the school website. While we could have added a gallery of artwork, I wasn't thrilled with the formatting of the already-existing albums on the website. It got put on the back-burner.

This past spring, our school's weekly newsletter went digital. With the new WordPress powered site, a gallery of student work seemed more attainable.

Before I could initiate anything, a third grade teacher submitted a student's poem, and thus, the birth of the Student Masterpieces tab.

Every week since then, I have submitted a digital photo of a recent piece of student art, along with a description of the project. It's been four weeks now, but only this week did I realize I should also post the masterpieces here! As a special treat, here's an advanced screening of this week's Student Masterpiece---the 5th piece of elementary art featured on our school's online newsletter for parents and staff. Stay tuned for more weekly masterpieces, as well as posts showing previously-featured masterpieces...

(teacher's note) After studying The Peaceable Kingdom by Edward Hicks, fourth graders painted their own stories of peace. Like Hicks, their foreground contained peaceful animals, despite the predator/prey relationship. In the background, they added their own story of people choosing peace. Julia decided to use an interior space as the setting for her peaceful situations. Behind the cat and mouse, you can see a brother and sister playing together nicely instead of fighting. Julia did a great job showing depth in her painting! She also mixed interesting colors and painted very carefully.

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