The Artist in Us: Exploring Multimedia to Express Creativity
By Parul Roy, Head Teacher
As Center AM embarked on the winter quarter, the children’s interest in drawing and painting and the teaching team’s interest in the visual arts led to a rewarding project, one using basic materials, having real-world application, and providing plenty of chances for the children’s questions and investigations to guide the work.
We began by providing painting opportunities in different areas of the environment. Children responded by expressing their feelings, ideas, and reflections through their artwork. Each painting revealed a story, personal and meaningful to the artist, and was showcased at story time. The children’s thrill at achieving their goals was contagious. Many paintings emerged, each with its own story.
We expanded this exploration by talking to the children about their art and their process, introducing new vocabulary and helping children reflect on and talk about their creations. We brought in reproductions of famous paintings and books on art. In small groups we discussed the children’s views about these works, prompting responses with questions such as “What do you think is happening in this painting?” “What do you think the artist used to paint?” “How do you feel when you look at this painting?” “What do you like about this painting?” “What colors were used?”
As the children extended their thinking, they used observational skills and verbalized their thoughts in both small and large groups.
Chiara: “I see black sky. It’s night. It’s night here on houses.”
Sam: “I like it because it has some green grass and a blue sky and some yellow grass, too. I like it, too, because it has a person walking in the grass.”
Sawyer: “I like it because it has a nice blue sky. I also like it because there is a person walking, walking, walk-ing in the grass.”
Sadie and Annie: “The artist used lots of colors, gray, brown, red, green, yellow, plain white, and purple.”
The children started out using familiar tempera paint and then tried watercolors, oil pastels, crayons, color and primer pencils, and ink. They used a variety of tools to paint with: soccer balls in trays, string, stamps, kitchen tools, brayers, brushes of different sizes, palette knives, popsicle sticks, pine needles, flowers, and, of course, fingers! Some of these tools were the children’s own ingenious ideas. They discovered new methods as they explored the environment, experimented with mediums, tools, and techniques, and discussed their differences. The children also experimented with different sizes and shapes of paper: easel paper, construction paper, brown bags, newsprint, foil, gift-wrap, typing and Manila paper. With Christina Jung, our Psychology 147 student, the children made their own paper, learning how and with what paper is made and also expressing their creativity by adding yarn, grass, and flowers to the mix. The experimentation and learning were further spurred on by visiting artist parents, who shared tools and techniques that the children had opportunities to work with.
In groups the children used their whole bodies to make murals. They brainstormed ideas and worked closely together, taking ownership of a class project in which each individual felt validated and included as an important member of the group. Expanding on their understanding of the use of space, the children hung some of these murals at different heights and placed others on the ground as they painted. One of the children’s favorite murals, on a big canvas, was a two-week project that the children proudly displayed in their gallery.
Documenting the work was a valuable way to record and present information. On the patio children built a gallery to display their creations. This art museum provided opportunities for dramatic play as the children made tickets, acted as tour guides, and opened a café serving lemonade and cookies. The teachers recorded the work through pictures, children’s quotations, and stories and then compiled photocopies and originals into an art portfolio. Large- and small-group discussions around the display boards provided an avenue for reflection and chances to look at what other children had made, ask peers about their paintings, and revisit their own work. While viewing Mara’s painting in the gallery, Nelson said, “This one looks like a dragon. Here is the fire coming out. And this is the power. And here are the legs.” Joyce’s dictated story about her own work took the form of a poem:
She is swimming.
She sees a flower.
She has a crown.
It has three points.
And three colors.
Red, yellow, brown.
She has a blue face.
She has red long hair.
She has an orange smile.
She sees the house and boat.
The house looks like busy.
The boat is like the sky.
Cloud cloud cloud.
Cloud is flying.
The sun is like a star.
As an extension to our project, we later took field trips to the Cantor Art Museum on the Stanford campus, exploring and appreciating the wonderful community of art around us. At every opportunity we reinforced the children’s understanding that visual images symbolize ideas and feelings, just as words do in written stories, and that each child’s work is unique and valuable.