Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Student Self-Portraits: Voila!!

Another project our fifth graders just completed last semester was the self-portraits they painted. I found this idea on a teaching video by Peggy Flores, as shown in this YouTube video. It is the very same one I have on DVD (except I bought the DVD 2 years ago) which goes on to explain several different ways to approach the self-portrait. For the 5th grade students, I gave them a choice to either do the Fractured Watercolor portrait, or the Puzzle Self-Portrait (both are demonstrated on the video).

First, I showed my students a powerpoint I had made featuring famous self-portraits through the ages during our first introductory session. The following week, we watched the Peggy Flores DVD segment so they would have some idea of the various techniques that they could use once they drew the original pencil portrait. This was followed by several drawing sessions during which students learned and practiced drawing themselves while looking into large self-standing mirrors. Most took about two to three practice drawings on newsprint before they felt ready to transfer their drawing to watercolor paper.

The transfer involved them placing the watercolor paper on top of the finished portrait outline over a window on a sunny day... sort of a vertical light box effect. Students easily trace their outline and features from the newsprint onto the watercolor paper with a Sharpie fine point marker.

Fractured Watercolor Portrait:
The next session saw them watercolor painting the portrait. Instructions included: use one color for the background, one for the hair, one for the face, and one for the clothing. Eyes and mouth were left open to the student. They had to paint wet on wet (which they learned in previous years).

The watercolor session took one to two sessions, depending upon a student's speed and comfort zone with this media. For most, they got the entire painting done in one session. I found that the best looking paintings were the one in which the students didn't overwork the watercolors, and were able to live with the way the colors would bleed together. Some kids really thought they were messing up when this happened, but I was prepared to address that.

I told them to consider themselves on a discovery mission: they knew they wanted to complete the project, and they knew the materials they were working with, but they didn't know what the results would look like. There was a real fear (for some) that they would mess up. I explained that was a risk, indeed. Artists often take risks when they make a piece of art because there is always the chance that what they see in their minds will not match what they actually make. But what I've found (from my own experience) is that what I make is usually better than what I had imagined in the first place... mistakes and all!  I wanted them to look at the 'mistakes' as part of the process. I reminded them that many discoveries were made from misjudgments, errors, misunderstandings, and taking the wrong path. I had hoped these words of encouragement would allow them to let go of the fear of making a mistake, or at least to accept the minor anxiety they were feeling, and just go forward anyway. Just do it, I said, to quote a famous advertising slogan!!

The next week, they picked up the ultra-fine point Sharpie marker to fracture the watercolor. To fracture, they first had to notice the places where colors met and blended, where values suddenly changed from light to dark. When they could see these 'lines', they could trace over them with the marker, and outline these 'islands' of color/value. A few kids had a hard time with this at first, but once I pointed the possible fractures out, they easily began finding new ones to trace on their own.

I think the girls had the most difficult time when fracturing their faces... it didn't make them pretty.  (I overheard their comments as they worked.) It felt like they were putting scars, lines, wrinkles, etc on the face. In the end, though, most of the girls were happy with the effect of the fracturing. The boys got a big kick out of the fracturing technique. One even emphasized his outlining technique with stitch-like marks. It wasn't bad actually... unfortunately, his is not finished. I may come back and edit this later and add it. It's interesting.
The biggest complaint I heard was "Man this takes a long time!"... "But look how good they look!" I replied frequently. "Isn't it worth the extra time?"


 Puzzle Watercolor Portrait: One class elected to do the Puzzle portrait instead. Their instructions were slightly different... and they used washable markers (we used RoseArt, Crazy Art, and Crayola brands). They transferred their outlines to the watercolor paper the same as the others had, and they outlined with Sharpie markers...  but they used the washable markers to color, and brushes with water to paint over the marker colors, to achieve the watercolor effect. However, the background was completed with wet on wet brushed on watercolor (using Prang semi-moist pan colors).

I would have to say that of the two portrait sessions, the fracturing took the longest, and was the more challenging for the students if only of their patience and endurance to continue working on the same project over a period of time. The Puzzle portraits didn't take quite as long, but coloring the puzzle pieces with markers took longer than painting them with watercolor directly. I suppose we could have just used watercolor paints, but I was trying to get two different looks. And if you compare them closely, you'll see that the Puzzle portraits are brighter and bolder than the fractured portraits, while the fractured portraits have a greater looseness, almost a sketchy look to them.

If you are an art teacher, I hope you find this information helpful. I think it helps when art teachers share their class work... their students' work, and the process. It helps take the mystery out of teaching art, or even making art.

Please feel free to contact me, but mostly, just leave a comment. Thanks!

Odd discovery today as I tried to read the comments on the previous post... I kept getting a blank screen each time I clicked on the comments at the end of the post. I finally was able to read them when I went into another feature of the blog, and clicked on comments. That's where I could read every comment written, without any of the text from the post. Just comments. I was wondering if anyone else has experienced that, or if it is something unique to my computer. I've not been using this blog for so long, possibly there's something I haven't done, that I need to do, to make sure it's updated??? Would appreciate any help ... thanks!

