Building Exploration

Fall 2014, Grades 4 & 5

Described below are three (of several) art making sessions in this multi-step exploration of buildings. 


Timed Quick Sketches of California Missions and Houses

As a lead in to a series of lessons working on 3-D forms, shading and depth, the students explored buildings and basic building shapes and practiced short, timed observational sketches using soft lead pencils and crayons of one, two, five and ten minute duration. The subjects of these sketching sessions were black and white photos of California Missions and typical houses students might see in our Bay Area neighborhoods.

Prior to these quick sketches of buildings, I encouraged students to not erase during warm ups and short drawing assignments.

  • Learning how to sketch, observe and block in the main shapes quickly without erasing has a practical side: live subjects (for instance, if you were sketching animals at the zoo) may not stay in the pose you started the sketch in for long!
  • I also want students to feel comfortable with stray or awkward lines and working with what happens on the paper--going with the quirks of the sketched line instead of judging them and trying to 'fix' them too soon.
  • In addition, a drawing is a record of the sketched moment--what you were doing, seeing, feeling, your level of skill in the use of materials and in laying down a sketched line--consequently, for these sketches, I asked students to leave them alone when the time was up so that the drawing could serve as a record of that moment in time.

Quick Sketch Example # 1

Quick Sketch Example # 1

Quick Sketch Example # 1

The sketch to the left (#1) demonstrates the loose, expressive quality that can be achieved in a quick one minute sketch. 


Quick Sketch Example # 2

Quick Sketch Example # 2

Quick Sketch Example # 2

In my experience as an artist and in my observation of students over the years, timed sketches seem to help the brain to 'snap to' attention and focus--I have felt this 'snapping to' attention myself and it is an intense and amazing experience. It is incredible to me how accurately the image can be seen by the eyes, sent to the brain and down to the hand and transferred to the paper when the mind is at attention in this way. An example of this kind of attention to the observation can be seen in example #2.


Quick Sketch Example # 3

Quick Sketch Example # 3

Quick Sketch Example # 3

One of the objectives of these sketching activities was for students to begin to observe light, medium and dark areas and to use their fingers to smear the soft lead pencil or the side of a crayon to get shading effects. Students often comment to me that the building suddenly takes on a more 3-dimensional effect when they begin to add shading to the drawing. # 3 is an example of a student exploring shading with both the pencil and side of the crayon.


Quick Sketch Example # 4

Quick Sketch Example # 4

Quick Sketch Example # 4

Example # 4 shows the wonderful, expressive quality of quickly drawn lines when the student is loose and relaxed.


Quick Sketch Example # 5

Quick Sketch Example # 5

Quick Sketch Example # 5

It is possible to achieve very realistic depictions of what you see when you are practiced at observational drawing. But something I find incredibly intriguing is the way an observation is altered by the journey through the brain and down the hand and onto the paper. I love the expressiveness of these kinds of drawings.

This is another reason why I encourage students not to erase--some of the things that happen in a drawing, the quirks, the lines that were meant to be straight but instead curved, the shapes that somehow become elongated or squeezed or shortened or the enumerable transformations that can happen during sketching are delightful to look at and can be more expressive and tell a stronger, richer story than an accurate depiction. Sketch # 5 is an example of a drawing where the house almost looks like it is breathing and attempting to stretch up and towards the top of the paper. To draw like this takes a relaxed and nonjudgmental mind that is willing to go with what is happening in the drawing.



Oil Pastel Building Compositions on Black or Purple Construction Paper

For this oil pastel drawing assignment, I invited students to use their imaginations to create their own building compositions on black or purple construction paper. Before beginning we discussed three primary ways students might think about starting their drawing. Students could start the drawing by:

Image # 1 Basic Building Shapes from California Missions: Ideas for how to combine the basic shapes from the missions to create a new building by stacking, side-by-side and one shape inside another shape.

Image # 1

Basic Building Shapes from California Missions: Ideas for how to combine the basic shapes from the missions to create a new building by stacking, side-by-side and one shape inside another shape.

  1. using the basic building shapes from the California Missions and think about stacking, side-by-side or one shape within another (see Image # 1, Basic Building Shapes) 
  2. observing one of the houses or missions from the photos 
  3. using their imaginations or memories to begin the drawing

(Click here to read about Starters.)

 
Image # 2: Drawing Expectations

Image # 2Drawing Expectations

Students were asked to use oil pastel, include one or more buildings in the composition and follow the drawing expectations (see Image #2, Drawing Expectations) with the additional instruction that if they wanted an area to be black on black paper to use black oil pastel to fill in the space and the same for purple paper--spaces to be left purple must be filled with purple oil pastel.

The examples below show the wide variety of ways the students approached this assignment.

  • Some drawings are based on observations of the building photos--an example is Drawing #1 below.
  • Other drawings, Drawing #2 for example, are drawn from prior knowledge of conventions for drawing a house.
  • In other drawings (see Drawing #12), the students used combinations of the basic shapes to create their building compositions.
  • Drawing #14 is an example of a student who used her imagination (or perhaps her memory? Can never be sure if a student has seen something somewhere!) to make an egg house for her chick.
  • In one class, students came up with the great idea of taping several sheets of construction paper together to create a larger drawing--see Drawings #9 and #13.
  • I gave early finishers a challenge: draw a second scene with the building far away (in the distance) and think about if they could draw something else in the foreground (close up). See drawing #6 below for an example of a student who took this challenge.
Drawing # 1

Drawing # 1

Drawing # 2

Drawing # 2

 
Drawing # 3

Drawing # 3

Drawing # 4

Drawing # 4

 
Drawing # 5

Drawing # 5

Drawing # 6

Drawing # 6

 
Drawing # 7

Drawing # 7

Drawing # 8

Drawing # 8

 
Drawing # 9

Drawing # 9

Drawing # 10

Drawing # 10

 
Drawing # 11

Drawing # 11

Drawing # 12

Drawing # 12

 
Drawing # 13

Drawing # 13

Drawing # 14

Drawing # 14

 

To view the student gallery of Building Explorations in Oil Pastel click here and here.



Buildings Combined with a Story Stick Prompt

As time permitted, all 4th and 5th grade classes during the Building Exploration, did short drawings where the students had the opportunity to play with the building theme in combination with their own ideas.

For example, one day, after doing 20 minutes of building quick sketches, Ms. Smith’s class spent the last 10-15 minutes of class creating drawings using a story stick prompt. The starter to the drawing was to think about how to combine a building with the ideas in the prompt.

The prompt was: an excited dancer on an island with sunny weather.

 

The results contain so much humor and life—I thought you all would enjoy seeing the funny, creative and expressive thinking I get to see everyday in the art classroom. Roosevelt families, your children are truly delightful to work with and I feel so lucky to be their art teacher!

Click here to view the Excited Dancer Gallery of student drawings.