Sunday, April 10, 2011


Hello Art-in-a-Box volunteers!  Our project for spring is about Sumi-e:  the art of Chinese and Japanese brush painting.  This lesson is a little different from those in the past in that we will not be using the projector to display images.  Instead, I have several printed images of Sumi-e art that can be passed around the class, as well as traditional Sumi-e tools for the students to see and touch.  I find that this lesson lends itself well to a hands-on approach that I hope will engage the student's interest and involvement in the subject.

The art of Sumi-e is not exclusive to one artist, but is part of the artistic culture of China and Japan.  There are many legends about Sumi-e painting, and I wrote this lesson with the idea that it is part storytelling, part show-and-tell.  We cannot hope to teach Sumi-e in a day, but if we can introduce the students to the basic materials and techniques of this art and spark an interest in learning something new, then I feel this project will be successful.  Please read the lesson to become familiar with the art of Sumi-e, and feel free to add any creative touches you can think of.  At the training, I heard ideas for tea, sushi and kimonos which would all be so fun and memorable for the kids!  Also, I've included a cd of traditional Japanese music to play during the project which should help set the mood.  Thank you for being part of this project!

Sumi-e:  The Art of Chinese and Japanese Brush Painting
Grades K-5

Our Art-in-a-Box project for spring is about Chinese and Japanese brush painting. In Japan, brush painting is called Sumi-e (pronounce the "e" like the "ĕ" sound in egg), which means "ink picture."

History of Sumi-e
Ink painting began in China thousands of years ago. Pictures and calligraphy were painted on scrolls of paper to tell stories. There are many different stories and legends about brush painting. One legend is about a boy who loved to draw cats. His family was very poor and they had to send him away to live at a temple where he could have food and shelter. He was a smart boy, but he loved to draw cats so much he drew them on the ceilings and walls of the temple, and he got in trouble for this. He was told he couldn't stay there anymore, so the boy walked to an old abandoned temple. He didn't know that a rat goblin lived there. When he got to the temple he drew perfect cats on the paper screens that were in the temple, and then he went to sleep. In the middle of the night, the rat goblin came out, but his cats were so lifelike, they sprang to life and ate the rat. According to the legend, the goblin had caused all the crops to fail, and now that the goblin was dead the fields were lush and green. The harvest was so good the boy was able to return home to his family. He became known as a great artist, and every day used his ink and brush to paint at least one cat.

Most of the legends tell of a young boy (an eventual sumi-e master) who drew so life-like, the drawing came to life.  Another story is about a boy who liked to draw when he was supposed to be doing schoolwork.  As a punishment, he was tied to a tree outside.  He used his toe to draw mice in the sand, and the mice came alive and chewed through the ropes to free him. 

Yet another legend about Sumi-e is of an artist who painted a mural of dragons on a wall of a temple, but he didn't paint the eyes of the dragons. He thought that if he painted the eyes, the dragons would come alive. But people insisted that he paint the eyes!  When he did, the dragons came to life and flew away.

The Four Treasures
There are four simple tools used in brush painting that are called The Four Treasures because they are so important. They are the brush, ink, ink stone and paper.

Show the brush in the bamboo holder, the ink stick and rice paper to the class, and pass them around so the students can each look at them.

The Sumi-e Brush: The Sumi-e brush has a handle that is sometimes made of bamboo, and the bristles are made from animal hair such as sheep, deer, rabbit or horse. One Chinese master even saved his cat's whiskers to make into a paintbrush, and sometimes men even use hair from their own beards to make brushes!

The ink stick: The ink is made from different kinds of soot (a dark substance from burning wood) such as pine soot, mixed with glue. It is made into liquid ink by grinding the stick on an ink stone with a little water. In China and Japan, many artists collect ink sticks because they each are different. They have beautiful designs, and some even have a wonderful scent.

Paper: Before there was paper, pictures were painted on wood or bamboo. Now there are many kinds of paper, and a kind of paper called rice paper is popular for Sumi-e painting.

