Sunday, November 6, 2016

Frida Kahlo Portraits

Having more words in your vocabulary word bank can help you to better communicate your ideas, and knowing more drawing basics can help you in your art tremendouslyI can't tell you how many times people have said "I can't draw a straight line!" or "Stick people are the best I can do!" regarding their artistic abilities. Hogwash. Bologna. Phooey. Knowing just a few basics can greatly improve what you can do! Just ask 3rd graders, they'll tell you all about it...

Students have been learning since kindergarten that when drawing we use shapes as parts. That means NO STICK PEOPLE! Instead of stick legs and arms, we use rectangles. But when drawing faces I noticed students had eyeballs on foreheads and lollipop necks that made people look like aliens. What to do?! As an intro to where parts of the face go we explored the cultural background of Frida Kahlo and designed our own whimsy sugar skulls. They turned out great! Check them out for yourself here...

We learned that your eyes are actually in the middle of your head, that the bottom of your nose is between your eyes and chin, and that your mouth is between the bottom of your nose and chin. Just to be sure we looked at our friends around the room. IT WAS ALL TRUE! How had we not noticed before?! This was about to change our art in a BIG way... 

First, we read "Frida Kahlo: the Artist Who Painted Herself" by Margaret Frith, illustrated by Tomie dePaola (he's one of my favorites!). We learned a lot about her life, her culture, and her use of symbolism (the use of images to represent ideas, feelings and experiences). The book was a great way to introduce Frida to students. It's written from the viewpoint of a student their age, the illustrations are pleasing to the eye, and it's school appropriate! We viewed and discussed examples of her work as well. Because of all we knew of her life, we were able to "read" her artwork and better understand what the symbols meant. The kids didn't giggle about her uni-brow, they didn't make fun of how strange her art looked, they were concerned for her feelings. They understood her pain and her grit. Their maturity gave me goosebumps.

Students then applied what they knew about basic facial structure to a guided drawing of Frida Kahlo, the most famous female Mexican painter. We used a template from Art Projects for Kids as our guide, tweaking our drawings to personalize them. I added hand earrings to my example because artist Pablo Picasso gifted a pair to her and she wore them in one of her self-portraits. This is art class and kids are supposed to be expressing themselves and pushing themselves to do better, so why a guided drawing? 

Because there were more little tricks to learn about drawing people, like ear placement between eyes and nose/mouth regions, the width of your neck is nearly the same as your whole face, and that your eyes are actually about an eyeball width apart. We will apply all this neat-o new stuff we learned to a symbolism filled self-portrait later, but we need to know more about it first. When we do make these self-portraits, students will be solving those problems with less guidance from me, using what we know from this guided experience to improve their drawings. 

Because this was a guided drawing for learning drawing basics, I wanted to offer students more choice for applying color to their work. We reviewed techniques, like tracing everything with black oil pastel and filling the spaces with chalk pastels, using crayon and watercolor resist, and tracing with sharpies. We also tried something NEW

Students have known since kindergarten that when salt is sprinkled onto watercolors it creates a color burst resembling miniature tie-dye. This time I colored the background of my example with crayola markers, blended the colors with water, and sprinkled salt. What difference does it make to sprinkle salt on watercolors or markers? Well, the effects are more pronounced with markers, and the colors are brighter. There's more variety. The water blended and salted markers were a beautiful, interesting, and new way to fill in my background. I used several different techniques to begin applying color to other parts of my example so students could see that you could use more than one medium. Mix it up! 

Students had fun exploring their options! Each work, though beginning together as a guided drawing, became more and more unique as we progressed. Some students used chalk pastel to color her skin while others used multicultural markers with water for blending or multicultural colored pencils or crayons. None of those approaches were wrong, and all choices personalized their work. 

One young artist was so interested in learning about Day of the Dead and Frida Kahlo that she created this book all on her own and brought it in to school to share with me!

EEEEEK! PROUD TEACHER MOMENT! It truly made my day! Be watching for how we apply all of this drawing knowledge in the near future!

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