Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sit Down and Speak Up! (High School Art Unit Plan)

The Art Problem:
This Creative Challenge is a spin on the negative command "Sit down and shut up." It invites students to "speak up" in relation to an issue about which they feel strongly. The vehicle for communication is a metaphorical drawing that makes use of chairs drawn realistically from observation, as well as both handwritten and stenciled text. Irrespective of the words, the style, size and placement of the chairs should communicate the student’s issue. The text should embellish, enhance and reinforce. It should NOT look like a label on a poster!

A variety of chairs [we used a white wicker rocker, a child’s white wooden rocker, school chairs, a plastic folding chair, three different "bistro" chairs (1 all wood and 2 that were metal with upholstered seats, one with an angular back and the other with a curved back), and a couple of stools]
Sketchbook or sketch paper
Optional: Viewfinder
Pencil value scale
White tag board (we like to use 14 x 17" with a 1" taped border all the way around)
Ebony pencils
Stencils in a variety of fonts and sizes
Several values of "Dirty Water Wash" (a very small amount of black and brown, even a little blue, mixed with a large quantity of water to make a cool or slightly warm gray wash)

An understanding of and sketchbook practice with modeling techniques (hatching, cross-hatching, stippling, cross-contour marks, etc.)

Familiarity with "weighted line" (widened and tapered line) and varied line quality

Knowledge of a value scale

Basic understanding of composition and Elements and Principles of Design

Individual Student Procedures:
1. Choose an issue to communicate (not just a concept, but a compelling issue about which you feel some degree of passion).
2. Choose the style(s) of chair(s) that would best express your issue.
3. Decide on the number, size and position of chairs to further communicate aspects of your issue. 4. Draw one or more thumbnails in sketchbook (use a 4 x 5" template for a 12 x 15" drawing); discuss with teacher; chose one, revise if necessary. Note: it can be difficult to incorporate text into a small thumbnail, so encourage students to just "block out" where text and washes will go. OR, if you are willing to expend the resources, when students are finished drawing their chairs on their actual artwork, photograph, print, and have them use the printout as a larger "thumbnail," so they can work out placement of the handwriting and stenciled letters. IMPORTANT: text should embellish, enhance and reinforce, NOT detract from drawings of chairs. 5. Stick tape onto clothes to remove some adhesive and then stick onto borders of 14 x 17" tag board to create a 12 x 15" drawing area. 6. Transfer thumbnail to tag board 7. Model chairs making sure to include a full range of values from light to dark. Set aside.
8. Write a journal entry about your issue. Choose whole passages, sentences and individual words to incorporate into your composition. Consider some of the innovative strategies from your text composition in sketchbook (see "Hooks and Mini-Lessons" below).
9. Add text to drawing. Note: a few considerations in regard to text: students think that less text detracts less from their chair drawings but, sometimes, the use of, e.g. one word makes that word a focal point and results in greater distraction. Sometimes whole passages written almost as a background texture throughout larger areas of the composition is less distracting, but adds visual interest and meaning. Also, if text is too prominent, washing over it can blend it into the background. Cropping passages and words adds a sense of "poetry" and mystery to the works so that the message isn’t so obvious and the viewer is encouraged to interpret.
10. Add washes to drawing, keeping in mind that the most successful: a) may not include washes in all of the negative spaces—leave white paper in some areas; b) may incorporate different values of washes; and c) may incorporate washes that transition for light to dark. Note: In general, dark washes should be placed behind light objects and light washes behind darker objects. 11. Adjust values if necessary. Pencil marks may be used over washes to deepen the value if students feel unsure about adding darker washes. Also, if students have inadvertently allowed white areas to "disappear," they may use white acrylic paint or white china marker to add white back into the composition. If students are inexperienced painters, a dry brush technique may be the most successful.
12. Optional: At one or more points during the process, conduct a simple ("2 Glows and a Grow") in-process critique: give all students a 3 x 5" card and a pencil or pen; have students leave their artwork at their desks and begin to walk around the room while you play music; when you turn the music off, they sit at the closest desk; there they write at least 2 detailed "Glows" (aspects of the artwork that the student is handling really well) and at least 1 detailed "Grow" (an aspect of the artwork that needs improvement) and sign their card; everyone moves back to their original seat and reads their classmate’s remarks before gluing the card into their sketchbooks.

