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I Modinnari Apples

I Modinnari is a tradition that many communities have adopted to honor an Italian tradition that began way back in the 16th century. Once upon a time itinerant artists commissioned for bigger works, would,  at the close of the project, create a related work of art in tempera on the pavement.

For many years this was a tradition with my children, and later with my students. These two are perfect examples for fall. The copy below, after René Magritte’s Listening Room, was created on our driveway during COVID. The above image after inspired by Paul Cézanne’s Apples but re-imagined to fit into a particular space.

You can I Modinnari too!

Here’s How:

  1. Use a white, water-based tempera paint, to cover the space you will be using to create your art.
  2. Choose an image to copy. Apples are obviously recommended!
  3. Using a collection of chalk pastels, begin drawing and layering up colors. Begin with light colors and add darks last!



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Pop Art Apples

It looks simple. It is. But what makes it read “apple” is the fact that it began with observation. The most important thing that observation teaches, is that apples are not perfect spheres.

One fun way to observe is to observe a black and white photograph. Here’s how:

  1. Take a phot of a single apple or a group of apples on your phone. Edit the photo to black and white.
  2. Turn on the edit option and choose a color of your choice.
  3. Choose an apple color for the pen tool. Have your student scribble-trace the apple contour with an Apple Pen or finger.

Now get to know artist Roy Lichtenstein. Read about him here. This is work, Two Apples, was created back in 1972. Take some time to observe. Here are some things to notice:

  1. It is horizontally oriented, divided into two unequal parts, the bottom being larger than the top.
  2. We see: Red, blue, black, and white.
  3. The apples shape is created by a strong, single outline that creates a beautiful organic shape.
  4. The stem is a single stroke of paint.
  5. The upper background is dotted.

Now you try!

  1. Begin with very light pencil drawing. Divide the horizontal space. Fill the space with two large apples.
  2. Choose colors (we recommend using gouache or acrylic paint on smooth Bristol paper) . Limit the palette to two colors, plus black and white.
  3. Paint the sold background at the bottom of the painting. Next paint the apples. Let this dry thoroughly.
  4. Next paint the dots in the upper background. This should be done slowly. Let the paint dry.
  5. Use white paint to pop a highlight onto the apple if you like (our students did not create the highlight).
  6. The very last step is to outline the apples and the horizon line with black.

When it come to apples, the possibilities are limitless! This is what the pop artist reminds us:

“Pop art looks out into the world. It doesnt look like a painting of something, it looks like the thing itself.”

There is no doubt in the viewer’s mind that these pop art apples look like the form of the real thing! This is because the artists began with observation.



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The Yarn Bombed Pumpkin


Yarn-bombing is a thing. 

Look it up.

This pumpkin is a project that I worked on with my family during the month of October a few years back. Let me tell you, bringing shape to this silly little idea afforded our family with a fun collaborative activity in the busy weeks leading up to Thanksgiving. It was peaceful work. We discovered it was work that taught us about the organic lines of the pumpkin. But most surprisingly, well, this project was scientifically thought provoking. This white pumpkin mummified in orange yarn did not begin rotting until July of the following year. And when it did, it only molded a bit at the bottom. In fact, only when I set it back into the garden at the beginning of the following October did it move well on it's way to dirt.  We enjoyed our pumpkin art for an entire year. And I imagine the dirt it eventually contributed to is not only nutritious, but rich with creative fodder.


Yarn bombing a pumpkin is super easy. Here's how:

1. Choose a pumpkin. 

2. Choose a yarn color. I chose orange to cover a white pumpkin but any color will do. 

3. Paint a small section with glue and cut lengths of yarn to cover the pumpkin from stem to base and begin covering the pumpkin.

Continue in this manner until the pumpkin is mummified with yarn.



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Butterflies of Winter


When the cold of winter nips at your toes, remember summer with its warm, sunny days. While you are remembering, think butterfly. Remember how they come fluttering aglow with complex design—longings and swallowtails, and of course monarchs flitting through our blossoming gardens. Of course there is butterfly activity in every season, but when the rush of flitting color slows in the cold of winter, make a butterfly garden of paper and chalk pastel. 

Here's how:

For this project we began with a goodly weighted bristol, with a bit of a tooth. Pastel paper is best, but costly. Drawing paper will do just fine too. Begin by looking closely at a real butterfly. Next, study the anatomy of a butterfly. Pay attention to the symmetry and the complexity of these wonderful creatures.





