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.
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.
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…
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)
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.