Friday, January 18, 2019

Silhouetted Day and Night Tree

I enjoyed the slightly unexpected and non-traditional methods and mediums used in the Silhouetted Deer with Aurora project (see the blog post here) so much that I did with my bigger kids, that I wanted to do something similar with my younger class. Like the deer project, this project is also inspired the youtube artist Art Arena. A tutorial for his 'Day and Night Scenery', can be found here.

Since I was working with a young group (7-9 year olds), and since oil pastels and soft graphite can be very messy, I took a few different approaches to the project than did the original artist, in order to ensure a clean and neat finish.
Teacher Sample


Borders: To begin, we taped down our borders with artist or washi tape. We love the crisp clean border it reveals when done.

Colors: Since my students are right handed, we worked on the day half first, which is on the left side of the paper. This will prevent them from dragging their hands across their paper and smudging their work. Students picked 3-4 warm oil pastel colors, starting with yellow and going to orange. We made sure to clean our oil pastels on scrap paper before applying it to our drawing paper, to prevent unwanted color smudges.

Taping off the two halves: We eye-balled the middle of our paper, drew a faint line down the middle top to bottom. This separates our day half from our night half. To keep out night half clean and free of warm color, I had the students place a piece of washi tape along the outside of this line, on the night side of their paper. This will prevent colors from crossing over into the other side. A small trick that keeps both our sides super neat. We did this same thing also when coloring the night side (so washi tape was applied along the center line on the inside of the day half.)

Coloring: Students began with the yellow and lightly colored the bottom third or quarter with their lightest color (yellow). Then the middle color (darker yellow or lighter orange), and lastly, the darkest color (darker orange). We applied the color lightly because this way, it is much easier to blend and won't result in thick, sticky blobs of pastel which are difficult to blend out.

Blending: Taking a sturdy tissue paper that we folded as many times as we could into triangles, we careful blended our colors, starting at the bottom with our lightest color and working our way up to our darkest color. This is tough on the arms, but working in a circular motion did the job efficiently.

Then we moved on to the blue, or the night, half in the same approach (after switching our centered line tape over to the day half first).

Moon and sun: Before drawing our tree, I had the students draw in their moon and sun. I did this because I knew if I saved this step for last, their tree branches might reach all the way into the top corners of the paper, making it impossible to fit in the moon and sun later.
We used a white glass marking pencil for the sun, repeatedly drawing with it in a circular motion until we had a soft white sun. The half moon was drawn with a white paint pen (we used Posca).

Drawing: Once both sides were colored and blended we began with our super dark 9B graphite pencil. The youtube artist uses a 10B graphite, but I could not find these anywhere. (9B does the job, and I think an 8B would likely work as well).

Coloring the ground
Tree: We drew in a thin line at the bottom of our paper (the ground) and then drew in the tree trunk right on the middle line, curving in and up from both sides. My students had a hard time getting the tree branches right, even after many demonstrations and simple drawing visuals, which surprised me. Their branches were thick and short, with little variety. Some looked like palm trees, others like stumps with sticks sticking out. They had to be encouraged to draw long branches that start thick and gradually become thinner, to a very fine point. They were encouraged to draw branches in all directions, and overlapping, and in a variety of lengths and widths. I reminded them that the truck is the thickest, and branches fan out from their into thinner branches, which in turn fan out into thin twigs.

Progress Day 1
Swing: Using a ruler we drew two parallel ('like a train track') lines for the swing rope and a board for the swing. Students had to establish how long their swing could be, mindful that they had to fit a figure on the swing board, and leave space at the bottom of the swing for the legs. I did a demo and we did some quick practice drawings of figure silhouettes on scrap paper. Some students asked to draw cats or birds, in some cases because they did not have space for a figure (problem-solving!). We then drew in our figures.

Finished touches: As a final touch, we added a few birds to our day half (graphite) and stars (white paint pen) to our night half.

Lastly, we wiped down our hands with baby wipes before removing the tape from our borders.

Fun project with bold results!
This project took roughly one and a half 90-minute classes.

 * Student top right missed the first class, so she made 'half' a drawing.

7-9 year olds

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Silhouetted Deer and Trees with Aurora

After many watercolor projects behind us, I was looking for a quick project to do with my kids in a dry technique that would give reliable and bold results. We had not done any oil pastel projects in ages, so I though I'd start there. I discovered this amazing artist on youtube: Art Arena. He creates stunning, bright oil pastel landscapes using a blending technique, and incorporates silhouetted images with soft graphite for a powerful effect. This project is directly inspired by his 'Aurora Night Drawing' piece. I loved the mixed media aspect and the process, and since my kids love drawing in graphite, I thought I'd give this one a go.