You will need to draw the shape of two forewings and two hindwings onto the paper you have selected. After drawing, you will need to cut out the wings and fold them horizontally in accordion folds. Unfold the wings. Using chalk pastel, decorate the shapes with butterfly details. Smudge some of the color, but leave some sketch marks. Be creative, but try to keep your creativity tied to the butterfly motif.

Next, cut a thin, very long triangle shape of paper and roll it up like a croissant. This will be the head, thorax, and abdomen of the butterfly. Use a hot glue gun to attach the forewings and hindwings to the body. Finish the butterfly by blending the wing colors to the body using similar colors of chalk pastel. Attach a bit of wire for the antenna. Cut a length of the wire depending on the size of the butterfly you created, bend to a V, add some beads to both ends, and attach to the head of the butterfly with a drop of hot glue. 

Continue this process to create a rabble of butterflies. You will be amazed how wonderful these creatures akin to the real thing will brighten a winter garden window.





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Take a Line for a Walk


Here we are again, First-Days-of-School upon us. All of us teachers are certainly prepared with a hefty handful of academic goals, each comprised of an even heftier handful of learning objectivStill I can't help but smile, as Fall sneaks in from the wings stage right, and Summer exits the wings stage left. I'm in the audience applauding joyfully, overcome with Fall-feelings. And all this smiling reminds this teacher that education is more than the academic goals I have set for the coming year.

Education is looking up in delighted silence marveling that the leaves have, once again, begun to turn gold, rust, and chartreuse.

Education is learning to enjoy process, the process of entering into a great story, the process of engaging with a mathematical problem.

Education is the ongoing engagement with the process of success and the process of failure  

Education is embarking on a journey.

Truth be told, education is a kindred relative of art-making.

So this year let's begin by inviting Paul Klee to teach our students to slow down into their important work.

As students are taught to engage in complicated activities slowly over time, they will begin to recognize that becoming educated is something far more weighty that getting the right answers. Slowing into their important work, students will enter the art of learning.


Introduce your students to Paul Klee, the Swiss/German artist of the 20th century whose whimsical paintings still take the world by storm, putting smiles on the faces of viewers of all ages.

Paul Klee reminds us that "A drawing is simply a line going for a walk." So let's go for a walk with Paul Klee lines.

Begin this exercise by providing a variety of finely sharpened colored pencils or a variety of colored, fine-tipped Sharpee pens. Have your student first choose one of the line/dot compositions to copy. Begin by showing the student how to trace from one line to one dot with a finger. Tracing enables the student to experience subtle angles on the page and to map out a plan for the copywork. Once a finger tracing is complete, start in one corner of a blank sheet of good quality drawing paper and draw the first "anchor" line with one color. When it is time for a dot, choose another color. For the new line that connects to that dot, choose yet another color. Continue this process until the Paul Klee black and white line/dot drawing has been transformed to a unique colorful masterpiece all your student's own.  Please note, this exercise will take time and is best accomplished over two or three hour-long sittings. It can be accomplished by students young and old, by anyone, in fact who can manage a pencil with a willingness to try.

Finally, keep in mind, this exercise, while led by a famous artist, is not primarily an art lesson. Art is a secondary outcome. This is a lesson in slow attentive observation. It is an activity that will strengthen strategies that will be useful in all academic pursuit. Most importantly, taking a line for a work demonstrates that learning is and should be a joyful pursuit.

Happy fall to all.



PS … and if you want to try a fun Paul Klee painting exercise, click through  

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Tiny Seed / Huge Plant

Our Earlybird Spring Literature and Writing Discovery Guide features The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle. Follow along with the blowing seeds as they land in different environments on Earth in this classic story with its beautiful collage art illustrations. It would be fun to plant some tiny sunflower seeds because they grow into such huge plants!

Take this opportunity to sprout some seeds and research the different stages of development. We put damp paper towels in a see through glass and put seeds next to the glass and watched them sprout over a week. 

Bean2When you do this, you are helping your student engage in multi-disciplinary learning. So go with it… pull out the Observation journal and have your student draw each step of the way. 


Learning is so fun when it seamlessly WOWs the child!



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Smell the Roses

Don't forget to stop and smell the roses? 

…oh, wait!

What I meant to say is, "Don't forget to stop and observe the seashells!"

And when you do, ask yourself, "What do I see?"

Notice the organic shape. Look for the complex colors. Do you see the orange and blue making each other sing?

And whenever you observe something, make note of it in your Observation Journal like Marlo does!


