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Winter in the burned forest.

Fires raged through Wyoming's forests last summer, and when our children began school in the fall, a heavy haze hung over our city. An ominous orange glow lit the nights; fire burned in terrain too rugged for crews to fight. Our children grieved for 800,000 acres of lost forest, and the countless animals that died with them.

Strong emotions make for strong paintings, and as winter enfolded us, I asked my fourth graders to imagine how the burned trees looked in the snow. To assist their imaginations I displayed winter photographs and paintings by professional artists. I hoped the following goals would be fulfilled with this project.

1. Students would become aware of the way that paintings can express strong emotions.

2. Students would experiment with the wide range of tones that may be achieved by using only blue and brown watercolor paint.

3. Students would discover accidental effects of wet paint on wet paper and have the fun and surprise that sprinkling salt on watercolor brings.

4. Students would increase their eye/hand control over brushstrokes.

Art supplies needed were a set of watercolors; one 3/4" flat, acrylic brush; one medium, round watercolor brush; water containers; 12" x 18" (30 cm x 46 cm) construction paper for practice session; soft paper towels; and, if available, 12" x 18" 150# watercolor paper.

The children were intrigued when I showed them Picasso's Guernica, Goya's The Third of May and ecological advertisements. We discussed the influence each had, and how our forests were visualized or seen.

The students then covered their desks with newspaper and we soaked the construction paper, carefully putting one paper at a time in the sink and pushing it to the bottom to wet each side. Using horizontal paper, I showed the students how to quickly paint three deeply-colored bands of blue and brown watercolor across the page in the upper two-thirds of the sheet. The bottom white area would provide a snow or cloud area. By leaving the paper on the desk and lifting the top part of the sheet, the color could flow partially into the middle. By lifting the middle part, the color could remain largely in the upper two-thirds of the paper.

The children returned to their seats, picking up their wet paper on the way, and quickly began to load their large brushes with blue paint, using long strokes to make dark blue lines. Below this they painted a wide brown line, and below that another blue one. I suggested that they put away the brushes and quickly manipulate the color. This is very difficult for them to do because they are intrigued with the process and love seeing the color mix itself. They also want to continue to paint on it with their brushes. Overworked paintings, however, turn gray and dull; this is why we have a practice session.

The following class period, supplies were all ready on the desks, and I had 150# watercolor paper soaking in the sink. Again I quickly demonstrated the process for them, reviewing the need for much wet color on their big brushes, etc. Accidental effects are fun and give us ideas for foliage, clouds, etc. I showed them how they might make bushes look frosted by wrinkling a tissue or paper towel and printing with it in the wet paint. I then sprinkled 1/4 teaspoon of salt over the surface. The students excitedly watched the sparkling effects taking place as the salt absorbed spots of paint.

The students picked up their wet paper at the sink and began their paintings. They were delighted to find how much difference the watercolor paper made in the quality of their paintings. This took about fifteen minutes. When finished, they set their paintings to the side of their desks leaving room on the newspaper to practice brushstrokes.

Again the students came to the demonstration area and I showed them how they might increase the control of their round watercolor brushes by turning the paper vertically, supporting their arms on the desks and painting the tree trunks and branches sideways rather than up and down. Pressing the heel of the brush down then lifting it up on its toe allowed the trees to grow thinner at the top and ends of branches. Resting their arms on the desk gave more wrist control to the stroke.

The students returned to their desks and practiced creating branches and trees on newspaper first, then on last week's construction paper paintings. They were to make at least five trees of different heights. When they got a grouping they liked, they painted it on their watercolor paper. Toward the end of the class period, I asked them to think about an animal they might like to have in their forest, and plan where they would put it in their paintings.

Students spent the next period painting in animals, finishing their trees and brush areas, and pressing their finished pictures.

The children described their paintings as lovely, eerie and mysterious, as did the many adult visitors to our school. The most important aspect of the project was the healing quality the paintings brought to end our sad experience.

Frances L. Tetreault is Art Education Specialist, Sheridan County School District No. 2, Sheridan, Wyoming.
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Title Annotation:painting lesson
Author:Tetreault, Frances L.
Publication:School Arts
Date:Feb 1, 1992
Words:880
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