Monday, June 30, 2008

Spain: Mudejar Style

Today begins a look at Spanish architecture. I haven’t written a lot about architecture and Spain seems the perfect place to start.

The Moors, Muslims from Northern Africa, began attacking Spain in the 600s. They continued their attacks for about 100 years until they were finally able to take over Spain. They remained in control of parts of Spain for nearly 800 years.
The Moors brought their culture with them and their architectural style began to show itself throughout Spain. The Mudejar style is a combination of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish styles. Buildings created in this style were made using inexpensive materials such as brick, tile, and plaster.
What makes these buildings special is the decoration. Often beautifully decorated tile was laid in patterns, wood and plaster was carved into complicated designs, and metals were twisted throughout to glint and gleam in the sunlight.

Buildings created in the Mudejar style can be seen in Spain, even today.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Today will be the last post on the Renaissance, at least for awhile. There are still plenty of artists I haven’t told you about, though, so you can feel certain that there will be more about the Renaissance in the future.

Like Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel the Elder was from the Netherlands and painted during the Renaissance. You’ll notice that he was very different from the other Renaissance painters you’ve learned about, though. Firstly, Bruegel didn’t paint portraits. You won’t find any close-ups of royalty among Bruegel’s works. Secondly, he didn’t focus on details. Bruegel preferred to paint people in motion so the shape of their bodies was more important than the way the fabric of their clothes draped around them. And thirdly, Bruegel loved to paint landscapes. Other Renaissance painters created landscapes too, but they usually did so as backdrops for religious paintings.
Bruegel was born sometime in the late 1520s. His name was originally spelled with an “h” (Brueghel) but he dropped it in 1559. There were many artists in his family and this made it easy to tell him apart. Bruegel served as apprentice to Pieter Coeck van Aelst until 1551 when he became a master painter.

For the next three years, Bruegel traveled through Italy and met many important artists of the time.
As you can see in the paintings shown here, Bruegel liked to paint peasants. He often dressed up as a peasant and wandered through towns looking for inspiration. This earned him the nickname “Peasant Bruegel”

Bruegel had two sons, Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder. They both became painters.
Bruegel died in 1569.

The paintings shown above, in order, are Peasant Wedding, Netherlandish Proverbs, and Tower of Babel. In Netherlandish Proverbs, Bruegel illustrates more than 100 wise sayings. For example, there is a man swimming against the current. Many of the sayings don’t exist in English but there are some you’ll recognize. See if you can find any.

Have a great weekend!

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Jan van Eyck

Jan van Eyck (sounds like: Yahn vahn Ike) was born in the Netherlands. He was a Renaissance painter but lived earlier than the Italian painters we have already looked at. No one is sure exactly when he was born but it was probably in the late 1380s or early 1390s.

Van Eyck’s older brother, Hubert van Eyck, was also a painter. He probably taught his little brother how to draw and paint. The brothers were both court painters and are believed to have worked together on some paintings.

In 1421, Jan van Eyck became a master painter and went to work for John of Bavaria. At the time he was the Count of Holland. When John of Bavaria died, van Eyck became court painter for the Duke. He was a loved and respected painter even during his lifetime.

The Duke treated van Eyck well and paid him a lot. He feared that van Eyck would seek work elsewhere and the Duke would never find a painter as talented. Most painters of the time worked for anyone who would hire them and had to worry about how they would be able to pay for things. Until van Eyck died, he worked for the Duke. He never had to worry about money.
Van Eyck painted many portraits, including the Arnolfini Portrait, shown above. This painting is very famous. You may have seen it before. It is the oldest oil painting on wood panel that was admired and became well known. It is also extremely detailed. Look at the close up of the mirror (shown below). You can see the Arnolfinis reflected in the mirror and two other people standing in the doorway. It is believed that one of the people is van Eyck. Above the mirror it says “Johannes de eyck fuit hic 1434” which means “Johannes van Eyck was here 1434.” What a strange thing to write in the center of a painting! Especially by someone who usually signed only the frames of his paintings.
Van Eyck also painted religious scenes. Shown below is the Annunciation. I love that everyone he painted had skin like porcelain dolls.
Finally, look at Portrait of a Man. This is believed to be a self-portrait but there isn’t really any evidence that this man is van Eyck. One thing to notice, though, is that the head is a bit too large for the body. This is something van Eyck often did. You may have noticed it in the Annunciation, also.
Notice how bright all the colors are, too. Van Eyck was a master with oil paints which are much brighter than the tempera paints used by many painters who came before him. He was one of the first to use oil paints to their full potential.
Van Eyck died in 1441. The Duke continued to support van Eyck’s wife after his death and, later, gave his daughter the money she needed to become a nun.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008


No one is sure when Titian was born but it was sometime between 1477 and 1490. He painted during the Renaissance and became the leading artist of Venice.

