Year 3 Visual Arts

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Lines and Movement - The Great Wave off Kanagawa

great wave off kanagawa

The Swiss-German artist Paul Klee [clay] described drawing as 'a line going for a walk'. Next time you set out to draw something, think about your pencil making a journey - going for a walk - and see if holding that thought while you draw helps the lines you create come to life. Drawing is such an important part of being a practising artist; in the past young people learning to be artists were not allowed to use paint or other materials until their teacher felt they could draw well enough. When it came to painting or sculpting, first they had to use drawing to make their plans.

It is thought that when the Dutch artist Rembrandt taught young artists, one of the first things he would make them do was draw something with a continuous line—in other words the students could not lift their hand until the drawing was finished! It might be easy to draw a ball, but can you imagine how hard it would be to draw a face, for example, without lifting your pencil off the page at all? How would you do it? You could make your line zig-zag or curve, you could press hard at times to darken it and press lightly at others to make it soft, but how would your line travel between the different features without breaking? Try it for yourself! Use a pencil to take a line for a walk. Where will your line go? What will it show?

The kinds of lines an artist chooses to work with are important because they can help him or her create depth or distance in their pictures (properly known as perspective). They also help to create movement, and even mood.

In his picture of an enormous wave, the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai [cat-sue-SHE-car HOCK-ew-sigh] shows us some interesting and beautiful ways that lines can be used to show something moving.

This picture is actually a coloured woodblock print, called The Great Wave off Kanagawa. It was very popular among artists, and Picasso (we looked at his portraits in Year 2 and his painting Mother and Child in Year 3) and van Gogh (we looked at his self-portrait in Year 2) were among the important European artists who owned copies of Hokusai's work.

What do you think they liked about it? Perhaps it was the way the various types of lines combine to create a sense of motion.

Where is the wave moving to; what shape will it make as it travels on? Hokusai's curving lines makes us curious about that. Can you spot the tiny fishermen huddled together in their wooden boats (click here to see a larger version of the print)? The long parallel lines of their boats contrast with the tiny, curled lines used for the frothy breaking tips of the wave; these are gnarled like grabbing fingers, threatening the boats!

This activity is adapted from pages 181 - 185 of What Your Year 3 Child Needs to Know, which can be purchased here.

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