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Exploring Nature In Your Own Neighborhood

Are you all ready with a sketchbook

and some nature guides so you can explore nature this summer?  Your own neighborhood is a good place to start!

While we waited for you to get ready  Molly and I walked around our own very ordinary neighborhood and used our five senses to appreciate God’s beauty all around us. We took lots of pictures with my cell phone. Here are a few of those.

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 Here Molly is using her sense of smell on these flowers, while I enjoy the smell of new-mown grass. Don’t miss that God has put the complementary colors violet and yellow right next to each other.

       I picked a dandelion so I could rub its golden yellow onto my hands. Then I blew the seeds of another to dance away on the wind.

We looked up and saw a messy nest with red strands woven in and listened to birds singing nearby.

 We bent down and saw flowers with bees and bumblebees looking for nectar. (We didn’t get too close!)

And delicate wildflowers growing just along the sidewalk!

 We looked and looked some more at the intricate patterns of weeds and

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 peered down this hole but decided to leave its homeowner in peace.

On really hot days we waited until evening to walk so we could feel soft, cool breezes on our faces and enjoy colorful sunsets.

Sometimes we couldn’t get close enough to take a picture.  One day we saw a goldfinch perched on a thistle. Each time it pulled a seed out, bits of thistledown blew away.

Other times things moved too fast for a picture. We watched two trails of ants meet on a sidewalk. They bumped and seemed to exchange greetings, but then hurried on their way.

At those times put the phone or camera away and pause to look and listen as carefully as you can. It takes time to be a good observer.

Before you head out to take pictures or draw, here are some safety tips:

  1. Be sure an adult has approved where you are going
  2. Take along water and use sunscreen
  3. Don’t wade into any water unless an adult is with you and approves
  4. don’t pick flowers from anyone’s yard
  5. Leave wild animals alone for your safety and theirs
  6. Unless an adult is with you, don’t touch or pick wild plants. Some are poisonous

Using Art

Now grab your sketchbook and choose some of these ideas to record your observations:

  • Print out your favorite pictures and tape them in your sketchbook.
  • Arrange them in your book by categories such as trees, insects, flowers,
  • Or arrange plants and creatures with a photo of their habitat
  • Make drawings from your photos or from your nature guides
  • If you can sit and observe a flower, etc. draw it directly into the sketchbook
  • Use crayons, colored pencils etc. to add color to your drawings (If your sketchbook pages are thin, avoid marker and paint)

Using a close up of this wildflower, here are 2 drawing techniques that will help you look and draw accurately.

Gesture drawing, which I showed you in a post about A Young Girl Reading can be a  helpful way to start with nature drawing. It helps you look carefully at the overall object and its way of growing or moving. Here are some examples:

 

 

 Contour drawing on the other hand, helps artist look carefully at details. Like gesture drawing, it’s not meant to be a finished artwork, but to help you look more carefully at your subject. Here are some contour drawings of the same flower.  Look how different these look from gesture drawings.

 

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You slow way down for contour drawing. Your eye follows every small detail, and your pencil tries to follow along on your paper. You don’t sketch as in gesture drawing, but move your pencil along as if it is a snail inching along every line. You should spend lots more time looking at the subject than at your paper!

Have fun observing in your neighborhood and arranging photos and making drawings in your sketchbook!

In my next post I’ll give you some ideas for writing about what you see. You can do that right in your sketchbook, so leave some white space around photos and drawings and some blank pages after things you’d like to write about AND be sure and sign up to receive the Picture Lady posts in your inbox!!

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I finally got the children’s book about Maria Sibylla Merian from the library, and it’s really informative about her life and work, and has lots of pictures!20180712_095316

And here’s a great nature guide for children, I was impressed with all its information on animals, insects, birds, wildflowers, trees, etc. , including where to find them.20180712_095400

But I thought, it was way too heavy to carry around. Now thanks to a post by Jean Hall who reviews children’s books on her blog, I’ve discovered that the original chapters are available as separate, more portable, books. Here’s one she reviewed.

https://jeanmatthewhall.com/2018/07/06/picture-book-review-seashells-crabs-and-sea-stars/

Recently I heard about another woman naturalist who battled many obstacles to lead an amazing life and start a stationery business using her linoleum block prints of nature.   Nature’s Friend, The Gwen Frostic Story by Lindsey McDivitt.  Another children’s book, it’s due out this month.