Even as a young boy Titian was a good artist. His drawings caught his father’s attention and Titian became an apprentice. His teachers were well-known master painters and included Gentile Bellini and Giovanni Bellini. The painter who influenced young Titian the most, though, was Giorgione.
Titian and Giorgione were friends but also rivals. They often worked on the same projects and each learned from the other as they grew as painters. The painting shown above was created as a team Titian and Giorgione. It is Portrait of a Venetian Gentleman. Even art historians sometimes have difficulty telling which paintings were painted by which of these artists. Titian eventually developed his own style.
When Giovanni Bellini died, Titian was hired to complete the paintings Bellini had left unfinished. He did a good job and he was asked to paint frescos in the Doges Palace and other government buildings. Because of this commission, Titian painted portraits of several Dukes.
Titian painted many portraits and he created altar pieces for churches throughout Venice.
Much of Titian’s work has been lost or destroyed. There was a fire in the Doges Palace in 1577 which destroyed many pieces. Late in his life he began finishing copies of his paintings that his students began. Because so many copies were made during his life and after, it is hard to tell how many paintings he really worked on.
Titian died of the plague in 1576.

The paintings above, in order, are Portrait of a Venetian Gentleman, Assunta, Allegory of Age Governed by Prudence, and La Bella.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008


Raphael Sanzio, known as Raphael, was a master painter during the Renaissance. Like Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael had many interests other than painting. He studied archaeology, poetry, history, and architecture. This post will focus mostly on his art.

Raphael was born in Urbino, Italy in 1483. His mother died when he was only 8 years old. His father was talented and taught Raphael a great deal about art. Saddly, he died only three years after Raphael’s mother.

Raphael lived with his uncle for awhile and then with his stepmother. Soon he became the apprentice to Pietro Perugino. Raphael was a fully trained master in 1501.

When he was 21 years old, Raphael moved to Florence. In Florence, he met Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. He studied the work of many masters and improved his own art. At the age of 26, Raphael was considered one of the most important painters in Italy. At the time, Florence was the center of the art world.
Raphael painted portraits of many famous and wealthy people. The one shown above is Portrait of Bindo Altoviti.
When Raphael was not painting portraits, he painted group scenes like the one shown above, School of Athens. He created many of these paintings for the Vatican in Rome. (This painting was completed on a wall in the Vatican City.) In group scenes, Raphael often used people he knew as models. Another example of a group scene is The Miraculous Draught of Fishes, shown below.
He died in 1520, leaving a large number of paintings, many of which were at the Vatican.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Create Your Own Leonardo da Vinci Journal

Thanks for waiting patiently for a post today. I’m caught up now with my school work.

Leonardo da Vinci observed everything around him. He often took notes about what he saw. He also wrote down the things he learned from his studies and experiences. He kept journals throughout his life which included writing, drawings, and diagrams. There was something strange about his journals, though: he wrote everything backward.

Leonardo wrote in mirror writing. The writing looks like a mess but if you hold it up to a mirror you can read it perfectly (if you read Italian). Some believe that Leonardo did this to keep his work secret. Others think he wrote backward because he was left-handed and didn’t want to the ink to smudge. Either way it’s pretty tricky.

Today, make your own journal and record your observations like Leonardo did.

Supplies Needed:

5 (or more) sheets of copy paper
1 piece of cardboard or heavy paper
Needle and thread
Hole punch and yarn
Fold each sheet of paper in half. Stack the folded sheets inside each other. Your journal should already look like a book. Fold the heavy paper or cardboard to create a cover.
Older kids can open the book to the center and sew along the fold line.
Younger kids should have a parent help them punch holes down the left side of the closed book. Then, weave the yarn through the holes and tie off at the end. Use a dull, plastic yarn needle or just push the yarn through with your fingers.

Decorate the cover anyway you wish.

Take your journal outside and record what you see. You may wish to try your hand at mirror writing or make up your own secret writing.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The Second Mrs. Gioconda by E.L. Konigsburg

If you are interested in Leonardo da Vinci, and there is a lot more to him than what I told you yesterday, you should read The Second Mrs. Gioconda by E. L. Konigsburg.

You may remember E. L. Konigsburg as the author of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. She is a fantastic writer and The Second Mrs. Gioconda is another great story.

In this novel meant for readers ages 9-12, Konigsburg gives one possible story of the painting of the Mona Lisa. The Mona Lisa is an incredibly mysterious painting. We don’t really know much about the woman in the painting and we don’t know what led Leonardo da Vinci to paint her portrait. Konigsburg answers these questions (but remember this book is fiction).

The main character is Salai, one of Leonardo’s servants. Salai never had talent for painting. He was dishonest and he was a thief. Nevertheless, Leonardo liked the boy and kept him around. It is through Salai that you will get to know Leonardo.

I recommend checking out this book.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci was an amazing man who lived and worked during the Renaissance. He was a master painter as well as a scientist, engineer, researcher, inventor, and musician. This post, of course, will focus on his art.

Leonardo was born in 1452 in Vinci, Italy. Da Vinci was not his last name. His name means Leonardo from Vinci.
As a teenager, Leonardo became an apprentice to Andrea del Verrocchio. Verrocchio was a well known painter, sculptor, and goldsmith with a large studio and many apprentices. Leonardo learned a lot from his teacher. By the time he was 20, Leonardo could paint as well as Verrocchio. He soon decided to start his own studio.

Leonardo took on apprentices of his own and was able to earn a living as a master artist. He painted for many important people and, when he was 30, he moved to Milan, Italy to paint for the ruling family, the Sforza. In 1499 the Sforza was overthrown and a new family came into power. Leonardo moved back to Florence (near Vinci) but in eight years he returned to Milan.
The king of France became an important patron of Leonardo. He allowed the artist to paint whatever he pleased.

Leonardo longed to paint for the Pope. He moved to Rome in 1513 but there were already several great painters working for the Pope, including Michelangelo.

In 1516 Leonardo moved into a small castle that was bought for him by the new king of France. He stayed there until he died in 1519. While living in the castle, Leonardo continued to paint. He also gave the king advice.
There are several reasons why Leonardo’s paintings are so amazing. Leonardo studied the human body. He learned exactly how all the muscles moved and how the body looked in different positions. This allowed him to create realistic paintings.

Leonardo was great at observing people. He noticed little details about hands and feet and especially faces. He was a master at painting facial expressions.
He also studied plants and trees, rocks and soil. He studied anything he painted so his art would look as real as possible.

Finally, Leonardo figured out how to use perspective to make more realistic paintings.

Notice all these things in the pictures scattered throughout this post. The first painting is The Annunciation, the second is John the Baptist, the third is The Last Supper, and the forth is The Mona Lisa.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I’m back! Tennessee was fantastic. The weather was pretty good for most of the long weekend. I saw lots of great bands, met some nice people, and got to spend time with one of my closest friends who lives in Florida.

But you’ve been missing your daily dose of art, I know. . .

Most of you have heard of the Renaissance but some of you are not sure what the word means. You have probably even heard of a lot of famous artists from the time, like Michelangelo, Botticelli, and Leonardo da Vinci. You don’t have to wonder anymore. Today, I’ll tell you about the Renaissance.

The word Renaissance means rebirth. Beginning in the 1400s, artists wanted to create realistic paintings and sculpture like the ancient Greeks and Romans did. The Renaissance was the rebirth of the artistic style of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Artists continued to paint in this style until the 1600s.

The Renaissance began in Italy in the 1400s but spread to England, Germany, France, Spain, Poland, and the Netherlands. I have highlighted these countries in red in the map below.
During the Renaissance, artists were able to create art that was even more realistic than the art of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Renaissance artists were the first to study perspective and use it in their art. (I’ve already posted about perspective. Refresh your memory if you need to.) They also studied the human body and how it worked. Leonardo da Vinci is famous for his studies. He wanted to know exactly how muscles flexed and how bodies bent and moved. It was important that the people in his paintings looked natural. Other Renaissance artists agreed.

The Renaissance was about more than just art. During the Renaissance many scientific discoveries were made. Scientists developed a new way of learning. They looked at the things around them and used what they saw as evidence. Also during the Renaissance, people studied books from ancient Greece and Rome. They used what they read to shape their world.

Tomorrow I’ll post about Leonardo da Vinci.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Create Your Own Kelly Grid Art

Today I’ll show you how to weave paper together to create grid art like that of Ellsworth Kelly. Make sure to look at some of his paintings for inspiration.

