october’s artist: wassily kandinsky

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Wassily (Wassilyevich) Kandinsky was born on December 16, 1866 in Moscow, but spent his childhood in what is now Ukraine. He lived a comfortable, middle class life. His father was a tea merchant from Siberia, his mother descended from Mongolian aristocracy. Although he studied a variety of subjects in school, including economics and law, he often said that he was drawn to art and especially color from a very young age. He talked about noticing the colors of the landscape around him and feeling like he was stepping into a painting when he was a young boy. It wasn’t until he was thirty, however, that he left a thriving career teaching law to pursue art full time. It was slow to start. He wasn’t immediately accepted into art school so he worked on his own, taking classes where possible.

His early work was heavily influenced by Russian folk tales and often had themes from these stories as well as stories from the bible loosely depicted. Although his early work was much more representational (meaning it has an identifiable person, place. and/or thing) it was still somewhat abstract. Kandinsky wanted his view to focus more on the emotion they felt. He wasn’t traditionally religious, but he was deeply spiritual. To him, painting was a spiritual action and he wanted the view to be involved in creating the meaning behind each piece.

You can see this even more as his art quickly becomes more and abstract (meaning that you can tell exactly what it represents). He is considered to be one of the fathers of abstract art and the term ‘abstract expressionist’ (which would become more common in later years) was coined to describe his work.

Kandinsky was passionate about music and felt that visual art and music went hand in hand. He said “Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul” He used color to show his emotion or response to the subject, rather than to describe what the subject looks like. He once said that he is trying to express his soul rather than represent the world. He believed in color as it’s own form, not as something that helps describe an object. He also used musical terms to describe his work. He called his most spontaneous paintings “improvisations” and described more elaborate works as “compositions.”

Although people had a hard time understanding his work during the first few showings, he became successful fairly quickly and was teaching art as well as painting in Germany when WWI started. He was targeted by the Nazis and many of his paintings were burned. After the war, he settled in France where he lived the rest of his life, dying of a stroke at age 78 on December 13, 1944.

Today we will experiment with line and color to make an abstract painting like Wassily Kandinsky. Instead of thinking of a picture that you would like to draw, think of a feeling. Do you want your painting to be happy or sad? Chaotic or peaceful? Kandinsky, like many other artists, felt that warm colors (Red, yellow, orange) showed energy and excitement. While cool colors (blue, green, purple) were calming and peaceful.

1. Play the CD on the art cart, tell the students to listen to the music and see if they can see what Kandinsky might have been trying to paint as they listen to “Titan” by Gustav Mahler.

2. Use the crayons to create the shapes on a piece of cardstock, make it as simple or complex as you’d like!

3. Use the watercolors to add color and interest. Observe how the paint doesn’t stick to the crayon. How can you use this to make interesting designs.

*Fast finishers are welcome to try more than one painting!

may’s artist: caravaggio

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Michelangelo Merisi de Caravagio was born was born on September 29,1571 in the small town of Caravagio, which is outside of Milan, Italy. His father was an assistant to a local nobleman and he grew up in a moderately comfortable life. However, Caravaggio lost both of his parents to plague during his teen years. After his mother passed away he became an apprentice with a painter in Milan. During this time, he trained in the Lombard style, which valued simplicity and attention to natural details. This would show in his work throughout his life. After his apprenticeship, he went to work in a factory like setting painting painting flowers and fruit for the work of a master. This was the common practice at the time, artists would work their way up from painting background details in a better known artist’s workshop until they had gained enough skill and notoriety to open their own studio. Although many artists never rose above this more craftsman like position. However, this was a great time to be a painter in Rome. The Catholic church was expanding rapidly and needed art to fill the new cathedrals and other buildings being constructed. During this time, he developed a dramatic style of lighting to create intense tension and emotion in his paintings. This style, called chiaroscuro, uses a very dark background with dramatically lit subjects.

Caravaggio was rebellious from the beginning of his study. Instead of the perfectly depicted gods of the ancient Greek and Roman sculpture that apprentices faithfully reproduced, he would emphasize their humanity, playing it up to extremes. He infamously painted the god Bacchus (who was the god of fertility and wine-making, essentially the embodiment of the good life) as green and sickly. He painted David and Goliath, but put himself as the beheaded Goliath.

