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Who let the shoes out?

Shoes ... they're everywhere, in every size, shape, color and style imaginable. To Andy Warhol, an industrious advertising artist, drawing shoes meant survival in a demanding profession. His shoe images also proved to be a first step in his journey to becoming a "true" artist.

With his commercial-art experience Warhol was a "shoe-in" for the Pop Art movement which focused on depicting mundane household goods as "objects d'art." Warhol's ability to elevate common items to the status of high art is clearly evident in a book that features some of his collection of footwear images titled, Shoes, Shoes, Shoes (Little, Brown & Co., 1997.) Most of the works in this book were created in the mid to late 1950s, before Warhol developed his trademark silk-screening process and produced his famous Campbell's[R] Soup cans.

The shoe images provide the students with a wider view of Andy Warhol's body of work and his evolution to Pop Art legend. The images in this book were used as an inspirational springboard for my fifth-grade watercolor class.

After perusing the book together, the class discovered how the images and quotations worked in concert to produce a humorous response from the viewer. Warhol's whimsical shoe images alone were quite comical and expressive, but when the Pop-master added witty remarks it heightened the level of amusement.

The class analyzed Warhol's puns and attempted to decipher why they caused us to giggle. Warhol transformed well-known sayings into clever new remarks simply by changing a key word in the saying to the word "shoe." Sometimes Warhol merely exchanged a rhyming word, such as "you" for "shoe." In other quotes he changed the homophone "shoo" into "shoe" as a play on words. The class noted that the original saying had to remain recognizable after the "shoe" substitution to have a successful new quote.

Even if the new quote's meaning became nonsensical, it still worked well if the underlying saying was still identifiable. For example, Warhol wrote: "To Shoe or Not To Shoe," which altered Shakespeare's famous provocative line into a successful silly quip. It didn't especially matter if the quote used had any direct relationship with the image of the shoe.

For instance, the image paired with Shakespeare's quote had nothing to do with a shoe from that time period, just as Warhol's quote, "Dial M for Shoe," was not paired with a dark, creepy, murderous-looking shoe. The students needed to decide if they wanted their saying to conceptually match their shoe's color and design, or simply accompany it (which could add to the absurdity/humor of the statement).

The students commenced brainstorming right away, using lines from traditional poems, fairytales and old adages as a starting point. They also used titles from well-known contemporary movies, books and commercials as a stepping stone to creating unique quotes.

The classroom filled with laughter as I wrote out several of their ideas on the white-board: "Nobody Knows the Shoes I've Seen," "Do the Shoe" (from the TV commercial, "Do the Dew"), "Shoe are My Sunshine," "I've Got Shoe, Babe," "Shoe Bop, Shoe Bop," "Shoe Me the Money" and "My Shoe Ate My Homework." I was very pleased that the entire class was so enthusiastically involved in this process.

The students began to sketch their fanciful shoes on 10" x 12" newsprint using pencil. I encouraged them to use the entire space with their composition so their shoe would have a striking impact. A large shoe would also prove to be much easier to paint and detail. The pupils appreciated the idea that the shoes could be drawn in a loose, whimsical manner--not necessarily rendered realistically. This gave them more confidence in their ability to draw and explore the design of their shoe. Most of the images shown in Shoes, Shoes, Shoes were women's shoes; however the students were free to draw men's shoes, boots, sandals or any type of footwear that they desired. The students also practiced writing their "saying" in their best cursive, and incorporating the written words as an intricate part of their design layout.

As the students finished their sketches, the designs were transferred to watercolor paper. The transfer was made by first rubbing the back of their sketch with pencil lead. Then the sketch was placed face up, on top of the watercolor paper. Last, the sketch was held firmly against the watercolor paper, while the outline of the shoe design was gently traced over with pencil. This transfer method produces a light pencil line on the watercolor paper below the sketch.

Permanent black markers (we used the Sharpie[R] brand) were then used to carefully outline their shoe along with any other design elements, such as their quote. By practicing their cursive writing with the Sharpies on the sketch paper first, the students learned how large they needed to write to produce clear sentences using the marker's rather wide tip.

Watercolors were then applied to add color to the image. I encouraged the students to mix their own colors instead of using the hues directly from the limited palette. At this point, I also reminded the novice watercolorists about the importance of brushstroke technique, and to keep their artwork flat to prevent the paint from running. We also briefly reviewed the theory of complementary pairs: mixing them produces brown, but adjacent complements generate a brilliant visual effect.

When the work was dry, students signed their work discreetly using pencil. Finally, each chose a colorful mar of construction paper to complement their artwork, and glued the image neatly into place.

The fifth-graders were thoroughly involved in this watercolor project. They really enjoyed inventing their own outlandish shoe and concocting a clever quip to accessorize their image. I was very proud of the students' work and may try this Andy Warhol Shoes, Shoes, Shoes project again soon with another class. Well ... that is, "if the shoe fits!"


* Warhol, Andy, and Bright, R. Seth, Shoes, Shoes, Shoes. Little, Brown & Company, 1997.

* Honnef, Klaus. Warhol.(Revised). Taschen America, LLC, 2000.

Marcia Gibson is an art teacher with Arts Outreach, a non-profit organization that brings visual art experiences to schools in the Santa Ynez Valley in California.


The students will ...

* learn about artist Andy Warhol.

* learn about the Pop Art Movement.

* create humorous works of art.

* use permanent marker and watercolor to create art.


* Newsprint (10" x 12")

* Permanent black markers

* Watercolor paper (10" x 12")

* Watercolor sets with brushes

* Water cups

*Colored construction paper (12" x 14")

* Glue

* Pencils
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Author:Gibson, Marcia
Publication:Arts & Activities
Date:Jan 1, 2004
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