Issue 5 | April 2019
for art instructor subscribers
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With Acrylics, using pigments that look great sometimes comes with dangers and high cost. Our favorite red for acrylics has neither.
Learning about pigments can be daunting.
Fact: the Color Index International (CII) lists over 13,000 different pigments. Moreover, any single pigment can create a number of colors based on the manufacturing process.
For a classroom, It’s good to have consistency. You don’t want to give one student a solution that doesn’t work with other students’ materials.
Fact: pigments mix differently even if they look similar.
We always try to distinguish between colors and pigments. A pigment is very specific, whereas a color can mean a lot of different things to different people.
Pigments are in our paint tubes. They’re usually too brilliant or dark to use straight from the tube. They are ingredients.
Colors are what we make on our palette almost always using more than one pigment. They are inventions.
Let’s start with a list of pigment and paint goals for acrylic paints. Your list may be different, but we have found that these goals solve most palette issues.
- Consistency – have a single brand for each pigment.
- Workability – use perfect pigment opposites (not just visual complements) for mixing the best neutrals.
- Versatility – use heavy body paint.
- Economy – find quality student grade paints, except for white.
- Predictability – use single pigment paints if possible, to keep mixing simple.
- Balance (economy vs versatility) – use the lowest number of pigments that gives a full range of options.
- Bonus (economy AND versatility) – using translucent pigments allows acrylic paints to be used to create student grade watercolors.
Perfect Pigment Opposite:
Phthalo Green Blue Shade
The very best warm red pigment is the relatively new, Pyrrol Red, but it is more costly than some other perfectly acceptable student grade pigments. We use a close second in color: Napthol Red.
Napthol is a great pigment, even though it’s not quite as lightfast (not fugitive, or subject to fading over time) as Pyrrol, it’s still better than many others.
If you look at paint tubes closely, you’ll see the CII designation as two capital letters and a number. The capital letters place the pigment in a general color family (R for red, O for orange, etc.), and the numbers are assigned to pigments as they are invented. Higher numbers usually mean new pigments.
Pyrrol Red is PR254 – Also called Ferrari Red. It is an A on toxicity with A being the lowest and D being the highest. An A rating does NOT mean the substance is non-toxic. Do not allow students to hold brushes in their mouths.
Napthol Red Medium is PR112, but to get a brilliant red that looks like Pyrrol or Cadmium Red Light, look for a tube that combines PR112 with Azo Yellow or even better, Azo or Diarylide Orange, PO34. Both of these pigments are decent lightfastness and also are A for toxicity.
An A rating does NOT mean the substance is non-toxic. Do not allow students to hold brushes in their mouths.
Sometimes a “Cadmium Red Light Hue” will mimic cadmium using Napthol and an orange mixed together. Look on the tube for the CII pigment designations.
Always avoid pigment tubes that use white as a filler. You’ll see it on the tube as PW4 (Zinc White), or PW6 (Titanium White).
Never use paints that do not list the pigments! You’ll have no idea if they are toxic, lightfast, or how they’ll mix with other paints.
Find out the CII designations and all kinds of fantastic pigment information on the Color pigment database site: http://www.artiscreation.com/
Our top choice for a great, full-bodied Napthol Red Light is the student-grade Amsterdam brand by Royal Talens. It comes in clear plastic tubes and is heavier than most student grade paints.
The biggest drawback is that the caps are snap-open, which makes more mess. Unscrewing the caps is better but be careful not to twist too tight, or the tip with the threads can actually rip off the tube.
Acrylic paints do not need to be tightened to prevent drying out. A gentle closing touch and clean threads is all that’s needed.
Managing Your Photo References
There are many options and you surely employ several of them already. Here are some ideas that might help, for both analog and digital references.
This does not have to be an oxymoron, even if that is the first thing that might come to mind.
And I should know. I am the king of disorganization. Ask anyone who has seen my desk. Or rather, who has seen the place where my desk is rumored to be. No one has seen it in a while.
But my desk isn’t important to me, and that’s why I never organize it. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Reference though, is very important, and if I can do it, that means pretty much anyone can keep an organized reference system.
The key is to have a system, and a set of rules that everyone can easily follow, that keeps things in their place. Every now and then a volunteer who is just looking for a way to be helpful, can be assigned to tidy up and re-file the used photos.
