Masterwork art lesson: Kandinsky watercolors
Arts & Activities, Sept, 2003 by Michael LiPira
Wassily Kandinsky's lyrical lines and unblemished use of color captivate my imagination. On several occasions in teaching my sixth-through eighth-graders, I have used paintings from his "Improvisation" and "Composition" series in a lesson that differentiates the styles of art.
During a recent lesson on the styles of art, a group of my sixth-graders exhibited curiosity about Kandinsky's paintings, which then led to a discussion about his use of line, balance and color. From this discussion I developed the following lesson. It stimulates the imagination and integrates fine-motor skill and technique development with art elements and principles while developing a practical understanding of abstract art. It can be used for all grade levels.
This lesson emphasizes line, balance and color with watercolor techniques, using Kandinsky's Composition IV (1911) and Improvisation 26 (1912). We also talked about how these paintings made the students feel, and what elements caused them to feel that way.
I used the analogy of looking at the clouds to make believe you see something in them, with the fanciful use of color and line that Kandinsky used. The students had fun pretending to see things in his paintings, and this attitude later carried over to the expressiveness apparent in their own paintings.
Prior to the final painting, I demonstrated, and then had the students do, a series of practice exercises relating to the main objectives. First, they divided a large piece of paper into six spaces. In each they were to make a design using only one particular type of line, drawn thick and thin in pencil. Next, they practiced making opaque and transparent thick and thin lines in watercolor. This is an excellent way for them to familiarize themselves with the qualities of watercolor and how to use and control a paintbrush.
The next two exercises gave them practice in using the watercolor techniques. I created spaces on worksheets and in each space they were directed to paint a specific technique in each one. With the value blending, they created light-to-dark and dark-to-light value transitions, both horizontally and from a centered focal point. With the other techniques, they created color designs of their own in the spaces. In gearing this aspect of the project toward other grade levels, you may need to modify the types of watercolor techniques you use.
The students enjoyed experimenting with the medium in this way with no grading pressure. Alter we finished the practice exercises, they used these experiments to guide them in creating their abstract Kandinsky-like watercolor paintings.
The first step in creating the painting was to draw a series of thumbnail line sketches that have at least three types of thick and thin lines in an abstract design, using either formal or informal balance. After discussing the sketches with each student, they chose the most pleasing design to enlarge onto 11" x 14" white sulphite drawing paper (other types of white paper--from copier paper to good watercolor paper--can also be used).
After drawing the sketch, the students carefully painted over the lines using a paintbrush and a mixture of all-purpose white glue and black India ink, creating a raised waterproof black line design. You can also use permanent black chisel-top markers for a similar effect. (If you immerse the paintbrushes with the glue/India-ink mixture in hot water as soon as the students finish using them, the glue and ink will come off of the bristles).
Around this black line design they next painted the watercolors, using at least one of the techniques they had practiced. By the time they were done, most of the students used two to three techniques.
I encouraged the use of warm and cool colors painted throughout the composition in formal or informal balance, and suggested they look at their practice experiments and the qualities of their lines for inspiration. I pointed out how much of Kandinsky's color flows with the movement of his lines.
The students had a blast letting one area of color flow into another area around the lines. There is no right or wrong way to paint this piece, and they liked that freedom. I had to remind them to only paint formal or informally balanced areas of color using the watercolor techniques.
After the assignment was finished, 1 gave them time to reflect on their paintings and look at them in the same way we had looked at the Kandinsky paintings at the beginning of the lesson. Then they gave their painting a title and wrote stories or poems about how their painting made them feel and why. The entire lesson took ten 45-minute class periods.
In the final step of the project, I matted the paintings and arranged the students' compositions on the front-office bulletin board. The bright, eye-catching display elicited smiles from everyone who passed by. This project was a very positive excursion into the fanciful realm of color, line and abstract painting.
* Art reproductions of Wassily Kandinsky's Composition IV and Improvisation 26
* Paper for thumbnail sketches and exercises
* White sulphite drawing paper (11" x 14")
* White glue
* Black India ink
* Soft-haired paintbrushes (#1, #2, #3 and #8)
* Standard pan watercolors
* identify and use horizontal, zigzag, curved, diagonal, vertical and parallel lines.
* identify and use formal/informal balance.
* identify abstract art.
* identify, practice and utilize the following watercolor techniques: wet-on-wet, dry brush, value blending, multi-color blending, opaque watercolor on wet and air-dried washes, and the use of salt for interesting textural effects.
STATE VISUAL ARTS STANDARDS (Grades 4-8)
* Demonstrate increasing technical ability and skill to complete visual arts assignments.
* Identify and demonstrate the basic physical and scientific properties of the technical aspects of visual arts media.
* Continue to expand knowledge and use of different arts media, acquiring several new techniques.
* Identify and compare the characteristics of artworks that share similar subject matter, historical periods or cultural context.
* Identify the artistic styles of realistic, abstract and nonobjective artworks.
* Use art elements and principles of design to describe the effective communication of ideas in their own personal work and in the work of master artists.
Michael LiPira teaches art at Ganado Middle School in Ganado, Arizona.
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Bibliography for "Masterwork art lesson: Kandinsky watercolors"
Michael LiPira "Masterwork art lesson: Kandinsky watercolors". Arts & Activities. Sept 2003. FindArticles.com. 23 Sep. 2006.