Tried & True Tips for Art Teachers is a monthly roundup of advice and wisdom
from fellow art teachers, put together by the intrepid Glenda Lubiner.
“Good painting is like good cooking; it can be tasted, but not explained.”
— Maurice de Vlaminck
April showers bring May flowers … and April Fool’s Day, World Autism Day, Day of Pink and, of course, Earth Day. This month we focus on painting and composition, and we have some great tips to help you through.
Where to Start? Explaining to your students that they need to start with a good subject sounds like something they should know, but some students might have a great idea and subject matter, but not know how to execute it. I always have my students do at least 10 thumbnail sketches so that they will be able to see how their idea will play out. They usually realize after a few sketches what might work and what will not work. I explain to them the lighting, as well as color, texture, lines, and shapes are all important elements. We also talk about scale, including hierarchal scaling and the importance of an object. Once they come up with their final idea (which sometimes changes many times before the final project) they “get it!”
Hot or Cold? As a beginner painter, we see that our students want to use all the colors on the color wheel. Try having them use either warm or cool colors as a starting point, then have them gradually add small amounts of the opposite colors. This will help the painting to be less confusing for the viewer.
Balance is the Key. Students must understand the difference between positive and negative space. We tend to think that if we have an equal amount of positive and negative space in a painting we will have a balanced painting that is pleasing to the eye. If there is too much negative space the painting the artwork may have the feeling of being too empty, and too much positive space may make it look too busy. But as we know, it is the painter’s decision and intent on how they want the final work to look.
One thing I propose to my students when they are stuck on composition is to use patches of cutout colors or shapes. They place them on the painting and see if their composition and color combination work with the other elements. If your students have access to painting computer programs this can be an option as well.
Teaching Tools from Within. Thelma Halloran from Lyme-Old Lyme Middle School in Old Lyme, Connecticut, has her students paint a practice color wheel as part of her color theory lessons. She then takes the best examples after grading and laminates them for future classes. Students get excited to know that their work has been selected for use as a teaching tool and the new students have a peer exemplar to reference as they create their own color wheel.
Clean Machine. Don’t we all get annoyed when we think a brush is clean and then we start painting with a light color? Yikes! We see blue streaks in our yellow paint! Mark Phillips from George A. Smith Middle School in Quarryville, Pennsylvania, states that dishwashing detergent makes a great soak for paintbrushes, plus it gets them cleaner than just rinsing alone.
Value Those Values. When your students begin a painting, make sure they understand value. One thing that Emily Deacon from Franklin Academy in Pembroke Pines, Florida, does is discuss the artwork of Florida artist Carrie Ann Baade. She has her students make a very colorful collage on copy paper in the style of Ms. Baade.
When they are done, she photocopies them in black and white so that they can start understanding value and color. One good rule is to explain to your students that values should be varied. Students might try two-thirds medium value, one-third dark value, and a small amount of high or light value. Students can play around with the percentages of different values on thumbnail sketches. Once photocopied, the students then use construction paper crayons before making their paintings.
Happy Birthday to Max Ernst (April 2, 1891), Maurice de Vlaminck (April 4, 1876), Jean-Honoré Fragonard (April 5, 1732), Leonardo da Vinci (April 15, 1452), Joan Miró (April 20, 1893), and Eugene Delacroix (April 26, 1798).
Thank you Thelma, Mark, and Emily for your great tips.
Arts & Activities Contributing Editor Glenda Lubiner (NBCT) teaches art at Franklin Academy Charter School in Pembroke Pines, Fla. She is also an adjunct professor at Broward College.