Thursday, January 30, 2014

In the Art Room: Painted Trees (A Work in Progress)

So I thought I'd share with you a project that we just started this week and isn't quite finished yet. Usually I post projects once they're complete...but I've noticed when I peruse art blogs, I like to see Works in Progress (WIP. WIP it good). It kinda helps me wrap my brain around the steps of the lesson and the time it took to complete. Because, when I see these awesome projects posted on my fave art blogs (check out these nominations on The Art of Education for a killer list of art teacher-y blogs), I sometimes feel a little overwhelmed and get that "my kids could never do that" feeling in my gut. But that could be the indigestion from all those bowls of butter noodles and cereal (go here if you need a reference to that not-so-funny inside joke).

So, without further ado-do, I present to you my second grade students Painted Trees Project which is currently a Work in Progress.
Disclaimer: I ALMOST didn't post this photo because it looks like such a hot mess. The messy table, the grimy water cup, that Dirty Ole Sponge Bob and the sad state of the watercolor tray. Not to mention the rando cups of paint stacked on the table. But, even though the photo is embarrassing for me, I thought you should see it for a coupla reasons:
  1. You don't need the World's Cleanest Art Room to create the World's Greatest Art. Like you, when I get to school in the morning, I don't stop running around and preparing supplies until the kids walk in the door. And by then, I'm usually exhausted by all the paper cutting/paint preparing/clay wedging/and coffee making (because without that none of the aforementioned would be possible). My goal is to have all the supplies accessible and ready. Bright and shiny clean is not tops priority for my room anyway. That being said, I am beyond grossed out by those cups and sponges and will be cleaning 'em in all my spare time.
  2. I love to see how art teachers set up their tables. So I thought I'd share how I set up for watercolor painting...even if it looks like a disaster. I use that styro tray to hold the paint, non spill water cup (best invention ever), and a Dirty Ole Sponge Bob (that's what we call him) to dry our brushes on. Because the students were using warm or cold colors to paint their skies, I like to have the watercolors organized in ROY G. BIV fashion so the kids can easily look down and see that the warm colors are the first three colors in the rainbow and the cool are the last three. Now, I did remove green and replace it with magenta for two reasons. I didn't want them to add green all over their skies (call me a control freak, I've been called worse) and I wanted them to know that magenta could be used with a warm or cool palette. See, there is a method to my messiness.
  3. When you have 4, 30 minute back-to-back classes with each working on a different project, you end up with a variety of supplies on your tables. Hence the cups of paint. That would be for a 1st grade project I'll share with you in the future. 
Now, let's chat about supplies for a moment. I used to hate teaching watercolor to the children because I couldn't find a decent set of paints. Or brushes. And it was frustrating for me and the kids when their end result wasn't as amazing as they'd hoped. Now I've got the good stuff. Put this on your next supply order:

Crayola's Watercolor Mixing Set Yes, they're more expensive than their regular watercolor paint. But so worth it. I mean, look at those colors! 

Royal and Langnickel Paint Brushes So soft you'll catch the girls pretending they are make up brushes and putting imaginary blush on their cheeks. Or non-imaginary paint all over their face. Not that that has ever happened in my room. Ahem.
Okay, let's chat about this lesson. I started with flashcards with words that pertained to the lesson such as: watercolor, paint, brush stroke, warm colors, cool colors, sumi-e, Japan, Asia, etc. As the children entered my room, they read these words to me even if we hadn't discussed their meaning yet. This is an adjusted version of my vocabulary post that you can read here. Once inside, we gathered around a table to watch a demonstration. I told the kids that making art was all about making choices and that today, as artists, they had many to make:

Which direction will I format my paper, vertically or horizontally? 
I am creating a sky scape. What time of day do I want to paint?
Will my sky have a sun, moon or neither? 
What size sun or moon will I have?
If I am making a moon, what phase will it be in?
Would I like to paint with all warm or all cool colors?
What kind of brush strokes could I use?
I know, a lot to think about, right? AND in 20-ish minutes once they returned to their seats. I did a quick demo as a reminder on how to properly paint with watercolor. Here's what I tell 'em:

It's called watercolor paint because you gotta add water. Place a couple of drops of water into each little pan.

