Monday, March 8, 2010

Calder-Inspired Paintings

So I must be on a primary color kick.  I wanted a simple painting project to do with my 1st grade students to cover fundamentals.  I decided to show the students Alexander Calder's mobiles, discuss the lines, shapes, and positive/negative space, and reinforce primary colors.  This project took two 40-minute class periods.  Day 1 was discussion and drawing, day 2 was painting.

Art of Petals (Mobile) 1941

I started by asking the students if anybody knew what a mobile is.  (Several thought I meant mobile homes.)  I referenced crib mobiles as something the students were familiar with and told them that Alexander Calder invented the mobile.  I explained that "mobiles" move and "stabiles" do not.  Then we talked about the artwork in terms of the elements of art.  I love all the different shapes Calder used.  We described the shapes and I drew them on the board for the students to reference when they started their artwork.  

I modeled the process as I gave the steps for the project.  I asked the students to draw 5-7 shapes on their papers with pencil.  (We added a couple circles to be negative space inside the shapes.)  After the shapes were drawn, I showed the students how to draw a few lines connecting the shapes.  It is important to tell the students not to draw the lines in a way that makes a ring.  If students connect EVERYTHING, they will get confused when painting.  (See below!)  After drawing everything in pencil, the students traced their lines with a black sharpie.  I know that a lot of people use sharpie at the end to cover up getting outside the lines but some students erased so many times, I don't think they could have figured out which lines counted without the outline!  I told the students that the projects were abstract so it was ok to just have lines and shapes.  Some students decided to draw a line to the top of their paper to make it look like the shapes were really hanging in a mobile.

One of the many students who accidentally painted the negative space.  If you make a mistake, make it great!

Next, I used my Mr.Brush poster (wanted to use the Young Sloppy Brush video but I can't find it ANYWHERE!) to go over paint brush care with the students.  I hate to admit that this was the first real painting project I had taught my 1st grade students.  I tried a printing/painting project last fall and was slightly traumatized by it- Check out my worst idea ever!  I read on another blog, can't remember which, that teaching 1st grade students is like trying to hold down a bathtub full of corks and I totally agree.  But I digress...

I have about 5 students at each table.  I put out 2 water cups and one paint palette loaded with red, yellow, and blue tempera paint at each table.  I told the students we were going for at least one shape of each color (pure primary, not mixed) with white negative space.  I think that the most important skill the students gained was cleaning their brushes before switching to another color.  I told students that before switching, they had to clean their brush in the water and wipe it on the paper towel to make sure it was clean.  There seemed to be one or two kiddos in every class that just could NOT get the hang of it!  They would either drip colored water into a different paint well from not wiping their brush or would dip in one color and go straight to another.  I had intended to just cover the palettes and refill for the next classes but I was lucky to make it through one day- two back to back classes- without having to put out "clean" paint.  Oh well, it really didn't use very much of my supply since we kept the background plain white paper.

Check out the whole exhibit in our Artsonia gallery!


  1. I hear you! It's total chaos painting, and once I'm done with an age group painting I feel like just collapsing. And then there's the mess in my room! But they love it so much! We first year teachers learn so much just by experience and having those "great" and "awful" ideas, like trying printmaking with a room full of 1st graders (or 2nd graders, or 3rd graders . . .). You are doing wonderful things! I love this project and hope you won't mind if I do a version of it!

  2. Awesome! I'd love to see your version! It's definitely good to tweak projects after trying them the first time.

  3. The easiest way to paint with groups of 5-10 year olds is to only give them one colour at a time.I rotate the colours after giving them 3-5 mins per colour. I call it Ready Steady Paint after the Cooking program we have in Australia. You might have your way. Count down backwards from 10- kids can practice this and say stop Painting. Quickly swap colours. Kids just love painting this way. I have max groups of 6 Some times two colours per table if using lots of colours. (I have been teaching 20 years) this has been my most successful technique for painting with large numbers. This works well with acrylic paint in small tubs.

  4. Good Luck Katie You seem to have great grasp of teaching the essential art stuff!! You just keep on learning for a life time.