A beautiful person and artist, Ted Harrison passed away on January 16, 2015, at the age of 88. The world is losing so many heroes…and Ted is one. Having a beautiful heart and eye for simplicity, he loved the northern skies of the Yukon and never failed to share his delight with anyone he met.
One of my big encounters with his illustrations was in the beautiful version of The Cremation of Sam McGee…a poem I used to challenge my grade sevens to memorize from beginning to end. And every year, at least three students did!
I recommend that you introduce Ted Harrison to your classes. For years, Ted’s work has inspired works by school children of every age. When scented coloured markers came into vogue, so did another lesson based on Harrison. It’s wild what variety of lessons we invented as art teachers. The students loved it all!
So, today…I looked up at the sky.
This morning, driving to school, I noticed a dappled sky above the rising sun…brilliant yellow, pink and orange, with a soft cerulean blue below an arch of cloud and an electric blue, above. That was it…in the afternoon, I would paint the SETTING sun with the grade fours…thinking about chinook arches and dappled clouds over the mountains. And so it went.
I line the back of construction paper with masking tape, when I can find the time. This allows some durability. Tempera paint tends to make paper, especially cheap paper, a bit crunchy after a while. This way the work can be preserved for those folks who like to save things forever. (pointing at myself)
Always use coloured paper for these paints as it creates a bit of an ‘under painting’ and activates the surface, taking away the intimidation of white or that ucky beige. Below…see my favourite yogurt buckets. Every art storage room needs at least twenty of these to be shared around.
First…the short ‘review’ of dip, wipe and stroke. Surprise! You always discover that a lot of students haven’t handled a brush very much. (Painting IS MESSY!!) Show them where to hold the brush…not at the white tip. :0) Explain how to share the paint center and remind them to keep two hands on the bucket on each journey to and from.
Regarding the composition, first I spoke about portrait as compared to landscape format and explained that just for today, the composition would be landscape. I explained how clouds that are closest to the horizon line appear smaller…and as they are found higher in the picture plane, they can be depicted as larger and then they almost seem to come over our heads. “Often, Ted Harrison outlined some basic shapes in his paintings and serigraphs…instead of painting up to the chalk lines, how about leaving some of the paper unpainted and the coloured paper will become the lines?” (some of the students got this)
“No…I don’t want you to do a giant sun. No…no sunglasses…no rays…not today.” I went back to describing how the morning sun had not yet shown itself, but that there was a really bright light next to the land. I knew the sun was coming up. So…for the sunset paintings, I hoped that the sun would be almost gone from the sky. The teacher can always drive the vision…as long as he/she has one. I’m sharing mine with my readers. The teacher also benefits by allowing freedom within the vision.
“OH! Why are those small clouds near the mountains the brightest? YES! The light from the sun is hitting them first because they are the closest to the light!
I explained that because the students were focused on the sky, the mountains needed to be located below the one third line. (Yes! You’ll have to talk about dividing the landscape into thirds.)
The chalk is picked up and the students begin drawing, planning, and problem solving.
“Yes! As soon as you’re ready, you can get your first colour. PLEASE, don’t everybody begin with the mountains! Choose any colour and away you go!”
“Pick up a paper towel with your first bucket of paint. This will be your place mat…slip it along the edges as you go and then you won’t have to wash your desk! If this gets super sloppy, you might need a second place mat.” I asked the kind caretaker if I might have a bucket half filled with water in my classroom. This would provide a portable sink. Tonight, as I walked Max at the pond…I captured some of the clouds. We had an energetic hike about the area. It was so darned beautiful!