Monday, September 19, 2011

Klee-Inspired Geometric Shape Fish

My K-3rd grade school started off the year with a "Fish" theme.  The Kindergarten teachers suggested it last spring and we all just kind of went with it!  I planned a fish project for each grade.  Up first is 2nd grade, just because I finished editing their photos first!  Check out the Artsonia exhibit here, and please don't judge me for the colors being really funky, I am finding that editing with Artsonia's website is time saving since I can do it at school but not the most true to life when Auto correct and Brighten are the only ways to adjust color.  But enough about that, read on for my jabbering about the project.

  Paul Klee is an artist that I honestly didn't know very much about before starting this project.  I knew the name and knew that shapes and abstraction were involved in his work but besides seeing some lesson plans based on him, I never gave him very much thought.  I got ahold of some Art for Children books that the library was discarding and one of them was about Paul Klee.  I looked through it and mentally filed away a few ideas.  For the fish project, I showed the students three of his paintings.  
We started by looking at Klee's painting, Castle and Sun, and discussing the shapes which the students were able to identify as geometric.  (I always remind them that geometric shapes are the kind they learn about in Math class and that seems to help them remember.) I explained that they would eventually be making pictures of fish so with that in mind, the background was going to be made of squares and rectangles printed in cool colors to remind us of water.  I used my handy dandy box cutter to cut squares and rectangles out of cardboard.  I didn't worry about using a straight edge or measuring, I wanted a little variety.  The students painted tints of purple, blue, and green on the cardboard and then stamped the shape on their paper, black construction paper.  I think the added white helped the paint show up better.  The little art history lesson, introduction, and printing took the first 40-minute class period.

The best way I found to handle the paint was to put a little tray of each color at each table.  I put it on top of this weird vinyl-y stuff that I have packs and packs of.  It made a pretty good placemat and contained most of the mess.  My tables usually have about 5 students at them so I put two brushes in each paint color.  I asked the students to keep the brushes with one color so I didn't have to worry about water.  The cardboard pieces just stayed on the vinyl stuff when not in use.

During the second class, we looked at two more Klee paintings: Fish Magic and The Golden Fish.  We saw how Paul Klee used geometric shapes to construct his fish.  I actually used a Pinterest board I created about Paul Klee as a way to organize the images I wanted to show the students.  It worked really well.  I just pulled up the board at the beginning of class and it kept track of the "bookmarks" for me.  (The Philadelphia Museum of Art's website was really great because it lets you zoom in to focus on details of the paintings.)  Next, we brainstormed some different geometric shapes and I was going to draw them on the chalkboard for reference when I remembered I didn't have to!  Instead, I projected a poster that I had saved on, you guessed it, Pinterest, and the students could just look at it for ideas!

Afterwards, each student was given a quarter page black construction paper and asked to draw a fish as big as they could fit on on the page made out of geometric shapes.  Of course I had lots of students tell me they didn't know how so I just reminded them that they were imaginary fish and they could keep it simple like an ellipse and a triangle.  The "I can't"s and "I don't know how"s seem to be a lot worse at the beginning of the school year...

After they finished drawing in pencil, construction paper crayons were used to fill in the shapes then the fish were cut out and glued down on the printed papers.  There ended up being a little extra time in most classes so I let them have the "bonus step" of adding some sand (yes, REAL SAND) to their artwork.  They get so darn excited about sand... and I do a little, too!  Calling it a "bonus step" seemed to be really motivating.

My schedule can end up being a big mess if I don't change some lessons for classes on certain days.  My Tuesday classes hardly ever miss but days off school tend to be scheduled on Mondays and Fridays.  Labor day was obviously on a Monday so my Monday classes had 1 1/2 class periods instead of 2.  They drew their fish at the end of the first day and colored and printed on the second day.  There was no cutting involved.  Here is a result from one of those classes:


  1. This look like so much fun, and the colors are beautiful!

  2. These are great - I just pinned the lesson on Pinterest, since I'm doing Klee later this year.

    Our elementary school is on a 6-day cycle and has been for many years. So we don't have the Monday/Friday problem of days off and classes missed. It's great, because every Friday is different! When we have a snow day, we just pick up where we left off on the cycle, so you never miss a day due to the closing.

  3. That's great that you don't run into scheduling problems! I'm at my K-3rd grade school Monday, Tuesday, and Friday and my 4-6th grade school Wednesday and Thursday. My K-3rd students have art for 40 minutes every week so it is a packed schedule! My older kids have art every other week so even though I don't get to see them as often, I can almost always reschedule and keep things more even across a grade level.

  4. @Painting with Brains, thanks! I liked the combination of the tints of tempera paint with construction paper crayons but some students chose colors so close you can hardly see the fish!

  5. I love this! Speaking of schedules, we have new a whole new schedule this year very unlike anything we have had to do before. I have Pre K -3 grade. Some of the classes I see weekly and others bi-weekly. It has made planning some lessons a little wonky! Katie, how many students do you teach in total?

  6. I haven't added up the totals this year but I think it's about 750 K-6.

  7. Thank you for the info. It sounds pretty user friendly. I guess I’ll pick one up for fun. thank u.
    Paul Klee Paintings

  8. What an excellent, well crafted, informative and creative lesson plan. It takes a good teacher bring such talent out of these little boys and girls. I think I'll borrow it for my classroom.