Saturday, March 16, 2013

Construct, Observe, Color

I mentioned a little while back that my saving graces this year have been my new work buddies and my Art 2 students. Yesterday was one of the best days this year and it makes me sad, no matter how tough it has been, that I may not be up at the high school again next year. I think there is going to be some major shifting around in our little art department. At the very least I will go back to the position that I had last year, teaching part time middle school art. I know my principal there said he will advocate for me. He reassured me that I shouldn't be worried, but nobody likes change. I will be happy to have the opportunity to keep doing what I love. And for that I am very thankful.

The images above are of a three part lesson/ unit about observation and color. This is one that I feel like I built from my own idea and am proud of the results. Traditionally, I have had eighth graders observe and study still lifes that I have constructed.

These two images are from the school where I first taught. The students are in tenth grade and I occasionally see a few at the school where I teach now. The student on the end (left) produced the image below of the white still life.

So, I took this idea and tried to step it up a little for my Art 2 students. Still life and value drawing are pretty big components of Art 1, but I didn't want to have them draw my boring old (literally dusty at this point) still lifes. I had the genius idea that with such a small class, only 15 students (!), I could bring in a bunch of recycled materials that I had been collecting and have them construct their own. There were egg cartons, paper towel tubes, broken down cereal boxes, cardboard scraps, bottle caps, newspapers, hot glue, scissors and tape. I demonstrated a few construction techniques and reviewed objective versus non- objective. Then I let students take off!

When the pieces felt balanced and complete, I had students spray paint them white. At first I had gesso, but many of the materials we used were very porous. It was like a sponge soaking up water, but the spray paint worked better to block the "pores" and cover the sculptures. Thankfully we have a vent, so we did not have to go outside.

I don't know why this is sideways, it is correct in Picasa! I get to share a pretty sweet classroom with fabulous prints and spotlights. The now white sculptures were placed under color lights and students completed at least three color studies with dry materials of their choice. If I were to do this again, I would try to find brighter color bulbs. I put them in clip lamps like the one pictured above in the front of the room, but they didn't shine very far. It was more like mood lighting. Plus, I didn't realize how much light came through the sky light, so there was not as much contrast as I had hoped for. 

As the last student finished up their sculpture and began the color studies, I reviewed color more in depth. I attempted to have groups of students become "experts" on different color schemes and then share with the class at large, but this group is not very vocal. I need to improve this part of the lesson, but I think the handout I provided was helpful.

Finally, students selected a color scheme and completed a long term acrylic painting of their sculpture in that theme. 

Sorry for the weird shadows. There were no lights in the display case.
When the painting was complete, students could paint their sculpture however they liked. I would maybe switch these last two steps. Initially I felt that keeping the sculpture white would help students see different values and then they could interpret that into color. I think that worked, but not for every student.

I have such a great group of students! There are a handful not pictured because they're still not entirely done. They are actually more of the objective pieces including a turtle, fish and wolf. What was great about this activity was that every student was successful in their own way, from the gifted student to the student with special needs. There was something for everyone, forcing some out of their comfort zones and causing students to look and think in a new way. I'm really proud of these kids and I can't wait to share some of their more recent work!


  1. The sculptures and paintings are great- interesting challenge!

    About the job - don't be discouraged; you are young yet. I lost my first job (high school art, including photography) after 8 years, due to a reduction in staff (I was leat senior member of the art department). I loved my job, and where was I lived, so I was devastated; then I took a one year job teaching K-12 art in a teeny school in a desolate rural location. And then, somehow, I found the job where I happily taught for the next 27 years! So be patient; things have a way of working out.

    1. Thanks Phyl. I am trying to stay hopeful and positive!

  2. I found your blog in the blogland site and think you do a great job! Hang in there, you never know when you'll get the teaching assignment you really want. Our local high school has a horrid woman who should have retired long ago! Just sayin'.!!!
    Paula at

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