My 4th grade art students always seem to have fewer barriers between their art and their imagination than my 5th and 6th graders. I’m not sure why that is, but is delightful to watch and listen to them as they open up to a project. I revisited an old classic recently when I asked my 4th grade artists to draw their favorite meal.
The set up for the project is a discussion about going on a picnic. Students get to pick their favorite foods to have at the picnic, which must include a main course, sides, drink and dessert. They must also include silverware and a napkin and a tablecloth under the plate.
I have three goals for this project.
- They must have their food shown from a bird’s-eye point of view, which involves a demonstration and discussion of how shapes change when they are shown from different perspectives.
- They must show a place setting, which involved a discussion and pictures of how you set a table. Social skills in art class. I wonder how many families sit down at a common table for dinner these days, so I hope I filled in a gap for some of my students who have not ever set a table.
- They must show a pattern of some kind on the tablecloth, which reinforces the definition of a pattern in art as a repeated shape or color series.
Students have a large sheet of paper as their format, 12 x 18 inches, and draw first in pencil, then outline in sharpie and color with crayon. I give them a paper plate to draw around to make sure we don’t have miniature plates.
And oh the stories about what food my students like the best!
And the extras! Ants on the tablecloth. Butterflies flying over the picnic. Good memories about family. Great fun.
The images you see are drawn by sixth graders after exploring her drawing methods in my class in 2009. I’ve read that the arts are not important in the grand scheme of things these days in public schools. I’ve also heard that on average, people give up drawing after the sixth grade. That is so sad.
I look at the beautiful work by these students and it haunts me that some people may think this is not a skill worth teaching. Look in the eyes of these portraits and I dare you not to see the intensity there. They are amazingly telling about the artist and the subject.
Repetition of shapes, lines and colors is one of the strongest organizing principles in art and it takes practice to see it and create it.
A simple and fun drawing exercise called Bad Hair Day on The Incredible Art Department website helps bring this concept into focus.
Fun, because everyone can relate to “bad hair day” and useful because it emphasizes the use of a repeated shape as a pattern. The “hair” is divided into at least five sections. Each section must have a different pattern in it.
This started out as a sub project, but my 5th and 6th grade students enjoyed it so much we continued the project over several says. Here are the results.
A wonderful website called artyfactory.com has a Pop Art lesson plan that produced some very colorful Mona Lisas from my 5th graders a few years back. They grid the drawing and copy it square by square, then paint each square with a different color, texture or tone. It always suprises me how the mind balks at drawing hands. Tough stuff, but such good practice at isolating shapes. I hope you have as much fun looking at them as we did making them. Here’s the lesson site.
There is a mystery to the Lascaux Cave Art discovery that has a siren call for me as an art teacher. Perhaps I love to teach this lesson so much because the boys who were out walking their dog and discovered the cave are about the same age as the students I teach. What kid wouldn’t want to discover a secret cave? Maybe it is the need in all of us to discover who are ancestors were and how they lived.
But finally I think it is the mystery of the message in the cave drawings that brings me back again and again. No one really knows what these artists were recording. Magical images used in religious or hunting rites? A record of their hunts? How did those people perceive their world and what muse made them create these images ? And what of those handprints left behind? I long to place my hand where that ancestor placed theirs. But as we discovered, the bacteria on our hands and in our breath can destroy the ancient pigments, so the caves are sealed off except to scientists.
I found another year’s exploration of the subject in these images from 2007. We made our own cave in my room and printed leaves and our own hand prints. Other students drew pastel animals and a mural of the discovery for our hallway display.
There are few things in this world as appealing as a new box of crayons. They are just splendid in their neat little paper jackets all lined up and sharp. That waxy smell, color points, perfect like a sharpened set of rainbow teeth. ( ok, that’s sounding strange….) I saw this great project on a fabulous teacher website: http://minimatisse.blogspot.com/2012/02/unity-crayons.html.
I could not help myself. We just had to try it.
I worked this project with my fifth and 6th grade classes. The focus of the project is a discussion of the principle of unity in artwork. “What elements unify an artwork? Is it color, shape, size…what things bring the artwork together as a cohesive unit?” We looked at the American flag hanging in my classroom. ” What elements draw this design together?” As a side product of this discussion, a debate about what elements unify the people of this country developed. The very phrase ” United States” was discussed. Good stuff.
We moved to discussing everyday objects that we use but don’t really look at. Like crayons. “The packaging and function unify the crayons in the box, but what about scale? Does scale unify the crayons? What if we change the scale?” Hooked.
I created a stencil earlier this month and had students who were finished early duplicate thirty stencils. I used large sheets of black bulletin board paper for my work surface. Not as expensive as using 12 x 18 sheets of black construction paper and it works just as well. Here was my set up:
Then it was a matter of going step by step teaching the method on the first crayon. We used pastel for these for the richness of color. We discussed highlights and how to position them.
I challenged my students to do at least two crayons and that the second one should overlap the first in some way. They loved the idea and I can’t wait to get these up on the wall.