The Three Friends of Winter:

Ask for three volunteers to hold the scrolls. The three scrolls represent the three friends of winter: pine, bamboo and the plum tree

There is a saying in China that the pine tree, bamboo and the plum tree are the three friends of winter. The pine tree is strong, has a long life and lives where is is cold. Bamboo grows straight and tall and keeps it's leaves during the winter. The plum tree blossoms in the spring even when it is still frozen outside, and represents good luck for the coming year.

People who do sumi-e painting practice painting the pine, bamboo and plum tree over and over again to practice brushstrokes.  Once they are good at making brushstrokes they paint other parts of nature like birds, insects, flowers and trees.  Pass around the printed pictures by the Sumi-e master artist Xu Beihong.   

There is not just one person who paints in the sumi-e style, but many people have learned the technique.  Families and children in China and Japan often practice Sumi-e painting for fun.

Ask, "Have you started to see blossoms on the trees here? We are going to paint a plum branch in the Sumi-e style"

Project: Sumi-e Plum Blossom Branch
Grades K-5

Project: Students paint a blossom branch inspired by Sumi-e brush painting

Project Goal: To introduce students to the art of China and Japan by exploring the tools and techniques of Sumi-e brush painting. Most importantly, to have fun trying something new!

Watercolor paper
Black and pink liquid watercolor (we are using Blick Liquid Watercolor)
Small containers/palettes for the pink watercolor
Sumi-e brushes
Red markers
Hole punch/ paper reinforcements
Black ribbon

Project Steps:

If you like, play the included cd of Japanese instrumental music quietly in the background.

1. First, please demonstrate the project to the students. Place a piece of watercolor paper the tall way, then squeeze a small amount of the black liquid watercolor (an area about the size of a nickel) near the bottom of the paper. With the straw held nearly horizontal to the paper, blow the watercolor toward the top of the paper. This works best if you get down on the same level as the paper. Where the watercolor puddles up, blow the paint in different directions to form small branches. Keep doing this until there are no puddles of watercolor.

2. Hand out one piece of watercolor paper and one straw to each student. Remind them they will blow the paint from the bottom of the paper to the top, and it works best if they bend down to look across the paper, and blow the paint with the straw held sideways, not up and down. Come around to each student and squeeze a small puddle of watercolor near the bottom of the paper. (It's fine if the paint blows off the paper and onto the desks--it's completely washable.)

3. Give the students several minutes to blow the paint with the straws, and allow a few extra minutes for the paint to dry a bit. Now demonstrate how to paint blossoms. Place a small amount of pink watercolor in a dish, and use the sumi-e brush to paint the blossoms. Explain that the blossoms can just be dabs of color, or they can draw blossoms with the paintbrush. Hold up the examples so the students see they can paint many blossoms or just a few.
When you are finished painting a few blossoms, take a red marker and write your initials on the bottom right corner of the paper, surrounded by a square. Explain to the students that Asian paintings are signed with a carved letter stamp called a seal. When they are done painting blossoms, they can use the red marker to write a letter from their name surrounded by a square to make their own seal.

4. Hand out the sumi-e brushes, and a small dish of pink liquid watercolor for each table or every few students to share. A little goes a long way--each dish only needs a Tablespoon or two of watercolor to paint the blossoms. Then hand out the red markers.

5. When the student are done, hole punch the paper at the center of the top, and put reinforcement tabs on the front and back side of the hole. Loop the black ribbon through the hole for hanging, and place the included label on the back of the artwork. Thank you!

*For cleanup, please rinse the brushes and shape the tip to a point so they will stay nice for the next class.  Thank you!

My Sources and recommended reading:

Yolanda Mayhall, The Sumi-e Book. Watson-Guptill, 1989.

Naomi Okamoto, Japanese Ink Painting. Sterling Publishing Co., 1996.

The Fine Art of Chinese Brush Painting, Sterling Publishing Co., 2006.