It is not hard to imagine that his contrary nature showed in his interpersonal relationships as well. He had many tumultuous interactions with other artists, especially during his apprenticeship years. He left Milan for Rome after getting into trouble for assaulting a police officer. Then fled Rome after killing another man in a brawl and being sentenced to death in 1606. For the next four years, Caravaggio lived in Naples and Malta (Which were outside of Roman jurisdiction and allowed him to evade punishment). He was knighted and briefly served in the Knights of Malta, but was imprisoned and expelled from the Knights for badly injuring another knight during yet another brawl.

Everywhere he went, Caravaggio was almost immediately successful, but his prideful manner and quick temper made it hard for him to stay anywhere for long. Hoping to gain a pardon from the Pope, He made his was back to Rome and died during the journey in July of 1610. There are varying accounts on what happened. He may have died from a fever, which he had complained to friends about having. Some experts feel it may have been the final stages of lead poisoning from his paints. Others feel that he was most likely killed in a fight or as revenge from the earlier incident with the powerful knight in Malta. However he died, Caravaggio’s influence on art was immediate and profound. He began a shift back to more natural and realistic proportions in art (At this time, the main school of art was Mannerism, which followed the Renaissance. The interest in ideal proportions was so exaggerated that figures often had elegant but very unnatural dimensions and form.) Chiaroscuro is a technique used frequently today to give weight to the subject of a painting and help move the viewer’s eye to what the artist feel is most important.

Today, we will try our hand at chiaroscuro. Think about a dramatic story or scene, then use the chalk pastels to capture it on paper. Set up the scene so that it creates a diagonal line of the most important information in the paper. (See how the shafts of light in Caravaggio fall in a horizontal line across the subjects. Use the light colors sparingly, so that the areas you want the viewer to focus on will jump from the page. You can blend the colors by gently rubbing in a small circle with a finger.

After the picture is complete, spray lightly, holding the can 6” from the paper to set the chalk.

april’s artist: jean-michel basquiat

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Jean-Michel Basquiat was born on December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. His mother Mathilde was Puerto Rican and his father was an immigrant from Haiti. From an early age, Jean-Michel’s artistic talent was encouraged by his mother and teachers. He was extremely bright, speaking English, Spanish and French fluently by age eleven.

Although his family was middle class and he was highly encouraged, Basquiat faced plenty of adversity. When he was seven years old, he was playing stickball in the street and was hit by a car. He spent several weeks in the hospital recuperating from injuries (including a spleen removal from the damage.) His mom gave him an anatomy book and he spent much of his time drawing and learning about the human form. Many people felt that this is where his passion for art began. Later that year, his parents separated. He and his sisters lived with his father, while his mom spent time in and out of mental hospitals. She was a talented artist in her own right, but battled mental disease.

Jean-Michel was enrolled in a handful of prestigious private schools, but could not conform to the academic environment. At age fifteen he ran away from home and lived on the street, selling handmade postcards and tee shirts for income. His graffiti was recognized for it’s artistic potential and soon he was working with clothing brands, rap labels and t.v. shows. He met Andy Warhol (whom we studied last year) in a restaurant and almost immediately formed a bond. Warhol became and mentor and father figure to Jean-Michel. They collaborated together and ultimately Warhol was the one who was able to talk Basquiat into going to rehab when developed a rapidly growing drug problem. Sadly, he passed away a couple years later at age 28 of a heroine overdose. Jean-Michel’s life and career were tragically short. However, his work greatly influenced the post-modern art world. You can see the incorporation of old masters, impressionists and modern artists which he used to create something completely new. Many said that he wasn’t prepared for the avalanche of fame and money that came so young in his career. Others feel that he may have had emotional or psychological disorders of his own that he treated himself with alcohol and drugs. Even though his contribution to art spanned a short period of time, Jean-Michel was very important.

Today we will mix media (the supplies we are using) to create our own graffiti art.

1. Plan out and lightly sketch what you want to create.

2. Use markers first to create your picture. (You can layer pastel on top of the markers, but can’t draw on top of the pastel with the markers.)

