Friday, March 8, 2013

ARTistic Pursuits {Schoolhouse Crew Review}

We were already fans of ARTistic Pursuits when the opportunity arose to review one of their updated art instruction books for the Schoolhouse Review Crew.  I was excited to see what was new, and Kennady got the chance to try out Middle School 6-8 Book Two: Color and Composition.


ARTistic Pursuits offers a series of student-friendly art instructions books by Brenda Ellis. The books are designed for independent or homeschool study, and provide instruction in technique and expression.  Their philosophy is that every child can understand the concepts of art and learn to enjoy putting their own creative expressions on paper. The books build on a child's natural curiosity, teaching observation and artistic techniques in an age-appropriate way. Students are encouraged at all levels to use the techniques they learn about to draw the subjects that interest them.

Our experience has been with the books intended for middle school and high school students, but ARTistic Pursuits offers art instruction books starting at the Preschool level. From Grade 4-5 and up, there are two books at each level.  Book One provides an overview of drawing, teaching the elements of art and composition.  Book Two focuses on color theory and composition. Although it's not strictly necessary to do Book One before doing Book Two, in our opinion it would be helpful, especially for students who haven't had previous art instruction.

Kennady was already working through Middle School Book One (the previous edition though) when we received Book Two, so we put Book One on hold while we prepared for this review. She was excited to get started, and paged through the book as soon as it arrived, delighting in the full color reproductions of great works and student samples alike. This book teaches about the color wheel using pastels as the art medium.


The book has sixteen units, and each unit is presented in four lessons. Lesson One introduces a concept or element of art with definitions of terms, and an art project that allows them to choose their own subject and try the technique.  Lesson Two builds on the element by showing how it used in a work by a master artist. There is also a brief lesson in art history or culture, and a biography of the master artist; and once again the student is challenged to use what they've learned to create their own work of art. Lesson Three continues teaching how to use the technique, and Lesson Four is a final project combining what has been learned in the unit in an original composition by the student - a piece of art that reflects their own interests and artistic interpretation.

How did we use it? Kennady did two or three sessions of art each week.  The suggested schedule is two classes per week, each lasting about an hour.  It's also suggested that the student should work on the art assignments at a time when they can complete the work, even if it goes "over time" - the idea being that if they are interrupted, it's that much harder to go back some other time and pick up where they left off. I allowed Kennady a lot of latitude in choosing when she wanted to work on the lessons during her schoolday, and how long she would work.  Some of the early lessons didn't take a full hour (and she needs to be continually reminded to take her time), and there were some occasions when she read the lesson but couldn't come up with an idea for something she wanted to draw. We discussed what she was looking for in a subject - was she supposed to draw something outside, look for a particular color or shape in her subject, etc - and then let those ideas kind of percolate in our heads.  Sometimes talking about it gave us an immediate inspiration - "what if you draw this?" - and other times we needed to think about it for a day before she had the perfect subject.

The book explained the technique and showed examples clearly enough so that she could get her hands on the art materials and give it a try, sometimes with a little experimentation to get the hang of it.

And at this point, I think it might be best if I use far fewer words, and just show a sample of her work.

ARTistic Pursuits 1-1 photo tn_February2013015_zpsc49f3f77.jpg


ARTistic Pursuits 1-2 photo tn_February2013016_zpse0afc1bf.jpg


I should explain that when she did the gecko above, and the dolphin below, I took these pictures of her work before we'd realized that we could lift the smudges with a kneaded eraser. We had to use a kneaded eraser that was already quite 'dirty' and not all that kneadable any more, because it had been used on pencil and charcoal all last year by her older brother. I think there's been a run on kneaded erasers in art supply stores in the mid-Atlantic, because I've been searching for one for about six weeks, and all the stores are sold out. It's the weirdest thing. Anyway, we also found that putting a piece of scrap paper under her hand helped reduce the smudging.

What we liked best:
  • clear, concise instructions in the techniques
  • hands-on in every single lesson, from the very first
  • beautiful examples of master artworks and of student artwork using the technique.  I loved that Kennady could see a piece of artwork by a student artist close to her age, which gave her a more realistic concept of what she could expect from herself as she is learning.
  • great freedom for the student to choose their own subject
  • on the website, there is a student gallery - Kennady has informed me that she plans to submit some of her work.  I love that there is a chance for students to really show off their masterpieces!
  • customer service is wonderful too.  I had a question just yesterday about a section that I thought might have been a misprint, and I received a very kind and prompt response from Brenda Ellis herself. If you have questions, I think it's safe to say they will do their best to help you out!
I tried to think if there was anything we'd suggest to improve these books, and what I would really love is an index or listing of the master artists featured. That would just be an extra dose of fantastic on a product we think is completely wonderful already!

Our bottom line: I can't recommend these books highly enough! I had purchased Senior High Book One for my high schooler last year, and had great success with it. He produced original artwork that reflected his interests and developed his own style while learning new techniques and studying the work of master artists. Kennady had already started Middle School Book One this school year, and with the same kind of results.  She was impressing us with the quality of her work and ability to put the concepts of composition she was learning into practice. Now we have experience in one more of the books in this series, and I am more convinced than ever that ARTistic Pursuits is, as their logo says, "THE curriculum for creativity". It's hands-on; it's easy to use for students and parents; it makes art understandable, accessible, and enjoyable no matter what your own skill level; and it's fun and exciting! I already have Senior High Book Two on my wishlist for when Kennady has completed the books we already own. Perhaps the best illustration of our recommendation is this picture I took of Kennady when her Book One arrived in the mail last year - she was thrilled!

Would you like to start an ARTistic Pursuit in your homeschool? Here's what you need to know:
Visit the website:
There are many useful pages at the website, including: the listing of all their books; Philosophy and How We Teach Art, and FAQs about the curriculum.

Pricing: Each book sells for $47.95

Recommended ages: Books are available for Preschool age through High School. We reviewed Middle School 6-8 Book Two: Color and Composition which is suitable for Grades 6 through 8. In my opinion, this book would also be completely suitable for older students who have not had previous art instruction. You may view the sample pages, table of contents, and supply list.

Art supply packs can be purchased through the website. See the Art Supply Packs page for details and pricing.

Visit the Schoolhouse Review Crew blog for more information and to read other Crew member reviews.  Crew members reviewed books at all levels of this series, so if you're looking for something for a student older or younger than mine, you will definitely want to see what other Crew members had to say!


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Stefanie said...

OMG! I heart the gecko!! Fabulous job Kennady

Rebekah Teague said...

I really need to try this curriculum! Beautiful job :<)

Mary said...

The projects look fantastic! I love Artistic Pursuits!

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