may’s artist: berthe morisot

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Full Biography:

Berthe Morisot was born January 14, 1841, in Bourges, France. Her father was a high-ranking government official and her grandfather was an influential Rococo painter. She and her sister Edma began painting as young girls and earned recognition despite not being allowed to attend any official art institutions (which weren’t open to women).

Berthe and Edma traveled to Paris to study and copy works by the Old Masters at the Louvre Museum as well as learn how to paint outdoor scenes. Here she exhibited in the Paris Salon in 1864 and would continue to have a regular place in the show for the next 10 years.

In 1868, fellow artist Henri Fantin-Latour introduced Berthe Morisot to Edouard Manet. The two formed a lasting friendship and greatly influenced one another’s work. She joined the Impressionist movement and eventually left the Salon to show with her friends. (Think of the Impressionists at the Indie painters of the late 1800s.)

In 1874, Berthe Morisot married Manet’s younger brother, Eugne, also a painter. The marriage provided her with social and financial stability while she continued to pursue her painting career. Able to dedicate herself wholly to her craft, Morisot participated in the Impressionist exhibitions every year except 1877, when she was pregnant with her daughter.

Berthe Morisot portrayed a wide range of subjects—from landscapes and still lifes to domestic scenes and portraits. She also experimented with numerous media, including oils, watercolors, pastels, and drawings.

After her husband died in 1892, Berthe Morisot continued to paint, although she was never commercially successful during her lifetime. She did, however, outsell several of her fellow Impressionists, including Monet, Renoir, and Sisley. Berthe Morisot contracted pneumonia and died on March 2, 1895, at age 54.

Berthe Morisot was the model of a modern woman, a century early. She held her own in a world dominated by men; all while successfully having a family just like so many women strive to do today. Manet said of her: “This woman is an exceptional painter. Too bad she isn’t a man.”

Simplified Biography:

Berthe Morisot was born January 14, 1841, in Bourges, France to a comfortable middle class family. Her grandfather was a famous painter and her family appreciated art. She and her sister Edma were given private painting lessons all growing up and were even well known artists despite the fact that women weren’t allowed to publicly show their art or attend the art schools.
Berthe joined, and was an influential artist in the Impressionist movement. She married the younger brother of a famous Impressionist painter and had a little girl. She continued to focus on her art all through her life, even though it was uncommon for a woman to be more than a hobby painter in the 1800s. She died quite young of pneumonia. This combined with the fact that she was a woman, so she didn’t have as many opportunities as an artist, means that we don’t have many of her paintings. But we can see her influence on this important movement in art.


Why do you think they called them the Impressionists? If you look at her paintings, you can see how the brushstrokes are very loose and not detailed. Impressionists painted quickly– just giving you the impression of the subject. Today we are going to experiment with this style. Monet (that we studied in December) was also an Impressionist.
Berthe Morisot was an adventurous artist. She was known for mixing media (media is what we use to make the art…paint, clay, crayons, pencil, etc.) Today we are going to do the same thing.

1. Think of your subject. Many Impressionists painted everyday scenes; such as Morisot’s laundry hung out to dry or a mother at her baby’s cradle.

2. Now quickly sketch the main details with the pastels. Don’t worry about getting too detailed…just give the impression.

3. Use the thickened or Impasto paint and the paint textured with sand to put in some broad stokes and add dimension to your piece. Use loose fast strokes. Don’t overwork the paint or you will loose the texture.

4. (Find a place to set them to dry…these will take a little longer to dry.)

april’s artist: lorenzo ghiberti

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Full Biography:
Lorenzo di Cione Ghiberti was born in Pelago, near Florence, Italy, in 1378 (the exact month and day of his birth are unknown). He was well-trained by his father, Bartoluccio Ghiberti, a well-respected goldsmith in Florence. In 1392, he was admitted to the “Silk and Gold” Guild as an apprentice, and quickly rose to the level of master goldsmith. In 1400, he traveled to Rimini to escape the plague in Florence and received further training as a painter, working on wall frescoes at a Castle.

Ghiberti’s career would be dominated by 2 major works, 2 sets of doors for the Baptistry of Florence. Ghiberti won a contest to receive the work, submitting one panel showing the story of the sacrifice of Isaac from the bible. Originally the doors were planned to show scenes from the Old Testament, but then changed to 14 scenes from the life of Christ in framed panels. It took over 20 years to complete the doors. Each panel is strikingly detailed and are cast in 3D (remember this is in the 1400s; so no power tools or computers!)