3. Use the pastels to add areas of interest. These are great for creating bold highlights and bringing areas of the picture into the foreground.

march’s artist: vincent van gogh

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Vincent Willem Van Gogh was born on 30 March 1853 into an upper middle class family, in southern Netherlands. He was the oldest of six children and very close with his brother Theo and sister Willemina. Van Gogh drew frequently as a child and was serious, quiet and introspective. These personality traits along with a fierce temper about his art and depression and alcoholism would make it hard for Vincent to succeed in an academic setting. He struggled through a few attempts at art school, but was known to battle with professors that did not understand his vision or tried to get him to conform to theirs. There is wide speculation on what mental and emotional disorders Vincent may have had, including severe depression, epilepsy and schizophrenia. Many think that he may have been autistic based on accounts from friends and family. Whatever conditions he struggled with, it was certainly made worse by severe alcoholism, smoking, lack of sleep and malnutrition. In his letters, he often described going days without eating and sleeping. He is the archetype of the tortured artist. Although he was never well appreciated for his work during his life (he only sold one painting) he is now one of the most recognizable and loved artists in history.

Vincent relied heavily on his brother Theo. After several failed career attempts that varied from mining to ministry work, Theo encouraged Vincent to pursue art full time. Theo Van Gogh was an art dealer, as were several others in the Van Gogh family; and he provided his brother with financial and emotional support throughout his life. For two years the bothers lived together in Paris; this was the time that Vincent remembered as the happiest in his life. The brothers also corresponded avidly. There are more than 600 letters from Vincent to Theo (who saved all of his letters) and around 40 from Theo to Vincent (who did not keep his.) Vincent did not seriously pursue art until he was 27 years old. Impressively, in the next ten years he would create over 2100 paintings, watercolors, and sketches.

Citing exhaustion from the busy pace of Paris, Vincent moved to Southern France, hoping to start an artists’ colony. It was during this time that he lived with the artist Paul Gauguin. The pair had a complicated and very intense friendship. Many heated debates led to the argument that ended in Van Gough slicing off a part of his ear with a razor. There are many conflicting accounts of how the incident played out; but none from Vincent, who could not remember the event afterward. He was diagnosed with an acute mental breakdown and checked into a mental hospital. He spent the next year in hospitals until he passed away from an infection after shooting himself in the chest.

Today we will paint like Vincent Van Gogh. Usually, I recommend starting with the background and working in layers, to the little details at the front. However, using Van Gogh’s style, we work directly, all prima. (Which means that we will finish the painting in one sitting working in one layer.)

1. Start by lightly sketching out your design on the canvas. You want to make the lines barely visible so that you don’t end up with graphite in your paint.

2. Using, thick strokes, paint several colors close together. Look closely at Van Gogh’s paintings. You will see trees that are green, but have yellow and purple brushstrokes side by side. The combination of colors will make your painting more interesting. Areas where you put similar colors will harmonize. If you want to make something in your painting really stand out, you can mix contrasting colors, (Red/green, blue/orange, purple/yellow, etc.) These areas will really catch the viewer’s eye.

3. Before finishing, go back and look at your piece. Are there areas that need a little refining? You might especially want to outline objects to make sure they stand out against the background and have a solid form.

february’s artist: yayoi kusama

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Yayoi Kusama was born on March 22, 1929 in Matsumoto Japan. Her family was upper middle class and very conservative and strict. Yayoi has often recounted that she did not have a happy childhood or live in a happy home. At age 13, she was sent to live and work in a military factory to sew parachutes for the Japanese army. From age 10, she suffered from acute anxiety attacks. She remembers hallucinating polka-dots that would swallow up everything, including herself. This is why polka-dots have such a strong presence in her work. She has lived side by with her mental illness, knowing it is an important part of who she is as well as her art. This may be why she so often creates a space for viewers to be swallowed up in her art and see it more from her perspective.

Kusama works in many media. She paints, sculpts, and creates installations combining different media. She has also made films, done live performance art pieces and even designs clothing. Often she creates an installation for her sculptures and paintings to be viewed within a mirrored room that gives the art an infinite and encompassing quality. Most of her work has symbolic meaning. For example, the polka-dots she uses so frequently reference her anxiety and sense of self. Pumpkins mimic the human form, she says. She uses them also as an alter-ego self portrait. She described her “Infinity Nets” paintings as “a curtain between me and other people.”

Over the years, Yayoi has been associated with several art movements, but her work can’t easily be defined by any one movement; which is part of her genius and appeal. She has won several important awards, including the Praemium Imperiale award from the Japanese Imperial family. She is the only female Japanese artist to have been given this award and is widely thought to be one of the most important artists to come from Japan.

