Shared Canvases

This art experience creates a sense of community in your classroom as each child gets an opportunity to add to every canvas. Children quickly relinquish ownership as they get involved in the fun of painting on other people’s work. With the older children I let each child end on the same canvas they started at and later embellish the canvases to make them their own.

I set up the same number of canvases as there were students, and gave each student a cup of paint with a brush in it. This was their color for the entire class period. I did not give the children their choice of color, as this would likely cause fights over who gets the pink (girls) and black (boys). All of my students know that sometimes you get what you get and were perfectly happy with the color I gave them. As a bonus, this project was a great way to use up small amounts of leftover paint colors. I even mixed a few together.

Just for fun, I didn’t explain the activity to the children ahead of time, I simply asked them to find a canvas and start painting. Actually, not explaining what would happen wasn’t just for my amusement, I did this purposely to keep the element of surprise and let the activity unfold to them in due time. A novel wouldn’t be exciting if the whole story was explained in the first chapter! Working with surprise and uncertainty is a key skill for success in life. All good art experiences have an element of experimentation, and this activity engaged working with unpredictability in a big way!

Each child began in front of “their” canvas, and painted with their color for five minutes. Then we rotated one canvas over to the right, taking our paint cup with us. For the first rotation I helped the children move, as they were a little unsure what to do. After that they all got the idea.
IMG_2709Now everyone had a new canvas to add to. I asked questions to encourage contemplation (“where does this picture need my blue color?”, “what types of lines do you want to make?”). My comments encouraged deliberate painting, fostering thoughtfulness and careful work (“we are not in a rush”, “the whole canvas is available to you”). I see myself as a facilitator in my classroom, helping students create their own art to express themselves, not copying my examples or someone else’s work. I had the students wipe their brush off with a paper towel when it looked a bit grungy. We rotated until everyone had time at each canvas and was back at the one they started on.

At the end of class, I gave everyone the opportunity to explain their canvas to the group to hone their impromptu thinking and speaking skills. I do not believe in pushing the students who don’t want to speak, this just adds to their fear factor. I have found that they will express themselves to me one on one, then I help them discuss their art with a friend and eventually they work up to speaking to the whole class.

Sharing canvases is a great art experience to get children thinking on their feet, learning to deal with surprises and unpredictability, creating a shared sense of community, and reflecting on their process. That is what art should do.

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