To prepare for this third- through fifth-grade art project, I made a poster with pictures found through a Google image search for “Japanese cherry blossom paintings.” During the search, I realized that art-appreciation could easily be added to this lesson, as there are abundant sources of images on the Internet. A number of Japanese artists have painted pictures featuring cherry blossoms, including Utagawa (Ando) Hiroshige, Kitao Shigemasa, and Suzuki Shonen.
Adding background information at the start of a lesson can enhance learning. I shared a number of facts—in Japan, cherry blossoms are called “Sakura,” and during the early 1900s, the people of Japan sent over 3,000 trees to Washington, D.C., as a gift to our country.
Two related books that are great to read to students are Eliza’s Cherry Trees: Japan’s Gift to America by Andrea Griffing Zimmerman and Ju-Hong Chen (Pelican Publishing; 2011), and Japanese Celebrations: Cherry Blossoms, Lanterns and Stars! by Betty Reynolds (Tuttle Publishing; 2006).
After a brief demonstration of techniques we would be using to create our cherry trees, the art making began. First, using a plastic lid, we traced a small circle on our papers for a sun or moon. The circle was left white or painted in with yellow glitter paint.
Blue and violet watercolor paint was used to create a sky by alternating the colors from the top to the bottom. (Tip: Some students left the lids on their papers for this step, to prevent paint from getting into their suns/moons.)
Tree trunks were then painted with brown watercolor, with students carefully adding a bit of extra paint to the trunks, which was used in the next step: The extra paint was blown through cut soda straws to create smaller branches reaching up and out from the trunks. (Tip: In their enthusiasm, some students may forget to stop and take a break to avoid getting dizzy!) The paintings were then allowed to dry.
The cherry blossoms came next, which were painted with pink tempera. Students added the blossoms’ stamens with red markers after their blossoms’ paint dried.
As a final touch, students were shown the Japanese (kanji) character for “Sakura” and other words, which they could paint or draw with thin markers along a lower side of their paintings, if they desired. As an alternative, black ink pads and rubber stamps of Japanese or Chinese characters could be used instead.
When students first saw the sample I made, they could not wait to try it themselves. They really got a kick out of using the straws to blow paint into branches. The were pleased with and proud of the outcome of their hard work. In fact, several parents have told me that they framed their child’s picture. It’s always so nice to hear about the appreciation of our young student artists’ work.
Elementary students will …
• view artwork by Japanese artists who have painted cherry blossoms.
• learn the historical significance of cherry blossom trees in Japan and America.
• use different techniques and media to create artwork.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
•Create personally satisfying artwork using a variety of artistic processes and materials.
•Explore and invent art-making techniques and approaches.
•Experiment and develop skills in multiple art-making techniques and approaches.
• 5.5″ x 15″ watercolor paper
• Concentrated brown, blue and violet watercolor paint
• Pink tempera paint, yellow glitter paint
• Paintbrushes, straws, red markers
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Suzanne Dionne is a visual art teacher at Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury, Connecticut.
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