Morisot and Painting Texture

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, 1886 - Berthe Morisot

Girl with Dog by Berthe Morisot, found at Wikiart.



(This was designed with my class o 9-11 year olds in mind.)

Supply list:

tempera paints


toothpicks (to be used as brushes)

heavy paper or paperboard (the heavier the better)

masking tape

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.

Step 1:

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.

Step 2:

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!

Other posts:

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

Degas with Chalk

Recognizing the Good Days (and My Son’s Fascination with Medieval Korean Pottery)


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Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

Every year since I’ve begun homeschooling, I look toward a new year and feel the pressure to be better with time management–knowing time management will break or make our upcoming year. Every year, I’ve added either another student to our school or have added subjects for existing students. I have seen each year with a strong conviction that the year will whip my butt if I don’t master my personal and school schedules!

                                                    My kids, first day of school this year.

I’m not a naturally scheduled person. One of my favorite things about leaving high school and going to college was staying up all night, writing or painting with such absorption that I lost all track of time and skipped meals. But this does not work well with raising kids. Hence, all the more reason why I  really need a schedule. So while I know many unschoolers or other types of homeschoolers who eschew a schedule and manage to be productive–what I can say is, I’m glad for them and wish them well. I just am not one of them!

Have you seen the book The Homeschool Experiment by Charity Hawkins? It’ll make anyone laugh who has gotten through the first year or two and/or tried to homeschool with a baby!

The Homeschool Experiment: A Novel   -     By: Charity Hawkins

The Homeschool Experiment by Charity Hawkins 

My favorite part was how the chapters, each covering a month of a school year, began with the mom’s daily schooling schedule. The first one is perfect–ideal, rigorous, balanced, with many goals. As each month goes on, you can see her expectations have altered. By the end of the year? It changes in many ways, among them becoming extremely simplified! But that to me is really the best representation of the journey you go on as a homeschooling parent.

It’s good to make that ideal schedule–but you have to know that it WILL reveal itself to be tweaked or OVERHAULED!!!

Last year, my challenges in creating our daily schedule, compared to the previous year, were to keep in mind that my 2.5 year old would not be content to just entertain herself all morning, and I had to fit in science a couple times a week because of my first grader who revealed himself to be passionate about it. (On top of everything we did the previous year.) My big hurdle that year was time. I knew I had to start the day earlier. Previously, when my sons had been in grades 2 and K, we didn’t start until 9. But all summer, I pep-talked myself to start at 8. (I work at writing and editing in the afternoon, so all schooling had to be done before lunch.)

Yes, the image of my schedule below isn’t the best–but the point is noticing the linear form, the blocks.


Basically, everything is the same every day of the week, 8-noon, except there is some juggling to fit in art once  week and Spanish, and a review game another day, geography another day. And 11:15, some days, it’s science, other days it’s history.

Then this summer, I was driving myself crazy to try to use this format again with our new reality in which no two days are the same! (Between co-ops two days a week, a mid-morning activity, and one day I need to shorten a bit for an afternoon commitment, our time is not as regular.) When I tried to chart it out, it was very complex, and it just made me dizzy. The whole reason I make a graphic is so I can take a glance and see the future day/hours ahead of me. But a glance at these attempts just made me feel overwhelmed!

Even drawing the bisected (or trisected) rectangles just got too complicated–especially when things didn’t break down neatly. I mean, doing a subject from 11:55 to 11:20 is just–weird. Like that will stick!! Public schools that run on bells do such things, but this would not work in our home! (And I don’t want to try to make that work.)

An additional challenge was in the shapes of the graphic itself. I measure my time by a circular clock with the divisions of quarter hours obviously demarcated very differently than a rectangle divided in halves or quarters. When I’m busy and a bit overwhelmed, multiple children pulling me in different directions with different needs and questions, I need something simple enough so that when I look from one graphic to another, I don’t need time to translate.

So I thought, what if the schedule looked like the clock? What if my hours were shaped like circles instead of rectangles? What if my partial-hour increments were like pieces of a pie or half a circle? This is what I got:homeschool-schedule-best-001

Somehow, this works so much better for me, a visual person! The demarcations of transitions form lines that actually looked exactly the same on paper as they do on the clock! I can easily look at this graphic without expending any brain power to go from a system of rectangles in a linear formation to a system represented by circles.  (I’m telling you it’s the little things that make a big difference when you’re a teacher and your day may best be defined as being pelted with questions and having to make decisions every. single. second.)

