Amazing Charcoal 3D Drawing Using Renaissance Technique

In this 7th grade art lesson, we discussed the 1) the rebirth of Classical art and culture during the Renaissance, 2) the importance of Giotto as a transition figure between the Medieval and the Renaissance periods, and 3) compare the lives and works of two Renaissance giants, Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, especially how their personalities differ and how that affect their art. During the lesson, we also discussed Renaissance techniques, in particular, chiaroscuro and sfumato. Chiaroscuro is the treatment of light and shade in a drawing or painting. Sfumato means "to tone down" or "to evaporate like smoke," meaning the subtleties in the transition of lightness and darkness to define features, especially on the face. Here, the students tried using these techniques with white, gray and black charcoals to achieve a 3D effect on cardboard, the goal is to make their drawing even more 3D than the real object! They happily got their fingers all dirty in the process, and many artistic jokes were made regarding "50 Shades of Gray." 

Chinese Glove Puppetry

Glove puppetry  (布袋戲) , a type of Chinese opera using cloth puppets, is believed to have first taken the stage in China in the early 1300s.  Performed during festivities mostly in front of temples where large crowds would gather to watch, classical glove puppetry was considered the “poor man’s Chinese opera” or “Chinese opera in miniature.” The themes, characters and costumes were taken directly from the big stage.  Intricate martial-arts acrobatics became a central feature, requiring incredible puppetry skills.  

To welcome Chinese New Year, the 6th, 7th and 8th graders created these colorful Chinese glove puppets using ceramics and cloth.  Their characters, many of them imaginary, consist of awesome swordsmen, heroes, villains, beauty, beasts, and many other magical mythological characters.


Japanese Screen, Architecture and Block Printing


This art lesson is designed to coincide with the 7th grade social studies curriculum on medieval Japanese history.  The Temple Horyu-ji (法隆寺) in Nara, Japan, is the oldest wooden architecture in the world and it is now a UNESCO world heritage site.  The temple was originally commissioned by Prince Shotoko in 607, who was an ardent Buddhist and a great admirer of the Chinese way of government.  We can see influences from China, Korea as well as India from this temple complex.  The influence of Japan's native Shinto religion is also apparent in its use of and respect for natural materials such as wood and stones, in the beautifully proportioned buildings as well as a couple of structures raised on stilts.  The famous five-storied pagoda is literally fit together like five boxes one on top on another through a massive central pillar (built of wood believed to have been felled in 594), so that each story move independent of another in an earthquake.  

Students learned to appreciate the Temple Horyu-ji from different angles by making a rubber stamp carving of it, and they learned to appreciate each other's artwork by assembling different students' prints into a screen.


Islamic Art

Working on the premise that art should be anionic - without images of human or animals - Islamic artists and architects have developed some of the most amazing and creative patterns using geometric shapes, vegetal shapes, and calligraphy.  These patterns help them express the ideal of diversity within unity.  Since math and geometric shapes are also universal languages which possess the ability to express the mysteries of the universe, it is also viewed as a language of the divine as well as a language to pay respect to the divine.  

In part 1 of this lesson, students learned how circles can be transformed into a multitude of regular polygons and star shapes based on an Islamic patterning lesson from the Metropolitan Museum of Art website.  In part two, students transformed a single 2" x 2" block of an abstract pattern that they created into 4 distinct patterns by arranging them in radial symmetry.  At the end of the lesson, each of the student created a print of their pattern to put on a 'mihrab' - the most important feature in any Islamic building, a semicircular niche in a wall that indicates the qibla, i.e. the direction of Mecca.


Medieval Europe

The 1,000+ years between 300CE and 1,400 saw the rise and fall of Medieval kingdoms, the movement of capitals, periods of stagnation and advancement in technologies and architecture, changes in religious and philosophical thinking, and much of these were revealed and documented in the arts of the period.   

In this lesson, students were introduced to the most important art pieces of the time chronologically.  They also learned to recognize the changes in the iconography during these1,000 years.  Then, we used a silk hoop to simulate a famous feature - the rose window - in Gothic (late-Medieval) architecture to create a Medieval image.


Maya Hieroglyph

The Maya civilization existed from about 2,000BCE to 1,500CE.  They had the only known fully developed written language in the pre-Columbian Americas.  Their art, architecture, mathematical and astronomical systems were unsurpassed.  In this class, students first learned the many aspects of Maya civilization, then they learned to decipher the Maya hieroglyph.



The 7th grade students carved Maya hieroglyphs on small square balsa foam blocks.  They were given a handout of Maya vocabulary and told to pick two words that they can make into a phrase.  After the glyphs were carved, the blocks were glued onto a cardboard backing and magnets were then adhered to the cardboard.  They have now created Maya hieroglyph refrigerator magnets.


West African Masks

African masks has a long history and significance in various African cultures. We explored the African masks from Mali, Ghana and Songhai area in this lesson. These masks were used for rituals, initiations, to celebrate important holidays, harvest, to summon the spirits for protection, during peace as well as troubled times. These masks were often made of natural materials such as leather, cloth, wood, animal fur and sometimes, human hair. They are often completely symmetrical and painted with strong colors with striking facial features. The half-opened eyes mean peace, patience and self-control. The small eyes means humility, that the wearer is humble. A high forehead means wisdom. A big mouth means power, authority. Big eyes could mean anger and power. A straight nose means determination. In this lesson, we used recycled materials, cardboard to recreate these masks.


Renaissance - Leonardo Da Vinci vs. Michelangelo

In this class, we compared and contrasts the two giants of Renaissance art - Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo - who actually knew of each other but were not fast friends.  The two cannot be more different, from their upbringing to their working styles, but they both drew on and studied anatomy meticulously and they both tried to bring out the powerful expression of beauty.

We turned our classroom into a Renaissance art studio.  With charcoal and paper in hand, students tried to capture the slightest subtleties of chiaroscuro (contrast between lightness and darkness to create a 3-D effect) while drawing a plaster bust of David and a plaster head of a horse.