Wednesday, May 11, 2011

4th Grade Shape Paintings

Last year I had all my 4-6th grade students vote on their favorite projects to help me decide which ones were "keepers".  My 4th grade students voted for Geometric Shape Op Art (click on the link to see last year's projects) and landscape paintings that blended watercolors and had salt sprinkled on it to make bright colors with cool texture.  I wasn't totally satisfied with either project.  The landscape idea came from my cooperating teacher during student teaching and though I changed it a little bit and loved the bright, finished paintings, I thought it was lacking.  The Op Art project was very frustrating and didn't turn out the best even though I felt I had good intentions of covering lots of material- shape, complementary colors, math tie in, etc.  I decided to combine the two projects and I am much happier with it!

I got a list of the geometric shapes that are on the 4th grade math assessment to start.  I printed the shapes off on colored card stock, laminated, and cut so that each table would have a set of tracers.  I also had compasses available to make larger circles.  At the beginning of the first class, we reviewed organic and geometric shapes and the students named the geometric shapes as I held them up in the air.  I explained the first step: trace geometric shapes on your paper to create an interesting composition with overlapping.  The students traced with pencil then traced the pencil with fine point sharpies.  I was looking at the drawings and saw something that would become a problem with the next step- the negative space was one giant shape!  I had the students get rulers and use the straight edge to make 3 or 4 lines at different angles go clear across their paper.

On day 2, I introduced analagous colors.  I showed the students the colors that are next to each other on the color wheel are also next to each other in the watercolor paint trays.  I spent a couple minutes quizzing them to check for understanding.
Iif you are only using analgous colors would you ever use red and green?
If you are using orange, what two colors could you combine with it?

I pointed out how new shapes are created when the geometric shapes or lines overlapped.  I told the students that each shape should have two analagous colors in it.  I demonstrated carefully painting in half of a shape and then while the paint was still wet, painting the other half with an analagous color so that they would blend in the middle.  I showed the students how to sprinkle a TINY bit of salt on the wet paint to create a texture.  They always think it's like magic to see the salt soak up the paint.  I suggested that the students skip around their paper instead of painting shapes that were touching for two reasons.  1- That gives the paint a chance to dry so colors don't bleed into other shapes.  2- It's one of my "artist tricks".  If you run out of time and things are balanced, it looks like it's on purpose.  If you run out of time and one half is painted and the other half is empty, it's obvious that you ran out of time!

I was only planning on 2 classes for this project but had to add another one.  Some students achieved a nice balance between the colored and white spaces but most did not and they looked unfinished.  About 2/3 of the students were able to get every shape painted in the 2nd class.  Learned helplessness is a big problem at my school.  We have discussed it as a staff and try things like encouraging the students to see what others are doing bore they ask the teacher for help.  I had lots and lots of students coming up to ask me if two colors were ok to use together after we spent a good amount of time on it.  I didn't want to just say yes or no, I wanted the studnets to figure it out!  I started asking them "Are they next to each other on the color wheel?"  Then they would go look and get to work.

I have one 4th grader who is quite a character. He LOVES Art (last year he asked me every single time he came to class if we were going to do an Art contest!) but is not the best at following directions or using good craftsmanship. Needless to say, he kind of struggled with this project.  I also had a student turn his wet painting totally sideways up in the air to show me.  He learned cause and effect as his paint blurred together and dripped down his paper!


  1. I really like this project! The results look fun. I did something similar using overlapping geometric shapes but only using the primary colors and mixing. Each section would have 2 primaries then the mixed secondary. I also used oil pastels. I think I might try this next year, it really does use a lot of good vocab!

  2. I can really relate to what you said about reviewing and revising certain projects as well as "learned helplessness". If I hear one more student say,"like this?" after I have demonstrated something on the board I will seriously start to consider retirement!Ha!I think your student's work is beautiful and I was wondering if you use liquid watercolors because the colors seem so brilliant!

  3. We used prang semi-moist watercolors. I've never tried liquid watercolors before. Not all the students got the color so concentrated. Thanks, Phyl!

  4. Love how this activity is so obviously incorporated into the math curriculum. This is what students need to succeed in the gen ed classroom!