Chinese New Year:  Year of the Rabbit

The two classes before Chinese New Year are a great time to  introduce Chinese brush painting to your elementary students. I have been very successful with doing these lessons with my first grade art students. First, when the students arrive they look at an example of a Chinese brush painting of a simple animal painted with black as the main color which has a name stamp or two on it. There are many examples but I recommend “Lion is Awake” by artist Wang Yani.   They look at and discuss the elements of art in the painting with a focus on the flowing black lines and limited palette. They will also find out about the unique way of signing an artwork: the name stamp. I have done this lesson with monkeys, but in the last two years, I used the appropriate animal for the year, the Ox and the Tiger. This year, Year of the Rabbit will make some very cute paintings!

CLASS ONE: Have the students open their sketchbooks and ask them to make a quick drawing of a rabbit from memory. After about 3 minutes, hand out several print-outs of some simple drawings of rabbits. Ask them to draw one or two more drawings of rabbits using the images, but no tracing. Have them circle their favorite and place in front of them. Now by table, have them put on aprons, hand out brushes and paper. I cut the paper 12” x 18” so later when it is mounted it resembles the Asian scroll style. Luckily, the rabbit is made up of very simple shapes and can be created easily and recognizable.

I do a simple demonstration on the white board, drawing a large oval for the body, a large circle for the head filling a large part of the space reminding them to leave room for big rabbit ears! I add the ears, tail and legs, then I do the demonstration again using the black paint. I show them how to make careful sweeping brushstrokes in the Chinese brush painting style and how to hold the brush properly. This demonstration has to be done on a flat table or the floor with the students gathered around. After they watch me then I hand out the black paint and they can paint their rabbits. Another color can be given out if you feel it adds to the artwork and is appropriate for the animal. Such as brown and red was added with the monkeys. Because they will be making name stamps next class, the students will write their name in pencil in the bottom right corner and put on the drying rack. After clean up, the students are lined up by which students can recall something they learned about Chinese Brush painting during the class.

CLASS TWO: This class will also begin with the students looking at and discussing a different Chinese brush painting. They can do a comparison exercise using the painting from the first class. I hand out 1 inch squares that I cut out of Styrofoam. I demonstrate how I can write my name on it by pressing into it using a pencil but being careful not to go through. Then I use a very inky red marker to cover the Styrofoam and I press it on the paper. I point out how my name is backwards, so in order to have your name print out correctly, one has to write it backwards on the Styrofoam. I say this is very challenging so if you want to use a symbol to represent your name, that is fine, such as a smiley face, heart, sun, etc.  I show them how to carefully press over their name stamp if it doesn’t come out clearly the first time. I limit them stamping their name stamp only one or two times. I do always have a student that misses this information and they end up with like 10 stamps which is a fun comparison.

If there is time, I have the students glue their paintings down on 14” x 21” paper, usually gray or black. I demonstrate how to “center” it as they glue it down. I will often mount it on another color (16” x 23”). The measurements vary, but I do give it a long and slender look such as in Asian scroll paintings. I usually stick to gray, red, brown and black paper. This makes a great display for Chinese New Year!!!!!