The Return of the Birds!

Possible Classroom Concepts: Science – Seasons (Spring), Birds (Migration)

Mathematics – Fractions, Social Studies – Map Skills

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Charley Harper, Giacomo Balla, Bouchra Khalili

Abstraction, Illustration, Shapes (Geometric and Organic), Printmaking (Silkscreening)

When I’m talking about the birds here, I’m not talking about a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s  movie “The Birds”. Nor am I talking about the Baltimore Orioles baseball team. I’m talking about real physical birds that return in spring. We all know that robins are famous for returning this time of year, but they aren’t the only ones. From my little house on a creek, I’ve noticed the osprey are back in full force. We counted five flying around just the other day. If you are interested in what birds are returning to your area, check out this website. So, if you are interested in spicing up your seasonal or bird unit, this is the post for you.

In my last post, I wrote about spring blossoms. One of the suggested blossom branch lessons (found here)  talked about adding Charley Harper inspired birds. Harper was a painter, printmaker, illustrator who created birds and animals from simplified shapes. Check out the ways he simplified his subjects here and here. Can your students identify the geometric shapes (named shapes found in mathematics) and organic shapes (shapes that don’t have names and remind us of objects in nature)?  What would you say is Harper’s favorite bird shape? Might it be the teardrop shape?  If you happen to be studying birds and fractions at the same time, use Harper as an inspiration and try out this lesson.

I also love Charley Harper because he often shows his birds in motion. The first artists to try to emulate motion in paintings were called Futurists. Below note how Giacomo Balla repeats legs and the dog’s tail in “Dynamism of a Dog on a Leash” to show motion.


Now look back at the works by Charley Harper here and here to see how he repeats straight lines, curved lines and sometimes shaped outlines to create the illusion of bird movements. Find a moving bird lesson here. Students could also create collaged moving birds in a spring theme. Students could brainstorm bird actions (flying to a nest to feed their babies, flying to a bird house, birds splashing in a bird bath or puddle, taking off or landing). Next, they could create their bird bodies and heads from cut and glued basic shapes. Last, students can print the wings over and over again using the edges of straight cardboard or toilet paper rolls in the construction method found in this lesson, or this lesson. If you’d like to make a 3D version of a moving bird use this lesson as an inspiration.

I was going to end this post here, but WAIT. WAIT! Isn’t this post about birds returning in spring? And isn’t that migration? I’ve seen a lot of artworks on Pinterest and in local galleries created on maps. So, if you have some old road maps hanging around, simply create a flock of moving birds on said maps. You can use the bird making method outlined in the above paragraph. Also, migration reminds me of an exhibit I saw this past weekend at the MOMA in NYC. I walked into the museum to see eight tv monitors depicting hands tracing routes on maps with sharpies. I just had to check this out.  I discovered that The Mapping Journey Project” by Bouchra Khalili depicts African refuges recording their stories of migration to freedom. You can read more about this exhibit here. With this exhibition in mind, students could record a specific species of bird’s migration on maps then add a flock of the birds around the journey line. Or they could even draw the route as tiny moving birds traveling along their route like ants on a log. If you are really ambitious, students could create the 3D bird sculpture mentioned above and use it in a stop motion movie to show migration on a map. After all, film making was one of the next steps in showing movement in art history. If you are up to the challenge, check out this post.

So, now I think I can end this post. Can any of these ideas enhance one of your science, mathematics, or social studies units? Let me know what you think. Simply highlight this post’s title, scroll down to the bottom to leave a comment.

Stop by again real soon!

