Primary Pointillism

Whew. My first art project post. I'm so excited!

This project is great because the students have fun painting with an object not ordinarily used, they learned about perspective, color theory and art history...whew! That's a lot to cram in one elementary art lesson, but it can be done!

When teaching grade 2 art, I did an entire unit on color theory. It started with An Edible Colorwheel (more on that later), and continued with varying color theory projects. With this lesson, they were learning about the primary colors and how primary colors combine to make all the other colors of the rainbow.

To begin I asked students what two colors I would mix together to get green. Once I got the answer of yellow and blue, I asked a tricky question and said "Do I actually have to mix blue and yellow together to get green, or could I just place them side by side?" Everyone thought there was no way that you could get green if you didn't mix blue and yellow. So I did a little experiment. Before the class I had painted a piece of card with small dots of yellow, and small dots of light blue...bunches of them close together, random and side by side. I had the students stand at the back of the room while I was at the front holding my card of tiny blue and yellow dots, and asked the students what they their surprise they saw green! I also did this for purple (blue + red) and orange (yellow + red). The kids couldn't believe it. Then I showed them the work of Georges Seurat, and told them he never painted any lines, only small dots of color and your eye mixes the colors together to create the color they were supposed to be.

This is a close-up of Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte"

I told them we would be doing our very own painting just like this and the whole thing would be painted only in red, yellow and blue in tiny little dots.

To prepare, I moved the students desks into groups of 4 while they were at gym (I was lucky I always had a half an hour to set up before the students got there). I then took dixie cups and squirted red, blue and yellow tempera paint into a cup for each group. In another set of 3 cups for each group, I mixed the primary's with white to create a light yellow, light blue and light red (pink). In a third set of 3 cups for each group, I mixed the primary's with even more white than the last time, to create a very light yellow, very light blue, and very light red. Each group should have a set of dark, medium and light primary colors. Your colors should look something like this:

Give yourself plenty of time to mix up these colors. It takes a little while to get the right shade of each color. To save on paint, when you mix up the lighter colors, start with a blob of white paint first then slowly add small amounts of the primary. If you go the other way around, it will take a TON of white paint to get it to the right color and you will be frustrated and will have wasted a lot of paint. You really don't need that much paint in each cup.

Next I placed 4 Q-tips in each cup (this was the students paint brush). Surprisingly, cheap no-name q-tips work better for this...the name brand ones are quite plush and cotton-y so they got logged down with squishy paint easier. The only other thing you need for each student is a piece of white paper.

You can choose any image for your painting, but I chose the simplicity of a house with a tree. Because it was grade two, I thought I would also teach them a little bit about how to make something look 3-D. You can use a big sheet of paper with a felt marker, or the chalkboard to demonstrate. First I drew a typical house that the students might draw:

I told the students to draw along with me, and draw the same thing in the middle of the page. It should be pretty big so that it fills out the page, but not so big that you can't draw anything else. While I gave the students a couple minutes to do this, I would walk around and make sure someone wasn't making a too big, or too small house.

Then I showed the students how to make the house 3-D by adding some angled lines like this:

They should each be the same length and same angle. Then you join them together like this:

The kids were following along and were amazed that they now had a 3-D house! We also added a window on the side of the house. Make sure it is the same angle as all the other angles on that side of the house.

We then added our tree. We made it at the front bottom right corner of the page. I told the students it would make it look like the tree was close to us, and the house was further back. I told them if they made it big enough, it could overlap the house. This makes the tree look like it's in front of the house even more. Just erase your house lines where the tree overlaps.

Students tend to want to make a horizon line directly below an object, so I showed them what that would look like. I then showed them what the horizon line would look like if it ran through the middle of the house. The whole class agreed it looked much better in the middle, so we all drew our horizon line there. I then told them we needed a path up to the house. If we were standing and looking at the house, the path in front of us would be big....but as it goes further away toward the house, it would get smaller. So we added our path. Then a few clouds and a sun and our drawing was complete.

A grade 2 student is quite tickled pink when he/she see's the 3-D picture they've created! It's now time to paint.