Today we will use Yayoi Husama’s sense for bold patterns and color to create our own mixed media work. Tell students to start thinking about what they want to create while you show them the materials we have to work with. Once they have their idea in place, they can follow these steps:

1. Choose a color of card stock and lightly sketch out your design. Decide where you want to use fabric scraps and up to 4 of the embellishments in the box. (I often remind the students that we have lots of friends to share with. There are more than 500 kids that will do this project!)

2. Add color with the pastels next, get your picture how you want it and then you will be ready to glue down the fabric, etc. I think it’s helpful to color over the lines of where you want the fabric, just in case you cut it a little bit smaller or differently than you were planning.

3. Lay the fabric down on the are where you want it and draw the shape you want it cut into the fabric. Then cut it out and glue it on.

4. Touch up the color with the pastels if needed. Finally glue down the buttons/flowers, etc.

january’s project: african tribal masks

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Tribal masks have been used for hundreds of years by many of the Sub-Saharan African tribes (some dating back to 7000 BC). While they are appreciable as vibrant and skilled art. This is not their main purpose. They are for use in important ceremonies and rituals, usually revolving around weddings, funerals, initiation rites, and such. The masks aren’t meant to be perfectly accurate representations, but to show the essence of the spirit, person or animal portrayed. Often specific traits are featured to convey a message. For example, to represent power, masks may have antelope horns, crocodile teeth or the fangs of a warthog. Calmness and patience is conveyed through half-closed eyes, a small mouth and eyes represents humility while mask that represents wisdom has a wide, bulging forehead. A large chin represents power and strength. Animal features are often included. The most common are buffalo, hyena, hawk, crocodile and antelope. Antelope is one of the most widely used animal masks. It symbolizes agriculture and is worn to enable better crops. Horns represent growth of millet, legs roots of the plants while ears represent songs that women sing in the harvest time. Symmetrical lines and geometric designs show dignity and integrity. Highly polished surfaces represent youthful healthy skin and reflect the idea of beauty and virtue, while rough dirty surfaces suggest fear and evil.

Each mask has a specific spiritual meaning or represents a specific spirit and often several are used in any ritual. The mask is believed to have a spiritual power and the wearer is transformed, merging with the spirit of the animal portrayed when dancing in a ceremony or ritual.
The mask artist has a high rank in the village because it is believed that they have contact with the spirit world and their skill is not just artistic, but spiritual. Their training may last many years and can be as an apprentice in the workshop of a master carver. However, most often these skills are passed down from father to son through many generations.

Masks are made from wood, pottery, textiles, copper and bronze. Details could be made from animal teeth, hair, bones and horns as well as feathers, seashells and even straw and egg shells. Wood is the most common material because it is plentiful and many African tribes believe that the tree has a spiritual soul and it’s wood is the most natural home for the spirit in the mask. The larger and more detailed the mask, the more important the spirit it is meant to represent.
During the late 1800s, tribal masks became very popular among Europeans and directly affected the schools of art that emerged during that time. The Fauvists (Edvard Munch that we studied last year), Cubists (Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque) and many of the Impressionists incorporated the colorful, more expressive design of these African artists. Today African tribal masks are a popular art commodity, although many now are made for commercial purposes and don’t have religious significance.

Several West African tribes also used small masks as passports. Warriors and travelers from various tribes would wear a small (3-4”) mask on a band around their arm or neck to show what tribe they belonged to. A passport mask could also show what their purpose was (such as a messenger, hunter, or warrior.) They also were believed to provide protection to the wearer.

Today we will make our own passport masks. Think about the characteristics you would like to display and carefully carve out or pinch basic features into your mask.
1. Distribute 1 clay ball for each student on a small paper plate. Have the students write their name on the paper plate before getting started. Warn students that air dry clay is very brittle when completely dry. Small or thin parts sticking out are unfortunately likely to crack or break off, so it is best to keep things pretty simple.
2. Work on your paper plate to create your mask. If there are cracks, they can smoothed with wet fingers. This kind of clay works best when it it doesn’t get too wet or overworked though, so focus on carving out what you want to with the tools or pinching out small areas. Adding clay to mask often ends up cracking, but you can try to add larger details by making a crosshatch on each of the areas that will be stuck together.
3. After the basic features are made on the mask, use one of the hook tools to carefully carve the excess out of the back, leaving the clay at around a half inch thick. (This is definitely better in this case.)
4. Gently paint some details with the paints. You will want to press very lightly with the paint brush so that it doesn’t carve into the clay.
(Because painting is secondary, I would recommend sharing a paper plate “palette” between 2-4 students. Just squeeze small puddles of paint onto each plate and then add more as needed.)
5. Leave the masks on the plates to dry.

