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Young artists creating in the style of famous artists 1

We love doing art in our classroom and we try to integrate it in our thematic curriculum as much as possible.  However, two years ago, thanks to our colleague Amy Kim, we decided to explore the artwork of particular artists.  Although we don't agree with copying art, we do think that exposing our students to artists' styles helps them expand the way they think about art and the way they create art.  Each year we pick about seven artists to study depending on our curriculum, museum exhibits, and personal favorites.  We do make sure to include male and female artists, living artists, and artists of a diverse background.  Each month we study a different artist and then create a piece in his/her style.  The children love going home to teach their families about what they've learned.  At the end of the year we visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art (we are in New York City) to see some of the artists' work that we've studied.  It is amazing to walk through the halls and have the children spot a Mondrian or a Pollock and watch their faces light up with excitement!  

To launch our artists' study we have the discussion "what is art?" and "what tools do artists use to create their art?".  We read Art is by Bob Raczka.  We put out a bin of books on art: lines, shapes, photography, artists, ABC art books, stories, anything that we think portrays and relates to art.  As the year goes on we add books on each artist we learn about. 

Here are some of the artists we've studied:  

Piet Mondrian

We always start with Piet Mondrian.  We like the fact that the main elements of his work (the pieces that we study) are so basic: primary colors, horizontal and vertical lines, squares and rectangles. 

We start with a discussion about colors and do some color mixing.  On another day we show a Smartboard slideshow (Download Lesson mondrian) of Piet Mondrian (please download the interactive viewer here) and his work and we give the children basic information (Download Piet Mondrian)  about his life.  Next lesson is a review of the main elements of the artist's work.  Last, the children create a piece based on Piet Mondrian's style. 


  • Mondrian by Hans L. Jaffe

Project materials:

  • easel/painting paper(if you cut it into squares it will be even more like a Mondrian)

  • black paper strips of various lengths

  • bins of primary colors (red, blue, yellow) for watch table

  • glue, scissors, thin paintbrushes


The children place the black strips vertically and horizontally to create squares and rectangles  on their white background.  Once they are certain of their design they glue the strips down.  Next the children decided what primary colors they want to use to color in some or all of their shapes.  Let dry and then cut off any parts of the black strips that are hanging off the paper.


Mondrian 3       Mondrian 4       Mondrian 2       Mondrian 1 


                                                                     Mondrian 1         


Faith Ringgold

We love studying Faith Ringgold because many of the students know her work from her children's book Tar Beach.  We often tie this project in with Black History Month. 

First we show a Smartboard slide show (Download Faith Ringgold ) of Faith Ringgold (please download the interactive viewer here) and her work and we give the children basic information (download)  about her life.  Next, we do a review of the main elements of the artist's work and read Tar Beach.  Lastly, the children "claim" a place in NYC that they love or are familiar with and create a piece based on Faith Ringgold's style. 



Project materials:

  • fabric squares

  • pieces of colored fabric (to sew the quilt together)

  • tempera paint (we always provide skin tones along with other colors)

  • think paintbrushes

  • sharpie or fabric pen


Tape each square of fabric down on the table.  Make sure you place a piece of tape across the bottom of the fabric, about three fingers from th end.  This will ensure that you have enough room to write the words that go with the picture.  The children think of their favorite place in the city or a landmark they know.  They paint their picture.  Once dry, the teacher writes the words on the bottom, " I claim (place that student names)".  The teacher sews together all the pieces to create a quilt.

  Faith 2     Faith w2      Fath w1                 Faith 1



Jackson Pollock

Pollock is a really fun artist to study.  His artwork is not what most children think of when you ask them "what is art?".  However, it does look like some of their art and they LOVE experimenting in his style whether at the easel (be prepared for a messy class) or during the final project.  At the end of the year when we ask them who their favorite artist was many children name Pollock.

First we show a Smartboard slide show  of Jackson Pollock (please download the interactive viewer here) and his work and we give the children basic information about his life.  Next, we do a review of the main elements of the artist's work and read Action Jackson by Jan Greenberg and Sandra Jordan.  Lastly, the children create a piece based on Pollock's style.  For an interactive activity visit Action Painting on a Smartboard


Project materials:

  • small canvases (these can be expensive so you can use paper instead)

  • tempera paint

  • smocks (you HAVE to send a letter home to ask parents to dress their child in old clothes that they don't mind getting paint on.  Make sure you do the same!)

  • variety of tools to paint with: brushes, spoons, sticks, whisks


Clear a space in your classroom where you can lay out the easels (or paper) on the floor.  We have done this in two different ways.  You can keep each easel separate and each child picks the colors and creates his/her work.  A second way is to put all the easels together like a big canvas (more like Pollock’s huge canvases) and have the children work on it as a one big piece, and then give them any one to take home.  If you have limited space, option one might be better as you can control the mess a little more.  Either way, you can only have a few (we don’t do more than 4) children at a time working on the project.  Encourage them to move around the canvas, use their whole body when painting, and experiment with the various tools.  When displaying the artwork you can show it as individual pieces or reconnect it to show it as one big piece.  The pictures below show samples of both.


Individual work:

Pollock 2        Pollock 3      Pollock 4      Pollock 5 


Group work:

Pollock 1          Pollock w1       Pollock w2       Poloock w3       



I will be sharing more about our artists' study in a future post.  Please share with us your ideas if you have done or seen similar projects. 





Do the children have any questions why Pollock's and Mondrian's paintings are considered art ?


Actually they've never had questions about that. When we have our initial discussion "what is art" they have named the usual, paintings and drawings, but also things like "a big foot" ( a sculpture of a colossal foot by Tom Otterness in the 14th str. subway station). We live in NYC where there is art all around on the buildings, in the streets, in the subways and of course the many museums. Also, most of our students have the means to not only travel and visit museums in other cities, but also own art in their homes. I often wonder what the response to "what is art?" would be if we were addressing another group of kids.
By the way, I like you website and might use some of the info and pics on it for some of our future lessons. Check out the following website for some more cool artwork in NYC as part of the Arts for Transit program. You can click on each subway line and station to see the art at each station. It's great! http://images.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.artismessy.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/otterness.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.artismessy.org/%3Fp%3D146&usg=__G5TyhcnHtEpVK1tSjd-46vPzhQI=&h=272&w=504&sz=187&hl=en&start=4&tbnid=yA2Ou-IVHii7iM:&tbnh=70&tbnw=130&prev=/images%3Fq%3Dbig%2Bfoot%2Bart%2Bny%2Bstation%26gbv%3D2%26hl%3Den%26sa%3DG

Comments are closed. Please see Classroom Solutions, our new blog for the 2009-2010 school year. And stay tuned for Teaching Matters with Angela Bunyi and Beth Newingham.

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