Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Observational Drawing: Revisiting Contour, Blind and Sighted

Fourth graders were given the opportunity to revisit a drawing practice they had originally learned in second grade. Contour drawing is a style of drawing which focuses exclusively on the contour outline of any given shape or object. Skills are often forgotten when not practiced regularly, so it was an exciting venture to rediscover this activity two years later! However, now that the students are older, a new twist was added with the addition of blind contour drawing, an exercise which required the person drawing to NOT look at the object they are drawing and allowing their hand to to be guided only by their sight. This exercise helps to train and co-ordinate the hands and eyes for better observational drawing.

Students were given simple tools and everyday objects, which they also used in second grade for a different drawing activity, and instructed to "warm up" with 10 minutes of blind contour drawing. Then, students were instructed to draw regular contour drawings for the remainder of class time. Students were only allowed to use pen for their drawings, as contour drawings are traditionally done in ink to force the artist to concentrate without the safety of using an eraser to correct mistakes.

Friday, May 05, 2017

May Masterpiece of the Month: Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez

Who Made It?
This painting was created by a Spanish painter named Diego Velazquez in 1656.

Where is the REAL One?
The real painting can be seen at the Museo del Prado in Madrid, Spain.

Why Is This Artwork Important?
Las Meninas is not only the masterpiece of Velaquez’s career, but is also one of the most analyzed paintings in the world. Art historians have been trying to figure out several mysteries that are contained within this picture. Las Meninas has also inspired many other artists because it is such an unusual picture. 
First, it is a royal portrait of the young Princess Margaret Theresa, daughter of King Philip IV of Spain. But it is unlike most royal portraits because it is actually like a snapshot photo of a scene from inside the king’s court. The portrait of the princess includes many people in her life, including her maids, her chaperone, her bodyguard, a woman with dwarfism that served as her companion, a member of the royal court, and a boy playfully trying to awaken one of the king’s dogs with his foot! This picture is also a self-portrait, as Velaquez included himself in the picture, as well! But whose portrait is he actually painting? Who is he looking at? If you look closely, the king and queen are also featured here. Can you find them? For many years, art historians have tried to determine if that is a portrait of the royal couple hanging on the wall, or is it their reflection in a mirror and they are standing where we are while the artist paints their likeness? Either way, we are seeing this scene of royal life through the eyes of the king, a rare spectacle in those days. In fact, this picture was commissioned by King Philip and never seen by the public until after the king’s death, as it hung in his private study room. After Velaquez died, the King honored his talent and his service to the royal court by having a royal red insignia symbol painted on the vest Velaquez is wearing in the painting. It is believed that the king painted it on there, himself!

Thursday, May 04, 2017

Kindergarten: Pinch Pots

Kindergarten students recently began a unit on clay and its sculptural properties. Students were first given oil-based clay to experiment with the many ways clay can be manipulated. This was done as a class, in a succession of steps guided by the teacher.

The following week, students looked at Animal Vessel, a piece of pottery from ancient Mexico that is carved in the shape of a magical animal. Students were then asked a series of questions while carefully looking at the selected work:

What do you notice about this artwork?
What is it made from?
How do you think this vessel might have be used?

Students were then introduced to earthen clay and instructed in the required steps to construct a simple vessel using the most basic of hand-building techniques. They were also encouraged to use pottery tools for creating texture in the surface of their pots.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Grade One: Beginner Painting Techniques, Wet and Dry


This first grade lesson was instructed in two phases, allowing students to experience two different methods of painting. First, students discussed how artists such as Helen Frankenthaler can use paint in different ways, such as allowing colors to run together as seen in her painting, Pistachio.
Week one involved painting in a technique called "wet-on-wet", meaning wet paint on wet paper. Students learned to moisten paper before painting and to dilute colors to force them to "bleed", run and drip. This created a colorful background wash for the second phase of this lesson.

Returning to find their background paintings dry, students discussed how artists use different types of brushes to make many kinds of marks, such as Georges Braque in his painting, Still Life with Grapes and Clarinet. Examining for differences, students were shown a flat brush and a round brush. Looking at Braques' painting, students were asked to find marks that each of these brushes might have made.

Students were told they would need to use their imaginations while carefully examining their wet-on-wet background and think of a what kind of picture this "painting" would be a good background for. Rather than covering up their interesting bleeding paint effects, students were told to add new things to make their pictures more complete. They were then each given both a flat and round brush and instructed to paint "wet-on-dry" (wet paint on dry paper) using each of these brushes on top of the wash painting from the previous week.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Grade Five: O'Keeffe Flower Bowls

Students in grade five started this lesson by learning about the enlarged Modernist style flower paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986). Students were then instructed to choose a reproduction of one of O’Keeffe’s botanical paintings and to isolate one small section of the image using a viewfinder to allow closer inspection of the colors and textures employed by O’Keeffe in her work. Using oil pastels, students were instructed to create a drawing of the isolated portion while attempting to recreate the colors as accurately as possible, as they appeared through the viewfinder.