*A few more things to consider:
-Please be careful to keep bags sealed so the clay balls don’t dry out.
-Please let me know if supplies are running low. This is one that we can’t really load everything on the cart for the month. My number will be on a post-it on the cart a text that we need more will be super helpful! 😉

december’s artist: paolo uccello

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Paolo Uccello lived from 1396 or 1397 to December 10, 1475 in Florence, Italy. There is very little biographical information about his early life; but we do know that his father was a barber and sugeon. (Historically, it was common to mix these two professions.) His mother was nobility and was born in Florence. Uccello is actually a nickname, which references his love of painting birds (it translates loosely as “Paul of the birds”).

He apprenticed under the master sculpture Ghiberti (whom we studied a few years ago!) You can see Ghibetri’s style of storytelling within a work reflected in Uccello’s art. Uccello’s work falls into the Late Gothic movement. However he emphasized color and pageantry rather than classical realism, which was the focus at the time. He loved painting animals. While the bulk of art at this time was commissioned for the Catholic Church to decorate cathedrals; he did get to create several pieces featuring animals (which he was passionate about) for the Medici family (who were the ruling noble family at the time.) His most notable contribution to art was his passion for perspective. He wrote extensively about vanishing points and foreshortening. At this time in art, size was used to note importance rather than actual physical scale. A fellow artist commented in his journal that Paolo was known to stay up all night looking for the vanishing point in a scene. His work did not always look natural, but had a meticulously calculated, almost draftsman-like feel. He was also a scientist, as many painters were in 1400 and 1500s. He is reported to have said that he wanted to create a scene through scientifically structured space; and “if the scene ended up looking less natural or unrealistic, so much the worse for nature and history.” (this is a disputed quote, but definitely gives a feel for Uccello’s beliefs.

He also was a master of creating multi-figure, elaborate scenes that tell a story. His most famous work was a series of three murals to depict the battle of San Romano. He had a successful career and was sought after for commissions for civic and religious pieces during his lifetime. As he got older and his eyesight failed, he struggled financially, eventually passing away of old-age related ailments around 79 years old. His influence changed art dramatically, especially concerning perspective. Many famous artists were highly influenced by him, including Leonardo DaVinci.

Today we will create our own multifigure works to tell a story.

1. First you need to think about what story you want to tell. Think about how you can show what happened in one scene.

2. Take a look at the picture with the perspective lines drawn in. Show the students the vanishing point and explain how you can show that things are farther away by drawing them smaller as the get closer to the vanishing point.

**For third grade and above, include step 3. For younger students, omit the perspective work.**
3. Ask the students to pick a horizon line (where the sky meets the ground) and lightly draw it on the paper. Choose where you want the vanishing point to be and make a little dot there. Any larger structures, roads, etc. will get smaller as they go back to the horizon line. You can easily find which way to show the receding sides of a structure, by lightly drawing in those lines with a ruler. (See the video for a better explanation of this.) ie. The receding sides of a house will fall within the ruler lines.

4. Use the colored to put in the details of the scene, then use the chalk over the top to fill in larger areas and create highlights and shadows where desired.

november’s artist: mark rothko

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Mark Rothko was born on September 25, 1903 in what is Latvia today (then it was part of the Russian Empire). His family immigrated to Portland, Oregon in 1913 when Mark was 10 years old. His father was a pharmacist and passionate about education. While he excelled, Mark tended to chaff under the strictures of educational life. He dropped out after his sophomore year at Yale and went to work in New York in a garment factory. While visiting a friend, he saw a group of students sketching and was immediately intrigued. Luckily, New York was the perfect place to begin his study. Rothko saw art as a tool of emotional and religious expression. His early work was often moody and dark and he enjoyed moderately success. He taught to supplement his income and continued to teach throughout his career.

As he gained experience, Rothko began to move away from figurative painting (with a recognizable subject.) Rather than painting a picture of a thing, he tried to create a purely emotional experience with each painting. Rothko was very intense about the spiritual aspect of his paintings; for him as the artist as well as for the viewer. He used color as a tool to convey emotion and felt what he was trying to convey was more than words could describe. He said they contained a “breath of life” he found lacking in most figurative painting of the era.