Spring Has Sprung

Possible Classroom Concepts: Science – Seasons (Spring), Plant Cycle, Food Sources

Social Studies – Cultures Around the World (Japan), Language Arts – Literature

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Vincent Van Gogh, Pierre-Joseph Redouté

Painting, Printmaking, Art Careers (Botanical Illustrator, Botanical Artist), Observational And Contour Drawing


Vincent Van Gogh’s “Almond Blossoms”

 Several coincidences inspired me to write this spring tree blog post. First, I’ve just completed a felted artwork inspired by Van Gogh’s “Almond Blossoms”. Then, I find that Cassie Stephens (one of my all time favorite bloggers) just created an Almond Blossom inspired art lesson. Lastly, while volunteering for an art teacher friend of mine, I discovered that her kindergarten students were studying a unit on where food comes from. It hit me that a lot of today’s blossoms will turn into fruit in late summer and fall. Voila, where food comes from! Too many coincidences in one week. So here I am.

 Hiroshege’s “Plum Park in Kameido”           Vincent Van Gogh’s “Flowering Plum Tree”

Talking about inspiration, Van Gogh was also inspired by others upon occasion. ( I’ve talked about Millet’s inspiration in this post.) In “Almond Blossoms” and Flowering Plum Tree”, Van Gogh was influenced by Japanese block prints he collected. Thanks to Commodore Matthew Perry’s Trade Agreement with Japan , many Japanese items were showing up in Paris. It had been 200 years since any trade had occurred with Japan. The Impressionist and Post Impressionist artists were inspired by all things Japan. Look here to learn more. As you can see Van Gogh made an almost direct copy of the “Plum Park in Kameido”.  In “Almond Blossoms”, there is a more subtle influence .

Printmaking would be a good Japanese correlation if you are inspired to create spring trees or branches with your students. After all, the Japanese Edo Prints were what inspired the European artists. Cassie Stephens’ spring tree lesson contains a lot of printmaking. Students could also print blossoms with  soda bottom bottles and  crumpled paper.

Spring is also a time of Sakura or cherry blossom festivals in Japan, Washington, DC, and other cities around the United States. Nashville, TN celebrated Sakura this past weekend. In Japan, families traditionally picnic under the blossoming cherry trees. Read more about cherry blossom traditions here , here and here. See the tradition recorded through woodblock prints here. These blossom trees are ornamental and don’t bare fruit. The Japanese still manage to use them as a food source though. They pickle and make tea from the petals. The United States received a gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Japan in 1912. These were planted around the tidal basin in Washington D.C. A parade and many other activities are planned for the next couple of weeks in celebration of our friendship with Japan.

The Japanese also paint tree blossoms. Last year I took a Sumi-e or Chinese brush painting class. We learned to paint the “Four Gentlemen”. The plum blossom was one of the gentleman, along with bamboo, orchids and chrysanthemums. You can find some examples of plum blossom paintings here.

Tree blossoms and fruit can also be rendered by botanical illustrators and artists. Read more about these two art vocations here. Before the invention of the of the camera, artists  and botanists recorded what different species of plants and their stages of development looked like through drawings and paintings. One famous botanical artist, who painted for Marie Antoinette, was Pierre-Joseph Redouté. Even today, many of his works are reproduced as prints and on household items. See some examples of his work here. (Check out the lemon branch.) There is also a lovely picture book out about the artist entitled, Redoute: The Artist Who Painted Flowers by Carolyn Croll.

A science unit on where food comes from may include a piece of tree art. Primary students could first create a simple tree shape by drawing , blowing ink, twisting paper or tracing their hand and forearm. Next, students divide their papers in quarters either vertically or horizontally and vertically. Discuss with students the cycle of a fruit tree as found here and in this video. Students can brainstorm different kinds of fruits which come from trees. The following chart shows blossom colors.

Fruit Tree Blossom Color
Apple Pink, White
Peach Light Pink, Light Purple
Pear White
Plum Pink, White
Orange White
Lemon White
Lime White
Cherry White

Students then choose a fruit and fill in the quarters of their tree with the different stages of fruit growth. This can be accomplished with paint,collage or printing.

