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): http://sdrv.ms/KlUH9W

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

Grade Fours Doodle a Paul Klee

Using leftover paints quickly involves dumping complementary colours together and mixing them to get a variety of earth tones and browns.  This way, the art teacher can get a lunch time jump start on cleaning buckets out before the weekend.

The artist, Paul Klee, has an amazing history.  I am absolutely entertained by his work and have read extensively about him.  His journals, found in The Diaries of Paul Klee: 1898 – 1918 is fascinating and captures the huge link between his passion for music and for art.

Diaries of Paul KleeHis journals are filled with diagrams and notations, but most interesting to me are his observations of nature, weather, time and the city.  He was a master of observation and yet his schematics are other-worldly and child like.

Paul Klee 2 Paul Klee 1An interesting phenomena happens with children in school art programs or structured after-school art classes.  Basically, they have a desire to draw LIKE GROWN UPS…make everything LOOK REAL.  So, this activity turned out to be much more difficult than my readers might imagine.  I needed to give the children permission over and over again to be playful and to invent and to doodle and let go of their wish to make things ‘look real’.

At snack time, the students have been listening to a settling CD…the story of Harry Potter.  In today’s pre-recess listening session, images of shooting stars pouring out of the sky, owls filling the skies, skinny people, characters wrapped in cloaks all came up.  I hoped that later on, the images would spark some design and pattern ideas.

Just a half hour before lunch, I had the students divide their square formats into four triangles, using chalk for their drawing. As a way of simulating Paul Klee’s work, this would pick up on the geometric division of space that is often seen in the artist’s works.

We looked at a piece by Paul Klee titled Plants, Earth and Empire 1918 that was similarly divided into four triangles.  I haven’t been able to find an image of this piece on line, however the piece below has similar elements to this one (House Interior 1918), but with a single line later being the division between an ‘above ground’  world and a ‘below ground’ world, organized above and below a diagonal organic line..

DSC_1958The students shared the paint palette (station), selecting four different earth tones for their compositions.  I’ve explained how to set up for painting in this lesson. The pre-lunch painting gave the lunch break for the tempera paintings to dry.

After lunch, I gave the students a brief introduction to Paul Klee, the artist, along with the following video projection.

Here’s a better one…if you have the time!  In fact, this is beautiful and you may want to sit with your coffee, readers, and just enjoy.

I turned on the funk music and had the students practice depicting their imagined world, after looking at this video of Paul Klee’s works.  I had the students fold over their drawing paper in order to use a square format, the same as their composition.  I spoke to them about creating a line that moved from one side of the square to the other.  This would create a division between an imaginary world above the ground and under the ground.  I suggested that if it was hard ‘to start’, they could begin with the list of Harry Potter images we had left on the white board.

DSC_1905 DSC_1904 DSC_1903When the students felt ready, they could begin working on their larger compositions.  I suggested that they draw first with pencil and then retrace their pencil lines with permanent black marker.  I felt that there was some preciousness or concern in the students and thought this might give them more confidence.  In future, I’d hand them over the permanent markers and skip the pencil step. To create accents, I suggested that the students use oil pastel to colour in  three or five or seven or nine or eleven shapes. Here is a little of what they came up with while the funk music played in the background.

DSC_1906 DSC_1907 DSC_1908 DSC_1910 DSC_1911 DSC_1912 DSC_1913 DSC_1914DSC_1909

DSC_1934 DSC_1932 DSC_1931 DSC_1930 DSC_1929 DSC_1928 DSC_1927 DSC_1926 DSC_1925 DSC_1924 DSC_1923 DSC_1922 DSC_1921 DSC_1919 DSC_1918 DSC_1917 DSC_1915 A great class!

Festive Art

As much as the elementary art curriculum focuses on giving the students a wide variety of art making experiences…reflection, depiction, composition and expression, it is natural to be drawn toward the reasons for the seasons and to create images based on selected thematic happenings.  Of course, Advent, Christmas and winter provide for some of these opportunities.

I’ve seen variations of this Division II lesson, taught throughout the school district.  Its success lies in the contrast between cool and warm colours.


The subject matter (trees/hands/cars/ornaments) can also vary.  The activity below demonstrates the most expressive qualities.  There is evidence that, although the teacher provided some limits regarding subject matter, the students were really in the drivers’ seats.

P1090419 P1090415 P1090413 These are a few examples of the warm/cool thing I found displayed in different schools.  In the example below, the selected media was coloured marker…one could also use oil pastel or paint pucks paint pucks.  These require skill where painting/drawing up against clean edges is involved.  Required materials; white bond paper for pencil crayon/marker, ruler and pencil.  Draw a triangular tree shape first, with emphasis on it filling a large space.  Do not cave to the temptation to template the trees for the students because the variety of height, width and size will create some excitement in your overall display.  Where possible, encourage the students’ unique interpretation.  Draw intersecting lines from one edge of the paper to another.  Don’t create shapes that are unrealistically small, depending on the media you’ve chosen.  I’m always into big and bold.

DSC_1496 DSC_1497Recently, while guest teaching, a class at St. Isabella School was in the midst of creating these pieces for an Advent celebration and will later bring them home to parents as Christmas gifts.

I enjoyed this approach because it offered experimentation with a variety of media.  Before I arrived on the scene, the students had coloured regular photocopy paper with Mr. Sketch markers in patterns and designs, either cool or warm colours. Whether this media is applied to coffee filters or regular paper, the colours will melt into one another with the addition of water.  They are also easy to clean off of desks with a regular wipe if you haven’t already created laminated place mats for this purpose.