Rothko’s method was to apply a thin layer of binder mixed with pigment directly onto uncoated canvas and to paint very thinned oil paint directly onto this layer, creating a dense mixture of overlapping colors he called multiforms. The drama is created not in the scene portrayed, but in the colors and textures. When describing his work, Rothko said “This isn’t painting about nothing, it’s painting about everything.”

As he became more famous, he felt more isolated, frustrated that many critics and viewers didn’t understand his intentions. He hated thinking of his art as merely decorative. He wanted to the viewer to immerse themselves in the experience, to focus closely on one piece and become part of it. Later in his life, he began work on a chapel where people could come and do exactly that. Unfortunately, declining health and crippling depression led to his death before the chapel was completed. However, the building is still a place where people can come and meditate and experience in a personal way.

Today we will experiment with color like Mark Rothko did!
1. Use the tape to create different color field areas on your watercolor paper.
2. Try some different techniques to blend colors and create interesting texture in the different fields of your mutliform painting.
Wet on wet: Get your brush very wet and lay down a layer of one color. Now load a different color onto your brush and lightly touch your brush into the first color. (This usually works best if you stick to similar colors. There is a color wheel on the art cart. Show it to the students and point out the warm colors and cool colors. Ask the students to look at the Rothko paintings again, notice how he mixes fiery reds with bright yellows and cool blues and moody plums and purples. These colors, while different will harmonize with each other.)
Dry brushing: lay down a field of color and move to another area to give it time to dry. Next load your brush with color, but keep it dry. Do not get too much water on the brush. Use firm quick strokes to lay down a more jagged textured brush stroke.
Salt: Load your brush with a lot of water and paint and lay it down on the paper, then sprinkle with salt and leave it to dry overnight. When you brush the salt away, it will leave kind of a sandy texture.
Lifting: After laying down a section of color, you can take the cling wrap and wad it up a little, gently press it into the paint and pull it up to create ridges of color in the field.
3. When your painting is dry, you can carefully remove the tape. Make sure to lift slowly so that it doesn’t tear the paper.

*Because watercolor paper is expensive, please encourage the students to only use one piece of paper. I like to let students know that this is the same artist quality paper that professional water color artists use.

*Remind students that they can control the saturation of the paint by wetting the brush and either swirling the brush in the paint for just a little bit or for a longer time.

october’s artist: georgia o’keeffe

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Georgia Totto O’Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887. She was the second of seven children to be raised on a dairy farm in a sleepy rural area of Wisconsin.

By age 10, she knew she wanted to be an artist and began taking lessons from a local watercolor artist. She studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and later taught art at several schools, including Columbia University. She felt constrained by the prevailing practice of recreating exactly what she saw on canvas. Eventually, she moved to focus more on line and emotion than an exact portrayal of the object or scene. She ached to share her feelings through her art.

A close friend sent some of her drawings to a prominent photographer and art dealer, Alfred Stieglitz, in New York. He called them the “purest, finest, sincerest things that had entered [his gallery] 291 in a long while” He immediately set up a showing for her work. He promoted and exhibited her works professionally. Their work together soon led to their marriage in 1924.

In 1929, she began spending time in New Mexico, eventually living there full time after Alfred died. She was inspired by the desert landscape, which was the subject of many of her paintings. Georgia had a quiet, wandering personality and felt most at home in the “lonely landscapes” of the Southwest.

She achieved noterietay in her lifetime and her art was widely celebrated. Especially by those in the feminist movement, who sought after her as an ally and voice. However, she wanted to be known just as an artist, not a “female artist” and distanced herself from the movement. She was also known as a founder of the American Modernist movement. Her work transcended a lot of the established boundaries of the time, she was among the first to explore abstract painting (where there is no discernible subject) as well as to combine landscapes (a picture of a place) with a still life (a picture of a thing); creating something completely new.

Georgia O’Keeffe died on March 6, 1986 at the age 98 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Today we will create our own O’Keeffian flower pictures, looking at them the way Georgia O’Keeffe did. Take a moment to really look at a few flowers with the students. Point out the variations of colors and shapes. Talk to them about how they can show a full flower or a few flowers, and they can also zoom in closely and show the flower from a different view.

