Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives Educational Curriculum
ART: Studying the Elements of SHAPE
Picasso wrote, "It has taken me years to learn how to paint, but it has taken me a lifetime to paint like a child." Ironically, so many children feel bad about their drawings and say, "I can't draw people." Is that because they are worried about it not looking "real?" Children will love seeing Woody's "Face" portrait and "Face with Flowers." That classic worry of realism will melt away as they study shape using Woody's paintings.
Since proportion is often the hard part of drawing, Woody's use of circles in forming the "Figure in Doorway" will be interesting to children. "Figure with Round head" also falls into this genre. Children can see how Woody used circles and ovals to form these characters. Mona Brookes, author of Drawing with Children, has designed a chart of basic shapes including variations on empty circle, filled in circle, and ellipse. These are the shapes most prominent in "Figure in Doorway" and the cartoonish "Figure with Round Head."
"Man with Hat and Scarf" has interesting curved shapes in both the wide hat and the unsymetrical hands. "Face and Flowers" features angular diamond and triangle eyes and a heart shaped ear. Clearly, "Face" is the most abstract of these paintings, evoking Picasso.
Ask students to play statue, moving about as they will, then striking a pose and holding it when you give a signal. Discuss the different poses children are holding. Another suggestion is to let children move to music and stop the music, asking them to freeze. Choose one student and draw their body pose using circles and ellipses on big chart paper. Play again, freeze, record another student's pose on chart paper.
Divide class so everyone has a partner and have them play with poses, freezing, and taking turns drawing one another using circles and ellipses. After this warmup, students can go to their places and draw someone they know using this method. Display all the artwork and discuss the use of shape.
An extension of this lesson can be based on shape using all five paintings suggested in this section. What shapes do you see in "Face with Flowers"? How are curved shapes used? What irregular shapes are used in "Face"? Look at the shapes used in all five pictures. What do you notice? How did Woody use shape to draw noses? What are different ways to portray eyes? What are some ways shape can be used to suggest necks? What shapes surprise you?
Next, students can paint a portrait of someone they know, being particularly mindful of shape. Display all portraits as they finish and conduct a class discussion. What shapes do you see? How did we use shape to make faces? What would Woody Guthrie say about our portraits?
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