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Re: Painting unit in high school


From: Larry Seiler (lseiler_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Wed May 15 2002 - 05:30:12 PDT

>I am putting together a painting with acrylics unit for
> high school students. I'd like to get your input on what
> to include and the steps to take. Thanks. - Noel

I have a mixed group of juniors and seniors with a unit that lasts one full
quarter. We stretch canvas of stretcher frames. For advanced students, I
teach them to adhere canvas to hardboard with acrylic medium and make
professional canvas boards.

Since I plein air paint and take photos out of doors myself, I have an igloo
cooler filled with photo references and the students pick one. Students use
styro foam plates (which they resuse after rinsing off), and Chromacryl
paints in half-gallon jugs with pumps.

Size is 18" x 24"....
Every Friday is "Video Friday" and we watch a video on a painter in history.
I make a great deal of emphasis on the Impressionists. We then discuss.

I have about 100 art magazines such as American Art Review, Soutwest Art,
Art of the West, Wildlife Art News, etc., I introduce composition by having
students pick three images they like, and at least one they do not. We
spend one class period then going around and giving students a chance to
explain their choices. I then teach a unit on composition, and the
psychology of the viewer's eye...and how the artist can manipulate by
design, color, construct of elements the eye to move throughout the painting
and do so without weariness.

After...they go back, see if their original choices of good paintings yet
are so, and have a chance to pick perhaps one or two new pieces...which they

From that...they reconsider their choice of photo, and are encouraged to
search their soul a bit so-to-speak as to why they responded to the photo
they did? If they are not absolutely enthralled with the image they have,
then there is no hope of that passion being transmitted in paint to the
viewer via paint.

They use large brushes or rags to block in the masses; and I teach the
importance of squinting the eyes. We spent a good deal of time discussing
the use of warm and cool color...and again, out come those magazines where I
have them see how the works of their more professional peers work having
carefully constructed such. Eventually they switch to smaller bristle
brushes and the painting knife, diamond shape.

I stress squinting the eyes to not allow themselves to be caught and trapped
in the powerful and dangerous allure of unnecessary detailing. They are to
judge paintings from about 3-4 paces back.

I have them spend some time on the internet where I have them look at one
artist's site that has about 23 pages of rule of good landscape composition.
Then they spend time on my artist's site, on the demo page I have...and go
thru about 8 step by step lessons. In essence, the use of the online demo's
and the dragging out of the magazines teaches them the value of learning to
see, make judgments and "teach" themselves by observing others. My being
there in case they feel lost, is courage enough to venture out. I'll supply
you with my website's demo page...

I choose landscape as the subject for us for two, it is an
area of my own expertise; two, there is a lot of forgiving grace inbuilt in
the subject. A portrait either looks like someone or does not, and there
are so many hoops to jump thru just in mixing paint, judging color, applying
brushstrokes..etc., that the pressure to succeed in a likeness can be a bit
undaunting; A tree, background, not likely to be recognized by
someone who would come up and say, "heh...that's not how that tree looks!"

It also gives me a chance for the students to learn a great deal about our
own American painting history, which IMHO I think is richer and full of even
greater talent than the French Impressionists. Introducing students to
Sargent, William M Chase, Thomas Moran, Charles Hawthorne and Hensche in the
Cape Cod School. The California Impressionists, etc; Good luck!