Welcome to The Helpful Art Teacher, an interdisciplinary website linking visual arts to math, social studies, science and language arts.

Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

Please click on my page to see my personal artwork and artist statement: http://thehelpfulartteacher.blogspot.com/p/the-art-of-rachel-wintembe.html

Please contact me at thehelpfulartteacher@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Tree of Life: Exploring line, shape, space, pattern and color with oil pastels and India ink

18" x 24" Tree of Life by an 8th grade student
Oil Pastel and India Ink on Paper

Stoclet Frieze, 1909, by Gustav Klimt

Gustav Klimt filled his artwork with mysterious imagery and mythological references. He did not explain his pictures, instead leaving it up to the viewer to interpret the story. We do know that Klimt was inspired by Egyptian art. 

I have long been fascinated with the ‘Tree of Life’ at the center of Klimt’s Stoclet Frieze. Like many cultures, ancient Egyptians used the tree to symbolize the power of nature
and the cycle of birth, death and regeneration. Art historians hypothesize that the swirling lines of Klimt’s branches represent the Nile River, destroying everything in its wake in the annual flood while depositing rich soil upon the banks.
The Egyptian God most often associated with this cycle of life is Osiris, who was cruelly murdered by his son, Set, and then resurrected by his wife, the goddess Isis. Osiris’s son, Horus, visible in the picture, is represented both as a falcon and the ‘all seeing eye’. Horus’s real eye was gouged out by his
evil brother Set, as the sons battled for power in the wake of their father’s death. Isis magically restored the eye, imbuing it with magical properties. Rather than keep it, Horus offered it to his father, in the hope of bringing him back to life. The eye is symbolic of wisdom, loyalty, restoration and
sacrifice. I was eager to teach my new students about the expressive possibilities of the art element of line. ‘Tree of Life’ was an ideal inspiration.

Many of my new middle school students had little faith in their creative abilities. I knew I needed to start by teaching them how to use line, pattern, color and space so they could become confident artists. Wanting to avoid having them
merely copy Klimt’s stunning piece, I elected not to show it to them until after their own creations were complete. Instead, I focused on teaching the elements of art and principles of design, so each student could produce something unique.

Each student was told to draw a tree with a
trunk, roots and branches that fill the page. All the branches and roots had to go off the edge of the page. We used toy cars to test if the lines were wide enough, imagining the roots and branches were roads and the trunk a highway. Using
the ‘lines and patterns’ worksheet packet as a reference (found here) http://thehelpfulartteacher.blogspot.com/2012/07/rhythmic-line-designs-and-patterns.html
they filled each negative space on the page with patterns. I handed each student a color theory worksheet and color wheel (found here) http://thehelpfulartteacher.blogspot.com/2010/11/color-theory-101.html and briefly went over primary colors, secondary colors, warm colors, cool colors, tints and complimentary colors. This review took
less than ten minutes because I allowed the students to keep the reference sheet with all the definitions for the duration of the project and expected them to refer to it frequently. 

They picked any negative space and colored the design within using two complimentary colors, no mixing. in another space, they used one warm color and one cool color,
no mixing. They filled another space with all three primary colors, no mixing. Some other color schemes listed on the worksheet were; any secondary color and its
tint (see how many values you can create by gradually adding more white), any primary color and it’s tint (can you create a value scale and use it in your
design?), any two primary colors and the secondary colors they could create from mixing them, warm colors only and cool colors only.  In the last space I gave the students free
choice of color but told them to create tests on a piece of scrap paper first.
Once the oil pastels were put away, students used a square shading brush to line India ink along the edge of the oil pastel, rotating the paper while painting to minimize drips. If a student did drip on the oil pastel, they were instructed not to wipe it off. Instead, we allowed it to dry and chipped it off.

They then painted every part of the paper that did not have oil pastel with black India ink, filling in the tree. 

One 8th grader decided to leave the inside of her tree white after painting the lines, creating a beautiful sense of contrast. 
Once our creations were done, I showed my students Klimt’s artwork and asked them to discuss and write four reflection questions: 

1) Why did Mrs. Wintemberg have
you do this assignment? What did she want you to learn? 

