No. I don’t think the Empire had Wookiees in mind when they designed her, Chewie.” — Han Solo, responding to Chewbacca’s frustration with their stolen Imperial Shuttle in Return of the Jedi.
I’m a Star Wars geek, what can I say? That said, in terms of engaging students in our classrooms, we need to respond to the needs, experiences, and backgrounds of our students within in our classroom curriculum and culture. Otherwise, they can develop a similar frustration to that of Chewie, which can lead to roadblocks to success.
With that in mind, this project is inspired by the work of a Filipino design company (Team Manila) and traditional Filipino textiles. Zamorano Academy has a large Filipino population, so it’s important to use work from there as inspirations for projects. This project also provides a glimpse at both new and old art forms.
To start, I introduce a series of tourism posters that Team Manila (www.teammanila.com) has done that celebrate different locales in the Philippines. As we look, we notice an economy of shape and a relative flatness of color. We also notice, in our focus image and a few others of these travel posters, a sense of movement created simply through wavy lines and curved shapes.
The focus image for this project is a poster design for the Philippine coral reefs. These corals are huge and contain a great deal of biodiversity but, sadly, 98 percent of the reefs are considered threatened. (What you are going to notice is that this lesson is chock-a-block full of content on multiple levels.) In the image we discussed, the sense of movement and depth were achieved through overlapping and size change.
At this point, we get rolling with the hands-on portion of the lesson, but I also tell the class that we would be adding another part to our artwork before we were done.
This project is done as a multicolor relief print with polystyrene foam printing plates, water-soluble markers, pencils, and watercolor paper. I can also see it being done as a collage or a crayon-resist painting. Since we did it as a relief print, I addressed texture in art with students, as well. “You are altering the surface of the plate to make an image on something else,” I say. Then—and this always gets them—I inform the kids, “You can make another copy, and another, and another if you want.”
I ask students to create a drawing on their 4″ x 8″ foam plate that has at least five pieces of coral, that includes overlapping, and that shows implied motion in the water. I model how to draw into the printing foam with light to medium pressure. I also inform the kids that, while foam prints are cool, the one thing you can’t do is erase. “So, if you mess up, be loose and roll with it, or flip it over and try again on the back.”
After most of the students are done drawing their coral, I share a few examples of traditional Filipino textiles, from the Yakan people within the Sulu Archipelago. We look at how these patterns are different than the work of Team Manila in terms of materials, purpose, and style, yet they both have a sense of movement and rhythm. In the Yakan patterns, this is created with a repetition of triangles to create zigzags.
Students are then given a second, smaller piece (1.5″ x 8″) of printing foam and design a repeated pattern that conveys movement. This added element may be similar to the Yakan examples, or it may be something way different. It’s the student’s choice.
We then color both plates. When doing these marker prints, it’s important to handle the plates’ surface as little as possible once they are colored. The marker color doesn’t dry on the plate—which allows the color to transfer so nicely—so students should hold their plates by the edges and should only have the tip of the marker touch the plate. If they don’t do this effectively, they will end up printing the image more on their hands and less on the paper.
To transfer the image onto smooth watercolor paper, we place both plates, marker side up, within a taped-off section on a table, that is the size of the paper. We spray the paper with water and sponge it so the moisture is even, and lay it down on top of the plates. We use the side or the palm of our hands to press firmly around the paper, making sure the entire plate has made contact.
time for the reveal! We pick a corner of the paper and pull it from the plate to see the print. Students love this part (and so do I). Most of the time, they have a look of surprise and joy. If images don’t transfer as well as they could, we discuss what led to that and students can color the plates again and try it a second time.
So, you can see that there is a whole lot going on in this lesson. I did it in one hour, and we used every last minute. You could easily stretch it out over multiple classes, allowing time to investigate various elements—coral types, the cultural significance of patterns and places, and/or a more open lesson on endangered species.
While I connected this lesson to the Philippines, you could connect it with a study of any region to celebrate a variety of student backgrounds.
Elementary students will …
• create an artwork by altering the texture of one surface and transferring it to another.
• use contemporary and traditional artworks as inspiration by combining them to make an original artwork.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
Creating: Create personally satisfying artwork using a variety of artistic processes and materials.
• Foam printing plates
• Student-grade watercolor paper
• Water-soluble markers, pencils
• Spray bottles of water, sponges
• Visual examples of coral, posters by Team Manila and Filipino textiles
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A&A Contributing Editor, Don Masse, is a K–5 visual arts teacher at Zamorano Fine Arts Academy in San Diego, Calif.
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