Robert Indiana: LOVE!

As we approach the month of red and pink and doilies, I thought that I’d try something new and chat with the grade fours about Robert Indiana and his hard edged Pop Art, particularly his LOVE sculpture.

Love in NYC

I showed the students this little interview that included a number of slides about the well known sculpture and I spent a bit of time showing them the negative spaces and talking about the colours that were used.

In retrospect, I would have used a smaller format and had the children use only wide and flat tipped marker pens on white bond paper.  I realized, much too late that it was a challenging enterprise to paint such hard edges at this level.  The students went ahead like gang busters, however, and took on the challenge.  Once again, I showed them how to use the edge of their brushes to paint very long strokes and thin lines.  I try to teach this whenever I mix paint.

We began by looking at the Clarendon Black or Bold Font.  I talked to the students about serifs and about the sorts of fonts that we use when we open up a Word Document.


Their first depiction was made while making observations of the Calendon style, looking closely at the shape of the negative spaces, as much as the positive, the letters.

The students folded their bond paper in such a way that they created a square.

After that they created a + sign by folding edge to edge both directions.  These left them the template where they practiced drawing their LOVE, remembering to leave their O on a diagonal.  This is when we ended up giving the negative shapes names such as Arrow Head.

folded paper plus sign

Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 008 Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 007

Remember, also, that a whole number of four letter words can be used in this study of Robert Indiana’s approach to text and language.

I then gave the students squared construction paper for their larger composition and they created their text, using chalk.

Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 013 Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 012 Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 011 Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 010

I first mixed up a number of tints of red for the painting of the font.  I decided that contrary to Indiana’s pieces, I would not work with Complementary Colours as wet edge to wet edge, this would most certainly create mud once the children got busy painting.  I mixed a whole palette of related colours, almost an Analogous palette and these are the resulting compositions.

Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 036 Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 034 Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 033 Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 032 Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 030 Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 029 Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 028 Kath's Canon, Love Paintings, Frank's 027


Have fun with some version of this.  I’ve since taken a peak on the web and their are a number of different approaches.  It’s possible that you could outline the letters in oil pastel or sharpie pens.  The students and I talked about that, waited for the pieces to dry and decided that from a distance the words popped out successfully.

Thanks, Jess, for your class!



Pieter Bruegel’s Children’s Games

Yesterday I had the opportunity to teach a beautiful grade six class.  I bit off more than I could chew, however, because we did not completely move through to the end result that I had in mind in this exploration of Pieter Bruegel and the study of two pieces, Children’s Games and The Hunters in the Snow.

Before the lesson began, I had the children sketch in their visual journals (every kid should have one…just love these!) a scene where children are playing winter games outdoors…recess, skiing and snowboarding, skating, building forts or any other activity.  This student added the smaller figures into her original plan, after we began to practice doing mini figure plans in our journals…I loved that the cross over had happened in learning, just naturally.

Kath's Canon, Grade six Bruegel 037

Kath's Canon, Grade six Bruegel 022

The reflection section of the lesson was more engaging than I thought it would be and the students needed to become familiar with the handling of a paintbrush.  It’s all good and we need to be flexible with our expectations.  Lessons are more exciting when they are left open-ended.

Here are the two pieces and a very good analysis of Hunters in the Snow.  I did not use this in my class, but thought it might be of interest to teachers who want a quick background on how to talk about art.  The resource I used with the students is a short power point and I’ve provided the link below.





Atmospheric perspective for 3-6 (St. Mary’s Lake at Glacier National Park):

As we spoke about winter landscapes, we talked about how to achieve atmospheric perspective.  We talked about the mountains and what they look like on the west horizon.  I talked about my walks around the pond and what I see daily.  I talked about the different colours on the pond.  We looked at Bruegel’s piece and discovered that ice on a river/canal/pond is not necessarily white and sometimes is a very dark colour.  We talked about the figures and their gestures and activities and how indistinct they become as they get further back in the picture plane.