I also coded it: a bold line around the edge of the circle if it involved my one son, and a thin line if it involved the other. When they are both involved, I draw in both lines. (My third pre-school aged child can join wherever/whenever she likes, so I didn’t muddy the graphic by writing anything for her.)

The only thing that keeps it from being perfect is the weirdness of a subject going past the hour. For instance, I have one son doing reading from 8:45-9:15. It’s just a bit weird that when you look at the 8-9 circle, you see only the first half of the reading class. Where your eye needs to go next is the top of the hour for 9-10. But it’s just  bit less than the natural thing your mind wants to do. I’ve considered ways to represent this that could reflect the continuous flow of time, but I’ve not come up with one. (I’ve considered making it 3D, like a paper coil or spiral where you could see the hours flowing into each other–but even if that were a more accurate representation, it’d hardly be user friendly. It needs to be used easily with a mere glance, and with no need to turn anything with my fingers.)

I showed my Thursday schedule above. My 11:00-12:00 circle is different on Fridays. And the other days of the week have significant differences because we have other commitments. But this schedule shown is the main one I use every day we are home all morning.

The first couple weeks, I felt like it was a bit nutty and rued my plans for the year that dictated that we don’t have two days of the week the same. But honestly, after a few weeks, it became easy and normal.

And I should say a few words about the fact that this is a suggestion/guide for me. I don’t ring a bell at the end of a time segment. I’m a big believer that you have to have boundaries formed to be able to make the best decision about bending them. Kinda like how you need to know the rules of grammar and composition in order to make the best decisions about breaking those rules and being more experimental or expressive. I need the ideal, balanced schedule up as a guide, but on a day to day basis, I switch things around, or decide to skip something altogether because maybe history is going really well and the kids are really enjoying the project they are doing.

Last, the very bottom of the sheet shows part of a list of things I have the boys do during “quiet time.” Every afternoon, not only do I need time alone to do the writing/editing on the side, but the kids need time away from each other. They each claim it is a favorite part of the day. As a creative myself, I totally get that and am glad they value it. It used to be always and only free drawing time for my every artistic boys. Now the older they get, I do use the beginning as homework time. It’s good for things the boys best do without interaction: handwriting practice, copywork, practice doing math functions (either on computer or on worksheets), and for my piano student, to practice his music.

This was my most complex year to schedule, and I think the circle graphic saved my sanity both as I planned our flow and as we moved through the months.

Did my schedule change/simplify throughout the year so far like in the Homeschool Experiment novel? Well, no. I guess that means it was pretty workable. The only problem is: my eroding discipline of getting breakfast on time… So, like the character in Charity Hawkin’s novel, if I posted my “real” schedule lately, it’d show breakfast at 8:15 or 8:30 instead of 8:00. And history often shrinks to 30 minutes to compensate. (But that’s another story/problem.)

What kind of schedule works best for you? If you’ve ever done a circle graph, please share how!

Other posts of mine:

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

Ten Mom Excuses Not to Get Around to Blogging

When You’re Hospitality-Challenged

Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire

Creating Edible Chocolate Mice Treats

Recognizing the Good Days (and My Son’s Fascination with Medieval Korean Pottery)

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The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

This is the hope of the busy parent, right? To find the perfect schedule for the family, where all things are not only accomplished, but in balance.You juggle the kids’ activities and your own, looking ahead to every school year like each season is a Tetris game in your head and you’re trying to best fit in all the pieces: sports practices, classes, dance and/or music lessons, church activities, time for schoolwork, time with family unit, time with extended family, and, oh yeah-this mom should exercise?

This past August, I though I’d hit upon the year of perfection. It was going to be balanced and not too crazy! (Well, at least until baseball season starts up in February. Five months of craziness!)

