Art History:   Grade 2 Lesson 4

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  ART & OBSERVATION- Techniques and Media



Pretend a visit to an art store.

There are so many kinds of materials you might have a difficult time choosing the kind of art to do. Some artists today use even more common things we find around us such as rocks, dirt and junk from the dump.

You could make something you can walk around - a sculpture; or something that moves around in space as you stand still - a mobile. You could make a picture on a flat wall or a painting to hang on a wall.

Today we'll talk about the materials and tools an artist uses to paint or draw a flat picture to be framed:

You can go to an art store and buy the paint and brushes and surfaces to paint; they are already prepared. Long ago the artist had to grind minerals and rocks into colored dust called pigment. Then he had to decide which sticky substance to use to bind the color particles together in a paste. Some sticky things they used, and may still use are:

  1. Glue made from animal bone, skin, fats.
  2. Skimmed milk or cottage cheese mixed with lime.
  3. Beeswax
  4. Eggs
  5. Paste or oils made from plants.

Today we have scientists - chemists, in laboratories - who do all this work for us and package the paint in tubes. Even so, it's important to know as much as possible about the medium (sticky stuff that holds the pigment together) because then we can choose the best kind of brush and surface to decorate.


  1. Assorted Art Materials, BOX, Materials used for pencil sketches, pen & ink, charcoal drawing, pastels, watercolor, oil & acrylic painting.

    Pencil, charcoal. There are many pencils, charcoals, chalks and crayons to choose from and just as many different kinds of papers. Usually a rough paper is chosen, but the artist must decide how smooth or textured, thick or thin, colored, gray or white. Note how the lights and shadows are drawn with a pencil.

    PEN & INK

    There is another way to draw. Artists took the materials from writers of words. There is a variety of pens - reed, quill, or steel. (The Chinese and Japanese even use a brush in the same way as a pen. They also have special inkstones and sticks to grind their own ink.) Today we have ball point pens and felt tip markers. Pen and ink is best done on smooth paper. Why?


    Using pastels, you are both drawing and sort of painting. Pastel is color in its purest form, ground and pressed into sticks (very little binding material is added.) Some pastels have oil added to prevent smearing, or the finished pastel drawing can be sprayed with a fixative to keep it from smearing. You can mix and spread the color and make wonderfully soft edges by rubbing with your fingers or soft cloth. Any slightly rough paper is used - colored papers are preferred.

    Look at Mary Cassat's Child in Red Hat and find where the color is rubbed out to a soft edge. See how the soft pink is repeated. Find the drawing lines where the pastel is used like a pencil. Do you think the soft subtle colors contribute to the feelings between mother and child?


    The name comes from what is used to thin the paint - water. Your school paints are a kind of watercolor - tempera - but they are thick to enable you to cover a large area smoothly. Also, with tempera you can't see through the colors, so you can paint one color over another dry color and cover mistakes.

    Another kind of watercolor (pigments are bound with a different water-soluble medium than in poster paints) is more like your watercolor boxes. The artists' paints can be bought in tubes (or cakes). This paint requires a special paper (100% rag paper - heavier the better) to hold the wet paint on the surface long enough to be spread around evenly or to mix new colors into it. The brush is made specially to hold just the right amount of water and paint - it feels soft.

    Artists choose these watercolors for their transparency - you can see the white of the paper behind the color (like light shining through). Often these paints are painted in thin layers or washes, so that you can see one color behind another. Have you ever noticed how your school poster paints are less intense in color as they dry? That's true of all watercolors, the more water, the duller color - and they dry quickly. The watercolor palette or dish is white so you can see the mixed color as it would appear on the paper with the whiteness shining through.

    Look at "Light Coming on the Plains" by Georgia O'Keeffe. Notice the transparent colors which are put on the paper in layers or washes. (You can see the white paper shining through. the colors are more dull than in an oil painting.


    Think about the poster or tempera paints you use in school. How do they compare with these other kinds of paints?

    Oil colors are pigments bound together with linseed or poppy oils. The paint has special qualities:

    1. The paints stay wet a long time - you can mix new colors into the wet paint.
    2. The paints can be thick or thinned with turpentine (water won't work, even the brushes must be cleaned with turpentine.)
    3. The colors are opaque - you can't see through them, so that when the paint dries, you can paint over mistakes or make changes. Oil paints can also be thinned to be transparent, almost like a watercolor.
    4. The colors stay the same brightness, even as they dry.
    5. The finished, dry picture is durable and doesn't need to be protected with glass.
    6. A special surface must be prepared from canvas stretched over a frame. oil paints may also be applied to other surfaces, such as wood, glass, metal or ivory.
    7. You can use a special palette and palette knife to mix and to thin colors.

