Wednesday, January 25, 2012

In the Style of - Stuart Davis

After learning about Stuart Davis, the children depict words, letters, and shapes from everyday objects in their paintings. For ages 6 to 13. Plan 2 sessions.

  • Learning about Stuart Davis and his work.
  • Painting in the style of Stuart Davis
  • Working with warm and cool colors
warm colors, cool colors, space, advance, recede

Click here and scroll down to see five examples of Davis' paintings. The book Stuart Davis by Karen Wilkin is filled with wonderful illustrations of his paintings.

The Life of Stuart Davis
Considered one of America’s foremost modern painters, Stuart Davis used the shapes and colors in mass-produced, everyday objects to create American scenes.

Davis was born in 1892 in Philadelphia. His father was the art editor of a local newspaper and his mother was a sculptor. Growing up where art was part of his daily life, it was natural for Davis to pursue his artistic talents. At the age of sixteen, he studied under the artist Robert Henri, who encouraged his students to use common street life as subject-matter for their paintings.

By the late 1920's, Davis had developed the modern style that he would explore for the rest of his life. He loved working with the typical scenes of the workaday world, such as traffic lights, chain store fronts, gas stations, taxi cabs, electric signs, and even kitchen utensils. In his paintings, he rearranged objects into flattened shapes of brilliant color, often adding letters, words, and suggestions of advertisements. Over time his forms became more abstract, but he always maintained a sense of the real object, claiming that he had actually observed every image he used. The energetic and vivid colors in his paintings were influenced by the syncopated sounds of jazz which places beats where they are normally unaccented. Davis also pioneered the idea of creating depth in his paintings through the juxtaposition of warm and cool colors in place of traditional perspective.

Stuart Davis died in New York City in 1964 at the age of seventy-one.

  • Manila or colored construction paperapproximately 10 x 14 inches
  • Liquid tempera paints
  • Brushes
  • Containers of water for rinsing brushes
  • Sponges for drying brushes
  • Trays for mixing paint colors—Styrofoam or plastic trays from the grocery store work well
  • Examples of Stuart Davis’ paintings
First Session
  • Become familiar with the life and works of Stuart Davis.
  • Gather examples of his paintings.
  • Set out paper, paints, brushes, mixing trays, containers of water, and sponges.
How to Begin
  • Tell the children about Stuart Davis and share the examples of his paintings. Explain that, in the next two sessions, they will be making paintings using Davis’ style.
  • Point out the characteristics of Davis’ paintings: his compositions are filled with flattened shapes of color taken from everyday scenes and objects; he used brilliant colors, creating the feeling of space, or depth, by placing warm colors (reds, yellows, and oranges) which seem to advance, or stand out, next to cool colors (blues, greens, and purples) which seem to recede, or fall back; he often included letters, numbers, and words.
  • Explain to the children that, in this session, they will be applying the background colors for their paintings and in the next session, they will be filling their papers with shapes taken from familiar objects, words, and/or numbers.
  • Have the children paint the background colors on their papers.
Note: After the papers dry, flatten them under some weight so they will be easier to paint on in the next session.

Second Session
  • Set out the dried paintings.
  • Set out paints, brushes, mixing trays, containers of water, and sponges.
How to Begin
  • In this session, the children will be filling their paintings with shapes from everyday objects, words, numbers, and/or letters.
  • Review the flattened shapes and brilliant colors that Davis used in his paintings. Ask the children to point out where Davis created feelings of space by placing warm colors next to cool colors.
  • Discuss some of the familiar objects that the children might include in their paintings, such as crayons, taxis, sports equipment, scissors, or signs.
  • Explain that to paint on top of dried paint, it is important to dry the brush well when rinsing between colors. Too much water will re-wet the paint underneath, causing it to mix with the new color. The brushes should also be dipped often into the paint to avoid scrubbing.
  • Have the children fill their compositions with shapes and colors from everyday objects, words, letters, and/or numbers.
  • This lesson can be enhanced by playing syncopated jazz music while the children work.
  • The second painting pictured above was done on colored construction paper and completed in one session.
  • Davis mostly used primary and secondary colors, and black and white in his paintings, so be sure to have these available for the children.
  • Review Davis' style of painting with the children.
  • Discuss the use of shapes and how they were devised in the children’s paintings.
  • Ask the children to find examples in their paintings where warm colors advance and cool colors recede.
What the children might say...
  • Can I use objects from my imagination?
  • Sometimes I can’t tell what the things are in Stuart Davis’ paintings.
  • Do I need to make my objects real?
What you might say...
  • You can include any objects that you have seen and are familiar with in your everyday life.
  • Stuart Davis took shapes from real-life scenes and objects and rearranged them for his paintings, sometimes making it hard to recognize individual objects.
  • Just like Davis, you can choose to make your objects recognizable or you can use the objects to inspire shapes and colors for your paintings. 
Click here to view this lesson in a printer-friendly format.