Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Van Gogh 'Starry Night' in Oil Pastel

Van Gogh 'Starry Night', 1889
One of the most iconic paintings of all time, Starry Night, by Van Gogh (1889) is a MUST for any art classroom or art education studio. But how to execute this project, and which what ages? Well, I've tried it a few years back with 6-7 year olds using crayon and watercolor resist. It worked well, but it didn't have that punch, that vibrancy, or that texture that I love so much about the original. I also recently did it with my adult class in acrylic paint and texture paste, which resulted in AWESOME paintings but was exceedingly difficult, and caused myself and my adult student much anguish and wrist pain in the end.

Yeah, not something I wanted to try on my kids. So for my 7-13 year old age group I decided to do it with oil pastels on black paper. Wow! What stunning results we got! The colors were creamy, blended, vibrant and textured. The black paper takes it all down a notch and gives it that mysterious quality, while allowing the colors to pop off the dark background. These were super successful! But this is not to say that it was a very difficult and labor intensive project. Our wrists were kinda hurting by the end too, with all the repetitive motion. It took one group two 90-minute classes, the other group took a bit longer. But we came away learning so much about layering, blending oil pastels, creating movement, and using our artist eyes to observe every dash and color detail of Van Gogh's masterpiece with upmost precision. And another great benefit of this project? We used the grid method to draw the landscape. This ensured that all our stars, hills, waves and houses had their precise and rightful place in our composition. Another reason these look SO much like the original!

Teacher Sample, oil pastel on black paper

Black construction paper
'Starry Night' print-out for each student (in a plastic sleeve, taped to a yogurt jug to stand it up)
Oil pastels: black, white, brown, yellow, orange, dark green, light blue, middle blue, dark blue.

Students created a grid on their Van Gogh 'Starry Night' print out, and then a grid on their black drawing paper. Using pencil, they then began lightly drawing in the composition grid for grid. For most of my students this was a new concept, but even the youngest students grasped the concept quickly and were well on their way to mapping out their Starry Night with precision.

Teacher demonstrating step-by-step coloring and blending. 
Once drawing was complete, we began coloring. I showed them step by step how to color using my own sample. I regularly reinforced the need to closely examine the size and direction of the various line qualities in our painting. I showed them how to use small quick dashes for the some areas like the starts and sky, short curved dashes in the bushes, longer upward moving squiggly strokes in the tree, and longer streaks in the waves and mountains. This led to their overall success in mimicking the feel, texture and movement of Van Gogh's work.
We used dashes of blue for the hills and overplayed with dashes of white, which resulted in blended tints of blues. We did the same with the green in our hills, adding dashes of white and yellow, resulting in tints of green and yellow-greens. Our houses were done in light blue and overplayed with white. We noted that the houses, tree and hills are all outlined in black. The church with church steeple seems to be the focal point in the lower part of the painting, so we were sure to emphasize this by ensuring it was big and bold enough, and highlighted enough to make it draw the viewer's attention.

We continued like this, closely examining and working out each area at a time, and being mindful of how to achieve the appropriate color, texture and feel of movement through blending, layering, and line work.

Those who wanted/needed to, followed along with me, while the more independent/advanced students colored at their own pace and using their own intuition. After a short time of me demonstrating, nearly all students were working independently. I ceased demonstrating on the my own sample, and offered individual guidance where needed.
Our set up: 'Starry Night' visual. Close observation.

We first colored the bottom half our our composition (land, mountains, houses and tree).
In our next class session we addressed the sky in the same meticulous, close observational way. We noticed that the swirls are the focal point in the sky, and were sure to emphasize this element with extra highlights.

Day 1. Bottom half complete!
This was a challenging project, no doubt, but all students went home feeing proud and successful. And boy, did they learn a TON in the process. I LOVE these!

8-10 year olds

7-13 year olds

Stylized Barn Owls in Mixed Media

I could design an owl project every other month and never tire of it. I love owls, and their potential for embellishment, color, line, texture and mixed-media application, is so great. Sooooooo, I decided to throw together an owl project for my little class (6-7 year olds). Honestly, I was looking for a good project in which I could use my new and exciting metallic markers. I knew my little class would freak with excitement at being able to use these fabulously fun markers. Additionally, the timing for this project was optimized by the fact that it was Karneval in our region of Germany, which meant that there were bright sparkly colors everywhere and all around for a few weeks. So this is how the stylized barn owl was born!

Teacher Sample

Selection of visuals for inspiration
Students were shown many photographs and illustrations of barn owls. We discussed their shape and features. Student practiced a few owls in pencil on scrap paper. Then they were given their good drawing paper (dark blue construction paper). I did a guided drawing on the white board with students following along step by step.
Students were given options for how to make the wings and feet. We first outlined our eyes and eye area in white Posca pens, and added a light spot in the eye. Then we used a white colored pencil to color the center part of the barn owl's face, using lines which go from the center outward. This gives our owls that fuzzy, open, moon-face look which barn owls are known for. We then continued to color our owls using colored pencils, in any colors we wanted.

Students were asked to color in 'sections' at a time, and with attention to the direction of their lines, to create the look of sections of feathers, but the guidelines were pretty loose here. We looked at my owl teacher sample as well as other illustrations which had a stylized quality with colorful patterns and designs. We discussed how and where on our owl we might want to add pattern and designs using metallic markers. We were encouraged not fill every ounce of space, but to leave some areas less busy (for visual rest). Students were given free range on how and where to add pattern, though they were encouraged to be neat and orderly with their patterns, and not to overdue it. They were also asked to use white Posca pens to emphasize the edges and important features of their owls, such as eyes, wings, or the division of sections of patterns.

