Monday, February 10, 2014

In the Art Room: Creating a Narrative with Fourth Grade

Have you ever done one of those projects where you just knew it was gonna be quick -n- easy, everyone was gonna be successful -n- happy, finish at exactly the same time -n- be ready to move on to that Next Big Thing?

Yeah, me neither.

Take this "quick -n- easy" figure drawing experience. 

My fourth grade created gesture drawings of their classmates roller skating in P.E. The intent was for them to use those drawings as inspiration for a figure drawing of an ice skater. That ice skater will eventually be added to a school-wide mural (I'll keep ya posted).
Sounds easy enough, right? 

Wrong, dudes. Wrong.

Have you ever taught figure drawing to the under-10 set? It's, like, seriously tough, ya'll.
This artist told me her figure is diving for a starfish.
AND it took them For-Eve-Errr. Like three separate thirty minute classes. If you're good at math you know that's an hour and a half, people! Granted, their results were pretty rad and they were pleased as punch with themselves. However, I wasn't about to let their drawings just get glued to some mural. So I made enlarged photocopies of each drawing, passed 'em back to the kids along with their chalk stars and asked them to create a narrative using the two.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's go back to that gesture drawing bit.
Gesture Drawing: If you've not tried this with your kids, you really outta give it a go. My students loved it. We spent about 5ish minutes in the art room chatting about gesture drawings just being quick and simple sketches that are meant to capture movement. I demonstrated a quick drawing of a student running in place. We all agreed my drawing looked terrible by normal standards...but had I captured movement? Yep. We also had a quick chat about how we were visitors to the P.E. room and we were to work quietly and stay outta the way of the skaters. Then we gathered up clipboards, newsprint, charcoal sticks (which they loved) and cloth erasers and spent about 15 minutes drawing as many skaters as we could.

I love their finished results. They are all so different in their style. I really love how so many of them look like Keith Haring people...which gave me all sorts of ideas for future projects.
Gesture drawing was all fun and games until we returned to art class the following day. I told the kids that we were going to be creating ice skaters for a school-wide mural. With their gesture drawings in hand, the kids were to pick their favorite, use a wooden mannequin to model the same pose and draw from there. Which worked for some. Others were still stumped. For those kids, we regrouped and I broke it down a little more: turn your stick man into a thick man by adding lines on either side of the stick drawing.
The drawing on the right shows someone who made their "stick man into a thick man" while the artist on the right used a mannequin. We struggled with proportions and just how the body works...but in the end, I was pleased if their peeps simply showed some sort of movement. And had a head.
From there the kids were to add clothing to their figures and trace with a thin sharpie. It was at this point that I decided to make enlarged photocopies of their drawings...I just knew we'd come up with another project for them.
So, after coloring and cutting out both of their people (small original and enlarged photocopy), I challenged the kids to create a narrative collage.

And they were like: A-Whah-Huh?
So I busted out some Marc Chagall and we talked about how artists often tell stories with their art. We chatted about Chagall's work and some stories that might be behind them. Then I told 'em that they were to create a narrative tale with two subjects: their figure drawing and their chalk star.

At our supply gathering area, I laid out tons of painted, marbled and sparkly papers along with boxes of scraps. I told the kids that they were to come up with a story that they had to present to me before they glued it down. I did this because I really wanted them to cut out shapes, move their papers around and really think about their story instead of just cutting and pasting.
After presenting their idea to me, we'd talk about whether or not their collage really told their story or not. For some, that meant adding a background to set the scene. Often, they were sent back to their seats to continue working on the visual details of their story. There was some grumbling and some "but it's finished!" to which I usually replied "Nah. Make it even more awesome."

Once finished, I asked the students to write up an artist statement to accompany their piece. We talked about how an artist statement could either reveal the entire story behind the work...but how most artists like the viewer to create their own tale.
Which you'll see most of these artists liked the idea of...

(Inside scoop: I was told that this dude is "emo", hence the hair stylin's.)

When I was snapping photos for this post, I came across this funny artist statement by the artist of this collage...
Um, looney toones?! Ha!

Have ya'll taught figure drawing before? Do you have a sure-fire method? I know if I teach this again there will be some mucho tweaking. So I'd love your input. 

Thanks, ya'll!


  1. Mrs. Loonie (brave girl) I am teaching figure drawing to Third Grade. We are making Olympic figures. It is as painful as giving blood! I'll post pictures soon.
    This looks like a Great lesson with glitter too��

    1. I know, I even had tears shed during this figure drawing ordeal (by me AND the kiddos!). I just kept tellin' 'em "you draw people all the time! you can do this!" What they didn't like was RE-learning how to draw people's kinda like learning to write with your opposite hand! I look forward to your Olympic figures!

  2. These are AMAZING! So organic and unique and personalized!!! I love how they are so different and how they really built up to it with the gesture drawing and then the writing! WOWza beautifulness, Cassie!

    1. Thanks, Natalie! It was a struggle to get 'em there! But, whew! We did it (now, moving on to that "quick and easy project"!!)

  3. I was going to say, match up with the Health Fitness teacher to lend you some olympic colored hula hoops to make your mural on. Inside each of the hoops, you could have several skaters! And then another class could design olympic medals on the metal foil.... :)
    I think they turned out great!

  4. Wow. I guess I'm crazy for attempting a small activity with first graders huh? I started with basic gestures, mannequin and then had them collage the figures into the postilions they they liked...I think the stuff the kids did here is great

    1. NO!! I think I need to start younger with figure drawing like you are doing! This way it's not such a tall mountain to climb when they are in 4th grade! Your lesson idea sounds perfect!

  5. Yeah I talk about how it is practice a lot! I also have them take turns making an action pose in front of the class. And of course I get involved by making some crazy poses as well. It's actually one my favorite lessons. Because of the modeling it makes the whole experience fun and they don't focus as much on how well they draw. Though you still get a few "wow Mr. L don't hang this up please!" moments. I haven't tried this activity with k or 1st though.

    1. That sounds like a lot of fun! Yeah...I've not tried gesture drawings with children younger than 3rd...but seeing how they have struggled, I wonder if starting very young would be a better idea! Something to think about :)

  6. I love reading about your experiences with students in the art room..I can definitely envision the challenges of a figure drawing activity such as this, but persistence (and lots of patience!) is part of the process!

    1. That's true...and I think that's an important lesson for the kids to learn. Not everything in life comes super easy. Everything is a learning process, right?

  7. I like the idea of starting early. I do gesture with 9th grade and I can tell who has done it before and who hasn't. Funny I also use Olympic pictures for the drawings. I have also had students model but 9th grade they are so self conscious I find it works best to do small group modeling so I have them model for the students who sit at the some table, number them off and then they all have to do it. I come up with the poses though or they would all just stand their at with their arms at their sides for every pose.

  8. I love these! I need to spend some time with your blog this weekend! I've been missing so much!!! Love the variety and the statements are priceless, Ms. Looney Tunes.


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