Awesome Audubon Birds

By Kahler, Laura | Arts & Activities, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Awesome Audubon Birds


Kahler, Laura, Arts & Activities


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Feathers, claws, wings and all the colors of different birds amazed my fourth-grade art students. The students' natural enthusiasm for birds inspired them to do their best with what could be a difficult or unforgiving watercolor art lesson. My fourth-grade art classes meet once a week for approximately 45 minutes, and this total unit took approximately six weeks, incorporating science, technology, writing skills, and the elements and principles of art.

My annual goal for the year was to tie writing into the art curriculum. I began by asking the class to write a "KWL" worksheet. In the K column, they wrote what they already knew about Audubon, birds and watercolor painting. In the W column, students wrote what they would like to know. And at the end of the entire unit, they wrote about what they learned in the L column.

After the KWL worksheet, students examined many different bird illustrations by American artist John James Audubon (1785-1851). I have many Audubon books and also photos I've taken of birds. During this class discussion, we admired reproductions of Audubon's illustrations of extinct and endangered species. Discussions of endangered and extinct species were a great way to tie the science curriculum to art. Students immediately made connections and told me about other animals that are extinct or on the endangered species lists. Students were eager to share any previous knowledge they had.

On our second day, I asked the students to practice drawing birds in different positions (eating, flying, etc.). I demonstrated how to start drawing by using ovals or circles depending on the type and position of the bird. Then, I demonstrated how to add wings, feathers and other details. Students used practice paper and drawing pencils. I encouraged them to fill their page with lots of birds and leave the background empty.

Different types of birds from old magazines, calendars, used books and photographs were provided as examples. If a student was interested in a specific type of bird I did not have an example of, I asked them to research the bird on the Internet for homework, and to bring back a printed copy to the next art class. Another method of including technology could be to have students research Audubon or the National Audubon Society on the Internet, and write a summary.

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After the students gained confidence drawing, I asked them to choose one bird and to draw it large on special watercolor paper. Once the students knew they were using special paper, they were very careful in their sketches and remembered to draw very lightly!

Day three of the unit was devoted to carefully drawing the bird onto the watercolor paper and making it look realistic and natural. Some students explained to me that it was easier drawing the bird this time because of their previous practice. I encouraged them to put a few surrounding details in their compositions to help place the bird in its natural environment.

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After the class completed their bird sketches on the watercolor paper, we put them aside for a class period and concentrated on watercolor painting techniques. On practice paper, students explored various watercolor techniques such as wet on wet, dry brush and watercolor wash. …

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