My husband and I are serious about not letting activities control our lives. The aforementioned baseball is the one sacrifice we’ve made for our son who is obsessed with it, who is interested in no other sport, team or activity. And we have a one-activity-per -child rule. (I know, some find that limiting–you’ve gotta define your family goals and parenting goals, and each family has to figure that out for themselves. For us, juggling dance, piano and baseball is enough. Last year we did archery too, bending our one-activity-only rule. This year, that was taken off the table; the club no longer exists.)


But yes, at the beginning of this school year, I had it all figured out. I even could get myself to the gym one morning a week. It was perfect–on the way to a weekly commitment this one weekday, and there was childcare! It was not even out of my way-it was on the way.

And I found my preschooler a dance class one morning a week, which felt like a win, because I do my best to protect at least some evenings a week to prioritize having time together to relax as a family. For the first weeks of the school year, I got used to his routine, and it was great.

But then it fell apart. Just one little piece of the puzzle no longer fit. And the whole “balance” thing came crashing down. My yoga class that one morning–well, it’s one of those classes that is done to a soundtrack, in a routine. And the teacher sticks with it for a good four months or more. A new one began in September, and it became abundantly clear after I tried it three times that it did not fit me. It just made my body hurt. I hurt myself. It required way more upper body strength than I had. And yes, I’ve done yoga long enough to know I can alter certain poses if something isn’t the best for my body. But half the routine fell in this category. It was grueling. I couldn’t find any pleasure or relaxation in this class. (And isn’t that why one takes yoga?) I left class with muscle spasms between my shoulders.

I looked at every gym in the area trying to find another yoga class to fit my schedule. No luck at all. Join me for just one moment–one moment of lament! That’s a legit literary form. (It’s even Biblical.) I won’t wallow too long–I promise. But can anyone hear me in my lament? To have had it all figured out and then something you thought was invariable changed?

So I gave up exercise for myself this fall. It was the sacrifice I made last year and that I swore I would not do again this year! My body could really tell the difference last year. It takes a couple months of forgoing yoga, and then I just feel stiff all the time, inflexible, and…brittle.

Other moms mention doing workouts at home, for free! Do it first thing in the morning, they say. Do it after kids go to bed, they say. (I’ll  spare you paragraphs to explain why my early mornings and late nights are already booked with other activities I need to do without kids around.) Some moms even talk of  exercising in their home with awake children! I’d not found success with this.

But I’m all about being persistent–to solve the problem rather than give up! But I first had to train my boys to stay busy in another room. (Because nothing is more counter-productive to yoga that constant interruptions and pleas to make decisions! “What are we having for lunch? Can I stay up late tonight to watch that show I like? Have you seen my scissors? What page did you say again? Next week, can we ___”) For my youngest, there was just nothing for it though–she has magnetism to me, so as I did yoga, she sometimes wanted to do it with me, and other times, on me. But it was what it was. We just made it our Tuesday morning routine before lunch. My kids had been accustomed to that time slot when I went to the gym, so I never got rid of it completely. I told them, “It’s just like I’m at the gym. You stay in one room and I’ll be in another, exercising.” It sorta works. Some days.

So the perfect schedule, that ever-elusive thing… In the words of U2, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. But that is life, that is parenting. (Back in college, I thought it was just a college thing! Trying, semester by semester, to create ideal week, even ideal days–loving the control of my new adult life.)

As when I had infants and struggled with lack of sleep, nursing issues, colic–you name it–I kept reminding myself: the only real constant in the life of being a mom to an infant is that it keeps changing. Every 1-3 months, your baby was a different animal, doing different things. By the I got a routine down, mastered handling whatever the challenge of the stage was, the stage changed! There was a comfort in that too for the things that were really hard; they were not forever.

Likewise, my schedule challenge of today is not forever. I’m noticing the cycle of three pretty distinct phases our school years. Fall/early winter, baseball season, summer. Very soon, it’s time to regroup and re-do my mental Tetris challenge to fit the needs of our life around baseball. And I *may* even get to go to yoga again. (Rumor is that the class’s soundtrack/routine will change by the end of he month.) So I’m optimistic! (Also because I made a friend in another mom at baseball last season who has suggested we can share handling the baseball practices for our sons. Her husband too has a job with hours that don’t often leave him free to help share the sports demands. That gives me hope too!)

