Wednesday, September 16, 2015

learning line with rodney.

My official art rotations have begun and this week the 1st and 4th graders are exploring line in their lessons. The 4ths are doing a project that is inspired by the abstractions of Rodney Alan Greenblat. Rodney has been making illustrations, paintings, and designs for a good while now. He actually designed the cover for the first They Might Be Giants album back in 1986 (not that this matters to the kids, but I loved that album... and Lincoln after that one:). His style ranges from figurative to non-objective abstract, but it all has a good degree of funk in it. It is his more abstract work that I am focusing on with the kids.

When I share a few of Rodney's pieces with my classes, we talk about how he uses contour lines to define most of the shapes in them. We then look at how he uses different thickness of line to create contrast. Certain shapes stand out because their outlines are more bold than others.

We also talk about how his work and abstraction in general, allows people to see different things in an image. I like this because it breaks down the stress involved for students in the project, especially for their first drawing of the year. They can include the shapes they want and if they don't draw them perfectly, the image can still work... as long as their shapes and arrangement of those shapes is interesting.

I've been sharing this quote from Rodney's website about abstraction-
"Stop making sense. When you have abstract paintings in your house, you can read a language without words. You can see forms that have are non-representational. You can enjoy freedom from meaning. You can appreciate line and color for what they are. You can make up your own associations and stories about the works if you want. You can easily ignore them. You can easily enjoy them. Your guests will be impressed, and might imagine you know something about art. If you want, you can say they are influenced by Kandinsky and Calder, or you can say they remind you of a child’s birthday party. Either one is Ok. They are abstract."

For this project, students create 2 small sketches before moving on to their final drawing. Each of these must include a minimum of 3 main shapes, a minimum of 7 supporting shapes, and a use of line or shape to make a minimum of 2 patterns. When doing this I emphasize that the types of shapes and placement of them is up to the students. I don't want copies of Rodney's work. We are using his work as a springboard for their own investigations of line, shape, and abstraction.

 Pulling focus words from the word wall.

Breaking things down.

When their sketches are done, the kids are sharing with a neighbor why they are picking one over the other. Then they draw the chosen design on a larger sheet of paper.

Then comes the contrast part of the project. Students need to trace most of their pencil lines with a thin sharpie and they go over a 2-3 of those with a thick sharpie. This way they have 3 different thicknesses of line in their final drawing.

They can color the shapes in their final drawing any way they see fit, as long as they leave the background white, so that they contrast against each other.

Most kids have finished, but we haven't had enough time for their written reflections. Next class, they will come back and identify how they made shapes contrast from each other and identify what the most successful part of their project is and why.


  1. Dear Don and Class,

    Thank you so much for sending me a link to your amazing blog. This is SO wonderful. Sometimes being an artist can be a mysterious job. Artwork gets made, goes out into the world or ends up in a drawer, and often is not heard from again. Once in a while I get an email from an art collector of my work, and I’m always pleased to find out how my work has added to their enjoyment. Thats nice, but it is not nearly as fantastic as finding out that my art is being used my a totally cool teacher in a totally cool school by totally cool kids learning how to make totally cool art! So GREAT! Did I mention it is totally cool?

    Abstract art really is fun to make, and for the young artists that want to learn to draw realistically or make comic art, making abstractions can teach you so much about materials and composition. You can experiment with color freely, and not worry about what it is a "picture of.” Rock-on with abstraction, and when you are asked to draw a cow sitting next to a tree, you will make something amazing.

    Thanks so much for being fans of my artwork. I really appreciate it!

  2. This is great - love the work and the response!

  3. Don, thank you, yet again, for introducing me to yet another incredible artist I've never heard of! I've come to realize that one of my biggest failings as an art educator has been that I have not kept up with who and what is out there in the current art world. So I have to ask - how do you find the artists that you often introduce, such as in this post, or the fabulous quilters, and so on? I guess I need to know if there's a publication I should be reading, or what? I don't live in an urban area, and I guess sort of an 'independent operator' and do not really keep abreast of what's going on tin the art world. There is a local art scene, but I certainly don't come across stuff as much fun as this. feel so totally dumb for my lacking!

    1. Not dumb at all! Even if you are tapping into current works, it's all about finding what works for you and your students. Striking a balance, wherever it falls on the art historical spectrum. I use a variety of sources to find artists and works that fit into my curric. I follow art blogs like booooom, colossal, omg posters. Based on images that I like on instagram, new and interesting stuff pops up in my search feed. I've found works thru contemporary art or contemporary "so and so" searches on pinterest too. And it comes in fits and starts- I used to be looking all the time and built up a pretty big resource bank of works, but with teaching at night, soccer practices, regular ol parenting, I havent done much lately. The focus work for this project was on my "super cool lessons" pinterest board for a couple years before I found the right time and place to bust it out.

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