Historical, Culturally Diverse, Standards-Based Art Lessons to Inspire Young Artists

November 15, 2014

5th Graders Meet Henri Rousseau

When a classroom full of fifth graders learned they would be studying the French artist Henri Rousseau, none of them had ever heard of him before. As the first half of the Meet the Masters lesson was presented by two parent volunteers, students learned that the post-impressionist artist Rousseau, who lived from 1844-1910, today is best known for his vivid jungle scenes. Tucked beneath layers of varying-length wild grasses and shielded by long, dangling leaves of all shapes and sizes, Rousseau carefully positioned each of his wide-eyed animals, who were seemingly ready to pounce right off his canvases.

Most often, when students set out to create a picture, whether it be a simple drawing or a more complex painting, they have a tendency to start in the center of the page or canvas, working their way outward. With fascination, students learned how Henri Rousseau always created his artwork from top to bottom, using one color at a time before starting back at the top all over again.

How often have you looked at a child’s artwork that features grass and trees, and observed that the grass is a solid rectangular area of only one shade of green that monopolizes the entire bottom portion while the tree, in the same shade of green, resembles a big, puffy cloud as opposed to a collection of individual leaves? As the first lesson on Rousseau drew to a close, students utilized their practice sheets, where they focused on drawing basic leaves that varied in shape, just like one would find in Mother Nature. Additionally, students learned how to use zigzag lines as a means of creating tall, swaying grasses.

The first Rousseau lesson concluded with students using a grid to create the head and shoulders of a jungle lion. The grid allowed for a sense of symmetry, allowing students the opportunity to challenge themselves without the expectation that they would inherently know how to draw a lion. Those students who weren’t confident in their drawing skills breathed loud sighs of relief to learn that they would have guidance as they learned how to draw lions of their own.

As the second part of the lesson began, students were asked to review what they learned about Rousseau. One of the most interesting facts that they readily recalled was that Henri Rousseau himself had never actually visited a jungle because he had never even stepped foot outside of his native France! They also recalled that, sadly, much of his artwork was not recognized as being especially noteworthy during his lifetime.

For the second part of the lesson, students created their own jungle scenes. Before learning about Rousseau, if students were given different shades of construction paper, they probably would have first started with the main focal point of the artwork, the lion. Honoring Rousseau’s style though, students instead first added jungle grass and leaves, where lines of texture had been carefully added with blue art crayons, before carefully placing the lion’s head and shoulders within the grass.

As the jungle grass was carefully glued to the black piece of construction paper, which served as the backdrop, the grass wasn’t glued flat to the paper like students would have normally done. Instead, the top portion of the grass was left unattached so, like in Rousseau’s paintings, it looked like it was swaying in the soft, jungle breezes. As they glued their leaves to the lightning bolt branches they had drawn on the black construction paper, students once again didn’t glue the leaves flat to the page, carefully using only dots of glue so they could bend the leaves onto the page. The leaves and grass looked three-dimensional.

The lion was added last, but before gluing the grass on to her page, this student first played with the placement of the lion.

Students had the choice to position their individual lions where they saw fit, but, like Rousseau, their lions were added last. Admiring their work, students observed how each lion looked like it was sneaking up on its prey.

As students reflected on the significance of Rousseau’s work, one of the most important lessons they learned from him (other than how to pronounce Henri the way that French people say it,) was that it’s not always necessary to have actually seen something up close and personal in order to be able to create it for oneself. They also appreciated how Rousseau persisted in his artistic endeavors despite the fact that his work wasn’t celebrated by everyone during his time period. Even though critics at the time compared his work to that of a child, it turns out that simple artwork may, in fact, prove to become the most revered.


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September 28, 2017

Sneak Peek of Henri Matisse Art Program

Henri Matisse – Abstract Sea Life Compositions

Pretend you are in a submarine diving deeper and deeper into the ocean. Bubbles rush up as the water gets deeper and darker. Shapes and colors emerge as you peer out your porthole. Fish, eels and seaweed become visible in the murky water.

Meet the Masters students are introduced to Henri Matisse as they view his Beasts of the Sea collage. They learn that Matisse painted designs rather than the realistic ocean life the children imagined in their submarine ride. He created abstract pictures, which is art that does not look exactly like real-life. He often used the sea as his motif, or theme, of his artwork.

Students learn that Matisse used an unusual medium for some of his most famous artwork – paper and scissors. He “drew” with his scissors instead of a paintbrush. He meticulously cut silhouettes, and used both the positive and negative shapes in his art. Matisse believed that color could enhance health and happiness, so he selected just the right shades to capture the feelings he was trying to convey.

In the classroom, students enjoy worksheets that reinforce what they learned in the introduction, and prepare them for success with the art project. They practice drawing simple soft and wavy sea shapes, just as Matisse would. They experiment with positive and negative shapes, trying different background colors to see how it effects the foreground color. They evaluate which color combinations seem brighter, scarier or more mysterious, so they will be able to create the mood they prefer for their art project.

The students have been inspired by Matisse’s bold colors and abstract shapes, and they are ready to explore their own shape and color relationships. Students are given construction paper for the background and cut-outs in an array of colors, and encouraged to share and trade for variety. Students create the background by cutting wavy strips of blue and green paper, making each one different.

