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The flower as mandala.

One of my most successful lessons for third, fourth and fifth graders is to use the flower as a design source. I find students' creativity blossoms when given the opportunity to use the crayon-resist technique to design their own flowers.

We begin with the center. The center can be made up of many separate designs, but I require that every flower does indeed have a reorganizable center. There is one other guideline that I ask to be followed: There must be at least three rows of petals or shapes coming from the center. There certainly can be more--infinitely more--but three is the minimum. It's helpful to teach the students how to overlap the shapes, with each row poking out from behind the next.

One key to a successful flower is to provide fluorescent crayons in addition to regular colors for outlining shapes and making the designs within. Ah, yes, press very hard, of course.

Seed catalogs provide wonderful visuals to illustrate nature's fantastic varieties. Many flowers have rings around the centers, dots and stripes in the petals or curious shapes in general. Many children wear bright tropical flowers on their shirts and shorts. They are quite pleased when they realize artists use flowers in designing clothes that they consider "cool."

What I feel is important, however, is make it clear to the students that they are not to replicate a flower, but to use it as a source for their own designs. I tell them that I don't care one bit if it looks anything like a flower as long, as it has a center and three rows of design.

A demonstration becomes invaluable to stress the importance of pressing hard with the crayon, and working in a somewhat large format. One technique of painting that is rather impressive is to wet the petals with plain water first. The colors can bleed together when applied to wet paper. For instance, the part near the center might be painted with red watercolor and bleed out a bit where yellow is then applied. Needless to say, an orange color will appear in the mile. Perhaps the tops of the petals could be painted with turquoise bleeding into the yellow to make a green blend. That row of petals will appear fuzzy and rainbow-like. If the next row is colored with fluorescent orange stripes, a dark color paint might be chosen for greater contrast. If contrast is the desired effect, the students can use a light paint with dark crayon marks and a dark paint with light crayon marks. Painting the tips of the petals a darker shade will create a turning back effect. There are so many possibilities.

This lesson can be adapted to suit a more realistic approach to flowers. Students could be encouraged to notice how flowers are seen from different angles, and how stems and leaves might be illustrated. I prefer to use the flower as a springboard for making a unique design or mandala. Dare we say the self might be reflected through the illustration of a center with its outward progressions?

Whether we look at this lesson as a means for self-expression or a vehicle for teaching art concepts, I think it's a lot of bloomin' fun!
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Author:Brownell, Shawn Costello
Publication:School Arts
Date:Sep 1, 1993
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