Jim Davis Art Lesson

I used this lesson below for my Masters class (ages 10-13) at my local Classical Conversations campus three years ago. For week 18, learning from the masters, the curriculum veers into the contemporary era and focuses on cartooning (much to the joy of this age of students)!

I’ve seen some suggestions and plans for having students make an original comic strip. I’ve tried. More than once. I’ve come to the conclusion that the concept of making a comic, which most often requires some teaching on what makes humor and what makes it come across well on a page, is way more than we have time to cover in this one lesson. Without targeted instruction on those topics, the results I got from students were stick figures or slightly better and plot lines that went nowhere or that were not conveyed well. And I can’t blame the students–it’s a complex task many adults could not master in the time we have for this lesson!

My lesson focused on the process to make one cartoon character.

Step #1: I brought in some Jim Davis cartoons–because, let’s face it, most students hadn’t ever seen one! The Garfield movie of recent times helps, but the actual comics are not something in students’ cultural repertoire. As we passed around some of the comics, I shared a little about Davis’ life and career as described in Discovering Great Artists.

Step #2: I set up a stuffed bunny on a tall chair in the front of the room and let everyone look at him. Then I drew one cartoon drawing of him on the white board, sticking with the proportions of the real subject. Then I drew another version, this time exaggerating one feature or another. As kids laughed, I drew a few more and asked them the differences. We talked about exaggerating parts and comparing what the effect was. We talked about what features, if exaggerated made people laugh, generally: ears, noses. We talekd about what features are exaggerated in cartoons for beautiful/handsome people: eyes. We talked about different shapes of features that gave the character different personalities/ages/etc.

Step #3: I gave students paper for an exercise of a few minutes: draw multiple versions of the bunny, making each one differently, exaggerating different features.

Step #4: Next, I asked students to think of one animal or person they’d like to make into a cartoon character (real or imagined.) I gave them new paper for this task. I asked them to try a few different versions, with different features exaggerated and see which one they liked best.

Step #5: When a student had an image they liked, I gave our black markers for tracing, giving the cartoons the bold ink look.

Jim Davis cartoon lesson 003 (2)

I drew three cartoon characters based on my children–at home, and intended to show my class as an example of what I was asking of them. Bu I forgot! i never showed them the example I created just for this purpose! If I had, I’d have talked about how heads are commonly drawn larger for kid cartoons–one of the cues that they are kids. A general point about cartoons is that perspective is kinda thrown out the window; cartoonists mess with that all the time.

Step #6: This step, my class never got to in class. But I encouraged them to take it home and color it, and show us the following week. and if I’d remembered, I’d have shown the class my colored version, which my eldest son colored for me!

Jim Davis cartoon lesson 004

Well, that’s it, wrapping up the Great Artists section of the curriculum for the year. This seemed, to me, the simplest lesson of them all. Perhaps because we used just pencils, markers and colored pencils and didn’t have any paint to mess with!

Any tips and tricks to share, those of you who try this?

Other posts:

Lichtenstein, Pop Art Lesson

Andrew Wyeth lesson

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

Ten Mom Excuses Not to Get Around to Blogging

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About Renee Lannan's blog

I live, write, teach and enjoy life from a place of hope and a belief in miracles from seeing first-hand the depths of redemption
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