Thursday, November 28, 2013

Chinese Pottery

This second grade project yielded some of the best results I've seen all year. I loved its simplicity and the multiple steps that kept kids busy and engaged. We started off the class by looking through Google Images of some Chinese pottery. I asked the kids to tell me some things they saw that were similar in each piece. They all noticed right away that most of it was blue and white and had lots of swirly lines. They saw dragons, flowers, birds, bridges, and vines. This is one of those topics I don't know much about, so I just let the kids drive the conversation based on what they saw. I think we read into art too much sometimes. Sometimes it's just about making stuff that looks pretty that we like! 


They each got a 4x7" (ish) piece of white paper. I showed them how to draw an ellipse (top of a cylinder... looks like an oval) at the top of the white paper. From there, they were able to draw a pretty decent vase with a neck and rounded bottom. I try so hard to get kids to see that the ellipses on cylinders don't touch the edges because the vase or container has to have some width/thickness to it. This was something I learned in Drawing I in college that transformed all cylinders I drew from then on. The kids don't always understand, though. I think it's one of those spatial development things that they just don't quite have yet. Hopefully if I say it enough, by fifth grade they will be pros. 


From there, they looked at the examples from Google and designed their own vase with a blue marker. After their vase was done, they cut them out and glued them onto a 9x12" piece of gray construction paper. The vase was the most time consuming part. From there, they moved onto two other stations. I love the idea of stations because they can all work at their own pace and move around a little. 


Up next were the cherry blossom branches. They used brown markers for the branches, then they walked over to a dish I mixed up of soft pink paint. Instead of breaking out the brushes, they just used their fingers to dab clusters of finger dots for the blossoms. Finger painting is obviously really simple, but I think it's good to show them how to problem solve to get the look they are after. 

For the last station, I posted a chart of Chinese symbols/the corresponding English word on my Teamboard. Most of them walked up to the board and used the table next to it as a work space. I told them they could do as many symbols as they wanted. A few kids got really ambitious and did eight symbols. Others were content with one or two. They did an excellent job figuring out how to draw the symbols. I'm all about breaking down complex things into simple, familiar shapes!



Nevelson Assemblages

I made the mistake of asking my ridiculously supportive staff and families to start saving some of their toilet paper and paper towel rolls. My family alone probably saved over one hundred over the summer, so by the time we actually got around to using them, hundreds and hundreds were piled up in my classroom. I cannot imagine working in a school that didn't jump on board with excitement over every project and idea. 


I saw an assortment of projects that made great use of these recycled items, but settled on one that would use up the most rolls because of the large amount I received. I showed fifth grade a short slideshow about the artist Louise Nevelson. The Nelson in Kansas City hosts a huge Nevelson that takes up an entire wall. She is famous for digging for recycled items in furniture warehouses. She assembled these parts and pieces into three-dimensional collages (assemblages) and spray painted them all one color, usually black or gold. I told the kids we were going to breathe some new life into toilet paper rolls. I got a few laughs. Not many, but some. 


The assemblage above is my example that I created to give them a vision of the assignment. To begin, I gave them each their own grocery sack and they wrote their name on it. Storing this project was the biggest challenge. Then they were able to select 4 rolls and a color of paint. I literally just swung open the cabinets of paint and let them choose. I wanted them all to look very different and didn't want to limit them. (This also gave me huge brownie points with them because I kept hearing "WOW! Mrs. Byrd lets us get our own paint and choose our own color!" I found this funny because I was really just making them be responsible for their own stuff. I do plenty of choosing the rest of the day, so it's nice to shut that off for a bit.)

It took them two class periods to paint their tubes with several coats. Some color were more opaque than others and seemed to work a lot better. I had some metallic paint that looked awesome. I think if I did this again, I would order more metallic paint and make them all use it. They stored their tubes on top of their bags after they got done painting each day, then I slipped them in the bags the next morning and threw them in a class tub. A little bit of work on my part, but they really love hands-on projects like this, so to me, it was worth it. 


The third and final day of the project, they glued all their pieces together, and I threw in some extras like "Woodsies" (Popsicle stick shapes) and pipe cleaners. I reminded them about the name sculptures they made at the beginning of the year and how we tried to make an interesting composition where the parts and pieces interacted. Elmer's glue did the trick as long as they were patient enough to let it dry as they went. They glued the pieces to thick card stock I found in the closet. I wish the had time to paint the background the same color, but that also presented the issue of the wet side curling under as it dried. 


I loved how creatively they used scissors to manipulate the tubes. One girl fringed the ends of all of her tubes. Another cut it open like the twisted tube of canned cinnamon rolls. I hung a few on the wall, but only on the top half of the bulletin board. I figured any lower would be too risky with all the curious little hands that wait in line for the restroom by this board. 


