Friday, January 19, 2018

making meaning with jean-michel

The 3rd graders are starting their color and chalk pastel unit by looking at the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat for inspiration. This activity allows students to focus on meaning in art and gives them opportunities to experiment with themes that are important to them. 

I have always loved the boldness and the energy of his work. There is a rawness to it the captivates me. I know his work can be difficult to approach with students, but I encourage you to give it a chance.

We start out by looking at a couple photographs of Basquiat at work, so the students can identify with him. We talk about how his parents were immigrants- his father was from Haiti and his mom from Puerto Rico. At Zamo, we have a diverse population and many of our students have family members that have come to the US from different countries. We all know the political climate today, and I think it's so important to recognize the positive impact immigrants have had after they and their children have established themselves here.

We then look at three paintings that Basquiat created. I ask the students if art needs to be pretty or beautiful all the time and they have responded with a resounding NO in each class. We talk about how art can convey different feelings by how things are drawn or depicted and I ask them to keep this in mind as we look at his paintings.

In the first one we focus on his use of large areas of background color and the presence of a portrait in the painting. We agree that the portrait is not realistic, and that we still recognize it as a face. The second one leads us into a discussion of symbols and how they can convey meaning to the viewer and that we may "read" the meaning of those symbols differently than one another, depending on the experiences each of has had. Students see that he has used a crown in both paintings. I bring up the fact that Basquiat used those to signify his importance in the art world. He was visually establishing and connecting himself as part of an art royalty.

Students also notice the amount of words used in the second painting. They recognize Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford. I point out Miles as Miles Davis- the amazing jazz pioneer and how Basquiat was deeply moved by jazz, blues, and hip hop, rap, and experimental forms of music. They also notice Frank and the fact that we don't know who HE was, but the name/person had significance to Basquiat.

We look at one more painting and notice another crown, more connections to money and commerce, more bones, including a skull and teeth.

Before getting started with the hands on portion of the activity, I remind students that we aren't copying his work, but we will be borrowing his methods for constructing his art and his use of symbols and words to create meaningful self portraits.

Step one is to create a gestural abstract background with 2-3 colors that are important to them. We apply color with the side of the chalk, working to keep elbows up in order to keep the color from smearing. After adding the background, students can add areas of white to lighten colors and they can smooth areas as well. I encourage them to find a balance between smooth and rough areas.

Next come the symbols- I ask them to add 2-4 personal symbols. These are things that have importance to them- they could connect to family, school, hobbies, sports, etc. We use the point of the chalk to add these elements. I encourage students to hide or obscure symbols if they aren't satisfied with how they are drawn or if they want some messages hidden in their work.

The portrait element is the 3rd step. Again, I emphasize that the portrait does not have to be perfect. We are aiming to give the viewer an idea of ourselves. I put Basquiat's paintings back up to see and I also let the kids know that if they have a certain way of drawing people/characters, that they can use that style as well. We draw the portrait in chalk and then go over it in oil pastel to give the lines more clarity. This also connects to how Basquiat used large oil sticks to create lines, symbols, and words in his work.

Finally, come the words. Students add a few words that connect to family, heroes, friends, etc. We talk about text as a visual element. Do they want to use all capital or lowercase letters? Do they want to mix them up, do they want some words to read upside down?

Then, it's time to clean our mess up;)

Next week, I plan on having the students reflect on the process by having them do a short written reflection on choices that they made throughout the activity. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

exploring shape with mr. smith

My 3rds have been experimenting with collage and geometric and natural shapes over the past couple weeks. They first created robot collages that focused on symmetry, geometric shapes, 3d shapes, and color value.

The next week they looked at the work of Tom Abbiss Smith as inspiration for a second round of collage work. Tom is a UK based artist who creates digital collages that smartly play with the juxtaposition of natural and geometric and positive and negative shapes. We noticed geometric shapes similar to those we used in the robot designs and also noticed how much he uses a variety of plant shapes in his work. Looking at his art allowed students to contrast between cut and torn edges as well- we talked about how the torn edges can give shapes a more natural feel. We also saw how he used a cut out shape AND the leftover (digital:) paper elsewhere in certain designs.

After viewing and talking about Tom's work, students were ready to play and create their own compositions. I emphasized play here because working with collage lets you move pieces around to different spots before gluing, so that you can see the possibilities that different arrangements may hold.

