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So close, and yet so far. The finished mural will have close to 400 squares and triangles. There are about 30 students in the class. That is a lot of squares per student. Not every student is in class every day, and some students take several days to finish a single square.
We're almost done, with about 75 pieces left to finish. This image to the left is a stack of finished squares awaiting application to the plywood. The final size of the mural will be about 20' x 5'.
Once the proper paint colors are mixed, the process of adding dots with a Q-tip begins. It is a long and monotonous process. Some students are methodical and slow, and others have opted for speed in lieu of accuracy.
There is an amazing depth of color present in the layers of dots that the students painstakingly apply to the squares (and triangles), and more dots usually makes for a better looking square.
Squares that are in progress or finished get turned in to a central location to be approved by me. I check for color and line accuracy. Some get returned to the original artist to fix, some get passed on to different students to amend as necessary, and some I fix myself. Squares that are just a few dots away from being completed I often finish as well.
As squares are finished and approved, they are temporarily taped to the plywood in their final locations, so we can begin to see the picture come together. Only a few more squares to go before we can start gluing them down permanently.
My suggestion of, "Your paint is too bright, try adding some white," met with confused looks too many times in a row, and I realized that the difference between "light vs. dark" and "bright vs. dark" was not well understood by the students.
Adding white paint will make something lighter, but it will also make it duller, especially in combination with black paint.
Our mural is very dull compared to the colors of paint that come out of the bottles. Almost all of the colors need to be mixed with both black and white to reduce the saturation—to make it "greyer."
I also noticed expressions of confusion when I would look at a student's palette (consisting entirely of shades of blue paint) and tell them there was too much green. Though they had only used "blue" colors, those blues tended toward the green end of blue, rather than the purple end of blue.
I created these reference sheets to illustrate the differences (click to enlarge):
too green <-> too purple
too light <-> too dark
too dull <-> too bright
The hardest part of this project is mixing paint colors accurately. One of the largest obstacles is that not everyone can see the same range of color. Some people are color blind in the classically understood sense, but some just have a limited range of color visibility.
Throughout our time working on this project, many students have been able to identify specifically their own limitations when it comes to colors they can or can't see. I will suggest a square for them to complete next and they'll tell me, "I probably shouldn't do that one because I can't see green very well." Luckily, seeing color accurately is only one part of the painting process, and students who can't see various colors very well can still create pieces that are beautiful and useful.
These two resources are both useful and fun for learning about color and testing color abilities:
The students are also getting better at estimating paint volumes. Mixing paint colors can sometimes cause the puddle to get away from you. As you add a little of this and a little of that, the puddle of paint becomes an unwieldy quantity, and still isn't quite right.
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The students have gotten better about starting small and slowly increasing volume as needed. Also, the squares we are working with are 6"x6", so small initial quantities are frequently good enough.
The "real" mural will be done with paint in the pointillist style rather than tissue paper, and will be installed permanently in the school library. We decided to make the grid angled 45° in homage to the Big Emma piece by Chuck Close. Our reference photo is of a biome (naturally), and one that all of the students have experienced in person.
The mural was originally divided into individual sheets of twelve squares. Students chose one square to copy with painted dots. No one was allowed to do more than one square per sheet. Further into the project, we began to run out of sheets, and the remaining sheets were cut in half to accommodate more students.
Though labeling the squares correctly with number, letter, and directional arrow is essential for accurate placement, it still eludes many students. Squares are now turned in along with the original reference grid so the accuracy of both paint colors and labeling can be checked before the source is removed from the art.
As practice for our final mural, we embarked on a little tissue paper pointillist adventure. I found this picture of a rafter that seemed perfect for this attempt.
Unfortunately, I can't find the title of the piece or the name of the original artist. Everywhere it appears on the internet seems to be just using it as an anonymous example of pointillist art.
Each student was given one square of the final piece, and tasked with replicating it as closely as possible through the medium of tissue paper squares glued to a piece of card stock. No students were allowed to see the final image until all of the squares were finished.
Though we started with a fairly good variety of color in our available tissue paper supply, many students had a hard time noticing the subtlety of colors present in a particular square. They would notice, for example, that their square had purple spots, but not that those purple spots were a very pale shade of lavender. Adding dark purple tissue paper where light lavender should be causes some problems in the final piece.
Throughout the process, the students tried to guess what the final piece could possibly be. Some of them tried to guess famous pieces of art or famous artists.
I told one student, "It's not something you've seen before, it's just a pointillist piece of art."
"A pointless piece of art?"
"No, POINTILLIST. A pointillist piece of art."
Though our final image isn't nearly as clear as the original, we definitely have some of the key lines and large areas of color. It tends to look more like the original the smaller it gets, which is basically true of all pointillism.
Well, pointillism, that's what. One of this year's projects focuses on the complexity and detail of a biome (yup, back to biomes and 6th graders again) through studying the whole-is-greater-than-the-parts aspect of pointillist art.
One of the most well-known employers of the technique was Georges Seurat
, artist of The Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte
Much commentary can be found about pointillism and this painting in particular, with emphasis on Seurat's techniques, motivation, and comparisons to his contemporaries, but my favorites are the Pulitzer Prize winning musical stage production, Sunday in the Park with George
(with Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, and Brent Spiner), and of course, Ferris Bueller's Day Off:
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Though Seurat and other pointillists offer a multitude of fine examples of the technique, the official master work for this project is Big Emma
by Chuck Close
.Close employs the same principles of combining areas of color by proximity to give the desired color effect when viewed at a distance. These wobbly donuts of color a meaningless individually, but as part of the complete work, each plays an important role. The same goes for both the biomes that are the focus of the research for the students, and for the murals we will ultimately be completing as a class. Color isn't easy for everyone. It isn't even easy for everyone to see, let alone understand the theory. This should prove to be an interesting project.
