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A Painter Teaches

Updated on April 11, 2009

Lessons from Spring Art Week at the Western Colorado Center for the Arts

A Creative Field Trip

This April, the Western Colorado Center for the Arts in Grand Junction held its annual Spring Art Week. More than 3000 students from District 51 schools attended.

Presenters, all local artists, included

  • a stone sculptor
  • blacksmiths
  • potters
  • a glass artist
  • a musician
  • a batik artist
  • a cartoonist

The lessons offered here were presented by a Remodernist painter working in acrylic on canvas.

Fish in a Pond, Acrylic on Canvas
Fish in a Pond, Acrylic on Canvas

Fish in a Pond


Primary children attending a fifteen-minute session took turns painting simple fish shapes on a blank canvas. By adding the green "water" between the fish, the painter showed them the importance of negative space in a composition.

Ways to teach negative space in the classroom:

  • Place an apple or other simple object on a sheet of white paper. Invite students to draw the white space instead of the object.
  • Show students examples of great paintings and photographs. Point out that the "background" shapes are just as important as the subject.
  • Invite students to create their own paintings of fish in a pond.

For Older Children and Adults, a Brilliant Exploration of Dimensions



Before starting this painting, the painter discussed two-dimensional and three-dimensional works of art.

  • Students were invited to consider the difference between a hand, a three-dimensional object, and a photograph of a hand, a two-dimensional object.
  • Paricipants identified works by the potter, the sculptor, and the blacksmiths as three-dimensional.
  • Students named length and width as the dimensions of a painting or photograph.

Next, the painter pointed out the importance of a painting's two dimensional personality. She used the fish, deftly-placed by first-graders, to demonstrate the importance of every mark on the picture plane.

Ways to teach two and three dimensions in the classroom

  • Show examples of sculptures and two-dimensional art.
  • Encourage students to shoot digital pictures of each other and print the results. Discuss the differences between the model and the picture.
  • Invite students to make a drawing and a clay sculpture representing the same subject.
  • Use the program "Poly" to make three-dimensional geometric forms. Invite students to name the two-dimensional shape on each face.

The Conductor
The Conductor

The Conductor

As part of a lesson with older students, the painter discussed the role of reference materials in the creation of a work of art.

  • She asked students what kinds of references they used when they wrote reports.
  • She encouraged them to name such sources as encyclopedias, library books, online historic information, and interviews.
  • They agreed that they would never use just one source to write a report and that they would not simply copy from a book and call the work their own.
  • The painter discussed the references she used to create her own work.
  • As an example, she showed some sketches she made at a local symphony concert.
  • She showed the painting she did using the sketch as a reference.
  • She explained that painters use many different kinds of reference when they create their works.
  • She showed examples of watercolor sketches and photographs.
  • She pointed out that an actual scene, still life setup, or posing model is a kind of visual reference.

Teaching Children to Use Reference Materials in the Classroom

  • Assign a history or science report. Help students choose a workable topic. Use Inspiration (software popular in many schools) or other brainstorming tools to gather initial ideas.
  • Demonstrate how to use encyclopedias, the library's online card catalog, online periodicals, and primary sources to find out more about the ideas listed in the brainstorming session.
  • Show how to organize the gathered information into an informal outline.
  • Review paragraph structure, emphasizing topic sentences.
  • Encourage children to write a rough draft.
  • Hold Writer's Workshop groups allowing children to read their rough drafts aloud and encouraging group members to make suggestions.
  • Instruct students to write the final report.

In art, allow time for students to use various types of visual reference, or, if there is no time in class, assign drawing projects as homework. These projects may include:

  • Copying a Master drawing upside down. See Wikipedia Commons for Public Domain works.
  • Drawing a simple object from real life.
  • Making a landscape drawing that combines elements of two different photographs.
  • Drawing a portrait of a friend or family member from life.
  • Sketching a favorite object, such as a stuffed animal, and then using the sketch as the basis for a painting.

Discuss the similarities between visual art references and print references.

Additional Resources for Teaching Opposites

These Books Combine Easy Art Projects with Early Academic Skills

Explosion of Birds
Explosion of Birds

Explosion of Birds

The demonstrator started this exercise with a canvas covered with blue paint.

  • She showed students previous paintings made with oranges, reds, and yellows.
  • Through discussion, she established that those were warm colors.
  • She pointed out that blue was not a warm color and asked for a word that meant the opposite of "warm".
  • She asked the children to name other colors that were "cool". (For the first-graders, this was a vocabulary review and a review of the important concept of opposites.)
  • She demonstrated how to hold a brush.
  • She showed them how to step back from the picture.
  • She emphasized the importance of using large arm movements when painting.
  • She pointed out that it is important to take time to look at the "whole picture. " This concept is of great value in every field.
  • She encouraged students, one at a time, to come up and make a brush stroke on the canvas in brown.
  • As they watched, she developed the painting.
  • She explained that, as an artist, she often does not know what the painting will become when she begins.

Many artists, including poets and writers of fiction, consider this kind of uncertainty and discovery to be one of the greatest rewards of the calling. It is hard to explain, but easy to see.

