The connections between arts, culture, and geography have interested me for several years, and since I have a student that likes to create colorful art, we were pleased to be chosen to review a subscription art service from ArtAchieve. We chose to try the Entire Level III set of lessons.
ArtAchieve is a series of online art lessons inspired by art from around the world. Each lesson includes links and information for making those cross-curricular connections between art, music, science, social studies, and language arts. The focus is on creating the art, however, and on learning and developing the skill of drawing. There's plenty of opportunity in each lesson for students to practice observing carefully and thinking creatively.
These art lessons were developed by author John Hofland as he and his wife homeschooled their children, and when John was teaching a university drawing course for theatrical stage design students. Then the lessons were adapted for elementary and middle school classrooms. John's background includes study with Eastern European master teachers, designing scenery and lighting for puppet theaters, cultural and art research in Ukraine, teaching workshops through the university for art teachers, and teaching art and language arts in middle school. He and his family have traveled extensively, and the unique images from all over the world that open and inspire each ArtAchieve lesson have been collected from those travels.
The lessons on ArtAchieve are organized into five levels, which are not necessarily related to academic grades or age, but the amount of experience students have had in art. It's recommended that those who have no background in drawing start with Level I, whether they are in first grade or high school. There's a set of free introductory lessons on the website to help you get started, as well as a free sample lesson from Level I - The Czech Cat.
Each lesson is available to view as a powerpoint presentation or as a video. The presentation begins with some background about the inspiration art object and the culture it comes from, and questions to help the student observe the lines and design elements. Then there is a warm-up exercise, followed by the step-by-step instructions for drawing and painting the project. The lesson closes with more observation of an original piece of art and having the student evaluate their own work. This self-evaluation and comparison to other projects or original pieces focuses on how lines and colors are used and how they are similar and different; and on what the student likes about their own work. The lessons frequently remind students that there's no right or wrong way to draw, and that they shouldn't worry that they have made a "mistake" but to think of it as a chance to make the drawing better or different than they'd originally planned. The lesson plan page offers a list of suggestions, including links, for Cross-Cultural Connections - further reading and study that can tie the art project to Social Studies, Science, Music and other Fine Arts, and Literature.
And by the way, the list of supplies needed for most projects are basic art supplies that aren't expensive or difficult to acquire. You'll need the appropriate type of paper and black marker for almost every project; and then some pastels, acrylic paints, or colored pencils to add the color.
How did we use it? We chose the Entire Level III for our review, because Kennady has had quite a bit of previous experience and instruction in art. Level III includes thirteen lessons using different media. As you can see from the screenshots, most of the lessons are quite colorful, and they are inspired by art from around the world - different regions of North America, three African countries, Hawaii, China, and Eastern Europe.
I allowed Kennady to choose which projects she wanted to work on, and since it's not necessary to do these in any particular order, she just chose whichever one appealed to her or one I'd suggested. She worked on her own, which means I don't have a lot of pictures of the works in progress! Here's what she did:
This is Lesson 8 - Kandinsky and Color Mixing, which taught her about primary and secondary colors, color theory, and color mixing, along with an artist study of Wassily Kandinsky and his life and influences. The entire lesson is expected to take about an hour and a half. I think Kennady spent a bit longer than that, as she experimented quite a bit with mixing her color proportions. The project is inspired by Kandinsky's Farbstudie Quadrate. The lesson also was the starting point for our Kandinsky artist study post.
|Kandinsky Color Mixing by KAT, water color, March 2017|
This is Lesson 10 - The Russian Matryoshka. This lesson combined the folk tradition of the Russian nesting doll with a lesson in Russian folk painting techniques (note the dots and the comma shaped strokes decorating the doll), and a little bit of Russian history. The Cross-Cultural Connections history section took us to a couple of very interesting websites that further explored the history of the matryoshka dolls. This lesson was also a good example of adapting a "mistake" as Kennady thought she'd made her doll outline too wide, and the doll's face a bit too small. John's instructions were clear that she wasn't to scrap it and start over, so she just made it work; and I know that if she hadn't told me about her "mistakes" I wouldn't have known, and I bet you wouldn't have known either! Since she had less background space, she just did a bit of a wash of color instead of adding flowers to the background as in the sample piece. She made it her own unique style by giving her matryoshka manga style eyes! I featured her project and some history on my Virtual Fridge art link-up post one week, and you may recognize it if you visit the ArtAchieve website, because it's featured in the Student Gallery. This lesson is estimated to take almost two hours from start to finish.
|Matryoshka by KAT, April 2017|
|part of the powerpoint lesson teaching the folk painting technique|
|sample project from ArtAchieve|
This is Lesson 1 - The Hawaiian Frog. The inspiration for this piece is not nearly so colorful as the finished projects - it's based on a water fountain which is basically brown and gray tones! The lesson explores the use of light and dark colors to create shape, and is done in oil pastel. The Cross-Cultural Connections section includes plenty of opportunities to explore a science connection by studying frogs. When I first posted Kennady's Hawaiian Frog on my blog, I mentioned that my photo seemed to emphasize the "scribbly" look of her background colors. To my pleasant surprise, John responded on social media with a suggestion for how she could soften and better blend those colors if she wanted to!