2) How is your picture similar to Gustav Klimt’s picture? 

3) Gustav Klimt’s picture is mysterious. It uses many symbols. What are some symbols you can find in his artwork? 

4) Make up a story to explain what is going on in his picture.

We then proudly displayed the artwork, together with student reflections, in the hallway and at district art exhibits.

Below is a very thoughtful written response to this assignment by a 7th grade student.

Below are copies of the worksheets I gave my students:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Art of Storytelling

If she could write and illustrate her own short story and get published, then so can you. Here is how to get started:

Developing your story: Write what you know. Base your fictional story on an experience you had that had great meaning for you. The main character doesn't have to be you, they don't even have to be human, but in order for other people to be able to relate to your character, you need to be able to relate to them. Watch this 'Pixar in a Box' video and you will see what I mean:


Coming up with interesting scenarios: Take your protagonist out of their comfort zone. Throw them into a setting that is unfamiliar and uncomfortable for them. Take a look at the Pixar in a Box video below and you will see what I mean:

 In the best stories the heroes are not perfect. They have flaws and hopefully learn something about themselves and experience emotional growth as the story progresses.

Does your story have a villain? In many of the most interesting stories the villain and the hero actually have a lot of traits in common. It is usually the choices they make that differentiate them, not their abilities. For instance, in Star Wars Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader both started out the same way, yet one chose the path of a villain and the other the hero's path. In the Harry Potter books, both Voldemort and Harry were lonely unwanted orphans with magical powers. Making the hero not 100% good and the villain not 100% bad will make your story more engaging.


Drawing your story:
In the 1980's every artist at Marvel Comics had the graphic 'Wally Wood's 22 Panels that Always Work!!!' hanging over their drawing table. Below is a video that shows how they can be used by cartoonists, illustrators, photographers and even cinematographers:

Below is a video I created in the spring of 2015 when teaching my students how to illustrate their own stories:

Notice how the author was able to take very painful events from her own experiences, her parents being deported and her older sister growing up and leaving home, and use them to tell an imaginary story about a mission to Mars. This is how great original fictional stories are told. The author uses personal experience to get their audience to care, then creates an imaginary setting, characters and plot. The result is something both completely new, yet relatable and familiar.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Self-portraits: My two selves

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) painted this self portrait, while looking in a mirror, when he was only 15. What can you tell about the teenager in this painting? What can you tell about him from his clothing and hair style? What about the expression on his face? Are the colors in the picture cool or warm?

In 1895, when he was 14 years old, Picasso’s 8 year old sister became very ill. His mother told him to pray for his sister because she might die. That night when he said his prayers, he promised God that if He would only let his sister live, Picasso would give up the things that he loved the most. He promised God that he would never draw or paint again if only Conchita could live. When Conchita died, 14 year old Picasso felt that it was his own fault. But he also felt that God wanted him to continue to create art. Picasso drew this picture of Conchita when she was eight and he was 14, before she became ill. You can see the thoughtful, serious expression of a young man who has known pain when you look at the 15 year old Picasso’s self portrait. His clothes and hair show a well taken care of teen but his expression is thoughtful and sad.

This is another self portrait by Picasso. He painted it in 1901, when he was 19. What do you notice about the young man in this picture? What colors did he use? What do you notice about the expression on his face? What might have happened to cause Picasso to feel this way?

Pablo Picasso created this memorial painting, The Death of Casagemas, in 1901 in Paris, when he was 19. Casagemas had been Picasso’s best friend. They had travelled to Paris together with the ambition of becoming famous artist but times were difficult. Their apartment was cold and drafty and they did not have enough money for food. Notice the hollow cheeks in the blue self portrait in the previous slide. Casagemas fell in love with a beautiful girl but she did not care for him and liked Picasso instead. In despair, Csagemas killed himself. Once again, Picasso felt that he was responsible for the death of a loved one. The blue pallor of Picasso’s skin and grim look on his face reflect his feelings. The portrait depicts a man who has lost his best friend.

Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890) painted this self portrait in 1887.

Van Gogh painted this self portrait in 1889. Ten years after Van Gogh’s death Picasso saw his paintings in Paris. Van Gogh’s paintings were revolutionary. He was the first painter to use color to express emotion.