But that’s only one of a three-part system; the Picture file. There are also Books, and Digital media.
In our studios we have 3 open-top hanging folder files for our photos. One is for creatures; one is for places; and one is for things. We have filled them with printouts, magazine clips, post cards, note cards, and calendars; anything with a nice photo on it.
There is a bin for pictures that students are finished with. They know to place them in the bin instead of trying to find their proper folder, because finding the folder is a long and arduous task (in their mind), and they won’t even try. Without a used picture bin, you get reference pictures left all over the studio. A student volunteer will be happy to tidy up every now and then, placing photos back in their folders.
This is easy. We have a bookshelf. The books are arranged in the same big 3 categories as the picture files. Magazines can follow the same system, but there are not many appropriate magazines any more unless you have a treasure trove of National Geographic. These have handy contents on the spines.
This is where it takes a bit of care and some experimentation. There are worries as well as wonders in the digital realm, and the students need to know the rules to avoid problems.
If you have a printer, the students begin to believe you have an endless source of pictures and you can print of anything their heart desires. Your school’s wifi probably helps thwart this conclusion by blocking a lot of things for you. But then there are Disney princesses. There are unicorns. There are monster trucks. There are just myriad famous people, both real and made up.
One of our biggest rules is that we will not use anyone else’s artwork as reference, except for rare occasions when we’re copying an old master’s painting.
Another HUGE rule is that no one watches the teacher while a search is made. Even with safety protocols and wifi protections, you never know what will show up on a search engine page. The teacher makes a search and then selects a few appropriate images.
Narrowing down the selection to 3 images also helps enormously with time spent and image indecision. A whole page of choices just makes us want to see another whole page of choices. It’s the same as 500 channels on the tv and we just keep scrolling through forever.
And finally, we always fall back on the rule of rulership. “I’m the teacher and this is my room. I make all the decisions. Do you trust me to make good decisions?” [significant pause] “yes, I knew you did.”
Another great method for having good images for your students, as well as a good system for any artist, is to collect inspiring photos on your phone. Set up albums for a few major categories, and then screen grab or save anything you feel would be useful.
On my phone I have many albums, but 3 of them are most important:
- Painting reference
- Finalists (which come from #2)
Whenever I get to paint, I begin by looking at these folders.
The easiest way to do it
The lesson plans on The Art Instructor are set up with carefully chosen references. You just print them out – and remind your principal that your modest printing needs and the Art Instructor membership is still way cheaper than the textbooks and printing needs for tests and homework in other classes. (It can’t hurt to try reasoning every now and then, can it?)
Sometimes the references are presented so you can display them on a screen and you don’t even need a printer.
A careful look at using the grid method
By Dennas Davis
Does the grid method help students or hurt them? Like many things, it can do either, depending on how it is used.
You’ve probably seen or made a grid artwork. This is where you take your reference and draw evenly spaced vertical and horizontal lines to divide the work into a bunch of smaller boxes, all the same size. Then you draw each one, stacking the blocks back together to form a final image.
It’s much easier to draw the simplified images in the small boxes than it is to draw the entire reference. If you draw each box accurately, then you’ll have an accurate overall picture.
It really works too. The more boxes you have, the easier it is to get the overall work to look accurate, because each box is really easy, and you will place your elements in the exact spot they should be drawn on the canvas, because the grid measures the distances for you. It takes away a lot of the feelings of intimidation and being overwhelmed by a large complex image.
Students are delighted the first time they use a grid. Their work is surprisingly accurate.
So, if it works and students like it, why do we generally avoid this method in our curriculum? There are several reasons, and they are very important.
List of very important reasons we don’t use grids
1. The biggest reason we don’t like the grid method is that it prevents students from learning how to draw. They don’t ever need to analyze their overall reference. The grid becomes a crutch. Learning is blocked! (get it?)
2. Chopping up your work and putting it back together as a series of tiny drawings causes the work to look … hmm, how to put this? Umm… chopped up? It’s stiff and disjointed. The flow and gesture of the subject is missing. You lose artistic expression.
3. Relying on the grid creates insecurity in artists. It communicates the idea to them that they can’t draw on their own. If your work always looks better when you trace – or when you make a grid and sort of trace – then you obviously must not have “real” talent. “Why can’t I just draw it like a ‘real’ artist?”
