paper for background, newspaper, colored paper scraps, glue stick and scissors
"When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures. I regard the picture as an ecosystem in which all the elements are interrelated, interdependent, perfectly balanced, without trimming or unutilized parts; and herein lies the lure of painting; in a world of chaos, the picture is one small rectangle in which the artist can create an ordered universe." -Charley Harper
Charley Harper (1922-2007) lived in Ohio for most of his adult life, and was acclaimed for his simplified, graphic, and witty images of nature. Many of his beautiful pictures portrayed birds.
This lesson contrasts Harper's minimalist art with the more realistic paintings of James Audubon (1785 - 1851), whose life goal was to scientifically document through his paintings the birds of North America. Take a minute to read a little about Audubon before the lesson (here's a link to the wikipedia page on him). His life was super interesting, and worthwhile summarizing for the kids.
After giving the kids a little information about Harper and Audubon, show them the slide presentation (here's the link) and ask some open ended questions, like:
-compare the styles of the two artists: how are they similar? How are they different? (For lower grades, comparing these two styles is a great way to teach the concept of abstract vs. realistic art.)
-Look also at the backgrounds. How do the details in background, or the artist's decision to leave them out, affect the feel of a picture?
-Audubon was painting in a time before cameras. How do you think that affected the way he wanted to paint his pictures of birds?
-another idea to make it even more fun - when Gina did this, she printed out pictures of Harper and Audubon and taped them on the board. She had the kids match pictures she printed out of various paintings to the artist who did them. Fun!
Then take a minute to break down how to draw a really simple bird for the kids. I drew something along these lines on the board:
The project: Make a bird collage inspired by Charley Harper. Inspired by elementary school works from Mrs. Knight's Smartest Artists blog
Because our time was short (I only had 40 minutes to do this lesson), we left the background of our papers white and I actually really like the simplicity of the finished pictures. Very Harper-esque if you ask me. If you have more time, it could look amazing to have the kids do watercolor washes and collage on that, but you'd have to figure out how to get the papers dry enough for the glue sticks to work. (Maybe paint before the slideshow? I'm not sure if that would give you enough time...Let me know, anyone, if you try it this way).
Anyway: the first thing is to have the kids make their branches by tearing strips of newspaper and gluing them down. Remind the kids that branches come in all different shapes and sizes so they don't get too stressed about having their pictures look a certain way. Have them play around with branch placement. If some kids want to make nests instead of branches, great.
After the branches are glued down, they can start working on cutting their bird shapes out of the colored paper scraps and gluing them down, referencing the idea of breaking down the form of a bird into simple shapes like ovals, circles, triangles and rectangles. Possibilities to introduce to the kids could include using different colors of paper for layers,
adding in background elements like clouds and sun,
and thinking about different bird poses (this one is flying away. I love it!)