Supplies Needed:

Construction Paper
A note to parents/teachers: Younger kids can enjoy this project, too. Just prepare the paper ahead of time.
Cut one-inch-wide strips of colored construction paper. You only need one strip of each color but you’ll want to use a variety of colors. Now, measure and mark one-inch-wide, vertical strips on a piece of white construction paper. Fold the paper in half so you can cut along the lines. Do not cut all the way to the edges!
Weave the strips of colored paper through the slits. When you’ve woven as many strips as will fit, glue the ends to the back of the white paper and cut off any extra colored bits.
If you are feeling especially creative, weave the left over pieces of colored paper into the strips you’ve already attached.
Hang and enjoy!

I’m off to Tennessee until Wednesday. I’m not sure how often I’ll post while I’m away but I hope you enjoy the rest of the week!

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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly is the final color field painter I plan to post about at this time. He is still living so I’ll just give you a quick summary of his life.

Kelly was born in 1923 in New York. As a child he moved a lot. Moving makes it difficult to develop friendships so Kelly was sometimes lonely. To keep him busy his grandmother taught him to bird watch. Kelly was very interested in the birds and he began to study them. John James Audubon’s work, which you may remember reading about, helped Kelly in his study of birds. Watching birds made Kelly sensitive to color and influenced his art later in life.

Another experience that influenced Kelly’s art was his army service. During World War II he spent a lot of time around camouflage. This helped him learn to use shadow in his paintings

When he got out of the army, Kelly moved to Boston where he studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts. Two years later he continued his art education in Paris.

In 1954 Kelly returned to New York. His art was not accepted right away. It was very different from the other works of art created during the time. Even so, people saw that there was something special about what he was creating. He was among the only artists who used more than one canvas in a single painting. He also used shaped canvas. Kelly even created entire paintings using only one color.

What I really love, and what I wanted to show you today, are Kelly’s colorful, random grid paintings. Some Kelly created by lining up small, square canvases, each painted a different color. Check out this one. For others, like this one, he drew and then colored in the squares.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you how to make your own grid art.

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Monday, June 9, 2008

Create Your Own Portfolio

Artists often keep portfolios of all their best work. You can do this, too. You’ve probably made a lot drawing and paintings. If you’re like me, they’re scattered all over the place. This portfolio (which is like a folder for your art) will help you to organize your art and keep it safe.

Supplies Needed:

Hole Punch
Yarn or Ribbon

Cut your posterboard into two pieces. Each piece should be about 14 inches wide and 11 inches long. Cut a 4 inch by 14 inch strip of fabric. Choose any colors you wish.

Spread some glue onto the bottom edge (the 14 inch side) of the posterboard. Glue one edge of the fabric to the posterboard. Next, spread glue over the bottom edge of the second piece of posterboard and attach the other edge of the fabric.

Punch a hole through the center of the top edge. Tie a piece of yarn or ribbon through each hole. If you’d like, decorate the outside of your portfolio.
Slip your artwork into your portfolio and tie the strings together.

Later in the week I’ll post a project that you can add to your portfolio.

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Friday, June 6, 2008

Dr. Seuss

I need a break from color field painters. Dr. Seuss is just the thing, don’t you think?

I’m sure you’ve heard of Dr. Seuss, author and illustrator of more than 40 picture books including The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and The Lorax (my favorite). You’ve probably read at least a few of his books. But did you know that he created works of art that were never meant to be used in his books?

At night, when he wasn’t working on his books, Dr. Seuss loved to paint and sculpt. He created this art only for himself. He didn’t mean for others to see it, though he probably knew that eventually people would. I love Dr. Seuss’ illustrations and I was thrilled to find that there were more pictures to look at.

The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss is a collection of Dr. Seuss’ artwork. Some of you may be interested to read the introduction which was written by Maurice Sendak, author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are. The Secret Art of Dr. Seuss is full of the wacky characters you’d expect from Dr. Seuss. There are lots of cats, of course, and many creatures not found in nature. I think my favorite piece in the book is the Impractical Marshmallow-Toasting Device. You’ll have to check out the book for yourself to see what that device looks like!

I hope you enjoy this discovery as much as I did. Have a great weekend!

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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Use a Compass to Create Your Own Stella Masterpiece

Sorry for the posting delay. We had tornados yesterday and a lot of the area lost power. I did my best to stay out of the apartment as long as possible. Not to worry: everything’s fine now.

A note to parents/teachers: For your enjoyment, I am posting a second math-related project inspired by Frank Stella’s work. This one is perfect for practicing using a compass. Compasses can be tough to use at first and when students need to create circles of specified size it can be even tougher. This is a fun and artistic way to practice.

