Although fireflies aren’t common in the dry climate of Southern California, I thought these little beacons of light would make fun subjects for a summer art class.
When I announced the project to my groups of kindergarten through fifth graders, some of my students shared their own experiences with these illuminated creatures during their travels to other states.
After a bit of research, I was able to add that there are over 2,000 species of fireflies in the world. Antarctica is the only continent without them. The chemical that makes the fireflies glow creates no heat and is meant to attract mates and warn predators. And last, fireflies aren’t “flies” at all; they are beetles!
Animal and insect art projects are always favorites in my classes. I find the children really appreciate learning some interesting facts about our subjects before diving into the art lessons.
To begin our mixed-media pieces, I set out acrylic paints in blues and purples and 12″ x 18″ sheets of black construction paper. I informed the children that we were using a dry brush method—no water needed. They would simply “double” and “triple dip” their paintbrushes in the paint and brush them onto their paper using broad horizontal strokes. Since we weren’t pre-mixing our paint, a more interesting background would be created.
Next, the children added their full summer moons with white acrylic. I encouraged them to paint in circular motions extending outwards to create a glowing effect. To add larger illuminations from our fireflies, the students had the option of dotting their skies with spots of metallic paint using large round brushes. For a sense of depth and added interest in our summertime landscapes, black tree silhouettes were painted with small brushes.
I illustrated how painting the trees at an angle would give the viewer the impression of looking up at the sky. Last, tiny flickers of firefly light were added by simply using the opposite end of their brushes dipped in white or yellow paint to make prints scattered about their nighttime backgrounds. Some children kept these sparse, while others chose to fill their paper with tiny dots of light. These were put up to dry and we turned our attention to the up-close fireflies.
The children had the option of creating realistic or cartoon-like creatures on scraps of white poster board. Not surprisingly, the younger children opted for the latter, complete with smiley faces. My older elementary students were interested to see photos of real fireflies to render their drawings more accurately.
I led basic, directed line-drawing lessons for each type of firefly on the whiteboard. I suggested they create two to four creatures to arrange on their backgrounds. After pencil sketches, the students retraced their lines in thin permanent marker.
Later, markers and colored pencils were used to add color and personality. Yellow highlighters were perfect for creating the fireflies’ signature bioluminescence.
Once the fireflies were cut out, I helped the children tape pieces of floral wire “antennae” to the underside of their creatures. These could be bent, twisted and manipulated to their liking.
I handed back the now dry, painted backgrounds to the children. To create an extra touch of drama and illumination, my students added silver metallic marker lines on the sides of their tree trunks and branches closest to their painted moons. This was a great tip from art teacher, Natalie, from smART class blog, who shared a variation on this lesson.
Finally, it was time to arrange and glue the “stars” of their artwork, the cut fireflies. I encouraged them to pose them in different directions to give the appearance of them flying about the night sky.
This lesson produced visually striking pieces from my wide age-range classes. My students particularly enjoyed the process of using a variety of media and watching their collaged pieces come together in stages.
This project could easily be modified for larger groups or tighter time constraints. Dark blue or purple paper could be offered as an alternative to black, skipping the background painting process. Floral wire antennae, a fun bonus, could easily be omitted.
Also, a variation on the lesson for younger children could be done with one large firefly to accompany Eric Carle’s, The Very Lonely Firefly. And as a mixed media art lesson, a variety of drawing and painting materials could be used interchangeably, according to what is on hand or feasible.
I heard a lot of oohing and aahing from parents as their children shared their artwork at pick-up time. It’s the perfect end-of-the-school year art lesson to usher in summer and its tiny ambassadors.
Elementary students will …
• make use of mixed media and different drawing and painting techniques to enhance artwork.
• use the elements of art and principles of design to communicate ideas.
• understand a basic level of perspective as it pertains to objects becoming smaller as their distance increases.
• arrange all artistic elements to create a balanced composition.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• Creating: Conceiving and developing artistic ideas and work.
• Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
• Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
• 12″ x 18″ black construction paper
• Poster board or cardstock scraps
• Acrylic paint, metallic tempera paint, large and small paintbrushes
• Floral wire, glue, scissors
• Reference photos of fireflies
• Colored pencils, markers, permanent markers, silver metallic markers, yellow highlighter markers (optional)
Mary Bosley has a background in fine arts and graphic design, and teaches private children’s art classes in Orange County, California. Visit her blog at marymaking.blogspot.com
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