Looking Closely - Mid-Pacific Institute

Art - Day

Looking Closely

Posted on September 22, 2017

by Abbey Day on September 22, 2017

1st/2nd Grades

We love experimenting with paint and color! After watching one of our favorite color videos and reviewing that there are three primary colors that every other color is made of, we started to think about all those colors you get when mixing the primaries and what feelings or stories they can tell.

While looking at Wassily Kandinsky's artwork, the students noticed both the primary and secondary colors and began to weave intricate stories about the shapes and lines they saw. For example, students were seeing rainbows, mountains, a house with a giant slide, a path leading into the woods, and giant towers -- all from the same artwork! Does this mean this artwork is about one of these ideas and not the others? The students gave an emphatic "no!" This led to a conversation about the difference between abstract and realistic art. Since this artwork could be many different things, depending on the person looking at it, it indeed is abstract.

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The Kandinsky painting that inspired so many different stories

Excited to create their own abstract artwork, students used the secondary colors to create paintings full of shapes, lines, and textures. They did their best to paint for the pure joy of it, without an idea of what it might turn into. In fact, there were quite a few "I don't even know what I'm painting, but I'm just painting!"

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Once dry, the students worked with a partner to look closely at their painting to brainstorm different ideas of what their painting could be. To help them describe what they were seeing to one another, students used dry-erase markers and mylar sheets laid over their paintings so they could literally draw right on top and show what they were seeing. This gave them plenty of time and opportunities to experiment with different ideas.

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Content with one or a few ideas, students then began to apply black paint over top of their colors to help better define their stories or objects. This project gave students opportunities to practice risk-taking, exploring, imagining, collaborating, and refining -- all habits that make for successful artists and learners.

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A Snake and Sun

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A rescue mission atop the Statue of Liberty

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A giant chameleon head and monster

3/4th and 5th Grades

With the focus in the upper elementary's inquiries being so much on research trips and close observation, we've been honing our observation skills so that students may better describe and represent what they find when studying the wetlands (3/4) and on the Big Island (5th grade).

We began with our "tracing wheels" on. Before beginning our tracing drawing practice, we first became aware of fine details in an artwork. By looking at one piece of the artwork at a time and slowly putting it together as an observation puzzle, different stories emerged and evolved. It was an example both in looking closely at what you see as well as what happens when we don't look back to see the whole picture. It's this balance between the details and the big ideas that help give us our most astute ideas.

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Students also learned that the artist we saw used a new tool of the time. He actually traced his subjects using a "Camera Obscura." This was an awe-inspiring topic as it let us do a little investigation into our how eyes, visual light, and cameras work. I then asked students if tracing is a form of cheating in art. Most responded that it wasn't so long as you make sure your audience knows how you made your artwork. With this rich history of observing and tracing, students then took their iPads out into our campus to take a photo to trace.

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Students were charged to find an image with a foreground, middleground, and background so that it communicated some idea of space or 3-dimension. They then learned how to edit their photo into black and white and used an iPad tool to help freeze their image so it would not move while they traced. By tracing students first laid out the "Big Picture" and then removed their paper to add more of the fine details they observed.

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The following week, students faced a new, more difficult challenge. How could they paint a realistic leaf? This was not just any green leaf, but those beautiful, rainbow crotons we often walk past! After learning a few watercolor techniques, students began taking the "tracing wheels" off by only tracing the shape of the leaf. With their shape set, they then had to carefully try to mix colors to match their leaf, use patience to apply the paint in layers, and look for all those little detials that made their leaf unique.

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We used students' dry paintings to put their observation skills to the test. I documented each leaf (for fear they would die in the week between) and laid them out for all students to see. There were over 46 photos, each similiar, but if looking closely, there are distinct differences. We took some time looking at all the photos together and noted some of the different characteristics. The most obvious difference to emerge were the shapes. While some were thin, others were thick, and others were "arrow." Students categorized the photos of leaves and then got into groups to further sub-divide and organize. Some groups arranged leaves by color, others by front vs. back, and others by more specific details of shape or pattern.

With our leaves categorized and labeled, it was time to make matches between paintings and photos. Rather than find their own leaf, the children received someone else's painting. This served as another observation test. Could they look closely enough at the details and clues that their peer gave them through the painting to correctly match it with a photo? It also served as feedback for the painter. If they didn't include enough, it became obvious as their painting was mis-matched.

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By taking time to study each of these details -- shape, line, color, texture, pattern, students are creating their own toolbox of what to look for and practice when creating an artwork. We'll continue our obervation unit as we prepare to take our drawing/painting outside where we'll observe 3-D objects while keeping in mind all the elements we have already studied.

I'm also excited to introduce students to the idea of scientist/artists, such as DaVinci, Darwin, and others than would accompany voyagers to document their journeys. Giving students examples of why it's important to have these artistic skills to communicate and document ideas helps give them a foundation in the importance of why we're practicing.