In the video, the artist draws the deer out by hand. This is a difficult task for any aged student. I wanted the deer to be spot on for a strong and graphic effect, so I opted for a trace-and-transfer technique, and created a stencil to trace on their paper, which would allow my kids to incorporate a perfect deer of their choice .... and learning a trace-and-tranfer technique plus making a stencil are added benefit, AND fun processes. In prep for this stage, I printed out many different deer in silhouette (google search 'deer silhouette') and sized them to be able to fit nicely on our A4 (8x12 inches) sized paper (so the deer are roughly 6x8cm or 2.5x3 inches without antlers).

The artist uses a super soft and dark B10 graphite pencil.  I could not find these anywhere, so purchased B9 pencils which did the job. In a pinch, I'm sure a B8 would also work, but the darker and softer the better. He also uses a 'glass marking pencil' for the aurora.... which I also purchased cheaply in a 10 pack from Amazon. A white colored pencil will not substitute for this, since it won't mark over top of oil pastel.
For the pine trees I also printed out several different silhouetted styles of pine trees, to give the kids some individual options on how to draw them.

To begin:

Borders: Students taped down the borders of their paper with painters tape or washi tape. We love how this gives our work a crisp white border when done.

Coloring background: Students choose 4 oil pastel colors plus black - light, medium and dark green, and dark blue. These colors were laid down with light pressure from bottom to top of paper, from lightest to darkest. The top of the sky was colored black.
Lightly applied oil pastel

*Use oil pastels lightly when coloring. We discovered that they blend much better when not applied too thickly. Thickly applied oil pastel blends difficultly, and leaves blobs of unblended pastel. No good.

*Since oil pastels smear easily, we did the bottom strip (the ground) in black LAST, to prevent it from dirtying our light green. A graphite pencil was used to draw a clean line of black between the black and the light green, to cover up any remaining white of the paper, and to add some bumps here and there to recreate an uneven, earthy ground.

Blending: Using a tissue paper that we folded as many times as we could into a triangle, we blended out colors, starting with the lighter color first (light green) and working out way up to the top. This required serious arm muscles. Working in a circular motion on lightly applied oil pastel is key.

Stencil: Students chose a deer silhouette they like. Deers were traced with tracing paper. Tracing paper was flipped over onto cardstock and the lines were retraced through the back, which transfers our deer onto our cardstock. Deers were carefully cut out.
Tracing the deer
* We chose NOT to trace the antlers because cutting them out would be nearly impossible. Instead, we free-hand drew them on our deer once our deer was traced onto our paper.

Trace and transfer. Making a stencil
Tracing our stencil: Students placed their deer stencil in the middle of their paper, with feet firmly planted on the ground (no flouting deer, please!) and they traced the deer stencil. They then free-hand drew their antlers. Deer were colored in graphite pencil AFTER drawing the trees, to prevent smudging the soft graphite.

Trees: Students drew 5-7 vertical lines on either side of their deer. Trees are longer towards the outer edge of their paper and getting increasingly short as they get closer to the deer. This give the illusion of depth. Trees were colored in with graphite pencil. I demo'd some ways to do this on the white board, and students had pine tree silhouette visuals to look at too. Important is that trees are dark, super pointy at the top and slightly wider as they go down, and that they get increasing short towards the deer. After trees were drawn in darkly, the deer was colored in darkly with graphite.

Aurora: Using a white glass marking pencil, students created flowing aurora across their sky. Students were encouraged to think of their aurora as flowing waves, or like pouring milk, NOT streaks of white scratchy lines. This requires using our white pencil lightly in a careful back-and-forth motion until we achieve the clean shape and creamy white.

Stars: With a white paint pen (we used Posca) students created stars. For added depth, we included small and larger stars. Small stars are further away and closer together, while large stars are closer to us and appear wider apart.

Hands were wiped down with baby wipes (this is a messy project) and then the taped borders were carefully removed to reveal a crisp white border.

This is a fun project with lots of techniques, and gives bright, strong, boldly contrasting results.

Ages 8-11
Ages 9-11
Adult class 
Adult class

Examples of aurora

Blending with a tissue
Creating the aurora

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Jo Grundy-inspired English winter landscapes in gouache

I recently discovered and fell in love with the art of UK artist Jo Grundy. Her beautiful work can be found here. She paints mainly landscapes of her native England, in different seasons. Her work is so detailed and textured, and has a graphic quality. The atmosphere her work exudes is calming and dreamy, particularly her winter landscapes. 

