What we’re reading

A little while ago, we borrowed the most fabulous book from the library, except we didn’t know it. Every so often, we judge a book by its cover. This one in particular caught our fancy, and it was promptly scooped up and put in the library book bag without even so much as a cursory glance inside.

It’s Discovering Great Artists, by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga. Once we had it home, the kids started flipping through the pages, only to discover that the cover was the only bit that was in colour, and that there were far too many words and not enough art on the pages. It got dumped back into the pile and ignored for an entire week, until Mama picked it up.

Inside, there is a veritable treasure trove of knowledge. A generous helping of history, plus new-to-us art techniques, things to try, styles to imitate, experiments to do, and art to make. There is far more in this book than we managed to do in the 3 weeks we had it at home, especially considering we didn’t really look at it until week 2. In fact, there is such a wealth of information and activities, this book has made it onto my “must buy this” list for our next trip to the bookstore. And lest you think it is all about drawing and sketching and art theory, let me show you this:

This is K mixing his own paint from pigments and egg yolks. As part of a mini-biography of one of the medieval artists, Giotto (if I remember correctly), the kids learned that he painted with tempera paints made from pigments mixed with egg yolks, and that he mostly painted on wood panels to decorate churches. Wait… what? Eggs? He painted with eggs?

What did they think paint should be made from? Well, they weren’t sure, but maybe chalk mixed with water. Maybe crushed up rocks.

What else was a Mama to do but break out the mortar and pestle so they could grind up some chalk and test out different formulas. We tried chalk and water and discovered that, while it worked, it didn’t make for a very nice paint. We tried olive oil, but that didn’t work too well either. Finally, with the book in hand, we mixed water and egg yolks and then added our chalk pigment. Wouldn’t you know it, we made the creamiest, smoothest, richest colours of paint.

And then, of course, we painted with our homemade egg tempera. I apologize for the terrible photos – somehow throughout our paint-making adventure, I only took two pictures, and neither does justice to how much fun we had (or how big a mess we made).

The book had many artist profiles inside, with at least one activity for each one. We didn’t get to do all of them, but we did try quite a few, and we had lots of fun. Most of the activities would work equally well with kids as young as 3 (and also with kids as old as me), though the littler ones might find the text to be above their level even as a read-aloud.

All in all, if you like making art with your kids, this is a book you should have on your shelf.

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