Materials: Watercolor paper, watercolors and brushes, oil pastels, copy of Paul Klee’s Intention as well as other works (as available) to discuss.
Last week I had the opportunity to facilitate some art-making with a group of fifth graders. My daughter’s elementary school has a program called “Guest Artist,” in which parent volunteers come into the class for forty minutes to present an artist and lead a project. Sadly, by the time I gained access to her classroom’s online signup, all the slots were taken, but I let the coordinator know I could fill in if other classes had empty slots. I really kind of love talking with kids about art.
Forty minutes for set-up, discussion, art-making, and clean-up is quite short, so that influenced this project. I also wanted to engage this age level, which is why I settled upon presenting Paul Klee’s painting Intention.
We began by looking at some of Klee’s artwork in general and I invited the kids to comment on what they noticed. There are no right or wrong answers here, of course. They observed that his lines were simple, he bordered on the abstract, and he didn’t seem too concerned with mistakes or perfection. He’s not one of those artists painting so realistically that it looks like a photograph (how freeing!). Then I talked to them about Intention (seen above), using Sike Vry’s book as a guide. We talked about how the shapes and symbols stood for things; what did we see? The figure separating the color blocks is a person. Everything behind the person is in the past, a memory or something left behind. Everything in front represents future plans, or intentions. I hung up a sheet with some definitions of the word from the dictionary:
Intention, n. 1. A determination to act in a certain way: RESOLVE
2. IMPORT, SIGNIFICANCE
3. What one intends to do or bring about
(Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition)
I then explained the art-making.
Process: Each student received a 12″ x 18″ piece of watercolor paper and a black oil pastel. I showed my sample and explained they’d be making their own piece in the style of Klee’s Intention, with a figure representing themselves and symbols of both memories/past experiences and future plans.
I encouraged them to make marks with intention as well, to think about their symbols and make them confidently. Pencils weren’t allowed, both because it wouldn’t erase once the pastel went down, and because pencils encourage hesitant work (because of the option to erase and start over). Once the black pastel symbols were down, other pastel colors could be added for emphasis. Finally, the background colors could be painted in with watercolors, which would be resisted by the oil pastel, leaving those lines pure and vibrant while easily filling in the background.
It was a great class to work with and I had loads of fun. The kids took to the process, thinking carefully about what to include and sharing with me the things they’d left behind. Getting to work with a group of kids in this way is a joy!