Updated: Sep 29
This week 4th graders started their pumpkin painting with a "Starry Night" project. If you are looking for a challenging project that will engage everyone, look no further. This project combines still life, landscape, drawing forms, color mixing and art history!
I start this project by setting out pumpkins on each table. I explain that they are going to look at the pumpkin and draw it from life. This is a still life. It is called a still life because the object they are painting is not moving.
SUPPLIES NEEDED: Blue construction paper, pumpkins, white colored pencils or white crayons, magenta, yellow, white and turquoise tempera paint, containers for water, brushes, paper plates for pallets, and paper towels for blotting wet brushes.
TIME NEEDED: 2-3 Classes
I start by give each student a large sheet of blue construction paper and a white colored pencil. I use construction paper whenever I can, because at my school we have a supply room for all teachers and in that room is an unlimited supply of construction paper. So I can save my art budget for good paints and other supplies. We go through a lot of paper! You can see my set up here. You can also see that I need bigger tables! 4th grade classes are big this year, so things are getting crowded!
Next, I demo how to draw a pumpkin. I draw with my finger first and ask students to do the same. Drawing with my finger on the paper helps me figure out where to start and how big to make my pumpkin.
I draw the stem first. Then I show them how to draw the contour of the pumpkin. Each side curves out like two parenthesis and connects at the bottom. I demo it, then ask them to draw. Next I show them how to draw the lines in the pumpkins. I talk about form. Form is making something look 3-dimensional. They way we make our pumpkins look 3-dimensional is by getting the curves on the lines accurate. The only straight line should be the one in the middle. To the left they curve in a C shape, and to the right they curve in a backwards C shape. I demo this and then the kids draw their lines. This is the part where one or two kids always get confused, I make sure to walk around and show the ones who need help how to do it on another piece of paper. I never draw on my students work. I remind them to look at their pumpkin when drawing, and to only look at my drawing when they need help.
We do the entire drawing in white colored pencil. I tell them no erasing. This year the colored pencils broke a lot, by the time I got to my 3rd class we switched to white crayons. When I do my demo on the board I actually use a black marker, so all the kids can see what I am drawing. I tell them we are going to paint over this later, so if you make a mistake just keep going.
Having a blue background helps hide mistakes and makes kids less worried about getting everything perfect. After everyone gets their pumpkin drawn I pass out a copy of Van Gogh's "Starry Night" to each table and ask them to use it for inspiration for their background. I also talk a bit about who Van Gogh was and how he painted with lots of little lines. In 5th grade I use these same laminated copies of "Starry Night" and have students do a reproduction.
At this point I remind kids that this is their drawing. Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is just a suggested background, they can in fact do anything they want! Fourth graders are still so creative, I love to see what they come up with. Remind them that whatever they draw they will later have to paint, so lots of small details could get complicated when it comes time to paint.
Up to this point takes about 30-40 minutes. If you have time left you could demo how to start painting the pumpkin. We start with magenta, yellow and white. I use Blick student grade tempera paint. I tell them that they will only need a drop of red, red is so strong, and yellow is so weak. I mix orange. I tell them to paint along their lines, and follow the curves. Do not paint side to side! The paint may look greenish at first, this is because of the blue paper. Once it dries you will give it another coat. On my demo I first paint the top half of the pumpkin. I ask them to look at their pumpkin and notice how the light hits the top and creates a lighter value. I add white to my orange to create a tint and paint highlights on the top. "Oh, ahhh, it looks 3-d!" Then I show them how to mix a darker orange by using more red and a little yellow and I paint that a darker orange on the bottom half of my pumpkin. I want them to paint their entire pumpkin with just magenta, yellow and white. This way every pumpkin starts out various shades of orange, nothing gets muddy and everyone feels a little success. Later I will give them turquoise for shadows. They will need this for the stem and the background.
Once they have turquoise they will have all the primary colors and will be able to mix any colors they need. I show my students how to mix a darker shade by adding the compliment (orange and blue, or red and green). They can create a darker value of orange and go over their lines and add some darker shadows to the bottom of their pumpkin if they would like. I explain that by mixing the primaries together in the proper amounts they can get a dark brown, this is as close as they can get to black. The stem is usually brown plus white. I never give my students black. Black destroys color in paintings.
This project is so challenging, and so much fun. Your students will surprise themselves with how good it turns out. The colors in the pumpkin compliment the colors in "Starry Night." The benefit of using the blue construction paper is they do not need to cover the entire background, the blue can peek through and it looks great. Be sure to remind your students not to go back and forth over their paper when it is wet, or it will tear the paper.
I use paper plates for pallets. With elementary art you most likely don't have time to wash pallets. Each student gets their own paper plate pallet, they need to learn how to mix colors and this is the perfect time to do it!
This is such a fun fall painting project, let me know if you and your students enjoy it as much as we do!