Archives for category: visual reference

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I love this time of year! This season of magnificent color presents an exciting opportunity for students to notice and record what they observe happening around them. If your students aren’t already keeping “art journals”, I suggest that now is the time to have them start! You can read my earlier posts about the ease of setting up and using art journals here, here, and here. There’s also a post here about observational drawing that you might find helpful.

My proposal is simple. Have your students observe leaves, one at a time — over time — as they change colors throughout the fall. While many different approaches are possible, I would suggest that you begin by simply having them each select one leaf to bring into the classroom. For this first observation, I would encourage you to suggest that they look for leaves that are primarily green. You might say something like, “We’re going to go outside (to some specific area) and spend just a few minutes while you each find one green leaf to bring back inside our classroom.” This sets a few basic parameters as well as your expectations: A) we will all be staying in the same area together, and B) we will be spending a very short amount of time doing this.

Once back inside, the process of carefully observing their leaves can begin. (Having each student set his or her leaf on a small, pre-cut square of black or white construction paper will help simplify the background, and will make each leaf seem “special” as if on display.) I would not have any pencils or paper out at this time to help focus their attention on their leaves only, and on LOOKING. Oral language and sharing would be great here… what do they see? Students can share their observations with a neighbor. Perhaps you could make a list of class observations. Vocabulary words like line, form, shape, color, and texture can be introduced or reinforced.

When it’s time to draw, journals/paper, pencils, erasers, color pencils, crayons and anything else you might make available can be distributed and the drawing can begin. You might encourage your students to draw one large image, or perhaps you might encourage them to draw several smaller images — or “studies” — of the same leaf from different angles. (This is great for those students who always finish at light speed! Ask them to move their leaf and take another look at it from this different angle.) Most of all, encourage them to take their time, to slow down, and to really look at what makes their particular leaf special and unique. The trick to observational drawing is to actually draw what you see in front of you, not what you THINK you see. Every child in your class has seen a leaf, and generally knows what leaves look like, but today you want them to do the best drawing they can of the particular leaf that is right in front of them.

If you have the time and the inclination, you might attach a writing component to this activity, having students describe what they see, or perhaps how they felt looking at their leaf and trying to draw it, or maybe even compose a poem about it. This writing could be as structured or as “free form” as you want it to be. The writing and drawings can be shared aloud with a partner and/or with the class. Another idea is to have everyone leave their journal open on their desk (or their paper out) and everyone moves around the room doing a “journal walk” or “gallery walk” to enjoy everyone’s work. (If this type of activity is new for your students, you might need to spend some time talking about how important it is to value all efforts, and to stick to constructive comments.)

As you notice the leaves changing colors over the next several days or weeks, explore this same process all over again, but this time you will encourage your students to select leaves that are say, yellow. Maybe a few days or weeks after that, everyone will select red leaves. Reinforce for your students how amazing it is that while you are returning to the same area over and over again for leaves, they have changed color dramatically.

This simple, multi-step journaling practice can be repeated using a multitude of subjects, some of which include growing plants, trees budding out in the spring, or something rotting like a small piece of fruit — kids LOVE the gross-out factor of this last one! Once kids get the hang of what you expect from them out of this process, this type of drawing can even be something that your students can do independently like at a station or center, or perhaps when other work has been finished. When practiced frequently, observational drawing is so much more than an art exercise for students, but rather it becomes a thoughtful, meaningful way of viewing, thinking about, and of understanding their world.

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IMG_1778It’s never too early to encourage students to begin thinking about careers that interest them. This simple, yet powerful art experience called “Career Cubes” is a fun way to do just that, while incorporating critical thinking, writing and even a little research if you desire.

You will need the following materials: Light-weight cardboard — used file folders work great here, masking tape, construction paper scraps, scissors, glue, color pencils, crayons, and markers. Additionally, things like yarn or string, staplers, brads, and discard magazines could also be included.

Each child will need 6 light-weight cardboard squares. They can be any size, but I’ve found 4 inches by 4 inches to be a nice, workable surface. Depending on the age and ability level of your students, measuring and cutting out their 6 squares can be great math practice. You could also provide a template for tracing, or you could provide the squares to them already cut out. (The more carefully the squares are measured and cut, the better the resulting cube will fit together.)

The reason 6 individual squares are used, rather than a “cube pattern”, is that the separate squares provide a more challenging set of 6 individual compositions, and a more interesting approach to cube construction.

I would suggest deciding ahead of time what your expectations are for each side of the career cubes. (Your specific requirements for your students will vary greatly based upon the age and ability levels of your students, but even for the very young, I would be sure you have some sort of guidelines established for them.) For example, if your students are older, you might require the following: One side devoted to “naming” the career, three sides will be visual representations of that career, one side will be a written statement about why the student has chosen that career — or is interested in that career — and one side devoted to some basic research on the career such as schooling required, etc., for a total of six sides.

Before handing out the first square, encourage discussion and brainstorming about what types of careers your students are interested in. Talk with them about how different careers could be visually represented… for example, what sort of symbols might one make if they wanted to become an architect? A nurse? Make a list if you like of the many possibilities your students come up with. After you feel your students have been sufficiently motivated, concentrating on only one square at a time, have your students begin the process of surface decoration. Depending on your available art supplies, the squares could be decorated with a variety of materials, or you might limit them to just using cut and/or torn construction paper. The choice is yours. If you decide to require a written component, you might like students to write in their own best handwriting, or perhaps you’d like them to write and compose something on the computer that they can attach to one square. Depending on your schedule, you might have students work on this in one, uninterrupted block of time, or perhaps you might break the process into smaller, shorter work sessions. (Squares, along with bits and pieces, can be easily stored in ziplock bags while in progress.) Lots of options here to make this work for your students, your curricular objectives, and your time frame.

When all 6 sides of a student’s career cube are complete, the cube can be constructed. First, lay out four sides. Be sure to leave a small amount of space between squares to serve as a “hinge”, and tape with masking tape like this:

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IMG_1780Then attach the remaining two sides to the four you just taped like this:

IMG_1782Now bring all sides together to form a cube and tape securely.

IMG_1785Masking tape used neatly on the “outside” of the cube is fine and can become part of the surface decoration. Once complete, each student will have created a unique, concrete representation of his or her desired career choice. Career cubes are fun displayed individually on student desks, stacked up as a group, or can even be hung from the ceiling if you are clever. Your students will love not only making them, but looking at them as well!

IMG_1688In my last post, I talked about the importance of having images available to your students for use as visual references when having the real thing in front of them just isn’t possible or practical. Today I’d like to help four lucky people get started on the creation of their own image files by giving away some beautiful National Audubon Society field guide books. (These books are brand new and cost about $20 each.) Each of these books is full of gorgeous, full color photographs that will make excellent reference images for any artist. Each book is focused on a different subject group — one for reptiles & amphibians, one for mammals, another entitled fishes, and finally one for insects & spiders. The pages measure about 3.5 X 7.5 inches, so if you tear them out as I suggested in my blog post, they will fit neatly into a file folder for easy retrieval and distribution later.

If you’d like to receive one of these spectacular National Aububon Society field guides, just leave a comment on this blog post. The first 4 people to leave me a comment by Wednesday, February 20, 2013, by 5 p.m. (PST) will each get one free book. (Subject of the books vary and cannot be specified by the recipient. One comment/entry per person, please.)

And teachers… don’t forget that spring break will be here before you know it. Plan your professional development now by checking out my affordable and convenient art courses offered through Fresno Pacific University. Registration is always open for these distance learning courses — you can view all of my course listings here. No art experience? No Problem! My courses were written specifically with YOU in mind! Imagine yourself completing the units you need on your schedule, from the comfort of your own home. I’d love to see you in class!

