Happy New Year…And Beyond!

What a busy month or so in the art studio! In a majority of our classes, we have used the month of January to wrap up some of our long-term investigations and are now moving on to new and exciting units of study. Please see below for the latest and greatest goings-on in Kindergarten through 5th grade!

Kindergarten: Lines –> Maps

(Observe, Develop Craft, Stretch and Explore, Express, Understand Art Worlds)

As we transitioned from warm colors and textures to our next subject, students had the opportunity to explore creating a variety of lines with unconventional materials: toy cars and paint! Using black paint and a variety of wheeled toy vehicles, students observed closely to discover, compare, and contrast the lines and textures created from each tire. Some of the tracks we created were smooth and solid, while others bumped and skipped as they rolled. This investigation eventually shifted to imaginative play involving the different types of vehicles, which is always fun!

Using our investigative knowledge of lines, we continued to explore the subject through the lens of maps. This was an emergent topic that came about from student interest (in other words, I noticed that many of the students were interested in/drawing maps, so we began investigating lines on maps).

Students proudly displaying their large, hand-drawn map early in the school year.

To begin, we observed and altered existing maps, looking closely to name the types of lines we noticed, as well as adding our own markings. We discussed what a map is, can be, and can help us with, and the many different types of maps we may see. To help us with this investigation, we read books including “Me on the Map” (and drew small-scale maps of our homes or school) and “My Map Book” (to see the variety of ideas and concepts that maps can help us illustrate and understand).

Following these more individualized investigations, we embarked on a collaborative, large-scale collage map project, learning about symbols, map keys, and the compass rose. Throughout this entire unit, we asked questions, utilized our background knowledge, and constructed our own little worlds in which to explore.

1st Grade: Color –> Shapes…
And a Field Trip!

(Envision, Observe, Reflect, Develop Craft, Understand Art Worlds)

In first grade, we have shifted focus from our extensive painting/color-mixing study to investigating shapes. Our shape study began with an exploration of what shapes actually are. What is a shape? Through inquiry, trial, and discussion, we discovered that shapes are in fact flat, enclosed pieces of space, and that there are many different kinds. We began breaking down the shapes into two categories: geometric shapes (shapes used in math/shapes that “have names” to define their characteristics) and organic shapes (all natural shapes that do not have names concrete defined qualities). This simple categorization gave us the vocabulary to begin talking about shapes in art in more informed ways, differentiating between the two types and asking ourselves: what type of shape might this be?

With our newly acquired knowledge, we began investigating how different artists have utilized shapes in their work, including master artists Picasso and Matisse, as well as student artists within our classroom. While comparing Picasso’s “cubist”, “abstract” pieces “The Three Musicians” and “Mandolin and Guitar”, students made many interesting observations, including differences in color, line, and use of organic vs. geometric shapes.

Matisse, on the other hand, used a majority of organic shapes to create flowing compositions of bright, abstract shapes and figures. In an exercise to strengthen our “proper scissor grip” (thumb in the circle, fingers in the oval, thumb on top), students were challenged to maneuver the paper with their non-dominant hand while cutting slowly and smoothly with the scissors, creating a variety of unique, organic shapes. These shapes could either be applied to our collaborative, Matisse-inspired collage, or be included in a more personalized creation by the artist. Autumn, for instance, constructed a small horse collage from the shapes she cut, and spent the rest of class carefully cutting and adding the details.

In addition to these activities, more shape-investigating provocations were set up amongst the other tables, inviting students to engage with them in their own ways. For example, colorful, plastic pattern blocks of geometric shapes we scattered about one table, while more plain, laser-cut wooden organic and geometric shapes provided an opportunity for collage.

And of course, throughout it all, we still had time for students to explore materials and subject matter of their choosing, using their new awareness of shape to inform and reflect upon their work.

And P.S.!! During this study, we were lucky enough to visit Desmond’s father Christian’s art studio! What a fun and exciting opportunity! Not only did we get to see and experience a working artist’s studio, Christian also showed us demonstrations of his techniques, explained some of his work, read us a book called “What do you do with an idea?”, and even led us in a mono-printing activity! Thank you Christian, Desmond, and family for this once in-a-lifetime trip!

