The Kimbell Stretch


I spent four days in late June at a workshop for teachers hosted by the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. If you are an art teacher reading this, you probably are already mentally recoiling from the mention of in-service workshops. But in my summer The Kimbell Summer Teacher’s Institute is an oasis of art-focused learning and fun. Open to educators of all subjects, it is held in the beautiful Renzo Piano Pavilion museum studio.

Piano Pavilion
Renzo Piano Pavilion , Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas

See these folks? They are happy public school teachers and just people who like art in this beautiful studio space.

Happy Art Teachers

Idea Exchange

I believe this is my fifth time to attend a summer workshop at the Kimbell, which says a lot. You don’t repeat a bad experience. Each year the activities are based on the special exhibition at the museum. This summer it was the Phillips Collection, a rich and varied group of paintings and sculptures from artists like Bonnard, Van Gogh, Degas, Marc, Klee and Picasso. The well-defined structure of the days, access to the special exhibition and incredible museum educators are what makes this workshop so valuable. Each artist and style is first outlined in a lecture by Connie Hatchette Barganier, Education Manager for the Kimbell. Somehow Connie managed to evade my camera this year. While these lectures are necessarily compact, they enrich and inform each gallery experience. Great docents led our little herd of teachers through the galleries. Did you ever try to get teachers to be quiet and focused? Hats off to the Kimbell docents for being friendly and professional while herding twenty teachers (like herding cats) through the exhibitions. Unfortunately photography in the special exhibitions is not allowed, but if you follow this link you can get a glimpse of some of the pieces in the exhibit.

Back in the studio the talented Studio and Family programs Coordinator Marilyn Ivy leads us through exhibit-based art projects. My photos show Marilyn demonstrating a lino plate printmaking project; one of my favorite lessons this year.

Marilyn Ivy


Printmaking is not my strong suit, so it was nice to have Marilyn demonstrate. I think I may finally have enough of a handle on the process that I can use it with my students this school year.

The Kimbell provides top notch art materials and we get to try our hand at the painting, sculpture and printmaking activities. Again, happy teachers shown with time to  create.

Beautiful Work

As an added benefit this year the museum had Carol Ivey, a Fort Worth based artist, present a still life from observation clinic and offer a critique of our finished acrylic paintings. She arranged a still life in the studio and we got a canvas and acrylics and got to work. No pressure there, right?  Here’s a link to information on Carol.  My painting is still a work in progress, but in three hours at the workshop and a few more at home, I’m feeling good about it.

work in progress

We also did a mixed media interior drawing with a wonderful black multi-media board I had not used before. Here is a beautiful example by Carolyn. Jessica Montes this Great Dane made me think of your sweet dog. Carolyn, thank you for offering to give this drawing. I hope your family loves it as much as I do.

beautiful multimedia work

The last day of the clinic is invaluable as each teacher presents a lesson plan to the group inspired by the exhibit. I chose to relate to the Degas painting Dancers at the Barre.

Dancers at the Barre, Edgar Degas


Image courtesy of Google Art project. Public domain.

I chose to break my lesson down into three steps. First, draw the painting upside down to so that my students focus on the shapes only rather than what it is they are drawing. The human figure is very daunting for elementary students. Second, concentrate on the arrangement of positive and negative shapes in the composition. I was really fascinated by the way this Degas painting is composed, the legs of the two dancers are almost at unbelievable angles, but it works. Using tracing paper on my contour line drawing  I concentrated simply on isolating the positive and negative shapes of the composition and how they fit into the format. Finally, the third step is using another tracing of my contour line drawing  to make a paper collage of the piece, using basic tones of paper and adding chalk to simulate the textures of the painting. So you explore three of the basic elements of art in this lesson, line, shape and color.

I’ve included some shots of the other teachers presenting their ideas. That is one of the best things about these days, hearing ideas from other teachers about how they would present a concept. It is always eye-opening and fun to see what everyone comes up with.

You walk away with a catalogue for the special exhibition A Modern Vision: European Masterworks from the Phillips Collection, a copy of all those lesson plans (40 pages in all this year), a flash drive with all the lecture notes and images plus a binder with the written version of all of the resource materials.


What a treat and a stretch for the right side of the brain at the same time. Next year is Asian art. I can’t wait.


Is That What I Look Like?

Sixth graders are notoriously aware of their appearance. Fragile egos combined with growing bodies make for a tough sell when you ask students to do self-portraits. At first, this struck me as odd in this day of selfies. But then, here’s the difference; I am asking them to draw themselves, which is an entirely different matter than snapping away with a cell phone. Most people leave their portrait drawing abilities at the stick figure stage, so my first task is to make my students accept that fact and then move forward in small steps with contour line drawing.

This year I have combined previous lessons with a really nice contour drawing exercise I found on Pinterest.

  1. My students have already been contour drawing glue bottles, scissors and other objects in their sketchbooks. They know that a contour line is the line formed when space touches the edges of an object. So when they draw the contour lines of an object they are also looking at and drawing the space around, within and between objects.
  2. To judge my student’s current drawing abilities I ask that they draw a self-portrait in their sketchbooks. As we review these drawings I discuss with students the drawing symbols they have learned as a child and the difference between that and drawing what they really see. I rely heavily on the drawing theories here from Dr. Betty Edwards great book Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain that completely changed the way I drew and how I taught drawing. Students begin to realize that stick figures and smiley faces do not look anything like them any more than a ball with sticks sticking out of it looks like the sun!
  3. Next I provide a warm-up exercise: Students choose a portrait of a person about their age I downloaded from the internet (Hair-style pages are great for this because they have close-ups with great detail.) The student places a clear transparency over the top of the photograph and traces the contour lines of the face in black sharpie. (Sharpie is great! No erasing!) They can check their work by sliding a piece of white paper under the transparency. Here’s a sample of a contour line drawing on a transparency. DSC08907
  4. I took a digital portrait of each student. They had their choice of pose. I took the photos, because of time-restraints and because I wanted clear focus and detail in their faces.
  5. The final project was two steps: First, trace your portrait using only contour lines. Second construct a collage background behind your portrait.
    Here’s an example:


The backgrounds really enhanced the line drawings and provided more choices for expression. The students really enjoyed the project, I believe it built confidence in their contour drawing abilities and when displayed with a black mat, the portraits made a very effective display. I think this project is a keeper. The next step is a self-portrait without a crutch!

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