During that time, Ghiberti also created the designs for the stained-glass windows of the Florence cathedral, and served as architectural consultant to the cathedral’s building supervisors. He also cast bronze sculptures including a larger than life sized statue of John the Baptist and bronze reliefs for another baptistry.
After completing the doors, he spent the next 10 years traveling and studying art and philosophy, he was especially inspired by Humanism. (A Renaissance cultural movement that turned away from medieval focus on the divine in favor of the Greek and Roman views of man, his struggle and thought and the goodness found in everyone.) Lorenzo Ghiberti incorporated these techniques into the baptistery’s next set of bronze doors, which are considered his greatest work. Dubbed the “Gates of Paradise” by Michelangelo, each door portrays five scenes from the Old Testament. In the individual panels, Ghiberti used a painter’s point-of-view to heighten the illusion of depth. He also extended that illusion by having the figures closer to the viewer extend outward, appearing almost fully round, with some of the heads standing completely free from the background. Figures in the background are accented with barely raised lines that appear flatter against the background, making them appear farther from the viewer.
Throughout his career, Ghiberti was actively interested in other artists’ work; his workshop was a gathering place for several prominent artists who were on the cutting edge of early Renaissance technology. Whether through collaboration, competitive rivalry or just familiarity with each other’s work, each artist influenced the other. Several apprentices working in his shop would later become well-known artists themselves.
Ghiberti was also a historian and collector of classical artifacts. In his Commentarii, a collection of three books that included his autobiography (the earliest surviving autobiography of an artist.), he expounded on the history of art as well as his theories on art and humanist ideals. After a life of building the foundation of Renaissance art and expanding its boundaries, Lorenzo Ghiberti died on December 1, 1455, at the age of 77, in Florence.
Simplified Biography:
Here is a simplified biography for lower grades. Please son’t feel you have to read either of these word for word, use the information and tailor it to what you think is best for your class.
Lorenzo Ghiberti was born in Italy, in 1378, the exact month and day of his birth are unknown because that is a really long time ago! His father was a goldsmith, who is someone who makes things out of gold. You can imagine that this was a pretty respected profession. Ghiberti was very talented and became well-known for his work. When he was in his 20s, he won a contest to make special doors for a very famous church in Italy. He made scenes out of gold from Christ’s life, then later made another set showing scenes from the bible. These were so detailed and so much work, it took about 20 years to make each set!
Ghiberti also made statues out bronze, another type of metal. A few of these were larger than life sized, like the one in the picture of John the Baptist. Imagine how much work it took to make these back in a time when there weren’t computers, power tools or even electricity to help! Look at the intricate detail.
Another thing that was special about Ghiberti was that he was very interested in other artists. He built a large studio that was a gathering place for many of the most talented artists of the early Renaissance. Many famous artists studied and developed under his care.

Today we will create foil reliefs (a raised or embossed design) that mirror Ghiberti’s work. You will want to make sure to follow the steps carefully to get the best result for your relief.
1. Draw a preliminary sketch: artists do this to prepare for a new project. It allows you to get all the details where you want them before creating the final piece. You won’t be able to erase on the foil, so get things how you want them in sketch. You will trace over your sketch to emboss the design on your foil.
2. Lay the piece of foil on a cardboard square, then lay your drawing on top. Grades 4-6 can flip the foil over to create a design with raised and lowered lines. For the younger grades, it is probably best to keep it simple and just trace the design. Use the wooden sticks on the cart, one end is pointed for fine lines (Tell the kids to be careful, if they press too hard they could tear through.) The other side can be used to make thick lines or emboss an area. *If you pick up your drawing to check the foil, make sure you carefully line it back up before you start tracing again! (We do have a few extra, but encourage kids to work with what they’ve got. If it feels like it is an emergency, you can give them a new one.)
3. After you have finished your relief, you can mount it on the card stock square provided. Apply the glue to the paper so that it doesn’t accidentally mark the foil (Don’t get too much glue!). It is a good idea to center the foil and then make a few light marks so you know where to put the glue. Then gently lay the foil on top and lightly press it down.

march’s artist: edward hopper

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This month’s lesson is a little different in that we have an excellent picture book biography for Edward Hopper. For the younger grades, just read the book. For the older grades, if you have time, you may want to ask if there are questions or share some of the basic facts below as you talk with the students after. I will leave them in bullet form for easy reference.

*Born July 22, 1882, in Nyack, New York (a small shipbuilding community on the Hudson River.) You can see this influence in his many nautical themed works. He loved the sea.

*He was the younger of two children in an educated middle-class family. His family was supportive of his art.

*At age 5, people were noticing his natural talent.

*Hopper trained as an illustrator and devoted much of his early career to advertising and etchings. (He has been quoted on it being confining work though.)

*After moving to New York City, Hopper began to paint the commonplaces of urban life with still, anonymous figures, and compositions that evoke a sense of loneliness.

*He was able to make several trips abroad to Paris and Spain in the early 1900s. He loved the impressionists, especially Manet and Monet and Cezanne. Their work highly influenced his.

*He took the Impressionist fascination with light and used it in a much more detailed and realistic way. Critics dubbed it “soft realism”

*In 1924, he married Josephine Nivison, who was also a painter and the two worked side-by-side for the rest of their lives. She was almost always the model in his pictures and was often called his muse.