Van Gogh painted this self portrait shortly after the blue one. Compare the serious, sad thoughtful look in his eyes to Picasso’s 15 year old painting.

This is a self portrait by the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.  Notice how she emphasizes her eyebrows in this picture. What does the shape of her eyebrows look like? She painted her eyebrows in the shape of a bird on purpose. She was disabled in a very bad bus accident as a young woman and drew her eyebrows like that to symbolize her dream of being, like a bird, free from disability and pain. Because of this accident she was also unable to have children. Every time she got pregnant she miscarried. She kept many pets, including these spider monkeys. She loved them and took good care of them. To her they symbolized the children she could never have.

Here is another self portrait by the same artist.

 Here is a self portrait I created when I was 19

Here is a self portrait I created when I was 24

Below is a slide presentation of the pictures you just saw for easy classroom viewing:

After reflecting upon the ways self-portraits can express various feelings, take a look in the mirror and create your own self-portraits. Watch the film below for some tips for drawing faces:

Using a dry eraser marker and a piece of plastic, try closing one eye and practice tracing the features of a friend's face.

Next, use a mirror and try to trace the features of your own face. Practice making different facial expressions with your mouth and eyebrows to express different emotions.

You can see by the self portraits of the artists that I have shown here that the same person can look completely different depending on how they are feeling and what they are going through in their lives. The assignment below was inspired by a lesson written by Eric Gibbons called 'My evil twin.' To see Mr. Gibbons lesson please click here.

You will be folding your paper in half and creating two self-portraits. One will be you and the other will be your 'evil twin' or 'other self' . Change the coloring of the portrait and the facial expressions on the second self portrait to clearly show your audience which twin is evil. When you are done drawing and coloring your picture, follow the directions below to create a story to go with your artwork:

Person, Place and Problem
My evil twin
Your story’s main character will be loosely based on you. That means that it will be written in the first person (using the pronoun ‘I’). The character can be older or younger than you, even grown up. They can have a completely different life than you. They may also have a different name than you. But their personality and how they would act in imaginary situations should be based on you. They must be human.
Your story must have a setting. It could be anywhere, real or imaginary, past, present or future.
Your character must have an evil twin that tries to ruin his or her life by pretending to be them. Be as original and creative as possible. What are some ways an evil twin could potentially cause you problems?
The ‘twin’ does not need to be related to the main character. They merely have to look identical to them. They could be an actual twin, a clone, a cyborg, a time traveler, a relative or just a doppelganger. However they must be able to get away with impersonating the main character, at least for a while.
How does the main character try to solve their problem? Does anyone believe them? Can they expose the evil twin?
Your story must end in a cliffhanger. Think of the season finale of your favorite TV show, where you have to wait until next season to find out how it ends. Keep your readers interested. Does your main character get the happy ending they deserve? Or is all lost? Keep your audience guessing.
Be as creative and original as possible. Have fun. If you finish early, try retelling the story from the evil twin’s perspective

My 7th graders transferred their drawings to canvas board by rubbing a 6B graphite stick on the back, taping the artwork to the canvas and tracing over all of their lines, pressing hard. They then went over their lines with a pencil on the canvas board and shaded the faces using an imaginary light source (I told them not to draw a corner sun but rather to imagine the sun was above the portrait and off to one side, just outside the picture frame). They then painted their portraits using this technique:

For the backgrounds, I referred back to the famous self portraits we had looked at earlier. I told them the most important choice they had to make for the background was  to use color to expressed the emotion they were trying to convey. We discussed how many artists used a solid color field, how Van Gogh used brush strokes to express emotion and how Frida Kahlo used very detailed backgrounds that were part of the autobiographical narrative of the picture. I left it up to the individual student to decide how to approach the background, my only stipulation being that the color reflect the mood of the painting.
Student Art Gallery
Grade 7 acrylic paintings

My 5th grade students drew and shaded their pictures using pencil and then lightly colored them using colored pencil, so that the pencil shading was visible through the colored pencil. They then added expressive backgrounds. Finally they used an iPad app called Photo Speak to bring their drawings and stories to life: