Blotches to Birds

Term: 4 Year: 2013

Much of my day is spent trying to see the possibilities in the seemingly unconnected, and discovering new ways of interpreting the world around me.

Sharing this way of life with my students is one of my biggest goals but as a middle school teacher, it’s also one of my biggest challenges. 

How do we get new ideas from the things around us?

With each new class of Year 7’s, I begin the semester with this 90-minute lesson, which is perfect for engaging the students from the very first time they enter the artroom. To begin, we have a class discussion about some of our favorite things about art classes from primary school and also discuss the things we found difficult or challenging. Interestingly, nearly every student said that thinking of new ideas was one of their main challenges. 

Create a series of random blotches

Each student receives 6 pre-cut pieces of watercolour paper (about 20x20cm). We use brushes, scrunched newspaper, paper towel and sink sponges with different coloured inks, to create a series of random blotches on each piece of paper. This can also be done with paint, but inks dry quickly, enabling everyone to move on to the next step. At this point the students will be asking, “What are these for?” Don’t tell them! Only emphasise that each blotch should be unique in shape. 

Turn blotches into recognisable images

Students then think about what images they can identify in each of their random blotches, and using a fineliner, begin to turn their blotches into recognizable images. I emphasise the importance of not just drawing a picture over their blotch; rather use the curves and contours of the ink marks as parts of their image. It often turns into a bit of a group task, with friends suggesting ideas to each other. They’re all exploring ideas and before you know it, suggestions are bouncing all over the room. Arguments erupt too, with “It’s a dog!” “What? Noooo, I see a shoe!!” It’s great to see the students surprise themselves with their own ideas!

Of course, as with most things in art, there’s never a right or wrong answer, and to me, this is what I find so special about being an art educator. By the end of the lesson, everyone has solved a problem, not with a right or wrong answer but with a unique perspective. We turn random ink blotches into recognisable images. 

It is so important that we give our children tools they can use to help them understand and make sense of the world around them. Teaching art isn’t just about being able to recognize an ‘Andy Warhol’ or ‘van Gogh’.

Art is also about teaching young people ways to of adapting and respecting others’ ways of thinking and working. It’s about helping them develop their creative problem-solving skills and teaching them the importance of communicating and sharing their unique connections and ideas with the world.

Adelle Frittitta
Visual Arts Teacher
Nazareth College
Suitable for Level 5