Thursday, August 24, 2017

Art With Mrs. Dennis: Tesselllations

I hope you don't mind brief trip into my world as the visual art teacher. Six years ago, I was asked to teach art in addition to music. I was clueless. I consider myself a crafty person, but had no background in teaching art. My elementary school did not have an art teacher either. Despite my lack of formal art education, many of my teachers found ways to integrate art. In my 8th grade math class, Mrs. Armstrong taught us how to make tessellations. It is a project that I have never forgotten.

A tessellation is a shape that can be repeated over and over. It interlocks with itself without overlapping or leaving any gaps. We created tessellations by starting with a cardstock square. We cut some designs on 2 sides and taped them to opposite sides. This would become a stencil to trace again and again. I wish I had my original project, but I remember it looking like an elephant. Below, is a video that is uses similar steps to create a tessellation.

I have taught this lesson to my 5th graders since the first year I began art. This year, tessellations inspired the 5th grade collaborative art project. This is the 4th year we have created a piece or art for the exiting class to leave their mark on the school. To see other collaborative art projects, click this link.

While searching for ideas on the internet, I discovered a Viking tessellation by French Artist, Alain Nicolas. Vikings are our school mascot, so I wrote to him requesting permission to use his design for our project. He granted permission and sent me a pdf file of a single Viking.

Each student colored a single Viking. I knew the project would need to be sealed with Mod Podge. I was afraid that markers would bleed and waxy crayons would resist the sealant, so the students used colored pencils. I encouraged them to use heavy, medium, and light pressure to create a change in value and make the Vikings appear more 3-dimensional. We had practiced this technique in a past lesson drawing Nutcrackers.

I purchased utility plywood which is very sturdy, yet thin and lightweight. I painted the board black using some leftover latex paint. We purchased some trim, painted it gold with acrylic craft paint. A fellow teacher used his miter saw to cut the trim and we glued it to the edges for a frame with wood glue. Each individual Viking was cut out to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. At first, I planned for the project to be a rectangular shape. But, a coworker suggested the tessellation also be in the shape of a giant Viking and I fell in love with the idea! I projected a single Viking on the board and used a white crayon to trace the outline. I painted a thin layer of Elmer's Glue All and started filling in the large Viking with smaller Vikings. Many small Vikings would get trimmed to fit the outline of the large Viking. But, arms, legs, and heads were saved and often used in other areas to fill in the edges. As one final touch, I outlined the large Viking with a gold chisel-tip Paint Pen.

To hang the art, I drilled a couple holes through the side border, about 12 inches from the top. I fed wire through the holes and secured it by twisting the wires together. I used gold paint to disguise the wire that was visible on the front of the frame. To protect the art, I applied 3 layers of glossy Mod Podge by brush  and one final layer of glossy spray Mod Podge. The spray reduces the tacky feel of the sealant.

The final project is displayed at the end of a long hallway. As you are walking from a distance, you notice the large Viking. As you get closer, you notice the smaller Vikings. The students loved searching for their individual Vikings in the finished piece, which we titled "We Are Vikings". Thank you, Mr. Nicolas, for allowing us to use your Viking tessellation.


If you would like to attempt a collaborative art project, I would be happy to answer any questions you may have. The projects have definitely brightened our building. When former students visit, they are proud to point out their art work and are happy to see it still hanging. It is a great tradition that we have started. The biggest problem is coming up with new ideas each year!

Thank you for allowing me to share my alter ego as Mrs. Dennis, the art teacher!

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