So does anyone else out there share the goal to create the perfect weekly schedule and balance??? Has anyone found it??

As a homeschool mom, my other obsession is finding the “ideal homeschool schedule” that makes the best use of my time and my kids’.  (But that’s another topic. I wrote about it in “Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graphic).”)


Other posts of mine:

12 Mom Reasons Why Knoebels is the Best Amusement Park

Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire

Ten Mom Excuses Not to Get Around to Blogging

Letter to My Future Daughters-in-Law, from a Crunchy Mama


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Degas with Chalk

This is the most fun art project–and I dare say–the quickest one I’ve ever seen in the Fine Arts painting curriculum! I’m excited to do this with my class, week 17, for Classical Conversations.

            Ballet Rehearsal by Edgar Degas, found at:

The Project:

The book Discovering Great Artists: Hands-on Art for Children in the Style of Great Masters by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Mary Solga suggests painting fish. While that is a very good idea, for the sake of the girls in my class who love ballet, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to try Edgar Degas’ quintessential subject: the dancer! In class, I will show my example of the dancer, but give students options. For my class of 9-11 year olds, I will bring in books with Degas’ dancers as well as books with tropical fish photos.


cotton fabric (muslin is a good choice) cut for each student

milk (dairy milk, of course, but as we don’t have dairy milk in our house. I used oat milk that we tried but did not like. (It worked as intended, just fine.)



surface for ironing

Step 1: Put milk in bowl, and place fabric in the milk. Once it is saturated, wring out the cloth. (Note, wringing out cloth makes it wrinkly. You could perhaps find a very careful way to squeeze out the milk without wrinkles–or you could do what I am going to do: sell it to the kids as a great, natural opportunity for texture.)

Step 2: Place it on a newspaper covered area for each student. Give students chalk.

*Note about my chalk: we had the most deceptive box of chalk ever. It showed 10-12 colors across the box front–ranging from white through many pastel colors, including a nice flesh color. But inside the box there were really 6 colors: all flourescent. No white, no flesh color. SO my vision of this project–to focus on the Impressionists’ preoccupation with light–was immediately bust. I envisioned replicating this dancer above using mostly white with hints of blue and warmer colors for her skin. Well, mid-drawing, I scrapped that plan and decided the focus of the project would be the bright colors (Because there was no shortage of bright colors in this box! The only muted one was the brown.)

Step 3: Let the fun begin! I will instruct my studnets to lightly draw the basic shapes of thier dancer or fish. Using yellow chalk (light, because darker colors will cover it later, if need be), I drew the basic shapes of the main dancer that is part of the paiting at the top of this blog: mostly circles and elongated ovals for this. (I’m sorry, when I did this project, I wasn’t planning on uploading the steps, and therefore did not take pictures of each step.)

This is such a great dancer to mimic, of all his dancers, because the pose is really uncomplicated. And when you’re using chalk on a wet surface, you will be glad we don’t need to make more nuanced, detailed outlines of the legs! Chalk, as a medium on a wet surface, will make you an Impressionist! If you have perfectionist/detailed propensities, this project will deny you that pursuit! The chalk is a bit hard to control in a first-time use, and there is no erasing. So just go with it; enjoy how the color smears on so effortlessly. Remind yourself, the Impressionists’ goal was to make the impression of the thing–not record its every detail–and capture the way light reflected off it. The goals are really quite achievable in this project.


After taking my results to my tutor meeting, my director said she could get white chalk if I wanted to go with my orignal plan requiring a lot of white. I said I’d take my project home, re-wet the fabric, and see if I could add white on top and achieve my desired result. In the picture above, you can see the left half of her dress is darker, and that is because I started re-wetting the fabric with oat milk again. Below, the entire dancer is covered with the milk.


I wish I had a picture of what it looked like coated with white chalk for highlights (most of her the skirt, much of her skin). I laid it on THICKLY. At the top of this post, you see Degas’ dancer is mostly white.

Step 4: When the student is done drawing (no matter if the fabric is wet or dry), take it the iron, on the wool setting. Make sure you have newspaper or scrap paper under and overtop the fabric. Ironing dries the milk as well as sets the color–somewhat. (The book advises not washing this as it won’t be colorfast.) Ironing takes away the chalky residue and leaves a smooth surface that does not transfer color to your fingers.

