Friday, December 7, 2012

decked out.

I got to revisit one of my favorite designers with the 5th graders this week. We looked at the work of Don Pendleton. He is know mostly for his skateboard graphics, but he also does other design work, paintings, and murals, to name a few. I love his figuarative abstract style, his use of color, and how he has kept his work fresh throughout his career by making sometimes bold, sometimes subtle changes in his style and work.

The 5th graders are actually familiar with his work because we did a project together when they were in third grade that was also inspired by his work. I thought it would be interesting to see how they treated their designs this time around. I am going to see if I can match up pics of student's work from then with what they are doing now...

The focus of the project was creating unity. We talked about how you can do it by repeating shapes, lines, and colors. I asked them if they knew what graph paper was. Everybody did, so I asked them if it was exciting to look at. The vast majority of kids said no. I talked about how too much unity could be a visually "bad" thing. I then asked them what they could do to make the graph paper more interesting. How could they add variety? I got back different size squares, different color squares or lines, thick or thin lines, different directions of lines, etc.

This was good. I emphasized that a successful artwork needs a balance between unity and variety.

I then shared a few images from Don's website to re-familiarize the kids with his work. They didn't recognize his name, but as soon as they saw his work it all came back to them. The series I wanted to focus on was his microcosm series.

We identified that Don had created unity in these designs by repeating the same shape over and over. We also identified variety in the designs through changing sizes, changing colors, and using thin and thick lines.

I then told them we would be designing our own decks based on this series of boards. Cheers rang out throughout the classroom:)

I quickly walked them through the process for the project. I also dangled this carrot- I would be selecting at least one design from each 5th grade class, probably 2 (boy and a girl), to turn into an actual skateboard deck. Over winter break I'll cut and shape the winners decks out of plywood and the selected kids will get to paint/draw their designs on them after break. I emphasized that I would be selecting designs from kids that showed originality in their designs, have the necessary elements of unity and variety, and who are respectful and on task during class. 

Usually, the 5th grade classes are the most social of my classes, but this week all but one of them have earned class behavior green cards. Interesting...

The design process went like this-
1. shape the deck out of one of 3 colors of paper. Red, yellow, or blue. This color would dictate the color choice later because they would use an analogous color scheme to create a lot of unity and a bit of variety in their design.

2. do at least 2 rough draft versions of possible designs- required elements- about 15 shapes, different size shapes, and overlapping of shapes

3. shape top of larger white paper for design on primary color deck

4. draw design lightly on big white paper

5. trace over lines with thick and thin black markers

6. add color to design using one set of analogous colors. Pressing hard and soft to create variety.

7. shape/cut bottom edge of white paper

8. glue white in place on deck

9. on bottom part of deck, add a couple symbols, text or both, that relate to the deck design

Each class will have time to complete the project next week. After completion they will do a self assessment focusing on the principles of unity and variety, as well as creativity and execution of their design.

I'll post more next week, but I wanted to share the process before then:) 


  1. I love your visual culture tie-in. No wonder kids were so engaged!

  2. Great way to combine art learning with a subject that the kids love! They will remember this one! :)

  3. Hi Don! I need your email address as a way to contact you about the Art Ed Blog of the Year Contest! :) Please send me an email at
    Thank you,
    Jessica Balsley

  4. Skateboard decks design! The ultimate dream-come-true art project for a San Diego kid. I bet some of your students come up with additional designs at home! Great idea.