2nd grade: Self Portraits –> Art As Tradition

(Observe, Express, Engage and Persist, Develop Craft, Understand Art Worlds)

After studying multiple types of self-portraits and different ways to convey emotion and personality, it was the second graders’ turn to create their own! Using mirrors, students carefully studied their faces and made important decisions about which details to include and which style to utilize. Should I just use black and white? What should be going on in the background? Which part of me do I want to emphasize?

By the end of our process, our second graders had a truly incredible variety of lively self-portraits, composed of different styles, materials and facial expressions. These portraits honor and celebrate just how unique and wonderful each one of our students is, and how they all see themselves.

The idea of symmetry was also presented, as we asked ourselves: are our faces truly symmetrical? What have we seen that is perfectly symmetrical? How can we make a piece of art that is symmetrical? Some students chose to explore symmetrical printmaking by painting on one half of a paper then folding it to see what happened.

From here, we utilized our knowledge of facial expressions and portraits to explore a variety of African masks, which ended up tying in nicely with their home-room study of native animal masks. We noticed that each mask had its own special character created by the artists’ choices and began to discover and appreciate the rich history behind the use of masks in different cultures. Paying special attention to the techniques of slab rolling and carving, students learned about “relief sculptures” and how to create them using clay. Some students practiced carving on flat surfaces (creating “low relief” pieces), others used the tools to help them shape taller “high relief” sculptures, and some students even chose to create their own masks!

Further delving into our study of artistic traditions, we also explored how artists mix pigments to create paint (through mixing powder tempera and adding water) as well as Chinese and Japanese ink paintings (which we learned are called sumi or sumi-e. We watched videos of master painters, utilized bamboo brushes with soft fluffy bristles, and explored how the ink interacted with water and different types of paper. We even got the chance to use traditional rice paper!

Moving forward, the second graders will continue their studies of traditional art and art as tradition through bead-making and possibly even gourd painting!

3rd Grade: Art and Nature

(Stretch and Explore, Develop Craft, Observe, Reflect, Understand Art Worlds)

What an incredible couple of months we had! The 3rd graders really got a taste of how they can use nature in their artwork and as inspiration for their work. Picking up where we left off, the students had the opportunity to utilize natural pigments found in the creek in Aptos. These pigments are actually simply rocks, sedimentary rocks to be exact. To tell if the rock would be good to draw with, we had to scratch at the surface: if color flaked off, it was good to go! Many of our rocks were a type of ochre (or light brownish color), showing us the color of the soil and minerals that surrounded it. By adding water to our rocks, we were able to create a type of primitive paint, the same type in fact that was utilized in the cave paintings we previously studied. Students had the chance to explore these materials freely on the pavement, choosing to create words, pictures, and handprints to leave their mark. We also learned that dried clay can be a natural pigment, so we tried that too!

While some students happily sat and painted in the sun with the full rocks, others chose a different approach. Using mortars and pestles, we were able to grind up our pigments to create a smooth powder that could easily become paint for use inside the studio! The students loved the repetitive motion and the satisfaction of slowly grinding up these rocks into a pigment that could be used in their art.

We also explored composition through collages of pressed leaves, utilizing wooden pieces as our surface. By carefully considering the different types of composition (balanced, unbalanced, central, etc.) students thoughtfully moved their chosen leaves to create a pleasing arrangement. Using sponge brushes and Mod-Podge (a clear, glossy glue/sealant) students attached their leaves, then added another layer of glue to add protection and shine. This was a delicate process, and we learned first-hand just how fragile pressed leaves can be. Some of us even added watercolor to our compositions to see how it changed things.

To finish up our art and nature unit, the 3rd graders had the amazing opportunity to explore natural fabric dyes! This is something I’ve been wanting to try for years now, and what a fun learning experience for all of us! We began by discussing the differences between natural and synthetic dyes, including pros and cons of each type. Why might someone choose to use natural dyes? When might they be more appropriate than synthetic? Each class had their own dye bath (Kaia’s class had Avocado Pits, Julie’s class used Turmeric) and the opportunity to practice some Shibori folds (traditional Japanese tying techniques) to create patterns and designs on their fabric after soaking it in mordant.

