Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Insect Lesson #2: Symmetrical Wings!

   This is a close-up from a painting of butterflies on a decorative fabric with a repeating bird motif.  I painted this with acrylics and was inspired by my models; real (but deceased) butterflies from a butterfly farm in Aruba that I visited. A woman who was working there offered them to me when I told her I was a teacher. Of course they were already dead and part of her job was to collect the ones who had passed away the night before.  I was thrilled to take them to share with my students! The butterfly in the photo is more than five inches across from wing to wing. We don't have anything here in Rhode Island to rival that; you'd need to have the good fortune to find a luna moth on a screen door!
   Yes, I smuggled their fragile and delicate little bodies through customs in my carry-on.  Oh, what one will do for art!
This is a lovely butterfly by 8th grader Ryan D.  This lesson really took us back to some important basics of drawing, including the use of simple measurements to make visual comparisons between parts of an object.  In this case, students were required to select a photos of one moth or butterfly to study and then draw it as symmetrically as possible. I suggested that they start by drawing the body first, then build off it by following this simple rule, "What you do on one side, do on the other side".  In other words, don't work to fully draw one side of the butterfly because it is very difficult to match up the other wing.  Instead, if you draw a curved line for the right wing, draw a curved line for the left wing.  it is much easier to make adjustments and much less likely you'll have the frustration of not getting the other side to match!
 I asked that the butterfly fill up the page, which was a 4 1/2"x 6" piece of manilla paper.  We used regular pencil, ultra-fine sharpie pens to add details and then blended colored pencils to "burnish" the surface of the wings.  Although these drawings are small, the students used a good amount of time, effort and concentration as they worked to capture a sense of realism.  

I really like the simplicity of a clean manilla paper for the background; the subject takes center stage and the wallpaper scrap frames add a finishing touch to the image.
Here are some more examples from this lesson.  Happy viewing!

This student chose to shade a simple "sky" for her butterfly. It provides a nice contrast to the bright yellow and dramatic black designs in the wings.

This one was one of my favorites, I think it was because the student artist showed the body pulling to the left: she did this because that was how her butterfly looked in the photo she studied for this drawing. I also love the black sharpie lines with the white colored pencil on top: it makes a really interesting gray that looks almost luminous on the manilla paper.
This student artist captured a sense of grace and femininity in this pink and black butterfly. Even her choice of wallpaper frame echoes the scroll-like lines in the drawing.  Beautiful, thoughtful work!

Butterfly in the grass?  There is a feeling of movement in this image, like this beautiful swallowtail is fluttering about on a warm Summer afternoon.  Excellent details and wonderful symmetry! Lesson #3 will be posted this week, and I added a unique supply that you may not have ever tried before: Ink painting on satin!  Stay tuned...

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Here Come The Bugs...

Here is a nice example of the first lesson in the Observing Insects unit.  For this assignment, students chose two different insects to draw from the observation of insect photos.  They arranged them into a composition of their choice, making sure the insects were the focus of the work.  I had them work on a 4 1/2" by 6" black paper.  They drew with a regular pencil first, and then added value and shading with a white colored pencil.  The high contrast really allowed the details of each insect to "pop"!  I emphasized that each one should have at least three values and students strived to capture sharp, accurate details.  We mounted the finished drawings on wallpaper scraps cut an inch larger than the drawings.

The picture looks slightly warped because I photographed it on a bulletin board.  You'll see that we ended up mounting the three different assignments on one larger background paper and the weight made the finished work bow on the sides.  Be sure to check out the upcoming lessons that made up each student's group of three!

Looks like they are enjoying hanging out in a cabbage patch, munch, munch, munch...

This one reminds me of beetles trying to cross the street and getting caught in the headlights of an oncoming car...

This student artist really captured the feathery textures of the moth featured here in this close-up!

We learned that centipedes are not actually insects. But, they still made for interesting subject matter, and this was art class, not science...So, I bent the rules a little on sticking to the theme!
This one is very well drawn and I especially love the attention to the tiniest details like the crackle pattern on the dragonfly's wings.  Beautiful work!

Thanks for viewing this lesson!  I am sure you will enjoy the next lesson in this unit just as much, and I look forward to your next visit to my blog! I would love to hear from you; just leave a comment by clicking on the link above!  

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Insect Anatomy: Viewfinder Close-ups!

This creepy box of plastic insects supplemented the library books we used for resources for our unit on drawing, painting and sculpting a variety of insects.