|Hawaiian Frog by KAT, April 2017|
|Chinese Horse by KAT, April 2017|
Lesson 5 - The Pacific Northwest Totem Pole is the one Kennady is working on now. Although this lesson is planned for a bit over an hour total, it's got a few different steps involved, so we found it possible to take a break partway through. The lesson explores the way traditional Native American totem poles use formlines in the stylized animal figures. It guides the student in drawing their own version of three of the traditional animal figures, then adding formlines elements and color. Find out more about totem poles and Northwest Pacific Native culture in the Cross-Cultural Connections section. She's got her totem pole drawn, has started working on the formlines, and just needs to add color. (One thing happened during this lesson that frustrated her - she was following the video and adding the formlines using pencil as demonstrated and she and I talked about how we had expected those to be done using marker. Then a little further on in the video it was mentioned that it might be easier to do that in marker. But by that time she was about halfway finished. Oops. Maybe we should have viewed ahead before starting.)
|Totem pole in progress|
|Totem Pole in progress|
|Totem Pole in progress|
Is it worth high school credit? This is the question I ask myself about electives, and the question parents of homeschooled high school students often want me to answer in reviews. In this case, it would be based on how many projects the student completed, or perhaps on how much work the student does using the Cross-Cultural Connections. For example, doing just the art projects in Level III would make up about 18 hours of "class time", give or take, but using the Cross-Cultural Connections related to the art history as a basis for writing assignments or further art projects could round it out for a partial credit Art course. Doing more than one level in a school year is another option. (I'm basing my assessment on the rough standard of 120 hours equaling one high school credit.)
What we liked best:
- the option of viewing the lesson in powerpoint or video format. We tried both and found benefits to both. Using the powerpoint makes it easy to skip backwards or forwards to a specific instruction when needed, and is better for slower internet connections. The video feels a little more personal as John teaches the lesson, and of course you can watch the project take shape.
- the use of fairly basic art supplies that can be used in multiple projects. I really didn't see anything on the art supply list that I hadn't a clue what it was, or made me wonder if I wanted to spend big bucks on something that we were never going to use after just one art project.
- the encouraging and affirming teaching method. I like the approach that there aren't "mistakes" or things done "wrong"; and I like that the students are encouraged to compare and contrast techniques and elements of their artwork with originals and other students, but not compare the quality of drawing so that they fear their own is inferior.
- I was so impressed with John Hofland's responses when I tagged ArtAchieve in social media! He complimented Kennady's Matryoshka and asked if it could be used in the Student Gallery on the website, and as I mentioned, he offered a helpful technique suggestion for the Hawaiian Frog.
What I need to mention:
- while the lessons can be done in any order, and the student can start on any level, a quick perusal of the lessons in Levels IV and V reveals that the techniques are more advanced and more suitable for older students with more art experience. My impression is that a student should have a good art background before trying these levels, and that it might be best for them to have done some Level III projects before doing Level IV; and Level IV before doing Level V.
- some students may find the relaxation exercise at the beginning of each lesson odd or feel that it's unnecessary. John addresses this concern on the ArtAchieve blog, and I think his explanation is very helpful in understanding the purpose. Kennady did the relaxation exercise on her first project, but she was one of those that thought it "weird" at first, but she just simplified the exercise a bit to something that helped her focus but was more comfortable for her.
Our bottom line: I think this is just a wonderful resource with so many ways it can be adapted for use in a homeschool. The art lessons alone would be a great addition to a homeschool program, especially for families that want to include art but don't feel comfortable teaching it themselves. The Cross-Cultural Connections and just the way the lessons draw on inspiring and unique art objects from all over the world gives you so many ideas and options for incorporating an art lesson into other things you're studying or for using an art project to springboard into Social Studies, Science, Literature, and more. I'd especially recommend it for homeschoolers who love the Unit Study approach. Since there are so many options for purchasing the lessons separately or in various bundles, I feel confident that there's something there to appeal to everyone, and at a price point that should appeal to even the most budget-conscious families.
Would you like to try your hand at drawing the world? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website: www.ArtAchieve.com/
Pricing: Visit the ArtAchieve Bundled Lessons page to see all the packages available. Individual lessons may also be purchased, with a one-year license to an individual project ranging from $4 to $6. See the website for details.
Recommended Ages: suitable for all ages.
You can connect with ArtAchieve on Facebook, on Twitter, on Pinterest, on Google+, and on Instagram.
Visit the Homeschool Review Crew blog for more information and to read other reviews. Crew members worked on lots of different projects from ArtAchieve so be sure to check out all the reviews!
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I have done my best to provide accurate pricing and links at the time this post originally appeared. Please be aware that these may change.