Hey there, Mamas! I’m so excited to share this fun post with you today! I have been wanting to do an artist study with my kids for YEARS! I’ve been collecting all kinds of books about different artists since forever, and always had good intentions about putting together a unit on an artist. But, we’ve had a revolving door of babies and toddlers since we started homeschooling, and I just couldn’t make it happen…
Now we are in our FIFTH (!!) year homeschooling, and I finally pulled myself together enough to do this thing. This post will tell you everything we did to dive into the world of Van Gogh over the last 4 weeks!
While putting this study all together, I had three goals in mind:
- learn about the life of the artist (Van Gogh)
- learn the techniques he used, and identify them in his work
- complete projects implementing some of those techniques and the characteristics of his work.
I made this into a 4-week study. Each week, we read a book (or books) about Van Gogh and did one project inspired by his work/using the techniques he used. We also had a sprinkling of videos throughout.
Ok, let’s get into the details of this artist study!
Over these four weeks, we talked a lot about the characteristics of post-impressionism. I tried to point out each whenever possible as we worked our way through the Van Gogh’s work and completed the different projects. It will be fun to do our next artist study so we can compare and contrast different techniques and styles!
The post-impressionist characteristics we emphasized while doing our different projects were:
- vivid colors
- thick application of paint
- real-life subject matter
- emphasis on geometric forms
- distorting form for expressive effect
- using unnatural/arbitrary colors
BOOK: Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists: Van Gogh – I love love love this series of books! It is a totally age-appropriate introduction to different artists and the facts are presented in a fun way that is totally enjoyable and memorable for the kids. Highly recommend!
VIDEO: Post-impressionist art for beginners – We watched this video to get a visual feel for how the technique was to be used before we attempted our project
PROJECT: “Field with Poppies” – We followed this tutorial to create our field of poppies trying to replicate the post-impressionist technique.
BOOKS: Katie and the Sunflowers and/or Van Gogh and the Sunflowers – We have recently discovered and have fallen in love with the Katie books by James Mayhew! My kids all really enjoyed the interactive look at art with Katie and the Sunflowers, and we are hoping to collect the whole series someday.
PROJECT: oil pastel sunflowers – We studied Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” painting noting his use of real-life subject matter in his work. We talked about how detailed and real the sunflowers look. Then we used oil pastels to try to make our own big, vibrant sunflowers that “popped” off the paper. Since we were working with oil pastels, we also practiced blending out with our fingers. We used this tutorial as inspiration.
BOOK: Katie and the Starry Night – This was another Katie book we just adored!
PROJECT: “Starry Night” fork painting – This project gave us the opportunity to practice Van Gogh’s “impasto” technique. Impasto is the technique of putting paint on extremely thick which was common in Van Gogh’s work. He sometimes just squeezed the paint directly out of the tube and onto his canvas. We used plastic forks to swirl through our thickly laid paint to see the effect a painter’s knife may have had and to see the texture that you could achieve. We got the idea for this from our Usborne Art Treasury, but here is a similar tutorial. **Note: with this project it’s important to get your paint on THICK and to do the fork work before the paint dries! A couple of us had a hard time getting it to turn out well because we didn’t do this!
PROJECT: “Wheat Field with Crows”. One of Van Gogh’s last paintings was his wheat field painting. So, as our final Van Gogh project, we made our own versions! The kids chose their own mediums for this project. My oldest went with oil pastels, and my daughter chose to paint using some tempera and some acrylic paints. We based our project on this tutorial.
While studying this piece, we discussed how Van Gogh was very sad at this time of his life, and we found different aspects of this painting that may have represented his sadness. (colors, time of day, choice of scene, the crows, etc.)
For Older Children:
A great book to add in if you have kids a little older than mine is Van Gogh and the Post-Impressionists for Kids. The content and projects in this book are great, but I felt it was a little beyond my kids’ ability right now. (Oldest is 8 and we were trying to include the 3-year-old too) But I would definitely check this out if you have older elementary-age, or even middle school-aged kids! Or even if you just have kids who are patient with their art and eager to learn!
While this was a 4-week study for us, you could totally make it into whatever length you want! Study him for a week and do a project each day or study him for a week and just pick one project for the whole week. Or you could make it a 2-week study and choose two projects or do a couple each week. This will work any way you want to work it, even if it’s just for a day!
Now that we’re done with this study, I think I will probably do a 3-week unit with the next artist. By the 4th week, I was a little tired of being so committed to these art projects, but my kids loved it until the very end and constantly asked if it was time for our next project! Even my 8-year-old who I seriously thought had zero interest in art. That’s a major win for a homeschool mom!
I hope you enjoyed this look at our artist study! It was really so much fun and pretty easy, especially if you plan ahead to make sure you have all the materials you need for your selected projects and the books you plan to read.
If you try out this artist study, I would love to hear how it goes for you! Now we are trying to decide which artist to tackle next. Let me know if you have a favorite!