Pattern Design and Steam Workshop for the October 18, 2019 NHAE Conference (part 4 of 4)

Here are a few samples that demonstrate how readily students can transition those designing skills they were honing out-of-doors (during their Goldsworthy pattern work) back into the classroom. This project is particularly suitable for the rainy, cold weeks of late October and early November. Its psychological message (discussed in the last paragraph of this post) is a good antidote to the fear-inducing imagery which characterizes the current, horribly commercialized 21st C. American Halloween.

For this project, real leaves are used by the children as they draw patterns on a 2D surface. Such an endeavor incentivizes the youngsters to improve their fine motor control and drawing skills even as they explore the actual leaves, arbitrary colors, abstract form (a circle), and the creation of pleasing, somewhat lasting works of visual art to share.

The children move beyound the previous group projects in which they were physicallly arranging fallen leaves based upon colors, gradated sizes, or other criteria such as geometrical shapes. Now they’re challenged to work as individuals using paper, markers, pencils, and crayons as their principle media. Their task is to trace carefully around real leaves in order to create a circular design. By first centering a paper plate upon an 11″ by 17″ piece of manilla paper and tracing around it, they create a lightly penciled circle. Next, they select a leaf they particularly admire and line its midrib up along the graphite line to the maximum extent possible. Then, they patiently trace the leaf’s outline with a pencil. This done, they lift up their leaf and repeat this process, placing it about half a leaf’s length further along the circular line. They continue ‘the placing and tracing’ process until they have an entire set of leaves that progress around the entire ring. A drawn circle, a shape which has no beginning or end, has been formed from the fallen leaves.

As a work of art, the outlines will provide a beautiful way for viewers to remember that leaves will return next year and that the cycle of plant growth and life will continue. Although it may seem sad that the leaves are dying and dropping in Autumn, this project reminds the youngsters that this phenomenon is part of a natural cycle in which new leaves sprout again once the weather warms – once liquid water is again reliably present, and there’s less danger of heavy snow collecting on foliage and possibly collapsing the tree. (This structural peril is overcome by some evergreens through adaptations such as a conical form (enabling snow to slide down the canopy) and / or by the possession of relatively ‘soft’ wood so that the tree limbs bend rather than break when they’re burdened with heavy snow.)

STEAM interlude aside, by emphasizing the leaf outlines with doubled or tripled marker and crayon lines, both thick and thin, and applying powdered fill patterns, and then superimposing solid wax crayon fills within the leaves, the students can create charming and ornate leaf garlands. Even in the midst of winter’s white and cold, the resulting, colorful artwork will be able to remind viewers of the beauty of tree leavers and reassure them of the leaves’ return – a nod to a concept we deliberately cultivate in the art room – much to some youngsters’ delight: Art fights Death! Variation of this tracing project can be devised to offer youngsters, aged 6- to 10-years-old, many opportunities for exploring design principles such as framing, multiple types of symmetry, and the marvelous possibilities that can be achieved by combining different hues and textures while referencing natural materials.