Wu Yangmu, The Techniques of Chinese Painting. Herbert Press, 1990.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Winter Lesson: Marc Chagall

Please read the lesson to the class, and show the corresponding pictures using the document projector in each classroom.  Thanks!  Have fun learning along with the kids about a great artist!

Marc Chagall Lesson Plan
Grades K-5

Hello! I'm glad to be here today for Art-in-a-Box. We are going to learn about the painter, Marc Chagall. First we will look at some of his art, then we will make some of our own.

Over the Village
Marc Chagall painted colorful pictures from his imagination. His paintings often look like a dream world because he painted people floating through the air. Here is a painting of him and his wife Bella flying over a village. Have you ever had a dream that you were flying?

Paris Through the Window
This is one of his most famous paintings, called Paris Through the Window. You can see the imaginative and colorful way he painted the world he saw. There is a man falling down from a triangle parachute in the sky and a cat with a human-like face. Do you see the train that is turned upside down?
I and the Village
He often painted houses and people upside down. This painting is called I and the Village. There is a peasant coming back from the field, a woman standing on her head and a few houses turned upside down. Can you see the woman milking the cow? He placed things wherever he wanted to on the canvas, sometimes putting something inside of or on top of something else.
The Fiddler
Surrealism is art that looks like a fantasy or dream. Some people think Marc Chagall's paintings are surrealistic, but he did not think of his paintings as fantasies. The things he painted were real memories of his life arranged in creative ways. One of his favorite memories was of the violinists that played music in the Russian village where he was from. In this painting, a green fiddler sits above the snowy village and a person soars high into the sky.

Russian Wedding
His family and village in Russia were very important to him. Even after he grew up and moved away he painted the people and places he remembered from his childhood. This is a painting of a Russian wedding. Do you see the violinist that played in the celebration? What else do you see in this picture?

Over Vitebsk (vē-tepsk)
Many of Marc Chagall's paintings represent the symbols and stories of his Jewish heritage and culture. He painted people, places and things that were important to him, but he didn't like to talk about his paintings or say what they meant. Here we see an old man with a sack on his back and a cane in his hand, wandering through the sky over the city. Can you think of a story he might be telling?

Self-Portrait (with Seven Fingers)
When Marc Chagall was a young man he moved to Paris, France to work on his art. He loved the bright colors of the city, and chose to live most of his life in France. Here we can see that he is thinking of his village in Russia but the Eiffel tower of Paris is out the window. Do you notice anything unusual in this painting?

Bonjour Paris
Some of the first people to appreciate his art were poets. They thought of him as a poet-painter because his paintings reminded them of poetry. In this painting called Bonjour Paris, the Eiffel Tower has a human face and there is a giant rooster in the sky under the moon. Do the colors or things in this painting remind you of a poem or a dream?

The Juggler
Do you think this is a bird or a human? This painting is called The Juggler, and it is filled with his memories of the circus. He loved to go to the Paris circus with his wife Bella and their daughter Ida. Do you see the woman on the trapeze? He painted many pictures of acrobats, clowns and horses in colorful costumes and impossible poses.

Around Her
Not all of his memories or paintings were happy. Marc Chagall lived through difficult times of war, when he had to leave his home to find safety in the United States. Painting was a way that he could express both happiness and sadness. Painting is like telling a story without using words. Do you think painting helped him feel better?
The Dance
While Marc Chagall was in America, he was invited to make the costumes and decorate the stage for the Ballet Theater of New York. He worked with the musicians and dancers to create colorful scenes and costumes that expressed the feeling of the music and dance. Audiences were inspired by his large, colorful paintings, and his work for the ballet and theater was a success.
 Jerusalem Windows
Marc Chagall was a painter, but some of his largest and most colorful works of art are windows of stained glass. He didn't learn the craft of stained glass until he was seventy year old, but he was always interested in learning new ways to share his art with people. The beautiful windows look like jewels when light passes through them, and are special for their color, shapes and messages of peace. What animals do you see in this window?

