By Behm, Susan J.
Arts & Activities , Vol. 129, No. 3
Rarely had I seen the art room so peaceful. There was hardly a sound except for the strains of Native American flute music from the CD player. In this meditative atmosphere, 24 third-graders painted original designs on kites with bamboo brushes.
This scene was the culmination of a collaborative effort between third grade art and science classes that merged the study of Asian-style painting with a unit on the theory of flight. For years, I have introduced my third-grade art students to Asian-style painting with bamboo brushes.
Part of their exposure includes a trip to nearby Towson University's Asian Arts and Culture Center for a tour of the gallery, a film about Japanese kite making and flying, and a painting demonstration by the gallery's director. One year, our lower-school science teacher accompanied us, and the idea for an interdisciplinary approach to Asian painting and flight was born.
Each year, I begin the study of Asian painting with a sound filmstrip that outlines basics such as its origins and history, styles, subject matter and materials. Next, students learn how to, hold the bamboo brush in the vertical and oblique positions for a variety of strokes. The students learn that the Eastern approach to painting emphasizes posture and a peaceful, meditative atmosphere. In Asian painting, brush strokes are thought of as the "footprints of the soul."
Nature is an important theme in Asian art, and students enjoy learning how to produce strokes to make grasses, flowers, leaves, bamboo, birds and other animals. Before putting paint to paper, I let students become comfortable with the bamboo brush by "painting" with water on dark blue construction paper. This acts as a kind of "magic slate," allowing students to try strokes in a relaxed manner before actually using paint. Once students begin painting "for real," they quickly become adventurous, trying their hands at dragons, birds in flight, and all kinds of flora and fauna.
After practicing and experimenting with the bamboo brush, the young artists create original kite designs. With the help of the science teacher, the students build diamond-shaped kite frames out of thin cedar strips and string. In art class, they trace and cut out the kite shape (including tabs for folding over the strings of the kite) using lightweight white bulletin board paper.
Next, the students begin to paint on the cut-out kite paper using their bamboo brushes and watercolor. They follow their "free brush" designs that they have previously planned in their sketchbooks. Dragons, birds, branches and blossoms, fish, and many other images appear on the kite paper, along with an impressive use of negative space. During another class period, students assemble their kites, folding the paper tabs over the kite strings and fastening them with white glue.
Our grand finale, flying the kites, takes place during science class on the first day of optimum weather. Tails and a spool of kite string are attached. Then one by one, amid great excitement, the kites take off and soar to the heavens, displaying their lovely painted designs as they climb!
MAKE YOUR OWN KITE by Susan Behm, art teacher, and Bobbie Miyasaki, science teacher
* One 3-ft. …