Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Notes on Eve Anderson Nature Study Lesson

I was excited and a little nervous about observing this lesson, because Ms. Anderson was going to teach dry brush technique. I have always been mystified by this term. I am not a very good artist myself, and prefer colored pencils to paints. I wish CM had appreciated pencils for nature journals as much as she liked watercolors. Watercolors are so... slippery. Needless to say, we have not done a lot of painting in our nature journals. My kids love paint, but haven't had much instruction in it.


1. Before the lesson, the principal of the school came on and discussed what he liked about a nature study Ms. Anderson had done with him and other teachers when they visited England some years before. She taught him to always look at the underside of things, because often, the underside is more beautiful than the top. This says something about the character of God-- He cares about the beauty of hidden things. He mentioned teacher preparation again-- Ms. Anderson does her own personal nature studies, paintings and nature journal. I remember he also said she was not as eager to show them her paintings as she was to teach them to make their own. I love that.

2. She introduced the lesson and explained what they were going to do that day. She explained a bit about dry brush technique, which she said is "using your brush without much water".

2. "Find yourselves a leaf today. Here is one someone else has painted." She had samples of painting and some nature finds in the classroom. She named the leaf (oak)she held and commented a bit on similarities and differences between trees in her part of the world and in the U.S. She held up a ball from a special kind of maple tree that is called sweet gum in the U.S., but liquidambar maple in England. These trees are common in the southern U.S., but not in England, and there is one in front of Ms. Anderson's school at home. They turn gorgeous colors in the autumn. Interestingly enough, they were not going to pursue this tree for the lesson. They were to look for oak leaves. If I remember correctly, in all this time, the children said nothing.

3. What to look for in a leaf-- she wanted them to be aware that they would be painting the individual characteristics of their particular leaves: "Not the first one you see." "You will paint it damaged if it is." "Do the little marks and the veins." She wanted them to pain what they saw.

4. They went outside. She explained that they were going out of normal school bounds because the leaves within bounds would be broken from being stepped on, and they wanted undamaged ones. (It was winter, so the fallen leaves had been on the ground for some time and were very dry.) "Follow me. Look around. Pick up an oak leaf today, of the size you would like to paint." "You don't need to go too far."

5. She redirected some students: "Away from those logs, you boys." "Not an oak leaf. I want an oak leaf." She was very specific in what they were to search for and where they were to look. The kids began surrounding her with their leaves, asking if this one or that one was okay. Once everyone had their leaves, they went inside.

6. Dry brush technique-- she didn't seem too fond of their brushes-- they were a bit too fat. She showed them how to make a fine point at the end of the brush. She held the brush like a pencil, which she said gave more control.

7. "Mix your green." Although the leaves were brown, she spent a couple minutes explaining how they never ought to use the green in their paintboxes for nature study. She said it wasn't a natural sort of green, and that there were so many shades of green in nature, they ought to mix their color. Then she showed them how to mix their browns for that day's lesson. The watercolors looked like ordinary colors in a paint box.

8. She instructed them to open their "nature diaries" flat so they could lay the leaf on the left side while they painted on the right. That way they could get a sense of how the painting should fill the page. After painting, they could then use the left page to journal whatever they wanted about the study.

9. Not much paint on the brush, and do the light underneath part first. "Fill in as you go, otherwise it leaves a nasty sharp line." "You don't want to see a puddle in your paints." Do a light undercoat and then add dark accents.

10. The kids then began their painting. She walked around the class, correcting and redirecting. "Don't scrub backwards and forwards. You don't pet a cat the wrong way. Only stroke down." She was critiquing and giving suggestions at this point. Once she corrected a student who was beginning to paint the leaf stem in the wrong place. She reminded them to paint the leaf the way it actually was. Not a lot of praise going on! But she was quiet and respectful.

11. At the end, the principal remarked that they spent around twenty minutes painting. He said that even if their paintings weren't 'perfect', after twenty minutes of focused work, "they will remember that leaf."


Anonymous said...

I suppose if you are left-handed, like I am, you'd put the leaf on the right and pain on the left page of the notebook.

Katie said...

Good point! I am left-handed too. In my nature journal, I turn the book upside down, so the spine is on the right, and draw on the left-hand page. I don't have to fight with the spine and the book reads from right-to-left. Weird, I know.

Katie said...

Of course, my pictures are done in colored pencil, not watercolor. Ha. But I am going to attempt dry brush now that I have seen it explained so well.

Suz said...

My daughter and I made a little how to dry brush video, just mechanics. Maybe it would help some of your readers. Humbly submitted: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJE7qlkj2Xo