The past few years, I have made an effort to introduce more contemporary artists to my students: The color and shape patterns of Romero Britto, William Wegman’s whimsical photography, Andy Warhol’s Pop art, Laurel Burch’s artwork, which emphasized her joy of living, rather than her physical pain.
When I discovered the decorative artwork of TR Mack (Thomas Robert McCracken), I knew this was one more artistic style I’d like the students to explore. His paintings of trees, created in vibrant colors, utilized the dot as a major element of his designs.
I began this lesson by first sharing Lots of Dots, by Craig Frazier (Chronicle Books; 2010). This book illustrates the appearance of dots as seen in the environments such as a circular button, the shape of an orange, or the spots on a lady bug. Looking around the art room, students quickly discovered the dot (circle) shape on many objects from Teddy bear eyes to the ends of marker caps.
At this point, I introduced the tree art of TR Mack. Most of his trees are leafless silhouettes with colored dots scattered throughout the sky and ground as a decorative element. Some of his pictures show dots clumped together forming the basic shapes of the tree’s foliage.
Although I was unable to find much information about this artist, who died an early death March 2010, an online visit to www.artistrising.com provided an interesting artist’s statement. Mack stated that he needed to paint every day and that he became inspired while working and not beforehand.
I thought that was an interesting approach since, as art educators, we spend a part of each lesson advising the student to visualize their compositions and plan before putting a pen to paper.
Our art production began after a brief tree-drawing review. We then employed the TR Mack method and dove right in. Drawing with pencil, students drew large contour line winter trees centered on a sheet of watercolor paper and then colored them black with sharpies to create silhouettes.
Using wet-on-wet liquid watercolors, the sky and ground were painted right over the top of their trees—how easy!
After letting the sky and ground dry for about a minute, students used Do-A-Dot markers (small and large) to print McCracken’s trademark dots on the background, and clumped them together to create larger shapes of foliage. (I have also cut off the points from my regular markers to provide a third size of dot.) Students chose a dotted color scheme (monochromatic, cool or warm, analogous, or mixed) and started stamping away, creating beautiful tributes to the artist.
Elementary students will …
• identify works of contemporary American art.
• create a contour line drawing of a tree from observation or memory.
• fill tree shape with solid color/value and establish it as the center of interest.
• use the circle as an element of art.
• use wet-on-wet watercolor technique.
• identify and use varieties of shape (color and size).
• demonstrate a rudimentary printmaking technique.
• recognize that there are various opportunities in art related to careers.
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• Creating: Conceiving and developingnew artistic ideas and work.
• Presenting: Interpreting and sharingartistic work.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and
• 12″ x 14″ watercolor paper
• Pencils, black permanent markers
• Do-A-Dot paint markers, watered-down tempera or liquid watercolors
• Miscellaneous watercolor painting supplies
• Images of trees and TR Mack’s artwork
• Lots of Dots, by Craig Frazier (Chronicle Books; 2010)
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Cheryl Crumpecker teaches K–3 art at Saint Paul’s Episcopal Day School in Kansas City, Missouri.
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