The second phase of the this project involved students creating a three-dimensional bowl inspired by the flower of their drawing, using ceramic clay. Students were instructed in the technique of building a slab bowl, adding necessary pieces and sculptural elements to resemble the specific flower in O’Keeffe’s painting as much as possible. Bowls were then glazed with appropriate colors and kiln-fired.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

April Masterpiece of the Month: Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright

Who Made It?
This house was designed by an American architect named, Frank Lloyd Wright in the years 1935-1939.

Where Is the REAL One?
The real house, also known as The Kaufmann House, can be visited in Mill Run, Pennsylvania.

Why Is This Artwork Important?
Fallingwater is a house suspended above a natural waterfall and built into a mountainside to give the house the feeling of being part of nature, itself, without intruding upon the natural environment. For this reason, Fallingwater is considered to be an amazing and groundbreaking idea and accomplishment in the history of architecture.
Wright was hired by a man named, Edgar J. Kaufmann, who was the founder of a large department store in Pittsburgh, PA. Kaufmann wanted a vacation weekend home to serve as a natural retreat from busy city life. Wright made the daring decision to have the house built on the side of a cliff, overlooking the most dramatic feature on the property: a waterfall, which Wright planned to be fully integrated into the design of the house.

In addition to designing the structure of the house, Wright also designed all the furniture and decorative elements on the inside of the house! Wright used natural stone found on the property on the inside of the home, which made the house feel as though the OUTdoors were, in fact, INdoors.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Results Are In! The Brackett School Annual Concert & Art Show 2017

This year's art exhibit, Roots of the American Beat: Origins of American Popular Musicwas a big success thanks to the hard work of students and the support of Brackett staff and families. As always, many thanks for your ongoing support and appreciation!

I See the Beginning: Music from Africa
This lesson began with a short discussion of how popular American music of the last century possesses deep African influences, most notably in the form of a rhythmic beat that began with a uniquely African instrument: the drum. While there are many kinds of drums played throughout the continent, it is the west coast of Africa from which the djembe drum originates. The djembe drum was used primarily as an instrument of communication and celebration. Students were introduced to the drum by watching a short video demonstrating its sound, structure and function, and were led to notice that while the drum has a particular method to its construction, it can vary in size and decoration. Students examined and discussed several styles of djembe, from pictorial carvings to pattern and texture usage. 
Students built their own “drums” by covering plastic cups with masking tape and paint, and later added further decoration which they planned in drawings, beforehand.

I See the Next Generation: Music of Blended Cultures
Grade One
This lesson began with a short discussion of how popular American music of the last century possesses deep African influences, most notably in the form of a rhythmic beat, and how those musical influences came to America via the slave trade. Students briefly discussed the concept of slavery, as well as Harriet Tubman and her role in establishing the Underground Railroad. This was further elaborated upon in a reading of Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky, by Faith Ringgold. It was discussed, as well as described in the story, the clandestine manner in which people created, planned and utilized songs, places and objects in order to escape slavery and arrive in free U.S. states and Canada. One such method was the use of quilts, a folk art first created by female slaves and originating in design in west Africa. The patterns, shapes and designs could vary greatly, but occasionally these arrangements of shape were intended to resemble recognizable locations and objects to guide or instruct a person on their journey to freedom.Students were then instructed to arrange their own quilt squares from paper, using squares, rectangles and triangles to create a design that could be imagined to contain special meaning or instruction on the Underground Railroad.

I See Spirituals: Music Born of Slavery
Grade Two
This lesson began with a viewing of The Life of Harriet Tubman, Panel #9, by Jacob Lawrence in 1940. Students were quick to understand the depiction in this painting and briefly discussed the concept of slavery. This was followed by a short discussion of how popular American music of the last century possesses deep African influences, most notably in the form of a rhythmic beat, and how those musical influences came to America via the slave trade. Students discussed the clandestine manner in which people created, planned and utilized songs, places and objects in order to escape slavery and arrive in free U.S. states and Canada. However, some such songs and objects were created for other uses, namely for strength, hope and inspiration. One such method, was in the telling of folk tales. Much like the oral tradition of African cultures, these stories were told amongst people by spoken word, and not recorded until after the Civil War. One such story that spread widely amongst enslaved people and later, by those who found freedom, was “The People Could Fly”, a fantastical story of people who gained the magical ability to fly out of the bondage of slavery to a place of freedom and happiness. Students heard a reading of this story, illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon, which was then followed by a viewing of the painting Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold. Tar Beach is a story “quilt” painting that tells the story of a little girl who believes she can fly anywhere by the power of her imagination. Students were then asked to imagine where they would like to fly to, if they could, and to depict this image in the form of a pop-up, mock storybook. Students could select a place of familiar comfort and happiness, a place they would like to visit, or an imaginary place of interest.

