Georges-Pierre Seurat was born on December 2, 1859 in Paris, France. His father was an upper class customs official who traveled frequently and didn’t spend much time with the family. He was very close with his mother and brother and sister. He took art lessons as a child and at age 16, Seurat began his formal education to under a local prominent sculptor. From 1878 to 1879, Georges Seurat was enrolled at the famous École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. However, feeling frustrated with the school’s strict academic methods, he left and continued to study on his own.

Seurat was energized by the Impressionists with their radical painting methods. However painting was not just emotion for Seurat. He was fascinated with the science of art and approached his work from a mathematical perspective. In the mid-1880s, Seurat developed a style of painting that came to be called Divisionism or Pointillism. Rather than blending colors together on his palette, he dabbed tiny strokes or “points” of pure color onto the canvas. When he placed colors side by side, they would appear to blend when viewed from a distance, producing luminous, shimmering color effects through “optical mixing.” Sadly his career was cut short when he passed away from an illness (most likely pneumonia or meningitis) on March 29, 1891 at age 32. Although he did not paint for many years, he greatly influenced modern painting. His writings as well as his technique were pivotal in shaping modern art and Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte is one of the most recognizable paintings even today.

We will try our own hand at Pointillism today. After passing out the canvas boards to each student, give them these instructions:

1. Canvas boards are used by real artists. We only have enough for each student to have one. However the great thing about paint is that if you make a mistake, you can just wipe it off and paint over it! We will also share palettes (or paper plates) with a partner because this type of painting tends to use less paint. (Make sure to start with dime size squirts of paint. They are welcome to have more if needed, but this will help cut down on waste.) Also remind the students that brushes can only spread paint from the tip; so just gently dab in the paint for best results.

2. Seurat did not mix paints before applying them to the canvas, he used small dots of analogous or harmonic colors (colors that are close to each other on the color wheel) to deepen the colors or create a secondary color. To shade, you can use points of complementary colors (colors that are across from each other on the color wheel, which will intensify each other but also mix together to make a grey/brown.)

3. Sketch out your picture, you might want to keep it somewhat simple. Seurat loved showing scenes of everyday life.

2. Now fill in the space with little points of color. Keep the close together to get the best look.

*After the students are done painting, please carefully wash all of the brushes (I often let a fast finisher take the first pass at them, and then run them under water and check to make sure the paint is completely cleaned out. Then place back in the cup with the brush end up.