Please comment and let me know what sort of plants and creatures you see in your neighborhood!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Artists/Naturalists Maria Sibylla Merian and Titian Ramsay Peale II

Last fall Painted Lady butterflies invaded Colorado.

Their orange and black wings flickered on every bush, and they streamed across roadways in and around traffic. There were so many, that they even showed up in a 7-mile wide blob on the Denver weather radar. No one had ever seen so many in Colorado, and everyone took lots of photos.

Before photography, artists were the ones who helped people learn about the natural world. Some artists/naturalists, such as John James Audubon, are famous (an earlier Picture Lady post tells about his life and work) but most weren’t.

However in the 1700s and 1800s these mostly amateur artists/naturalists were vital parts of expeditions to explore the American West, the Pacific islands, Africa, and South America. Their careful drawings and paintings of birds and plants, mammals and insects astonished people and advanced scientific knowledge of the beauty and variety of God’s creation.

The Artists/Naturalists 

Two artists/naturalists who were especially interested in insects and butterflies have been rediscovered.

Maria Sibylla Merian

Maria_Sibylla_Merian_portrait_colors

Maria Sibylla Merian public domain, wikimedia

(1647-1717), a German woman who lived in the Netherlands, studied the insects of her own region and later traveled with just her daughter for company, to Suriname, then a Dutch colony in South America. For two years she traveled on foot and by canoe through lush tropical rainforests to study insects there, telling about ants that formed rafts to float across water and tarantulas that ate humming birds. The folks at home were fascinated!

 

 

Titian_Ramsay_Peale

Titian Ramsay Peale II public domain, wikimedia

Titian Ramsay Peale II (1799-1885) son of the American artist and naturalist, Charles Willson Peale, (an earlier Picture Lady post tells about the amazing Peale family of artists), was born in Independence Hall where his father’s museum occupied the 2nd floor. He watched while his father prepared and catalogued specimens brought back by Lewis and Clark and helped put together a mastodon skeleton his father helped dig up in New York . Later, as an artist/naturalist, himself, Titian accompanied an expedition to the Rockies.

Titian_Ramsey_Peale's_painting_'Kilauea',_1842

Kilauea, Titian Ramsay Peale II public domain, wikimedia

On a two year expedition around the Pacific islands, Titian painted an eruption of Kilauea volcano in Hawaii.

 

Though separated by a century and an ocean, Maria and Titian had a lot in common:

  • They were trained in art by their fathers and other family members
  • They were fascinated by butterflies and moths
  • They raised butterflies and moths in order to observe and draw their life cycles
  • Their work was recognized and appreciated early in their lives, but forgotten later
  • They went on long exploring expeditions
  • Maria’s Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname has been republished, and Titian’s unpublished manuscript Butterflies of North America, which was given to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC after his death and stayed in its rare book collection, has now been published for the first time.
  • One difference: some of Titian’s butterfly specimens are still displayed in double-sided glass boxes he designed at the Philadelphia Academy of Natural Sciences

Their Art

Maria and Titian used their observational skills to portray butterflies accurately. They painted butterflies in their own habitats, with host plants and their full life cycle from egg to caterpillar, pupa, and butterfly. Maria was one of the first to do this, and you can see her influence on Audubon and Peale

Maria’s and Titian’s artistic skills enabled them to paint the butterflies in vibrant color and pleasing compositions. Not for them dull rows of specimens. Because of the purpose of showing the butterflies accurately, there is little depth in these illustrations, but the artists have made good use of their up-close space, not crowding things together.

The illustrations are full of different types of line and shape, color and texture, and pattern—all provided by the Lord! Plants are up close and the butterflies look like they could fly off the page.

Merian_Metamorphosis_LX

Maria Sibylla Merian’s work public domain, wikimedia

Maria’s illustrations can be very dramatic, with half eaten fruits and leaves and ants battling spiders. She was definitely part of the Netherlandish vanitas painting tradition, (beautiful still lifes with partly-eaten food, insects, lizards, or other jarring elements to remind viewers of the shortness of life).

Titian’s butterflies are often arranged more lyrically—sometimes seeming to float up in lazy spirals

Automeris_io_Titian_Peale_1833

work by Titian Ramsay Peale II public domain, wikimedia

Books

Remember that it helps to understand art if you know its original purpose. So, although Maria’s and Titian’s work is in museums and private collections, most of it was made to be printed in books for many people to enjoy.

Here are some resources to see more of their beautiful illustrations.

Maria Sibylla Merian

Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium, available on Amazon but expensive. Use Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature to see more of Maria’s illustrations.

Insects and Flowers: the Art of Maria Sibylla Merian by David Brafman, J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008. Lots of up close illustrations through Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.

Chrysalis: Maria Sibylla Merian and the Secrets of Metamorphosis by Kim Todd, Mariner Books, 2007, available on Amazon, and has “Look Inside” feature.

2 Children’s books about Maria

Maria Sibylla Merian: Artist, Scientist, Adventurer by Sarah B. Pomeroy, Abrams, 2018, ages 8-12. A biography of Maria with lots of information about her times. I haven’t been able to read the whole book yet so can only say that the excerpts look interesting. One short section does make a point that Maria’s family is Protestant, but only attributes a good work ethic to that.

The Girl Who Drew Butterflies, How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman, HMH Books, 2018, ages 10-12. I have a copy of this on reserve at the library, but it’s not available yet. Hopefully by my next post I can tell you more about it.

Titian Ramsay Peale II

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my own photo

The Butterflies of North America, Titian Peale’s Lost Manuscript, Abrams, 2015, available at libraries, but you can see many of its illustrations through Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature. The book purposely looks old and the illustrations retain the look of a personal nature journal.

If you borrow it from a library, be sure to look at the section on caterpillars. Not many naturalists paid much attention to caterpillars, but Titian lavished much care on them.

2 Children’s Books about Charles Willson Peale. Titian’s father, Charles, fought in the Revolutionary War and painted many of America’s early leaders. He also started an art and natural science museum in Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The whole family, including Titian, helped in the museum.

The Ingenious Mr. Peale: Painter, Patriot, and Man of Science by Janet Wilson, ages 11 and up. I have not read this.

The Joke’s on George, Michael O. Tunnell, George Washington was a friend of the Peales and visited their museum. In passing a trompe l’oeil painting of two of Charles’ sons, Washington bowed to them in greeting.

To view 2 videos by Khan  Academy about the museum and the painting, go to

https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/art-americas/british-colonies

(The Titian in the Staircase painting is an older brother who died. Titian Ramsay Peale II was named for this older brother.)

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I’m going to change up the order of the next posts about this art so you can right away enjoy some artist/naturalist activities over the summer. You don’t have to be a professional scientist to study and learn about the world in your own back yard.

Before the next post, try to find a small to medium size sketchbook that you can carry with you. It doesn’t have to be expensive, and you can decorate its cover.

Nature guides are helpful, too, and available at libraries.

In this series the last post will be the devotion—some thoughts for a summer of observing and learning about the small wonders of God’s creation.

 

Molly is ready to go exploring. Are you?

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(That isn’t a muzzle on Molly. It’s a gentle harness to keep her from pulling on our walks. She can still drink, bark, and even give kisses!)

Be sure to sign up for the next Picture Lady posts for some ideas about observing and drawing nature and suggestions for writing and reading about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking and Writing about Jean Honore Fragonard’s Painting, A Young Girl Reading

I hope you’ve been enjoying the art activities in the last couple posts. Here are some thinking and writing activities to finish our study of A Young Girl Reading.

A Young Girl Reading wikimedia commons

Thinking and Writing about Art

Project 1, Thinking about Fragonard’s Painting

  •    What do you think the young girl is reading?
  •     In the 1700s did most girls learn to read?
  •     Do you like her hair style and her dress?
  •     Do these styles fit where and when the artist lived?  (Paris,  1700s)
  •     Would these styles fit with our time for any activities or not?
  •     Who do you think Fragonard made this painting for?
  •     Where do you think it would have hung? (remember, it didn’t always hang in a museum!!)

How could you update this painting’s subject to today’s world?

  •    What would the young girl be wearing?
  •    What would her hair look like?
  •    What else could she be holding to read?
  •     Where else might she be?

Project 2, Writing about Fragonard’s Painting

    Write a story as if you are this young girl. Here are some sentences to get you started:

 Bonjour, my name is______________________. I live in ________________________.  Monsieur

 

Fragonard painted this picture of me for_____________________________. I enjoy reading

 

about_____________________________. I have a pet_________________, and its name

 

is___________________.  My friends and I like to___________________________.

