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Mixed-media environments with animals
Arts & Activities, June, 2005 by Robert Graff

Every young school-age child loves to paint. If you ask them what their favorite subjects are, they will invariably say either physical education or art--"the fun classes." They consider themselves great athletes and wonderful artists.

I teach at a third- through fifth-grade school where the special areas (physical education, art and music) try to be as interdisciplinary as possible. With that in mind, this project gives the student body the opportunity to use watercolor paints in two techniques--dry brush and wet on wet--while it also makes the young artist think about the environment or habitat that they live in as well as their favorite animal or pet.

The lesson begins with a discussion about the concept of "environment" or "habitat" and what type of animal lives in what sort of appropriate habitat, as well as where different groups of people live on Earth. Examples of this are penguins live in cold climates (cool colors); monkeys in a jungle setting (warm colors); lizards or snakes in a hot environment (warm colors).

In addition, we preview the vocabulary and techniques so that every student is comfortable with the upcoming theme and how to go about beginning this age-appropriate activity.

The next step would be to have several students describe what their chosen animals' environments would look like and what types of colors they would use. Warm colors like yellows, oranges and reds would be appropriate for warm types of environments while cool colors like purples, blues and dark greens would be for colder settings. The use of a color wheel to demonstrate the differences in colors is helpful here.

The class now has the opportunity to view pictures of animals in their natural surroundings and examples of former students' solutions in their creative processes in setting up suitable environments, proper perspective and appropriate color choices. After viewing works, a quick preview of the necessary vocabulary and techniques, and a teacher-directed demonstration begins in approaching the two watercolor techniques:

Wet on wet technique creates a misty or foggy effect where the colors "bleed" into one another. As the students are gathered around the teacher watching this happen, they respond with "Ooh's," "Aah's" and "Wows" as the paints mix themselves in the over-usage of water.

Dry brush technique creates a brighter more vivid or exact outcome since less water is needed and the mixing of colors doesn't occur (like in the wet on wet technique). While demonstrating, the onlookers will ask questions freely and the teacher directs the questions and answers toward the similarities and differences in the usage of two very different approaches in using the medium.

Thirdly, the concept of "depth" has to be addressed, dividing the surface into a front (near ground), middle ground and background so that the environments created by the students are more visually correct. (In doing so, the things drawn into their scenes are appropriate in scale or size--larger things in front, smaller things in the back.)

Now, everyone will have the opportunity to create with both techniques--a dry brush environment and a wet-on-wet environment using a specific animal so that the environments that they create will be appropriate for their chosen animal.

The next class session will be devoted to the drawing part of the exercise. Each child will now draw their animal, either from their imaginations or by selecting an animal from the teacher's collection of fish, birds and other creatures amassed over time. As they begin to draw or "sketch," they are encouraged to use their math shapes in the creation of their animals (squares, triangles, circles, semi-circles, ovals, etc.) and then connecting them into the basic form desired. Once satisfied with the form, permanent black markers can be used to outline the final drawing. Colored markers can be used to complete the images before they are carefully cut out.

The final step--and the most exciting part for every student--is applying 3D-O's to the back of their animals, making them "pop" off the page. 3D-O's are foam circles that are sticky on both sides, allowing each student the opportunity to place their animal exactly where they envisioned them being.

Students that finish quickly can draw a second bird, animal or fish for the environment that they didn't choose for their original creature. Kids love this project, especially the way their artworks look three dimensional.


* 9" x 12" white 80-lb. drawing paper

* No. 2 pencils

* Watercolor paints

* Brushes (various sizes)

* Markers

* Scissors

* Black permanent markers

* Picture file (class set)

* 3D-O's

* Color wheel


Students will ...

* use watercolors using a dry brush technique, as well as "bleeding colors."

* demonstrate an understanding of how to use watercolor techniques properly creating a wet on wet effect.

* know what an environment is and how it affects the living things in it (flora and fauna).

* create a scene in which foreground, middle ground and backgrounds are created in order to show depth perception.

* draw an animal and situate it in an appropriate location in their environment.

* combine different media into a single concept or idea.


* Bleeding

* Blotting

* Collage

* Color wheel

* Cool colors

* Depth perception

* Dry brush technique

* Environment

* Fauna

* Flora

* Habitat

* Mathematical shapes

* Scale

* Three dimensional (length, height, width)

* Warm colors

* Wet on wet technique

Robert Graff teaches art at Gardiner Manor School in Bay Shore, N.Y.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Publishers' Development Corporation
COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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