Journal

First Grade Workshop: Making Art Out of Letters

by | Jul 14, 2014 | Editorial

I recently did a workshop in the first grade class of one of my granddaughters. I’ve done such workshops many times – on poetry, art, calligraphy, medieval manuscripts – with the emphasis dependent upon

the grade level and the wishes of the teacher.

I titled this workshop “Making Art Out of Letters” and began by talking about medieval manuscripts and how all books were once written and illustrated by hand. I showed them pictures of medieval manuscript pages with their elaborate decorative letters, as well as pages from medieval haggadahs. This being a Jewish day school, the girls are very familiar with the Passover haggadah, which tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt. They enjoyed seeing pictures of castles and court jesters in the 15th Century Washington Haggadah by Joel Ben Simeon, and even a dragon on a page from the 14th Century Barcelona Haggadah!

Next I told them about the book I’m finishing now – Mindel and the Misfit Dragons – an original verse fairy tale which I have hand-lettered and illustrated like a medieval manuscript. It’s a story about a young girl from long ago who lives in a castle where it’s very difficult to keep the Sabbath, and about the so-called misfit dragons who help her. I showed the girls pictures and decorative letters from the book and read a few pages. They were enthralled and asked how long it’s taken me to write and illustrate this book. I told them I’ve been working on it since they were about a year old! There was a collective gasp, but that’s a good thing. I want students to realize it takes time and effort to create art, to do anything worthwhile. I showed them pages from my sketch books, where I practiced drawing dragon scales, tails and faces as I taught myself how to draw those wonderful creatures.

Then I taught them my “There are no mistakes” principle of drawing. I drew a tree on the board and said, “Let’s say I want to draw a rabbit peeking around the side of the tree.” (I attempted it.) “But my rabbit doesn’t really look like a rabbit. So – watch – I turn her into a bush!” Next I drew a house and attempted a dog next to it. But I told them, “Somehow my dog looks more like a lion. So let’s make him a lion. Now, what would a lion be doing next to a house? Hmmm… Is there a story here?”

Next I spoke about fountain pens and ink. I always bring ink bottles and dip pens – metal nibs as well as glass pens – for the kids to try. I want them to get the feel of the ink flow, and after they each got a turn I passed out disposable fountain pens with built-in ink cartridges and taught them how to use them.

Then we began the main activity, each girl creating a decorative letter – the first initial of her name. I’ve done an alphabet of full-page letters in the Lombardic calligraphic style and I had each girl’s initial ready to go. First I had them use a blank piece of paper to practice drawing different elements that they might want to incorporate into their decorative letter. This could be castles, flowers, dogs, butterflies, dragons, people – anything they wanted. I walked around the room, helping and encouraging them. Then when each girl was ready, she began to draw in and around her letter – first in pencil, then with a fine point black pen that I provided. Later, she would color her work.

The girls were so excited and worked feverishly. Not once did I hear, “Oh, I made a mistake. Can I have another paper?” Instead I heard things like, “Look! I meant to draw a house but it turned into a tower so now I’m making a castle!”

I was exhilarated, the teacher was smiling and my granddaughter was having the time of her life.

I ended the session by giving each girl a copy of a dragon I drew a long time ago. It’s a side view and on each one I had glued a faceted bead in the center of the eye. For dragons, you see, are known to have beautiful, glowing eyes.

Xianna Michaels – Dragons for Kids

the grade level and the wishes of the teacher.

I titled this workshop “Making Art Out of Letters” and began by talking about medieval manuscripts and how all books were once written and illustrated by hand. I showed them pictures of medieval manuscript pages with their elaborate decorative letters, as well as pages from medieval haggadahs. This being a Jewish day school, the girls are very familiar with the Passover haggadah, which tells the story of the Exodus from Egypt. They enjoyed seeing pictures of castles and court jesters in the 15th Century Washington Haggadah by Joel Ben Simeon, and even a dragon on a page from the 14th Century Barcelona Haggadah!

Next I told them about the book I’m finishing now – Mindel and the Misfit Dragons – an original verse fairy tale which I have hand-lettered and illustrated like a medieval manuscript. It’s a story about a young girl from long ago who lives in a castle where it’s very difficult to keep the Sabbath, and about the so-called misfit dragons who help her. I showed the girls pictures and decorative letters from the book and read a few pages. They were enthralled and asked how long it’s taken me to write and illustrate this book. I told them I’ve been working on it since they were about a year old! There was a collective gasp, but that’s a good thing. I want students to realize it takes time and effort to create art, to do anything worthwhile. I showed them pages from my sketch books, where I practiced drawing dragon scales, tails and faces as I taught myself how to draw those wonderful creatures.

Then I taught them my “There are no mistakes” principle of drawing. I drew a tree on the board and said, “Let’s say I want to draw a rabbit peeking around the side of the tree.” (I attempted it.) “But my rabbit doesn’t really look like a rabbit. So – watch – I turn her into a bush!” Next I drew a house and attempted a dog next to it. But I told them, “Somehow my dog looks more like a lion. So let’s make him a lion. Now, what would a lion be doing next to a house? Hmmm… Is there a story here?”

Next I spoke about fountain pens and ink. I always bring ink bottles and dip pens – metal nibs as well as glass pens – for the kids to try. I want them to get the feel of the ink flow, and after they each got a turn I passed out disposable fountain pens with built-in ink cartridges and taught them how to use them.

Then we began the main activity, each girl creating a decorative letter – the first initial of her name. I’ve done an alphabet of full-page letters in the Lombardic calligraphic style and I had each girl’s initial ready to go. First I had them use a blank piece of paper to practice drawing different elements that they might want to incorporate into their decorative letter. This could be castles, flowers, dogs, butterflies, dragons, people – anything they wanted. I walked around the room, helping and encouraging them. Then when each girl was ready, she began to draw in and around her letter – first in pencil, then with a fine point black pen that I provided. Later, she would color her work.

The girls were so excited and worked feverishly. Not once did I hear, “Oh, I made a mistake. Can I have another paper?” Instead I heard things like, “Look! I meant to draw a house but it turned into a tower so now I’m making a castle!”

I was exhilarated, the teacher was smiling and my granddaughter was having the time of her life.

I ended the session by giving each girl a copy of a dragon I drew a long time ago. It’s a side view and on each one I had glued a faceted bead in the center of the eye. For dragons, you see, are known to have beautiful, glowing eyes.

Xianna Michaels – Dragons for Kids

We use cookies to give you a better experience. Dismiss