Thursday, March 5, 2009

Art History In the Schools: Tessellations with MC Escher

My daughter's school participates in this great program called Art In the Schools. Parents volunteer to come in one day a month and do a supplemental art history and hands on art project in the classroom. We feature a different artist each month with a portfolio of prints loaned to us by GRACE (the Greater Reston Arts Center.) It enriches the existing art curriculum (they only attend art class in the art room one hour ever OTHER week) and exposes students in all grade levels to a new series of portfolios every year. As the AIS mommy in my daughter's kindergarten class, I love getting to play art teacher once a month and be a fly on the wall in my own daughter's classroom. And...I used to run the program and co-ordinate the parent volunteers when I taught art in the same building!

Last month, we studied the work of M.C. Escher (1898-1972) the "father" of tessellations. For those of you not in the know, a tessellation is a repeating pattern consisting of shapes that fit together on a plane and repeat without overlapping or leaving gaps. Think of a soccer ball or a honey-comb pattern.

Back in my elementary art teacher days, I used to do a fun lesson with my fifth grade students creating unique tessellations with cut index cards that the students traced and filled a piece of drawing paper with color and whimsy. When I saw that we were studying Escher in February and I needed to do a lesson with my Kindergarteners I decided to keep it simple. No hand-cutting complicated shapes that have to fit together perfectly, instead I just blew-up xerox copies of the birds and fish from Escher's black and white woodblock print "Fish Bird Sky"

With older students of course you can get much more sophisticated and even let them create their own repeating designs. There are plenty of tutorials for this online. 

I needed an easy lesson that would display well for March's school-wide Youth Art Month display. To make my life easier, I gave each student a large blank paper fish to color and cut out. I demonstrated some magic marker and crayon resist techniques. Their favorite was how to write secret messages with white and yellow crayons then color over them with darker marker colors to reveal the image/message. Then I assembled them all into a big paper collage with xerox copies of the birds, like a glue-it-yourself jig-saw puzzle!

End result :
Adorable Giant M.C. Escher reproduction
Great Hallway Display
Co-operative class project
Memorable Art Lesson for Kindergarteners and at least one of their mothers!


Pink and Green Mama, 

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