Nutcracker Narratives

By Freifeld, Nina | School Arts, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Nutcracker Narratives


Freifeld, Nina, School Arts


The excitement of the holidays is a feeling I share with my students. One of my projects, illustrations of "The Nutcracker Suite," follows my interest in narrative art. My goal with this project is for the students to show movement in the figures and to learn the wet-on-wet watercolor technique. The ballet and the symphony seem to bring some of that holiday magic alive in a childlike, fairy tale way.

Incorporating the narrative and illustration ideas for the second grade class I taught, I initially read aloud the story of The Nutcracker to the children. Their classroom teacher also read some of the story to the children during the preceding week and played Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite," for them. This year, because I am starting an art program at a private school, I have been teaching from a cart and in the cafeteria. In spite of the limited space and time, the children were so excited about the new program that they were very cooperative about passing out supplies, exploring new materials, sharing them, and cleaning up.

Creating Depth with Space and Shape

We read The Nutcracker, and shared a few different versions of the books' illustrations. We then discussed possibilities of scenarios for the children to narrate in their paintings. I talked about using space and shapes in a composition to create a sense of depth by varying the shapes' size, overlap, and placement.

Degas's Dancers

I also talked to them briefly about drawing figures in motion by displaying bent elbows and legs. Reproductions of Degas's ballerinas illustrated this idea. After a little background on Degas, I emphasized his compositions and the feeling of movement in his dancers. We enjoyed his use of color, especially his arbitrary use of colors to create shadows. I asked the students to point these out, such as green shadows in faces or clothing. …

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