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I left for several weeks, and then came back just as the finished boxes were due. They were amazing! A two-dimensional photograph can never do justice to these masterpieces.
Most of the finished pieces needed no explanation at all. Through the elements the students included, it was clear which conflict they had chosen. For many of them, the intense emotion of the conflict was effectively portrayed as well.
Here are just a few of them:
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Since I was going to be unavailable for the actual creation of the boxes, I had to set up a complete resource for finishing the project without me. The Project wall contained instructions and examples, and the table had all of the art supplies needed.
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Conflict Shadow Box
The Background Piece:
Describe your conflict in one (artistically represented) word or phrase. What is your conflict about, simplistically?
The Clear Front Piece:
Depict the "shadow" cast by your conflict upon the world today. Represent the shadow metaphorically with a shape. Why does it matter now?
The Wood Pieces and 3D Layers Inside:
- The people involved (who?)
- Location (where in the world?)
- Time frame or timeline (when?)
- At least two different perspectives
- The nature of this conflict (THIS conflict through one of the lenses of the philosophy of conflict)
- Title for your art piece (think lofty)
- Something else you discovered in your research that you hadn't considered before (something that mad you say, "oh!")
- Use 12"x12" cardboard
- About 1/2" will be covered by wood around edges
- Decorate first, then assemble
- Nail together like this:
- Use a little wood glue when nailing it together
- Peel off blue stuff RIGHT BEFORE you paint
- Put image under plexiglass
- Squeeze paint carefully, spread with brush
- Add more paint later if needed
3D Inside Pieces:
- Add water to marker lines soon after drawing
- Use "design vellum" (orange tablet) for translucent paper effect. If you use 1/2 sheet, put the other half back in the tub for others.
- Use a thin but complete layer of glue to make more text show through
- Tear edges, crumple, or roll paper for texture
- Use other resources
Time to start creating the shadow boxes! And by "time to start" I of course mean that I'm just now posting this, 11 months later, so the shadow boxes have long been completed and those students aren't even in 7th grade anymore, but anyway...
Each student will be creating a shadow box to showcase elements of their chosen conflict. The boxes will be made of wood, about 3 inches deep, with a plexi-glass front. All parts of the box (ideally) will be decorated with important people, places, dates, and ideas that relate to their conflict.
While I was available, I was able to give the students techniques that would help them create dynamic, layered, 3-dimensional pieces to go inside their boxes.
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This example to the left shows 3 different ways to add text to an image. The first is simply cutting out the text and gluing it down. The second uses translucent paper to allow some of the background image to show through (though you can't really tell from this photograph), and the third makes the text stand out from the image (again, you can't really tell from this photograph). The image itself is crumpled so that it doesn't lay completely flat against the background.
My shadow box was on the American Revolution (below). I created several paper examples of how to make 3-dimensional elements and left them on the project wall for students to inspect at their leisure. I used several of these techniques in my shadow box.
Layering images was an important part of this project. For this technique, we used watercolor markers and sharpies to create a basic image, and then bled the marker lines with wet paintbrushes to create a watercolor effect. These translucent images were then glued to related text from old history books or dictionary pages. This is similar to the conflict project from last year.With each example I demonstrated, I felt like I was on a cooking show: I would mix the ingredients and put it into the oven and then look, it's already done! I needed an example of each stage of the technique ready to show the students so we wouldn't have to spend time watching paint or glue dry. In the end, this proved doubly useful, because I could showcase all steps of the technique on the project wall for students to see.
This was my favorite example piece that I did. I wanted to show students that their own words could be used to make powerful art. I took a paragraph that a student had written about their Hunger Games project, and created an element that would be effective in a shadow box.
Leading up to this year's conflict project, the students studied conflict through reading Suzanne Collins's book, The Hunger Games
. No doubt you've heard of it by now.
Students from all three class periods who owned the book temporarily donated their copy to the classroom, so that each period had enough copies for all of the students to follow along and take turns reading aloud.
Throughout the reading, each class participated in their own version of the Hunger Games. Each period had a designated paper "arena" on the wall, and tributes (students drawn from a hat) moved around the arena seeking food, water, and shelter. When tributes encountered each other, those students had to battle it out with Minute to Win It
style games. Non-tributes played the roles of mentors and stylists, and advised their tributes on winning strategies.
As each class finished reading the book, they then had one week to complete a project, proving that they understood the nature of conflict between various characters in the novel. The project could take any format, and below are some examples of the students' work (click any picture to enlarge).
This complex board game took players from District 12, through the Capitol, and on to the Arena. Each square had either a corresponding point value or a specific card type to be drawn. Each card prompted the player to make decisions that ultimately decided the player's fate.
Some other board games appeared in the mix. The students finished reading the book and creating these projects before the movie debuted in theaters, but images of the characters were already readily available, and the students took advantage of them.
Dioramas were also a popular medium for showing the various conflicts involved in the story. Each project, regardless of medium, involved some sort of write-up, to demonstrate full comprehension of the concepts. Some write-ups were attached to the projects themselves, as in the diorama on the left.
Students took advantage of the open-ended nature of the assignment and played to their individual strengths. Shown below, left to right and top to bottom: a poster, a brochure, another poster, an essay, a student finishing up the cover of her fan-fiction piece, students playing a student-designed Hunger Games themed computer game, a complicated diagram showing the interrelationships of the story.
Overall, the projects were quite impressive, and the fictional conflicts were a good starting point for studying real historical conflicts in the future.