Free Art Friday Is Coming!


NJAHS is gearing up for our annual Free Art Friday event on 5/6/16! Free Art Friday is an international movement. Artists in cities all over the world make artwork of all sorts, drop it in a public place, and tweet a photo–then the hunt is on! Check out #FAFATL on Twitter to see what Atlanta Free Art Friday artists are dropping, and this great mini-documentary about a few of our most sought-after artists to learn more.


NJAHS students developed their own Free Art Friday “personas” and created limited-edition stenciled art pieces that will be hidden all over both campuses on 5/6/16!



We also had the great fortune to host Catlanta, one of Atlanta’s most coveted Free Art artists. He came & talked to students about how his love for exploring the city developed into the Catlanta project, and brought his kitten cut-outs for students to design!




These Catlanta collaborations will be part of our Free Art Friday hunt, too–keep your eyes peeled!


Finally, this week students printed their own tees to commemorate and promote the event. We screen-printed the backs, and on the front, students used freezer paper stencils to print their personal Free Art designs. More on these later, they came out great!



Ceramic First Nations Totems


6th grade studies Canada as part of their Social Studies curriculum, so in art we learn about the art & culture of the First Nations people of British Columbia–specifically their totem poles. We start out with this Prezi and some brainstorming about the symbolism we assign to certain animals, and then students work on sketches for their final pieces, which are created in the form of an animal to represent themselves or someone they know.


We use the slab-building method to create the initial forms. Students roll and cut a slab to fit a cylindrical form (we use a short length of PVC pipe, wrapped in a plastic bag). Then they attach a circular base, and begin working on their other attachments. We talk about how the First Nations people create totems using a subtractive method to alter the cylindrical form of the cedar trunk, while we’re using an additive method to alter the cylindrical clay form.


To help students get an idea of the distinctive totem style, I have lots of photographs I scatter on the tables, as well as a little “mix & match & invent your own” sheet of drawings that shows some common shapes & features.



After drying & being bisque-fired, we paint these with tempera in traditional totem colors, and they’re ready for display.



Painted Costa Rican Boruca Masks


After what feels like many sessions of intense, focused linear perspective drawing (and before that, days of observational drawing & value), 7th grade is ready to cut loose a little bit. This large-scale painting project is a fun counterpoint.


We start with a think/pair/share activity exploring different types of mask, and talking about how masks and disguises are present in nearly every culture across the world. We talk about why the students think that is, some of the reasons that people wear masks, and how masks both give power and take it away.


Then we view & discuss images of the masks created by the Boruca tribe, indigenous to Costa Rica. The Boruca people create these masks for their annual festival, the Danza de los Diabolitos, in which the men of the tribe reenact the Spanish conquest. In the reenactment, the masks give the tribe the power to repel the invaders.


After working out ideas in their journals, students draw their masks on 18×24″ construction paper using chalk. Chalk encourages students to draw large (I tell them their mask should come within 1″ of every edge), and has the added benefit of vanishing when painted over, unlike pencil.


Before students start painting, we learn about color schemes and how artists use them to create a mood and foster unity in their work. Students can choose from five color schemes to complete their masks: triadic, analogous, complementary, split complementary, and monochromatic.


When painting is complete, we revisit images of Boruca masks to see the layer of pattern the artists add, developing contrast, rhythm, and variety to add interest. Students add patterns using oil pastels, still sticking to their color schemes to maintain unity.




Watercolor Ocean Floor Landscapes


6th grade learns about the ocean floor as part of their science curriculum, and about Australia as part of their social studies curriculum, so these coral reef undersea landscapes are a great cross-curricular connection.


Of course, I’m most focused on their Visual Art curriculum–and this project also does a beautiful job teaching how artists create a sense of depth in a landscape work, making some objects appear closer and others further away.


We start by looking at landscape master works, identifying how the artists use size, level of detail, and placement on the picture plane to create the sense of depth. Then I introduce atmospheric perspective–how colors in the distance become dulled by the atmosphere (or in our case, the sea water).

Following that discussion, students use a wet-on-wet watercolor technique to tint their papers a marbled blue and green in preparation for the next class.


On day 2, we look at photos of coral reefs and note how atmospheric perspective dulls color in the middle & backgrounds so that they appear mostly blue. We talk about features of the ocean floor, like rock formations and coral growth, and students establish a background and middle ground on their tinted papers using diluted watercolor (we use liquid watercolors for this entire project–so vibrant!), including tiny sea life off in the distance and medium-sized sea life in the middle ground. The background and its sea life are painted with one coat of diluted blue, and the middle ground gets a second coat to brighten and distinguish it from the background, creating quite realistic atmospheric perspective.


On day 3, students get a fresh sheet of watercolor paper (decadent, I know–but these projects are worth it)! They establish an off-center focal point by drawing a large sea creature, then add the rest of the foreground in high detail to make everything appear very close to the viewer.

I check out every single book the media center has with photos of coral reef life, and encourage students to bring phones or tablets for specific visual references. We talk about moving from the “symbol-making” to “observational drawing” stage in their artistic development, and avoiding stylized or cartoonish drawings (just for now, as the intent here is realism)!


After a few days of drawing and painting their foregrounds, students are ready to cut them out and attach them to their middle & background paper. Then these are ready for display! Several (the ones pictured here in close-up) will be displayed at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport this summer and fall, so keep an eye out when you’re traveling!