abstract art – grade 7 reflect on the beauty of non-representational art

Originally this unit began as an inquiry into light and shadow in fine art photography. Students explored the inquiry questions ‘What can we not include in our photo’s to create fine art abstract photography?’ with the overall debatable question being ‘Can a photo be aesthetically pleasing if it has no realistic elements?’. After the photos were taken and contact sheets were evaluated the best 3 shots were edited very simply through the photo editing tools inside preview. I love how user friendly and easy preview is for this task… it is also a great introduction into photo editing before launching into Photoshop.

Grade 7 quickly mastered the concept so we extended the unit by completing beautiful abstract 70cm x 100cm acrylic on canvas paintings.

These paintings were based on their photographs with the opportunity to copy directly or add or subtract areas continuing with the main premise of abstract art being non-representational. This was also a great chance for me to teach some skills-based blending, value and tone exercises. Reflecting on the last stage of the unit I realised there is a great opportunity to introduce abstract painters like Robert Motherwell, Georgia O’Keefe and some of my favourite contemporaries like Fiona Rae and  Elham Rokni. Exposing students to a range of abstract painters and having them plan artworks with the artists in mind and their photographs could lead into some exciting individual investigations, next year! For now, I am super happy with their reflections:

“Abstract art is an art, which shows a mysteries photo or image, it can be anything you think.”

“In my opinion abstract art is a kind of art that doesn’t show the main idea of the art work clearly. It gives some space to let people guess what is the artist telling us about. When the artist is drawing, he/she can draw any thing he/she wants… messy lines, points… and we can think it could be some thing like a ball of string, or bird’s nest but it could be anything”

Next time they visit an art gallery with their parents they can impress them with their concept and knowledge of abstract art.


Decapitated heads and amputated limbs… Have I found the perfect artwork to introduce art analysis?

If you don’t already know Camille Rose Garcia she’s a fantastic Los Angeles based painter/illustrator. Students are instantly drawn to her creepy, nightmarish worlds adorned with scary/cute characters that somehow look familiar to them (they are based on Disney characters). Amputated limbs and decapitated heads sit along side super cute ribbons and rabbits – students love it! My deepest apologies Mr Rauschenberg and Señiorita Kahlo you don’t quite capture the attention of my students at the moment, in time you will, but for now Ms Garcia is lighting the way for our art analysis and interpretation.

snow white and the black lagoon

Through a series of group activities I guide my students through a four step process of: 1. Initial Reaction 2. Description 3. Analyse 4. Judge & Evaluate (thanks to this wonderful ANALYSING AN IMAGE document made by Frank Curkovic).

By the time the students reach the judge and evaluate stage they are describing the work as being a commentary on a toxic/polluted environment with the witch being the antagonist in the narrative. The one who has caused suffering.

When we reach this point I have the students read an extract from an interview found here:

“I started it last year during the Gulf Oil spill and I wanted to do a re-telling of Snow White combined with the ecological disaster going on there. The fairytales of Grimm always talked about people that lived in forest that were very close to nature and their environment…I wanted to use the symbolism of things like the evil Queen to represent the evil empire and capitalism; and the white animals and Snow White representing the purity of nature – something precious to be protected. Of course, there’s the battle of good and evil.”

The reaction is priceless. I’ve got them hooked.

Art & Science Intwine

I had the pleasure of working with the lovely Mrs Burslem and her grade 8 students to wrap up their ‘BISS on the Road’ week. Art and Science intwined for the entire day on Friday with students going back and forth between the two classrooms to complete a 3 panel 100cm x 60cm collaborative artwork. In a nutshell, students spent three days at the Miao Liang Education Centre located amongst the Mi Yun mountains just outside of Beijing.  Students learned about various and habitats and their ecosystems. For the Visual Arts side, students completed field drawings of flora and fauna in their art journals. They created color swatches by squashing leaves, flowers, dirt etc. onto their pages… this created an instant, beautifully subtle color palette for us to work with on the Friday. Students also collected various flora (and fauna!) samples to bring back to school. These samples were used for observational drawing and back in the science lab, students extracted lovely green, purple and brown pigments for our final collaborative artwork.