 

Project 3, Writing about You

 Writing or Drawing

     Write about or draw a picture of your favorite spot telling or showing why it’s special. Is it quiet or noisy? Are you alone or with friends? What do you do there—read, play games, watch TV, daydream?

__________________________________________

 I hope you’ll have fun and let me know in the comments how you enjoyed these project. 

I have a couple writing deadlines coming up in May, so I need to take a short break to finish these, but I plan to be back in June with a whole new artwork to study and enjoy with various activities . 20170724_203723

Molly’s resting up to get ready, so you get ready, too! Sign up to receive these posts by email.

 And don’t forget to visit my website to see the art workshops and other types of presentations I’m available to do! See the details at:      www.kathy-oneill.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gesture Drawing, based on Jean Honore Fragonard’s painting, A Young Girl Reading

Drawing Helps us Look More Carefully

Project 3. Gesture Drawing 

A Young Girl Reading wikimedia commons

   Remember the girl’s pinkie finger? It’s perfect for a gesture drawing, one method artists use  to learn how to look carefully at things. It’s a sketch, done in just a minute or two, that ignores details. The artist tries to capture the gesture of a hand, a whole body, or even inanimate objects like pillows and teapots!

  Gesture drawings are pretty scribbly; artists don’t stop to erase unwanted lines—they just keep drawing over old lines until they get the gesture right.

  Activity

Try some gesture drawings of your hand in different poses. Challenge someone to copy your gesture. The more you practice, the better you’ll get.

You don’t need special equipment--sketchpads are nice (they’re good if you want to hold on to drawings) but not necessary. Any paper works just fine.

Drawing pencils are helpful, as well as an artist’s kneaded eraser (these erase the graphite without taking away as much paper surface) but also not necessary. In fact for gesture, I prefer crayons because it makes me work larger and I’m not tempted to erase but just keep going!!

Here I am trying to curve my pinkie in the way the girl in the painting does. First I found it almost impossible to curl it like that (I think Fragonard exaggerated a little!) and then I had trouble getting the gesture right…as you can see! Also see how I keep refining my lines to get closer to the gesture.

Here’s another gesture where I got a little closer, but still no details and lots of lines that come closer and closer to the gesture.

 

Try drawing a teapot. A pillow.

Here are two very differently-shaped teapots (the tall one was my great grandmother’s and actually for cocoa!) As you can see, I’m still using my crayon and refining lines as I go–no erasing. As I look at the spout on the short pot, I see it needs to be longer.

As I worked on the tall pot, I saw that the handle was very rectangular at the top and rose above the lid, which I hadn’t drawn that way at first.

Now a pillow!

At first I thought this pillow had no “character” and would be easy to draw, but the more I looked, the more I saw and this gesture drawing proved to be one of the harder ones!

And last but not least here’s my dog Molly, who keeps me company whenever I’m working (well, at least when she’s not racing to the window to bark at something!) She’s going to show you how helpful gesture drawings can be  to make your final drawings more accurate!!20170727_201131

Molly is a corgi and do you see how on the first gesture drawing (the one on the bottom left) I didn’t show how long she is? I noticed it right away and on the second, gave her a little more length!! Still not enough, but I’ve learned something important about her if I go on to a more detailed drawing. I also saw that I needed to make her nose shorter and her legs stubbier!

That’s what’s so great about starting with a quick sketch or gesture of your subject–it helps you look more carefully at what you’re drawing and as you keep refining your lines, you see more accurately for if or when you do a more detailed drawing.

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Project 4. How Lines Affect a Painting’s Mood

Here’s another project about lines

Remember that horizontal line in A Young Girl Reading? Here’s why it’s there: Lines have power to affect mood in a painting. Horizontal and vertical lines are quiet lines, increasing the peace and stability of a composition. Diagonal and curved lines are active and add excitement.

  Activity

   Compare A Young Girl Reading to The Battle of San Romano by Paolo Uccello

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/paolo-uccello-the-battle-of-san-romano to see the difference line can make to the mood of a painting. See how many diagonal lines you can find in The Battle of San Romano! 

