Wednesday, October 22, 2014

FIRST GRADE . . . What is the subject and what is the background?

First graders continued to work on their portraits based on the pose of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa." We drew our faces, shoulders and folded hands just like in the famous portrait by da Vinci, and colored them in with a color palette that best represents each of us.

In the "Mona Lisa," the subject of the painting is the portrait. The background is the area behind the subject, represented as a soft landscape that seems to be very far away.

Back of portraits
To make the distinction between the subject and the background in our pictures, we created two separate works of art. The subject of our pictures is a portrait drawn with bright colors and fine detail. The background was created as a landscape painted with watercolors in softer, more muted tones.

Our portraits were cut out of the paper they were drawn on. On the back of these portraits, I glued down Styrofoam strips so that the portraits would look 3D when we attach them to the backgrounds, creating a feeling of depth between the subject and the background.

Background by Mara 
Background by Jonathan
On a new sheet of paper, we painted watercolor backgrounds. Many of these backgrounds look like a landscape such as Mara's amazing sunset painting shown here on the left. Jonathan's background appears more abstract as the colors of paint mixed with each other, creating soft blends and beautifully spontaneous impressions. I was thrilled with how both styles turned out!

To put it all together, we simply glued the other side of the Styrofoam strips to the watercolor landscapes. Here are a few examples of how they turned out... To see all of our Mona Lisa style portraits, visit our home page on and scroll through the list of exhibits to first grade portraits.

Artwork by Judy
Artwork by Herbani
Artwork by William K.
Artwork by Jonah

Note to families...
This art blog will be updated regularly with new posts sharing our daily activities in the art room and news about upcoming art exhibits. To respect the privacy of our students, names will always be limited to first name only and identifiable photos will never be accompanied with a name. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to write in the comment box below or send me an email at I would love to hear from you!
    In my class, students are given the chance to explore different materials and fun new techniques as they develop their signature style. Some young artists love to draw with a pencil, some like to paint on canvas or create images in a digital format, while others prefer working with clay and molding three-dimensional forms. In my classroom, we use a variety of materials allowing all artists to experiment and figure out which type of art they like the best. At Ranney School, we place a strong emphasis on originality and celebrate artistic differences, always nurturing and encouraging the imagination of every student.
     Remember to check out our display of finished artwork and student portfolios in the Ranney home page of

Monday, October 20, 2014

FIFTH GRADE . . . Animals in our sketchpads!

Week three of our sketchpad sharing activity in fifth grade was filled with drawings of adorable animals in their natural habitat. Artists were able to draw their pets at home or choose a wild animal from a photograph or the computer. What I love about this activity is how different the sketches turn out. Unlike a project done in the art room, with students following each other's examples, these sketches are done at home and the interpretation of the assignment is unique in style and completely personal to the artist. Here are two dog sketches and two dolphin sketches to compare. I am in awe of them all!

Sketch by Sophia Z.
Sophia is new to Ranney School and has been impressing us with her talent every week! With this presentation, I like how the sketchy quality of her line gives this small drawing so much movement. Her drawing seems to have captured a moment in time when the dog, standing on grass, is about to leap right out of the page. How wonderful that we understand the grassy background with just a few graceful lines! The dog itself is skillfully drawn and his mesmerizing eyes capture my attention right away.

Sketch by Isabela
Isa also decided to draw a dog in the park. Isa's sketch is in full color and is very well composed on the page. Her background shows a nice feeling of perspective with trees and a graceful fence framing the grassy field. I like the path in the distance carrying our vision beyond the top edge of the paper. We immediately realize that this scene is much bigger than just the drawn image. Isa's dog is also posed looking forward and captures our attention, but the sketch looks so different as color defines it so precisely.

Sketch by Lily
And talk about what color can do for an illustration! Look at the lovely blending of warm shades for Lily's sunset sky. There is such depth to this seascape. The layers of blue pencil strokes in the water make me imagine there is depth to the ocean floor and I am seeing shadows beneath the glistening surface of the water. Lily's dolphin is part of a lovely, completed illustration.

Watercolor sketch by Tucker
Tucker also decided to draw a water creature for his favorite animal and used watercolor paint as a way to bring out the color in his scene. Just like Sophia's pencil sketch, his strokes are fluid and constantly moving across the page. What a perfect technique and a perfect medium to use to illustrate water! I am just as impressed with how well he drew and painted his animal.

Bravo to all my fifth grade artists! As always, you are invited to add a comment in the link below. Our featured artists for this assignment would love to hear your thoughts.

FIFTH GRADE... A fall pattern!

Week Two of the sketchpad assignments made us think about designs in nature. Using leaves, we composed our pages with a pattern in mind. Some fifth graders focused in on the delicate veins of their leaves as a pattern and others created an overall composition on the page, alternating styles or colors of leaves. Here are a few wonderful examples of our fall patterns in nature!

Sketch by Kayla
Kayla's intricate patterns inside of her leaves make me think of a textile design inspired by nature. The shapes of the leaves are realistic as is the graceful branch they are attached to. That realism gives me an initial impression that she drew a very recognizable detail of tree branch from observation. But then we are surprised by the fun patterns you would not expect to see in a leaf! That was very clever of Kayla.

Sketch by Melanie
Melanie's colorful sketch shows a lovely arrangement of leaves on the page. It is a composition that defines symmetry, making it very pleasing to look at. I adore the pencil details of the realistic veins in the leaves. By doing this, Melanie actually created a pattern within a pattern as we focus on both the lines in the leaves as well as the overall pattern on the page. Pattern can also be defined by color and her slightly different hues of green and a splash of purple stand out brilliantly.

Collage by Christopher
Christopher found an unusual solution to the assignment by creating a pattern with actual leaves in this clever collage. I am impressed with how the different shapes of the leaves he found contrast against each other. The delicate star shaped leaves would not look quite so delicate without the heavier almond shape of the other leaves next to them. I can't wait to see how this collage survives the winter in our art room. We will revisit this page again in the spring and see what happens to Christopher's temporary pattern from nature!

Please take a moment to add your own thoughts in the Comment link below. These fifth grade artists would love to hear from you!