I See Blues: Music Born from Hardship
Grade Three
This lesson began with a short discussion of how popular American music of the last century possesses deep African influences, most notably in the form of a rhythmic beat, and later with the creation of Blues music in the deep American South. Blues was born from the hardship felt by many newly-freed slaves and their families in the years leading into the 19th century. Students learned that during this time, Pablo Picasso created his notable “Blue Period” series of paintings, in which he used the color blue to symbolically express a traumatic and financially difficult time in his life, and examined several examples from this series. When using largely one color, students learned that monochromatic (one color) schemes can be used by artists to further express feelings using color. In contrast, students were also shown excerpts from The Great Migration series by Jacob Lawrence and discussed how this population shift, the largest in American history, brought many African-Americans out of the rural south, and into northern cities in search of better wages and living conditions. With this event, Blues music slowly began to spread throughout the United States, influencing musicians everywhere along the way. Students watched a recorded performance by B.B. King to hear the unique sound of Blues music. Students then were shown selections from the book, Blues Journey by Walter Dean Myers, discussing the poetic structure of Blues lyrics, as well as the illustrator’s use of monochromatic color usage in the accompanying illustrations. Students then discussed “blues poetry”, particularly by Langston Hughes in his poem, “The Blues. Students were led to notice that like all art, the Blues can be a unique method of expressing all sorts of incidents in our lives, from major events to minor frustrations, before being instructed to write their own poem with an accompanying monochromatic painting, illustrating the poem.

I See Jazz: Music About Freedom of Expression
Grade Four
This lesson began with a short discussion of how popular American music of the last century possesses deep African influences and origins in Blues music. Students were shown the painting, Nightlife by Archibald Motley in 1943. Students were quick to identify that of all musical styles of the last century, this painting appears to depict Jazz music. Motley was an artist from the Harlem Renaissance period and created this painting at the end of the “Jazz Age” which was marked by the end of the popularity of “swing” style jazz, an early form of Jazz and known for it’s danceability. Students were shown several short excerpts from the documentary, Jazz by Ken Burns, which introduced how it is defined as a musical style, namely through three tenets: collaboration, improvisation and personal expression. This project was divided into two phases. Phase one had students watch original footage of dancers from the swing era, and then draw dance poses while modeling for each other in class, while working in pairs and teams. Students voted on which poses to paint on a large-scale banner, then later were instructed to paint in response to selections of swing jazz music by musicians such as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman. Phase two had students examining several artworks by Romare Bearden, an artist who was deeply influenced by Jazz and Blues in many of his works. Students discussed the principle of visual rhythm and how it can be used to depict movement and unity in a work of art. Finally, students were shown Up At Minton’s, which Bearden created in 1980, depicting the beginning of “bebop” jazz, led by musicians such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and heralding in a new era in the evolution of Jazz music. Students were asked to create a mixed media print/collage in response to hearing bebop music, using certain required components such as elements of repetition and central focal point.

I See Early Rock: Music of Changing Times
Grade Five
This lesson began with a short discussion of how popular American music of the last century possesses deep African influences and origins in Blues music. This is especially true of early Rock. It wasn’t long before early Rock musicians, such as Chuck Berry, redefined the sound of Rock with the use of the electric guitar and created an almost inseparable association for Rock music and the guitar. 
Students were then introduced to a series of works created by Pablo Picasso during his Cubist period, in which he explored the subject of the guitar in many mediums, including painting, collage, and sculpture. Students were asked to notice the similarities between these different representations, and to see how Picasso was attempting to show the impossible, which is the heart of Cubism: depicting multiple viewpoints from only one view, forcing flat to appear three-dimensional, deconstructing a subject while simultaneously reconstructing it. These ideas continue to inspire contemporary artists, such a Armand Pierre Fernandez and Koji Takei, as students saw in their examples of Cubist-inspired sculptures of deconstructed acoustic guitars, a direct homage to Picasso’s 1913 cardboard sculpture, Still Life with Guitar
Students were then instructed to create a small-scale relief cardboard sculpture using the symbol of the guitar, while listening to selections of early Rock music by musicians such as Little Richard and Buddy Holly. Students were encouraged to consider how best to layer forms and use a variety of materials for visual interest and sculptural qualities. Once completed, some classes (if time allowed) were divided into groups of 3-4 students and asked to collaborate their efforts into one large-scale, three-dimensional cardboard guitar sculpture which was required to include elements from each student in the group while simultaneously creating something unique.