Students selected a background color and each one started with a large sheet of black and white paper to create natural shapes from. I left a few of Tom's images on my big screen so kids that were stumped to start could borrow from his shape vocabulary. As they started drawing and cutting, I passed out 3 more sheets of colored paper. When doing this, I guided color selection a bit, responding to the color of the background color each student chose.

After about 25 minutes, students could start to lock down compositional elements with glue sticks.

Most students did not finish in one hour, so they saved any paper they might need when they came back. This week has been parent conference week and my schedule has some flexibility in it, so I was able to bring each class back for a 30 minute session to finish and reflect on the 2 shape projects. It was interesting to see how much or how little students added to their designs with this extra time. Some that I thought were near done, continued to add and add, while others had a more minimal aesthetic.

They wrapped up the process by completing an exit slip that had them comparing and contrasting the 2 projects and describing which piece they liked more and why.

I absolutely love the variety in these pieces. There was a really intriguing range of style from figurative landscapes, to figurative abstractions, to more nonobjective pieces.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

lines with m&m.

I recently wrapped up my first 2 week rotation with our first graders. They explored line direction, pattern, and color value while being inspired by the work of Monty Montgomery and Minhau. Students discovered that an artist can use similar types of lines to make works of art that look a lot different than each other.

I shared the work of Monty the first week. (Monty was kind enough to visit with some students while this was going on... I'll share more on that wonderful experience later:) He paints intensely colored, hard edged abstract pieces and I used his work to introduce students to horizontal, vertical, and diagonal straight lines. After making the lines with our bodies, we looked at a few of his pieces to see how he used those lines in his paintings. We also discovered that he creates patterns with lines and colors.

We then made a couple practice sketches that were inspired by his abstract compositions. We did the first one together and then I asked the kids to try a second one and encouraged them to place their lines in different places than their first sketch. They picked one they liked more and shared their reasoning with a buddy. "I chose my first drawing because..."

We then drew the composition on a larger sheet and I reminded them that their drawing could change a bit- they could revise it and they could add more detail if they felt like their drawing needed it.

Before adding color, we practiced pressing hard and soft, so they could use that technique to create patterns in their work. When done, we wrote a sentence about the process. I encouraged them to use line vocab in their sentence.

The next week we looked at the work of Brazilian artist Minhau. We discovered that she has a thing for cats and these cats use the same kinds of lines Monty uses. Plus, she uses curved lines. Minhau also plays with thick and thin lines to emphasize certain parts of her painted subjects.

After sharing a couple of her paintings, we practiced in the same way we did for our Monty inspired drawings. Students chose, reasoned their choice, revised and refined it on larger paper. To emphasize thick and thin, we used chisel tip markers and tried to make our big shapes have thick outlines and the detailed parts have thin lines.

When we colored, I encouraged pattern making with hard and soft, as well as multiple colors.

Kids were very engaged with both lessons and are taking to the preliminary sketch part without much of a hitch.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

kinders and camille

My TK and K classes are continuing to explore line this week. I'm using the bright, bold, graphic work of Camille Walala to introduce them to directional line and line thickness. I'm sharing a couple prints that Camille made for her "Dream Come True" series. We go through one and look at how some lines go side to side, up and down, and somewhere in between. After pointing out each one, the kids and I make those lines with our arms and "expressively" say the line name that goes with the particular line.

We then notice how those lines work together in her pieces to create shapes with straight lines- rectangles, squares, and triangles. We also compare how her name next to the image uses thin lines and the lines in the print are thick and bold.

Before starting the hands on portion of the activity, I let the kids know that this drawing will be different than their Knuffle Bunny toy drawings from the week before. With this activity, I am asking them to follow along with what I do. Doing so allows me to get a sense of where they are at in terms of understanding line concepts.

We draw out the composition together (and even though we do this, there is still a wide range of compositions due to motor control and spatial awareness) and then I model how to hold our color sticks to fill in shapes. I show them how to put "bumpers up" along the edges of shapes to keep their images neat and I also demo using the point and the side of the color sticks to fill small and large areas. Students may use any combination of colors in their drawings. I encourage them to try and repeat colors to make patterns, too.

The final step is to use a big black crayon to trace/go over our pencil lines, so that the lines are thick and dark like Camille's I encourage them to use their muscles to press hard, so the black is nice and dark.

When students finish, they may go to any of my choice building centers. After about 5-7 minutes, we clean up and regroup to build a couple sentences about the drawing process. We read the sentences, orally share different words to use, and then fill in the blanks in the pre-typed sentences.