     Can you make the mood of one of your own pictures change from exciting to peaceful by changing the type of lines you use?

 

 

I hope you’ll have fun and let me know in the comments how you enjoyed these projects

In my next post, I’ll have some thinking and writing activities to go along with A Young Girl Reading. It’s so amazing to me how much we can think about and learn from great art!!   Sooo….Be sure and sign up to receive these posts by email.

 And don’t forget to visit my new website to see the art workshops and other types of presentations I’m available to do! See the details at:      www.kathy-oneill.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Activities to Learn about Color, based on Jean Honore Fragonard’s painting, A Young Girl Reading

In this post you’ll find activities to help you understand how artists use color. While there are 2 basic projects, each project has suggestions so you can make it as individual as you like.

The second project helps you discover how Fragonard used color in A Young Girl Reading, and then has an activity for you to use this knowledge.

I’ve decided to further break up these activity posts, so the next one will be about line and drawing.

Project 1. Making a Color Wheel

 Step 1. Draw a large circle on paper. Use a compass or draw around a plate or bowl. Place 3 X’s evenly spaced around the circle. (see picture)20180331_154810

20180331_155512Step 2.  Color or paint a blob each of the primary colors, red, blue and yellow around the outside of your circle, one color one each X. (see how they are evenly spaced around the circle in the picture) Primary colors can’t be made from any other color

Step 3.  Next add orange, green, and violet (purple) to your wheel. But WAIT! Don’t just put them anywhere. These secondary colors  are made by mixing 2 primaries. So we place them on the outer circle between the 2 colors they’re made from.Follow the picture to see what to do.20180331_161234

If you are using paint, you can mix the secondaries yourself, but markers or crayons will give you the idea.

Variation 1

Try drawing something special inside your color wheel and color it in all 6 colors. (I chose a hot air balloon and used crayon to color it). Remember these are the 6 colors God uses in a rainbow!20180401_115009

Variation 2

Jazz up your color wheel by drawing your circle as a wavy or jagged line. You can also draw and color rockets or dogs, etc. instead of making blobs.

My wavy circle reminded me of a sand dollar, so I chose fish that are blowing colored bubbles at each other! (I drew and cut out one fish and traced around this pattern so my fish looked the same, but you don’t have to do that. Try drawing something different for each color)

 

Project 2. Using Your Color Wheel to Learn More about Color.

Explanation:

In A Young Girl Reading, notice that the ribbons are violet, and of course, her dress is yellow.

A Young Girl Reading wikimedia commons

Where are yellow and violet on your color wheel? Right, they are opposite each other.

We call colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel complementary colors. When they are next to each other, as in this painting, the resulting high contrast is eye-catching.

Red/green and blue/orange are the other complementary pairs. When you look at other paintings, notice how often artists use these complementary colors to get your attention.

But God thought of it first!! He used complementary colors when He created flowers because that shimmery high contrast attracts insects and birds to help cross pollination. Look at pictures of flowers or the real thing if you can, to see how many flowers with complementary colors you can find. (violet and yellow pansies and blue crocuses with orange centers are two)

Activity to use your knowledge of color

Write out or (print with a fancy font on your computer) Matthew 6:28-30, where Jesus says that God has clothed the lilies of the field with more splendor than Solomon’s robes. Leave space between lines and decorate the words with flowers that God robes in complementary colors!

 

Let me know how your projects turn out, and be sure to tell me if any directions or explanations need to be clearer. If you use any of these projects or ideas from my other posts with a group, please tell them about my blog and let me know how things go.

Don’t miss the next KathythePictureLady post. You’ll see how to do gesture drawings of hands, pillows, and teapots!! Oh, My!!  Sign up to receive these posts!  

I recently did a school presentation about the Vikings--how they traded, raided, settled new areas, and became Christians in the process. We looked at their beautiful artwork and drew a full-scale Viking ship outside, complete with a helmsman (we learned that these ships were steered with one long oar that was always on the styrboard or starboard side). We also had a lookout, a dragon prow, and lots of rowers! It was great fun! I’d love to visit your group! See available topics and workshops on my website.www.kathy-oneill.com

 

  

Guard Your Heart, a devotion based on A Young Girl Reading by Jean Honore Fragonard

A Young Girl Reading wikimedia commons

I first saw this painting on a poster I bought my first year of teaching. I loved the painting, and I especially loved the Bible verse printed on the poster. I always hung it in my classroom no matter where we moved. The verse is from Proverbs 4:23.

