Wednesday, January 24, 2018

words with wosene.

I've been working with our littlest artists the past couple weeks and they are experimenting with chalk pastels, too. We have been mixing colors and using letters and words in our drawings. For this activity, we are looking at the work of Ethiopian artist Wosene Worke Kosrof. He uses characters from his native language, Amharic, as the basis of his compositions.

We start the activity by looking at Wosene's website, so the kids can see him and a couple of his pieces. When looking at his paintings, we notice how some of the characters different sizes- big, medium, and small. We also notice how some of the characters resemble English letters and some look right side up, others look flipped upside down, and others look they are on their side.

Now, before getting to the letters part, we prepare to do some color mixing. The kinders have already done a collage that focused on primary colors, so we review them and then break our paper up into rectangles and squares by drawing horizontal and vertical lines. I model using the point of the chalk for this. When we start to fill shapes in, we use the side of the chalk and we try to keep our elbows up, so that our drawings and arms stay as clean as possible. (The kids also can choose to wear art aprons for this- I only have one size, so it's always a little comical watching them put the aprons on and having them come down to their shins;)

After laying the primaries in to all our shapes, we experiment with mixing by adding one primary on top of another to make our secondary colors. We also add white to a couple colors, so we can see how colors get lighter and not darker when we do.

The final step requires a switch to our greasy crayon- the black oil pastel. (I pull the black chalk pastel from all my boxes because, when they get used, drawings get out of control.) I model using a letter per shape to spell a name. As I go, I turn the paper in different directions to change the orientation of some of the letters. Once we have letters in each shape, we go back and make a few of them bold by pressing harder and making the lines thicker.

This activity has brought out a lot of joy in the kids. They're excited to see the new colors that they create and they have been digging the play of letters in their drawings.

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.