IMG_1679For many of us, creating something is much easier with some sort of visual reference. Whether we’re making a drawing, a painting, or a sculpture, having something in front of us to look at helps us get the details right. It helps us with things like proportion, texture, pattern, and color. Here are a few easy suggestions that will help you establish a valuable set of image files that your students can use again and again when they need a visual reference. Why the need for such files you ask? Well, if one is drawing a rose, for example, it’s not too difficult to simply bring one into the classroom. The same holds true for any number of fruits, vegetables, and small objects. But what if your students are trying to draw or sculpt say, an elephant, or a particular type of fish? Not so easy. Enter the image file.

My suggestion to you is that you create a series of files filled with photographs that your students can reference as needed. I want to be very specific here about saying that your images files should contain only photographs — not drawings or paintings of things. The problem with using drawings or paintings of things as a reference is that someone else has already made all of the decisions about color, line, texture, etc. When you have your students work from photographs, they must decide how to interpret the “reality” of that photo into their work. This involves a tremendous amount of observation and problem solving skills that are essential to student growth and learning.

For my own classroom files, I purchased some very inexpensive books of photographs of whatever I was looking for. (Yard sales can be a fantastic source!) Because having an entire classroom of students share one book is not practical, I simply tore the pages out of the books I collected. (As a lover of books, this was kind of hard to do at first, but I persevered and it worked so well, I never looked back.) I used hanging file folders to store these now single sheets of photos, and labeled them by category such as, insects, fish, mammals, reptiles, birds, flowers, etc. (Often these photos also have an accompanying paragraph about whatever is in the photo, which I find to be a real bonus as far as student learning is concerned.) Once these files are established, it’s simply a matter of pulling them out when you need them. So for example, if you’re working on an art project that involves reptiles, you simply bring out the reptile file and you’re all set. If only one topic is being used, I simply spread out that file’s contents on a table for students to peruse. If we’re using multiple subjects, I place the files we’re using in a small hanging file container someplace where the students can look through them.

When I initially set up my image files, the internet was not something we had access to in classrooms. And while it might be tempting to let students search for images on the computer, I would advise against it. In my experience, students will make a selection from this type of photo file within a minute or two of looking over the photographs. How long do you imagine they might look on the internet…?

Trust me that after only a small initial investment of time and money on your part, you will end up with files that will serve you well for years. You won’t be able to imagine how you ever lived without them!

Need other ideas for great art experiences YOU can do in your classroom or with your homeschooled kids? Check out my affordable and convenient professional development courses here. You can register at any time for my distance learning classes, and best of all, you complete them on your schedule. I hope to “see” you in class soon!

Very often I’m asked by students and teachers if it’s acceptable to look at something as a reference while they are creating. My answer is always yes. I don’t think it’s realistic to expect students  — or anyone for that matter — to be able to recall exactly what any given thing/animal/place, etc. looks like from memory. Using some sort of visual reference is a great support for the creative process. But here’s the thing… I think it’s imperative to make a distinction between the different kinds of visual reference materials available.

Of course working from life is the best of the best. But if one is trying to recall the facial details of a lion, for example, getting a peek at the real thing might not be possible or practical. As the next best thing, I strongly suggest using photographs — as opposed to drawings — when some type of reference is needed.

The reason I prefer photographs over drawings is simple. If I want to draw a flower for example, maybe even something like those pictured above, by using a drawing that someone else has done as my reference, all of the decisions have already been made for me by the person who created that drawing. Things like, color, shape, shadows, highlights, details, and on and on, have already been determined by the artist who drew that flower. By using a photograph for reference, everything is there for me — all of the visual information, and I — as the artist — can make the decisions for myself about what I want to include, add, or leave out of my piece as it suits me and my creative experience. The interpretation of that photo is mine and mine alone as I create.

As a classroom teacher, I would purchase books on sale that were filled with color photos of all kinds of things… birds, reptiles, mammals, fish, flowers, you name it, and then tear the pages out and keep them in files. This made it easy to pull them out and allow students to sort through them and find what they were looking for, and then take the individual photo(s) back to their desk to reference while they worked. Having computer access in the classroom provides a virtually limitless source of reference photographs as long as students can find what they need quickly without being distracted.