The Ballets Russes and Preschoolers

Currently the National Gallery of Art is hosting

1909 – 1929
When Art Danced with Music

As of yet all I’ve seen of it was a peek of the last room, but I have enjoyed the exhibition brochure which can be found here and created a couple of art lessons from it.  On our last adventure to the art gallery I discovered that the children were much more engaged seeing paintings we had already talked about and seen on the computer or colored.


Line Drawing

On page 9 of the brochure you will see a curtain design by Natalia Goncharova which she created for a performance of The Golden Cockerel.  First I briefly told my children the story of The Golden Cockerel and then handed them each a print of the curtain design along with a handout of my own design.  I instructed them first to find the shapes from the handout in the curtain design and then to try to draw these same shapes for themselves in black crayon on a piece of watercolor paper.  Since my children are so little I really should have walked them through how to draw the figures step by step.  They tried to draw a little, asked for help and added their own designs.  They finished by painting over their drawings in watercolor.  As they painted we listened to The Golden Cockerel off of YouTube.



On page 14 of the brochure is a set design by Giorgio de Chirico for The Ball.  I first explained to my children how drawing can be a bit of a magic trick – creating the appearance of depth on a flat surface.  I gave them each a simplified line drawing of the scene and then showed them step by step how I had drawn it on the chalk board.  They finished the lesson by painting the scene with watercolors.  My eldest, almost six, was very interested in looking at the original painting on the computer screen and copying the colors.  As you can see from her painting below she was very concerned with authenticity and insisted that I include the mouse in my drawing.


Happy Sea Turtles

Here’s a happy little project for preschoolers.  This kept my three-year-old busy for only about ten minutes but that of course depends on the day.  The four and five year-olds were occupied for upwards of 30 minutes with all the cutting and gluing and coloring.  Here is the turtle template which could also be used as a coloring sheet. (I used a picture from this site to make the template, the first hit on google for sea turtle.  By the way, an older gentleman asked me the other day if I had Google – cracked me up!)

Sea Turtle


I printed out the same drawing onto colored sheets of paper.  (You can print on lots of different kinds of papers including paper shopping bags in a laser printer if you only trim them to the correct size first.)

Paper Turtles


I tried to use only complementary colored paper, crayons and sparkle glue.  A few other colors joined us accidentally.  In the end my five-year-old insisted on cutting out her entire turtle and pasting it on a neon orange background which actually looked quite stunning.

Complementary Colors



We had made these color wheels together a while back and they have been very useful visuals for reference.  At the time we made them I helped with cutting and gluing and actually did the entire project for my then two-year-old.  I think I let her stick the shapes down on the background circle.  The kids each have a sketchbook with a pocket page in the front and they keep these color wheels in this front pocket.

Turtle in Process


I used a regular white sheet of printing paper but I would suggest a heavier back piece for this project.  As you can see, my children cut out large areas to glue down but this could b a much more elaborate project for older children if much smaller pieces were used.  Tiny colored pieces of paper would look stunning on a black background.


Sunflower Paintings

Sunflowers on a French Tablecloth

This week the sunflowers at Trader Joe’s called to me.  Bright and beautiful they are the warmth that this lingering winter sun cannot offer me.  So this week I worked with my preschool children as well as with my 11 year old art student to draw and paint them.  With my own children I first drew for them a simplified sunflower on the chalk board.  A tiny circle, a larger one around it and then two curved lines that each start at the larger circle and then come to a point for each of the petals.  My poor three year old was frustrated from the get-go.  The four and five year old absolutely loved the project.  I even tried drawing the flower myself for my little one and suggested how she might paint it but she insisted on doing her own thing which was just fine.  (And all of this was only accomplished because the baby was asleep.)

We drew the flowers in crayon and then painted painted on top with water colors.  Here are the results:


The Three Year Old Girl:

Three Year Old Art


The Four 1/2 Year Old Boy:

Four Year Old Painting of Sunflowers


The Five 1/2 Year Old Girl:

Five Year Old's Painting of Sunflowers


Later in the week my 11 year old art student came over.  She is home schooled and so we were able to come up with a fantastic trade.  I teach her art while the children are supposed to be upstairs in their rooms “resting” and then she helps me for a couple of hours before my husband comes home.  This week’s project took quite some time.  We had been building up to drawing using the sight-size method.  Teaching her to measure was a little tricky so I decided to shelf that idea for the time being.  Instead I had her measure the size of the entire subject and then I proceeded to draw from my perspective and I had her imitate my own drawing.  She drew on tracing paper so that we could transfer the final work onto a piece of watercolor paper.  This is her drawing which took about an hour to finalize and then go back over all of the true lines with a heavy hand:

