It's positively time for a walk in a winter wonderland! The snow has fallen, the drifts daringly rest among the feet of the trees as they stand proudly for enduring another year.
This little art piece was inspired by my love for trees and how the full moon highlights all of the bends, twists and turns trees display, but the original idea came from this blog page for art teachers.
My school is hosting a Winter Village Night on Thursday, and each class is supposed to decorate a bulletin board for the evening. I just could not cope with one more cheesy cookie cutter Christmas craft, so I asked my Grade Six students to put on their artists' hats and to think like Francisco de Goya.
It was a great challenge for my students to consider light and skillfully paint trees with different tints, but we gave it a go! Wow, we all survived!
At times I wasn't sure we were going to outlast the flurries of painted flicked snow in the classroom. Yikes! The student quality paint was not cooperating. As we tried to pour the tempera paint from the bottles, the paint would plop down onto the paint pallets, instead of smoothly flowing out like my paint at home does from the professional quality paint tubes. I have to admit, we weren't very frugal with the paint. The project actually requires very little paint, but we ended up wasting a lot of paint because of the school quality supplies we had to use. Oh, well.
The students seemed to be proud of their work and it was a good first attempt. The paintings are growing on me. Each time I walk by them, I begin to see something that I like, an eye catching angle of a tree branch, a quirky little snowman, footprints in the snow, the light dancing on the moonlight branches.
We spent some time examining Goya's art and analyzing how her used light. I also modeled different techniques. Tree shapes were also discussed. Our adventures in the forests of Police Point Park and Cypress Hills helped us.
The painting pictured above is my attempt at the Goya challenge. This is the process:
1. Using tape, mask around the grey art paper. First I had my students collect fuzz from their clothing
using the tape. The fuzz makes the tape less sticky and easier to pull off, with less chance of ripping the paper at the end. I asked the students to line up the outer edge of the tape with the outer edge of
the paper, going around the perimeter of their pages.
This is a lot easier than measuring and more precise than eyeballing and trying to line up the tape so that the edge of the paper lines up with the middle of width of the tape. This wide taped border
prevents the paper from buckling, keeps students in their own private spaces/ "artist studios" and
also creates an attractive clean border around the edge for framing.
2. Using scrap paper, students tear snow drifts, paste and overlap the white paper onto their paper to create layers and dimension. Be careful not to glue the snow onto the tape.
3. Using the white scrap paper, students create a full moon. Glue the moon onto the paper. This will determine where the highlights are added later on, so this needs to be done before any painting is
A few students wanted to have crescent moons. I explained that the reflected light off of a crescent
moon wouldn't be strong enough to cast many shadows and highlights on trees. Maybe this activity
would have been better placed after our moon study in January? (Grade Six Alberta)
4. After putting on a painting smock/shirt, paint the deciduous trees in black. I used blue and red to
make "black". I challenged each student to draw branches at acute, right, obtuse, straight and reflex
angles. Math and art together! I gave the students the option of using black or creating their own
black like I did.
Some students may want to try painting coniferous trees. I wouldn't recommend it unless they have
had experience, otherwise, this may ruin the realistic look you may be going for. I did a lot of
modeling for the students, but coniferous trees are a real challenge in this type of painting exercise!
5. Paint grey on each side of the branches and trunk that is closest to the moon. I used the blue and
red mixture and added white. If the students are up for it, they may add a shadow to the base of each
tree. Paying attention to the location of the moon is very important at this stage.
Encourage the students to resist temptation to paint around every angle top to bottom like one would
normally do when outlining. This forms cloud like foliage and this is not what we are going after
here. It is winter after all!
Science lessons in light and shadows (Grade Four in Alberta) would also be beneficial for this
step. I would suggest using a flashlight to examine the light at different angles and observing how
the light hits different surfaces, what the shadows look like, where the placement of the shadows are, what colours the shadows are.
6. The final stage is to overlap white paint where the "grey" paint was painted.
7. Some students may feel adventurous and may want to add a snowman, a bunny, footprints...,
following the same techniques as with the trees.
8. The optional finishing touches are to flick watery white paint on the the entire paper to create the
illusion of snowing.
As I am right handed, I find it easier to hold out my left index finger and take my paint brush and
flick the bristles across and down my index finger, as I lift my left index finger up, which sends the
paint flinging onto the page. The students will also create snow on the table, on the floor, on your
clothes, and any other obstacle in the way, so don't do this near carpet or in your dining room or
9. Carefully peel off the tape. I asked my students to pull the tape slowly, so the tape is at a 90 degree
angle to the paper. Again, more math!
10. Signing and dating the art adds the final "final" touch.
11. We displayed the art in the hallway, using tacks to carefully fasten the art to the bulletin board. I
never put tacks and staples through the art, just in case parents want to put the art in frames. Who
wants holes in their art? I place the tacks as close to the edge as possible without going through
Note, this is a difficult challenge for Grade Sixes. It depends on the level of art training they have had in previous grades. If you are an art teacher, and have taught all of the students in your school, the basic painting skills throughout the previous grades, then perhaps this activity would be easier and more successful.
Another idea would to be very prescriptive and have the students do each stage one step at a time, as you model. The danger of that, however, is that you turn art into a craft, and you will end up with a lot of trees and scenes that look the same.
I also had a "quiet contest". Many students use art time as a talking time. Some talk more than they concentrate and create. I had quiet thinking music (baroque) on in the background and challenged each table to see which could be the quietest and most productive. It was fun for the students to figure out how to ask for more paint without talking.
P.S. Adults are only allowed to pour the paint. Each student has their own 10 centimeter
circumference pallet ( an old margarine lid works great), a flat bristled brush and a fine tipped brush. Round brushes seem to work best to flick the paint and create coniferous trees. Some students also
used fan brushes to create branches. Each student also had a rag and a very small amount of water. Insist that no brushes sit in the water. This weakens the glue on the bristles.
It is a good idea to show how the students how much paint to have on the brush, how to hold the brush, how to create angles, and how to clean the brushes between each tint and at the end of the session.
At the end, excess paint gets wiped off the brush, then they go to the sink, squirt soap onto their hands and then go around and around in the soap on their hand with their bristles, rinsing once in a while with water.
Here is a peek at our art:
Even though this was a challenge, when the parents join us on Thursday night, they will be positively walking through a winter wonderland!
If you end up trying this out, let me know how it goes. What successes and challenges did you experience? Do you have any pointers?