In 3rd grade, art teachers begin to place greater emphasis on the importance of mastering more technical skills in order to help continue the fragile process of developing the whole artist. Although experimentation with new media and processes is forever valued in elementary art-making, and especially in Studio Maury, the older a student gets, the more necessary it is to acquire some real skills and techniques necessary for advancing creativity and concept design. I like to tell students, “you need to know the rules, in order to break them”.
Basic observational drawing is an important place to start because strong drawing skills set the foundation for mastery in other media, such as painting and sculpture. Our 3rd grade unit was rooted in breaking away from drawing the symbols and stylized representations of everyday objects, such as hearts, stars, and footballs, and to begin looking at everyday objects for what they really are. Apples, for example, are not always fire-engine red, pointy stemmed and adorned with a leaf, but I bet that’s how you draw or imagine them every time you think of an apple. Real apples have dents, bruises, a spectrum of colors, and an asymmetrical form. Convincing students that drawing what actually exists, instead of what they imagine, in order to enhance the realism of the object, was a tough sell. “A perfectly round, cute and shiny apple is recognizable to people,” students argued. Recognizable, maybe, but not rooted in reality.
In order to drive home the importance of learning to look, I had students spend the afternoon examining the intricacies of a piece of popcorn. I had them focus on drawing the contour, or outline of the object, in order to begin practicing how to identify the form. Students began to see that drawing the contour of an object really did help set the foundation for a far more realistic rendering of the popcorn.
Of course, there was plenty of snacking happening in the studio too, as well as some really fantastic organization of their observational drawings. Students came up with neat charts to keep track of their contour (outline) drawings, continuous line drawings (drawing without lifting the pencil off the paper), and blind-contour line drawings (drawing the object without looking at the paper).
Because 3rd grade has been so involved with their Social Studies unit on DC’s landmarks and memorials, I thought it would be a great time to collaborate with Mrs. Fitz and Mrs. McMahon in order to enhance student learning through art. After hearing about the awesome and informative pamphlets students created about locations around our historic city, I had students select a neighborhood landmark that has influenced or helped shape aspects of their personal identities. We identified a few of our favorite local spots, like the Argonaut, RFK Stadium, Rosedale Park, Eastern High School, the Arboretum and Lincoln Park. We applied our line drawing practice to these special locales in order to do our best at realistically portraying these neighborhood hot spots.
Then, we did something professional artists and art students do when displaying their work for the public. We created artist statements to accompany our work. An artist statement is text that gives the viewer further insight into the artwork on display. In our case, our artist statements clued the viewer in on how the neighborhood landmark chosen has influenced aspects of the student’s personal identity. Adding a written component to our art making helped students flush out their ideas and strengthen the meaning behind their work. I was really moved to read about the fond memories students have shared with loved ones and friends at many of our iconic city landmarks. Some students had never even been to the landmark they selected, but aspired to, because the place held special meaning to their parents or relatives. I loved watching students attach meaning to their work. I am always glad when I get to express to students that art is not about making something beautiful, but more so about making something meaningful.
In conclusion, students transferred their observational drawing skills to a new media, made possible by our generous donorschoose.org patrons, and drew their neighborhood identity landmark in liquid clay called slip, on ceramic tiles. The decision to create these works of art in black and white instead of with color, creates a strong contrast that forces the viewer to play closer attention to the subject of the work and the process through which it was created.The finished art will be coated with a layer of clear glaze and fired in our kiln. They will depict simple, yet accurate, representations of a place that means something special to them and their families.