I realized as I was teaching that there were some terms that the students were not aware of and so I had to back step a little, so very quickly, they learned the terms background, middleground and foreground.  It is easier to speak of art when the vocabulary is there and you are just not always pointing.

At some point there was a conversation about emoticons…a term that I didn’t know. :0)  Here they are.  If this hadn’t been grade six, this conversation wouldn’t have come up and it was fun for me. I always use the example of ‘Pictionary’ when I talk about symbols, but because we became interested in the facial expressions of Bruegel’s figures, this was so appropriate.  Go KIDS!

We discussed the fact that none of the figures in Bruegel’s piece have emoticon faces, nor do the snowmen.  I suggested the idea of just indicating the face with small marks, instead of distinct smiley faces and that whenever insecure, as I would be, turn the figure so that its back is to the viewer.


I talked about the fact that we were going to create our own landscapes in the spirit of Bruegel so that we would all choose, for this piece, a horizontal profile.

This is what my board space looked like by the time we had finished our chat…Glory be for projectors.  In my day, I used to hold up little prints.

Kath's Canon, Grade six Bruegel 002Kath's Canon, Grade six Bruegel 001

With chalk, the students blocked in three or four horizon lines, depicting their foreground, middle ground and background, depending on what activity they chose.  I told them about being stuck on a black diamond ski run, as a beginner skiier at one time.  I told them what it looked like in my foreground…but, as I skied toward the edge, what I saw before me.  The boarders in the crowd laughed.

Here are some examples of the chalk drawings.

When we began to paint, I had buckets of white and sky colour prepared so that students could begin with some fill in.  In progress…

Kath's Canon, Grade six Bruegel 015

From there, the children told me what colours they wanted as middle tints and I was able to just add to the buckets of white and we avoided waste.  Here are their paintings with colour.


Don’t forget that the day was flowing like all days will…the students began with math.  At some point in the morning, they exchanged their books at the library and they enjoyed the wonderful stories of Jeff Stockton, an artist in residence.  We completed our landscape paintings and cleaned up before our science lesson about rotation and revolution.

I realized that the second part of the lesson and the insertion of the figures into our Bruegel landscapes would have to wait as a follow up to the lesson with their art teacher.  I gave them all of the prep work, however and they created fanciful plans in their visual journals.

Here are some of their mini-mes.  We made distinctions about stick figures and these mini action figures by studying some of Bruegel’s.

After sketching these, the students can then go into their tempera paintings with pencil (a nice tooth is provided by the dried paint) and the figures can later be coloured in with pencil crayon or fine tipped marker.  Earlier, the students and I observed how Bruegel used red on the figures in most of his compositions in order to carry the viewer’s eye throughout the composition, so red should appear throughout the student works, in scarves/hats, coats, ski equipment in order to imitate this compositional device.  We shared a lot of laughter as we pretended a one inch figure would be skiing down a mountain in the background.  One students said, when I likened it to Godzilla skiing, “Either the person is too big or the mountain is way to small!” :0)

Kath's Canon, Grade six Bruegel 043

The following images show the Bruegel figures incorporated, with some thoughtful consideration about scale and gesture, into the winter landscape spaces.

I’m including this lesson for my readers in case they want to do something different with white plus one hue.  Thanks to Jenn, for her class.

Trees in Gradation


Click to access FebruaryArt+Appreciation+2012.pdf

Frida Came Home

I met Bronwyn Schuster at one of the Gorilla House Battles.  Take a look at her portfolio, using the link provided, to be convinced of this young woman’s talent and unique way of viewing the world.  When I saw her Frida Kahlo piece, I was convinced that she was made for me and now she has found her way home, with Joane Cardinal Schubert’s piece based on dreams in a sweat lodge beside her and my own piece of art-furniture based on Chagall’s stained glass window, Zebulon, a beautiful piece that connects with the energy of water, below her.

P1080798P1080802P1080799I am really pleased with this new piece of art and will cherish it always.  I have learned much from reading The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait by Carlos Fuentes and viewing her art in books and in life.

