Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Smith Rock Inspired Mixed Media Lesson

Finished art with photo inspiration

I am taking an online e-course on how to teach art to kids with Patty Palmer at Deep Space Sparkle. Last year I took her amazing course Teaching Art 101 and this year I am taking the next course Beyond the Basics. Patty's blog, her instruction, her ideas....it's all amazing. I highly recommend taking a course from her or purchasing one of her many lesson plans. Our homework for the first week of her Beyond the Basics course is to create and post a lesson based on one of the lessons she taught us in her first week of class. So here it is...  

Smith Rock Inspired Mixed Media

  Foreground painted in 


9x12 watercolor paper, 90lb
Skinny Black Permanent Marker
Watercolor Pan Set
Bigger wash brush
Smaller detail brush


4th-8th Grade
Landscape contour drawing and various watercolor/mixed media techniques


Line, contour, geometric, organic, shape, realistic, abstract, texture, contrast, color, warm colors, cool colors, earth tones, gradient, value, hue, movement, rhythm, horizon, landscape, foreground, middle ground, background, perspective

Let's Begin....
We are focusing on a famous, local landmark that truly defines our natural beauty here in Central Oregon. Smith Rock is famous for rock climbing and the beautiful cliffs made of tuff and basalt rock seem to just pop out of the nearby farming and ranching fields. The Crooked River trails through the canyon walls and makes for a beautiful and unique state park. Above are several photographs that I recently took to share the interesting shapes and colors with the students.

First have the students make a contour line drawing of the canyon with a river bed, focusing on the geometric and organic shapes of the canyon walls. We also talk a bit about landscapes and perspective and how to create areas of foreground and middle ground and background. This design has nice simple shapes that the students could easily manipulate for first experiments with landscape perspective yet not so distinct of shapes that the proportions stressed out the students. Make sure to encourage the students to LIGHTLY sketch and be sure to check on them. I usually give a time limit on pencil usage and let the students know when it is time to put pencils away. Next, with a permanent marker go over your sketch lines to outline. With the skinny permanent markers the students can still achieve a "sketchy" quality to their lines and they do not turn out as heavy as with the regular tip.

First line drawing of Smith Rock

Talk to the students about adding in more details as they go, possibly vegetation, rock striations in the cliffs.
 Smith Rock Line Drawing

 I even throw in the term, "slightly abstract", when I am talking about the sketchy lines I make so that the students don't freeze up over trying to make their drawing too realistic.

Adding more details

 Here I even show the students how I changed my mind while using the permanent marker - I decided the plateau tops of my cliffs, while very typical of the area, are not typical of the formations around Smith Rock. So I made the tops more jagged and peaked - but it will be okay. I notice that when I make mistakes in class and then show the students how I fix them or incorporate them into my artwork, that they are much more able to attempt that same skill on their own.

Adding crayon accents

Now we'll talk about color. Obviously our high desert environment is rich in earth tones - browns and yellows and sage greens. But we also have beautiful clear water and brilliantly blue skies. So I have the kids start first with picking crayons that will create realistic color values. And we are going to go with warm colors for the canyon walls and cool colors for the sky. The fun part is that I had a few metallic crayons in gold and brown mixed in and the look is very subtle but you can see some of them on the drawing. As I want the art to maintain it's lightly abstract qualities, I encourage the kids to trace over or next to their black lines with the crayon and think about the crayon lines creating texture and movement in the artwork.

Close-up of crayon over line drawing

Rather than coloring in, the crayon accents the black pen lines.


Next we will move on to the watercolor. We will do the river first. I wanted to make sure not to get my brush too terribly wet so my river did not expand past it's banks as I did not create a wax border for it. But I am using the bigger wash brush to get a nice even coverage of color. The wax in the crayon is creating a resist effect and helps simulate the movement of the river. And while it is wet we will throw on a bit of salt - one of my absolute favorite watercolor techniques that never fails to amaze students!

 Close-up of salt just being applied to watercolor

 We will let that dry for a bit while we move on to the sky. We are going to try a wet on wet technique to get the colors of the sky to blend together more seamlessly. Make sure to tell the kids to really clean their brush so that when they wet the areas of their sky only - that it doesn't have color bleeding onto it.

 First gradient wash of color for the sky

We decided to make this a picture of Smith Rock in the morning, with the sky still a deep blue within the canyon walls and the horizon lightening and turning the horizon a pinkish hue. Point out to the students the difference of how the paint moves on the wet paper versus the dry paper of the river. Show them how easy it is to blend the colors together on wet paper without muddying them up.

Sky completed

Next paint the canyon walls with a wash of yellow. Then using wet on wet technique again (but this time with a color wash as the base) add in some orange and red and brown to mimic the canyon wall striations of different rocks. You can use your crayon lines as guidelines or as contrast.

Foreground painted in

Now if your river is about dry you can shake off the salt. However, be sure to carefully shake it off the bottom of the paper. Or you can again, be like me, and create a little boo-boo and let some of the salt get onto the sky. Thankfully one of my "students" (this time my six year old daughter) said it looked just fine, "like the stars that are sometimes still out in the morning". There 'ya go. Art is all about interpretation, folks! Finally paint the foreground and vegetation areas. Students choice whether they want to do a wet on wet technique or just paint away. And then their Smith Rock inspired masterpiece is ready for wowing the parents and hanging up in the living room!

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