4. The grid is generally viewed as a temporary tool that helps students get past the difficult accuracy stage. This can be helpful early on, or anytime the focus is on technique rather than accuracy yet accuracy is still desired. Students who are having trouble will be embarassed and focus on their poor accuracy instead of doing the work. This fear and intimidation can shut a student down and even prevent them from pursuing art. In a situation like this, you should consider a stress-relieving shortcut instead of a long and intensive operation like the grid method. Just let a student trace the image. All you have to do is give them permission. We often withhold the permission to trace, as if it is wrong. Well, it is cheating in a way, but if you’re willing to use the grid, that’s very similar. You are still not allowing the student to do it on their own. There is really little difference, IF… you also address and teach other ways to reach accuracy. Tracing is a better temporary boost to accuracy.
The grid method is not the only way to teach visual analyzation and accuracy, and it is certainly not the best way to do it.
We use our 3 Steps to Accuracy in our CONN3CTED curriculum. Since we reference the 3 Steps in this article, you should know what we’re talking about.
- Frame – the rectangle or square that contains an image.
- Big Shapes – the 4 or 5 largest areas within a Frame.
- Details – The fun part and what takes most of the time in creating artwork. Details are surprisingly easy if the Frame and Big Shapes are accurate.
The grid system is basically having a student create a bunch of tiny versions of what students should be doing with the whole thing at once. It does solve some important problems, but it does so by relying on the system – without the student actually doing the solving or learning how to solve them. This means that instead of a stepping stone to learning, it is often a stumbling block to learning.
Here are the problems that using the grid solves, along with the way artists should be learning to solve them themselves.
- Proportions are automatically accurate in the grid system, so students never get to practice visually judging proportions. Artists don’t experience proportional issues in the grid at all.
- Instead of seeing the overall Big Shapes that artists should be seeing, the grid makes them focus on tiny broken versions of this critical analyzation. Each grid block is a tiny shape, with a tiny frame. Because the blocks are small, the images within are simplified, with only a few big shapes.
- Instead of looking at how lines connect to the Frame of the overall artwork, the grid makes the artist do this over and over on a tiny broken up piece of the image. The irony is that the grid makes artists very aware of the tiny frame edges of each block because they know the lines must connect to all the adjacent blocks. Looking at the edges of the overall Frame and finding where lines connect to it is such a great method for getting accurate placements, but most artists don’t do it and most teachers don’t teach it.
So I’m guessing that now you’re talking to me in your head, saying something like this, “So if the student is analyzing the little blocks, and doing little versions of the 3 steps to accuracy, why is it such a bad thing?”
And that’s a great question. There is value in working with the frame, and the edges, and simple shapes, even if only in the small blocks.
As in most things, this is not entirely black and white. The grid system is not evil. You can use the grid without blocking learning. The point is that the basic grid method and the way we typically use it, causes more harm than good the way it has been used in the past. Here are a couple of ways we use the grid without causing gridblock. You’ll probably come up with more on your own, now that you know more about the pitfalls of the grid method. You too, can teach without gridblock.
Grid of 9 Exercise – This is an exercise version of a grid project. The GOAL of the this exercise is to teach students how to use the Frame of the overall work in the same way that they did on their center grid block.
Don’t explain the goal until the end.
Use a small square reference of a busy subject with lines that extend across the entire image. An image where the center block (after making the grid of 9 blocks) looks great on its own is very helpful at the end when you’re making your teaching points.
It’s easiest if the image is 3″ square or 6″ square. Have artists all draw a 3 x 3 grid to divide the image into 9 smaller squares. Then have them enlarge the image on their sketch pad to a 9″ or a 12″ square with 3″ or 4″ blocks accordingly.
After they’re done, have them focus on the center block, and remember how they used the edges to match each line to the adjacent block. This is what every accomplished painter does when they are mapping out their canvas, except that they are looking at the entire image and the canvas edges. Now have them create an even larger version of that center block as if it is the final image, using the FRAME edges to see where their biggest shapes and lines connect to the edge.
Grid game – This is a shorter variation of the classic class grid poster project. The GOAL of the this game is to teach students how to use the Frame of the overall work in the same way that they used their individual grid pieces in connecting with others.
