Monday, February 13, 2012

abstracting like alma.

Alma Thomas was a remarkable woman. She was the first student to ever graduate from Howard University with a degree in art. She taught art in the Washington D.C. area for almost 40 years. She became known around the world for her vibrantly colored abstractions, most of which were done after she turned 60 years old.

Her work has been compared to Byzantine mosaics in terms of shape spacing and color usage.

When I introduced the 5th graders to her work last week, I talked about how she painted many images inspired by her garden that was outside her studio window. I asked the students to picture what her work would look like based on that one tidbit.

I shared this painting with them first. No one was picturing this. We then discussed what made this an abstract painting. We also discussed how the painting could be inspired by her garden. We have been dealing with abstraction versus representation a lot this year, so their responses were pretty spot on.

We also looked at a couple of her paintings that were inspired by her interest in space. Again, there was interesting discussion about the paintings. The different things students saw in them, the patterns, and the different types of color relationships that were present in Alma's work.

For the hands on portion of the lesson, students had to create a composition based on Alma's work. I demonstrated various ways they could build off of one shape or several in order to create a unifying pattern in their work.

Once they laid in the pattern in pencil, students applied tempera paint to the paper and filled the surface with brushstrokes. The marks could be large or small, and they were not allowed to fill much of the surface with solid areas of color.

There was a wide variety of mark, between energetic and calm, densely packed to very spacious.


  1. I have had that print hanging in my room for so long and used it as an example for many lessons. I inherited it from someone (and love it) but it wasn't marked with the artist or title- your post was so informative!!!

  2. Yet another wonderful art lesson based on a "new" artist. Beautiful work! You have such a wonderful and fresh approach to teaching. There are no tired, pat lessons here. Your students are lucky to have you.

  3. i have several examples of her work but haven't used them in a lesson yet. thanks for the good ideas.

  4. The concentric circles work reminds me of Australian Aboriginal work. Thanks for introducing me to her work.