Mr. SketchHoles were punched into the top of a water bottle, and when the pieces were completely coloured, they were sprinkled with water. Once dried, these were transformed into three coniferous trees

DSC_1633DSC_1638A teacher can release a bit of control, as she or he feels comfortable.  For example, for predictable tree size and shape results, you can draw this cut template on the back of standard white print paper before. An option would be to have the students flip the paper over and draw out their own tree designs before cutting.  Guaranteed, more funky and less pretty!

I had the students tape their heavy weight paper to their desk tops with masking tape.  For this activity, a paper with no tooth is preferred.  When paper accepts water, it bubbles or expands.  As it dries, if attached to a surface with tape, it will shrink again and flatten.

DSC_1636I showed the grade four students a Youtube video that demonstrates how artists use wet-on-wet technique in their watercolour paintings.

In a room without a sink, this is all you need to have. Before the water was used, I quickly walked around the desk pods and pulled a sponge filled with water across each of the compositions.  The students had already placed their palettes of paint pucks on a paper towel in the center of one of the desks.  If the student used warm colours for their trees, then they chose cool colours for their background palette.  If the student used cool colours for their trees, then they chose warm colours for their backgrounds.  As well, each desk pod had a single container with a small amount of water to dip into as they pulled the pigment into their composition.  It was suggested that using the lightest colour first would be a good plan so that the dark colour would not impact all of the other areas too quickly.

DSC_1645I talked to the students about how, at the horizon…where the sky meets the mountains/land, you typically see the lightest colours of blue.  As you look up into the deep sky, that is where you see the darkest blues.

Have the students choose their colours for their palettes (paper towel sheet) and ask them to put a wee drip of water on each puck to soften the pigment.  Included in their clean up, have the students dump their containers of water into the bucket and place their brushes bristle down in the water at the same time.

DSC_1637 After the activity, ask students to use a dry paper towel to wipe off their puck and place them side by side in order to dry separately. Art students need to participate in studio clean up from the very beginning of their education.

DSC_1643Recess!  And the backgrounds dry.  Don’t remove the tape from the desks until they are completely dry.  Have something planned for after recess that takes the students away from their desks and in their gathering space.

DSC_1642 DSC_1641Once the backgrounds are completely dry, the students cut out their trees, draw embellishments with silver and gold metallic sharpies, and arrange on their backgrounds, with glue sticks.

DSC_1649DSC_1654 DSC_1657DSC_1653One or two early finishers can prepare some papers in brown green and black, to be used for the trunks of the trees.

DSC_1650DSC_1646This is where I left the scene of the art extravaganza.  Next day…some printmaking as students used the butt end of their pencils, dipped into white acrylic paint, to create a peaceful snow flake thing.  This is a very step by step explanation, but I thought some of you might wish to try these out, if not this year, then next.  Thank you to the grade four teachers of St. Isabella, for letting me participate in this festive adventure.



Is Teaching Art Becoming One Big Paint and Wine Party?

Ok. Well, someone has to talk about it, right?  The internet is blasted with this…and these.  And, because I have not attended one of these ‘girls’ nights out’, I have no idea just how much a person learns at these events.  I am thinking that this option might remove a lot of fear and mystery around paint and provide something really different to do for fun.  That part, I get.

Paint Parties

On the internet…22 more pages of links just like this one.

Paint Parties 2 However, what I am wondering…is this an option when we are teaching art, whether from our studios OR in the classroom?  I just want to get the wheels spinning…and maybe a conversation opening up.

I grabbed my 1943 Art in the Classroom textbook off of my bookshelf and snapped some quick pics.  Take a look.  I picked out a seasonal activity that someone might wish to ‘pin’.  I also liked the ‘Empire Day’ activity because it is very innovative and contains four options. (very cutting edge and YES!  I’m being horribly sarcastic.)

DSC_0694 DSC_0693 DSC_0692 DSC_0691 DSC_0690Does any of this leave possibility for ‘Happy’ mistakes?  I would really like to hear your thoughts about what you see as important elements of a positive art education.  I know from my end, I have very strong opinions about what is required.


A reading list:

Some things by Elliot W. Eisner

1. The Arts and the Creation of Mind by Elliot W. Eisner (Sep 10, 2004)
2. The Educational Imagination: On the Design and Evaluation of School Programs (3rd Edition) by Elliot W. Eisner (Aug 5, 2001)
3. Cognition and Curriculum Reconsidered by Elliot W. Eisner (Mar 1, 1994)
4. The Enlightened Eye: Qualitative Inquiry and the Enhancement of Educational Practice by Elliot W. Eisner (Jul 24, 1997)
5. The Kind of Schools We Need: Personal Essays by Elliot W Eisner (Aug 24, 1998)
6. Reimagining Schools: The Selected Works of Elliot W. Eisner (World Library of Educationalists) by Elliot W. Eisner (Nov 9, 2005)
7. The Role of Discipline-based Art Education in America’s Schools by Elliot W. Eisner (Aug 17, 1989)

Look at the Getty Foundation

Read this by Eric Oddleifson, Chairman of John Hopkins University School of Education



Gorilla House LIVE ART: August 29, 2012

Victoria, pure awesomeness in this video!  Thanks for capturing the Magic! A terrific article about the Gorilla House LIVE BATTLES featured in  BEATROUTE this week!

My write-up about the creation of this collage can be found here.