I taped all of the finished insect strips to a large paper background on part of my dry erase board.  I know it is hard to see individual drawings, so scroll down to view some close-ups of each strip.  They looked very cool together; this board covers an impressive eight feet!

For this lesson, I took out dozens of library books on the theme of insects.  The concept was for students to take time to carefully observe insect specimens and focus on one specific part of the insect's anatomy for each pencil drawing.  I showed how to fold and cut a paper scrap to make a viewfinder which was used to "frame" a specific section of an insect's body.  The students used their pencil to draw and shade each drawing to show a range of values.  They had experience with shading values from an earlier unit. You can check out the introductory unit called, "Using Value" by clicking the label at the right of this post.
They worked on a 12" strip of white paper that was folded into eight rectangles.  I reminded them to fill up the entire space so that what they saw in the viewfinder would extend to the sides of each drawing.  It was fun to see the array of interesting insect parts that each student located and then carefully rendered and shaded.  On the back of each drawing, I had them label what they drew and write a small description of it.  An example might read," Right wing of a female dragonfly.  Known to live in the swamps of the southern United States."  I really enjoyed watching the students slow down and take more than two seconds to do this assignment!  Also, it was nice to have eight drawings in a small size so that those students who typically find drawing to be difficult were not overwhelmed with having to produce just one big drawing.
This activity became the warm-up/introduction to a series of assignments about insects.  Please check in soon to see the rest of the unit which includes lessons using many different media and a variety of techniques! 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Mondrian In Low Relief

   Mondrian once said, "A painting should be as flat as the surface it is painted on."  As an art teacher who also holds a BFA in sculpture, I disagree with his theory. Sure, it worked well for him, but it seems to me that not every painting needs to be painted on top of a flat canvas, paper or board. His words got me thinking about a way to experiment with a painted project created on a raised surface.
   An art teacher friend of mine always joked that my projects usually had something that "popped up".  She would share her lesson ideas with me and then without fail I would say, "What if you made this part raised there, or layered another piece here..."  She was right; I do have to fight the urge to build out surfaces, or add extra materials to create depth. Is that a bad thing?  I don't think so.  For this lesson I chose to follow my instincts and I hope you enjoy seeing the results as much as I enjoyed teaching the lesson.
Here I am in front of a large bulletin board  in Room 9; it features a collection of finished relief sculptures hung together closely so they appear to form one large project.
   In my last post I showed a picture of a portion of the wonderful Mondrian-inspired relief sculptures that my students made after debating their likes and dislikes of his artwork.  For this lesson I challenged them to make a relief sculpture that could be no higher than 3 inches in depth using the same limited color palette favored by Mondrian in his later paintings. I have been encouraging students to "create the illusion of roundness" in their work this semester.  So, they were really surprised and perplexed when I presented the idea of making a sculpture with the goal of creating "the illusion of flatness"!
   In fact, we would test out this concept like a scientist tests a hypothesis: would it be possible to flatten out a 3-dimensional work of art?  The students were excited to see if they could "fool" the viewer into thinking that their art was a flat painting rather than a relief sculpture. We set out to see if we could "keep it flat" by creating a composition of horizontal and vertical lines, geometric shapes and colors without value shifts.

The construction was pretty simple thanks to the large quantities of cardboard jewelry boxes I got from  the Rhode Island Recycles for Education Center.  This is a fabulous resource for teachers and you can buy tons of donated materials for just 15 cents per pound.  We also used 12 X 18 chipboard for a background, tongue depressors, craft sticks, Elmer's glue and low temp hot glue when needed.

When the composition was glued in place each student used donated white interior latex house paint to base coat the entire piece.  Using different sizes of brushes helped to navigate through the different terrain of each piece.

Black acrylic paint was carefully applied to the sticks with a small brush.  Most students were inspired by the way Mondrian used the black in his paintings to form angular intersecting grids so they tended to paint the linear sticks with the black paint rather than one of the primary colors.

 A group of projects dries on the floor with the sticks partially painted with the black paint.

Each primary color was carefully painted to form rectangles and squares.  I encouraged the students to think about the placement of the colors.  They needed to consider how much color they wanted versus keeping some areas white and black.

Some students were orderly and strictly composed with their work...

While others created rhythmic, and highly varied compositions that were equally striking!

In the end, the body of work resonates with Mondrian's style while being inclusive of each student's personal vision and direction with making compositional choices.

Thanks for viewing our work!