Hooks and Mini-Lessons:
[Incorporate one per class prior to completing other drawing and composition practices in preparation for the "Sit Down and Speak Up!" Creative Challenge; some could be used as hooks or warm-ups on the day(s) that students work on thumbnail sketches.]

Innovation Stations: In small groups, students use photocopies (small, medium and large) of chairs, similar to the ones chosen for this assignment, to arrange on black paper in the center of their table to communicate the concept of their choice; groups whisper concepts to teacher who writes them all on the board; whole class tries to match each concept with the corresponding composition (correct matches are not the main goal; reasonable justification for their selection is)

Show one of the "Flexible Love Chair" videos on YouTube (always preview first) and ask students to create a journal entry in which they sketch the chair and brainstorm in small groups what properties of the chair are being demonstrated (e.g. flexibility, durability, adaptability, portability, etc.). Note: in the videos we watched that I had previewed, there was nothing "love"-related or inappropriate. We are not sure why it is called a "love" chair, except that you and your students will "love" it.

Notes and practice with Art Criticism (describe, analyze, interpret, evaluate) as applied to the following (at the beginning of three separate classes):
o Doris Salcedo, "Untitled," (1,600 chairs) Istanbul Biennial, 2003
o Marc Andre Robinson, "Myth Monolith: Liberation Movement"
o John Cederquest, "Conservation Chair" compared with Gruba Design Studio, (Untitled Chair)

Fold a paper beach chair from video instructions (use "pause" and "play" buttons as needed; draw a lifesize study of it in sketchbook. Note: beware ads that are added to some of youtube's videos.

Draw a study of a chair in sketchbook.

Create a composition on one whole page of sketchbook using only stenciled letters and handwritten text. Incorporate what one knows about composition and Elements and Principles of design (e.g. creating a focal point and secondary focal points, cropping for more interesting negative space, etc.) Emphasize that handwritten letters are lines and stenciled letters are shapes like any other. Encourage innovation, experimentation and risk-taking.

Student Extension—Group Critique:
Prior to the critique, students put their names in a box and then draw a name other than their own. Then they fill out a Critique Form based on the work created by the student whose name they drew. They will refer to this form during the Critique. (This ensures that the critique moves along with no one grasping for something to say.) Next, students and teacher sit in a circle for the Critique during which each student, in turn, addresses at least 3 aspects of the work s/he critiqued, preferably a balance between "glows" (strengths) and "grows" (areas of improvement). After each student presents, the student whose work was critiqued is given an opportunity to address aspects of his or her work. Similarly, other students may comment.

Score and comment on pieces according to the "Sailing the 7 Cs" visual arts rubric

IB-MYP Area of Interaction: Health and Social

Teacher Sample Credit: (top) Betsy DiJulio, NBC Art Teacher, Princess Anne High School, VA Beach, VA; Student Sample Credits (top to bottom under teacher sample): Kameshia P., Samantha M., Bethany C., Sofia A.


  1. You are a saint to post such relevant and usefull information for all of us to use in our classrooms!

  2. It is entirely my pleasure, Ed. I'm so glad if it can benefit others. Thanks for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment. I so appreciate your support!

  3. This is a wonderful site! Thank you so much for sharing! I cant wait to teach the lessons and see my students interpretations!:)

    1. Thank you for such generous feedback. I just wish I had more time to keep up with it better. There is SO much more I want to add and a few things I want to remove that I really don't do any more.

  4. I love this lesson and will start it this week...or something similiar anyway, in my high school drawing class. Thanks so much.

  5. My pleasure. I'd love to know what you do with it if you adapt. It's a great drawing challenge and the results look quite advanced.

  6. Betsy,
    I was just at an AP workshop and another teacher was praising your blog…I was like Wow what an awesome resource, then I realized It was my TICA studio mate! Hope all is well in your neck of the woods. Thank you for putting this blog out there, it is so wonderfully documented!
    Michelle Avery

  7. Michelle! What fun to hear from you and what a coincidence! I miss TICA, though I went to a rewarding AP Institute with a lot of studio emphasis at Goucher College last summer. Have you been back/are you goinog back as an alum? You are way too kind about this blog. It has been so sorely neglected for a couple or so years and some of it embarrasses me, so it needs to be updated! Doing well here and I trust you are. Thank you SO much for reaching out.

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  9. Winter has returned. I do not like because I can not stand the cold. But wearing loud clothes also quite interesting. I look like a cute bear


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