Abstract Expressionism with Jackson Pollock

After working with Impasto last week and experiencing the properties of thicker paint, today we looked at the artist Jackson Pollock and discussed his painting technique; which varied greatly from that of van Gogh. Pollock is best known for his action paintings and just like it sounds there is a great deal of movement and action as he would paint on his large canvases. We first looked at his painting Full Fathom Five:


While looking at this painting we talked about how he would make the marks on the page by flinging, splattering, and dripping paint onto the canvas; much different than the more controlled method of Impasto painting. However, I didn’t want the students to get a sense that the marks were purely accidental or that there wasn’t meaning behind these abstract works. So we watched a video of the artist where he described his process in his own words, which is better than I could ever do.

Then we went outside and started our painting. The students worked on canvas sheets in order to have a hearty surface to work on. Unlike Pollock who used ordinary house paint, I watered down acrylic so that it could be placed in spray bottles and squirt bottles for the students to use in their works. This would give them the feeling of drip painting with a little less of the mess.


Each student had their own unique way of working. Some were more purposeful in their addition and subtraction of paint, while others were more carefree and just enjoyed the experience of painting this way. Whatever their intent, the works turned out fantastic.


After they were done working, we did a gallery walk. All of the works were laid on the table and we talked about how they enjoyed the experience and to describe the emotions they were trying to express. I really enjoyed allowing the students to get messy with their creativity and introduce them to an artist that had a unique way of leaving his mark on the world.

If this is something you all would like to do at home, here are some links cleaner versions of action painting: Marble Painting and String Painting

Next week we will learn about Cubism and Pablo Picasso, but instead of painting we will be making a soft sculpture. Stay tuned.




Impasto Painting with Vincent van Gogh

Yesterday morning we learned about the unique mark making techniques of Vincent van Gogh. van Gogh was considered a Post-Impressionist, and to start our discussion I decided to talk a little bit about Impressionism by looking at a work by Claude Monet.

We talked about how many of the Impressionist painters like Monet would paint en plein air – simply meaning outside – during various types of day in order to capture the light in different ways. I was excited to share with them the Google Art Project where we got to zoom in really close to this painting and see exactly what kinds of marks Monet was making on the canvas. It was a lively discussion about how Monet used many different colors to capture the time of day in his work.

Next we looked at van Gogh’s Starry Night. The Post-Impressionist painters wanted to push the ideas of the Impressionists farther by capturing emotion in their paintings rather than just impressions of natural beauty.

vanGoghStarryNightBeing a very recognizable painting, the students were familiar with this work and had a lot to say. We discussed how van Gogh used lines to create movement in the sky. Again, using the Google Art Project we were able to zoom in and look at van Gogh’s marks. This lead us to our project for the day; Impasto Painting.

Impasto is a technique in which you use thicker paint and a palette knife to apply it to the canvas. In this case we simply took acrylic  paint and added corn starch until it was the “right” consistency. I use the term “right” loosely as it comes down to personal preference. We also talked about how you could mix the paint to create new colors directly on the canvas, and how to create texture with the palette knife. The students enjoyed learning this new style of painting.

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Next week we will be getting messy with paint again as we explore  Abstract Expressionism; focusing on Jackson Pollock. We will spray, pour, drip, and splatter our way to a unique composition. I will try to gather some smocks, but come prepared for a messy experience.

See everyone next week.


Making Masks

In the spirit of Halloween, I thought that the students would enjoy making masks. We first looked at some images of different masks from around the world.

VenetianMaskOriginal African Masks from AfricaDayOfTheDeadMask

We talked about what they were made of and the many uses of masks in different cultures; celebration, ceremony, and to possibly ward off evil. I wanted this lesson to be fun and allow the students to create a mask that was unique to their tastes, so I didn’t want to spend too long looking at examples. In an effort to try something new, we used cloud clay, specifically Crayola Model Magic to create the masks. About half of the students had used it before and were familiar with its properties. What I like about it, is that it is air dry and very light. So once the masks were dry the students would be able to wear them. Also, the colors mix really easily. So with a primary color pack you can make all kinds of interesting tints and shades of your favorite colors.

The students were given a choice to use a prefabricated eye mask as their base or a wire mesh armature that we would use to create an impression of their face. Then they used the cloud clay to cover the armatures and create their own masks. This was the first class where the students were laughing and talking the entire time. It was wonderful to see.

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The final products were quite fun and each student created a unique piece. Next week we will be exploring the works of Vincent van Gogh and then making our own impasto painting. Be aware, this can get messy, so dress accordingly.


Chalk Pastel Drawings

Last week we ended the class by talking about Edgar Degas and getting an introduction into gesture drawing. Many of the students had already been exposed to the technique in their art classes at school, so they took to it with some ease. When I began class this week I started with a quick reminder of Degas and what we discussed regarding his use of gesture when creating his drawings of dancers. After a warm-up on newsprint using charcoal, I was excited to introduce chalk pastels to the class.

