Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Sandra Dieckmann Polar Bears with Scarf in Gouache

For those of you who followed Deep Space Sparkle's Art Mixology summer workshop in the summer of 2019, you'll know that this polar bear project was one of the projects I presented. I finally got around to doing it with my own students, and am pleased to say, the kids loved it and the results were fantastic!

Teacher Sample

 This project was inspired by the wonderfully illustrated polar bear by UK illustrator Sandra Dieckmann. See her work here. Her lovely book, Leaf, is a great literature accompaniment with an important environmental and social message. We read the book prior to painting our bears.

Sandra Dieckmann's illustration

For this project we strove to mimic Dieckmann's use of pattern, texture and whimsy detailing.

Ages 10-15
Ages 9-13
Kids ages 8-10
What you need to know about gouache:

  • Gouache can be used opaquely and transparently, and it can be layered light to dark and dark to light. It is like watercolor when diluted with water, and more like acrylic when used thickly. 
  • The consistency should always be cream-like, so the paint glides easily on the paper - just add a touch of water to your gouache on the palette, or keep your brush decently moist. 
  • When dry, gouache can be reactivated with a bit of water, so when layering, the color underneath can be reactivated and blended into the top color, smoothing transitions between them. If no blending is desired, lay the top color on more thickly. 
  • Your palette does not need to be washed, as you can just add some water to you colors and reactivate them at your next painting session. However, for a more creamy, thicker application, fresh paint from the tubes is better.
  • White is your best friend in gouache. It allows us to push tones and values lighter, allows us to ease and blend transitions between colors, makes beautifully creamy tints, and makes colors more opaque for better coverage.

Tips for painting with gouache:
Always paint your large areas and base colors first, then add your smaller areas and detailing.
1. Start with your transparent washes of color, then add more opaque layers on top; or
2. If you start with more opaque paint, then start dark and go light, scrubbing in your lighter colors on top and blending in to the dark layers, so you slowly build up to the light tones and highlights.

Alright, on to our project.

Step 1: Paper choice
Students chose a grey toned paper in light to dark grey. We used Canson mis-teintes 50% cotton drawing paper in 160g/m2.

Step 2: Draw the bear at a 3/4 angle

Students where shown the difference between drawing a bear from the front, and one at a 3/4 angle. Eyes and nose fall on the horizontal and vertical lines, and follow the curvature of the lines. A guided drawing on the whiteboard showed them where to place the mouth (where the vertical and line and bottom of the circle meet). From there, the mouth, the ears and other details. We looked closely at the shapes and detailing in the features, for example, eyes are pretty small and ears are rounded.
The broad body begins at the ears and comes down and outward for a full, hefty bear.
The scarf also starts near the ears, wraps a few times around the neck and has folds and overlaps in it.

Step 2: Painting the bear
Students were given only white and black gouache paint. White was used for the white base coat all over the bear. Thicker paint was used where the bear is whiter, while thinner paint was used where the bear is more grey-white - this allows the grey toned paper to show through and creates a darker tonal value. Tiny amounts of black were used and blended into the white directly on the bear to create grey tones (around eyes, the snout, the ears).

Adjusting values and adding texture:
Thicker applications of white (undiluted) were added anywhere the bear is bright white. With a small round brush, dabs of white paint were added on the bears face and body for a whimsy fur texture.

Step 3: Details
Eyes - Start with the whites of the eye. With black, paint the pupil, then the lids. A wet brush was used to dab along the edges of our black lines to smooth the transition from black to white and create grays. This creates a softer look, and creates realistic tonal values and shadowing. Nose contours and nostrils are painted in black and blended out toward the center of the nose area. With a moist brush, blend the black into the white upwards on the shaft of the nose for a soft grey tone. Add a touch of brownish pink to nose.

Step 1: Painting the scarf
Students created their own scarf patterns. Geometric patterns are highly recommended, as they are easier to paint, mindful of the fact that the scarf twists, turns and overlaps as it's wrapped around the bear's neck. Several patterns were displayed as examples.

Limited palette:
Limiting palettes is always a good idea. It forces students to mix their colors for unique combinations, and leads to a more balanced and harmonious use of color.

Students chose 2-3 colors, plus back and white, and created as many combos with these as they wanted, cross-mixing, tinting and shading. Students painted their scarf pattern using one color at a time, striving for balanced placement of each color throughout the scarf, before switching to the next color (see example below in pink pattern). This saves time and paint since students are not rinsing their brush out each time between each application of a different color, and it leads to an overall more balanced color composition since each color is repeated several times, and is broadly placed throughout the scarf.

Step 2:
Contouring and Detailing
A dark blue or black colored pencil was used to emphasis the contours around and throughout the scarf. This makes our patterns look neater and bolder.

A black colored pencil was used to emphasize the contours of the bear's body. Dots, dashes and jagged strokes and other whimsy mark-making were added to mimic fur and to add a fun twist.

Step 3:
Using either a white colored pencil or a detail brush with white paint, moutains and snow were added in the background. Some students used a toothbrush and white paint to spritz 'snow' in the background. Cover the bear with a scrap paper if doing this to prevent snow from getting on him.

This project took 2 classes, at 90-minutes each.

We enjoyed this project a lot. There's lots of room for individual direction and adjusting to different ages groups. Win-win. Thanks Sandra Dieckmann!!