Here are some up-close shots of some of the finished products. I love when kids end up giving me ideas for ways to make projects more creative. I never even thought to use the scissors so creatively. This seems to happen to me even more so with the younger kids. Their creativity has no bounds. It's amazing!


Monday, November 18, 2013

1st Grade Apple Baskets

Tis the season for apple picking in Missouri. Apparently Fugi apples aren't ready for picking until as late November. My first graders and I actually learned a lot about apple orchards from the book below. It had some cheesy pictures, but I learned all sorts of new facts! It's also good to switch between fiction and non-fiction with them. 

I gave the kids a grey piece of paper (9x12"), pencil, and a large coffee can lid to trace a big circle in the middle of their paper. I'm not usually into the whole tracing thing, but I'm always okay with teaching them how to use tools to get geometric shapes like a circle or a straight line. The large circle made up their apple basket. Around the edges of the basket, they drew rectangles to look like the wooden slats. 

Inside the basket, I showed them how to draw anywhere from 6-10 apples. Any more and I suspected their apples would be the size of quarters. overlapping was encouraged, as well. Inside each apple, I drew a "C" with the stem inside. Using letters of the alphabet as references seems to always help them out, because they have just recently gained a lot of confidence in writing their letters. 

I showed them how to blend oil pastels to make their apples look realistic. They have been talking about the color wheel a lot, so I told them it was okay to overlap colors next to each other to blend. So, we outlined the apple in red and worked our way in with orange and yellow. 

A little girl asked me if she could use blue oil pastel in the spaces between the apples to look water. I thought it looked really good and added a nice pop of color, so after that day, it was encouraged! 

For first grade, I was really impressed. I would have been impressed if third grade had done this well! It is hard to get them to stay neat and keep from smudging, but imperfections can make it look even more perfect sometimes. 

 I also showed them pictures of Cezanne's apples during the project to see how he used colors to shade his apples. 

2nd Grade Peacocks

Each year during Grandparent's Day, a book fair is strategically set up in the library. You would not believe the cash flow in a single day. As a teacher, I was able to make a wish list. Somehow I managed to receive every book on my list, which was so wonderful! A fourth grade student bought the book below for me. It was written by a second grade class from Wisconsin. They also did all of the illustrations! This was perfect to share with my second graders, and they were completely impressed! 

After reading the book, I gave them a 9x12" piece of turquoise construction paper and a pencil. I walked through a few different pieces of a peacock to get us started. The basics features were the bowling pin-shaped body, round feathers behind, eyes, beak, hair, and long feathers. 

After they sketched in these key features, they used blue tempera to fill in the body and "eyes" of the long feathers. Next, they used a dark green and light green oil pastel for the round feathers behind the bird. I showed them how to blend by overlapping colors that are close to each other on the color wheel. 

Lastly, they added more oil pastels to finish out the feathers and facial features. Each of my five classes made peacocks that were a little bit different. Each day I tend to consolidate instructions and either give more or less  freedom in some areas. The first day I was pretty loosey-goosey on the specifics of the feathers, but I gave them a lot more direction by the fifth day after seeing what did and didn't work so well. 

This was a quick, one-day project, which included reading the book. As always, you can control how long this project takes by how big of paper you give them and how detailed you want their feathers to be. I also thought about using metallic markers at the end to add into the eye feathers. I'm sure there are hundreds of great peacock projects out there- it's just such a beautiful animal! 

Saturday, November 16, 2013


We recently held our annual carnival at my school. The theme for this year was "Candyland." I'm questioning how much influence this theme actually has, because other than these projects, I really didn't see much of this theme anywhere. It just looked like any other carnival. Regardless, the classroom teachers were asked to decorate their bulletin boards outside of their classrooms with student work that reflected the theme.

I really feel for classroom teachers with the arrival of Common Core. They have absolutely zero free time for fun things like crafts anymore. So, I volunteered to accomplish this task during art class with the kids. It's really not as generous as it sounds. I have to be doing art with them anyway, and it's not hard to tie candy into things I would have already had them do anyway. For example, fifth grade was working on still life. Cupcakes are just as good of subjects as plastic fruit and turn out much cuter. 


I omitted the work of kindergarten and first grade because it was unrecognizable... Kindergarten drew peppermints. About 2 or 3 of each class looked like peppermints. The rest were a mess, and I had to just be okay with that. First grade drew a Candyland landscape. I actually thought they were pretty cute, I just didn't catch them in time to photograph. The above picture is the second grade project. I was able to tie in the color wheel and they figured out patterns (each color has five spaces in between itself). 