This was a completely new process for me, so the discussions surrounding our results were rich and full of inquiry. We began by asking, what do we notice? While our Turmeric dye came out a vibrant yellow, our Avocado pit dye was a much softer pale pink. What could have influenced the colors we got? What could we do differently next time? I know that I will certainly be using more avocado pits cooked at a lower temperature the next time around!

To finish off our designs, students had the option of utilizing leaves to create printed images on their fabric, using printmaking ink and brayers. This was a tricky process that required a lot of neatness and carefully following multiple steps, but the results are simply stunning!

Wow, what an incredible unit! This was certainly one of the most exciting, informational, and inquiry-based explorations I’ve done as a teacher, and am so glad to have learned alongside my students! Stay tuned for our newest unit of study involving figures…

4th Grade: Mixed Media Sculpture –> Street Art

(Stretch and Explore, Envision, Develop Craft, Engage and Persist, Express, Understand Art Worlds)

Since my last update, the fourth graders have been led through the entire 5 step process of creating a mixed media sculpture! From Planning, to Armature, to Surfacing (Plaster Gauze/Papier Mache), to Painting with Acrylics, to Final Details, we have all seen what it takes to create a sculpture like this. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of planning! Many students would complete their layers of plaster gauze, only to realize that they had to wait until it dried to paint it! Other students were infatuated by the new materials available to us for this project, many of which were donated by our lovely families (thank you!). The recycled materials we had access to included cardboard, fabrics, plastic and foam packaging, and many more! As our students entered into the room each week, they excitedly headed towards the stash of materials in the corner (which certainly may have looked like trash to the untrained eye!) This process involved a lot of questioning, a lot of problem solving, and a ton of play! The materials spoke to each student differently, sparking ideas for creations immediately.

The most difficult part of this process for many of us was following through. Certainly it’s exciting to be inspired by the materials and begin the exploratory process of creating armature. The real challenge is “Engaging and Persisting” through this long process to bring your projects to a level of completion and craftsmanship you can be proud of.

Although students are still more than welcome to continue their mixed media process, we have moved forward in our studies to the concept of street art. Stay tuned for more!

5th Grade: Observational Drawing –> Comics

(Develop Craft, Observe, Engage and Persist, Envision)

Our fifth graders have been extremely focused on improving their drawing chops over the past few months, through a variety of life drawing exercises and comic-creation activities. After our exploration of gesture drawings and close-ups of our eyes and faces, we transitioned to shading techniques. Using black paper and white charcoal, students were asked to “carve out” the pieces or “shapes of light” from the dark paper. This was a tricky concept to grasp: don’t shadows blend into light? But by squinting our eyes and looking at our objects from a more graphic perspective, we began to see where the shapes of light started and ended, and began defining them.

After learning how to see and create the illusion of depth with just black and white shapes, we were introduced to the concept of “cross hatching”, which is an extremely important way of shading that brings depth, movement, and personality to a drawing. This technique required us to look at shading in a completely different way than shapes of light and shadow, and develop a light touch with our pencil in order to build layers of value. By creating many lines or “hatches” in one direction, then layering “hatches” on top in the other direction, these semi-perpendicular lines build up tactile form that seems to jump off the page! (Not to mention the exciting aspect of everyone’s cross-hatching looking so different!)

Then it was time for color! Already having the background knowledge and skills to identify shapes of light and shadow, we were naturals when it came to shapes of color! Using mid-tone gray paper and oil pastels, students were taught to look closely, layer colors to create complex hues, and explore with their pastels. By creating a “value strip” first, students had the opportunity to truly experience what it took to create a color that was “light” in their still life, as well as what color shadows actually ARE (hint: they’re not always just black or gray!) Pressing hard, layering, and closely comparing to our subject matter really paid off, creating the illusion of depth through bright, bold colors!

Our life study work will never be over, but these drawing techniques will certainly help us as we transition from realism to the world of comics and cartoons!