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Acrylic animals.

At the start of each school year, lessons with a Southwestern focus take center stage in my art classroom. One such lesson introduces acrylic painting through the study of native animals and their habitats. The fifth-grade students are already skilled in using tempera and watercolor paints. They have knowledge of color--primary and secondary, warm and cool, complementary, value, and mixing.

Looking at Masterworks

We begin by studying the artwork of John Nieto. Nieto is unique among contemporary American artists. He takes subject matter that is familiar to his audience and portrays it in an unexpected manner. He accomplishes this with the use of vibrant colors and strong lines. His realistic paintings of animals and Native Americans resemble photographs, except for their colorful, crafted, painted image. His use of line is reminiscent of that of the master artist Albrecht Durer. Students enjoy comparing the work of Nieto and Durer through the use of computer graphics, posters, and books.

Outlining Ideas

Students choose and use a non-copyrighted photograph as a guide to drawing in the broad outlines of their animal. They get ideas for the paintings from drawing books, magazines, and other visual materials. Students first sketch their animals onto 6 x 8" (15 x 20 cm) white construction paper. They enlarge the sketches for their paintings by drawing a similar, but larger scale grid onto their 16 x 20" (40.5 x 60 cm) piece of white construction paper and transfer the image square by square. Students use squeeze bottles filled with white glue dyed with black tempera paint to outline and add details to their animals.

Painting with Acrylics

Acrylic painting lends itself well to bold, hard-edged, flat images. It is water-soluble, which means there are none of the health hazards associated with the solvents used with oil paints. Students limit their main paint palette to warm or cool colors. This gives them the experience of mixing color and tone using just a few basic colors.

After students complete painting the animal, they dry-brush with thick acrylic and metallic pigments. When dry brushing, light paint over dark colored ground, or dark color over a light ground, allow the surface texture of the painting to show through. I prepare 18 x 24" (46 x 61 cm) colored construction paper using fine mists of spray paint for students to use as their background sheets. When choosing these background papers, students are instructed to look for complementary colors. This produces bright contrasts and an overall color balance in the work. After cutting out and mounting their animals, students add details such as rocks, and water using miscellaneous fabric and paper, some of which was made through frottage, using texture plates and metal screens. As a finishing touch, students sign their pictures as artists do, using a fine-point marker.

Assessing Learning

The assessment components are based on conversation, dialogue, and teacher observation of lesson objectives mastered, student participation, material and tool usage, and artistry.

Part of students' assessment involves presenting their work to classmates. Teach appropriate vocabulary for presenting. Students listen for and use vocabulary presented during the unit. Read further for skills for the presenter and audience.


Stand with good posture. Hold picture to the side. Make eye contact. Sit still. Speak out clearly and loudly. Discuss the thought process and/or the technical process of making the artwork. Use art terms as learned in the lesson and in previous lessons. Engage the audience through eye contact and asking questions, taking two or three comments or questions as time allows before choosing the next presenter.


Stand with good posture. Be attentive, asking questions and making comments which incorporate art terms or exhibit thoughtful insights.

Students favored this lesson. Their ability to create such colorful paintings that truly resembled their chosen animals amazed them. Texas Children's Hospital asked many of the students to donate their paintings to be hung as part of their permanent collection.


Students will:

* identify primary, secondary, and complementary colors on the color wheel and in artwork.

* create an acrylic painting using warm and cool colors, with special emphasis to contrasting colors.

* identify in artworks that color, texture, form, line, space, and value are basic art elements.

* color/create with opaque colors.

* use line to create detail and define contour.

* continue to expand knowledge and use of different arts media, acquiring several new techniques.

* use art elements and principles of design to describe the effective communication of ideas in their own personal work and in the work of master artists.

Teaching Tips

1. Brushes used with acrylic paint must be cleaned carefully to keep them from being ruined. I use a bar of soap, rubbing the bristles gently across the top in a circular motion while holding the soap under water. Pat dry gently and your brushes should remain in excellent condition.

2. Students have individual paint shirts which they wear to protect their clothing.

3. If possible, I like to size the students' paper to fit in ready-made frames which their parents may purchase at local craft stores. I usually mount student work to add a mat-like effect.


* art reproductions and computer graphics file of Albrecht Durer and John Nieto etchings and paintings.

* photograps of animals

* white construction paper

* pencils

* white glue dyed with black tempera paint in squeeze bottles

* brushes suitable for acrylic painting and drybrushing

* paper towels

* 18 x 24" (46 x 61 cm) colored construction paper prepared by teacher with spray paint

* paper for mounting and matting

* acrylic paints


Students explore and understand prospective content for works of art.

WEB LINK Elementary-Katy/Art/index.html

Maryanna Rudecki is the art specialist at Cimarron Elementary School in Katy, Texas.
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Title Annotation:Elementary
Author:Rudecki, Maryanne G.
Publication:School Arts
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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