Children tend to compartmentalize art media when they paint or draw. I might suggest going back into a painting the following class with the same or a different media to build up layers, add details or extend the experience. In response children typically observe, “My painting is done and there is nothing more I can add.” The concept of working back into dry paintings does not come naturally to young artists. Unless it is a “have to,” in which case the student has no choice in the matter, most prefer to take home the paintings that they spent five to thirty minutes on. We discuss the Studio Habit of Stretch and Explore, which encourages artists to challenge themselves (stretch) while playing with materials to discover new techniques (explore). The playful atmosphere of Stretch and Explore encourages students to take risks with their artwork.
The art studio is set up with different media at each table. Tempera paint, mixing palettes and varied brushes sit at one side of the room. Next to this table are watercolors and oil pastels, paired so they can be used individually or together. A third table holds water-soluble oil pastels, which blend to a thick consistency. Chalk pastels, brushes and water rest on another table. By painting water over the chalk, colors blend in subtle ways and the chalk dust is minimized. Most surprising to students is the table containing markers, brushes and water. Did you know that water painted on top of marker drawings creates a watercolor-like effect? We didn’t! Some students embraced this media and found new ways to show their interests.
Sometimes choice-based art teachers insist on a “have to” in order to demonstrate to children that certain techniques, details or special effects can really enhance their work. Young artists may be skeptical, with good reason, for fear that a nice piece might be over-worked. Adult artists struggle with the same issues. So last week we played a little game called “What If…” .
What If is a question artists frequently ask of themselves, both consciously and subconsciously. For our game, first, second and third graders were grouped into small teams to look at each others’ artwork from the previous week. They laid out their tempera, watercolor, pastel and marker paintings – all made with lots of water and pigment – and chose one to enhance with more media. Then each student provided a What If suggestion to others at their table.
What if you outline shapes with chalk pastel?
What if you use neon marker to make that part stand out more?
What if you go over the dark parts with oil pastel?
What if you draw back into your watercolor painting with marker?
The artists moved to the table with the media they would use to add to one painting. This was not easy for some who, at first, did not see possibilities in their work. After discussions with classmates, however, each student had a direction and plan, as well as permission to Stretch and Explore with art media. The rest of class was spent painting and drawing to music. At the end of class children shared their What If plans with each other.