Sunday, February 5, 2012

A week with the Masters

On a whim, I decided to try out something totally different from what we have done before for our homeschool sessions. I know, I am such a junkie. :p It was "masochistically" hard - loads of research and loads of washing and hands on guidance. (What was it again that I said in January when I was attempting two themes in the same month?)

I wanted to move away from an academic angle and instead have a week on Art Appreciation. Not just any type of Art but some of the most famous Impressionists.

"Dreams and Reality" was the field trip we went on just earlier today. Being a typical homeschooler, my immediate thought when I heard about the paintings a few months back was "oh boy! way coooooool! Now, what can Dumpling and I do on this?"

Then I was busy with X'mas and in January, with Dinosaurs and Chinese New Year themes and the next thing I knew, there's only one week left into the show! I was in a panic mode because I definitely would not want to miss out on this showing at the museum. Loads of late night surfing, last minute reservation for books through our library and I was ready to start with the first Master and who else but Vincent himself.

At Dreams and Reality, there was only one painting of Van Gogh and it was none other than the painting that inspired Don McLean's "Vincent". My challenge was how to make it fun and applicable for Dumpling?

Here are some tips if you intend to tie a field trip / visit to view some works with a homeschool unit:

1) Keep it simple. Choose 2 - 3 artists to work on

2) Hunt for appropriate books. In the photograph below, there are some good series we used. For more factual study, I like the "Smart About Arts" series while Katie was a great book to indulge in where we would get into some great imaginative play

3) Make it fun for your child - painting is bound to be messy so that's expected. Additionally, I made it into a picture hunt for Dumpling in the museum to look for works of the three Masters we chose

4) Ensure that your child is well fed before the viewing because Dumpling was hungry mid way and was a tad grumpy until we managed to bring her outside to feed her some snacks. :p

This was our journey:

Simple Geography: where Europe is

Some sample works of Van Gogh which I printed off by doing a google search
(I encourage big pieces to be put up and in our case, on A3)

Here we were discussing on the brush strokes which Van Gogh is famous for.
Van Gogh painted Starry Night over three days and when he was hospitalised. Dumpling and I discussed things such as how the painting made her feel, what Van Gogh was possibly trying to tell with his painting, etc.

And off to work we go!
While I am definitely not an expert here and while I understand the importance of Free Style Art but for the first 2 artists, I wanted to guide Dumpling so as to expose her to "techniques" and "style".

The painting was about 65-70% done by Dumpling. I pitched in to help when she tires out or when the detailing is too fine. I would demonstrate the strokes and Dumping would model. At times, I would hold on her hand for another round.

Because I wanted to make the field trip meaningful and applicable for her, I decided to attempt the same painting with Dumpling. I printed off this template here

Working with different hues of blue and letting Dumpling experience the effects of darker and lighter shades.

Van Gogh's style was layering on of thick paint and that's what we did too, we did the base blue and then added on the dashes and swirls and we chatted about how this showed movement. I also let Dumpling use Acrylic paint (toxic free) to give it a thicker feel.

The end product. The painting looks much better in the photo than the actual piece where the strokes were raw and rougher. This was also the point that I wanted to show as only when one steps close to the actual painting, one would then be able to see the quick strokes. This essentially was what set him apart from some of the other Impressionist Masters where pointillism was very much the "style" then.   

A bit of literacy work

Our field trip

I am still in awe that I saw this in person. An art piece so skillfully painted, viewed and crafted almost 200 years ago by a man that was so misunderstood and not appreciated for this talent.

You can almost feel that fervent hunger and passion - the colours and quick strokes were just captivating

The hubs caught us looking on and hard at Starry Night

Our second Master was none other than Claude Monet (pronounced as "Kload Moe-Nay").

I chose this artist because I wanted someone whose style was vastly different from Van Gogh. While Van Gogh favours thick quick strokes, Monet's strokes is less defined. In fact, if you were to stand really close to the painting, you can see the painting seems to be fuzzy. When you step far away, you can then see how the "blobs" of paint actually forms a picture.

Monet also favours painting outdoors and how light plays a part in paintings. In fact, the word "Impressionism" was coined after his painting "Impression: Sunrise".

So with Monet, Dumpling and I get to do the total opposite - we focused more on mixing and blending as compared to our attempt for Starry Night. I was inspired by this art kit: Master Kidz.

I like that the kit made it easy for kids but with such a short timeline, there is definitely no way I could have imported this in a week. (Having said that, I am still keen to buy this on Amazon so if any friends would like to share shipping, please send me an email, leave a comment, etc.)

So, I decided to use the same "stencil" concept and DIY it. I let Dumpling choose which flower painting she wanted to attempt and she settled on one of Monet's famous water lilies.