“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.” -Edward Hopper

Talk to the students about this quote and what they think it means. Ask them to look at his work and notice the clean lines, dramatic light, and emotional quality of the work. Point out that he was trying to help us see the world as he saw it. Encourage the students to take time and do the same thing on their canvases.

(**For younger grades I would hold up one or two of the paintings and say “Look at how crisp the lines are. There isn’t a lot of stuff in this painting. Why do you think Edward Hopper did that? What kind of feeling does this give you?” Maybe pare it down even more for k-first.)

This month, the students get to paint a canvas board. There is only 1 per student. They can pain over any mistakes, but can’t start again. Walk them through these steps:

1. Think of a place you like or a place that has a strong emotion tied to it. (Show Rooms by the Sea. Encourage the kids to paint something from life that they know well. Tell them that real artists don’t tend to paint a pretty landscape with flowers and a sun in the corner.)

2. Very lightly sketch where you want the details on your board. Only put in the broadest details! Do not draw a lot and try to draw very lightly because the pencil lead tends to smear in the paint.

3. Now start with the background, put in the sky and surrounding ground.

4. Work from the back to the front of your painting. (ie. If you are making a person, paint in the face, then the hair, then go back in and add facial features after the skin tone has had a bit of time to dry. For a landscape, put in the sky, the grass and then go back in and put the trees or the swingset. Etc.)

5. Don’t forget to put your name on the back (and sign the front if desired).

Tell the students that these canvas boards are used by real artists and hopefully are something they will take home and hang in their houses. They can be framed easily in an 8×10 frame (just remove the glass so it can breath.)

Thanks again for all you do! Let me know if you need anything!

february’s artist: faith ringgold

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Faith Ringgold was born Faith Willi Jones in 1930 in the Harlem area of Manhattan. Her mother, a fashion designer and seamstress, encouraged Faith’s creative pursuits from a young age. Ringgold earned a bachelor’s degree from the City University of New York in 1955. She then taught art in New York City public schools and worked on a master’s degree at City College, which she completed in 1959.

Ringgold’s oil paintings and posters, begun in the mid-to-late 1960s, carried strong political messages in support of the civil-rights movement. She was an avid fighter for the right for black artists to show their work in New York’s museums and co-founded Where We At, a group for African-American female artists, in 1971.


In 1973 she quit teaching in New York City public schools to devote more time to her art. In the early 1970s she abandoned traditional painting. Instead, Ringgold began making unstretched acrylic paintings on canvas with lush fabric borders like those of Tibetan thangkas. She worked with her mother, Willi Posey, to fashion elaborate hooded masks of fabric, beads, and raffia, which were inspired by African tribal costume. She also began making fabric “dolls” and larger stuffed figures, many of which resembled real individuals. Ringgold used some of these works in Performance pieces—the earliest of which, Wake and Resurrection of the Bicentennial Negro, was first performed in 1976 by students using her masks, life-size figures, and thangkas, along with voice, music, and dance.


Later, she expanded the format of her thangka paintings to quilt size. Her mother pieced and quilted the first of these new works, Echoes of Harlem (1980), before dying in 1981. It was in 1983 that Ringgold began to combine image and handwritten text in her painted “story quilts,” which convey imaginative, open-ended narratives; in the first one, Who’s Afraid of Aunt Jemima? (1983), the familiar advertising character is turned into a savvy businesswoman. Ringgold’s use of craft techniques ignored the traditional distinction between fine art and craft, while demonstrating the importance of family, roots, and artistic collaboration.

From 1984 to 2002, Ringgold was a professor at the University of California, San Diego. During this time, she adapted the story quilt Tar Beach into a picture book. The success of Tar Beach led to several other books. Her talent in many different media allowed her to be a powerful voice during the civil rights movement. Today, she continues to paint, quilt, sculpt and publish in her homes in California and New Jersey. Her work now often celebrates black heroes from history.

*Take a look through Faith Ringgold’s book and if you have time, read one or two, they are fantastic!


One of the most impressive thing about Ringgold’s work is that she adapted something that many of us have in our homes ( a utilitarian object) to create art. However, story quilts have been sewn for hundreds of years, with varying amounts of detail and consideration. This brings up the question of the difference between craft and art. Take a minute to discuss the 3 main levels of people who create, Artists, Artisans, and Craftsmen. It is said that “A craftsman works with his hands, an artisan works with his head and his hands, and an artist works with his heart, his head and his hands.” Ask the students what they think that means. What is the difference between the three categories? Honestly, it is a blurry and hard to define line. However, we can generally agree with this statement:

“Artists are there to provoke you to think or feel in any way shape or form. If your reaction is positive or negative it makes no difference. The object is to get a reaction from the beholder.

Artisans are masters of their craft and able to design pleasing objects that the public would love to posses.

The Craftsman has mastered his craft and can fabricate the artists or artisans vision.”

Today we will make our own story quilts. For the sake of time, you will want to keep your story or image fairly simple. Maybe a really great day or a special memory; or possibly a scene from one of your favorite stories. Use the fabric scraps to create blocks of color and add detail with crayon. Cut pieces of fabric from the strips in the bin. Put your scraps back in the bin for others to use. Add in text to help convey the story if desired; try to find unusual locations for the text! There aren’t any rules, just have fun!


 Whose Afraid of Aunt Jemima

december’s artist: claude monet

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Oscar-Claude Monet is widely considered the driving force behind the Impressionist movement. His paintings are still beloved and highly reproduced today. He was born on November 14, 1840 in Paris, France into a middle class family. His mother was a singer. His father wanted Claude to join him in the family grocery business, but Monet wanted to become an artist. He enrolled in art school at age 11 and was well known in Le Havre (in Normandy, where the family settled later) for his charcoal caricatures which he sold at the beach.

His 1872 painting, “Impression Sunrise” (which depicted sunlight dancing and shimmering on water), gave the name to the entire Impressionist movement. A critic coined the term in a harsh review of the painting, but theImpressionist painters took it up, refusing to be subject to the established art community. They stopped submitting their work to the Paris Salon (the only place for artists to show their art at the time) and created their own galleries after being rejected. They refused to let the critics deter them. And interestingly, these artists have continued to be popular over one hundred years later. (Consider that most people know who Monet and Degas are, but not many (average, non-art loving) people can tell you who Constable and Turner are.)

Monet felt that “…nature knows no black or white and nature knows no line” which led to beautifully colorful and energetic pieces of work. He began to think in terms of colors and shapes rather than scenes and objects.Impressionists strived to capture the many colors reflected in light, meticulously representing the colors seen in highlights and shadows. They used quick distinct brush strokes that give the painting a feel for a fleeting moment captured on canvas; rather than well blended, invisible strokes.

Monet painted several groups of landscapes and seascapes in what he considered to be campaigns to document the French countryside. These began to evolve into series of pictures in which he showed the same scene many times in order to capture the changing of light and the passing of the seasons. He was said to take several canvases out with him on a plein air (or outdoor) painting session and work quickly on one canvas until the light changes, then move to the next canvas to get the specific quality of light at different times of day.

At the beginning of May 1883, Monet and his large family rented, then bought a house and 2 acres on which he planted elaborate gardens. Here he painted and lived out the rest of his life. Creating many of his most famous series, such as his waterlilies. Monet died of lung cancer on 5 December 1926 at the age of 86

Today we will try out the impressionist style by painting a landscape. Think of one of your favorite places. Quickly sketch in the very biggest features in a basic way. No details! Here are a few tips that will help you out as you start to paint:

  • Keep in mind the name of this movement! We are just giving an impression of a scene here. Don’t get too caught up in the details. Try squinting your eyes and looking around at different objects in the classroom; see how this blurs the details. Try to make your landscape similar. (Rather than individual leaves or flowers, you would use dabs of paint.)
  • Apply the paint somewhat thickly (impasto), use bold strokes and don’t blend the colors completely.
  • Use complementary colors (across from each other on the color wheel) to show the shadows and highlights.
  • Mix color right on the canvas/board. Let them remain a bit separate, work quickly and loosely.

1. Start with a very loose watery wash from the bottom to the top of the sky. Add a bit more blue at the top so that the sky is lighter towards the horizon.

2. Now start to add in details in the background of the landscape, add a little more color to your brush to create a thicker mix than the sky. Use short strokes to apply the paint slightly more impasto (thicker) than the initial wash in we used for the sky.

These dabs of color help to move the viewers eye around the painting. Keep in mind the tips from above. Don’t get too caught up in the details….we are just giving an impression.


november’s artist: andy warhol


Andy Warhol (originally Andrew Warhola, Jr.) was born on August 6, 1928 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His parents came from a village in the Carpathian Mountains, in what is now Slovakia. Warhol’s father was a coal miner who died of peritonitis when Andy was thirteen. In third grade, Warhol had Sydenham’s chorea (a nervous system disease that causes involuntary movements of the extremities..) He became a hypochondriac, developing a fear of hospitals and doctors. Often bedridden as a child, he became an outcast at school and bonded with his mother. At times when he was confined to bed, he drew, listened to the radio and collected pictures of movie stars around his bed. Warhol later described this period as very important in the development of his personality and style.

At the beginning of his career in the 1950s, Warhol gained fame for his whimsical ink drawings for shoe advertisements. He also illustrated many record covers for RCA. As me moved from commercial illustration to fine art, Warhol began using a silk screen printmaking process to make his paintings. Initially, he used hand-drawn images but later evolved into a process of silkscreening photographs on the canvas, then painting over the top. He liked to create a series of one image with different variations. From his illustrations to his fine art, Warhol had a very casual and loose style, he embraced mistakes, saying “When you do something exactly wrong, you always turn up something.”

