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Marc'd up animals.

At a district art meeting, I joked to a colleague that Franz Marc's work was the emotionally charged "Where's Waldo" of animal paintings. It dawned on me later that my statement was a brilliant way to introduce my students to his style and work.

The fluidity of Marc's depiction of animals was not only a radically new artistic style in the early part of the 20th century, but it was also a style that helped transform the general public's perception of how subjects in nature could be rendered on canvas. Marc employed both organic and geometric line and shape qualities throughout his work to almost melt his animals into lush, dreamy, sometimes nondescript backgrounds.

I find that the explosion of color Marc used is the first thing that draws my students into his work and excites them to want to replicate his style. Trying to sell the idea of an animal painting to a group of junior-high students is like trying to convince a politician to accept political contributions--effortless. There is something inherently fun and universal about doing animal paintings; it's almost a primal instinct to want to record natural objects.

For an anticipatory set, I have the students bring in a photo of a mammal or a bird as prep for the project, purposely not telling them why. This provides a sense of mystery and wonder as a lead-in to the painting.

As I do with most of my projects, I begin with a slide presentation. I actually start by showing work of other Expressionist artists so that the students have a frame of reference and begin to understand how the Expressionist movement was different from other movements (the students have pre-knowledge of other movements from prior projects).

Then I walk the students through about 10 slides of Marc's paintings. I have them share one or two things when looking at each slide: What do they see (describe the subject matter and list details using the principles and elements of art) and how they feel (describe the emotional response the piece provokes).

Students have fun trying to be the first to find the animal in the picture. Often, they discover more than one. Because this is my advanced 2-D class, I guide them into discovering how Marc used movement and rhythm in the paintings to direct the viewer's eye slowly to the animal(s).

I also encourage the students to loosen up their drawing style as they begin to sketch their animals. I generally have them do at least two versions --one in organic lines and shapes, the other more geometric.

If they don't like the background in their original photo, I suggest they create one. I remind them that although Marc always had his animals placed in a setting or "location," sometimes they were very surreal and dreamy, providing the students artistic freedom to explore. They work on 18" x 24" tag board (or larger, if possible), and I suggest that their animal take up about one-third of the picture's space.

Unique color combinations are exciting for students, but sometimes lead to roadblocks. One of the project's requirements is that students may only have one thing in the painting that is true to nature, but everything else, including the animal, must have the colors replaced (grass cannot be green, a bear brown nor the sky blue). Also, the students must develop some value changes. I try to encourage the students to use different brushes to their advantage as they develop value change and details, and mimic textures on surfaces.

If you are looking to beef up your painting curriculum or trying to add a painting project to your lesson repertoire, this could be a good fit. Due to the flexibility of both the content and scale, you could easily fit this into any class level at any grade.


* Understand and apply media, techniques and processes.

* Use knowledge of structures and functions.

* Choose and evaluate a range of subject matter, symbols and ideas.

* Reflect upon and assess the characteristics and merits of their work and the work of others.


Junior-high students will ...

* identify the principles and elements of design used in Franz Marc's paintings.

* consciously use line, shape, color, space, value and contrast while painting.

* demonstrate competency in the use of materials like paint.

* evaluate their completed painting using a rubric.


* Pencil

* Newsprint or scrap paper

* 18" x 24" white tag board or poster board

* Tempera or acrylic paint

* Variety of brushes

Nate Greenwood is an art teacher at Jenison (Michigan) Junior High.
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Title Annotation:Franz Marc's animal paintings
Author:Greenwood, Nate
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2013
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