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.
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!
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