    Acrylic paints are a modern invention which combine many of the properties of oils and watercolors.

    These are only a few of the many ways to make art to hang on walls. We'll talk about some others, for example printmaking and photography, in a future lesson.


  2. CHILD IN RED HAT, , Mary Cassat, American (1844-1926), pastel, Reproduction print.
     Mary Cassatt is often considered to be America's most famous woman painter. She was born into a rich Pennsylvania family, but lived most of her life in Paris. Her early work there was rejected by the conservative salons, but in 1877 she was invited by Degas to exhibit with the Impressionists. Although she was close to Renoir, Manet and Cezanne, Degas remained the strongest influence on her art.

    see also Grade 1, Lesson 3 for Cassatt and links


  3. ANSONIA, 1977, Richard Estes, American (1936-), oil on canvas (46x60"), Whitney Museum of American Art,  Reproduction print.
     Can you see the bright grays? This painting looks like a photograph. Why? Photographs too, are a medium of artists. Photos capture every detail and although it seems that Richard Estes has also, he actually eliminated and simplified many things in this city scene. We call this king of painting "Super-realism". Why?

    Estes has been accepted as a Hyper-, Photo-, New or Super Realist (the names are interchangeable), that is a painter who faithfully records and transmits every detail of the subject observed. It is not an accurate description in his case, for just as an artist like Lichtenstein selected from his source of comic book imagery only what he wanted, so Estes considerably edits what the camera records. He works in a conventional painterly way, arranging his paintings according to traditional canons. And they are paintings: the original photograph is the ‘sketch', and any subsequent photographic blow-up he would consider too blurred for his purposes. On examination, his works prove to be richly painted - the paint being applied with great suavity. His theory that ‘more is less: The more you show the way things look the less you show how they are" is not one that the viewer of his work immediately understands. The smooth Art Deco brilliance of the painting belies the cluttered tatty urban American streetscape that is his subject matter.  Estes' comment lies in the creation of an anesthetized sterile world - his comment is his deadpan presentation of the banalities of the common scene.

    bulletOther Estes paintings in Art Galleries & Museums


  4. LIGHT COMING ONTO THE PLAINS III, 1917, Georgia O'Keefe, American (1887-1986), watercolor, Amon Carter Museum, Fort Worth, TX   Reproduction print.
    bullet  Links
    bulletO'Keeffe Museum
    bulletsee also Kindergarten Lesson 3


  5. Portrait of Georgia O'Keefe, , Alfred Stieglitz, American (1864-1946), photograph, Reproduction print 
    O'Keefe married Alfred Steiglitz, an accomplished American photographer. She moved out to New Mexico, painted large flowing shapes. Many images of flowers enlarged, desert landscapes, animal skull motifs. Abstracted from reality.


  6. BASEN D'ARGENTEUIL, , Claude Monet, French, (1840-1926), RISD Museum, RI Reproduction print.
    bulletMonet paintings


  7. LES ASTRES, (The Stars), 1966, Alexander Calder, American (1898-1976) lithographic print, reproduction print
    Calder was born in Philadelphia at the turn of the century. As a young boy, his Dad built him a little workshop where he built toys for his sister and himself. He became a mechanical engineer - turned artist. He produced HUGE mobiles of simple shapes and primary colors, one of which hangs in the modern wing of the Smithsonian. He loves the color red so much "...I want to paint almost everything red !“, said he.

    This is a copy of a LITHOGRAPH — a printing process where one chemically changes the surface of a block of limestone, or treated metal plate, to accept ink. When ink is rolled on, it sticks to these ‘ink-loving’ spots. The surface is then run through a large press bed to press the ink onto paper. There is a separate plate and press run for each different color ink to be pressed onto the same sheet of paper when dried from the previous run. These days, artists’ prints are usually processed mechanically, though special print studios do still hand print artists’ works for smaller editions.
    bullet Links
    bulletCalder Foundation - Biography & pics
    bullet Alexander Calder at Artsy


  8. REBUS, 1955, Robert Rauschenburg, American, (1925-) mixed media, Reproduction print
    This is thrown in for fun. The children can examine it. Do they like it? What MEDIA can they see in this picture? Discuss collage  .....  anything they find.
    bulletRauschenburg Biography by PBS American Masters series


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