Basic Brush Skills: The Gentle Sweep
August 23, 2018
It’s back to school week, and I’ve made a lot of new little friends at the Center of Gravity (CoG) where I teach two year olds through six year olds. I’m meeting mini-reflections of older sibs I’ve had in recent years 🙂 so that I’ll be looking at a child and thinking, isn’t that …? But … ? And it turns out, yes indeed, she or he is the 2nd (or 3rd, or etc) edition of that particular family. Sweet!
I’ve been teaching at this wonderful program since October 2016. My initial training was a two-semester class on childhood art education during my time at SFAI where I earned a BFA in New Genres. After that, my art education work was in a private after-school program, then (briefly, before pregnancy bedrest) as a contracted art teacher in public elementary schools, followed by volunteering for an art history classroom enhancement program. I’ve also taught private classes to kids in my home studio, and for a while in my downtown Martinez studio, I worked with the Boys & Girls Club and taught private classes for teens and school age kids. My guinea pigs first art students were my cousins Ericka and Hilda, when I was maybe eleven and they were I guess around six and eight? So, I’ve been teaching art to kids for a while, and I’ve added to that all the real-life training I’ve had in working with my own neurodiverse children.
So that I can apply as many hours as possible towards my own artwork and exhibitions, my students at CoG are now the only art students I have. I spend between 20 min to 45 minutes per week with them in small groups, depending on the class and age. I use pedagogy from Studio Habits of Mind, which was initially developed for high school curriculum but can totally apply to little kids.
Moving along… I’m posting here to share about this week’s work. After introductions and acclimating the new kids to the studio space, I made our first lesson about basic brush skills. I did a demo on how to think of painting with a paintbrush as sweeping a broom, where it works best when you’re pulling it around rather than trying to push away from yourself.
For the youngest students, I only passed out one color of paint at a time so that I could specifically ask them to rinse and pat the brush dry before handing them the next tiny cup with a splash of paint. I visited some students to stand behind them and guide the back and forth motion for sweeping the paint brushes, and I think I want to do a little more of this as their hands build some muscle memory about how to work with art supplies. Some of them understood the concept of gentle sweeping motions but had a hard time changing their motor skills to match. It’s a big change to go from smooshing the brush and using the metal part (ferrule) that holds the bristles in order to push the paint on the paper, to now using a gentle motion, trusting the bristles to apply the wet color as it flows. That said, if the brush isn’t wet enough, the paint doesn’t flow… So sometimes the trick is getting them to see that they only need to add paint or water (or both!) rather than defaulting to pressing harder like they would with a hard crayon.
There’s a natural variety among the kids in how they handle the colors. I did some “noticing out loud” about how some kids chose to rinse their brushes between colors to highlight the brightness of each color, and how others chose to blend the colors together for a darker effect. I know, they may not have actually made those choices today, but framing it this way allows the children to see that these are choices that can be made, and by explaining these kinds of things during the course of the year, they might pick up on how to make these choices if they haven’t already tried to do so.
By bringing attention to others’ paintings as they work, I hope to work on these studio habits of mind:
- Observe: noticing differences and similarities and appreciating them
- Envision: making note of things others have made and introducing the idea of thinking before making
- Reflect: learning to talk about artwork and the process of making it
- Understand: learning to interact with others and their creations
- Developing Craft: this is every lesson I do with my little students, teaching them how to use art tools and materials.
Lastly, today was the first 45 minute session with the older kids. I challenged them a bit by having them draw loops and curves that they’d (hopefully) then follow with brushstrokes. Since they finished the activity a little earlier than I planned, I had them help with the clean up, which is, of course, another studio habit of mind- learning to take care of our art studio.
During cleanup, one chore was sorting the colored pencils into cups that were for red/orange/yellow, green/blue/purple, grays/whites/blacks, browns/tans. They started asking me in which cup a color like a rosy tan belonged, or a grayish blue. I asked them what they thought was correct, then I commented that sometimes people have different opinions about into which category a color might belong. And I decided to open up an app called Same Same or Different, and we played a game so that they could see that the appearance of colors can change based on what colors are around it.
And so that was this week’s art experience for the kids at the Center of Gravity. Hopefully I can post regularly about the lessons I’m doing with them there.
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