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Picasso with Pizzazz.

Imagine what it would be like to see things in a different way from everyone else. The book, Pablo Picasso by Ibi Lepsky (Barron's Educational Series; 1993), gives children insight into the mind of "Pablito" as a young boy.

According to Lepsky, other children, teachers and even his parents didn't understand his thought process until his father, an artist in his own right, learned the genius of his son. He then gave all of his art tools to Pablo and never painted again.

Picasso is an exciting artist to study because the evolution of his style is easy for children to observe. Plus, it's interesting to note how the personal trials and tribulations of his life so affected his art. For instance, the colors and style of his paintings reflected his thoughts and emotions, as in the "blue" and "rose periods," and paintings such as Guernica. His style is so ingenious and imaginative that his version of Cubism has been coined "Picasso-ism." Therefore, I teach many lessons in a variety of media based on Pablo Picasso, all of which create excitement and awe in all elementary-school grades. This particular mixed-media painting lesson, taught to third-graders, was inspired by a very talented and now-retired art I teacher in the Walled Lake School district, Gail Roslonski. My thanks go to her for the inspiration.

Since I taught elementary school, I often introduced artists with picture books. These offer a great deal of information, while providing pictures to capture students' attention for a sustained period of time. Two of my favorite children's books about Picasso are the aforementioned Pablo Picasso by Ibi Lepsky and Pablo Picasso: Breaking All the Rules by True Kelley (Grosset & Dunlap; 2002).

After sharing one of these books, we would discuss the stories and what it might be like to grow up seeing the world so differently, as it was for "Pablito." I show students a variety of prints by Picasso to show his different styles, and explain that "Picasso-ism" is a variance of Cubism.

Children especially love his portraits; I would ask them to find the facial features going in different directions in the same portrait. They enjoyed seeing the eyes, noses and mouths in unusual locations. Many children remembered Mr. PotatoHead from Toy Story, when he mixed up his features and said, "Look! I'm a Picasso!" Now children could relate to that line.

We also focused on Picasso's 1918 painting, Still Life, which shows different planes and textures, comparing and contrasting it to a traditional still-life painting.

Next, we reviewed color groups and the color wheel, identifying primary, secondary, warm and cool colors. To remember the warm and cool colors, I would relate them to the sun and water. When thinking of warm colors, I told them to imagine the colors they would use to paint a sunset: red, yellow and orange.

What colors would they use to paint water, such as a lake? Blue, green and purple. Warm colors make us feel warm, and they "pop out" at us. Cool colors make us feel cool, and they appear to go back or recede. A very good example of this is Cezanne's painting, Still Life, Peppermint Bottle, with brightly colored orange and yellow fruit against a deep blue, folded fabric background.

Now students were ready to paint the background. First, we sketched a table in pencil using a rectangular shape for the top and interesting legs. Next, we divided the background into five to seven sections by drawing straight lines going in different directions. We use thick, black crayons to trace over the pencil lines. Then, we were ready to paint.

The next class, we reviewed warm and cool colors, and I demonstrated how to apply the tempera paints, using several techniques. I told students they must use one color group (warm or cool) for the table and the other for the background.

Starting in one section, they could dab on two different colors from the same color group and mix them together with a paintbrush. Then, using a wooden craft stick, they

might draw a pattern over the wet paint to create a texture. I The texture should be a simple design, I would tell them, I such as a repeating line or shape. Other texture tools could I be used if available.

Children could also dab on one color plus white, mixing them together with a brush to create a tint. Some of the sections could be left non-textured for variety. They also could use just one color without white, plain or textured. This creates interesting groupings, which contrast well against each other.

It typically took two sessions to complete the painting. Since there were always a few students who would not get the painting completed in the allotted time, I offered oil pastels or crayons for them to complete the sections, as the rest of the class moved on with the collage portion.

When the paintings were dry, I allowed students a few minutes to go over the black outlines, as they may have been covered with paint. A piece of sheet music (or newspaper) and a piece of wallpaper were cut and glued onto the background for add-ed interest.

Students now could start to work on the still-life collage portion. How does Picasso represent fruit and other objects, compared with Cezanne? His objects have a playful and mixed-up quality.

Together, we created a list of objects that might be placed on a table, encouraging students to think "outside the box." Fruit, candles, pictures, books and dishes were popular choices. Students were required to include the following elements: one musical instrument, at least one piece of fruit and at least four objects on the table.

Students created the objects and details with cut paper, rather than drawing, and then bravely cut them into two pieces to "mix it up" or "Picasso-ize" them.

Some small details, such as strings on an instrument, were drawn using permanent black marker. Students were instructed to create the objects first and arrange them in a pleasing composition before gluing them onto the background.

When the compositions were completed. the contrast between warm and cool colors, textured paint and the vivid collage made the still life pop right off the paper. Students were excited and pleased with their accomplishments. When displayed in the hallway, visitors commented on the bright, colorful and unique collages with the Picasso feel.

I think if Picasso himself were to view these dramatic works of art, he would certainly feel they had pizzazz!

Now retired, Joan Sterling taught art at Hickory Woods Elementary School in Walled Lake (Michigan) Consolidated Schools, and is coauthor of "Art by the Book," published by Pieces of Learning (


* Lepsky, Ibi, Pablo Picasso. Barron's Educational Series; 1993.

* Kelley, True, Pablo Picasso: Breaking All the Rules. Grosset & Dunlap; 2002.

* Hart, Tony, Famous Children: Picasso. Barron's Educational Series; 1994.

* Raboff, Ernest Lloyd, Art for Children: Pablo Picasso. Trophy Pr; 1987.


Upper-elementary students will ...

* use basic shapes to draw a balanced still-life composition.

* demonstrate their knowledge of warm and cool colors.

* paint with tempera using a variety of tools and techniques.

* use mixed media to create a still-life composition.


* 12" x 18" heavy drawing paper

* Pencils and erasers

* Thick black crayons

* Tempera paints, brushes, water and paper towels

* Wooden craft sticks

* Wallpaper pieces

* Sheet music pieces

* Newspaper

* Construction paper pieces, various sizes

* Glue sticks and scissors

* Oil pastels or crayons

* Prints of Pablo Picasso still lifes
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Title Annotation:Pablo Picasso
Author:Sterling, Joan
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2014
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