‘Faces in Places’ is a project I facilitated with young students (ages 5 to 12 years) who are home schoolers of the Arrow Lakes Distributed Learning School. This was an ‘Artist in the Classroom’ project funded by ArtStarts in Schools and the DL school. It was as a weekly class with these young people beginning in October 2014 and culminating with a showing of their work on January 17th and 18th, 2015 at the Hidden Garden Gallery in New Denver.
This was conceived as an artist’s journey through painting, drawing and mask making with an exploration into identity beginning with the self and moving out through family, community, country and global connections, past and present.
I led students through an exploration of drawings and paintings of faces, people, objects and settings which reflect personal and cultural identity. Students were encouraged to look at similarities and diversity in family and neighbours for a sense of place and connection, and to engage with their family in discussions about their own ancestors and family connections. We explored themes of cultural history and cultural identity by looking at portraits, self-portraits, still life and cultural genres by artists from diverse backgrounds.
Here is some of the art done in this project including descriptions of our processes along the way:
Drawing expressive faces – monoprints using block printing material
We began on our first day with an introduction to the art of portraiture – we talked about why portraits are made and all the different art medias that can be used to tell the story of a person’s life. We looked at portraits by Van Gogh, Emily Carr, Paul Klee and Picasso. We read from the book ‘Just Like Me’ edited by Harriet Rohmer and on this first day we learned about different skin colours and noticed that the ‘portrait’ colour in our paints did not represent everyone. Artist ‘Daryl Wells’ in this book describes how there is no such thing as a single “flesh” colour. This book contains stories and self-portraits by fourteen artists and the stories and images accompanied many of our classes.
Next we thought about all the different shapes of faces and together we came up with five. I then showed how to map out the features of the face. Because this class has a very wide age range I don’t spend too much time on technical details but rather an emphasis on the importance of seeing, feeling and responding.
We then did self portraits using mirrors and a very simple palette of black, white, “portrait’ colour and a choice of one more colour.
During next few classes we talked about using objects (or animals) in portraits and what they can say about a person or people in a painting. Students brought in objects from home to draw and eventually include in a self portrait. These were objects that had personal meaning and significance to them. We warmed up by doing self portraits with a mirror and not looking at the paper and then did the same kind of drawing with objects. There was quite a variety of things including a stuffed elephant, a totem pole, an eagle feather with a small toy eagle, a snowboard, a ceramic owl and even a violin. We learned about lines, edges and contours.
We looked at a self portrait of Frida Kahlo with her pet monkey. There was lot’s of discussion about her portrait which led to how we can express feelings in art and also how art can help us to say the things that are hard to say in words.
After a mini lesson in how to draw and paint eyes some students saw their expressive potential in paintings to convey meaning as ‘windows to the soul’.
We spent some time experimenting with mixing colours and exploring tints and shades and how they can affect the mood of the portraits. We also learned how to mix different skin colours.
Another component of our project was mask making which we began by first creating a plaster cast of each student’s face. Some of the students partnered with each other and some had their parents do it for them. Because this is a home school group there are always a few parents present in the class and sometimes younger siblings, which creates a family atmosphere.
To prepare for mask making we talked about what masks were for and how they could transform, hide, protect and empower. We looked at a variety of masks I brought in as well as Aboriginal masks of the Pacific NorthWest Coast, including Coast Salish, Haida and Kwakiutl. Over the next couple of weeks masks were then cast using paper. Some were done using a paper pulp clay and others used a paper laminate. They were then painted and some had added materials like feathers, twigs and collage paper.
One student reconstructed his own cast face mask into an ape. Using images of apes, he observed how to change features in his own face to become more apelike by building up areas with papier-mache.
During the last few classes we worked on both masks and paintings which were starting to reflect family, community and environment. We looked at artists like The Group of Seven for Canadian themed portraits and landscapes, and again at paintings of interesting characters by Van Gogh. We told personal stories and how to include them in paintings.
Here are some of the finished paintings from this project: