Friday, October 11, 2013

Cartoon Cubism - Studying Picasso

Explaining Cubism to students is never easy...and having them try to create a Cubistic work is even harder!  This is a project I’ve done with freshmen art students for many years.  It is not my original idea, but I’ve tweaked and condensed it quite a bit from the original.  Through the mists of time, I cannot remember where the original lesson plan came from, so my apologies for the lack of attribution.

Sunday comics 
Tempera paint and brushes
12” x 24” paper
Examples of Picasso’s Cubism pieces (online and reproductions)
Picasso Video - (see link)

We begin our lesson with a short little video about Picasso. Don’t you just love Picasso?  I do.  Unique, egocentric, womanizing man that he was, he was also a genius who changed the way people made - and make! - art...and see art for that matter!  Trying to convey that to students always frustrates me because its just so BIG! 
Three Musicians by Pablo Picasso
courtesy of
After watching the video, I have a handout that simplifies the explanation of Cubism and what Picasso was trying to do in his paintings.  We discuss this and look at various Cubistic works as the kids try to puzzle through exactly what is going on.  Its a real brain-stretcher for them, especially when I tell them that they get to try it, too!

To make it more fun and less intimidating, our subject matter for this project will be comic strip art.  Students choose one frame of a comic (I ask them to pick one that has at least two characters in it) and crop it to a square.  

They are given the 12” x 24” paper and asked to draw a line down the middle of the paper so they have two 12” squares to draw and paint in.  On the left side, they draw an enlarged view of the the comic they’ve chosen.  This is the “Normal” side of the artwork.

Enlarging is sometimes hard so I encourage them to draw a four-square on their paper (horizontal line in the middle of the paper and vertical line in the middle of the paper to separate the 12” square into 4 equal parts) and do the same on their cartoon.  By using this simple grid they draw more accurately and they’ll need this when they paint anyway, so they’re a step ahead.

We then tie in a little color theory. (Sure! Why not?  We are juicing up this lesson plan big time!)  We discuss and take notes on primary, secondary, complementary, monochromatic and warm and cool colors.  This is supposed to be a review - and it is for MOST students. :-)  
Time to paint!  That four square we talked about now comes in handy as the way to break up the space on the comic.  Students paint the correct colors in each square, using tints and shades of those colors also, if needed.  Here is the diagram they follow:

Once done with that, we move on to the “Cubism” side of the paper.  I ask students to look at their comic and attempt to draw a simplified view of the picture.  They can stretch, distort and shift shapes and leave out details.  I stress that there is not one right answer in this step, which is very hard for some of them to grasp, but can be very freeing, too!

On the “Cubism” side, they paint using a monochromatic color palette. And...we’re finally finished!  Ta Da!!!

As I said, this is a simple version of Cubism.  Would Picasso recognize that what we are studying is Cubism?  Maybe not.  But they have been introduced to a big idea and attempted to try it on their own, while honing their brush and paint control and reviewing color theory.  There’s a great deal of value in putting all of that together.

Sorry for such a long post this time...let me know if you have any questions!  Its all clear in my head (and on my lesson plan) but not always when I try to explain it to you in as few words as possible. :-)  

Happy Cubism!