Sunflowers on Tracing Paper

After her drawing was complete I had her flip her drawing over and set it on top of a piece of watercolor paper.  I then had her draw over each of her lines again to transfer the image to the paper.  We had used carbon paper to transfer images in a past project so the idea of transferring an image was familiar to her.  After the image was transfered I showed her how to paint wet onto dry and to use watercolor pencils to add texture.  She then added some of her own decorative elements to the painting after I gave her some basic instruction.  We has spent so long on careful and specific observation at the drawing stage I really wanted her to let loose and have a little fun at this point.  Here is her own drawing with mine below.  You can see the similarities since she was using mine as the model:

Eleven Year Old's Sunflower P


Watercolor of Sunflowers




Fra Angelico’s The Annunciation

Fra Angelico The Annunciation

Here is a coloring sheet I put together for Classical Conversations week 15.  I cut out pieces of watercolor paper to fit in my printer and then let the kids paint their own pictures.  Fra Angelico used teams of assistants to complete his many frescos since his talents were in high demand.  His was the design, of course, and theirs was the execution.  I told my kids that they could pretend to be Fra Angelico’s assistants helping him to complete his masterpieces.  He of course might have had something to say about their color choices but I love them!


My 5 year old daughter’s interpretation (above)


Detail on my 4 year old son’s painting showing a relief of the prophet Isaiah who told of the coming Messiah.  Also notice the dove above Mary which represents the Holy Spirit who came upon her and caused her to conceive Jesus (above)


Detail on my 5 year old daughter’s painting showing Adam and Eve in the distance.  Giorgia Vasari in his Lives of the Artists observed, “Standing in a field are Adam and Eve, who were the cause of the Redeemer’s birth by the Virgin.” (p.171 Oxford World’s Classics,1998)


Detail of the conversation between the angel Gabriel and the virgin Mary as painted by my 2 year old daughter (above).  In Fra Angelico’s original the words are in gold and in Latin.  They float as in physical space and you cannot see them behind the pillar.  Here I have included the English translation.  Isn’t it interesting how Mary’s response is upside down?  I wonder why he painted it that way?

Fra Angelico's The Annunciation, Phaidon Press

Here is a scan of the painting taken from Christopher Lloyd’s book entitled Fra Angelico which was published by Phaidon in 1993.  As with most Phaidon books this one is full of beautiful plates and shows the impressive range of style that Angelico possessed.  From miniatures to lavish frescos, from ornate paintings such as this Annunciation to delicate sparse and meditative scenes he painted all with captivating skill.

Vasari relates that, “It was his habit never to retouch or to redo any of his paintings but, rather, always to leave them just as they had turned out the first time, since he believed (according to what he said) that this was God’s will.  Some people claim that Fra Angelico never set his hand to a brush without first saying a prayer.”  I think this expresses just the sort of powerful combination of submissive obedience and personal confidence that the virgin Mary sang of in the Magnificat.  “Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.  Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name.” (Luke 1:48-49)  When we know that we are but creatures but that the Almighty Creator God has crafted us we can be both humble and bold as we in turn craft our own creations.  Some secular art critics say they don’t see the connection between Angelico’s devout faith and his artistic skill – the connection is that he first dedicated his work to God and then didn’t look back.  He didn’t second guess.  He was bold to be creative because he was not tortured by self-love and self-doubt.

Drawing: More on Tones

If you were wondering what exactly a mid tone is since I was just referring to it . . . here is a bit more of an explanation.

Around Thanksgiving I bought some gourds for my art student to draw.  I showed her how to create a transparent grid and transfer this by sight to an exact replica of a grid on her own sketchbook.  The grid was not over white paper however.  She had softly shaded the grid with graphite powder.


Next I had her create a tone chart above her drawing divided into five parts and to shade them from the darkest her pencil could draw through to the white of the paper.  She squinted and looked at the gourds to determine which parts matched up with which tones.  We discussed her observations and then she labeled her chart to remind herself of her judgements.Image

The final step was to draw.  Since the mid tone was already established this included both erasing as well as marking.  When she had established every tone that she observed she went back and checked the results and adjusted until she was satisfied.  I encouraged her to draw lightly with small circles as this creates a much more pleasing result than what every student seems programmed to do – scribble scrabble back and forth digging into the poor paper.

When I was an art teacher in a private school I had little to no budget for supplies.  It covered sketchbooks for the students.  That constricting boundary fueled my own creativity for imagining how to use what the students already had.  Although I did use graphite powder this time, the project can be done with only a blank piece of paper, a regular pencil and a kleenex to smooth out the graphite markings of the pencil.


Here is another way to explore tone.  Instead of using a mid tone paper I chose a dark tone from Target’s “Kid Made Modern” construction paper.  I only sketched in the highlights with white prisma color pencil.  The key to pencil is to remember to always keep your pencil sharp and in this sketch I was not as diligent as I should have been.  I was too enthralled by listening to the the Moth podcast.  If you haven’t checked it out you should – it’s a truly addictive steady stream of interesting stories simply told.