His most famous works centered around easily recognizable, everyday subjects. (This is a key aspect of Pop art, which challenged the traditions of fine art by including images from popular culture such as advertising, celebrities and news.) For his first first major exhibition Warhol painted cans of Campbell’s Soup, which he said he had for lunch for most of his life. Andy was always coy with how he felt about his art and it’s meaning. Of his coke cans and bottles he said:

“What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”

Critics were scandalized by Warhol’s open embrace of market culture. His work was controversial because it was so openly driven by consumerism. Especially later in his career, he was heavily criticized for becoming merely a “business artist” He said “Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art” Warhol’s art used many types of media, including hand drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, silk screening, sculpture, film, and music. He was also a pioneer in computer-generated art. He lived a crazy and glamorous life, surrounded in his studio by artists, actors, and celebrities that jockeyed for his attention.

In 1968, Warhol was shot by a fan with mental disease and almost died, afterward his life and work became much quieter and less public. Warhol devoted much of his time to rounding up new, rich patrons for portrait commissions. His health never improved significantly and on February 22, 1987, he died from complications from a surgery. He left his considerable wealth to the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts with the goal of supporting work of a challenging and often experimental nature. He also has the largest museum devoted to one artist in the US in his hometown of Pittsburgh.

What do you think? Is his art genius or empty? Did he paint because he thought it was great or because he thought it was junk? Is his work a commentary on the shallowness, repetitiveness, and commercialism of consumer culture, or is it a celebration of supermarkets and Hollywood?


Today we are going to experiment with some Warhol-style art. We have several copies of poplar images or draw a set of your own. Then experiment with different styles and techniques to create variations on the image. You can use different colors or manipulate the image to change it. Have fun and don’t worry about mistakes, Andy didn’t!

After you have made 6 variations on your image you can mount them (with glue stick) to a sheet of colored paper to create your final piece. You can use crayons, colored pencils or markers to give each image a different feel. Also feel free to cut and put the image back together.

october’s artist: frida kahlo

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I am excited for this first project, I think the students will really enjoy the chance to do a bit more serious self portrait and Frida Kahlo is a fascinating artist! The art cart should be stocked to last the month. I set out the paints that were left over from last year. Please throw them away when they are used up and feel free to open a box of new ones when they start to run low. There are cups for water as well on the cart, I usually put one cup per 2 students, then just rinse them out and stack them on the cart for a few more uses. Please rinse out the brushes and put them brush tip up in the containers. Thanks again, I hope you have a great experience with the students! Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need anything!

 Frida Kahlo de Rivera was born on July 6, 1907 in Mexico City. She was a larger than life personality, but had to overcome many obstacles in her life. The Mexican Revolution began during 1910, when Kahlo was three years old. She later gave her birth date as July 7, 1910, allegedly wanting her birth to coincide with the beginning of the revolution so her life would begin with the birth of modern Mexico. In her writings, she recalled that her mother would usher her and her sisters inside the house as gunfire echoed in the streets of her hometown. In her home, Kahlo was the third of four sisters. Her parents had miserable relationship and her mother was documented to be a depressed and domineering woman. Frida had a difficult relationship with her; but loved her father who was gentle and affectionate.

Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left; she was self-conscious about it and disguised this later in life by wearing long skirts or trousers. To help her regain her strength, her father encouraged her to exercise and play sports. She took up bicycling, roller skating, swimming, boxing, and wrestling, despite the fact that many of these activities were then reserved for boys. She may have also been born with spina bifida, which would have affected both spinal and leg development.

In 1925, she was attending a premier school and studying to be a doctor when the bus she was riding in collided with a trolley, leaving her near dead. After 35 operations (mainly on her back and legs), she survived, but was left in a great deal of pain, and she spent three months recovering in a full body cast. Although she recovered from her injuries and eventually regained her ability to walk, she would deal with relapses of extreme pain for the remainder of her life. Often it left her confined to a hospital or bedridden for months at a time. The medical complications and permanent damage also prevented Kahlo from having a children later in life.

After her accident, Kahlo abandoned the study of medicine and began to paint to occupy herself during her three-month immobilization. Self-portraits were a dominant motif then. Kahlo once said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Kahlo created at least 140 paintings, along with dozens of drawings and studies. Of her paintings, 55 are self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. She insisted, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Kahlo was heavily influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, which is apparent in her use of bright colors, dramatic symbolism and primitive style. Christian and Jewish themes are often depicted in her work. She combined elements of the classic religious Mexican tradition with surrealist renderings. Even though some critics classify her as a surrealist, she rejected the label and the movement. Surrealism showed dreamlike, improbable subjects with photo-realistic accuracy. Kahlo said that she didn’t paint her dreams, but her reality, therefore she wasn’t surrealist.

