Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chagall: Dreamlike Painting

written by Michelle Smit, for Duniway Elementary, adapted for use at George Kelly Elementary by Lynne Millar

(2 days)

Principle: Surrealism, abstract, imagery

Concept: Using imaginative images to create a dreamlike painting.

Objective: To introduce the students to the life and works of Marc Chagall, and to create a modern abstract painting in the style of Chagall but using their own imagery. To learn to use the sky as a ground for objects, animals or people to float in, sit in, stand in, or fly in. To overlap images. To use foreground, middle ground and background space by painting images in different sizes.


*One 1/2 sheet of watercolor paper per student

*Latex black semi-gloss house paint


*Chalk pastels

*Pencils and black Sharpie pens

*Paint brushes for acrylics (variety of sizes)

*Paint brushes for watercolors (variety of sizes)

*Paper towels

*Paper cups to put the paint in, and water bowls for rinsing


Pre-Class Prep: The week before the class, ask the teacher if you could come into the class and read a children’s book on Mark Chagall to the class. Try finding the books: I Am Marc Chagall, and

Dreamer from the Village, a Story of Marc Chagall.


*Cover the tables with sheets or vinyl tablecloths

*Place paper, pencils and pens on table.

*Have paper cups filled with a little bit of black semi- gloss paint and brushes ready. Some of the students may have to be on the floor because the paper is so large.

*Have the tables pushed to the outside of the room so there is extra room on the floor for the students.

For day 2:

*Cover the tables with sheets or vinyl tablecloths

*Have watercolors, brushes, water, and pastels ready. Some students will be able to start their watercolor on day one.


“If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing” --Marc Chagall

Demonstration: Please tell the students to draw and paint from their hearts! There is no right way, only the artistic way, their way. Talk to the students a little bit about Marc Chagall. Show them the humor and fun in some of Chagall’s painting (use the Power Point presentation for this): animals with human heads, flying fish and animals, objects turned into animals or people. Talk about overlapping images and images inside other images. Talk about fantastic images that can be like a magical dream (i.e.: does the house have legs so it can walk or a mouth so it can talk???). Ask them questions like what would it be like to fly through the sky upside down on a skateboard eating an ice cream cone?

Students: Have students close their eyes and think of their dreams or imagine a dreamlike place. You can play classical music or even music like Enya. Have the students start to draw on their papers with pencils and pens. Tell them just to start drawing images that come to their mind either from a dream or just their imaginations. Have them really consider using different sizes of images to make them seem close or farther away. They can overlap images or draw images inside other images. Tell them to turn their paper upside down to work and even draw images upside down! This will give it a very surreal look. It’s o.k. if an image literally “falls” off the page.

Not every image has to stay inside the edge of the page. Be creative!

Have them start to paint on top of their drawings with the black semi-gloss paint. Talk to them about the quality of the line. Meaning, all the lines should not be the same thickness and size. You will have to use a small brush for the little lines and a bigger brush for the bigger images. Tell them they do not need to outline their whole object in black line. Tell them to use their artists eye and to PICK and CHOOSE which lines they think should be black in the images. Remind them they will be using watercolor and pastels for color after their black lines dry.

The next step is to let them use some watercolors for their background colors and some of their shapes. Show them how to do a color wash by wetting the paper first and painting color into the wet paper. When that dries they will be able to use the chalk pastels to make some of their images “pop” out and be richer in color. Remind them that more isn’t always better. Remember to pick and choose where you want accent pastels.

After Class: Seal the art with hairspray and place in art folders.

Vocabulary: Abstract – creating art that is not a realistic image but instead an imaginative, creative, expressive way to show the essence of something. (kids words: weird, twisted, crazy, strange) All of these are great but remind them how beautiful weird, twisted, crazy and strange can be!!!

Surreal – crazy, unusual, dreamlike, bizarre, strange images, are all great words to describe surreal. It is different from just abstract in that surrealist painting have a definite image you can identify where as an abstract painting can just be color with no image at all.

Background - The part of the picture that looks farthest away or is behind the images and shapes. In this lesson it is the solid color behind the shapes.

Perspective – In this lesson we talk of perspective as in one’s point of view as well as foreground, middle ground, and background. Look at Chagall’s paintings. Some have the point of view of flying and looking down on houses etc. Images that seem far away are painted smaller, images that seem close to you are painted bigger.

Imagery – Mental images portrayed in a painting. In Chagall’s case painted and portrayed in a poetic way.

Note: This is a two-day class. Most of the students should be done or nearly done with the watercolor by the end of the first day. If not, that’s okay – they have another day to work on it!

Notes on the Artist: Marc Chagall was born in 1887 in the small town of Vitebsk, Russia. His Jewish Russian parents worked hard to support the family by selling fish and running a market. Although his parents disapproved, Chagall went to art school in St. Petersburg in 1907. There he saw works by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters such as Monet, Cezanne and Van Gogh. Chagall was inspired by their use of color and simple shapes to convey emotions. In 1910 he went to Paris where he saw work by young artists Picasso (Cubist) and Matisse (Fauvist) who were trying new ways of showing emotions and expressions. In 1914, he returned to Russia where he met and married his wife Bella, whom he painted many times. Chagall lived in Russia during WWI and the Russian Revolution. He returned to Paris in 1923 where he worked until the beginning of WWII. He also spent time in New York City. After the war, he returned to Southern France and died in 1985, at the age of 97. Chagall chose to paint lovers, workers, musicians and animals. He depicted ordinary scenes but transformed them into dreamlike worlds. Figures float, forms dissolve or are superimposed on each other. There are often multiple perspectives on one canvas. Colors are strong and vibrant but inspired by emotion, not reality. In his painting "The Birthday" we see Bella offering Chagall flowers for his birthday. Chagall and Bella both float through the air over red furniture and floor. Chagall often painted himself floating through his paintings. Chagall's style was inventive and original—sometimes called Fantastic Art. This style is similar to Surrealism in its dream-like quality. It is also a mixture of Cubism and memory of childhood, folklore and country life. He said, "My little town may have vanished long ago, but I carry its images always in my heart."

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