Others have asked me, “Won’t the newspaper ink transfer?” Before I even did this, I could say, “No” As a fabric batiker for years, using newspaper to iron wax out of dyed fabric, I can speak to this with complete confidence: iron away.

Very important note: the white chalk dissolves in the milk! My dancer, prior to this ironing, looked like her costume has been caught in a blizzard of white snow–at first! The heat makes the powder dissolve even more. So this is a very important lesson: you need to use chalk with pigment if you want it to stay! White can be used to keep an area white but it will not be effective at covering a pigment underneath.


Finished product: My final result, after re-applying white 3 times (!): there is some muting of the pastels in her skirt and on the left of her bodice. But word to the wise–white can hardly be counted on to lighten up darker colors already used; the class done’st have the time to re-apply and re-apply as I did. So, knowing this, I’m back to planning my students’project goal to really be about  bright colors.


As you can see above, there’s not much distinction between my two versions; applying many layers of white chalk on top for the second one did not make much of a difference.

Hopefully, my discoveries and mistakes will equip you to know what to avoid, but most of all, know that despite all, this has been my favorite project so far for the year. I think kids will love it! I think it’s the easiest one so far, and really doable in our time frame.

And if you do this, please share further experiences and tips below!

Other articles:

Morisot and Painting Texture

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

Recognizing the Good Days (and My Son’s Fascination with Medieval Korean Pottery)

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

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Teaching a Monet Landscape

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.

The Project

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, Vétheuil by Claude Monet

Banks of the Seine, Vetheuil, by Claude Monet, 1880, found at:


water color paper (it REALLY matters)

water colors


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!

Other posts:

Degas with Chalk

Morisot and Painting Texture

Making Your Homeschool Schedule (and the revelation of a circle graph)

The “Perfect” Schedule–and When It Falls Apart

Classroom Management: Positive Social Motivation


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Teaching Gainesborough, Master English Painter

As a tutor for Classical Conversations, a service and community for homeschooling families, I’m about to enter a unit on some of the great master painters. (This lesson is for week 15 of cycle 2.) Here we will study a little about Thomas Gainesborough, an English painter who lived in the 18th century, and I’ll walk you through my lesson of a painting project for students, aimed for my class of 9-11 year olds.


     Mr and Mrs. Andrews by Gainesborough, courtesy Wikipedia.

This portrait , Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, from the National Gallery in London, is arguably his most-recognized work, and though perhaps overused for this under-recognized painter (as it may be the first or only work many see of his), I still will showcase it because there is so much I love about it. I admit that my own artistic preferences are in one way diametrically opposed to Gainsborough’s: his passion was to paint landscapes and merely did portraits to find success. (And added sweeping landscapes behind portraits to make his work more to his liking.) But I love his work for the portraiture, for his detail and recording of light on the figures (and honestly have paid little attention to the backgrounds…) Yes, I admit that.

But as in all my experiences with CC, I have found myself stretched and coming to develop an appreciation for things I did not have formerly. Another of his works I’d love to show my class is Heneage Lloyd and His Sister, simply because I think they will be interested to see people near their age depicted in Gainsborough’s art. Seeing the two represents well what I’ve noticed in his landscape portraits, generally: nature is muted though the people, or their clothing, can be very bright.

thomas_gainsborough-younger-people Heneage Lloyd and His Sister, of the Fitzwilliam  Museum                            

I already admitted that landscapes are not my favorite subject matter as a viewer; nor are they in my practice of art. I can lay no claim to expertise in this area, either in medium or subject matter. (Readers who may have followed my drawing unit earlier this year found me in my comfort zone. This is one lesson of the year that challenges me to something I’ve not devoted a great deal of time to in my own development of visual art skills.) Add that to the fact that our local CC calendar gave me two weeks less of Christmas break than I had last year–so my goal to make all art projects before the second semester began came under a time crunch.

And yet, I remind myself–maybe it’s better I didn’t have hours of free time to allow myself to indulge in these projects personally. The goal is to make an example project for the student who has limited class time; it is perhaps unfair/not best practice, to show a work I invested hours into. Without further ado, here is my take on the Gainesborough imitation project for my class of 9-11 year olds.

