Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Estie the Mensch: The Movie!

This fall, we were so lucky to have local children's book author Jane Kohuth visit the school. Jane's books include "Ducks Go Vroom," "Estie the Mensch," and her latest, "Duck Sock Hop." Jane shared details of her writing process, including how she gets ideas, edits, and works with an illustrator.  The students were excited to see her childhood writing journals. Following her visit, the students created an animated movie of "Estie the Mensch." Each group of four students used stop-motion animation techniques to create the movie. They followed the plot of the book, but used their imaginations to add details and movements.  Here it is!

Estie the Mensch from Erica Smiley on Vimeo.

Eighth Grade Hand Drawings

Eighth graders learned how to use the skills of proportion, angle, and perspective in their hand drawings. We began with blind contour drawings, where students look only at their hand and do not look at the page.  Blind contour drawings help students focus on observation, and their drawings are more realistic when they draw from observation rather than imagination.  The students chose from three assignments: A Surreal "Hand"scape, Illustrated Hands, and Sign Language Hands. Here are some examples of the eighth graders' drawings!

Kindergarten Expressionist Animals

Kindergarteners compared two very different pictures of cows by Franz Marc and Albert Cuyp. The students noticed that Franz Marc's painting (1911) features bright colors and that it is not very realistic. I introduced them to the term Expressionism and asked them what the painting expresses. They interpreted it as a happy painting because of the colors and the leaping cow.

We also looked at Albert Cuyp's Children and a Cow (1635). In contrast, the kindergarteners noticed that this was a more realistic painting, and that the artist seemed more interested in showing what was there and less interested in expressing feelings or experimenting with color. I explained to them that a long time ago, people expected paintings to look realistic, and this is the way that most artists painted. While there were artists who eventually started breaking the rules and experimenting to create art that was not realistic, for many artists, it was a tough path to choose.  Today, we learn to draw and paint in a realistic way, but we also value imagination and experimentation much more highly.

The kindergarteners chose their favorite animals and painted them with tempera paints in the Expressionist style. Here are some examples!

First Grade Color Theory


First graders learn about color by studying the color wheel, mixing colors, and creating various art projects. First, they learned about primary colors and noticed that they form a triangle on the color wheel. I challenged them to create a collage using ONLY primary colored paper (red, yellow, and blue), but then offered them tricky "gifts" such as purple glitter and green yarn. They politely declined. Next, they learned about the secondary colors (purple, green, orange), which are made of two primaries. I challenged them to make a picture with all six colors we had discussed, but when they got to their tables they were surprised to find only yellow, blue, and red paint. They mixed the paint colors together to create the secondary colors.

Finally, they learned about complementary colors, which brighten each other when they are put together. The pairings are blue and orange, purple and yellow, and red and green. We discussed several artists' use of complementary colors, such as Van Gogh (orange beard with a blue-toned background) and Sonia Delaunay, who juxtaposed complementary colors in her geometric abstract work. First graders created drawings using concentric circles in complementary colors. They loved the feel of oil pastels, though it made for a challenging cleanup!

Here is the Van Gogh self-portrait:

Here is a painting by Sonia Delaunay with concentric circles and some juxtaposed complementary colors:

Here are some samples of first grade complementary color oil pastels:

Seventh Grade Value Studies

Seventh graders spend their first trimester learning about value, or light and darkness and how they are used in art.  We looked at the work of several master painters to discover the functions of value. For example, value can be used for emphasis, as in this Goya painting. The light draws our attention to the expressive face of the little boy.

Value can also be used to create mood, as in this painting by Picasso from his Blue Period. The predominant dark values create a glum atmosphere.

Artists also use value to create dimension, or the illusion of 3-dimensionality. In this Georgia O'Keeffe painting, the dramatic values give the flower a tunnel-like effect.

Seventh graders started with the basics of how to create value by varying the pressure of their drawing. Each student created a Value Scale in pencil, colored pencil, and charcoal.

Then, each student created a contour drawing, or a drawing made only with lines. They used dividing lines to slice up the page and "shatter" their drawing into smaller pieces. Finally, they spent several classes on the task of shading each shape with a graduated value scale. If you look closely at the samples, each and every shape has a complete value scale, from darkest to lightest. I am so proud of their work! As you can imagine, this can get a bit tedious, but they pushed through and created some remarkable work. Each student made an artistic decision about whether or not to use color and whether or not to camouflage the original drawing by using one color.

This student based her work on stained glass:

This student initially had the hand camouflaged, but chose to outline it and added pizzaz with the red nails:

This student even created a hidden self-portrait:

Now that the seventh graders have the hang of gradual shading (after shading about 100 times in their Shattered Values drawings), we will be focusing on applying those shading techniques to realistic drawing. We will be observing 3-D shapes and drawing them with charcoal, recording subtle shading to add dimension.

The grand finale of our adventures in value is a great project I borrowed from my friend Emily's curriculum. Each seventh grader will make a xerox of either their hand or their face (eyes closed, of course). Then, they will use grid enlargement techniques and charcoal to transfer their work, square by square, to a larger paper.  Grids are a wonderful technique used by muralists and the inspiring portrait artist Chuck Close.  Here is a lovely (but sadly, unfinished) example from last year. More details soon!

Sculpture and the Art of Maccabees

Fifth graders spend all of their first trimester in Art creating figurative sculptures with wire armature and carved apple heads. They then costume their sculptures to represent the Maccabees, the heroes of the Hanukah story. For more details about the history of Hanukah, click here.

Like the second grade portraits, this is a project borrowed from my own elementary art  experience as a child. The unit begins with figure drawing, for which the students use manikins. We focus on angle, proportion, and negative space. Here is an example of one student's manikin drawing:

Following the practice drawings with the manikins, "real life" Maccabees hopped in a time capsule and visited the classroom (in other words, we were visited by very patient and willing faculty with costumes and props from our generous theater department). Here is a photo of "Sara" and "Judah" aka, our theater and music teachers...

And this is our head of school dressed as Judah!

The heads of the Maccabee sculptures are made from peeled, carved apples. Here's one after about a week:

Next, fifth graders will be sketching their Maccabees based on manikin drawings, creating the armature with wire, covering it with plaster, and creating costumes and accessories. Here's a finished product from last year.

Second Grade Chalk and Glue Portraits

Second graders created these striking portraits by drawing with glue on black 18×24 construction paper. The next class, they used soft pastels to create the vibrant color. I emphasized blending and layering colors, as well as using complementary colors, which they learned about in first grade. This is another project that I have “borrowed” from my own elementary art classes that I took as a child.
Reaction to the portraits has been astounding!  A staff member who is a professional artist marvelled at the sophistication of their line and technique. I put them up in time for Grandparents’ Day last Friday and received many compliments. There is something so haunting and dramatic about this style of portrait!