There are several unique characteristics to pastels. First of all, they are rather soft and leave a good amount of dust on the page, so we used a specialty paper. It had a nice texture that would hold the pigment. Also, the paper came in a variety of colors because I wanted the students to experience working on a colored ground. Part of that experience was gaining an understanding of how using color and mixing color looks different on a colored surface. As a group we spent about ten minutes working with the pastels mixing colors, blending, and creating texture. So much of our art explorations are about experimentation.


Now that the students had time to work with the materials, they went back to their desks to begin the final drawing for the day. I chose to have them work on an elevated surface for this session. Too often when drawing we are hunched over a flat table and I felt it was important for them to get an easel experience. Also, gesture drawing is a technique that requires broad strokes and loose movements that can’t be achieved with your head down, looking at a sheet of paper.

I had them choose a paper color and a light color of chalk to begin their composition to create an under drawing that they were able to use as a guide. Then Ms. Christine modeled for ten minutes so that they could start with a gesture and then add details. Next we talked about giving the figure a context by adding an environment. It was exciting to see how each student made the drawings their own.


Next week, in the spirit of the season, we will be making masks out of cloud clay. Looking forward to seeing everyone again. Have a great week.


Finishing the Botanical Illustrations

This morning the young artists finished their plaster plant impressions and mounted them. We started by adding watercolor and then marker to bring out the details. Some decided to use natural colors, while others created their own unique palettes to complete the works. What makes these so different from other paintings is how the watercolor reacts with the plaster. The water reactivates the hardened plaster allowing the watercolor pigment to be absorbed; much like the frescoes of the Renaissance. It was exciting to see the students work so diligently on their paintings. Once they finished adding color, we mounted the works on black matte board.











While we waited for the plaster to dry, I started to introduce the students to the artist we will look at next week; Edgar Degas. We looked at his series of ballet dancers and discussed how he was able to capture movement in his drawings.


Then the students practiced gesture drawing with Ms. Christine as our model. We talked about the quick nature of gesture drawing and how they should focus on line and simple shapes of her form.

DSC_0012Next week we will take a deeper look into Degas’ works developing our own figure drawings using chalk pastels. As always, I had a great time today and I am looking forward to next week.


Observational Drawing

Today was another exciting day in Art Foundations. The students and I discussed observational drawing and then made impressions of natural objects with plaster gauze. Let me tell you how the class went.

QuietSeasonDetail_PRogersFirst, I introduced the students to the artist Pam Rogers from Bethesda with a studio at the Arlington Arts Center. Pam works with plants and other natural objects to create exquisite drawings; some true to life, and others more imaginative. She also creates wonderful plant sculptures, which I would suggest checking out. I chose to use Pam when discussing observational drawing because of her eye for detail. In this sample, you can see how she used various lines, texture, and color to describe the objects effectively.








After looking at slides of her work, we took a walk in the “woods” next to the art building. It was important to me that the students pick out their own objects to draw in an effort to add ownership to their final projects. Once we were back at our tables, each student set up a mini still life with their objects and set to work in their Visual Journals. I have been impressed each week with the students dedication to their drawing practice. They worked diligently as I talked about the different line quality that effects observational works. Now the fun really started when I pulled out the plaster gauze.












Most of the students had not used this material before so I did a short demo of how the material works. Basically, it is just like it sounds gauze dipped in dry plaster. To activate the material you dip it in warm water and layer it on top of the objects and let it dry. The students used their still life as a jumping off point to choose how they wanted to lay out their materials for the plaster impressions. They did a great job working with the plaster and the impressions will surely turn out wonderfully. Now we just have to wait until next week for them to be dry. Then we will paint and mount them.

I look forward to seeing everyone again next week.



Welcome parents and visitors to the Art Foundations blog for the Potomac Arts Academy. I am Leanna Gefrich, the teacher for the class and I am very excited to share with you what the students will be learning about during the semester. Last week I introduced the concept of Visual Journals. We talked about how they are different from sketch books and how to use them in our every day lives. I wanted the students to have an “attachment” to their journals, so instead of handing them a book to decorate, we took three strips of heavy watercolor paper, and folded our own. I demonstrated how the students could use the accordion folding method to create their books, while also suggesting they explore other methods in creating their journals. Since they had three sheets of paper, some students glued them together for one long book, while others chose to have three smaller books. Whichever format they chose, the students made truly individual Visual Journals and I am hopeful that they will continue drawing in them beyond our classes this semester.  Next class, we will be learning about a contemporary artist named Pam Rogers and discussing observational drawing. Come back soon to learn more…

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