Some Lockdown home-school art for juniors

Hello!  I’m surprising myself by opening up the blog after such a long silence, but I thought I’d try contributing to the art life of the many junior home-schoolers out there. There are a lot of children out there who are missing their friends and having a hard time keeping motivated and busy at home, and it must be tough for their parents to keep them happily occupied, so I thought some art talk for junior schoolers might come in handy, and give them some ideas for their own art projects. I hope that the grown-ups in their lives will have the time and energy to sit down with them and have a look through this short document, interpreting anything they don’t ‘get’ and pointing up ideas for art projects. So here goes:

Some art to look at, and to give you ideas during lockdown  

Hello !  You must be getting a bit fed up with this lockdown business! What a pain it must be, not being able to go to school and be with your friends. It must be hard to find interesting things to do all the time – I’m lucky to be  an artist, so I always have something to do, because I love painting and collage. I know that one of the current projects for junior schools is to do some drawings of things using shading. That’s not easy, so I thought I’d just give you some ideas for your art.

One thing I should tell you about first of all is pencils. There are so many types of pencil, depending on the kind of lead that runs through them. You have probably noticed that pencils  all have a letter and a number on the side. Here’s what you need to know:

Any pencil with H on the side is what we call a Hard pencil which won’t smudge, so we use pencils with H numbers for doing precise drawings, plans, geometry, and engineering plans. Because H pencils are Hard, they  sharpen to a lovely point, so you can measure very precisely along a ruler exactly where to make your mark. They make a pale line. H, HH, 2H, and 3H pencils all have a hard sort of lead inside them. 3H is very hard and pale. Artists don’t really use them because the line they make isn’t very interesting to artists. It’s not what we call an expressive line, it’s just quite pale and a bit boring.

BUT pencils like this with a B number written on the side are great pencils for artists. The lead in those pencils is softer, and you can make a line with them which is darker, or lighter if you press lightly, and a bit smudge-y. You have to sharpen them carefully because, being softer, the point can break quite easily. B or 2B pencils are great for shading and drawing. 8B like this one are very smudge-y!

HB is a medium sort of pencil most people use, though, especially in school. The lead is hard enough not to break all the time, but soft enough to make a nice firm line. I guess that’s what your pencils are! So that’s enough about pencils, in case you decide to do some art using them.

I thought you might enjoy seeing different kinds of paintings about things, objects, which we call ‘still life‘ paintings. That just means they are paintings of a collection of things, objects like jugs and vases and pots, maybe statues, or flowers  – anything, really, but not living things like people or animals, or scenery.

Cézanne was a French painter who was a great still life artist. He was born about 160 years ago – but we – especially artists – still love looking at his paintings and can learn a lot from them about how to paint. He took great care when arranging fruit or other items to put in his still life paintings, and he was a great one for trying to make whatever he painted – fruit, flowers, the countryside, people –  look really solid and 3-dimensional. His apples look very round and tasty in the pictures below – you could almost pick them off the screen, even though they are painted on a flat sheet of canvas! He managed to do that in lots of ways. Sometimes he used an outline, sometimes strokes of paint and sometimes flat dabs or areas of colour, but he always took great care to change what we call the ‘tone’ of his colours as he painted things.

Now I can hear you asking  “What does ‘Tone’ mean? “

Tone is just the word artists use when they want to say  ‘how light or dark is this?”. Have a look at this painting by  Cezanne, about – well, obviously – fruit!

When you look at the black and white one –  I’ve edited the coloured version to take away all the colour – you can see how the artist makes the apples look round by changing the ‘tone’ – the “light-ness or dark-ness”- of the apple as his eye moves round it, showing us the shadows. When you try and draw a round object like an apple with a pencil, maybe a 2B pencil,  you can try using use shading, building up layers of light pencil lines on top of each other, to show how shadow moves from dark to light. Cezanne was such a genius, because even though he is using, say, reds and greens for the apples, not black and white, he changes his paint colour very often from darker shades to lighter ones, as he paints the changing shadows. It’s the  shadows which tell us that the fruit is round.

Here’s another artist I love, an Italian artist, Morandi. He didn’t travel to other cities to meet other artists, he loved to just stay in his studio, working and teaching, choosing which of his dozens of favourite objects to paint, and he kept on painting different combinations of all the pots and vases he had. They were like a family to him! Have a look at these:

Morandi4 small
Morandi2 small

Some artists prefer to paint and draw in quite a different way. They are more interested in colours and shapes than in making things look super-realistic. Here are some paintings by the great painter Henri Matisse, who is my absolutely favourite artist.

Can you guess what this painting is about?

It’s a snail ! and if you look at the way Matisse has placed the blocks of colour, you can see they are stacked up in a sort of spiral, just like a snail’s shell.

But let’s look at some of Matisse’s still life paintings:

You can see straight away that he is crazy about  colour and design, and about something artists call “composition”. This is the grown-up word for “‘how to divide up your paper or canvas so that when people look at it, they notice the things you want them to see”.  It’s fun to work out how your eyes actually look at these paintings – how they travel round the picture. You can ask your family how their eyes travel round these pictures, and see if it’s the same as you.

Here’s how I look at this painting : I look at the bowl of fruit first, then my eyes travel down along the flowers on the right hand side of the tablecloth,  then they enjoy the lovely glowing red down the side of the table; then I look down and left along the edge of the cloth where the tablecloth meets first dark red and then dark blue along the bottom, and then my eye goes up the flowers on the left to the blue shape with the black upwards lines….. and then back home to the fruit bowl. What a clever artist, he takes your eyes for a walk he’s planned for them around what he’s painted.