Begin by teaching the students a new term: concentric. Concentric circles are two or more circles within each other that have the same center point. Concentric arcs are two or more arcs lined up next to each other that share a center point.

Supplies Needed:

Colored Pencils or Crayons
Black Marker (optional)

Place your compass point somewhere on your paper and create a large circle. Your parent or teacher may ask that the circle be a certain size. Make sure it will fit on the page before you begin. If you’re doing this project on your own, choose for yourself what size you want your largest circle to be.

Now, set your compass to a smaller size. Place the point in exactly the same place on the page. Remember that concentric circles must share a center point.

Continue to create smaller and smaller circles inside the large circle.

When you’ve created as many circles as will fit inside your large circle, move your compass to another point on the paper and decorate the blank spaces with concentric arcs or smaller concentric circles.

Finally, color the spaces between the circles with colored pencil or crayon. If you wish, trace the pencil lines with black marker to make them stand out.

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Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Use Geometry to Create Your Own Stella Masterpiece

It’s easy and entertaining to use Frank Stella’s art to review geometry. The project below can be fun for elementary students in grades 1-5 with only small adjustments depending on the level of the students.

Supplies Needed:

Construction Paper
Glue Stick
(Optional) Geometric Stencils

A note to parents/teachers: I recommend creating some stencils out of cardstock if you plan to do this project with children in 1st or 2nd grade. Even older kids may benefit from tracing the shapes rather than drawing their own. Draw circles, triangles, squares, rectangles, hexagons, and octagons onto cardstock, cut out, and make the stencils available to the kids. You can easily adapt this project to your kids and situation by creating fewer shapes (ex: only circles, triangles, and squares) or more shapes (including trapezoids and parallelograms).

Choose which shapes to use in your artwork. You may choose to use as many or as few of each shape as you’d like. Trace the stencils onto colored construction paper and cut out your shapes. Older kids can practice drawing their own shapes onto construction paper and cutting them out.

Arrange your shapes onto your posterboard. When you are pleased with the art you have created, glue the shapes in place.

Cut away any extra posterboard to create a shaped canvas just like Frank Stella.

Another note to parents/teachers: You may wish to have the kids write an explanation of which shapes they used. Ask them to write how many of each shape they used and something about each of those shapes. For instance, if you’ve been learning that circles are enclosed shapes with no sides, have the kids write that. If you’ve been learning how to find area and perimeter, have the kids measure the shapes they used in their art and figure out the area and perimeter of each.

Check back tomorrow for another math-related Frank Stella project.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Frank Stella

Today our look at color field painters continues...

Because Frank Stella is still alive and painting, I’m not going to say much about his life. He was born in 1936 in Massachusetts. He attended Princeton University where he studied history. He was also interested in art and he visited museums and painted. After graduation he moved to New York where he still lives.

Stella’s paintings are meant to be objects themselves. He does not mean to portray any subject you would recognize and he doesn’t try to paint emotion onto canvas. He wants each painting to be a unique paint-on-canvas (or wood, or aluminum, etc.) object.

Many of Stella’s early paintings are extremely orderly. You’ll notice straight or curved lines that repeat in patterns. For example, look at Sunset Beach Sketch and Harran II. Can you guess which painting Stella created using a protractor?

Stella began painting on strangely shaped canvases which were often better suited to his creations. Check out Sunapee I, for example.

Soon, Stella’s paintings began to take on 3D shapes. He started attaching pieces of canvas to wood and building his paintings outward using aluminum and fiberglass. Look at The Pequod Meets the Bachelor which was made from aluminum and magnesium.

Finally Stella started to create sculpture. Click here for one 10 ton example.

Stella’s paintings can easily be used to review some simple math concepts. Tomorrow I’ll post a fun project that can be enjoyed by elementary school children of any age.

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Monday, June 2, 2008


I wrote a post for today but then I found an amazing website that you must see. You'll have to wait until tomorrow to read more about color field painting. I don't want to distract you from playing with this great interactive art site.

The GeeArt website includes funny cartoons in which colorful penguin-like creatures and polar bears talk about art. There are also games and fun quizzes about art. You have to subscribe to use all 16 lessons included on the site, but you can try one out for free. My favorite part about the trial lesson is when Vincent van Gogh and Johannes Vermeer face off in a fastest painter contest. It's pretty funny.

Go check it out for yourself. I'd love to hear what you think.

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