Tag Archives: abstract


Fourth graders recently finished a unit on abstract art. After creating Abstract Portraits with my student teacher, I wanted students to learn more about abstract art and to have some time to experiment with various materials.


For the first lesson of this unit, I played several instrumental songs and students tried painting the sounds they heard by using colors and brush strokes. At first, some students looked at me with confused looks–those looks that ask, “You want me to do what?” I asked students to try it out and told them that it would make more sense as class went on. As the music played, I asked questions like, “What color could you use to show how loud or quiet this instrument is?” and “Does the song sound fast or slow? How can you show the speed of the music using your brush?” After a few minutes, the students were dancing and painting along to the music!


During the next few classes, students could add to or change a painting they had started previously or create a new abstract drawing/painting. I limited the paper to 6″x9″ because I wanted students to be willing to try out new ideas and not be too precious with their work. We talked about different things that inspire abstract artists, like experiences, feelings, elements of art, favorite materials and new tools.

As inspiration, I read the book The Noisy Paint Box, by Barb Rosenstock, which tells the story of Vasily Kandinsky, an artist with synesthesia (who experienced sounds as colors), and who became one of the first abstract painters. The students were really interested in his story and had lots of questions about synesthesia. I also showed them footage from On a River, a short video about contemporary artist Heather Day. The video includes footage of Day traveling, sketching and working in her San Francisco home/studio.

In addition to learning about these two artists, I showed students images of abstract art created by Beatriz Milhazes, Joan Mitchell, Helen Frankenthaler, Odili Donald Odita, and Shinique Smith.


On the last day of this unit, students were also given the option of creating their own abstract painting tool using old paintbrush handles and everyday objects like toothpicks, q-tips, plastic forks and string. Students came up with some very creative tools!

Below are some examples of the work that students created. I am so impressed with their willingness to try new materials and engage with this process! It can often be intimidating to create something abstract–something that you cannot quite put a finger on and name. I’m so grateful for students’ openness and willingness to try something new and learn from each other as they worked.


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Yesterday I went to visit The Magical World of Art (the school where I did my student teaching). It was great visiting and seeing all of the exciting things happening! I can’t believe that it’s been seven years since I worked there! Here’s what students were up to…


1st graders were painting colorful line landscapes. They had already painted their landscape with black lines and tempera paint. When I visited, they were making edits and adding details with Playcolor Tempera Paint Sticks*. I have never seen these before. They looked like a lot of fun! I’m going to order some and try them out with my students.



In The Magical World of Art, Mr. D talks a lot about Habits of Mind. He has created a character for each of the 8 Studio Habits of Mind. These kid-friendly characters help students learn how to think about art and express their ideas using age-appropriate art vocabulary. Throughout the year, students can earn habit of mind badges. In order to earn one, another student must nominate you. Here, the Super Storyteller telling his story to the class, “The sun rolled on the ground and made the mountains yellow. And there was cotton candy in the sky.” Does it get any better than that??


2nd graders reviewed what it means to be an architect and some basic architectural forms. In their sketchbook, students sketched their Dream House or Dream School.

4th graders talked about abstract art. First, Mr. D read My Name is Georgia: A Portrait, by Jeanette Winter. Then students went outside and zoomed in on what they saw in nature. Students drew close-up sketches of leaves, trees, and rocks.

*Here is a review of the paint sticks on The Artful Parent.


“An End of a Sunny Day”

Fourth graders created abstract collages after looking at Matisse’s cut outs. Students worked on this project for two days and practiced giving feedback. Without knowing what the collage was about, students guessed a partner’s topic or idea. If the person couldn’t guess, the artist would tell the idea and then the guesser would give one or two suggested for what could change to make the idea a little easier to guess.

Over Thanksgiving I went to see Henri Matisse’s Cut Outs at the MoMA. Inspired by the the extraordinary exhibit, and this video of the traveling show during it’s time in London, I’ve been thinking about ways to share Matisse’s story and artwork with my students. Because my fourth graders just created a series of abstract paintings, I thought this would be a good follow up lesson. Stay tuned to see what they create…

IMG_9783After working on observational leaf paintings for a few weeks, I wanted students to have a different painting experience. For this lesson, students created abstract paintings while listening to music. The goal was to “try and translate the song–the sounds you hear, speeds you feel, and emotions you experience–into lines, shapes, and colors.” I played four different instrumental songs and encouraged students to think about different ways they could use their paint and brushes to describe the sounds.

Here are some of their reflections :

Which song was your favorite? Why did you like it best?

E: “The second song because [the painting I made of it] is very colorful and has wavy lines”.

N: “The third song because mine looks like a rainbow monster. The song sounded very colorful.”

T: “The fourth song because I put more dots [in my painting] because I thought it matched the sounds in the song.”

What did you like about making these paintings?

J: “It was fun because one of the songs was electric music and I was thinking about a humongous blue lightning explosion.”

E: “I liked that you get to do the pictures in your unique way.”

M: “For the first song, I thought it was really slow so I let my brush do it’s own thing.”

G: “That you could make them weird and use different colors that you probably wouldn’t always use.”

B: “With both art and music you can translate the notes into colors, shapes, and flavors. Like ‘That note is… definitely this color or this flavor.’ The third song I thought about it as flavors and I was able to translate [the sound] into a deep purple.”

R: “I liked that none of the songs started out the way that they ended. Some started out slow and then went fast. You got different pieces and could use different types of paints [to make the different sounds.]”

C: “I liked that we were more free… listening to the music and trying to turn it into colors seemed more creative.”

L: “We had a lot of freedom finding out what colors the song would be.”

What was difficult about this process?

A: “It was hard not to turn things into pictures because some kids who like to run might want to turn [a song] into somebody running. One of the songs reminded me of the beach and I wanted to paint the beach.”

M: “Trying to paint the one that had words.”

A: “It was hard choosing the colors because you don’t always know what color to make something.”

T: “The fourth song was really hard because all the colors that I put looked really messy. So then I used the end of the brush (the pointy part) and scraped it and then it looked like a huge rainbow underneath.”

O: “Not drawing things that I know. In the fourth song I really wanted to paint a person.”

F: “For different sounds in the songs, you had to match the color. For the last one it was hard to find the color to fit. The second one was easy to find the color because it was very fast, but the fourth one was harder.”