Child with Dove
Marc Chagall lived to be nearly 100 years old. There were many changes in his life, but he was always an artist. He painted, designed sets and costumes for the theater and ballet, illustrated books, and created beautiful stained glass windows. His art was colorful and imaginative, and filled with images and memories like a dream.

Project: Dreams and Memories 
inspired by Marc Chagall

Project:  Students tell the story of a memory or dream using colorful images and symbols

Project Goal: To encourage children to express thoughts, feelings, memories and ideas in a visual way.  To explore combining meaningful images in unexpected ways.

Key Concepts: 
-Students discover ways of visual communication and self-expression by telling a story through drawings
-Students develop an awareness of color, composition and space by discovering new and creative ways to arrange elements on a page
-Students gain vocabulary as they learn about the artist's background and techniques

Crayola water-soluble oil pastels
watercolor paper
plastic cups for water 
paper towels 
mounting paper, glue (for mounting), labels

Project Steps:
1. First, talk with the class about what makes Marc Chagall's art so unique and dream-like.  Some good things to say might be:
His paintings are colorful!
Things are turned upside down
People float through the air
Animals have human-like faces
Objects are on top of or inside of something else
He painted what he remembered
He painted the night sky, moons, flowers

2. Hand out the watercolor paper and the pastels. Ask the students to think of a special memory or dream they have had. Suggest that they can think about a birthday, a special person, a favorite toy, a trip they have taken, a dream they have had, etc.

3. Have the students draw something from that special memory or dream. After a few minutes, tell the students to turn the paper a quarter turn (demonstrate so they don't flip the paper over to the back side) and draw something from a different memory or dream. Continue in this way, turning the paper 4 times until they are back at the first drawing.

4. When they are starting to fill up most of the white area of the paper with color, hand out the water and paintbrushes. Tell students to use just a little bit of water (they can dry the paintbrushes on the paper towels if necessary) to blend the pastels.

5. When the students are done, make sure each drawing is signed. Glue the artwork to the mounting paper and place one of the Marc Chagall labels on the back of the painting. If possible, place the pictures on a drying rack overnight, then staple up to display. Thank you!

This project is inspired by a lesson by Stephanie Corder, from the website

Resources and Recommended Reading

Though I have researched the subject of Marc Chagall thoroughly, and every effort has been made for accuracy, if you feel that information is in error, please contact me at sara at sitkacoast dot com

Benjamin Harshav, Marc Chagall and the Lost Jewish World.  New York, NY: Rizzoli International Publications, 2006.

Howard Greenfeld, The Essential Marc Chagall. New York, NY: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 2002.

Jude Welton, Marc Chagall. Danbury, CT: Franklin Watts, 2003.

Marc Chagall, Life is a Dream. New York: Prestel, 1998.

Jacques Lassaigne, Marc Chagall, Drawings and water colors for The Ballet.  New York:  Tudor Publishing Co., 1969.


Artist at a Festival, 1982; Private Collection

Over the Village, 1914-1918;  Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Paris Through the Window, 1913; Guggenheim Museum, New York

I and the Village, 1911; Museum of Modern Art, New York

The Fiddler, 1912-1913; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Russian Wedding, 1909; Foundation G.G. Buhrle collection, Zurich

Over Vitebsk, 1915-1920; Museum of Modern Art, New York

Self Portrait (with seven fingers), 1913-1914;  Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

Bonjour Paris, 1939-1942; Private Collection

The Juggler, 1943; Art Institute of Chicago
Around Her, 1945; Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou, Paris, France

The Dance, 1942; Illustration for Aleko

Jerusalem Windows, Tribe of Reuben, 1960-1961; Hadassah Medical Center, Jerusalem

Child with Dove, 1977-1978; Private Collection

Monday, January 3, 2011

Emily Carr Trees!

Thank you volunteers for doing such a good job teaching the fall lesson!  Here are a few of the wonderful results.  The students really captured the movement, size and color of Emily Carr's trees, and each tree was unique!