Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bas-relief, sculptural Family Portraits - with handouts! Age level: Intermediate

Family Portraits

Principle: Unity
Mixed Media
Elements of Space & Form

Plain and simple, this lesson began as a way for me to meet a state goal.  I had to come up with a way for my students to turn a two-dimensional drawing into a three dimensional work of art.  As the lesson developed, however, greater goals were achieved and a more successful work of art was accomplished.

I am always trying to make a connection with my students.  Like most elementary art teachers, I only get to see my students for one small morsel per week. Unlike a classroom teacher trying to get to know only one class, we are trying to get to know several classes.  When you are new to a district, or a student is new, it may take a few semesters before you can forge a meaningful bond with a student.  You also have so many students that finding something in common, or sharing a funny story with each one is hard to do.  This was something that unexpectedly occurred with this project. 
At the beginning of this lesson, we looked at examples of family portraits that are prevalent throughout art history. We explore bas-relief from ancient Greece, to the moody serene depictions of Rembrant’s own family, and to more current translations by Jacob Lawrence.  As a class we discussed the artist’s relationships in the paintings, as well as how they are similar and different to our own.  This opened up the door to sharing about our own families.  I did want to learn more about my students and their lives and families.  I shared about my life and family as well.  They learned about my husband and daughters and dog, and they learned that when I was their age I lived with my mom, brother, and sister because my parents were divorced.  I remembered thinking when I was in school that I was the only kid who had a family like that, so I knew some of my students must of felt that way too.  I didn’t want to draw attention to that, but instead show that I can relate.  The conversations about our families led to a lot of fun anecdotes and art class bonding.

Next, we discussed the principle of design unity before we began our sketch, and how important it is to keep our family members in proportion to one another.  I would draw examples on the board of a gigantic mom next to a puny four year old, or an eleven year old with a giant head next to a dog bigger then them.  We also discussed the element of space and how important our backgrounds are.  Where should our horizon line be? Are the people inside or outside?  Is this a place the family really goes or is it from your imagination?  We brainstormed out loud and drew different combinations.  No one is allowed to draw a straight horizon line with a corner sun, tree with a squirrel hole, and “m” birds.  My class knows that has been drawn way too many times before!  The compositions of family members the students came up with were fantastic.  I have seen all sorts of pets included too from iguanas to goldfish and families spanning several generations. The sketch was very important and we spent a lot of time on it.
When a final sketch was complete and colored, our next problem was to translate that sketch into a mixed media bas-relief sculpture.  The students make their people out of soft air dry clay. We keep the clay in one sausage like piece, and pull the head, arms and legs out of the clay.  This keeps the clay from breaking so easily once it dries.  They paint the pieces and use fabric and yarn scraps to dress their family.  The backgrounds are sturdy pieces of matte board. The students are given free reign over a variety of supplies to complete an environment for their family.  I demonstrate and give ideas on how they could complete the backgrounds, but it is really up to the students to be as creative as possible in how they complete the task and assemble their sculpture.

Another delightful turn of events with this project was the time and effort it took to assemble the sculptures and the creativity the students put forth in their creations.  It made me realize I had been hung up on “meeting goals,” I had forgotten how important the process was.

Students will:
  • Demonstrate the same idea in 2D and 3D media.
  • Create, color, dress, and assemble their family in an imaginative way.
  • Do quality work.

  • 9” x 9” white drawing paper
  • pencils and erasers,
  • extra fine point permanent markers
  • colored pencils, markers
  • 9” x 9” matte board
  • soft air dry clay
  • glue
  • tempera paints & brushes
  • fabric & yarn scraps
  • textured paper scraps
  • found objects

National Visual Art Standard
Students use different media, techniques, and processes to communicate ideas experiences, and stories

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