Sunday, May 20, 2012

Kandinsky watercolor - round two

This is my second year trying to do Kandinsky inspired watercolors. Last year for this lesson  we focused on using organic shapes and geometric shapes and the concept of composition. While I liked some of them they were not very expressive and really not as Kandinsky as I wanted. This year I tried to focus more on using line and color to express moods and feelings. We started really well but by the end we had very mixed results again.
To start I had students paint onomatopoeia lines with india ink. I gave them a word like Zing, or splat, or shushhh and they had to paint what that line would look like. Then we listened to different types of music and painted lines inspired by each style of music. The next class we repeated the process but with colors...what color is swish and zip, what colors did each style of music inspire?

So I loved the movement and expressiveness of what the kids were coming up with during practice time and decided to break out the watercolor paper for this lesson (something I have a very limited amount of).
For their final assignment I asked them to use at least three expressive lines, three organic shapes, three geometric shapes and to repeat one of those shapes at least three times, to have overlap and to have something going off the page. I had them plan their design on printer paper and then use india ink and watercolor paint.

The end results were mixed. For many students the movement, and expressive nature...the freedom of the practice versions got lost in the final draft. Many student's struggled to fill the space and how to use color. Others did not have enough repeating elements to create true unity. Some kids really liked the lesson and others pushed through just to be done.  I feel like I was closer to what I want to see come out of this lesson this time but still not there. I felt a lot of pressure, and honestly a bit of disappointment in some of the results because I had used up so much of my precious watercolor paper.

this one is a good representation of the majority of lessons I received. I know this student followed my directions but yet the end result is lacking. When this many student's struggle I know it is a issue on my end with how I design and or teach the lesson.

Yet for other students, mostly the ones I choose to show, this lesson really clicked for them.

For round three next year I think we will make these changes:
*Use smaller paper...I cut smaller pieces of paper for the second class and the kids were able to handle the space better in that class.
*Use cardstock and not watercolor paper (less pressure on the kids and me)
*Put more emphasis on repeating three elements, a expressive line that is repeated 5 + times, and then two shapes that get repeated at least more than three times.
*Do more pre-practice on how to create a composition with unity and balance

What I still need help with:
*how to help the student's better handle using color in the lesson...should they use a color family or have a free range of colors like they did this time
*how to re-capture the freedom and movement from the practice work on the expressive lines...should I have them make five expressive line paintings (just the line) then choose their favorite to then add to to make the final work

* any other ideas on how we can improve the lesson?


  1. This is so funny, I just found your blog and this exact lesson (well, very similar) is the first photo of my blog currently! I do this lesson each year with my kindergarteners...the lesson I use is borrowed heavy from "Painting with Children". We focus on line rather than shape. We spend about three art classes (I only see them for 1/2 an hour) talking about lines and painting them with black paint. That's right, 3 classes...because usually the first, they just paint their paper black, the second, they are starting to get it and by the third, they've got it. For color, we use tempra cakes...and the only colors off limits are white, black and brown. For a pop of color, we coat them in Modge Podge. I personally LOVE yours! I don't see where room for improvement might be. So excited to find your blog! ...Cassie

  2. Thanks for the kind words Cassie...I am doing this lesson with 6th and 7th graders so I want them to up the ante a bit.

  3. Your studies are fantastic and it seems you are making great use of your time... I look forward to seeing your new paintings!!

    Watercolor Techniques for Beginners

  4. RE: should I have them make five expressive line paintings (just the line) then choose their favorite to then add to to make the final work

    I think that's a great idea!

  5. I think these are beautiful!
    I too, struggle with keeping my fifth graders (I teach K-5) at the level of art understanding and successful finished product that I want them to. I think it's good to remember that when you're throwing a lot of "art vocab" (whether they've heard it before or not) along with technique at them in one lesson, what I've found is that it tends to "freeze" up some of the students. I am always treating my older ones like little adults, but it's good to step back and say, what is the MOST important thing I want them to get out of this lesson, and focus on that. It sounds like it would make the results more simplistic, but, for example, if you want them to focus on unity in their finished product, I would try an "experimental" Kandinsky (not on watercolor paper) where you can see whether the results are what you're looking for. Then, after they've had time to "play" with the idea of creating abstract expressionist artwork with those particular art materials, have them do a final product focusing on unity with what they have already learned from the previous one they did. And maybe have them start in pencil if they didn't do that at first. That way, if they need more guidance with line and unity, they can erase some elements and change them before they go to paint. Just some ideas :)

    Either way, i think the finished products are wonderful!


  6. Hello, I wonder if anyone can help me find out if each art piece that Kandinsky made has a reference to the music he was listening to? I found the music he enjoyed to listen but there is no information to link the two? My email is