Our Monet wall panel

The famous "Impression: Sunrise"

DIY Stencil by cutting out the lily pads

As Monet has less defined strokes and outline, I let Dumpling explored using rollers and sponge applicators

Lily pads done!

Placed the lily flowers back on the paper and then let Dumpling put on the base colour

After the background green is done, she then added in the white base for the lilies. I was not hung up if the white would bleed out, etc and basically let her be.

Filling in the lilies (we had the print right in front of us for Dumpling to model of course)

Adding the outline

Then I let Dumpling sponge on different hues of blue to create depth and she really enjoyed this part as it was just plain messy fun

I worked with her on adding on the white outlines and black patches to create shadows. This is where we also soften the edges of the lilies by using the sponges to blend it into the green background.

You can see from the below that there are no defined strokes rather, it is a blend of colours and a mash of shades

Our final product: see how the different shades now look like reflections and shadows in the pond from far?

At the museum

One of the pieces that called out to me was Camille on her Death bed. It is a creepy piece for me as there is so much grief in the painting. Yet it was arresting in a way that I cannot help but return for a second and third look.

Camille here looks to me like she was waiting and waiting for that impending death to claim her. One can only wonder how Monet felt then as he painted this and watch his loved one fading away.

Dumpling said to me she felt sad too after looking at it as there was so more grey and dark colours

For our last artist, I chose Edgar Degas. It was partly because he was very into painting ballerinas and hey, all little girls like them and at the same time, he prefer to work indoors as compared to the 2 other artists we did. Importantly, it was also because I wanted Dumpling to work with a different medium and have more free play into what she wanted to create.

As usual, our "gallery"

Medium: Clay :)

Great for motorskill

I used the concept of shapes to work with her to make our Marie "sculpture" 

LOL, her make shift "puppet"

She insisted on drawing the eyes and mouth

Our pieces. Not masterpieces but our works of art nonetheless. LOL

Dumpling looking on intently in the Museum

Of course, his famous ballerinas which Dumpling was very pleased at seeing

Here's a quote from Van Gogh to end off this intense arty week :)



  1. Interestingly, Kie's CC is working on the Starry Night piece this week! Popped into his cc early today as i had tons of concalls tonight and they were showing this pic of the Starry Night and getting the kiddos to explore swirls, doodling soap on the table!!

    As mentioned to you earlier, enjoyed this post, and truly love that photo of u and C looking intensely at the Starry Night pc...

  2. Thanks dear, we had so much fun with the session that I have decided to include Arts as part of our curriculum "formally". Doing a unit study, etc., once a week and I have found a curriculum which allows me to do so too.

    Will blog about it when I have started to share the experience and if it is any fun. :)

  3. Wow! Love what you did here! We also love the Katie series and will prob do some of the activities you've suggested!

  4. Hi, I'm visiting from the mum bloggers group!

    Thanks for such an in-depth coverage. (I missed the exhibition!)

    Can tell that Dumpling really had loads of fun doing the different pieces. What an enriching way to experience art! Oh and I like the way she linked the colours to emotions. Really quite amazing how kids start interpreting colours so early! Do you think they actually pick it up through adults/prior experience, or does it come from within naturally? :P Anyway, just a thought in my head...

  5. You are amazing to plan and execute the "program" nicely! kudos! Loving it, will steal some of your ideas, thanks!^^
    Just love the mum bloggers community bringing so much fun to me now:). and, hello there~!

  6. Jus: Thanks for dropping by! We love the Katie series and btw, do you know that they have it in Chinese too? I read one with her and sent one in, for her teacher to read to them. :)

  7. Hi June,

    Thanks for stopping by and yes, it was an amazing exhibition. I am such a groupie 'cos I am still in awe over Monet and Van Gogh and having seen the originals!!!!

    Colour wise, I think children have a natural affinity to deviate towards brighter colours so in a way, I think its from within. Of course, exposure then hones it further as they learn to be more sensitive to hues and tones :)

  8. pc: read your guest post on eve's blog! thanks for stopping by btw. and feel free to use any of the ideas. please please post up and link to this page ok? So I can view them too!

  9. WOW! This is enlightening even for a slightly-older-than-5-year-oil... ie ME! :p

    I'm inspired but that sure looks like a lot a lot a lot a lot of effort.
    Thanks for sharing

  10. Nerdymum *giggles over your nick* You are welcome! It was a cool week - just reading and painting. And to see the actual paintings, it was like WOW!

    When you attempt it, let me know and I will link mine to yours! :)

  11. oh dear.. the pics are not showing. Anyway to show them again? Would love to learn from you on this. You just made my life much easier. :D

    1. Hi Ronni, I had some issues with the settings previously and lost some of my photos. Will try and see what can be done about it. My apologies


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