Day 1. More details and background next class!

Once complete, students drew a slanted uneven line along the bottom third of their paper and cut this out (carefully, so as to not cut off the owl's feet), and pasted their owl on a neutral patterned deco paper of their choosing. Lastly, we created the moon using white chalk pastel. We practiced on scrap paper first, working from the center outwards in a circular motion, then smudging in a circular motion with our fingers, and repeating this once or twice, for a whiter moon, if necessary.

We signed our names in black pen, and that's that! Beautiful stylized barn owls by adorable 6-7 year olds!

Monday, February 26, 2018

Van Gogh 'Starry Night' in Acrylic and Texture Paste (Adult Class)

My adult class explored the highly complex work of Van Gogh. Their beautiful results led me to try this project with my kids classes too, though in a different medium. See the blog post for my kids' 'Starry Night'.
Teach Sample, acrylic
Pencil and ruler for grid method drawing
Acrylic paper or canvas
'Starry Night' print out for each student, in a plastic sleeve and taped to a large yogurt container.
Acrylic paint: black, white, burnt umber, yellow ochre, medium yellow, medium red, dark green, pthalo blue.
Texture paste or modeling paste
Various brushes (small flat, small round, small cat tongue or slanted brush, and large brush for background)

Students created a grid on their Van Gogh 'Starry Night' print out, and then a grid on their acrylic paper. Using pencil, they then began lightly drawing in the composition grid for grid.

To begin, we painted a light coat of yellow ochre across our whole paper (we could still see our pencil lines through it).

I reinforced the need to closely examine the size and direction of the various line qualities in Van Gogh's painting. With this objective in mind, students were independently on their way.

We painted the bottom half first, starting with the mountains, then the hills and village, and finally the tree. The operative word and function was layering, layering and layering, with small repetitive dashes and strokes. With only one blue color at our disposal, we were forced to mix tints and shades in order to achieve the different range of blues in Van Gogh's work. Tints of yellow were created, as well as tints of greens and green-yellow by mixing. Limiting our palette inevitable extends our learning and my adult students appreciate having to problem solve their way through color mixing.
We regularly mixed a bit of texture paste into our paint for added texture, especially in the sky and wind swirls.

These took nearly three 3-hour classes, and was probably our most challenging project to date. Our wrists we all suffering by the end (seriously, some of us had numbness and tingling in the wrist due to all the minute repetitive motion!). But in the end, we were ALL so pleased and proud. These are beautiful!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Ted Harrison Canadian Landscapes

I was so excited to finally do this project with all my classes (6-7 year olds, 8-13 year olds, and adult class). I love Ted Harrison's landscapes. The simplified, reduced shapes are accessible to all age groups, while the movement and dancing line work keeps things exciting and lively. And of course his use of tints and shades are a great opportunity for students to get to know the potential of a limited palette.

Ted Harrison Canadian Yukon landscapes
 Discussion: To begin, we looked at plenty of Harrison paintings and discussed the geography and landscape which inspired these beautiful paintings. We then deconstructed his work, identifying the qualities of line, color, brush work and composition. Even my youngest students noticed that there is no texture, that there are no visible brush strokes, and that his palette is limited but extended by making tints (proud teacher moment). We noticed that Harrison barely and rarely uses green, and if, then a light tint only for emphasis (in a sweater, a window frame, a smoke cloud). We discussed the 'rule of thirds' (foreground, middle ground, background) and that his use of line is varied (horizontal lines are balanced by vertical lines; wavier lines contrast with by straighter lines, but there are no truly straight lines; lines go this way and that way, to keep the eye engaged). Last but not least, we noticed that Harrison outlines all his shapes and details in colored lines, sometimes in contrasting colors, sometimes in similar colors.

Students were asked to create their own original Harrison-inspired landscape incorporating all the elements discussed. Must have foreground with house, people and/or animals; must have middle ground with mountains or water, preferably layers or multiple levels of these; must have background with sky and moon/sun incorporating movement through the use of line. I had students think about what kind of day or scene they wanted to depict. Was is stormy? Windy, Calm? Sunset? Sunrise? This helped them decide on line and color choice.

Tints: We focussed on mixing tints for this project. Some kids also mixed shades for darker values, but for the most part, out starting point was working from hues to tints. To stay true to Harrison, students chose a limited palette of primaries and purples and extended their palette with white. Tints of lime green or turquoise were used for emphasis or contrast.

I'm a stickler for craftsmanship. This is why I decided to have my students use acrylic paint pens to outline our shapes. Harrison's outlining is neat, bold and an essential element to the overall look of his work. Knowing that this detail is what makes or breaks a Harrison piece, I knew we had to do it right. They worked so hard to create that flat color application with subtle shifts in value, I knew that offering them paint pens (as opposed to painting with a brush) would allow them to continue to experience success in mimicking Harrison's style. This came in especially handy when adding outlines and details to our animals, people and houses.

Tints in progress

Day one, tints in sky
Work in progress, 6-7 year olds
Work in progress, 8-13 year olds
Adding our details
Adding our details

Border: To mimic Harrison's border, we taped our edges with artist tape before painting, and when finished, we ran a blue, dark blue or black paint pen along the inside edge of our tape to 'frame' our painting. Once the tape was removed, we had a crisp white border with a colored border frame. It's all in the details!

Using acrylic paint pens to add lines and borders

Final product, 9 year old

Final product, 9 year old

8-11 year olds

9-10 year olds
8-12 year olds

8-13 year olds

6-7 year olds

Adult class