Friday, December 5, 2014

Mondrian with Kinders- RES

Looking at the artist Piet Mondrian has become a staple for me with my Kindergarteners.  He has all of the "basics" going on in his later work- straight lines, squares, rectangles, bold outlines, and primary colors.
Composition C, 1935
His artwork has been appropriated into many other contexts as well, especially fashion.

Yves St. Laurent dress, 1965
Some more wearable than others.
At least for me, that is.
Mondrian-inspired bathing suit by designer Sarah Schofield
Iconic as he is in the art world, many people outside of the art world don't know him by name, unlike, say Picasso.  So doing a project inspired by him always feels fresh and fun.

My main focus areas with Kinders at the moment are on controlling their lines types and building the ability to really control the color of your paints- in other words, drawing what you want to with intention, and learning to wash your brush out well, so your colors can stay what you intend them to be. Mondrian is perfect for this.

Drawing a straight line, as you might know, is harder than it sounds. Our bodies are not made of straight lines, and our body joints like the fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders are naturally better at drawing curves.  Hence, the ruler.

I show Kinders how to hold a ruler to make straight lines, spreading out their fingers to hold at multiple points, and how to push the pencil against it while you draw. All without it swinging away and accidentally ending up with a curve.  This is not easy, and we don't even get into measuring.

Ready to paint
They begin with pencil, but can also use Sharpie, to draw straight lines.  Additional lines drawn perpendicular create rectangles and squares. Getting to the point you see above takes an entire 40 minute class.

Next, students paint. But here is the catch- these rectangles and squares form a puzzle. Using paints, students try to paint the entire page without one shape of a color, say blue, touching another shape of that same color.  They also try to leave no more than two spaces white. AND, they are using only primary colors.

See how the white space is surrounded by the other three primaries? Nothing to do but leave it white.
  We talk a lot about paint brush cleanliness. Not because I am trying to make them all Type A, but because when you use yellow, and you want it to stay yellow,  that's a skill.  Trying to keep the color yellow clean is the devil here.  It sucks up blue and red so easily. Because if you dip into blue and don't wash out well, it's a bummer sometimes when the sun you paint next turns green.  Essentially, having more control over their skills gives artists more choices, to mix or not to mix.

Solved with no white spaces
That's day two of this project. The third day is focused on looking.  Really looking. Trying to find all of the places where two colors meet, and creating outlines around the shapes.

One missed- do you see it?
This is also harder than you might think.  Learning to see shapes within a mass of color is tricky. Some students get it right away, while others sort of create stripes across the while picture.  I encourage peers to help one another by doing things like outlining a shape with their finger.

Not easy- the paint mixes, the lines can be tricky to see...
This lesson teaches me an incredible amount about each child. Where did they struggle?  Where did they succeed?  Even if they aren't the tidiest painter, were they the first to finish the logic puzzle, with ease, no less?  Did they do all of that easily but struggle to find shapes within the "quilt" they created?

I also love combining subject matter like this one, geometry+ logic +art. It engages student brains far more fully to be working on multiple subject areas, and it brings out different skills across a classroom, because being "artistic" is not all the only way to be successful in art class.


  1. I did something like this a long time ago, and had forgotten about it until I saw this post! I worked in reverse of you, and I think it was K's or grade 1 or both. We used some large graph paper that I had, and black strips of paper. The kids started by gluing black strips. They could only glue them on lines on the graph paper, and each one had to touch another to make shapes. Then, in the next class, we painted in the shapes with the primary colors, leaving some white. So many approaches with such similar results! Very cool.

  2. Looking again at your approach, I remember that we painted all yellow first, then all red, and then finally the blue. It kept the brushes and paints MUCH cleaner! The yellow (mostly) stayed yellow!