Lesson 4 of 10
Art of Anatomy
by Debi West
I always love it when science and art meet! This lesson is a perfect melding of the two subjects, in that students are creatively using a plastic skeleton to produce a unique piece of art.
This project reiterates the importance of direct observation and teaches our students to look closely, measure and begin to detect the subtle differences seen in the values and shadows found when observing bones.
This lesson literally pushes my students to the next level by having them take the traditional seven-tiered value scale, which they are used to applying, to the ninth or 10th level.
I begin by setting up our class skeleton popularly known as “Arturo.” I put him on our island in the art room, where “he” can be viewed from all sides. Students are free to move their seats or easels to find a good place to work over the next week.
We discuss the bones that we see, measuring them against one another and finding a common measuring point. We also look at the subtle values found throughout the skeleton, and discuss the negative space that surrounds it. I always have my students draw a minimum of two full-length skeletons as practice, using contour line and simple shading. This sets them up for success relatively early on. I then require three areas of the skeleton to be drawn as realistically as possible. All of these initial drawings are done on white drawing paper using graphite and blending stumps.
The fun comes in when we mix up the media and play with size variation! After the initial sketching and drawing, which generally takes about a week, I add the creative dimension by having them draw a bone using pen and ink, and another using charcoal. If they would like to add more bones using various media, they are free to get as creative as they like.
I also want them to consider what their final compositions will look like, so drawing a very large finger bone (or phalange) and a smaller pelvic bone, creates an engaging final artwork.
Once all of their drawings are done, they are required to cut or tear them out, and over several days, create a background that emphasizes the drawings. I give them a lot of freedom with this part, as I don’t have any exact size requirements, any surface requirements or any required method of adhering the bones to their backgrounds. This is when their final pieces become award-winning works of art.
I get super excited watching them become the divergent thinkers I know they all are! Some incredible artworks are created when I allow this type of freedom. I love seeing students merge the technical with the creative, pushing their work to the next level. This also prepares them for a more professional portfolio.
From staples, to stitchery, to glue, to tape, the relief, to cardboard, to fabric and paste papers, these works become original and unique. And, this lesson always becomes one of my students’ favorites!
Of course, we hang all of the work in a class hallway exhibit, and even add the scientific names of the bones so the display becomes a school-wide teaching tool!
Up next: “Still Life Series … Where Life Meets Art History!
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A&A Contributing Editor Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT, is Art Dept. Chair at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga.