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Level: Junior, Middle School
Grades: 3-8 | Age: 8-14 | Written by: Rebecca Engelman
[Rebecca is an art educator at Cathedral School in Bismarck, ND.]

Several watercolor techniques are introduced here as students learn about tropical fish, unified composition and contour line.

What You Need:
What You Do:

Day One

  1. Introduce the lesson by viewing and discussing pictures and books of tropical fish. Using available resources, lead the students in a discussion about the different shapes, colors, and patterns they observe.
  2. Demonstrate for the class how they can draw each fish by combining basic shapes (rectangles, triangles, squares, circles) and lines.
  3. Give students practice paper and fat markers. Guide them through the process of drawing several different types of tropical fish. Allow time for "practice" drawing. (The fat markers will encourage them to draw large and eliminate the urge to erase)
  4. Hand out watercolor paper and crayons. Before the final drawing begins, tell the students they may pick only one fish to draw but that it must be repeated at least three times on their paper. Encourage them to overlap some of their fish and also to allow parts of their composition to exceed the boundaries of the paper.
  5. Using one color of crayon, have the students choose their favorite fish and redraw it on their watercolor paper three to four times.
  6. When the fish are complete, allow the students to draw seaweed or coral. Again, encourage the students to overlap to create depth. Students who finish early may go over their outlines to create strong, heavy crayon lines.
  7. Bubbles may be added with a white crayon.

Day Two

  1. Have students wet their watercolors by dropping clean water from their brush into each pan of color.
  2. As the water is soaking in, tell the students they may choose only two colors to paint their fish. Since this is a "family" of fish, they should be painted somewhat the same.
  3. Beginning with one color, have the students paint this color on the same spot on each fish.
  4. Use the second color the paint the remaining areas.
  5. After completing the fish, students may paint the seaweed or coral with a third color. (At this point, demonstrate how to blend another color over the wet paint of the seaweed. Wet on wet! Remind the students to avoid blending complimentary colors unless they want brown!)

Day Three

  1. Have the students wet the blue and one analogous (a blue neighbor, either green or violet) color in their watercolor pans.
  2. Demonstrate for the students how to create a wash. Using the lid of the watercolor box as a tray, fill the middle section with clean water. Add several brushes full of blue and the analogous color to create a "water-like" color.
  3. Using the large watercolor brush, quickly paint the remaining white paper. Have the students raise their hand as they finish. Quickly sprinkle the wet paper lightly with table salt. Leave the papers undisturbed to allow the salt to work it's "magic".

Recommended Books/Products:

Aquarium Fish
Here's a handy guide that does what Dorling Kindersley's Eyewitness Handbooks do best: use pictures to give readers the information they want and need. In glorious full color, 500 marine and freshwater fish are pictured clearly and large enough to make this an identification manual that fish keepers won't want to be without.

Drawing With Children
by Mona Brookes
Founded on the belief that any child can learn to draw realistic pictures using her "alphabet of shapes" while in a noncompetitive environment, Mona Brookes' easy-to-follow, lesson-by-lesson approach to drawing has yielded astounding results with children of all ages. This is THE BEST learning to draw book we've ever seen. (for ages 3-4 and up)

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain
by Betty Edwards
Translated into thirteen languages, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain is the world's most widely used drawing-instruction guide. People from just about every walk of life--artists, students, corporate executives, architects, real estate agents, designers, engineers--have applied its revolutionary approach to problem solving.

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