Friday, November 23, 2018

Kusama Dot Pumpkins

I must say, it's hard to avoid the Yayoi Kusama dot pumpkin around the fall time. Searching for pumpkin-inspired art project ideas inevitably reveals this contemporary Japanese artist's dimensional, plump and somewhat psychodelic pumpkins. It's been done, again and again, but I felt it was now my turn... despite the hype. 

Kusama pumpkins

White board instructions and guides, with teacher samples

I love the graphic quality, and I particularly love the challenge of drawing contours without lines, by using only dots of various thickness. My kids classes (8-14 year olds) have varying degrees of experience with pen techniques since we did a few projects last year and in the last weeks involving stippling, hatching, and adding texture with pen. This no-lines drawing is not too far off, but definitely in a new direction, and I saw it as an extension of our previous illustration and pen work. Win win.

Medium choice:
I wanted the results to be super neat and crisp, like Kusama's own work. I knew painting dots with brushes would not give us that crisp quality, and I felt similarly about painting or drawing in the background pattern. So I opted for drawing in the dots with permanent black markers in various thickness, on colored paper. Pumpkins would be cut out and pasted on a background which was painted with a foam roller and stencil with black acrylic paint over top a vibrantly colored paper. With this approach we get the bright color of the pumpkins and the background, the neatly controlled lines of dots with the makers (that's the objective, after all), and the clean patterned background with the stencils.


Day 1

1. Drawing pumpkins
Student had visuals of Kusama's pumpkins as well as photos and illustrations of pumpkins to observe the variety of their form and shape. Simple step-by-step pumpkin drawing guides were also at their desk, so they could see how to break down and simply the drawing steps. I also demonstrated how to draw a pumpkin on the white board, and showed them several different options for shapes. 
Pumpkins are most easily drawn starting with the central 'section shape', them the section shape to the left and the right, and so on. The stem is drawn slightly tucked down into the top, so is doesn't look like it's sitting on the top contour edge, but rather growing out the pumpkin. Students were encourage to try a few different shapes - tilted, plump, oblong and even with wavy sections.... like Kusama's. We practiced a few rounds of pumpkins on scratch paper. Then we chose our colored paper, and began drawing our favorite version in pencil. 

2. Dots
Each pumpkin section must be filled with dots in a crisp, systematic fashion. Our dots must create the illusion of form. We analyzed Kusama's work and noted how she uses a row of larger dots at the center of her central section, with increasingly smaller rows of dots on both sides. This gives our section a 3-D shape. The tricky part is addressing the next sections to the left and the right. We noted that Kusama uses large semi-circle, or half-dots, along the outer edge of the first section (where we drew our section line with pencil). From there, the lines of dots get increasingly smaller again toward the other edge. This is repeated for each section. The darker intensity of the large half-dots serves the purpose of creating a strong visual line which separates the sections (thereby replacing our 'line' with 'dots'). 

*Super important for an effective gradient of dot sizes is using differently sized markers. We used permanent markers with hefty fat tips, medium tips (or a sharpie with a good point) and fine liners in various tops. 

3. Stem
We observed that Kusama did her stem in the same manner, but in the inverse. So dots are white, and the negative space is black. To achieve this effect, we simply drew open circles with our black pen, and colored the space around our white circles.

Pencil lines were erased and pumpkins were cut out. We managed all this in a 90 minutes class.

Drawing dots

Drawing dots
Day 1 results
Day 1 results

Day 2

Student chose a colored paper that complemented or contrasted with their pumpkin color. Then they chose the stencil of their choice. My stencils are from Marabu. We chose stencils that contrast the dot pattern, so those with a different angular of liner quality. We did not, for examaple, use the stencils with hearts, small stars, circles, etc. because they are visually too similar to our dots.

We used black acrylic paint and foam rollers to stencil on our colored paper. In many cases, our stencils were not as large as our paper, so we had to carefully reposition the stencil, lining up the stencil with the printed edge, and rolling again to fill the page.

Pumpkins were finally pasted on the printed background, for a visually exciting result. My students were quite wowed by their vibrant, dimensional results, and proud of their hard work and dedication to neatness and precision. Hard work pays off.

Ages 8-14

Ages 8-10