Additional Resources for Teaching About Line

Three Lines, Acrylic on Canvas
Three Lines, Acrylic on Canvas

Three Lines

With another group, the artist featured lines.

During a quick discussion, children named different kinds of lines. These included

  • diagonal lines,
  • vertical lines
  • horizontal lines
  • straight lines
  • curved lines
  • thick lines
  • thin lines

Children took turns coming up to paint lines on the canvas. Later, the artist developed their marks into this painting.

Girl in a Black Shirt

Acrylic on Canvas, Quick Study
Acrylic on Canvas, Quick Study

Girl in a Black Shirt

The artist did this quick study of one of the students to demonstrate the importance of establishing large shapes before concentrating on details.

  • She used Fish in a Pond to show the importance of negative space.
  • She discussed different types of paintings including landscapes, still lifes, and abstracts.
  • She showed examples of each.
  • She selected a volunteer to pose.
  • As students watched, she blocked in the shape of the model in dulled pink and Payne's gray.
  • She explained that rendering the text on the girl's shirt literally would be distracting.
  • She pointed out the relationship of the bold shape to the edges of the canvas.
  • She worked on the piece until the end of the 15 minute period.
  • She encouraged students to take turns modeling for each other when they returned to class.

Support Music and Art Education


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    • Prosperity Maker profile image

      Prosperity Maker 

      10 years ago from Texas

      Nice article thanks for sharing it. I was very lucky as a child we always had some kind of a music or art class and went of lots of field trips . I am 52 now and can remember the day we went to hear the dallas symphony play I was in the 5th grade and didn't want to leave. The sounds were amazing to me I was in love with music....good from that day on. Art was well. Little secret I thank God constantly for having ears to hear, eyes to see and fingers to touch for without them I could not truly appreciate the beauty of all that is ART! Sorry for rambling. I could the the painting fine bluerabbit.

    • bluerabbit profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Question: A friend of mine is unable to see my pictures. Is anybody else here having trouble?

    • bluerabbit profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Yes, wannabwestern, you are right, that is what people think. Actually, many terrific jobs require art, music, drama, and creative movement skills. Industrial designers, medical illustrators, advertising designers, photographers, musicians, composers of film and advertising music, film, TV, and commercial actors, narrators, presenters, motivational speakers, commercial trainers, movement therapists, and dancers are just a few of hundreds of high-paying occupations that demand creative skills.

    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 

      10 years ago from Iowa


      In our small community, we have an art and history museum that sponsors art classes for a fee. In times of economic stress, art for elementary students becomes a class issue for the haves and have nots. It is a shame that our educational system rewards certain types of learners and punishes others. Art is one of those areas that will always be undervalued because it doesn't directly related to making money or teach kids how to do so.

    • marisuewrites profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      I like that Princessa -- viva la France!


    • bluerabbit profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Wow! That's wonderful, Princessa!

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      10 years ago from France

      Very interesting. I do think that art is a very important part of education. Thankfully in France it is not overlooked and the schools and extra curricular activities encourage children to engage in actvities such as music, painting, singing, and other forms of art.

      For example my 6 year old girls is often taken to the cinema as part of her school trips to watch artistic movies for children. Her last one was a Chinese "cartoon" made of drawings done in silk ! After the cinema they make lots of drawings and write their appreciation of the film. A very good way to teach them to appreciate other cultures and forms of art!

    • bluerabbit profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Marisue, you are a treasure! If we keep speaking out, we will be heard. Things are going to change, soon.

    • marisuewrites profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      Sally, another connection for us.  I was a firm believer in teaching Art in Elementary and was so sad, even enraged, to see it "non-funded" and disappear from the curriculum.

      I used it daily to teach language, and even emotional control!  In language, I had First Graders writing stories, "books" and illustrating them; often saying in pictures what they at first could not in words.  The theory being:  If they could draw it, they could speak it; if they could speak it, they could write it; if they could write it, they could read it.  It all went together, and it worked.  Over and over again!

      bluerabbit, you are right on target,  I loved this HUB.  keep writing!  Marisue

    • bluerabbit profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago

      Eloquently stated, Sally!

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      It's not "many people" who believe the arts are "fluff", it's an entire mandatory public school system in this country. No Child Left Behind has done a world of good in raising awareness about and managing the needs of children whose learning processes differ from the norm. But it has done nothing to maintain the integration of the the intellect with the artistic, the logical with the emotional, the verbal with the spatial, as was accepted practice in our school systems just a few decades ago.

      A long time ago, in graduate school, my master's thesis centered on using works of art in the elementary grades as platforms for teaching history, politics, mathematics, science, music, get the picture. My thesis was denied. I believe that is because the politics of fine art and the politics of mandated, compulsary education systems have their own cliques and divergent purposes, and never the twain shall meet.

      That's my diatribe. Thanks for making me a happy complainer!

      Welcome to HubPages. I'm looking forward to reading your hubs.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      I completely agree about the importance of art education! Thank you for sharing your perspectives and knowledge.


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