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

The word “wellspring” really doubles down on its meaning as a source of life. The word well, something we draw water from, comes from Old English, meaning “to bubble and roll.” Spring, also from Old English, means “to come out or up with speed and force.”20150330_112626

So the picture is of the heart as a source of life that bubbles-up with a forceful or continual supply. Is this verse talking about our physical hearts, whose beats send blood around our bodies and the physical life we have because of that?

No, it’s talking about our spiritual heart—the center of our being—our innermost thoughts and desires. And life is not the life that will end in death, but eternal life.

The Lord is most concerned about that heart, because it is the heart that the Holy Spirit must change for us to believe in Jesus and receive eternal life. He changes it from a heart of stone to one of flesh so our inner most thoughts and desires change course and spring up with love for God.

20170505_122045But, wait, there’s more. Notice that the verse in Proverbs is a command, “Guard your heart….” We don’t just guard something important once and then forget it. Did Smaug in The Hobbit stop guarding his treasure? No, he slept right on top of it, and it was just gold and jewels!

 

How much more should we keep on guarding the priceless treasure of a heart that has been bought with the precious blood of Christ and now belongs to God? 

In the Sermon on the Mount, where He tells us how to live as children of God, Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matt.:19-21.

Paul in Colossians 3:1 says “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”

In Fragonard’s painting the young girl is reading a book, which can be a help to guarding her heart or not, depending, of course, on what she chooses to read or “put into her heart.”

We all make many choices each day as to what we “put into our hearts.” And today there are more ways than ever to do that— a wide variety of electronic devices to keep up with numerous social media sites, to play games, to read books, and to watch movies and TV.

How do you decide what goes into your heart? How do you guard your heart so that it is a heart that can continually bubble up in a life that honors and serves God and overflows with love for Him and others?

The place to start is spending time daily reading the Bible. Psalm 1 compares a person who spends time reading and meditating on God’s word to, “a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.”

20140711_142654We also need to make wise choices about all the other things we read and view each day. In the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13) Jesus warns against letting the cares and wealth of the world choke out our faith, as weeds can choke up an untended spring or well, so it is no longer a wellspring of life.

In the comment section tell us how you and your family decide what books, websites, movies, and other media to spend time on.

Here’s one to start you off:   World, a Christian news magazine has reviews in every issue of music, movies, and adult and children’s books that are very helpful.  world.wng.org

I hope you’ll let me know in the comments whether this new format is helpful, and tell others how this blog can help adults and children enjoy and appreciate great art from a Christian perspective—as well as make some of their own!

Be sure to visit my website to see the art workshops and other types of presentations I’m available to do! See the details at:      www.kathy-oneill.com

Next Post: Activities for Digging Deeper  (based on A Young Girl Reading)

So…

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A Painting for Readers: A Young Girl Reading by Jean Honore Fragonard

Moments ago I could see Cheyenne Mountain and other mountains of Colorado’s Front Range stretching south into the distance. Then a blustery northwest wind swooped in with clouds and snow squalls, rubbing out the mountains as if with an artist’s gray eraser.

Soon the temperature dropped, the clouds settled in like a heavy slate roof, and I decided it was a good day to curl up in my favorite chair with hot cocoa and a good book.

In A Young Girl Reading by French artist, Jean Honore Fragonard (1732-1806), the subject is doing just that! Well, she doesn’t have hot cocoa, but her pinkie finger is curved as if she might have a cup of tea.

A Young Girl Reading
wikimedia commons

And while I opt for jeans and a fleecy blanket instead of a fancy dress, I do have a fluffy pillow!

The Artist

Fragonard lived in Paris most of his life. As a teenager he was apprenticed to Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, who was a master of still lifes and genre scenes of domestic life.

Fragonard later trained as a history painter in Paris and in Italy, but when he returned to Paris, he chose to do small works for private collectors. Many portray the courtly life of the aristocracy in the fluffy, cotton-candy-colored Rococo style.

Later in life Fragonard returned to Italy, and drawings from then show he still enjoyed working on genre scenes. A Young Girl Reading captures one of those everyday moments. In Paris, though, art styles had changed, and Fragonard died in 1806, mostly forgotten.