After selecting their favorite sea shapes form the Learning Packet worksheets, they use scissors to “draw” abstract shapes, cutting in one continuous motion. After cutting, they recognize one positive shape and one negative shape for each sea creature. Students arrange the positive and negative shapes on the background waves, arranging and rearranging until the design is pleasing and balanced. As they glue the shapes, they determine if they want to use the paper scraps to create additional positive and negative shapes to fill their composition.

When everyone is finished, the classroom becomes an aquarium featuring a variety of beautiful underwater creations. Matisse’s use of vibrant colors and abstract shapes in his sea art inspired our young artists to experiment with colorful positive and negative shapes in their own creations. Matisse believed in the magic of color, and that artwork could create happiness. He would be very pleased with the joyful faces of the children in this classroom!

View more about the Henri Matisse art lesson.

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November 15, 2014

How Meet the Masters Helps Schools Find Wonderful Art Volunteers

The brightest stars are those who shine for the benefit of others.

Yes, it’s easy to find inspiration quotes about volunteering. Certainly, filling volunteer openings is more challenging. Meet the Masters art education program is designed for success, and that includes help with recruiting and training volunteers to teach and assist in Meet the Masters classes. It may be easier than you think.

MTM Makes it Easy – This is the first rule of volunteer recruiting, and MTM provides the tools. All lessons have easy-to-follow scripts so there is no research or second guessing. In addition to being fully scripted, the art lesson has the timing listed which keeps volunteers on track to finish exactly on schedule.

MTM Makes it Universal – Anyone can volunteer. With MTM’s step-by-step instructions, your volunteers don’t need a teaching or art background to contribute to this program.

MTM Makes it Visual – “We will train you!” Those words have power when spoken to a potential volunteer. MTM’s Training DVDs show exactly how to teach the art project. Your volunteers can watch an experienced teacher create the art project, learning tips along the way.

MTM Makes it Flexible – Your volunteers will be happy to train the way they feel most comfortable. Those who prefer a group setting can get together and have fun reviewing the script while creating their sample art project. Busy volunteers or those who prefer to work independently can take materials home and review them at their convenience.

MTM Makes it Fun – As long as you’re volunteering, let it be something you can enjoy! MTM provides all the tools you need to make it easy for your volunteers, so they can concentrate on the FUN!

MTM Makes it Fun – Speaking of fun, students LOVE seeing the MTM volunteers because they know it means an opportunity to release their creative side. Everyone wants to volunteer for the popular programs!

MTM Makes it Organized – The Implementation Guide provides detailed instructions on everything you need to run the program: program overview, scheduling, paper ordering, reminder notices, supply check-off lists, newsletter blurbs, and more.

MTM Makes a Difference – With MTM, your volunteers can make a difference that extends well beyond art class. Art education teaches so many skills that transfer to other subjects: motor skills, language development, academic enhancement, cultural awareness, decision making… the list goes on and on.

Meet the Masters provides incredible art education for children, plus the tools to make volunteers successful. And successful volunteers make successful programs. 

The world is hugged by the faithful arms of volunteers. ~ Terri Guillemets

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March 22, 2017

Sneak Peek at M. C. Escher Art Curriculum

M. C. Eshcer

Education experts talk about the benefits of art education and how it increases students’ performance across disciplines, expanding language development, strengthening critical thinking skills and more. M. C. Escher provides a good example of how art education benefits students in other subjects.

Meet the Masters students learn how M. C. Escher created unique geometric compositions, called tessellations. His tessellations and optical illusions challenge their imaginations and reinforce a variety of mathematical concepts.

Step 1: Introducing the Master

Meet the Masters students learn that a tessellation is like a puzzle with pieces that are all the same. Escher saw rich possibilities in repeating patterns and developed a system to turn these patterns into beautiful works of art. With each photograph in the slide show, students are encouraged to have fun discovering the movement Escher created as he constructed impossible worlds.

Step 2: Learning From the Master

Back in the classroom, students enjoy hands-on practice with these amazing patterns. They receive worksheets with a variety of tessellations and apply different colors to different animal shapes so they can view the various elements more easily. The older students use their creativity to produce their own tessellations with several options of shapes. They follow instructions to add details which make their creations come to life.

M.C. Escher – Patterns and Tessellations

Step 3: Working With the Master

Students begin by learning a special method for creating their own unique tessellation shape. After cutting their shapes out of tag board, students trace them onto art paper, making sure each shape fits into the next with no overlapping. When the paper is filled, they notice that some of the partial shapes around the edges add interest and movement to their drawing. They select two contrasting colors and, beginning in the center, apply dry paint powder with a cotton ball. As they use the second color, they are reminded how contrasting colors are far apart on the color wheel. Students are shown how to use their imaginations to add some simple details that make their creations come alive. Advanced level students are shown how to create what Escher called his “metamorphose” where the figures at one end “morph” into something else at the other end of the canvas. Every student’s tessellation is unique, just like M. C. Escher’s.

How does this art lesson help students with math?

Understanding patterns is a crucial building block in mathematical reasoning. Studies show that children’s understanding of patterns contributes to the development of counting, problem solving and understanding number combinations. Understanding patterns provides the basis for understanding algebra. The benefits of understanding patterns can be applied to many other subjects as well. For example, patterns form the basis of music. In science, understanding animal patterns can be used to help endangered species.

Meet the Masters does not simply provide art projects. Yes, students learn about art history, and they are introduced to new vocabulary in a meaningful way. But the broader lesson is that Meet the Masters provides an avenue to make cross connections with a variety of other subjects, like M. C. Escher and math.

Learn more about our M. C. Escher art project and examples from MTM students.

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