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Seeing Numbers with Jasper Johns

I first taught this lesson last year after taking a trip to the Walker Art Center with my son, and we came across some Jasper Johns' pieces. I have never seen a Jasper Johns piece that was so bright and colorful. And if you know me, you know I am all about color.

After seeing these pieces, I knew I had to add a more colorful approach to my Jasper Johns' lessons. I did some Pinteresting and found some rockstar art teachers who made some really cool prints just using poster board and foam. Right, easy peasy lemon squeezey. I guess you could consider this a collagraph print, but I have yet to incorporate that into my vocabulary for this lesson. Maybe next year...

On the first day of this project, I started with an informational video about Jasper Johns. If you have a better idea on how to make this intro really spicy, I am looking for suggestions. Hmm...maybe I should just have a number on the board and ask the kids what it is. (This is getting me excited; I am definitely going to have to try this.)

After that, I get right down to the good stuff, and we look at more work by Jasper Johns. With my third grader, I am really trying to focus on why we make art and the different types of art, so I like to have the conversations with them about why Jasper Johns chooses numbers, letters, and targets as his subject matter. Out of all the things in the whole wide world, why did he feel it was so important to share basic letters and numbers with everyone? Most of the time, students will say maybe the numbers and letters he uses are important to him. Then I ask them what if this artwork is not about the numbers at all? This is when I get some really funny looks. Mind you, I get lots of funny looks all the time because most of my students think I am kind of weird anyway.

We talk a little about what is important about his work besides the subject matter. Then I throw this one at them, "Is the number the subject matter?" Oh man, this one really gets them floored. After this super fun conversation, I demonstrate how they will be choosing a number that is meaning full to them. I start by just drawing the number using a line on stratch paper the same size as their plate. Next, I show them how to take a line and go around their number to turn it into a shape, and show them how they can change that typography to make it more interesting to them. I have found this is the easiest and most successful way to teach drawing any kind of block letters or numbers.

After that, we can either trace it onto the foam or redraw it adding some details around the numbers. We cut the foam number and shapes and glue them onto their tag board plate. I show them when they glue it down, they need to glue down their number completely backwards so it will print correctly. In order to make sure this actually happens, I have them double check with me before they glue anything. Some kids do complete their plate during the first class period. When the kids see the next step, it usually does not take them very long to finish. I considered putting a sealer on their plate so they could wash it and reuse it. After teaching this lesson a few times, I have found it takes too much time, and the plates work fine without it. I have them use Elmer's Glue-All instead of the School Glue to help hold down their foam a little better.

On the second day of this project, we get to do the real fun stuff and make rainbow rolls. I like to start

class by sharing with the students a song I found on Youtube about Japer Johns as a way to remind them what we talked about last time. I then demonstrate how we will be creating rainbow rolls on white paper that is the same size as their plate. I introduce a brayer to them, and we talk about how it's

different then a paint roller. I have found it is worth it to splurge and get real printing ink. I have about 12 different trays set up around the room for students to use. I suggest that they try to get to as many of them as they can. I emphasize the more they have, the better chances they will have more successful prints to choose from for the final project. When they are done with their rainbow roll, I then show them how they can create some collages to print on as well using scrap paper, newspaper, and other fun paper I can find around the room. This is one of my favorite days in the art room because it is so colorful!

On the 3rd day of this project, we begin printing our plate. I have each student use a piece of 12X18" construction paper as a place mat for printing, making one side the clean side, and the other side the dirty side (which is the side they ink their plate up with). I always have students stand up when we are printing so that they can use their stool as a spot to place all their prints on. When they are done printing on all their rainbow rolls and collages, they can make some more collages and print right away. I have found this works pretty well if they apply the glue properly.

On the last day of this project, students select four of their very best prints for their final project. I tell the students the extra prints make great cards and bookmarks. This pursues a crazy trading frenzy!! Students also photograph for Artsonia and complete a quick assessment for the project that includes an artist statement.

For complete lesson click Here

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