I have taught lessons about Georgia O’Keeffe in my second grade classes over the years and used many different media in the process. This year, however, I tried something different, and in doing so have found my favorite art media for a memorable lesson about O’Keeffe’s abstract flower paintings. Taught in the springtime, this lesson has been a great success with students and parents alike.
Life of Georgia
We start with a brief overview of O’Keeffe’s life: her childhood on the prairies of Wisconsin, her art school experiences in Chicago and New York City, her teaching experiences in Texas (this is fun since we live in Texas), and her Ghost ranch home in the desert of New Mexico. I share some wonderful children’s books that state the most important facts about O’Keeffe.
Nontraditional Still Life
We contrast O’Keeffe’s early years in the country developing her love of nature with those spent in the fast-paced big city. We view her flower paintings and compare them to traditional still-life paintings. Students notice that the O’Keeffe flower paintings usually focus on just a few flowers, sometimes only one. Usually, they are not shown in a vase such as a traditional still life might be. We also notice that her flowers are large and seem to go right off the edge of the page.
More than Flowers
One year, I received a collectable postage stamp honoring O’Keeffe from a student and the image on the stamp was her painting Red Poppy (1927). I share with students the quote on the stamp that relates how O’Keeffe feels about her flowers: “Nobody sees a flower, really—it is so small—we haven’t time, and to see takes time, like to have friend takes time.”
We discuss how O’Keeffe wanted to elevate the importance of something as simple as a flower through her use of size and color. She presents the subject of the flower in an oversized, abstract manner to demand our attention.
Drawing with Pencil and Glue
At this point, students are eager to begin their own abstract flower paintings. They first draw one flower from the viewpoint of an insect sitting right on the edge of a petal. This drawing is executed in pencil off the edged or right to the edge of a 12×14” (36×36 cm) piece of tab board or poster board. Students next draw a rounded shape in the middle of the square for the center of the flower.
Radiating lines are drawn from this central shape to suggest petals. (Encourage students to draw any type of flower they wish.)
None of the lines of the drawing should be too close together, as the next step is to trace over the pencil lines with colored glue. The drawing with glue step must be completed in one day to allow time for the glue to dry so it can be painted in the next class. (If someone is absent on this day, they can simply trace over lines with a black permanent marker instead of glue.)
In the next class. Students paint over the dried glue lines with vibrant, concentrated liquid watercolors. I demonstrate using a watercolor bleed process and then dispense the watercolors in plastic palettes. I ask students to paint the petals as if they belong to the same flower as opposed to painting a “rainbow” flower.
As a result of this lesson, my students have created some magnificent abstract flower paintings that demand our attention. Parents and visitors alike want to know about these paintings and artist Georgia O’Keefee. How much more interactive can art be when it inspires the viewer to want to know more?
14×14” (36×36 cm) white tag board or poster board, one per students (use mat side)
Colored glue (½ glue and ½ liquid tempera)
Large, plastic paint palettes (with one well per color), one per group of three to four students
Washable, liquid concentrated watercolors in a variety of colors
Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
Beth Hubbert is an art teacher at Neblett Elementary School in Sherman, Texas.
Reprinted with permission from SchoolArts Magazine. Visit their website: schoolartsdigital.com