Third grade has been working with tints and shades, so I had them make these ice cream cones. The selected two colors of construction paper for each scoop. One a shade and one a tint. They struggled a lot. Not with the choosing of the tints and shades, but with the concept of layering them together with a perfect fit. Something strange happens with third graders. I think this must be the stage of development where kids become aware that they are not good at everything. My second graders have all the confidence in the world (though, some is misplaced), but third graders are very afraid of making mistakes. They constantly ask me if what they have done is good or acceptable. It starts to drive me crazy having to reassure them all of the time, but I'm trying to remember they just want to do it right. 


I loved the fourth grade project! I found a collage of candy boxes and wrappers that only showed a snippet of the label. The kids were asked to draw exactly what they SAW, not what they KNOW. I told them it was going to be tempting to write the whole "k-i-t k-a-t" but to hold back think about where it actually began and ended in terms of the square. This was very difficult for some of them, and I made them start over several times when they were being stubborn about going around the assignment. Some of them absolutely knocked it out of the park, though. That box of Dots above looked almost exactly like the one on the collage. I will definitely use this assignment again, regardless of whether or not it has to do with a carnival theme. I've thought about having the kids bring the product of their choice and try to copy the label exactly. I know copying isn't necessarily art, but it is a crucial drawing skill to see relationships in sizes and shapes and to be able to reproduce what you see. 


Lastly, fifth grade was studying still life. I order Scholastic Art magazines for my class. They are designed for 4th-8th graders. We had a great time looking through them and reading them out loud together. That month's issue focused on still life, so we talked about things like overlapping, geometric forms, foreground and background, etc. I scratched the pumpkin still life idea and just went ahead and did cupcakes. There are some great how-to videos on YouTube about cupcakes, and I copied a bunch of reference handouts I made for them, as well. The icing was the hardest part, but once they got it, they couldn't stop drawing them. The fifth grade teachers asked me why their kids were drawing cupcakes all over their math assignments and writer's notebooks. That makes me feel good to know that they are learning to draw things that they like and that they can keep in their "toolbox" of things they know how to draw. I was always a sucker for drawing my hands once I had a success with it in middle school. Hopefully they will have plenty of successes to come!


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Monochromatic Paper Sculpture

This 3rd grade project is possibly the most complex thus far. I sought to make it a two-class period project, but somehow barely squeezed it into three. It required a lot of adjustments, but I think by the time I do it again next year, I'll have all the kinks worked out. Oh, and not to mention, I had my first formal evaluation with my principal during this lesson!

We began by discussing a non-objective design. Luckily, I have two of my own paintings in my room that make for perfect examples of objective and non-objective. I emphasized that non-objective is not trying to make a picture of something that we recognize. So I had them pencil in a simple, non-objective design on their paper. I suggested picking two shapes (organic or geometric) then repeating them each three times in different sizes on their paper. Mine below repeated diamonds and s-curves.


After designs were penciled in, we discussed tints and shades and the concept of monochromatic. I found a cute video made by students with a clever little jingle about monochromatic painting. The kids were a little confused why they only got to use one color, but once they got to mixing tints and shades they saw how difficult that would be with more than one color. 

The were only allowed to choose a primary or secondary color for painting (of course I still got requests for pink...) just to keep it simple for me. I made the mistake of trying to get them to do all of the painting in one class. Never again. The first day we did the base color on a few shapes/spaces. The second day, we mixed tints and shades. I only gave them a tiny dot of black, or they turned way too dark way too fast. 


The third day, we flipped the paintings over and measured out nine two-inch sections. We measured with the paper sitting horizontally... if that makes sense... I stressed over and over not to cut out all the pieces at once. One at a time, showed them how to cut and glue so that the pieces would have a 3-dimensional quality. I explained it in terms of "one hill, two hill, one hill, two hill." Leaving a little bit of space at the top and bottom gave the hills less room to stretch and more room to curve. 

I made them glue their pieces on the complementary color of their painting. I might eliminate this next time so we can have more variety. I ended up with a lot of blues on oranges and purples on yellows. 



The kids caught on pretty quickly. A few struggled with the "two hillers." So I showed them a trick with the pointer fingers and thumbs that I have no idea how to explain with words... Sorry! 




These kid examples are really the best of the best. I would say the most difficult part for them was creating a design that allowed the differences in values to show up. Some would paint all their shapes the base color, then have nowhere logical to put tints and shades. If I do this project again next year, I think I'll definitely think of a way for them to be more successful developing a non-objective design. I might even think about taping off the paper and just doing geometric shapes to contrast with the organic curves they get from bending the paper. Regardless, they had fun and were very proud of their work. Aaaanndd! They can tell me what tints and shades are!