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Connecting with an Expert: Grade 4 Humanities Picture Book Project

-By Heather Fawcett, Grade 4 Humanities

Through the Learning Through the Arts (LTTA) initiative, Grade 4 students at CSS had the opportunity to work with local artist, Val Lawton, to develop professional grade picture books. LTTA partners local artists with schools to facilitate rich integration of Fine Arts and the core curriculum.

The picture book project had students working in groups to write short stories set in one of Alberta’s natural regions. Magic in the Mountains, a picture book by Carol McTavish, Lori Nunn, and Linden Wentzloff, was used as a model for the project. Students were provided with graphic organizers and a checklist to guide the group development of their story. Our partner artist, Val Lawton, visited each class once a week to deliver art instruction and to assist in creating the illustrations for the books.

During her first visit, Val provided the students with a glimpse into the world of an illustrator. Her focus was on the importance of consistency in the appearance of characters and how illustrators accomplish this task. Val provided real world examples from popular Disney animations, as well as those from her own work. Students then worked together on a model sheet to ensure that their characters would have the same height and physical characteristics when they drew them in their illustrations.

The second visit focused on drawing the landscape backgrounds for the picture books. Val demonstrated how students could use the horizon line to guide the placement of mountains, trees, rivers, etc. She also spent some time explaining perspective, so that students could ensure that the main landscape features were in the foreground of their illustrations.

Her third visit focused on painting the backgrounds for the illustrations. Val explained to the students that when using acrylic paint, artists start with the darkest colors in the painting and then layer lighter colours over top. This creates a 3D effect in the painting. She also demonstrated how to block the larger areas of the picture and a technique called scumbling. Scumbling involves using a very dry brush, with very little paint to add a scratchy layer of paint overtop of another layer. This particular technique was used by many students for the painting of clouds and shrubs.

During Val’s fourth and final visit, students added the characters to their illustrations. She demonstrated how to draw and outline their characters. She also revisited the importance of perspective, this time, with regard to placement of the characters within the landscape illustrations. The students drew their characters on watercolour paper, cut them out, and glued them on their paintings. They then outlined their entire picture with a black sharpie. The effect is stunning!


Currently, we are experimenting with different options for publishing the books. Creating an iBook through iPhoto or uploading the stories to an online site called, Issuu, are some of the options being explored. Ideally, we will be able to make a digital copy of the stories so that all students will have a copy of their book. We would also like for each student to be able to keep the picture they worked on with the artist.

Here is a sample of what the finished products looked like:


This project proved to be a wonderful opportunity for the students to connect with and learn from a local expert, while allowing for self-expression and the integration of their knowledge of Alberta’s natural regions. Working with a local artist created a real buzz of excitement around the project. When we are finished, we will post a few of the books online to showcase the exceptional work produced by  our grade 4 students!

2 comments:

  1. Heather, through your blog you present a very interesting description of an engaging learning experience in which your students use art to demonstrate their understanding of Alberta's natural regions. You also highlight the efficacy of involving an outside expert. The video clip and your description effectively highlight the progression of the learning activities over the series of four sessions with the guest artist. Clearly the students are highly engaged and enthusiastic about what they are producing individually and collectively. It is great to see the pictures of the activities and the student exemplar. Your efforts to prepare a digital copy of their book will reinforce the significance and merit of what they have accomplished through this rich learning experience.

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  2. I though that this was an incredibly rich and well planned project. The art integration and your connection with a local expert engaged students to develop rich stories. I really valued the time commitment that everyone put into this assignment. The multiple visits allowed Val to dig deeper into the artistry of the student's work. The results are truly stunning. I agree with your assessment that converting everything to a digital copy would be the next logical step. I would be happy to help you on this if you require assistance.

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