As a young artist, Kahlo communicated with the celebrated Mexican painter Diego Rivera whose work she admired, asking him for advice about pursuing art as a career. He recognized her talent and encouraged her artistic development. They began an intimate relationship and were married in 1929, despite the disapproval of Kahlo’s mother. Frida and Diego had a tempestuous relationship. Both artists enjoyed much fame and interest in their lives in both Mexico and the United States. They were active Communists and did a lot of work to promote the political party. Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, soon after turning 47

Project: Self Portraits:

As you look at Frida Kahlo’s self portraits, there is a good physical likeness, but she also conveyed a lot of information about her thoughts and feelings. Today we are going to paint self portraits. Use the mirrors to observe the little details about your face, but also try to add information that will help the viewer understand your heart and mind as well.

  • Give each student and mirror and ask them to wait to start drawing, talk them through observing aspects of their face.
  • Point out the basic shape of their features and ask them to notice what makes unique, talk about the textures and colors you see.

Now guide them through a few basics for proportions, etc.

  • Your face is about the same size as your hand! Ask the students to put their hands on their faces. Then put their hands on the paper and make a little mark at the top of their middle finger and the base of their hand by their wrist. Then they can make the shape of their face as they look in the mirror.
  • Now lightly divide the face into fourths. They eyes should go just above that midline. (I like to tell the students that they need to leave room for their brains. Then point out the hairline and how we can see past it…that is where their brains go!)
  • The nose can be made by making a shallow “u” along the middle line, about halfway between the eyes and chin, then filling in nostrils. The rest can follow. Don’t forget eyebrows and the chin!
  • Finally, ask them to notice colors and textures and try to convey that. (ie. Hair is never just one color, notice the shadows and the pinkness of your checks, etc.)
  • Hopefully they have been thinking about other features of the portrait that will give information about their insides. Now that we have their outsides sketched in, add those things! 

may’s artist: alexander calder

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Here is a link to the documentary on Alexander Calder:

Alexander Calder


Alexander or “Sandy” Calder was born in 1898, in Lawnton, Pennsylvania to a family of artists. His father Alexander Stirling Calder was a prominent sculptor who created many public sculptures in the Philadelphia area. Calder’s mother, Nanette Lederer Calder, was a professional portrait painter who studied art in Paris before moving to Philadelphia where she met and married Calder.

In 1902, at the age of four, Alexander completed his first sculpture–a clay elephant. In 1909, when he was in the fourth grade, Sandy sculpted a dog and a duck from a sheet of brass. The duck, which could rock back and forth, is one of his earliest examples of his interest in kinetic (moving) sculpture.

Although Calder’s parents were always very supportive of Alexander’s creativity, they discouraged their children from becoming artists, as the life of an artist is often uncertain and financially difficult. In 1915, following his parents advice, Calder decided to study mechanical engineering, and enrolled in the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey. Four years later he received his degree. However his interest in art never left him. Though he had tried to please his parents by becoming an engineer, he ultimately decided to pursue a career in art instead.

In 1923 Calder began attending the Art Students’ League in New York. While attending this school he also worked as a freelance artist for the National Police Gazette. For one of his assignments he spent two weeks sketching scenes from the Ringling Brother’s and Barnum & Bailey Circus. This project marked the beginning of his fascination with the circus.

In 1926 Calder moved to Paris where he began to build toys that moved. Eventually his collection of toys became a miniature circus which performed in the USA and Europe. He created his Cirque Calder from wire, string, rubber, cloth, and other found objects. He designed it to fit into a suitcase (eventually growing to 5 suitcases) that could be taken anywhere for impromptu performances.

Through his circus, he developed an interesting medium, using wire to create 3 dimensional portraits and other pictures. In 1929, Calder had his first solo show of wire sculpture, in Paris at Galerie Billiet. There are several anecdotes of Alexander always walking around with pliers and a roll of wire in his pocket. He would make portraits for guests at a party and once showed up to a gallery showing with nothing ready, but his pliers and wire in tow. He then made the works to cover the walls and start the show.

Calder’s interest in kinetic art led him to create the first mobiles. By the end of 1931, he moved on to more delicate sculptures which derived their motion from the air currents in the room, using cutout shapes reminiscent of natural forms (birds, fish, falling leaves). He also created giant scale “stabiles” (sculptures that don’t move) that can be found across the country, most are giant, many several stories tall. He created these out of steel sheeting and hand painted them in bright primary colors. Almost all of his work is done in limited colors: red, black, white, yellow, and blue.

Alexander Calder died on November 11, 1976 in New York. While he is most remembered for inventing the mobile, Calder was an incredibly diverse artist. From toys and wire and painting on canvas, to his most famous works of delicate mobiles and massive stabiles, his vision was clear and distinct even though the medium varied greatly.