As you look at O’Keeffe’s pictures, ask the students what they feel, what these pictures bring to mind. Point out that the colors are much more intense then they typically are in real life and the shapes tend to be simplified. Ask why they think that is. Remind them that O’Keeffe wanted to show her emotions in her work. Ask what they think she was feeling

1. Show students the variety of paper colors we have available. There are a few papers that have pastel starts. Show them how the darker colors bring out different colors than the white paper does.

2. Ask the students to share the flowers that you have placed on each table or spread around the desks. They are welcome to do more than one picture, so feel free to experiment a bit and try a few different flowers and angles.

3. They can layout their drawing in pencil, but it isn’t necessary. Part of the fun of this style of work, is the ability to play around a little!

4. Before students get started, share these tips for using pastels well:
Oil pastels are VERY soft, hold them lightly, you don’t want to press too hard. (for older students you can also explain that it fills up the little groves in the paper so that you can’t layer any more colors.)
They look best when you layer colors.
Start with a middle color that you will use lightly over the whole area.
Shade in with a darker color for the areas underneath other petals or farther away from the light.
Then use a light color to show where the highlights (where the light hits most directly.)
You may want to add in a few other colors in different areas! For example, you don’t have to stick to all greens to make a leaf. You can add some blue, purple, red or yellow.
Use the pastels to blend. You can lightly go over the top of an area with a lighter color to blend the colors underneath. (Don’t blend with your finger, it will just rub the pastel off.)
Keep your marks small and close together to get the best blending.

5. Once they are done, warn them to be careful with their papers, the colors can smear and rub off. There will be long sheets of paper on the cart that you can fold to make a protective color for the pastel.

may’s artist: james audubon

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James Audubon was born on April 26, 1785 on a sugarcane plantation in a French province in Haiti. His mother died only a few month after his birth and he was raised for his first few years by the housekeeper. In 1791, his father moved back to France to escape the unrest of the slave situation in the Caribbean. From an early age, James had a passionate love of birds. His father wrote of him “He would point out the elegant movement of the birds, and the beauty and softness of their plumage. He called my attention to their show of pleasure or sense of danger, their perfect forms and splendid attire. He would speak of their departure and return with the seasons.”

When he was eighteen years old, Audubon boarded a ship for America to escape being conscripted into the Napoleonic Wars. He described New England as paradise; loving to spend his time wandering in the woods, hunting, drawing and observing the wildlife. It was this careful observation that gave his drawings a photo-realistic quality. During these early years in New England, he met and eventually married Lucy Bakewell, who loved to explore and shared many of the same interests. During this time, he honed his artistic skills as well as learning how to collect specimens and taxidermy. He studied the patterns and habits of various birds and other wildlife and eventually opened his own museum with preserved animals set in natural scenes. James and Lucy moved all over the country, often just barely scraping by financially as James chased his dream of compiling a complete anthology which he titled “The birds of America”. Along the way, he painted portraits and had a succession of different jobs. Lucy was a trained teacher and became the family’s more stable provider. After 14 years of fieldwork and with Lucy’s support, Audubon took his work to England where he was enthusiastically received and able to publish a his work with 435 hand colored plates depicting over 700 species of birds, with pages that measured an impressive 2×3 feet in size. The English press dubbed him “the American Woodsman”.

Audubon’s techniques for painting birds was radically different from common practices at the time. He would first hunt a specimen, killing it with fine shot. Then spend hours preserving and posing it with wire in a natural position. Then he would paint, with layers of watercolor and sometimes gauche or oil paint and pastels. The resulting natural pictures were much more exciting than the typically stiff posed pieces that were common at that time. His “Birds of America” book featured life size birds, with large species crouched onto a page and small ones shown in multiples on a branch or in a natural scene. This gave the reader an intimate feel for what the bird really looked like. James Audubon continued to explore up until he was in his eighties. He died of natural causes on January 27, 1851 at his home in New York.

Today we will use Audubon’s realistic style to create our own natural scenes. Use some of the large paper to create individual pieces. Each child will also receive their own “Field book” which they can keep in their pocket and sketch things they find when they are exploring outside this summer. If they would like to, they can draw in them now or save them for later. Ask students to use the colored pencils to give more detail and interest to their work. Remind them to carefully observe the details in Audubon’s paintings and record them in their own piece.