Matisse loved beautiful, colourful fabrics and patterns – his family had a fabric weaving business. Sometimes he’d be on the bus, and notice an interesting patterned fabric in a shop window, and he’d jump straight off the bus to go in and buy some. He used these fabrics to decorate his studio. He arranged still life objects on them, and draped them around the models whose portraits he was painting.

This next painting is a super-famous one, also by Henri Matisse, and it has lots of those fabrics and patterns he was so fond of. It’s a portrait as well as a still life. As well as flowers, a vase, and the fruit, all carefully arranged on the table, Matisse painted his model, Lydia, wearing a striped purple robe.  Can you count how many different patterns there are in this painting? I can see at least 10!

How do your eyes travel round this painting? Mine follow the fruit around the plate, travel up the vase to the flowers, then up Lydia’s arm to her face. Then they follow her other arm down to her hand, which points me back round to the fruit, noticing the curly decorations on the table and the black criss-cross floor tiles in the background. The title of this painting is “Purple Robe and Anemones”, and amongst all this pattern and colour, those two things still stand out. That’s because of the composition – the way Matisse divides up his painting, using colour and design, directing your eyes to notice exactly what he wants them to.

Here are some more ‘still life’ paintings by Mildred Bendall, a French artist who was one of Matisse’s great friends. I think she’s a wonderful painter – I love the colour combinations and her bold, direct compositions….er….what does ‘composition’  mean again? It means ‘the way the artist divides up the canvas’.  She’s another artist who really ‘takes your eyes for a walk’  all the way round her paintings.

Here’s another ’still life’ by an English painter, Matthew Smith. The leaves, the colour contrasts, and the many lines going in different directions, all make some very strong patterns. The beautiful bright yellow spins out of the picture and draws me into it. The plain mauve part in the front (which we call ‘the foreground’) really brings out the colours and patterns.

Next come some still life paintings by the great painter Picasso. You can see that he’s not one bit bothered about making things look solid and 3-D. He’s much more interested in pattern, design, and colour. What a genius!  Have a look:

Can you find the guitars in these two paintings? Can you see where he has used collage with painted cardboard? I can promise you that by the time he was 15 years old he could paint realistic pictures so well that he’d just got too bored with them, and started to experiment with different, new ways to make his art, like this:



Here’s another ‘still life’ picture Picasso painted in this new way. It looks as if he’s painting everything from all directions at once. That was his way of telling us that the things in the painting are solid objects in space, even though what we are looking at is a flat painting.   Can you find a coffee pot? A candlestick? A milk jug?

He painted these things as if he was walking round them and looking at them from all sides at once!

Maybe you would enjoy choosing some of your own favourite things, arranging them together in a way you like, and then painting your own still life.

What do you think of these portraits by Picasso? He had an awful lot of girlfriends to sit still and model for him! You can see that in the same way as he paints objects from all sides at once, he paints people like that too. It’s his way of telling you that the things and the people that he paints are solid objects that you can walk round, and look at from different points of view, even though you’re looking at them on a flat sheet of canvas or paper. That’s why he sometimes paints the eyes from the front and the noses from the side so that you can see the view from all sides at the same time! The bottom right purple image is called ‘Lady with a Hat”!

This is Picasso’s ‘Man with a Hat’ , drawn with charcoal, a brush, and ink, and some collage. I thought it would be a good one to show you, as it might give you ideas for your own drawings and paintings. Perhaps you could make a portrait of yourself, a self-portrait. You could paint yourself any way you like – as a superhero, a pop star,  a dancer, a doctor, a footballer…or just as you are!

Well, that’s quite enough art talk for now! I hope you enjoyed looking at this, and that it ‘s given you lots of ideas for making your own drawings and  paintings.

Bye for now!


  • Michelle Chaso
    Posted at 18:02h, 06 February Reply

    What a brilliant post Polly! Informative & inspiring for kids!

    • Polly
      Posted at 19:21h, 06 February Reply

      Thankyou for those kind words, Michelle – I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  • Leyla Hilton
    Posted at 08:57h, 09 February Reply

    What a beautiful Blog Polly, well thought of, well written and very educative. Love the paintings too!
    Un grand Bravo!

    • pollyrockbergerartist
      Posted at 12:48h, 09 February Reply

      Thankyou Leyla, I appreciate your kind words.

  • Michael Baum
    Posted at 17:10h, 09 February Reply

    I must be your oldest fan Polly, lovely blog and clever choice of images.

    • pollyrockbergerartist
      Posted at 01:10h, 10 February Reply

      Thankyou Michael, I’m so pleased you enjoyed it.

  • Lambi Lentakis
    Posted at 08:09h, 12 February Reply

    A lovely post Polly! Inspiring for kids and adults alike. Looking forward to your next blogs x

  • Jan Zingraf
    Posted at 01:25h, 05 March Reply

    Dear Polly,
    I completely enjoyed this piece and learned a lot. I’m not a junior…pretty much at the other end of the spectrum…quite senior, in fact. But I have a beginner’s mind. Your presentation makes everything fresh and accessible. Mildred Bendall and Matthew Smith are new to me (or at least seem so). You open my eyes and life my soul. Thank you! –Jan

    • pollyrockbergerartist
      Posted at 10:37h, 05 March Reply

      Wow, how kind – thankyou Jan, very happy indeed that you’re enjoying what I’m putting out there. Stay safe, and warm wishes.

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