Today we will create our own mobiles and stabiles. Use the pipe cleaners as the structural support and add interest with the fun foam and beads. There will be an example on the cart that draws inspiration from Calder’s work, balancing a larger object on one side of the mobile with several smaller ones. Show them how they balance and can move around with the air currents. Mobiles are common today, but imagine seeing these for the first time in the 1930’s when Alexander Calder first started creating them! There aren’t a lot of instructions. This project is very much up to the students! Just experiment and have fun!

Also for fun, I will have a few wire sculpture on the cart similar to Calder’s. I think they make much more of an impression than pictures of his actual wire sculptures do. Enjoy! Calder is one of my very favorite artists, I think he is so fun and unique!

april’s artists: constable & turner

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I think I have been in denial that we are already to April. 😀 Our lesson for this month is on two amazing painters who were very different men, but had very similar (and vital) contributions to the art world. As always, please don’t hesitate to contact me if there is anything I can do to help your lesson go smoothly! What you are doing is so appreciated by the students and teachers!
Many thanks!
John Constable and JMW Turner

This month we will take a look at two of England’s most famous painters. Interestingly, they were both contemporaries (lived at the same time and both members of the Royal Academy). However, they are said to have disliked each other at least and many scholars feel that they were rivals with a heated hatred for the their fellow painter. JMW Turner and John Constable were both painters in the Romantic movement and their works highly influenced and lead to the Impressionist movement. (Which we talked about briefly last month when we learned about Cezanne.) The Romantic movement doesn’t refer to hearts and flowers and love, but to glorification. The artists of this era stood against science and cold reason which (were dominant in this time of the industrial revolution) and glorified concepts such as liberty, ideals, heroism, despair, and the various sensations that nature evokes in humans. The focus was on what we feel in an individual, highly subjective way. To get a feel for these two artists, let’s make a quick comparison:

*The two artists were said to be opposites in birth, looks and temperament.

*Both were born in southern England in mid-1770s.

*Turner remained a bachelor and lived with the father he called ‘Daddy’ into middle age.

*Constable fathered seven children and was very happily married to wife Maria Bicknell.

*Turner was just 15 when he first exhibited at the Academy, Constable was nearly 40

With all of these differences, why do we talk about them together? The rivals had something very special in common, an astonishingly vivid new way of looking at landscape. While artists of the previous generation had set out to paint the landscape with photographical accuracy, Turner and Constable wished to capture its spirit.

Turner painted tumultuous storms over harbors, blazing fires, and the smoke and steam of the new industrial age. He thrilled to weather at its wildest and most violent.

This recklessness is illustrated in an account given by a Cornish newspaper editor of a boat trip with Turner off the coast of Plymouth. While the other passengers suffered crippling sea-sickness in the ‘boisterous’ waters, Turner sat in the stern muttering admiringly: ‘That’s fine! Fine!’

Constable was intensely interested in the quality of light: the way clouds cast shadows over fields, the haze after a downpour, late afternoon sun on a riverbank. He proudly wrote of his delight in decay and neglect: ‘Old rotten banks, slimy posts and brickwork — I love such things.’

John Constable was born on June 11, 1776 in Suffolk, England. His father was a prosperous miller and corn merchant. Much like Paul Cezanne, his father hoped he would take over the family business eventually. John had an early interest in art, but was largely self taught. This made for slow development as an artist, he was middle aged before he entered the Royal Acadamy.

Constable quietly rebelled against the artistic culture that taught artists to use their imagination to compose their pictures rather than nature itself. He told Leslie, “When I sit down to make a sketch from nature, the first thing I try to do is to forget that I have ever seen a picture”. Constable is famous for his landscapes, which are mostly of the Suffolk countryside, where he was born and lived. He made many open-air sketches, using these as a basis for his large (6 ft) exhibition paintings, which were worked on in his studio. His pictures are extremely popular today, but they were not particularly well received in England during his lifetime. He did, however, have considerable success in Paris. However, he refused to leave the England he loved to exhibit there. He said he would rather be a poor painter in England than a rich one abroad. He was much studied and admired for his use of color, especially in showing the varying greens found in a landscape. He loved light and clouds and the shadows that were cast on the earth below. It is all of these elements that combine to make his paintings fresh and invigorating.

Constable married Maria Bicknell, the granddaughter of a Suffolk neighbor. He fervently believed his artistic success depended on her love. ‘All my hopes and prospects in life,’ he wrote to her, ‘are included in my attachment to you.’ They had seven children, and Constable’s friend and biographer C.R. Leslie wrote that the babies were as often in their father’s arms as their mother’s.

Joseph Mallord William Turner had a much different life. He was born in Covent Garden in London in 1775 to a father who had a wig-trimming and barber’s business, his mother suffered from mental disease and was institutionalized when Turner was a boy. He was known to be an eccentric character; preferring to be alone with his work over socializing with others. A Miss Dart, who knew Turner in his youth, described him as ‘singular and silent…mean and ungrateful…careless and slovenly in his dress…anything but a nice-looking young man.’