Do you see how she closely observes line and texture and and shape and color inherent to the Nuttalia obscurata ("purple varnish clam")? 

Now you try.

Find an object from nature in your neck of the woods. Journal your observations using words and images.

And don't forget to smell the roses.




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From Question to Quest

Rickettsia is a Monera that is transmitted by Arthropods such as fleas, lice, and tics and can cause harmful diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. This. This particular class of Monera was as named after pathologist Howard Taylor Ricketts

But what is Rickettsia? And why is it a Monera? 

If you are working through our 8-week unit Taxonomy of Living Things: The Five Kingdoms, the week #4 lesson is all about Monera. In fact, during the last 5 weeks of the unit, students will explore the characteristics of each kingdom and then be set free to do some independent research of a representative species. Included in each week's research is the opportunity to practice close observation. 

Close observation is not about developing art skills as much as it is about developing the concentrated skill of looking. The keys to close, scientific observations are to look purposefully, slow down, and keep going. Not everyone can draw like Leonardo, but everyone can draw. 

To begin, the more materials at hand the better. Use a variety of pencils and pens, and always use more than one color. The more details the better. Think line, texture, value, shape, color and always notice the relationship between the five.

And if getting started is difficult, look to someone else and ask, "What did they do?" Take a few minutes to look at Marlo's Rickettsia. What do you notice? What types of lines do you see? And what is the quality of those lines (thick to think straight, curved, jagged, dotted)? How does she make use of color? Texture? Value? Shape? And so on. Make a list and incorporate those qualities in your drawing. Be sure to label all parts and make notes as necessary. 

I hope, in the end, you are noticing all the questions involved in doing research. Science, after all, is an adventure that begins with a question and culminates in a quest. 



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Trick and Treat


For the past 30 days we've had bones on our minds. I don't know about your neighborhood, but mine is sporting bones on every lawn! And bones make me think of art. And when I think of art, I think of Leonardo da Vinci. 

So how is it that Leonardo tricks us into believing that this 2D drawing is 3 dimensional? It looks more like he's carved those cranial cavaties, right? But it's just a mass of lines, textures, values, shapes. That's all. 

Da Vinci would say it begins with observation: "All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions."

Beyond that, the magic word is simply this: work.

You know the old adage: Practice makes perfect. Turns out it's true. When it comes to tricking the eye, only the tenacious succeed.

That's where YOU come in (yes, you).

Truth is, anyone can draw.

So why not try? Let Leonardo guide you. Start by asking yourself," What exactly did he do with line, texture, shape, and value? Grab a pencil, an eraser, some quality paper and get cozy (art does not happen in a flash). And when you think you're finished, set the drawing aside and come back to it later with fresh eyes. I'm sure you'll see something new to add, some small space to revise. Keep going. You'll know when your drawing is complete. And when you know, you'll see. Your drawing will be a treat to the eye ready, like Marlo's, to mark your initials.




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Happy Birthday Antonie van Leeuwenhoek!


It began with a hefty dose of imagination, a glass pearl, and some strands of fabric.

Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, the very first microbiologist never intended to be the world’s first microbiologist. He was actually a tradesman who had never studied science!

From the time he was 16, he apprenticed in a linen-draper’s shop. Soon he became a merchant because he worked diligently. He developed a fascination for the small world that our eyes alone cannot see while working with fabric, using pearls of glass to observe the fine weave of linen.

He developed more than 200 microscopes during his lifetime and made many important discoveries including the first observations of bacteria which he called “animalcules” in 1674, “animals so small, in my sight, that I judged that even if 100 of these very wee animals lay stretched out one against another, they could not reach the length of a grain of coarse sand”.

During his lifetime, he made many discoveries and observations that he carefully documented and illustrated. He died a very old man who accomplished his important work, a work that inspired generations to follow in his footsteps..

So what better way to celebrate the birthday of this man of science (October, 24, 1632) than to create a close observation of something from the micro-world? You can begin with a microscope or, because we live in the 21st century, a Google image!

This amazing drawing of cocci (bacteria that can lead to diseases such as strep throat) was done by former apprentice Marlo. What makes this observation incredible is the detail she included. So did she complete this in 15 minutes? No way! Do you think it took over an hour? One sitting? Two sittings? The answer is unknown. But I can say with certainty that Marlo dedicated sincere concentration to this accomplishment. The reward is, well, obvious!

Anyone can create an observational drawing, think Dory’s song: “Just keep swimming!”