Intermediate students, who may be studying plant cycles, could practice their observational drawing skills to create botanical illustrations similar to Redoute. When teaching students contour drawing, I would suggest students pretend they were an ant walking around on the object. Where would the ant be going? (up, down, at a diagonal, etc.) Students could arrange the seeds, blossoms and fruits in an interesting manner on the page. After drawing, students could fill it in with watercolor.

Who would have thought that so many teaching possibilities could come from a simple little blossom? I certainly didn’t. I hope that you’ve gleaned something that you can use in your classroom. If you like what you’ve read, please throw me a Like. Simply click on the post title and scroll down to the bottom of the page. Also, please share what you do in your classroom. I’d love to hear about it.

Stop by again real soon!

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – History (Industrial Revolution – printmaking), American Pastimes (Baseball), Hobbies (Collections, Scrapbooking),  Famous People

Language Arts – Homonyms, Mathematics – Statistics (Averaging), Science – (Seasons- Spring)

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Printmaking, Commercial Art (Trade Cards), Trade Cards In Art, M. Vänci Stirnemann, Mike Mandel, LaVern Brock


It’s Spring! Along with the season comes the the beginning of baseball season. Coincidentally, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC has a an exhibit of baseball cards entitled “The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection”. To learn more about the exhibit look  here. Initially, I thought I’d create a short little post about the exhibit and how it correlates with commercial artists. Through my investigation, I learned so much more and discovered correlations with most classroom subjects .

Let’s start with language arts and talk about the word, trade, as a homonym. There are two ways to look at this word. When I think of trading cards, I think of a boy having two Micky Mantle cards and trading one of them for some other card. Through my research,  I learned that is not what “Trade Card” means. The original trade cards were actually more like calling or business cards. A businessman would present his card to a butler by way of an introduction to the man of the house. So in this case, trade stands for a business or occupation. Students could then brainstorm other homonyms that they know. Students could also create a trade card book report.

In mathematics, students can look at the statistics on the back of baseball cards and practice their division skills to calculate averages as can be seen in this lesson. Who knows, you may even spark a math interest in one of your sports minded students.

Social studies can be approached in several ways depending on what you are studying. Let’s start by looking at history. Trade cards have been around since the 1700s, but with the development of the color lithography printing press (part of the industrial revolution), they became more widely used. These cards were handed out for free in stores and at world’s fairs. Trade cards had pictures on the front (created by commercial artists) and advertisements on the back. Read more about them here and here. People often pasted trade cards into scrapbooks as a hobby. These cards are a good source of information for what life was like at the time (art recording history). Baseball ball cards were initially given out for free, but later were placed in products like tobacco and bubble gum. Read more about their history here and here. Innovations in color lithography also affected the world of  postcards and holiday cards.

Trading cards are even made for science. For years animal cards came in the National Geographic Magazine for Kids. Just the other day, I saw that the Winn Dixie grocery chain is giving away a pack of Wild Animal Cards with a purchase worth twenty dollars. Your students could create trade cards in any science theme you may be studying (animals, dinosaurs, flowers).

I even discovered that artists have created trading cards. Evidently, Swiss artist, M. Vänci Stirnemann was the first to create Artist Trading Cards or ATCs. Read the story behind these cards here. In 1970, photographer, Mike Mandel,  created a set of 135 “Baseball Photographer Trading Cards” featuring famous photographers. Read more about this unique card  set in this Smithsonian Magazine article.  The making of ATCs has become a popular topic. One can find many “how to” posts and videos online. Check out  Mini Matisse blogger, Mrs. Hahn’s, recent ATC challenge and ATC instructions here. There is even an artist named LaVern Brock who recycles old baseball cards into one of a kind baseball images. Check out examples of these amazing works here.

So, whether you choose to incorporate just one idea from those listed above or make it a Baseball Card Day celebration (like some teachers have 100 Day celebrations) on opening day, this is really “The little baseball card that could!!!!”

If you found this post helpful, please give me a Like. Simply click on the title and scroll down to the bottom of the post. Any comments or suggestions are also welcome and appreciated.

Stop by again real soon!