For the final lesson in our Fine Arts unit on famous painters (CC Cycle 2, week 18) we are taking a look at Berthe Morisot–another French Impressionist. (To know how to pronounce her name correctly, check out this little recording.)
I had to pull myself away from getting lost for hours looking through images of her work! Like Degas, she often chose people as her subject, and I found a lot to like about her paintings.
But her work did pose a challenge as far as picking something to emulate for the class. The text on which my lessons are based, Discovering Great Artists: Hands-on Art for Children in the Style of Great Masters by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Mary Solga, did not suggest anything specific for subject matter. Its suggestion is to paint a landscape, an animals a person, etc. Basically, whatever. And no picture of a finished student project as usually is featured. So that left me to thinking, “What is the best subject matter to attempt with the kind of painting we are doing?”
The novelty in this project is trying different ways to texture the paint. Because Morisot painted with thick brush strokes and globs of paint, the idea is to give students some fun with chunky paint–by adding everything from sand to crushed egg shells.
What could we paint with such textured paints that would be simple enough? Somehow, I got the idea that painting a dog would be really fitting for the gloppy paint, so I searched through her work for one. I found Girl with Dog:
Girl with Dog by Berthe Morisot, found at Wikiart.
(This was designed with my class o 9-11 year olds in mind.)
toothpicks (to be used as brushes)
heavy paper or paperboard (the heavier the better)
substances to add to paints: sand, flour, egg shells, glitter, etc.*
*The book suggests salt. I highly recommend to skip that! I painted over the results of this in my sample project below because this is what happens when you mix salt into paint and use it to cover a surface, you will look at it later and realize the salt globs have drawn all the paint to themselves, leaving the area on the surface around them bare! (There’s a science experiment in there!) Good lesson, not recommended for paint.
I chose the following:
yellow with sand mixed in for the chair , brown with flour mixed in for the girl’s hair and the dog’s fur (I didn’t choose white for the dog simply because I was out of white paint.), and blue mixed with egg shells for the dress, and green (once mixed with salt, that I now don’t recommend) and a color suitable for her skin and chair cushion.
That last part is a bit of challenge: the skin tone. the paints don’t come in that color. I mixed the remaining white i had with a bit of yellow and brown for a light beige. FOr my class, I’d like to have that mixed already. ALL these paints have to be prepared for the students–the items mixed in, etc. because there’s not time for them to prepare the paint AND paint their project.
I will show Morisot’s original and my finished project. I considered allowing them to choose their own subject or a variation of what I chose, but I realized that with the time constraint we have, there just won’t be time for me to coach different children through their own chosen subjects. The only way we’ll have a prayer at success is if I can model the same process to all students at once. Because the real goal is to experience painting with these textures, we want to focus on painting and not get stuck on difficulties individual students might face trying to make their collie look right or wondering how to get their self-portrait drawn in the right perspective. The shapes have to be simple and simplified to even use these thick paints. So I am going the route of a single subject on this project, unlike last week.
Students will have heavy paper taped down (to prevent warping. Below I will show how much mine warped.) The first step is to—
I struggled with this. I did sketch the basic boundaries between the colors on my paper before painting. But some students won’t feel the need to do that. Not doing it, if not needed, may save time. So this is what I will do with my class: give them the option. So for those who feel the need to sketch a VERY basic outline (NO details) before painting, that is step 2. I will place the sketch which I show below, traced in black marker, on my easel for the class to see. For students who don’t want to sketch first, skip to step 3.
Based on recent weeks’ experience, demonstrating every step with them is challenging if you want to also be available to answer questions and help students. I may just point to each shape and trace the lines with my finger when I give them the instructions–so then I can attend to individuals while the rest of the class can still see the basic shapes on the easel. Note: skipping the leaves can save time.
Step 3: Painting. Because I will have my finished product displayed, the kids can pretty much go at their own pace, on their own. I will instruct them to consider using different sized brushes, even toothpicks, to best get the different paint concoctions on the paper. There is not a lot of skill to demonstrate this week; it’s similar to coloring: fill each space with color, the end.
I will suggest though–soley based on my recent weeks’ experience teaching these art projects–that there is never enough time. While I always teach doing the background first (even though you can tell I forgot my own advice around her braid), I am going to skip the background altogether for this project. (White is good!) Also, skipping the plants is another time-saver if you think that might serve your class well.
Note about the textures: The yellow with sand in it is really thick, but it is perfect for using for that chair. I just used a brush and laid it in lines, choosing to make the width the brush painted to be the width of the chair rungs.
The blue with egg shells? Well, it’s really not easy, and a bit time-consuming, to crush eggs like that. And it really doesn’t make for a great paint texture. (Though maybe if it were crushed into smaller pieces, maybe then it is better?) But I will say, in the end, it was a lovely choice for her dress because it makes it look like her dress fabric has a pattern.
The brown mixed with flour was the best; it’s a lot like dealing with chocolate icing! I knew it’d be great for the dog’s fur, and it didn’t disappoint. My dog has 3D fur–tufts of fut sticking up. That was really a lot of fun! Using it in her hair was even fun because I really looks like she has a lot of hair. I obviously used this brown for the eye and eyebrow too. I think I used toothpicks for applying the brown for those–and I might have used toothpicks even for the dog’s fur.
The green, as I made it, had salt mixed in originally. As I mentioned before, that gave bad results. I later painted over it in just plain green. You can see how, even now–weeks after I made it–parts are still discolored due to the salt. And there are some salt stains in places.
Note about warping: I painted my sample at home using cardboard. We will use watercolor paper in class. The paint is so heavy that warping is a real issue! Our director will tape them down for us. But if you do find you have a warping situation, I can a solution. below you can see form the top how much mine curled. (The left side is at least 1.5 inches off the table!). To resolve this, when the entirety is dry, flip it over and wet the whole back with a paint brush. When it is wet and pliable, then place heavy objects on all corners, perhaps even the middle of the sides. It will then dry flat. mine is flat now.
Confession: Check with your director about this, but there is never enough time for a good painting class, but lately, I’ve taken the idea of a fellow tutor I’ve worked with and allowed the kids to paint past my official instruction time (since we have review time right after and I do review games that can be done as they work on their paintings. Now, we do have to leave the painting area our director set up by 11:45, so she can clean before lunch, but those extra fifteen minutes are such a benefit to my 9-11 year olds. It takes the entire class time to arrive at the room, get paint shirts on, let the students see the master work, give instructions–then time is nearly up?!
I’m trying to get better at talking about the artist conversationally as we’re painting, to be more efficient with time. (I used to take 5-10 minutes to introduce them to the artist and is/her work, but the kids really NEED all the time to paint they can get.
I will share one last image:
This last picture I share because the day I made my sample, I hid it and then placed my leftover paints on the windowsill. Then I sent my kids to quiet time. My seven-year-old son found my sample and my paints. He was so inspired to try it himself, he did, with no instruction. Here is his result. And he had so much fun and was so proud!
If you try this, please comment with tips and observations and ideas!