26 September 2009

Studying art

Jack and I have been studying art lately. Jack had chosen Van Gogh as the artist he wanted to study. We picked up a bunch of books about Van Gogh from the library, and while we were there, I, knowing no better, picked up a video series about the Impressionists, based on the similarity of the cover art to Van Gogh?s. I thought they might ?have a section? on Vincent.

Of course, since Van Gogh is ?post impressionist (as I learned later) there was nothing about him in that video, but Jack and I were captivated in watching the artists at work. Unlike my beloved Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, this looked like something we could learn to do. Not that we?d ever be mistaken for Manet or Degas?but we might be able to learn some of the techniques they used and be able to create something attractive. So, we pulled out our paints.

To understand the significance of this development, you have to know that Jack had never been happy about painting. Most of his works ended up looking like this:
and he was pretty unhappy about the muddy effect, but when I offered to show him things he?d grumble ?No thanks. I?m just no good at painting.?

So that he was suddenly energized and eager to try his hand at painting again was *amazing* and wonderful!

We had been reading a series of books about ?How to Look at Art?, in which we had seen a colour wheel. We decided to start there, since it looked like something we could accomplish.

Sadly, Mamma is no good at geometry and we couldn't find a compass, so what we ended up with wasn't really a color wheel, but we do what we can.

We traced a circle on the paper using a circular cutting tool from my stash, and then we used a ruler to draw the sections. They didn't come out even, and we ended up with more than we
intended?but we decided it was good enough for now.
Then we put three colors of acrylic paint in each of our pallets, and painted the primary sections. That went well so then we started combining the primaries and putting the secondary colours in place. Since we mixed our own colours, we were amused to see that we came out with different shades of the secondaries and Jack was highly tickled to discover that his shades were prettier! (I also like how the colour wheel Jack made almost looks alive -- like it s growing and moving. Mine was much more rigid and not nearly as pretty.)

Then we mixed all of the colours we had left to see what happened, and we decorated the edges of our paper with that colour.

That worked so well that the next night, after we?d watched Part Two of The Impressionists we decided to work on colour layering.

We chose two colours to work with (yellow and red this time), and painted a yellow background. While we waited for that to dry, we mixed up some orange to layer over it. We talked about a technique to make flower petals, and Jack tried it, and then embellished his flower. We also talked about how he had developed a great deal of texture in his background and that was a very nice effect.
Of course, a flower needs a stem, so Jack got out some green and I dipped a clean brush in it for him. Et Voila! Sunflower!

We had quite a bit of paint left over, so he decided to practice some more with the flower petal technique. (And a heart, which he painted and then I outlined for him)
Last night, we finally got a chance to see a video about Van Gogh. The BBC's Private Life of a Masterpiece had a segment on Van Gogh?s The Sunflowers. That was interesting ? it finally explained the answer to Jack?s big question (Van Gogh shot himself) and it introduced the idea of texture.

We decided, after the movie, to experiment with texture. Jack had a different idea of what that meant than I did, but I have to admit that he got some very interesting effects ? first he did a very watery background and then he layered texture on top. (And because we continue to work with two colours, what could have been more mud, was actually some interesting gradations of green.)
And then, because he had a lot of paint left over, he decided to paint another piece. This one he calls The Battle at the Great Wall of China. The big blue line is the Great Wall. If you know how to look, you can see enemies scaling the wall, you can see caves, and secret passages, and troops on the move and great battles taking place.
I particularly like the cloud effect at the top. I am trying to figure out how he did that so I can use the technique myself!

Anyway, it wasn?t really quite intentional, but combining art appreciation with technique study seems to be working very well ? and starting with the Impressionists seems to be one of the better ways to start.

We studied Pieter Bruegal last unit, and Jack wasn't at all inspired to try to imitate what he saw. Nor did he seem terrible interested. Then again, I am learning "art appreciation" right alongside him, and I may be approaching picture study all wrong. At least -- all wrong to meet our needs. Watching videos of real art historians discussing the paintings works better for us.

I have to say that even if we don't go a lot further, we have successfully enough experimented that I think Jack will at least feel that he *can* learn to paint if he wants to. We both watched in utter amazement as Rod used two colours to make a very interesting Impressionistic portrait of Voldemort -- we'd like to be able to do that! Maybe someday we will.


  1. Jack might like Seurat & Pointallism.... you could do that with markers but he might not want to go backwards after this success in painting. I know your in Michigan... I don't know how far Chicago is but the Art Institute is like walking through an art history text. They own many famous, well recognized originals. Sunday in the Park, American Gothic, tons of Impressionist...

    Boys+ Academy

  2. As the parent of a fellow "reluctant artist" I am quite impressed. I may have to look for some of those types of videos for my more artistically enclined children. Yay Jack! Love the battle at the great wall!

    Be sure to list all the videos you guys end up using so that the rest of us can check them out too. :)

  3. Hi, Boy's Academy, I don't think Jack is up for Pointallism just yet -- it would take far more patience than he's shown so far. ;) But Chicago is only about five hurs away. Once he's finished reading The Story of Art (EH G) we should take him there! I think he'd love it. When we take him to Detroit he gets so excited he can barely contain himself. ;)


    I'll try to post the names of the videos...problem has been getting things posted once I write them. :( Getting organized when I can't just "sit down and do it" has proven my undoing. Naybe on SecularCM...


We're happy to hear from you; thanks!