Saturday, October 22, 2011

Family Portraits

I just came back from Shanghai (again) with (more) ideas and (more) connections---attended the ARARTE conference that some art teachers told me about during my first trip to Shanghai back in March. I am excited to get involved with ARARTE and explore ideas from the conference, but I'm still riding high from my first trip. This second grade project comes from Art Is Messy, who graciously welcomed me into her classroom and took me around her school.

Similar to the fourth grade field trip, my students started by looking at an assortment of family portraits. They had to write a sentence about each artwork answering the questions who and where. Next, they sketched two ideas for their own family portrait, accompanied by sentences that told me who and where. The following week, students selected their favorite idea to transfer onto the good paper. A few students found the need to sketch a third idea, like this family portrait on the beach (finished work at the top).

Pencil lines were traced in permanent marker, then the crayon/watercolor experimenting began. My students as a whole are fairly new to watercolors. In the past three years, I've done many resist projects, particularly with oil pastels, but very few watercolor mixing projects. Timing of the project couldn't have been better. Right before the kids started painting, I attended a conference in Beijing (truly, it's been a month of conferences) and learned some great tips from an art teacher working at a school in Guam, including watercolor procedures. We woke up our trays of Prang watercolor with a drop of water, then moved paint onto the palette (lid), even if we weren't mixing, though I really encouraged special mixed colors. We tested each color and various painting techniques on scrap paper because we couldn't erase watercolor. The students watched me make mistakes, painting a black road, then trying to paint the yellow line down the center and watching it bleed, or as we called it, travel. We brainstormed ways to avoid such traveling, such as doing the yellow in crayon first or letting the black dry. As we learned, traveling is not a bad thing, but you need to be in control. Use traveling in trees, grass, sky, ocean, sand---but don't let hair colors travel into skin colors! That makes a muddy mess.

At first, I was a little disappointed by the scale of the people in the finished results. Many of the works function more as landscapes rather than portraits. I wondered if I should have given more direction as to the size of the people, but ultimately decided it was not an issue. The objectives were to tell who (portrait) and where (landscape), plan a project, and explore watercolor. I did not give any instruction about how to draw the figures of their family, and most students preferred to develop their environment rather than the people. So whether their family was on the beach, playing hide and seek, riding horses, or in outer space, the students enjoyed using watercolors and crayons to develop the story of their family portrait. They are excited to do more with watercolors and best, I'm encouraged to give more time to the medium in my classroom!

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