Monday, September 12, 2011

Outdoor Adventures: Plein Air Painting by Erin Uda

Today we’re moving an old favorite to the outdoors.  We’re taking our paints and canvases to the backyard for some plein air painting.

Many famous artists were inspired by outdoor scenes.  They would sit outside and capture the nature in front of them on canvas.  This week, take your child outside and let him be inspired by the beauty of nature.  Teach him to see basic art concepts such as PERSPECTIVE, BALANCE, COLOR, LIGHT, SHADING and SHAPE.  Before you go, look at the following paintings and talk about what you see using the concepts above.
  1. Leonardo DaVinci: Mona Lisa - Renaissance (Hint: Look at the shapes. Do you see the triangle made by her body?)
  2. Rembrandt van Rijn: The Night Watch - Baroque (Hint: Look at the balance, perspective, and use of light.)
  3. Caravaggio: The Calling of Saint Mathew - Baroque (Hint: Look at the use of light.)
  4. Pierre-Auguste Renoir: The Two Sisters, On the Terrace - Impressionist (Hint: Look at the colors and shapes. Do you see the triangle?)
  5. Claude Monet: Water Lilies - Impressionist (Hint: Look at the colors and balance. Do you see the clouds reflecting on the water?)
  6. Vincent van Gogh: The Starry Night - Post Impressionist (Hint: Look at the movement he created using shapes, colors, and brush strokes.)
  7. Claude Monet: Impression, Sunrise - Impressionist (Hint: Look at the colors and balance.)
  8. Claude Monet: Poppies Blooming - Impressionist (Hint: Look at the colors and balance.)
  9. Claude Monet: The Port Coton Pyramids - Impressionist (Hint: Look at the colors and balance.)
  10. Claude Monet: Weeping Willow - Impressionist (Hint: Look at the colors and balance.)
  11. Georges Seurat: Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte - Post Impressionist (Hint: Look at the shadows and perspective; talk about the use of stippling/pointillism)
  12. Michelangelo Buonarroti: Sistine Chapel, the Creation of Adam - Renaissance (Hint: Look at the balance, light and shadows.)

Take your child to a nearby park, garden, neighbor’s yard, or other beautiful area; walk around and talk about what you see.  Be patient while you wait for inspiration to hit.  Once your little one has found the scene he wants to paint, set up shop and talk about what he wants to include in his picture.

Start with a light pencil outline of your subject.  Help your child recognize the basic shapes in front of him; if necessary, sketch this part together.  Remember to talk about perspective.  Is he painting things that are only close to him?  Or are there items in the background?  Help your child understand that we see things that are farther away, or in the background, as smaller than those things that are close to us.
(Click HERE for image source)
Once you have an outline, ask your child what colors he sees.  Are they the same primary colors that are in his paint box, or are they different?  If they’re different, talk about what colors you’ll need to combine to make your paint look the same.  Show your child how different parts of the scene are darker and lighter than others.  Teach him how to see the light and dark in his subject, and show him how to paint the colors appropriately by either adding in a bit of black or white, or using other colors that add the desired effect.

Let your child create while you work on your own painting.  When you’re finished, compare your creations to see how each of you interpreted your surroundings.  See what’s the same and different about them.  Be sure to give lots of praise.

And remember to have something to bring your wet paintings home in; shallow plastic storage buckets work well and can double as storage for supplies, just use a cooling rack from your kitchen to separate the supplies from the artwork.

If you would rather paint while your child is confined to a high chair or other controllable area, try going on a photo tour outside.  Take pictures of all the things your child notices while you’re exploring.  If she’s small, take pictures of the things she stops to look at or touch.  If she’s older, let her experiment with the camera.  Be sure to use the concept of composition and balance in your photos; try zooming in or capturing your subject in a way you hadn’t thought of before, maybe from a toddler’s point of view.  When you’re finished with your walk, print out your photos (or just bring them up on your computer) and use them as inspiration for painting inside. 

Remember to talk about what you’re doing and ask conversational questions of your child.  Use this time to learn a little more about her unique viewpoint of the world.

Craft Idea: Many professional photographers use homemade ‘framers’ to help them find the perfect shot.  To make your own, grab some note cards.  In the center of each one, cut out a small geometric shape to make a frame.  Try a circle, a triangle, and a rectangle to see how they change your view of the same item.  Use them all on the spot you want to paint to help you decide what to focus on.  You can also close one eye to see how the scene will look in two dimensions.  

Once your child has painted her fill of the outdoors, consider taking her to a local art museum.  Many young artists take their sketchbooks to the museum and copy the work of famous painters and artists.  Sit on a bench and repeat the activity above, using pencils or crayons instead of paints.

If your child isn’t into drawing, try using modeling clay or play-dough to make a statue, or experiment with other projects that help your child re-examine the world around him and interpret what he sees.

Recommended Reading:
  • Madeline, Ludwig Bemelmans
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson
  • Drawing in Color, Kathryn Temple
  • The Shape Game, Anthony Browne
  • Inside the Museum, Joy Richardson
  • We’re Painting, Carol Snyder

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