Thursday adult class collage
Tuesday adult class collage

For my adults, I was seeking a project into which I could build several particular objectives: a landscape which presents atmospheric perspective; an atmosphere or scene fit for the pre-holiday season; an introduction to gouache, a new medium for most of my adults; and a limited color palette.

Jo Grundy's winter landscape work was just it! Her overlapping rolling hills create beautiful landscape depth. Each hilltop is painted with elements (trees, houses, shrubs) which are fit to scale according to the depth of her picture plane - and these in turn are painted according to the laws of atmospheric perspective:  things that are future away from the viewer are higher on the picture plane, subtler, less detailed, blurry, lighter, and warmer in color, while things closer to the viewer, or lower on the picture plane, are more detailed, crisper, a most intense color, darker and cooler in color.  Observing and replicating this helps my students understand atmospheric perspective, which is an important skill in painting. 

Jo's winter landscapes also use a limited palette with tints. I love the idea of limiting palettes, as it forces students to mix their own colors. Creating tints with a limited palette infinitely expands our palette while maintaining a cohesive and harmonious atmosphere of soft, cool, wintery tints and tones. 

Color palette: 
Blue (ultramarine and cobalt), burnt sienna and burn umber, a dark green (but you could mix your own), a touch or red and yellow and plenty of white. Students mixed blues and browns together to create grays. Blues, green and black were mixed for our dark hedges and trees. To darken any value (for things lower in the picture plane) we simply added a hint of black or burnt umber, while we added a touch more white to soften or lighten a value (for things further away on the picture plane). 
White was used throughout to create soft pinks, blues, grays, and of course, the snowy white.

We used many different brushes. Very important was a tiny detail brush (#1 or 2) for our smallest, fine details. We used a round brush with a good tip for our larger areas. A bristle brush was used in a dry brush technique to stipple white paint over top of our elements to create snow, shadows or texture. This is a super fun technique that adds instant dimension and realistic texture to our landscape elements.

Students chose a Jo Grundy painting that they wished to reproduce. We taped the borders of our watercolor paper with artist tape or washi tape, which will give us a beautifully clean and crisp border when done. We began by lightly draw in the basic landscape shapes in pencil - so the hills and fields. No details were drawn in, as these would be painted in directly at a later stage. Larger houses were drawn in, but smaller ones were not.

These basic landscape shapes were then painted. We started from the top of our composition and moved downward. Sky first, highest hills, middle-ground hills, foreground fields, etc. We observed the values in our landscape shapes closely and tried to achieve a close value match. Important is not that our color matches the colors in the pictures exactly, but that the 'value relationship' matches. This will ensure that our atmospheric perspective is correct. In Grundy's work, each rolling hill has a slightly different value as it comes down the picture plane. This gives the illusion of depth and distance.

Once these shapes were blocked in we slowly started adding in the foundation of our details, always working from top down: hedges, trees, houses. Hedges were dry brush stippled with a flat head bristle brush in a dark color (a mix of blue, green and black or umber). Once dry, white was dry brush stippled over top for the snow. Trees were painted in a similar dark color with a detail brush, and snow was dry brush stippled over top the branches with a bristle brush. This technique was used in other areas too, wherever necessary, such as chimney smoke, a snowy rooftop, smudgy shadows, or for texture in flowers or a field. Detail brushes were used to add birds, animals, flowers and weeds. 

Thinking like an artist: Some students used credit cards to scrape paint upwards to create the texture of weeds and grasses in their foreground. Some students used colored pencils to sketch in very small details, where a brush might not do the job. Colored pencil was also used by some to add texture to areas with fine detail, such as a pebbly walkway. Throughout this project my students exhibited great creativity and problem-solving in figuring out how best to recreate Grundy's work. This is one reason why I really love having students copy other artists' work: it forces you to be creative in looking for solutions and exploring possible outcomes.

This project was definitely challenging and the process was slow and deliberate. It took us two 3-hour sessions to complete. Students worked in deep concentration and were totally zen throughout. My role was to help guide them in their process, assist them with color mixing, give periodic constructive critique and support with positive words and encouragement. In the end, they came out of a  near-euphoric stupor having learned so much about color mixing, the power of observation, atmospheric perspective and creating texture. They created luscious, beyond beautiful work that truly amazed. We were all elated by the experience. What a wonderful way to round out a great semester in the Art Room - and we have Jo Grundy to thank for the awesome inspiration!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Christmas Cars

Kids 8-14
Kids 8-11
For our final project of the fall semester I wanted a project that incorporates some of the techniques and skills that we practiced over the last weeks.  I wanted it to be somewhat holiday or seasonally inspired, and should span over two class periods so that we have plenty of time to develop our piece and take care to create something detailed and unique.
Kids 7-8

The 'Christmas car' thing is all over Pinterest in various renditions. Whimsy watercolor illustrations, bold acrylic paintings, children's art projects, and more. I concluded that, properly conceived, this project would rehash many of the skills we learned over the last semester. So I decided to tackle this idea with my kids using watercolor, colored pencil and pen. We would address value and shadowing with our media, and we would be mindful to draw with care, and with attention to detail and function. Additionally, students would learn a new skill: how to draw presents using 1 point perspective, creating a 3-D stack of boxes. Lastly, students would have to think like designers and figure out how and where to incorporate a Christmas tree into their car: where looks good, what makes sense, where does it fit, etc.