We are going to have a pink house with a purple roof. The students all followed along with me, and each grabbed a q-tip from the medium red cup. I told them to put paint dots all over the front of the house (not the doors, windows or roof). Once we did that, we took the lightest red and put dots in all the white spaces on the front of the house. Like this:

Keep an eye on the kids while they are "dotting". Some will want try to paint with the q-tip instead of dots, and some will leave large gaps so you mostly see white space. Encourage them to dot and that the dots can overlap. It's very random.

Okay onto the roof. We used medium blue for the roof, and then medium red.

I then explained to the students that the sun was on the left side of the house. This meant that the right side couldn't see the sun, so it would be in shadow. So we were going to use the darker versions of the colors we had used on the front. The side of the house got dotted with medium red and dark red, while the roof was painted with dark red and dark blue.

The next order of business is your tree. Start with the leaves and use medium and dark yellow, and medium and dark blue.

Then we were on to the trunk. I asked the kids what happened when we made our color wheel and we mixed ALL the colors together? The students knew we had ended up with a brown-ish sort of color. So that was the plan for the tree trunk. Use all the colors we had.

From there the rest is as follows:

Sun - all yellows
Path - all colors
Front door - light and medium blue.
Grass - light and medium yellow, and light and medium blue (so it was a different shade than the tree).
Clouds - light and medium blue.

The finishing touches are to add a few little dots under the belly of the puffy clouds with dark blue. It's sort of like a shadow effect. You also want to use the edge of your q-tip and use dark blue to go around the windows, and down the right side of the door.

Because I was doing my own painting at the front of the room where everyone could see (the student's just followed along with me), I would periodically have a group go and stand at the back of the classroom. I would have them stand as far back as they could to see our progress and I would ask them if their eyes were making the colors they were supposed to. The students were excited to say "YES!" (It also helps if you squint a little.) I resized my image to show you the effect:

The students had so much fun with this project. It took approximately 2 1hour classes. I wish I had better pictures, but here is the student's final work:

One of the most rewarding things, was weeks later some students were drawing in free time, and they weren't drawing flat houses with a horizon line beneath...they were drawing 3-D houses!!


Eileen said...

I am going to try this with my second grade class today! Thank you so much for the step-by-step directions. I can't wait to see the final results.

Anonymous said...

I am going to school to become a teacher. I have to do a "teaching board", I chose Pointillism. As I was researching I found your blogspot, thank you so much it was very helpful. My seven year old niece came to visit and I was showing her the pictures and she said oh Pointillism before I could tell her what it was. I know adults who don't know what it is!

Anonymous said...

This is the best lesson plan I have ever seen on a blogspot.

We're doing a "Making an Impression" program, and I was an art history major in college, so any way I can join Art History lesson with a real plan...instead of throwing q-tips at children and buckets of paint...I'm all for it.

Congratulations, Mrs. Birss, you've restored my faith in educational program appropriation on the Internet.

Anonymous said...

thank you for this detailed, age appropriate lesson plan. I teach homeschoolers art, and was a but intimidated with the idea of doing pointalism with the younger children..... thanks for making this possible.... and I agree with an earlier post, Your info. is the best I've found so far.
Much Gratitude!

Calamity Jeanne said...

This is awesome!! How long did this take? I am teaching first graders and have an hour or so for whole lesson.

Anonymous said...

Do you think this is too hard for a Kindergarten class? I was thinking of using dot stickers. How do you think that would work?

Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur said...

This is great! Thank you. I teach a multi-age art class and am going to use it with them.

Beth said...

For the sake of integrity, the painting used in the example is not Seurat's "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" but his "La Parade de Cirque."
Great content on the post otherwise.

Sunshiny Daydreams said...

This is excellent information! My daughter's in first grade and the school cut out art class, so parents have to volunteer to teach them each week. I get to talk about pointillism tomorrow, and this really helped me plan for the project - and to explain it to them so they understand. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Love this! Thank you

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing. I plan on using this fun lesson. So glad to find something that teaches pointillism accurately for younger kids.