A warning to my readers/viewers, Frida suffered significant pain throughout her life…physical, as well as emotional.  She used her art in a very honest way to express and live out this journey as a woman.  If you have difficulties with very sensitive content, you may not wish to view her biography.  However, if you wish to become both inspired and knowledgeable, this is an amazing archive of her life and her life’s work.


Hollee’s Card

My fridge door holds a whole collection of ephemera…wee bits of flotsam and jetsam, each piece carrying little meaning for others, but huge meaning for me.  It all takes the form of magnets, photographs, bits of writing and items that bring to light my relationships and the people I treasure.  This morning, a postcard particularly stood out for me; on the back, a special message from Hollee on her journeys and on the front, a beautiful image, La Clairiere 1944 by Rene Magritte.

Magritte had survived a very unhappy period.  Invaded by the Nazis in 1940, he fled his beloved Brussels and the woman he loved (Georgette).  Returning in 1943 and experiencing a very dark personal period, Magritte overcame his sadness at the occupation of his home by spending a brief, but potent, period experimenting with the luminous and fruity palette of painters like Pierre Auguste Renoir.  La Clairiere (The Clearing) is evocative of work coming from Magritte’s  ‘Sunlit’ period.  Something like fifty pictures were completed during this brief, but inspiring, period from 1940 to 1945.

La Clairiere by Rene Magritte 1944

From 1935 forward one can glance through the art history books and discover the huge reaction and agitation in artists. Artworks, with the coming of war and the spirit of domination, demonstrated huge shifts and experimentation world wide.  We see this evidenced in a myriad of works including those produced by Max Ernst, Pablo Picasso and abstract expressionist, Oskar Kokoschka.  Since university years, I have admired the work of Oskar Kokoschka and notice some of the same movement and expression in the work of contemporary, John Hartman.

Returning to the image…La Clairiere.  While I can not find any analysis of this painting in my art books or on line, suffice it to say that the images captured are very symbolic for me.  Most obvious, I suppose, is the image of the dove.  Within our western culture, the dove is symbolic of peace.  We see within the plants, the birth of a multitude of doves.  The single point of interest has already taken flight.  It feels as though peace arises from ‘the ordinary’, but the viewer is given the sense that it must be tended…watered…harvested.  This sense of ‘giving birth’ or ‘nurturing’ is supported by the nest and the contents, three eggs.  Here, I apply some of my Christian symbology…three; the triune God, the bread…the water of life and baptism.  I would give anything to be able to speak with the artist.  Wouldn’t we all like that?  So, for me, there is a sense of the Eucharistic elements present to a landscape that smacks of ‘the garden’.  While we are not present in the image, we are present through a sense of responsibility or engagement.  The glass of water invites us, as does the bread.  These fragile details (the eggs and nest, the bread, the glass) appear at the very forefront of the composition, causing a nurturing response and a sense of immediacy.

The shrubs read to be tobacco plants, a product that gave some sense of comfort and relief in the day and a plant that within first nations cultures represented a bartering tool as well as a gift.  Today, tobacco continues to be a part of healing ceremonies and is incorporated into sweat lodges and other ceremonies.

I enjoy Saturday mornings…after my walk with Max, I can take time to pray, sip a coffee…look at a postcard.

I loved words. I love to sing them and speak them and even now, I must admit, I have fallen into the joy of writing them.
— Anne Rice

Thank You for Your Class: Journeying the Halls of a Fine Arts School

I have such a passion for beautiful art in schools.  Now that I am a guest teacher and the pressure is off…for assessment or data collection and recording, accountability and frustrating meetings…I am able to simply pleasure in the TEACHING and make observations and soak beautiful moments up…slurp them up…magical moments spring up easily these days.  I would like to give credit to the wonderful teachers who guided these activities, but I do not know their names…so, for the anonymous teachers who lead your students to beautiful experiences, I applaud you!  Perhaps these products will inspire other teachers to the PROCESS…the part of art that is everything!  Annie Smith would have highest regard for the fact that so much of this work is rooted in art history!

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