To begin, students looked at illustrations of Christmas cars, complete with presents and a tree, just to get a sense of what their possibilities are. We then looked at drawings and photos of different cars from various angles. Students sketch out a few drawings of cars exploring different styles and angles. While I was prepared to teach kids how to draw a car from a 3/4 angle, using two point perspective, students did not choose this more difficult option, which I was kind of relieved about, since it's quite complicated. I'll save this lesson for another time!
We practiced drawing boxes with 1-point perspective, and overlapping these.
When we were confident with this, we got to work.


Draw a car (style and angle of your choice)
-Include details.
-Think carefully about symmetry!

Draw 5-7 presents on top of the car.
-Overlap presents.
-Draw them for a 3-D effect (1 point perspective)
-Think about variety (vary size, shape and angle)

Include a Christmas tree somewhere.
-Think about composition: Where does it look good? Where can you fit it in? What would make sense?

Mapping out our main features:
The car should consume the bottom half of the paper, and the presents and tree on top should fill the top half of the paper. Breaking this down for kids helps them get the sizing and scale of their main features right. Otherwise cars will be drawn too small. We still had some issues with presents being drawn too small, and these students were encouraged to draw bigger... we don't want teeny presents on big cars, or tons of empty space at the top of the paper.

Cars were drawn in pencil with attention to detail, form and function. Presents were then stacked on top of the car, with some presents showing their side angle as well as their front angle.
I reminded kids that generally, presents should be stacked from big up to small. For good and interesting composition, presents should come in a variety of sizes and shapes. I also encourage kids not to put a bow or ribbon on every-single-present (they will try), as this quickly overwhelms the eye. The kids totally got this point and generally balanced out their used of ribbons.
Once the car had a good stack of presents on it, students had to think about where, and how, to fit in their Christmas tree. This required them to think about composition and scale: where do I have space, where makes sense, what would look good.... thinking like designers!

Students had the option to trace their pencil lines in black fine liner permanent marker, or to leave the tracing for later, after painting, using colored pencil.

Students used watercolor in sheer colors to paint their cars and presents. A slightly darker value was then added wherever there might be a shadow. Going from light washes of transparent color to increasingly more intense color is the ticket with watercolor! For the presents, to get that 3D effect on their presents, a tiny bit of brown was mixed in with their main color. For example, if the front of their present is blue, then the side of their present will be blue plus brown. This darkens the value and instantly gives the box dimension.

Students had the choice to either paint their ribbons and bows with a fine detail brush and a more intense application of watercolor, or in colored pencil.

Trees were painted similarly: from a light value of transparent green to a darker value, slowly building on shadows. We mixed blue with our greens for a deeper, cooler evergreen color. We used our brush to flick lines outward for that tree texture. Colored pencil was also used over top, once dry, for added tree texture.

*Tip: for painting the windows, simply paint a dash or two of really light transparent gray across the window. Less is more, and it does the job beautifully.

Once all elements were dry, students outlined their car and presents in colored pencil, if they hadn't already outlined with fine line marker. The key is to use a similar but darker color to outline each element, so if the car is red, we outline it in dark red. If the present is purple, we outline it in dark purple (or dark blue - whatever is close but darker to the original color). This gives instant emphasis and definition without creating too much contrast - a nice touch.

Backgrounds were painted in wet-on-wet in a light wash of a color that 'looked good' with our composition.

All my kids classes did this project with success and they all enjoyed it. There was plenty of opportunity for individual choice and expression.

*My little class (ages 7-8) used larger format paper (roughly 12x18 inches, or A3) and they did not use fine-liner pens to outline, but only colored pencil. Otherwise, the approach was the same for both my age groups.

Pheobe 10
Sif 10
Sofia 8
Skye 9

Sif 10

Ciara 8
Ella 11

Ben 10
Dasheng 11
Anastazia 9

Marko 14
Liv 10
Rune 7
Aditri 8
MeiMei 8
Daniel 8

Yiming 7