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In your element.

In Your Element

My favorite collage assignment offers a high success rate to my classes. Middle school students without exception love it. While enjoying the experience of selecting pictures, they also discover the fascinating effects that can be achieved by juxtaposing related and unrelated shapes, images and colors.

They begin with lightly pencilled silhouettes of their faces. With most classes I have students pair off and draw each other. This can be slightly chaotic, but with a good-natured, serious class, it works very well. I walk around and point out places where the observation has not been very accurate; draw attention to the shape of the space between the nose and lips, or how far the chin juts out, etc. I give students about fifteen minutes to draw one another.

When almost everyone has successful silhouette, I put the drawings aside for a period or two. Students use this time to collect images to fill their silhouettes. I encourage them to bring in magazines of special interest to them. I also have a fairly good supply of generic magazines which I distribute around the room. Students spend a period finding and trimming selections, and putting them in their notebooks for future use.

Next period, I talk about what happens if you separate an image from its surroundings and place it in a different set of circumstances. I encourage students to be playful and inventive in overlapping, splitting or juxtaposing their selections. I make a special point of discouraging rectangular shapes and too many straight edges which helps to differentiate between a collection and a composition. I ask students to try "make a new thing" with their trimmed images. When students come up against the problem of how to cut a photograph so that it fits neatly against another shape or outlines the nose or lips accurately, I have small pieces of tissue paper ready. I show them how to trace the irregular shape onto the tissue and use it as pattern to cut out the exact shape they need. It takes a class three or four periods to fill their figures with the collage pieces.

When several students have completed the collage section of the project, I again put the compositions aside for a period and talk about how we will work on the negative space around the heads. I explain some basic ideas behind the four elements of air, earth, fire and water. This concept is a fascinating study, and if it's discussed in relation to the design problem, students find it interesting and spend time deciding which one of the elements seems most appropriate for them. Some choose the element related to their zodiac sign while others select one according to its predominant color. Still others choose according to the associations the element has with their personalities. Students who see themselves as social creatures tend to choose air or fire, while those who feel shy tend to use a water pattern.

Next, students experiment with background designs and patterns in which they use pastels as paint. On separate sheets of paper they draw the pattern they prefer in pastel, blend it and fill it with color. It's important that they don't draw first in pencil because they invariably make patterns too fine to be successfully finished with pastel. The background design is most effective if none of the support paper shows and the pastel is put on richly. Once students have tried using pastel to express the nature of their chosen element, they go back to their collage and complete the background using the same technique.

Students find this a very satisfying project and take pleasure in the thought that it will be as good as any commercial poster they might hang in their bedrooms at home.

PHOTO : Peter Drolet, Air, grade 8.

PHOTO : Nori Graham, Air, grade 8.

Lorraine Jones teaches art at Mission Secondary School. Mission, British Columbia, Canada.
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Title Annotation:collage
Author:Jones, Lorraine
Publication:School Arts
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Words:653
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