Back to my study though, I tried to use french curves to capture the glass curves.  I wasn’t very happy with the results.  I felt like it would have been better to draw my own stencil if I wanted to capture the exactness of the form.  The circle stencil for instance in the vinaigrette bottle is perfect.


Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards: Edwards suggests the mid tone method of drawing as well as the use of a transparent grid. Kathy Barbro has some great drawing practice worksheets available in her online store.  They are well worth the money as they provide an easy warm up and just the practice necessary to make drawing from a grid a cinch.


Vine Tangle

In her book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” Betty Edwards suggests training the eye and hand to work in sync by looking at the subject and not at the paper when drawing.  This takes quite a bit of practice but I have found that my drawing has dramatically improved since implementing this advice.  Here is a delightful tangle to practice with.  Just slow down your eye and trace one vine trying to keep your hand moving at the same speed as your eye.

Christmas Tree Preschool Art


Christmas Tree 1

As promised, here’s a craft using the masking technique with kids.  For this project you will need paper, watercolors and artist tape.  Artist tape is less tacky than the kind of masking tape you pick up at the grocery store.  It is less likely to rip the paper when you pull it up.  You can use watercolor paper for this project if you like.  I cut up old Trader Joe’s bags.  They are my go-to craft supply.

1. Cut out a christmas tree (this could be done by a preschooler if you want to make the project take longer though you should draw the template first)

2. Stick little bits of tape all over the tree (my kids ages 2-5 were getting frustrated by trying to rip the tape into small pieces themselves so I ripped the pieces up and handed them out for them to stick to their trees)

Masking Tape Tree

Masking tape and marker tree

3. Color the tree all over with green marker (this gives the impression of a pine needle texture and is an added step that increases the project time)

Watercolor Christmas tree

4. Paint the tree green with watercolor (My two and four year olds decided to paint their trees all different colors)

Remove Tape


5. WHEN DRY remove the tape and paint in different colors (or if you already painted the tree many colors just remove the tape)

Christmas Tree 2

6. For a finishing touch we pasted foil stars to the tops of the trees.  (The foil was very delicate and tears ensued when some ripped, so good thing I had cut out extras.  I think a star sticker would work just as well if not better!)

If you try this with your kids please include a link to your project in the notes or let me know how it turned out! 🙂

Home Made Tempera Paint for Kids

Image     Image     Image

Sure you can buy it in bulbous bottles from Michaels Craft store but in the spirit of the “make your own” trend why not try your hand at painting with egg yolks?  Of course true tempera paint would require fresh eggs, a steady hand and proper pigments but a messy version can be made for children without the fuss.  The emphasis is on MESS!  This is a good recipe for thanksgiving week since the kitchen is a mess anyway and you may have a few spare egg yolks laying about.

Mix one yolk with one drop of food coloring for a sticky finger paint that will dry shiny.  If you have some crumbly chalk left over from summer you could also try to mix the yolk with that.  I must emphasise that this in no way properly represents the sort of medium that Giotto used to capture the subtleties of his Ognissanti Madonna.  Like most projects for young children it is a sensory rich dip into creative expression that perhaps will open the way for a future interest in art.  The idea is to introduce the concept of using a binder to paint with a pigment.  If you want to know how to properly prepare egg tempera looking here would be a good place to start.

To preserve some semblance of sanity I highly recommend enacting the entire project on the floor atop a goodish spread of newspaper.  Once the activity begins to reach the “unfun” point simply scoop up the whole mess and toss it in the trash or fireplace.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Edge: A shared border


Here is a lesson plan for reviewing the concepts of edges and negative and positive space.  It can just as easily be printed out as a coloring sheet. Enjoy!

Venus Coloring Sheet

Venus Negative Space

Class Objectives: 1) Review the concept that an edge is a shared border 2) Copy the cartoon of Boticelli’s Venus


1) Hand out the negative space sheet upside down

2) Have students trace the edge between the negative and positive space with a finger (suggest that they imagine what objects or animals the black shapes could represent to really get them to see the negative space)

3) Have students draw the edge the very same size and orientation on their own paper

4) Measure the distances between the edge of the paper and the edge shared by the negative and positive shapes – is it drawn where it should be?

5) Once the student is satisfied hand out the cartoon upside down and have the student complete the drawing.  They may need some coaching along the way but the drawing is already half way done.  The smaller space of the face area gives a better idea of where to place the facial features than if the whole paper was up for grabs!  Encourage the student to keep measuring and checking until satisfied that it is a proper likeness.

6) Color it in! 🙂