His father was immensely proud of his son, often boasting that his he was going to be a painter. As a young man, he produced many architectural drawings and watercolors and entered the Royal Academy as a teen. Turner travelled widely in Europe, starting with France and Switzerland in 1802 and studying in the Louvre in Paris in the same year.

As he grew older, he became more eccentric. He had few close friends except for his father, who lived with him for 30 years and worked as his studio assistant. His father’s death in 1829 had a profound effect on him and left him dealing with boughts of depression. He never married but had a relationship with an older widow, Sarah Danby. He is believed to have been the father of her two daughters born in 1801 and 1811.

As he matured, turner favored dramatic seascapes and scenes. To Turner, light was the emanation of God’s spirit and this was why he focused the subject matter of his later paintings by leaving out distractions such as solid objects and detail, concentrating on the play of light on water, the radiance of skies and fires. Although these later paintings appear to be part of the impressionist movement, Turner was striving for expression of spirituality in the world, rather than responding primarily to optical phenomena. Claude Monet carefully studied Turner, we can see in his later work the beginning of this next and very unique movement.

For our project we will be creating our own landscapes (picture of a place). We will start with pastels, roughing in where we want things and adding smaller details. Then fill in with watercolors.  Try to emphasize the romantic sweeping landscapes of Constable and Turner. Show the students how to mix colors and feel free to go back in with the pastels  to add in other details. (Like the whitecaps on the seascape.)

Have fun!

march’s artist: paul cézanne

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Hello, fantastic art parents!
I am so excited for our project this month. I think the students will really enjoy painting their own small canvas. One thing that is great about canvas board is that it fits well into standard frames and can be something special to take home and hang for years to come. Here is our lesson on the incomparable Cézanne:

Paul Cézanne was an influential French painter who lived from 1839–1906. He was a Post-Impressionist, meaning his work transitioned the art world from the Impressionists, such as Degas, Monet, Manet, and Renoir to the cubists, like Picasso, Brach and Gris. (Cubism is considered to be the first of the truly modern art movements.) Cézanne is often said to form the bridge between late 19th-century art and the early 20th century. Both Matisse and Picasso are said to have remarked that Cézanne “is the father of us all.”

Paul Cézanne was born on 19 January 1839 in Aix-en-Provence, in the South of France. His father, Louis-Auguste Cézanne (1798–1886), was a prosperous banker, which gave Cézanne financial security that was unavailable to most of his contemporaries. Initially, his father did not support his choice to pursue art and he left Aix for Paris in 1861 against his father’s wishes. Eventually though, his father reconciled with Cézanne and supported his choice of career.

Later in his career, he became more interested in working from direct observation and gradually developed a light, airy painting style. Nevertheless, in Cézanne’s mature work there is the development of a solidified, almost architectural style of painting. Throughout his life he struggled to authentically observe and represent his subjects. This lead to highly structured style which simplified naturally occurring forms to their geometric essentials: he wanted to “treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone”

The Paris Salon rejected Cézanne’s submissions every year from 1864 to 1869. He continued to submit works until 1882. The Salon was the major art exhibition at the time—essentially we could say he was shunned by the critics for much of his career. However, Cézanne was considered a master by younger artists who visited his studio in Aix.

Cézanne concentrated on a few subjects and was equally proficient in still lifes, portraits, landscapes and studies of bathers. He gave up classic artistic elements such as pictorial arrangements, single view perspectives, and outlines that enclosed color in an attempt to get a “lived perspective” by capturing all the complexities that an eye observes. This created pictures that did more than merely copy what the artist saw, but recreated it in a more sculptural dimension, taking into consideration more than one angle. This greatly influence the younger generation of artists and was carried further by the cubists who distinctly showed those differing viewpoints in their works. This is why he is often said to be “one of the greatest of those who changed the course of art history.”

Today we will closely observe some everyday objects, break them down into their basic shapes and recreate them on our canvases.

1. Place a few items on each bank of desks or tables. (If a student wants to change seats for a better view of a particular object, allow it.)

2. Guide the students through looking at the items. Talk about the shapes, colors, textures you see. Point out the highlights and shadows that show the dimension.

3. Pass out canvases, have the students write their names on the back. Show them how to “rough in” where they want the objects on their canvas. Remind them to press very lightly with their pencils. So that they can barely see the marks. They don’t want the pencil to show through on their final paints.

4. Pass out paint wells and add small dots of color. Remind them that the paint goes a long way, they can have more if they need it, but you are only going to give a small amount to start so we don’t waste it.

5. Before you get started remind students how to properly treat their brushes. (We only dip the tip in the paint, that is the only part that can apply it; try not to get paint up into the barrel. Use gentle strokes, going in one direction (vs. scribbling back and forth) Gently rinse the brush when changing colors by lightly scrubbing the brush back and forth on the bottom of the water cup.)

6. Please wash the brushes after you are finished and leave them on the paper towels on the cart to dry for the next class to use. Students may want more than one size of brush, that is totally fine!

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