The Painting

Several things can help us understand artworks:

  1. Subject–what it’s about
  2. mood–what feelings we get from it
  3. composition— how the artist arranges shapes, lines, and colors to get us to notice the subject
  4. style and/or technique–in what manner the artist works

Artists have to learn to put all these together to create a satisfying whole. Nothing is there by chance, at least not in the artist’s opinion!!

Subject:

  •  What is happening in this painting? Does the title fit the subject?
  •  Is the girl focused on the book or looking away—maybe daydreaming?

Mood: 

  •  We ask: Is the mood quiet or noisy?  busy or peaceful?  Does it fit the subject?
  •  I think most of us would say that the comfy pillow denotes relaxation. (Generals planning battles don’t sit with fluffy pillows!)
  • The yellows and reds also help create warmth and quiet.
  • How about the tiny book? Well, try holding a heavy book in that position for long. This way the book (part of the subject) stands out against that dark wall, which it wouldn’t in her lap. And how else would she show off her elegant tea-party gesture that perfectly fits her pretty dress?

Composition:

  • Why is her dress highlighter-bright yellow against the dark wall!
  • Why is she centered?
  • And what is she sitting on, anyway?
  • Well, her central position and that bright yellow dress say, “Hey, look at me! I’m the subject.”
  • So we do, and Fragonard has succeeded in drawing our attention to his subject. Now we look more closely at her face, and think about her. How young is she? Is she wealthy or poor?

Style and/or Technique:

  • Are things in the painting finished and smooth, or can you see the brushwork?
  • Are all parts done with equal detail?
  • Fragonard painted quickly, with loose brushwork that he didn’t blend much. The girl’s face is fairly detailed, but the ribbons are sketchy, and the book’s printing is just some lines of paint. Some critics would have said that this was okay for quick oil studies, but not for finished works.
  • Notice the violet highlights on the girl’s face and in her hair and the rust colors of the shadows on the pillow. These unorthodox colors and the loose brushwork are reminiscent of Rembrandt and look ahead to the Impressionists, who were also accused of using funny colors and sketchy brushwork. Berthe Morisot, one of Impressionism’s women artists, was a grand niece of Fragonard, and Fragonard’s influence on Renoir’s paintings of women and children is clear.

Voila !!  Subject + mood + composition + artist style = better understanding and appreciation of a beautiful painting!

Oh, you’re still wondering what she’s sitting on? So am I! But whatever it is, its long horizontal armrest does have a purpose. In your comments you can tell us what you think she’s sitting on, and in the activity post I’ll tell you what the long horizontal line is for.

Art Terms in this post

  • Genre   this often means a type of literature, music, but is also used in art for art that depicts scenes of everyday life, usually done in a realistic manner.
  • Still Life/lifes   paintings of an arrangement of everyday objects, that can include everything from flowers to sports equipment! And, yes, in art the plural is still lifes not lives!!
  • Rococo art   an over-the-top decorative art style in the 1700s that used swirls and curls on everything from furniture to horses’ harnesses. Palaces were decorated with this style, and paintings often portray the elegant life of the nobility. Caution: some Rococo artwork contains nudity and celebrates immoral courtly behavior.

You haven’t forgotten that little pinkie finger and the big fluffy pillow, have you?

Good, because an upcoming post will give you activities based on this painting, including how to draw the hand and the pillow! So sign up to receive my posts so you won’t miss the upcoming devotion and art activities.

Announcement: new format!!

  1. First post: overview of the artwork and artist.
  2. Second post: devotional thoughts based on the artwork. Even if it isn’t specifically Christian, God is Lord of all creation, and we can find His loving care everywhere.
  3. Third post: digging deeper into art, with hands-on, research, and “think about it” activities in art, writing, history, etc. based on the artwork. These can be adapted for all ages.

I hope this new format will better fit your busy life. I’d love it if you’d share my blog with your friends, especially those who want to help children learn to love art.

Taken together, I pray that the combined posts on each artwork will come alive from a Christian perspective.

 My next post will be about how this painting can help remind us of the importance of our hearts to God! Sign up now!

 But wait!! Here’s a really BIG announcement!! I now have a website, and I’m open for business to speak or do workshops in person or by Skype for children and adults. See the details at:

                                                   www.kathy-oneill.com