The artwork was inspired by the fabric collages of Martina Witte. Using the students own panorama photographs of Miao Liang, we traced and simplified the landscape onto linen. This was then cut up and hand dyed with the extracted natural pigments. The field drawings were enlarged and traced in black ink on watercolour paper and lightly colored with mixed paint that matched the colors collected in the filed. Dried grass samples were placed in the foreground. To give our artwork a context silk Chinese auspicious clouds were added and Ms Li (our Chinese language teacher) completed two beautiful chinese characters for the words ‘Miao’ – ‘Liang’. It was a wonderful project to be involved in, I only wish I had set up a camera in the corners of the two rooms to document the process in a time-lapse, next time!

Tracing is not cheating

As I handed my grade 7 students their portrait photographs and a sheet of tracing paper they asked, “Isn’t this cheating Ms Davies?”, “No, it’s portraiture without pain” I replied. Tracing is differentiation; helping less able learners achieve success and feel proud of their artwork. Tracing is developing ideas; compositional plans on tracing paper help students move through ideas faster and with more flexibility. Tracing is learning about proportion and perspective; tracing over photos on apps aid students understanding of line direction in architectural drawings and proportion in portraiture. Tracing is risk-taking; tracing painting plans on to large-scale canvases encourage students to take a risk with scale, creating something they never thought possible. Tracing is not cheating.

ESL friendly art vocabulary

My new grade 10 class are all ESL to some degree. I have complete beginners and advanced… there lies my challenge! How do I help my students use the correct subject specific terminology in their artwork analysis? (which is a whole criteria in itself for DP art). I made this document Prior Knowledge – Art Vocabulary and assured them it was not a test just a “this is going to help me help you”.


After going through all the documents I used the students own language (with some adjustments) to make a list which I hope will be ESL friendly.  Here it is: Grade 10 Prior Knowledge – Art Vocabulary ANSWERS. What do you think of this list? Would it work for your students? The real test will be when they begin their analysis next week, wish me luck!

Helping Grade 7 ESL students Analyse Artwork

We have an excellent ESL programme here at BISS, every teacher works incredibly hard to get complicated content and concepts across to our students. For me, the hardest part is the terminology required for analysing artwork. Google translate cannot translate grid and mixed media into an art context so I try a variety of ways to help students but today’s differentiation idea worked! Hoorah! I made this task sheet (KUSHNER group research page) for students to work on in pairs. I paired the students; an ESL student with either a native speaker or someone whose language ability is higher. Before they set to work I gathered the students around in a big group and together (with a lot of questioning, hand movements and drawing across Robert Kushner’s artwork with red markers) we ended up with the orange chart below. The student’s referred to this as they started their analysis. You can see from the examples below the students definitely have an understanding of the pictorial devices used in Kushner’s work. The next test of my differentiation will be seeing if they continue to use these key words and concepts in their annotated notes and reflections. I hope so! Watch this space… have you had successes in teaching artwork analysis to ESL students? I would love to have some more ideas.

Grade 10’s beginning to interpret a theme…

After only 2 weeks the art class is already busy, busy, busy! It’s great to be amongst it again. I have a very different cohort of grade 10’s this year so I’ve tweaked the Interpreting a Theme unit to hopefully suit this particular group better. I’ve added two new theme choices. Also, rather than basing their imagery collection solely on magazine and internet images I have sent them on a photography task. I gave them this planning sheet to start with (photography brainstorm). Some students took the idea very literally – for example for the theme “under pressure” they took lots of photos of their friends in various looking-stressed poses. Other photos were surprisingly sophisticated in their ideas – one student had explored the theme isolation through some moody, black and white empty spaces and single chairs around the school. This was very much a “let’s see how it goes” plan so I have some ideas for next year which will include showing a variety of Photography artists first and their approaches to a theme and also a lesson on camera angle and composition – perhaps a video tutorial or a sort of ‘take one picture – how can you take it again in 5 different ways’ could also work… what do you think? Have you had any successful lessons in photography composition and camera angles?