Monday, May 27, 2019

Michel Keck Collage Dogs

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Michel Keck
This was our big FINALE project of the 'Art Room' year. It incorporated so much of the learning and techniques we had explored over this last year, with a particularly strong focus on value, texture, contrast, balance, form and variety. Our final results are absolutely stunning, especially considering these kids are between 9 and 14 years, with most being on the younger end, between 9 and 11.
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Michel Keck
A few approaches will help students experience success, and will lead to artwork that is rich, layered, exciting and interesting.

Kids aged 9-11
Kids aged 9-14

Day 1 Objectives
DAY 1 and DAY 2

We looked at the work of Michel Keck, and noted her use of collage paper to reproduce the different values (lights and darks) in her dogs. To make her dogs look realistic, despite being made in collage, she often paints the eyes and nose. She also often adds a bold, whimsy contour around the edge of the dog, for contrast and emphasis.

Dog Trace and Transfer:
Students each chose a photo of a dog. I had printed many options for them, where the contrast of light to dark was strong. All white dogs, all black dogs, or yellow labs may not be the best option since this project, since it is about mapping out values. Dog photos were found on the internet and printed as large as possible on regular printer size paper. This will be the size students will collage on.
Googling 'Dog Portrait Photography' will give you some great photo options. 

Using transfer paper, student transferred their dog onto their 20x30cm watercolor paper by tracing all the contour lines, eyes, nose, and the larger value 'shapes'.

Collaged background in neutral papers

Students pasted neutral tones of collage papers all around the the space around their dog.  For VARIETY, students must use different types of papers for this step. 
At their disposal were: book papers in various fonts and stages of yellowing, newspaper, lined paper, grid paper, butcher paper, sheet music, dictionary paper, recycled paper with hand written notes, etc. Important is that the papers are all neutral tones. Papers were torn or cut in larger pieces, to quickly and spontaneously fill up the paper. The background will be painted over later, so this stage shouldn't require too much thought or time. Its purpose is to create texture and interest in our background.
* We used acrylic gel medium to paste, but mod podge would work too. The rule to gluing with gel medium is: 'glue under and glue over', much like you would with decoupage.
Beginning Collage:
Student chose maximum 10 types of paper which roughly represent a value of 1-10, or lightest to darkest. Limiting their papers will result is a more BALANCED and HARMONIOUS end result. Student must repeat the use of each paper for this same reason. For VARIETY and interest, students were encouraged to use a range of papers, including patterned, plain, painted, map, cools and warms, and neutrals.
Tearing or cutting their papers, students begin pasting their collage papers on their dog, looking for good value matches. For example, perhaps a darker area under the chin and in the ears will be represented by a darker blue painted paper, while a lighter area in the chest and forehead will be represent by a lighter, patterned paper. A middle value might be represented by a plain pink color, etc. Important is that the value relations are roughly correct.

*Tip: It's easiest to collage larger value areas first, then address the smaller value areas by layering these over top the larger areas. 

*Tip: Avoid straight paper edges or corners as this looks unnatural and inorganic. Tear these away.

*Eyes and nose are avoided (to be painted later), but carefully collaged around.

*Painted paper made the biggest different for this project. I paint my own papers, with leftover paint from our palettes after class. I paint papers in color families, or analogous schemes, to keep the colors in harmony. This way, my students can always reach for papers in the color family they need (reds, blues, greens, etc). We found that our painted paper really looked like fur, because of the brush strokes and because of the random streaks of color. It gave our dogs lots of dimension and interest.

This is what our dogs looked like at the end of Day 1 and Day 2.

Day 3 Objectives

Final Dog Touches:
On our third day we painted the eyes and nose. We attempted to paint these as realistically as we could, looking closely at Michel's Keck's dogs for inspiration. I encouraged the students to be inspired by the painted eyes in Keck's wok, rather than trying to paint from our photograph, because Keck's painting style is somewhat reduced, yet still realistic, and easy for the kids to recreate. Noses were painted with attention to light and shadow, and all the values in-between.
Students could add a few minor black lines around the mouth area for emphasis.
Using a black posca pen (in thick and in thin line), students emphasized the contours of their dogs, with some whimsy squiggles and peaks to indicate fur, just like Keck does.

Students painted their background in layers of paint and stamps. They could either stick with a neutral palette, using white, grey, ochre, etc., or a color palette. Our goal was to still allow hints of our collage paper to peek through here and there, and to create lots of interest and texture. Our collage papers were painted over with a thinned color. We 'lifted' paint up by scrubbing or rubbing it up with rubbing alcohol (this reveals bits of our collage papers). We created subtle texture by stamping and printing using various stamping materials (bubble wrap, wine corks, corrugated cardboard...). **Important in this step is that a similar color is used, so the texture is subtle. For example, on a red background we might stamp with an orange-red color; on a gray background we might stamp with a lighter gray. We then add more paint in sheer coats, or dabbed some more color here and there, until we get a cloudy, soft, textured, rich look. Scrumbling or stippling the paint with our brush, or smearing paint around with our fingers, works here. As long as the end result is soft and does not overwhelm the dog (our main focus), it's all good. Once we found a good balance of texture, interest and color, we stopped and were done!

These results just floored me! The kids worked hard on these, but spreading the steps out over three 90 minute classes gave them plenty of time to bring it all together. I think they all loved the mixed-media and very tactile nature of this project.

I special shout out to my oldest student, Marko, 14, who asked if he could do a tiger. And what a great job he did!!