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Year 4 Visual Arts

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Capturing the light in your still life

the milkmaid

On a sunny day at home, find some objects you would like to draw. What can you find? Some apples, books or toys? Sit in a sunny spot by a window and arrange your items in a pleasing way. Will you make a small tower of books or arrange some apples like Paul Cézanne did? Draw the outlines of your items on a piece of paper, but don’t shade them in just yet. Now, like Cézanne and Vermeer, observe how the sunlight hits the items (it can be helpful to turn off any inside lights to do this).

The side closest to the sun will be bright and shiny, and the side furthest from the sun will be dark. How would you show this in your drawing? Would you have a shiny white spot on an apple fading into bright red on its sides, and then very dark red or even dark brown or black on the side away from the sunlight? Now look at the shadows on the objects. How would you draw those? Experiment with shading and drawing shadows to show light in your still life as you see it. Once you have tried this, try drawing and shading in a person and their shadow like Vermeer did in 'The Milkmaid'.

the supper at emmaus

Have a look at The Supper at Emmausby the Italian artist Michelangelo Caravaggio. The artist began by covering the canvas in a light brown colour, called ground. There’s not much left showing but there are places on the lower cloth on the table where you can see some. Then he could make a contrast by adding either dark or light paints quickly. Speed was important since the people he was painting, called models, had to stand still while he painted. Caravaggio needed to cover the ground with paint for light colours, but for darker colours he could let some ground show through the paint, allowing shadows to get darker bit by bit.

The characters show contrast between light and dark. Jesus had met two of his disciples earlier that day, but they did not recognise him. While having supper at Emmaus, Jesus reveals his identity to them. Can you spot Jesus, who is capturing everyone’s attention? His disciple, wearing green, looks as though he is about to spring out of his chair, just as the patch of white shirt is straining through a tear at the elbow of his green shirt. The man on the right has a face, two arms, a shell and a napkin. His other features matter little and vanish into the shadows. But the clearest part of the picture is the still life of the meal on the table, suggesting that it was important in the story. The bowl of fruit is horribly near the edge of the table. Maybe a hand has knocked it. Are you ready to reach forward and catch it, or is something more important happening here?



This activity is adapted from pages 177 of What Your Year 4 Child Needs to Know, which can be purchased here.

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