Friday, December 20, 2019

Sandra Silberzweig Inspired Winter Trees

I recently attended the South Carolina Art Education Association Conference, where, in one of the break-out sessions, we did a fun hands-on project inspired by the work of artist Sandra Silberzweig. 
Just in case you aren't familiar with her work, she's a pretty amazing artist from Toronto, Canada who has learned to use her potentially debilitating condition of Synesthesia as inspiration for her vibrantly colorful, multi-layered artwork. "Synesthesia is a neurological condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway (for example, hearing) leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (such as vision). Simply put, when one sense is activated, another unrelated sense is activated at the same time. The most commonly seen type is grapheme-color synesthesia, in which individual letters and numbers are associated with specific colors and sometimes colorful patterns. Chromesthesia, the association of sounds to colors, is also common." (Psychology Today)  Many of Sandra's pieces are abstract paintings of women, like the one pictured above, with bright colors, bold, black lines, and vibrant patterns.

At the workshop I attended, we were encouraged to paint in this style on large sheets of cardboard (maybe 18" x 24", easy enough to cut from the sides of boxes), let the paint dry, and then add patterns with oil pastel. What I thought was cool was that the instructor used this in her classroom as a group project, in which she had small groups of kids choose from an envelope whether they would be painting the face, the eyes, the nose, or the lips, and then they assembled the cut-out cardboard pieces, when finished, with a couple of layers of cardboard behind each piece for a 3D effect, with hot glue guns.

That's when I got my inspiration to do Sandra Silberzweig Inspired Winter trees! I have a group of 15 gifted 4th and 5th graders I meet with once a week, after school, for "Art Club" and I offered this up as a choice for them to try. They were all pretty excited and took off with the idea. We didn't do the small group thing...I wasn't sure my kiddos would want to trade their work around, but they drew tree shapes, some realistic, some abstract, with pencil on large sheets of cardboard and then partitioned off the trees for areas of color. We chose to use acrylic paint, although I think tempera would be fine. Next, we cut out the trees and used the cardboard scraps to design ornaments, which we also painted and cut out. Once everything was dry, we added thick black lines, using big, fat Sharpies. Finally, we used oil pastels to add patterns to the painted trees and ornaments. One really cool thing we discovered was that the corrugation of the cardboard allowed for a surprisingly pleasant pattern of its own, and not just striped, just by rubbing the pastels over the paint! You can see that best in the dark teal area of this tree, where white oil pastel was rubbed over the paint in some areas. I really love the "stacked" cardboard scraps behind the ornaments to make them pop up off the trees, but some kids decided not to do that, and they looked great, too! Today was our last day before Christmas break, and I, unfortunately, only took this one photo:
This one is pretty Christmas-y, but you could definitely do this project after Christmas, leaving off the ornaments and star. You might try adding pine cones, icicles, berries, or even little areas of snow if you want to add the 3D pieces, but, honestly, the painted trees themselves are beautiful without anything glued to them, and if you do this as a "winter" tree project, it's a great opportunity to teach about cool colors...just offer only cool colors of paint and oil pastels, and discuss that the winter-y look of the trees is emphasized by the use of the cool colors. I also love that it's an opportunity to teach about a modern female artist, who has what some might view as a disability, but who has learned to use it to her advantage!

One more thing...if you're into reading picture books to go along with your art lessons, The Girl Who Heard Colors, by Marie Harris is a true story about a little girl with Synesthesia, and pairs perfectly with this lesson!



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