01 October, 2014

4th grade portraits

So, I've not really gone into it, but our art department has been under a bit of pressure this year from our head honcho; words have been spoken such as "too craft based", "not enough skills', "poor quality" etc.

And while I don't necessarily agree (you should see us running around second guessing EVERY thing that we do right now), I can also see that some areas could do with some improvement.

I won't get into my views about whether we are teaching art for kids to just do art or whether we are teaching thinking, problem solving etc skills for all kids to take into the future in an IB inquiry based school; the first in the world to have an "innovation" centre.  

That's been part of the stress and extra work this year.  And BOY! has there been extra stress and work this year (and I'm not the only one, nor in the only department).

ANY HOO…I'm sharing my 4th grade classes with another teacher again this year.  We agreed to repeat a unit that I taught last year where we combine colour theory (with a focus on warm and cool  and contrasting/opposite colours) with a self portrait.  Last year we did these self portraits with half the face cool and half the face warm and I encouraged the kids to "abstract" their faces after having done some proportion studies.  

This year we decided to really focus on the skills; on face proportion and on more than just warm and cool colours.  (Any art teachers out there, I would LOVE to hear your views on when certain aspects of colour theory are being taught and how).  

I had the students do one 40 minute lesson (actually only a 30 minute lesson) using mirrors to draw their faces in their sketch books.  Although I gave them some pointers about measuring using their fingers etc, and walked around behind them showing them where their hair line was in proportion to the top of their head etc, I for the most part just let them go.

Part of the issue with our school is that we just have no real idea of how many kids spent last year at the school doing our art program, how many have come from other schools with or without arts programs, so I'm finding it really useful to do LOTS of pre assessment for everything we do.  We can take NOTHING for granted.

I have to admit that I was surprised by the results.  I thought they would be able to do much better than they did.  I could immediately see those who'd had some instruction in face proportions before (the best  of them announced proudly that one of my colleagues had taught her- something I texted to her immediately; seriously we are deflated at the moment).  So the next lesson I showed them a slide show with lines and markers on an oval and  then on real faces and then left it up on the promethean board for them.  I also showed them eye shapes and ways to draw noses etc.  

I then gave them a *****template****** (shock horror! and something I thought I NEVER would do).  A basic template of an oval head.  I put some dots for pupil guides, a tiny line for the bottom of the nose and one for the bottom of the bottom lip as we'd looked at the 1/2, 1/2 1/2 way of doing portraits.  I talked about these, I talked about the lines at the side of the head, about "3 eyes" etc etc., and they took 2 x 40 minute lessons to do this drawing.  They used mirrors and photographs of themselves which are on the fronts of their sketch books.   I showed them a value scale that I did with their drawing pencils and emphasised shading.  The first lesson I spent walking around giving them tips and asking questions and the second lesson I left them to it.  They knew it was an assessment piece and the second lesson they were SO focused. (teacher's favourite lesson)
 I still think we could spend WEEKS on this, looking at how we could improve.   The best part was when they compared their original drawing with their one on a template!  They could all see the improvement and I had to stop one girl from scribbling out her original.
I really want to revisit this next week as they upscale themselves onto bigger pieces of paper.  I told them that that was why proportion was important as it gave them a way to map out a starting point.  It will be interesting to see the final products (and whether or not they meet the expectations of the boss upstairs!)


  1. Glad I don't have to teach art anywhere, but particularly at your school. I think art should first and foremost be fun, and perhaps for those who want to specialise using templates isn't a bad idea. Just a thought, some kids may like to try Cars using templates..

  2. I love the kid with bags under his eyes.


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