Discovering Great Artists: Hands-on Art for Children in the Style of Great Masters by MaryAnn F. Kohl and Mary Solga is my springboard for this lesson. (Great ideas for an array of artists/projects, by the way.) My favorite thing about their suggestion is the concept of letting the landscape in the kids’ projects be imaginary–not drawn from life. That is so much more doable for this project. The focus is not how to draw a landscape from life. An imaginary landscape is something I think will make some of my students very happy–they often want to draw from things in their head and not from an example.


  • tempera paints (preferably secondary colors already mixed; the class time just doesn’t allow tie to necessary lessons on color theory and mixing)
  • brushes (with real bristles, not plastic ones, preferred)
  • cup of water per student
  • paper of the proper weight for painting
  • scrap paper, newspaper or paper towels for wiping brushes between colors
  • drawing paper
  • colored pencils

Step 1: Describe goal to students. After giving students background on Gainesborough and showing examples of his work, I will give students the paper for their project. I will explain that, like Gainsborough, they will create a landscape with paint. (Later, they will draw a portrait of a person, on separate paper, to add on top).

Step 2: Explain the 3 parts. As they imagine their landscape, they need to imagine the three parts to it: background, middle ground and foreground. I need to explain how important it is to start painting from the top down. The background–in most cases the sky and perhaps some distant mountains or hills, is always first–for the very practical reason that it is far easier to paint mountains or treetops over top a blue sky than it is to draw mountains or tree tops first, than try to paint blue around every little nook and cranny. I will show my example at this point, pointing out the 3 regions:


Step 3: Sky.  I will demonstrate painting a quick sky. (I say quick, because this is simplest part, and we’ve gotta get onto other things more deserving of our time!) I am excited that the new space I’ll be using this year to teach art will have better acoustics and I will have an easel where I can paint with them, where they can see. And don’t be afraid of big brushes–encourage kids to take the largest ones you have–you get this simple part done faster! Next, have students get their darkest color of the day to paint their landscape’s furthermost back features that stand out against the sky: mountains, trees etc.

If you want to use this lesson as a way to teach a landscape painting skill beyond the above foundational concept (painting top-to-bottom, with three parts), one possible mini lesson could be simple brushwork for trees. (My son has watched all Bob Ross episodes available on Netflix, so I have seen sizable portions of “happy trees” lessons. One thing I may do, though I had not thought this when I made my sample, was to teach the use of this type of brush:


This came up in our staff meeting; another tutor asked me advice/tips on such a goal. You can see in my sample, I have one taller evergreen with branches shooting up. After the sky is completely done, I’d  demonstrate making branches of green (with any kind of brush, really). Then I could show them how to use the above pictured type to dip in a dark brown/black for the tree trunk. The flat, slim line makes it really easy to slice own the center of the tree to give it a spine. Then I can show them (using even the same brush) going back and adding more branches–some overtop that brown trunk line, some not. It’s a quick, simple way to give trees some depth.

Step 4: Middle ground. In my sample, it’s the midline of deciduous trees. I didn’t get carried away with detail.

Step 5: Foreground. First I painted the grass. Here, I tell students, is where detail and brushstrokes count. I painted my grass the lightest green (with lots of yellow) that is in my whole painting. The lightest colors will generally always be closest to the viewer. I painted a little brown path to break up the nearest grass from the farthest grass. Maybe I wanted a curving line because everything else so far is so linear and horizontal.

Next, I will demonstrate painting the grass in the foreground with brushstrokes that mimic the way grass grows: up. Because the brown path is in, I painted the grass growing up in front of it. Last is the big tree. Because it is closest to the viewer, it can also be tall enough to block some of the elements behind it. (Reviewing perspective from the drawing unit.) I chose a cherry tree in blossom to add some brightness. Brushwork here is really simple for kids to mimic: just little dashes of the brush touching the paper, splotch after splotch. (This is good prep for impressionist projects coming up.)

Now, the painting is done. Let it dry during the next step.

