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A golden finish.

We use inexpensive poster-board for the backing of mats. Over the years, these scraps have become three-dimensional boxes, material for embossed or collograph plates, plus a myriad of other items including tabs for mounting artwork. This year they were destined to become miniature masterpieces.

Almost every piece of poster board scrap was cut into a 4 x 6" (10 x 15 cm) or 5 x 7" (13 x 18 cm) rectangle. With the knowledge that these scraps would become miniature art postcards, students selected the size that pleased them most. Each student brought in a first-class postage stamp from home. They addressed and labeled the reverse side of their cards with proper postcard format.

The Golden Mean

Students viewed several works of art including Reginald Marsh's Why Not Use the L?; Chagall's The Birthday; and Rubens' The Assumption of the Virgin as well as some examples of architecture. Students were asked to locate at least three other works of art that clearly demonstrated the ratio of the Golden Mean. They then drew rough diagrams or thumbnail sketches of the works they had selected, and described to the class how the works were organized in terms of the Golden Mean (see diagram).

Incorporating Surrealism

Some students selected examples of the human figure for the subject of their postcard. These choices prompted a discussion on how artists often exaggerate the proportions of the human figure for effect. This worked in perfectly with my plan for the postcards.

Using actual color photographs left over from a photography assignment and photographs from magazines, students gathered the resources for creating a surrealistic collage for their postcards. I required students to arrange their images in a unified and balanced composition that included a dramatic scale change and/or exaggerated human proportions for a specific effect. They were free to choose any theme, but the Golden Rectangle must be evident in their final composition.

To better understand scale change and surrealism, we viewed several paintings by the French artist Rene Magritte. To appreciate the effect exaggerated proportion can have upon the viewer, we discussed masks from different cultures as well as figures from Picasso's Blue and Rose periods.

Group Critique

On the last day of class, students viewed each postcard and carefully considered the use of color, the evidence of the Golden Mean, and the use of exaggerated proportion for effect. The group critique not only served as an excellent review of proportion, but also a review of color theory, balance, and unified compositions. Once the postcards arrived home, they could easily be displayed on the refrigerator or mingle with the rest of the holiday cards.

I certainly enjoyed writing comments and greetings on each of the cards before they were mailed. But if we were to do this project again at the end of the school year, I would have the students write their own reflective analysis on the message section of their cards to serve as a reminder of the Golden Mean.


Scanning the images into PhotoShop[R] and creating digital collages is the next step. This would be a bit more time intensive, but definitely worth the extra effort to bring this mini-graphics project into the digital age.

Another variation of the postcard idea also worked its way into my classes who had been practicing and perfecting their calligraphy skills. Part of their final project was to use thick and thin strokes to design a half-inch border for the card. They also designed a lettered greeting or free-form design that used these strokes. These students also used the posterboard scraps in similar sizes. We added color with relief prints carved on rubber erasers or simply by adding colorful stickers. The results were surprising and provided a welcome greeting at home.


Students create artworks that use organizational principles and functions to solve specific visual arts problems.

Elizabeth E. D'Amico is a visual arts educator at Coe-Brown Northwood Academy in Northwood, New Hampshire.
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Title Annotation:creating postcards
Author:D'Amico, Elizabeth E.
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2003
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