Friday, January 22, 2010

Trash to Treasure (High School Art Mini-Lesson)

This mini-lesson was published as a "Clip Card" in the February issue of SchoolArts Magazine:

The Art Problem
Students will work with the concept of nature vs. culture as they create a unified painted and drawn composition based on a combination of man-made and natural objects found on a walk.

(Note: this challenge could be approached with any number of media, so use whatever you have.)
3 to 5 man-made or natural objects found on a walk(s)
Watercolor Paper
Watercolor (limit palette to 3 related and neutralized colors)
Sharpie marker

1. Take students, each one armed with a resealable plastic bag, on short walks or "treasure hunts" over the course of several days. Or, assign the walks as "homework." On the walk, ask students to pick up both man-made and natural objects avoiding anything dangerous or excessively dirty.
2. Ask students to choose a combination of 3-5 of the objects, most of which are unified by shape, but 1 or 2 that contrast. (For the artwork accompanying this post, Grace used a cup with a lid and straw, a tape dispenser, a ziplock bag and acorns.)
3. Once students have chosen their objects, ask them to create one or more thumbnail sketches of their objects, emphasizing unity and movement through shape and weighted line, as well as emphasis through a contrasting shape. Encourage them to "zoom in" and crop.
4. Help each student select the best composition to enlarge. Once they have transferred the drawing, ask them to further emphasize the elements and principles mentioned above in three related and neutralized color washes and Sharpie marker.

Student Extension
Photograph and print out in black and white each students drawing and ask them to emphasize a different set of elements and principles, e.g. positive and negative space.

Student Artwork Credit: Grace G. (Watercolor and black Sharpie marker)


  1. Thanks for posting these creative projects! I love how you frame them as "art problems" so much of art practice is problem solving in the complexity of the material world. I'm finding your site very inspiring. Thanks again

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