Have artists all draw one block each, of a larger image. Students should sit in a grid just like the grid they’re working on, so that they are next to the students who are drawing the adjacent blocks. Students should match up their blocks periodically to their neighbors and adjust the lines to match. Afterwards, you make a large poster of the whole image. Then you teach about how the Frame edges were so important and how that’s also important on the overall frame of any artwork. Then you also should note how chopped up the final work looks. It’s an interesting look, and it might be your goal sometimes, but if your goal isn’t specifically to look disjointed, then it doesn’t meet your goals.
Center lines – The most simple grid is 4 blocks. This usually doesn’t get in the way of the overall image because the artist isn’t trying to fit the blocks together, but simply looking at the shapes in the image to see how they align with the center lines. for very young students we sometimes have them fold the paper for center lines.
Foam Sweet Foam
Styrofoam is one of our favorite things. You can make large things our it, or use smaller bits as engraving blocks. We have a lesson that uses foam carry out trays for printing plates. They’re etched with a ball point pen. You can cut up more sturdy blocks out of insulation foam.
Need a giant pirate ship? Use the large sheets of pink insulation foam from the hardware stores and cut it with a box cutter knife.
Need a small red “Go Dog Go” car like shown above? The aforementioned pink foam makes great sides. We just painted it with red house paint. NEVER try to paint foam with a spray paint. It will melt the foam. Then we used red poster board for the front and back. Need wheels? We found the white foam at a craft store so no need to paint them.
Another use for foam is to make stamps. Craft foam sheets can be found in pre-cut shape assortments or cut into custom shapes. The shapes can be glued to a small block of 1/2″ or larger insulation foam for a nice holding block for your stamp. It’s cheaper and easier to make stamps from than wood blocks.
A box cutter will slice through most foam pretty well if the cuts are straight or have large curves. Make sure you have a lot of fresh blades, because the foam dulls them fast, and a dull blade shreds the edge. Make a shallow cut first, and then re-cut through the material on a second slice. Use a metal straight edge with a cork or foam back so it doesn’t slip, and double-check that your fingertips are not near the cutting edge!
How do you cut more intricate shapes out of foam? For that you’ll need a hot wire cutter and fresh air. When a wire is heated up, it will slice through the foam like, well… a hot knife through butter! There will be fumes so having good ventilation and fresh air is important for your health.
Hot glue can melt the foam a bit, but on low temp, and with a little care and practice, you can make it work really well.
Hot Wire Cutter
There are many different options for foam cutters. Here is a link to one on Amazon:
Read an overview of up-comming lesson plans below.
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Hand-crafted by the folks at The Art Instructor
Like a three-legged stool, our art room curriculum has been built as a complete foundation for students, using three deeply connected principles.
Connect the Mind
Lessons provide understanding
Connect the Hand
Lessons show application & movement
Connect the Heart
Lessons for fun & self-expression
KidsART is for grades 1 & 2
Foundations has two versions:
grades 3 – 5 and grades 6 – 12
After a warmup and drawing an eye, students use symmetry and mirrors to learn insights about the face. Then with helpful instructions they’ll draw and paint their own portraits using tempera paints on watercolor paper.
Artists will continue to work on their portraits from last week. The focus should be on the technique, but also to re-work areas that are not looking the way they want them to. Early finishers have Artists’ Choice.
Box Animal Safari
The first week of making a big 3D Painted cardboard project has students building an animal out of boxes and tubes. This week they’ll prime the sculpture so that next week, when it’s dry, they can paint it like the animal – or in wild crazy colors! Today they also warm up with artists’ choice and have an animal prints print-making session
Fun & Freaky Game Day
While older classes in grades 6 and up will continue with their portrait paintings, young grades and a few students will finish earlier. Signatures are demoed, and then there are fun artist games to do. Each game has a learning component.
Box Animal Safari 2
Students finish their Box Animal Safari sculptures by painting them in either realistic or expressive patterns and colors.
Expressive Animals 1
We begin a project this week: two expressive ink drawings of animals using a brush and ink. Next week students will add watercolor to these.
Artists’ Choice Stations
Students enjoy having choice of things to do and subject matter. Stations are set up and the class will split into several groups, rotating through each one.
Expressive Animals 2
Watercolors are added to the ink drawings from last week’s lesson. Afterwards, watercolor is used for an abstract design painting.
What Some Lesson
Sites Are Like:
You get some
What Other Lesson
Sites Are Like:
You get some
parts to assemble
Site is Like:
You get it all!
It’s finished & Connected.