I have to admit I have adapted this lesson from a cooperating teacher I had in college. The first project of 6th grade relates to Georgia O’Keeffe. I think she is a great choice for artist study because she is a leading female role in art history. Students learn about where she came from, how old she was when she passed and what kind of subject matter she enjoyed painting. Rather than using oil paints like she did though (obviously), we concentrate on watercolor techniques. But starting from the beginning, students first bring in a photograph of a flower. I am always surprised at how many students take their own but if they can’t get one I use a great website with free photos that students can use called Free Stock Photos. The licensing terms on this website are ideal and really allow students a bit of freedom. The usual rules apply but my students aren’t reselling anything. Ha.
Anyways, we take the photo and fold the paper down to a section of the flower that is more concentrated; almost as if we were “zooming in” on a particular section. We then take this section and divide it into a 2×2 grid so that we can find the center of the circle. On watercolor paper (only the best, right? haha – it’s whatever watercolor paper I can find), student then use the grid to help them enlarge their flower’s details onto the watercolor paper. This goes surprisingly well and students find themselves using this technique throughout the year.
Before the students begin painting, we discuss all the possibilities of watercolor paints. I also use watercolor pencils. We discuss techniques of “wet on wet”, “wet on dry”, “dry brush”, “dry scratch”, “wet scratch”, “salting”, “sponging”, “blotting”, “glazing”, “dropping in color”, “masking”, and “wet dipping pencil”. They practice these on watercolor paper scraps and then we return to their project to begin painting with the rule of “no black”. The first student to ask how we make their color darker allows me to address the class and remind them of complimentary colors and how we can use them to darken each other. This amazes the students and quickly becomes the “fun” thing to do.
After a couple class periods students are able to explore all of the techniques and create an “enlarged O’Keeffe flower”. I am always impressed with many of the students work and have entered a few into area art shows; some receiving recognition. The lesson encompasses art history, techniques, new materials, color mixing, and hands on project work that my 6th graders always seem to enjoy. The staff also love the yearly “garden” display we have in our commons.