Description of the Unit –
This unit will be guided by both technique and style. Students will observe the work of Impressionist painter Suzanne Valadon and discuss ways in which her paintings, particularly of animals, are impressionistic. How does Impressionism differ from realism?
The teacher will model various color mixing and brush techniques in tempera and watercolor for students to try on their own. Students will create at least two paintings of an animal, in a subjective style, using a photo reference.
By fourth grade students have already spent time exploring Impressionism: its history, philosophy and characteristics. So for this unit the goal is for students to explore what came after, and understand that Impressionism made it okay for the artist to record one’s subjective view over a more realistic one, and that making one’s art personal—that is, incorporating one’s “mind and soul” in one’s art (The Art Story)—was now an acceptable, even encouraged way to approach art making. Suzanne Valadon, as both a longtime model for Impressionist painters and an artist in her own right understood this, and her paintings, especially of women (herself and others) express this intimate, existential approach.
Activity statement –
Again, according to the fabulous, invaluable website The Art Story: “Typically with a look of defiance and a slight scowl, Suzanne Valadon lived and worked at the absolute epicenter of artistic Paris in its heyday. She was a model and a dear friend to some of the most famous artists of a generation, as well as a groundbreaking artist in her own right. She forged a career in a man’s world…” While it’s her portraits and self-portraits that were most groundbreaking, we’ll be focusing on her paintings of cats as a simpler way for students to try subjective painting. Questions to ask the students include how Valadon’s paintings are Impressionistic (therefore reviewing previously examined concepts); how the cats are represented subjectively; how color, line and form are used subjectively vs. realistically. These questions all help guide the students towards how they would create subjective, rather than realistic, representations.
A word on medium: working in tempera gives students the opportunity to begin to paint with strokes and effects akin to painting in more advanced acrylic and oil mediums. Learning basic color mixing and brush techniques will help set the foundation for more sophisticated experimentation in later grades. The effects modeled in this unit lend themselves very well to Impressionist style painting. Adding watercolor, and the watercolor techniques learned in the previous unit, broadens students’ choices for a subjective approach.
Goals – Students should:
- The characteristics of Impressionist painting
- A basic philosophy for Impressionism
- The term subjective
- How color, line and shape can be applied subjectively in a work of art
- Who Suzanne Valadon was and why her paintings are important
- How to recognize a painting as “Impressionist”
Be able to:
- Do simple color mixing (color + white, color + black, mixing of primary colors for different shades)
- Apply various brush techniques to their paintings
Objectives – Students will:
- Use basic painting techniques, plus impressionist approaches to design, to render at least two images of animals.
Resources and materials –
- Exemplars of paintings by Suzanne Valadon
- Bristol or tag board paper
- Tempera paint in various colors
- Paint brushes in various shapes and thicknesses
- Cups for water
- Paper towels
- Table cloths
- Photo references for student paintings (I like to use these)
- What do you think of (any one of Valadon’s) painting?
- Do her paintings look realistic? Why or why not?
- Can you see her brush strokes?
- What do you notice about the colors she uses?
- Can you tell me something about the lines in her paintings?
- What differences do you notice between a realistic painting and an impressionist one? What makes the impressionist one different?
- How can you use color to make your painting more “impressionist”?
- How can you use brushstrokes to make your painting more “impressionist”?
- What kind of effects do you get if you use a dry paintbrush directly with your paint? A wet one?
- What happens if you mix white with a color? What happens if you mix black with a color?
Evaluation – Did students:
- Understand ways in which they could combine colors, white and black to create new colors and shades?
- Understand different ways in which to use their brushes for different effects?
- Noticeably apply these techniques to their tempera compositions?
- Recognize ways in which a painting might be Impressionist?
- Try using certain effects to create an Impressionist-style design?
- Student questions
- Group discussions
- Oral responses to essential questions
- Two finished tempera paintings
- Elaboration and risk-taking