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Get Buggy with Your ART!
by Debi West
I think one of the most important things to consider when creating your advanced visual art curriculum, is how to propel the technical while keeping your students completely engaged.
This can be tricky, so years ago as I was organizing my lessons, I put myself in their shoes. I took myself back to 1985 and considered what art lessons I enjoyed, appreciated and those that helped push my portfolio.
I also did something that educators often forget to do, I actually asked my students what they might be interested in learning about! I handed them each a half sheet of paper and I had them write me a list of the top five art techniques or prompts they were most interested in. By doing both of these things, I found that I was able to come up with an exciting curriculum that my students helped me design.
This lesson is one of my student’s all-time favorites, “Getting Buggy.” It came directly from my students. I was surprised to see several students write that they were interested in insects. And of course, most high school advanced artists want to become more proficient in their portraiture work, so I thought it might be a fun idea to combine the two and see where they went with it … and WOW, they didn’t disappoint!
I started the lesson by borrowing several large trays of insects and arthropods that our science department used to teach entomology (below). Immediately I could see the excitement on my students’ faces as they realized they were going to be sketching these insects from “life.” Each of the bugs was on a stickpin and could be handled carefully, so this had our students looking very intensely at the objects they were drawing. This is always a key component to getting students to draw what they SEE as opposed to what they THINK! Students loved having a couple of days to work in their visual journals sketching these insects.
On day three, I had them take a break and gave them a new prompt to add to their insect work: Portraiture! Now students were challenged with combining their insect drawings with their self-portrait work.
I didn’t completely limit their choice of media, but I did narrow it down to graphite or acrylic. Since I considered this to be a breadth piece it was important to have students show mastery of a specific media. If they choose to combine the two, I asked that they emphasize one or the other, so 80 percent might be painted with 20 percent being drawn in graphite. They could use any surface they wanted to and it could be any size, although not smaller than 12″ x 14″.
I also introduced them to the portraiture work of Alice Neel (American; 1900–1984) and had them consider her use of exaggerated lines and the emotional aspects of her paintings. They didn’t need to copy her style, I just wanted them to be familiar with her work and perhaps find inspiration in her painting technique.
I also had them use their Pinterest and pinned images of portraits they found challenging and interesting. I do this with every lesson that I present in that it continues to help students realize the importance of research. I often say, the best artists are the best researchers!
After a day of brainstorming and sketching portraits, I found it so exciting to see where my students took their works! Several combined the insect characteristics into their portraits while others took a more emotional approach and showed facial expressions that captured their feelings about their chosen bug.
This was a truly successful lesson, not only because students were technical and creative, but also because each student was authentically engaged. They enjoyed the process and they were beyond excited with their final works. Next Up: “Game On.”
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A&A Contributing Editor Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT, was an art educator and department chair at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Georgia. She is now involved with her two businesses, WESTpectations Educational Consulting and Crystal Collage Children’s Art Studio in Suwanee.