Your paintbrush is like a ballerina...she always paints on her tiptoes. She never ever scoots around on her bottom. Because that would be ridiculous and unattractive (although mildly entertaining). 

Listen to your paintbrush. If it's making a scratching sound as it sweeps across your paper, it's thirsty. Add more paint and water. It's also telling you it's thirsty when you see scratchy brush strokes. Give that ballerina a drink!
I then showed them a wee demo on wet into wet/wet into dry. Then I hurried 'em back to their seats so they could actually begin.
At the end of the first 30 minute class, most had finished their 10" X 12" paintings. And then some looked like this. Like, amazing, right? These students completed their watercolor paintings the following art class.
It was interesting to me to see how one class managed to finish in 20 minutes...meanwhile all looking strangely similar. It's funny, I didn't even do that ring-around-the-sun thing in my demo.
And other classes really slowed down and thusly this was the result at the end of the class.
These paintings were finished up on the second art class as well.
During the second 30 minute art class, those that were not finished with their skies were allowed to do so. Those that were finished, moved on to adding a tree to their skies. But before we did, I chatted some about sumi-e brush painting techniques. I told the kids that they were to create a tree painting on practice paper first before attacking their painted paper. I gave them permission to paint as many of these paintings as they wanted until they created one that they were happy with. I really love these little paintings. 
During my little demo, I showed the kids how to apply pressure to their brush to create a thick line...and then slowly lifting the brush off the paper while painting the branches. This made the lines of the branches become thinner and more branch like. For the twigs, students could use itty-bitty brushes. Another tip is to have the students slowly twist the brush as they lift it off their paper which also thins the line.
I'm excited by the results of this 2, 30 minute painting lesson. But we're not finished yet...stay tuned for what happens next with these masterpieces!


  1. Thank you for showing us a work in progress! And I appreciate your supplies recommendations. Are they painting on watercolor paper?

    1. oh, I'll have to correct that! No, just regular (but good and heavy) drawing paper. I think either 60 or 80 lbs? I'll add the correction :)

  2. love it! Are the Crayola Watercolor Mixing paints just have magenta in them? Do they actually really and for truly blend together? I love at the very top of the blog you have a photo of 6 trees. The bottom right with the blues and purples seems to have been done in a different technique? Did they do something different to it? Add salt or saran wrap or anything? It's neat texture!

    1. The mixing colors have a rather weird palette to be honest...but it's a good weird. I includes: red orange, two yellows (cuz, really, you always run out of yellow), a turquoise, blue-violet and magenta...and probably a couple more. Oh! White. Which is weird I think. I usually remove that. And as far as that technique goes, some kids sprinkled coarse kosher salt on their wet paintings which gave it that effect :)

  3. Love this… we do a Klimt Tree of Life that is very similar to this… ps talked to my bossman about cultural themes for a year at a time… he is all for it and wants me to look into getting a Lily Grant to travel… aaaahhhh… where do I even start!!! Anywho, thanks for yourinspiration��

    1. OOOOOOOHHHH, the places you could go! Take me with you !!

  4. You are a very talented teacher, I can see how you inspire your kids. I think I will join your art classes if I may, from a distance. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Aw, I'd love to have you in my classroom :) Thank you for your kind words!

  5. I love your ballerina analogy. We did a similar project at home, but our focus was on the shape of trees in winter. The black trees on the watercolor background are so dynamic.

    1. I'll use ANY analogy as long as my poor brushes don't get ground into the paper :) Whatever, works, right ;)

  6. Hi Cassie, do you use these paintbrushes for all your paintinglessons? Could you offer advice for purchasing paint brushes as a K-6 art teacher who uses acrylic and watercolours regularly. Is there one class set you recommend for teachers or do you purchase a few colours/sizes? Many thanks.


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