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Friday, June 3, 2011

Simplicity and Sunshine

I recently bought an old confit pot at the Paris flea market. A confit pot is a French version of a fat jar. (My mom kept her fat in a Folgers coffee tin, I keep mine in my rear. :) I had wanted a confit pot for years. My desire stemmed from the Van Gogh series of sunflower paintings. Something about the simplicity of the two objects he painted really appealed to me. Everyday sunflowers, which probably grew without anyone planting them, were plucked and placed by Vincent in an impromptu vase of a confit jar that was probably laying around in the asylum kitchen. Somehow he was so inspired by these two simple elements he created an entire series of paintings.

As many of you know, once a month I pack up my paints and take my love of color and design on the road via art instruction for children. My most recent project was a huge hit. I somehow got 26 third graders excited about still life. (snicker) The subject was an interpretation of Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”.

As with all art instruction I began with a short lesson. For this lesson I explained what a still life is: A painting or photograph of nonmoving or nonliving (inanimate) objects such as fruit, flowers, or books often placed in a homelike setting such as a table in a kitchen. I then provided a brief description of Van Gogh’s life.

I would like to point out that I am not a teacher, nor do I hold a degree in art or art history. I am merely a mom who wants art in school and have resorted to fulfilling that desire myself. Please forgive the quality of video.

In the video I talked about that when Van Gogh first began painting he used a very dark color palette and his subjects were often every day people.

“The Potato Eaters” 1885

Traveling to Belgium he was influenced by the vibrant colors of Japanese art. He then moved to Paris and became friends with such artists as Gauguin…

“The Swineherd Brittany”  1888
…and Toulouse-Lautrec. Both artists had a love for vibrant color and movement.
“La Toilette” 1896
Van Gogh was also inspired by impressionism as seen in this lovely example by Monet.

“Water Lilies and Japanese Bridge” 1899

As well as pointillism which is represented beautifully in this piece by Seurat.

“A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte”  1884
He combined the styles which resulted in Van Gogh being classified as a Post Impressionist painter. In this 1887 self portrait we see how he used straight brush strokes to complete his painting. But his mastery of color and shading provided great depth.

Van Gogh’s most replicated print is “Starry Night” which depicted his view from his room at the asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in 1889. You can find a coloring page HERE.

I lightly covered Van Gogh’s mental illness and also spoke of his passing at the age of 37. To bypass any possible questions I asked one of my own. “How many paintings did Van Gogh sell while he was alive?” This of course changed their focus. The answer is: one. We then talked about his painting “The Bedroom” and I asked if they had any of the same things in their rooms. (I find that children respond best when you provide ideas that they can relate to.) A coloring sheet is available HERE.

I closed by discussing that Van Gogh became very famous in the years after his death and one of the paintings from his Sunflower Series sold for over 70 million dollars in 1989. This of course impressed them terribly. We also talked about the fact that Van Gogh often changed in mark (signature) in his paintings and asked if they could find his mark in this Sunflower painting.

I then passed out a sheet with an image of an empty frame and directed the students to create their own still life of flowers. I stressed that no painting would be the same because each student would have a different view (perspective) of the pot of sunflowers from where they were sitting. (This eliminated the need for a student to be just like everyone else.)

It is interesting to note that no two drawings were the same (which made me VERY happy), yet each and every student made their mark on their drawings.

I am very happy to say that this fine piece of art now proudly hangs in my living room.

Spread the sunshine,

As noted in the video, school is now out for the summer and I am faced with the challenge of happy homekeeping, project creating and blog writing, all while trying to earn the title of “The Best Mom Ever”. To qualify I must spend a lot less time at the computer so I have temporarily turned off my comments. As always, burning questions can be sent to: dé

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