Monet, a 19th century Frenchman, remains a quintessential Impressionist painter. (In fact, the name for the Impressionist movement comes from Monet, from the tile of a painting, specifically.) In this lesson (week 16 for Fine Arts in Classical Conversations curriculum), the entire idea of Impressionism receives its debut. I love having students first view a print of an Impressionist painting from a significant distance–where they can easily see the image. Then I like to find a book that features a close up of one detail–and it’s unrecognizable. The surprise factor is pretty cool. (You could also do this in reverse: show the detail first, then a whole painting at a distance.)
What follows are my plans for teaching this to a class of 9-11 year olds (Journeymen/Masters in CC speak.).
After last week’s lesson on Gainesborough, the students have a great jumping off point for comparison. I will ask mine, “Does Monet do details like Gainesborough?” Noting their observations of the differences will help form a good definition of Impressionism. Some differences they may note:
–color blending is not smooth in Monet like in Gainesborough
–when Monet does people, they are not usually formal portraits–just scenes of people moving in every day life
–there is a lot of white/light
The Impressionists goals, broadly speaking, were to capture light and movement, not painstaking detail.
While the book Discovering Great Artists: Hands-on Art for Children in the Style of Great Masters by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Mary Solga suggests copying the famous Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies of Monet’s, I looked for a different work to emulate because half my class painted it three years ago. I also chose water color in order to give my students some experience with it, as it’s the only opportunity this year.
Looking through the options of Monet works, I chose Banks of the Seine, Vetheuil because I love the colors, its tranquility, and because teaching from it provides an opportunity to build on last week’s Gainesborough landscape. Because this is another landscape with sky (background), middleground and foreground, this project can review/cement the top-to-bottom process in painting landscapes. (Also, my students learned about the Seine River, so it’s a great connection to their memory work.)
Banks of the Seine, Vetheuil, by Claude Monet, 1880, found at: http://emptyeasel.com/2007/11/08/contrasting-the-work-of-cezanne-and-monet-two-unique-paths-to-modernism/
water color paper (it REALLY matters)
water for each student
newspapers covering the table
plenty of newspaper or paper towels for student to wipe brushes on while painting
Step 1: I will give my students paper and describe the project: learning some impressionistic painting techniques like Monet popularized to create a landscape.
Step 1: Sky
I will ask students where we need to start with a landscape. The answer is, the top, because it is ever so much more difficult to paint a sky behind everything you already painted than it is to paint tree branches over top an existing sky. To begin the sky, I will explain that because we have water color, one painting technique is to paint on wet paper. I will start with having my students paint clear water over the portion that will be the sky. Then it gets fun: get a chosen sky color on your brush and experiment. I will have them try swiping paint from side to side versus just touching the brush to the paper to make a splotch or spots. Have them see what happens when the water color touches the wet paper.
Whatever effect they like best, tell them to go with it to make their sky. Impressionists achieved their look by making many short brush strokes. They “blended” colors by often just using two at the same time (rather than mixing them to a smooth, even tint). This can be seen in blues and yellow of the sky of Monet’s work above.
Impressionists focused a lot on light, and one really cool technique to try is blotting the painted paper with a corner of a tissue. This is effective for when you applied to much paint and want things to be lighter, to go back to white. (This is where it is imperative you have heavy watercolor paper! The paper I have is not sturdy enough to handle a lot of this without the fibers beginning to tear, but it could handle some.) One of the great advantages of water color is this flexibility. Even when the paint has dried, just the addition of water makes it changeable again. Allow the students to experiment with this.
Step 3: Tree line
Using green mixed with brown (to get the darkest color I will use in this), I painted a horizontal line to represent the far edge of the river. I will tell my students that Monet didn’t make trees with individual branches–he made them with splotches and smudges of paint. The idea is to represent an approximate shape because color and light (or lack thereof) were the primary goals.
Step 4: Water
As the above picture shows, I brushed water across the entire area destined to be water. I applied blue in splotches, and then, to make the reflecting trees/shrubs, I applied green in horizontal lines with spaces between–to give the impression of the water’s reflection being broken up. (Remind the students of mirror-image–fine arts review!) But the water looked too blah to me, so, as you can see on the left, I added more blue by adding dashes. The picture for the next step will show the effect of covering the entire area this way.
Step 5: foreground greenery
For this bottom third, I will tell my students that I did not pre-wet the paper with my brush. Because the most detail goes here (because it’s the foreground), I wanted a bit more control. I first covered the entire area with a darkish green, in upward strokes. (Otherwise, a lot of white of the paper would peek through between every weed). Then I panted vertical green lines. I was glad I started on dry paper so I could get green lines that would not blur out.
At this stage, I decided that parts of my sky were too dark blue. The great thing about water color is–you can change that! I just dipped my brush in water and went over the dark parts to dilute the color some. I think the result is an improvement. To get more drastic, I could have used a tissue to blot some of the paint off.
Step 6: Blooms
I added blobs of color to represent flowers. We’re doing this the Impressionist way–no flowers with distinct shapes and petals–just blobs of paint smooshed on with the end of the brush. Sometimes I made tiny dots, such as with the blue and red on the left. But it’s all quick work, I will tell my students.
As I mentioned in the last lesson, I did not have a lot of time to sink into this–but then, perhaps this is better. Students have limited time in class too! As always, I encourage students who aren’t done to take it home and complete it. In our community, I save each student’s favorite project from each visual arts unit to display at the end-of-year celebration, so that’s good motivation!
Lastly, if you try this, add to the conversation with observations and your ideas!