Monday, January 16, 2012

It's been too long since I last posted... not a day has gone by that I didn't think about coming back to post here on my blog. Things happen, you know? Life, and living it, sometimes... often.... most often, takes me away from doing what I love to do more than anything, and that is to write about my observations and experiences.
Facebook was another thing that happened to me, and if you are on Facebook, then you know what I mean!

In the past I've had many followers who encouraged and supported me and my efforts to do this, and without going into all the details about where I've been and what I've been doing, I'd like to just start with where I am now. My apologies to those who have come here to see what I've been doing only to find I haven't been posting.                
I continue (most gratefully) to teach art in an elementary school in North Carolina. What amazes me about teaching art is that I prefer to do new art projects from year to year, just to satisfy my own need for new experiences and new images, yet often I come upon an art project that is so satisfying and beautiful that it can be done again and again, year after year without producing any semblance of boring repetition in the classroom.
I've linked the text from where I got the following project for art teachers who may be interested in getting their own copy: Dynamic Art Projects for Children by Denise Logan. If the link does not work, here is the URL for you to paste into your address bar:

Okay, onto the pictures and narrative... my favorite part. The project book mentioned above is filled with project ideas, not lesson plans, but they can easily be rewritten into lesson plans that suit your schedule and grade level. I found the large color photographs of finished projects helpful for my own use, so I could create my own finished pieces to use as examples to show the students. I've never been disappointed when using this book for project ideas.
One project I've repeated over the past few years is the Abstract Animal Relief. The book includes several black and white masters of Reptiles for teachers to copy, which was very thoughtful of the author to provide. However, I was working with fourth graders, and they already have a good skill: copying and tracing. I gave them access to hundreds of pictures from various nature magazines (Ranger Rick, Your Big Backyard, Nature, Wildlife in North Carolina, National Geographic for Kids, etc).

But even before any drawing took place, I had to introduce the project, so I created a powerpoint of animals that lived in North Carolina... they are studying North Carolina history in their regular classroom, and animal behaviors and adaptations in their science curriculum. (As the art integration teacher, I integrate grade level curriculum with art.). 

After viewing the powerpoint and selecting a North Carolina animal (that was one session alone), they had to find a picture to copy. It took a couple of sessions just for them to find the animal picture they wanted, or felt comfortable trying to copy it. If the picture was a large two-page spread, they could easily trace the outline of the animal using tracing paper (9x12"). But if it was a smaller picture, they had to trace it, then enlarge  the outline using their own copying skills. If a student had trouble copying/enlarging (as some are inclined not to copy well), I let them ask another student who had finished their drawing to help them. This prevented anyone from asking ME to copy it for them. Besides, every class has 3 or 4 students who are highly respected by their peers for their drawing skills... I like to give them the opportunity to help each other as much as possible.

After the drawing was made (the final drawing had to be done on white bond paper, at least on a 9"x12" and up to a 12"x18" paper because I wanted the animals to be large), the next step was to transfer the outline from the white paper to the black construction paper. I don't have pictures of that step. The student places the white paper outline on top of the black paper and traces over their pencil outline with a ballpoint pen. Pressing a bit hard, but not too hard as to tear the paper, they trace the entire outline, which leaves an easily visible track/outline of the animal on the black paper. Then, I gave them each a white watercolor pencil to draw over that track just so they could see it better for the painting step. It took them only a few brief minutes to complete the white pencil tracing.

In the photo below, students are working on the next step: painting the outline with white tempera using a flat brush (I forget the number of the brush, but it made about 1/4" wide line).
Each student has their own cup of white tempera paint and a flat brush. They have already drawn the animal on white paper, transferred it to the black paper in white watercolor pencil.

This student is painting the outline of a wolf. From what I saw, they enjoyed this part the most, especially if they had a good tracing. They were impressed with the realistic shape of the animal, although in the next step, they would be abstracting it with inside lines, shapes, and color.

Outlining continues here in white tempera. Tip: don't dilute the tempera with water... you want a solid, thick white line against the black paper. Most had to repaint the lines at least twice to get that bright white outline.
Students are working on the background piece... it's non-objective, oil pastel. They had to create an abstract by painting white tempera lines directly on the blank black construction paper. They painted this step directly, with no guidelines... using what they knew about line types, they included straight, curvy, zig-zag, diagonal, horizontal, vertical, etc... but I told them to make the lines a single thickness, which is why they used a flat 1/4" brush.

Prior to teaching this step, I briefly taught them about abstract (expressing a quality or idea of the subject, in this case, the animal) and non-objective art (easily identified by not having any recognizable objects: no person, place, or thing) by showing examples. The emphasis is on line, shape, and color in this project. The background is the non-objective piece, the animal is the abstract piece.

After they drew the animal, and colored in with oil pastels, they cut out the animal shape, leaving a black construction paper outline around it. Then they glued cardboard squares onto the back... this gives the relief effect as the animal piece lays just above the background.

Students are at various stages as we work... some are working on the backgrounds, others are working on the animals, and still others are putting it all together. Early finishers are working on another activity (weather picture for newspaper publication).

Here are two more finished examples. I hope you enjoy looking at them as much as I do!