Step 6: Portrait. If you have the room, I highly suggest moving the students to another table. Here, I will give them a blank sheet of paper and instructions to draw  a person that will fit somewhere in the landscape. Important: Have them check how big this person can be. For instance, I had to check how much room I had under my cherry tree for my figures.


Simply due to time restraints for this class, there will not be a lot of time for this. Encourage kids to keep it simple, maybe of just one figure. I will show the example in the Discovering Great Artists book. I hope between my adult sample and that young kid sample, they will see there is a range that is possible. (The book’s example is very simple, from an early elementary student.) One time saver is to suggest students simply draw it (delaying the coloring of it until they are home). If time allows, by all means, let them color with colored pencils. Because the painting will not be dry before class is over, allowing us to paste on the figure, so maybe it’s even smarter to have them do the cutting-out at home as well, because the little figures are more easily lost that way.

Finished project:


In sum, this was more fun than I expected.

Another option: I know some tutors have done this project with a photographs children brought to class–already cut out. I’m not going that route because A) getting pictures these days can be difficult when most people have them on their phone but hardly ever printed, and B) kids forgetting or not having them requires a plan B. But if you think that could work for your class, it would allow you to focus exclusively on the landscape.

Future lessons should be on their way. If you are looking for lessons for weeks 13 and 14, check out Inside the Line Lessons. I read her lessons for those weeks before I approached my own, and there was no need for me to reinvent the wheel. Highly recommended.

Other related posts:

How I Talk to My Students about Drawing on Day One

Basics of Drawing: Fine Arts, Week 1 for Classical Conversations

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

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What Freedom Sounds Like

It’s like the kids’ game, “telephone,” to use a cliché example. If you go by some headlines, tweets, facebook memes and your neighbor’s reaction, you may have missed the truth about the speech given at the end of the Hamilton theater performance, directed to attendee, Vice-President-elect Mike Pence .

But I think this is one of the best things I’ve seen post-election. A first, I just thought the actor’s words were intelligent, well-spoken, respectful. But the more time passes, I think it’s much more than that. THIS is a great example of discourse–both in the way Actor Brandon Dixon delivers his words-and in the way VP-elect Pence responds.

This is the highlight for me–the first glimmer of hope I’ve seen post-election–an example of communication well-done. Watch this if you haven’t actually seen the footage:

Excellent. No accusations, no insults, no name-calling. Just an honest appeal that Pence will listen to their concerns. Everything about the way he addresses the VP-elect is also respectful, and he appeals to his heart and intellect. Bravo.

This is what I do: teach people how to communicate. In many facets of my life, past and present, whether as a writing teacher, public school English teacher, Sunday School teacher, tutor or editor: I’m always trying to teach others how to communicate effectively and respectfully–not just because I believe it is honoring to others and God-honoring to talk to others with respect (even those who haven’t earned it), it’s also advantageous. This is when you stand the best chance of people actually hearing you.

(Facebook is a proving ground for this. When people start slinging insults, well, the usefulness of the poster’s attempt to converse takes a nose-dive. I’ve seen some really fantastic communicators be able to redeem it and something productive happens, but most often, I see the dive descend to the point of no-return, and everyone seems to shut down and leave the “conversation” angry and self-righteous, with starting opinions only further cemented with negative emotions.)

I’ve heard/seen people decry this theater speech, calling it deplorable as they bemoan how “the left” is awful and unrelenting in its protest-but I seriously had to wonder if those critics listened to the speech, both its tone and actual words. For people wanting to make their voices heard, this is spot-on, well-done.

As a teacher, I teach students how to air their grievances with me in a respectful, constructive way. Kids/people need to have an outlet for engaging authority figures and be heard. This is an awesome example.

Not only did Pence say he was “not offended,” I love what he reportedly told his daughter as they experienced this night at the theater, amidst both jeers and cheers: “This is what freedom sounds like.” And as for the speech by Dixon, I’d venture to say, that is what progress sounds like. Imagine how every-day people would understand each other if we all could converse as Dixon and Pence, with respect, using ears to hear, and not getting offended when someone voices an honest concern from their vantage point in life.

Other posts:

Creating an Encouraging Classroom

I Didn’t Tell My Kids Which Candidate Got My Vote

Does God Want All of His Followers to Cast the Same Vote Tuesday?

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