Art Lessons Begin

In a great surprise twist in my re-introduction of art into my life, my sister-in-law has asked me to give my five-year-old niece art lessons. So this means: I get to teach art, I get to relearn the basics, I have an hour plus weekly devoted to art. An excellent development, if you ask me.

So today we had our first “class.” I started with a project that I remember doing in summer camp when I was about eight. We made windjammer fish out of paper grocery bags. (I intend to get better at supplementing my blogging with photos, so stay tuned.) I cut the fish shapes out of the bags this morning and loosely sewed the border with yarn. (Well, I sewed my niece’s. Mine, I just stapled, because these things always take longer than I expect them to.) We each decorated our fish how we wanted and then, when we were satisfied with our decoration, we stuffed them with a little bit of cotton to give them some shape. (You can also stuff them with the leftover paper bag from which you cut the fish, but Niece suggested some cotton she had around, and I thought it a splendid idea.)

I wanted to do a simple and free-form project for our first lesson, so that I could spend the lesson asking questions to gauge where we want to go with future lessons. I have no children, so Niece really has to be my barometer of a five-year-old’s knowledge and capabilities. I have done some googling on five-year-old art projects, but I’m cautious about dumbing things down too much. I also don’t want to give her more than she can handle. Today I was reminded that kids have very creative ways of letting you know they’ve had too much. Like, full-on changing the subject. Roger that.

I did find out that she has a good grasp of the color wheel. She knows yellow and blue make green, and so on. In asking the kinds of things she would like to do in our lessons, she had a list ready to go! She wants to make things with clay and she wants to learn to draw people better.

Teaching a five-year-old to draw people will be a fun challenge. She has the archetype down: a square for the body, sticks for legs, horizontal sticks for arms, circle head, hair. I’ve read that developmentally, around age five is when children start drawing diagonal lines. Figure drawing is some time off. So I’ve come up with the idea of cutting shapes out of construction paper, and looking at a person or horse or whatever, and breaking it down into shapes Drawing 101 style, but with precut shapes, we can move them around and make comparisons.

When we started coloring our fish, Niece hesitated. I could tell that she wanted more direction. Again, for the first class, I really wanted to observe more than anything, so now I know this. I encouraged her to use the oil pastels that I brought, so that she could try a new medium, and she did.

I’m excited to see how our first “figure drawing” class goes. I’m also planning future classes in which we look at a masterpiece and then do a project inspired by that. We will look at Monet’s Waterlilies and use green and blue tissue paper and glue to make water scenes. I want to do a Jackson Pollock lesson, just because it would be fun. And I would like to do something having to do with printmaking. I have the ambitious idea of doing paper mache, but we’ll see how the others go first….

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