Muted grays and browns, little color. When you say “Andrew Wyeth,” to me, this is what comes to mind. And this image:
Andrew Wyeth. Master Bedroom.
Most of his paintings conjure cold for me. The crisp chill of an outside winter’s day–or an inside chill, as in the above. So while I’d not choose most of his paintings to hang in my home to bring some warmth, he is a master at what he does: capturing stark beauty of nature, of barrenness, of sparse prairies and lonely houses and barns. Of winter. Of chill. But even the brisk energy of the outdoors somehow comes across.
But what about him would I like to pass on to my students? Discovering Great Artists has a great project, and this is my take on it:
The Snow Project
I created this for my Masters class, students ages 10-13, in our Classical Conversations community, but this could be done with journeymen or even apprentices. The goal is to use watercolor to create a winter outdoor scene using dried glue–an easy method to create the illusion of snowflakes.
newspaper to cover table
paper towels for wiping brushes
school glue (such as Elmer’s)
Step 1: I highly suggest having students do this step earlier in your morning, maybe even an hour before your art class time, so it will be dry in time for Fine Arts class.
Before I even explained anything else, I gave my students the watercolor paper and the glue, with instructions to make shallow dots of glue to mimic snow in an outdoor scene. I say shallow because the fuller/deeper the dots are, the longer they take to dry–and they will dry often like a globe top or a fallen layer cake. The goal is a flat dried circle of glue.
Step 2: Okay, now you’re starting class officially, by introducing Andrew Wyeth. I showed my students some of the artwork above and below and asked their observations. Piggy-backing off their responses, I shared some bio info from the book, noting particularly that he is a realist painter and a regionalist, specializing in the surroundings of his own region of the US.
Andrew Wyeth, Outpost.
Step 3: I explained that we would make an outdoor winter scene, and drew their attention to the tree. It’s good to ask, “Why is one side of the tree lighter in color?” Getting them to observe the effect of light is a key observational skill in drawing. Though tutoring for CC does not ask this of you, I decided I wanted to use this opportunity to teach a little about light and shadow.
Andrew Wyeth. The Ax.
Step 4: I gave students their papers with the dried glue dots and tasked them with imagining a winter scene they’d like to paint. (The blobs of dried glue on their paper already gave them falling snowflakes.) I chose to make mine a scene of the snow just beginning, so my landscape (below) showed autumn with some color in it still.
Step 5: (optional) Have students lightly sketch an outdoor scene on their watercolor paper.
Step 6. Painting the background. I shared with students that it’s far easier to start with the background first–rather than paint a detailed tree and then have to try to fit other things behind and between the branches! It’s easiest to begin with the sky and the background stand of trees.
This is not the kind of painting I’ve ever really spent time doing, so this was a new thing for me. I’m always trying to encourage my students to try new things–to give a project a chance even if they’d rather be painting a car or a cat (or playing a video game)!
Step 7. Next, I suggested painting the focal point–the main objects you want your audience to see. For me that’s my trees. Before I painted, I had to decide which direction the light came from. In last week’s lesson (Georgia O’Keefe lesson), I showed students how to “erase” with water colors to get a lighter shade, either by blotting with a tissue or diluting an already-painted, mostly-dry area with a watery paintbrush. They could employ one of those methods to depict one side of trees as lighter. (Short explanation: paint whole tree with a medium shade of the color you want. Use a tissue to blot away, or a watery-paintbruh to wash away, the lightest portion of your tree. Last, to get the shadowy side paint, paint it a darker color.)
My warm browns show I’m not emulating Wyeth in his color palette, and I told my students they could choose, or not choose, colors like Wyeth used.)
Step 8: Last, I added in my grass and the rock wall around the tree trunks. (I could have, maybe should have, done that before the trees.)
Step 9: Watercolor can mange to dry on top of the glue. If paint dries, it can be re-wetted with a paintbrush and wiped away to leave white snowflakes. (Or, some types of paper will allow you to peel off the dried glue, revealing pristine white orbs beneath.)
Notes: This was fun to do! So while I have little experience painting landscapes to offer any knowledgeable tips, I enjoyed it. And learning things to use to resist paint–like dried glue–is a useful lesson in itself for students! The glue that dries clear acts like a window to allow you to preserve and see through to the white paper. Also, if some of the watercolor dries on top of the glue, it can be wiped off with water, leaving the glue clear again. I’d like to do this again, with more creativity, now that I’ve given it a shot!
Any comments or thoughts to share? Please do!
On another topic, are you a reader? I’m looking for people to read my professionally revised, finished draft of my novel before I take it to agents. More info? Looking for Readers for My Novel.