Inspired by Artists I: Vincent van Gogh

After the success of my March Break Matisse program, I was tasked to come up with a similar art series for the summer months. The major difference here is that I would be planning and leading four different sessions on four different artists. Not an incredibly difficult task to tackle - but it was hard to narrow things down!

The main thrust of this series, in my mind, was to get the kids to explore how these famous artists made their art. There are so many great resources out there already, that I found myself exploring Pinterest and pinning like crazy. And in the process, I put together my handy list of helpful art resources. In the end, I narrowed it down to four artists.

The first of which - and one of my all time favourites - we're covering today: Vincent van Gogh. One major source of inspiration for this week was this short animation I found via Deep Space Sparkle, which depicts the movement of paint on a canvas in Starry Night. Above all else, I wanted the kids to get the feel for working with paint, with both a paintbrush and their hands (if they wanted to!) and see how to create movement on a flat piece of paper all within a one-hour time frame!

Supplies Needed

  • Bristol board, any size - I cut one piece into quarters so each participant received a quarter
  • Tempera paint
  • Oil pastels
  • Paintbrushes

The Plan

Intro/Arrival - I began by having some colouring pages out for the kids to colour as they were bound to arrive at different times. I did a basic search using Google Images to find some outlines of Van Gogh's works and used those. 

I also showed the kids examples of Vincent's work, including The Starry Night, The Olive Trees, and Wheat Field with Cypresses. I asked open-ended questions to get them talking about what they saw in the paintings, and tried to get them to see how you could use many different colours at once to paint the sky, or grass, or anything else. 

Activity - paint a landscape, explore the medium of paint and the concept of movement. I painted up an example beforehand to show what could be done with paint, and how many different colours could be used at once. Funnily enough, I think this project really benefitted from using old paintbrushes. Older brushes were worn in enough that no matter how you painted, you were always going to see the strokes. And the strokes are what really gave the sense of "movement" for the project.

Vincent Van Gogh children's art program
Detail of brushstrokes.
I'll admit: I really didn't want to incorporate the oil pastels. However, pastels were included in the blurb for the program, so I had to fit them in somehow. I ended up using them as a type of paint resist, so I drew things out with the pastels first, then painted overtop using watered down tempera paint. All in all, I don't mind how it ended up being involved in the project.

How Did It Go?

Really well! I was pleasantly surprised by how much some of the kids knew about Van Gogh and his work. They definitely had fun painting, but some of them finished so quickly that we devoted the other half of the program to storytime. I am very thankful that I set a lot of books aside for that purpose. If I were to run this program again, I would keep in mind two things: (1) don't water down the paint as much as I did - things got really runny and didn't dry as well as they could've by the time the hour was up; and (2) provide bigger pieces of paper to paint on, in the hopes that it would take the participants longer to complete their work.

Check back every week for the next month for a post on these famous artists: 
Vincent van Gogh | Pablo Picasso | Emily Carr | Jackson Pollock

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