How to Make Sun Art Inspired by Wadsworth Jarrell

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Precious Treasures Jarrell
Precious Treasures

Hello, today we are going to explore the work of artist Wadsworth Jarrell, and use his art to inspire us to make beautiful sun pictures! This in an activity that I did with my own children during last term of home education. When we did it in June, it was to celebrate the summer solstice, but it is a perfect project for our Up Above Us theme this week. 

About Wadsworth Jarrell


I wrote about Wadsworth Jarrell in my post, Black Art and Artists to Inspire Kids, which you may want to hop over and read; it has some activities to try too. 

Wadsworth Jarrell is an African-American painter, sculptor and printmaker. He was born in Georgia, USA, and lives and worked in Chicago, Illinois, USA, where he explored the working life of black people, and is heavily influenced by Jazz music, and became involved in the Organisation of Black American Culture, during the 1960s –  a time of a huge social movement in America, working towards anti-racism. 

This is a great article on Jarrell’s work, which I highly encourage you to read. Here are some key points about his work. 

Jarrell often made portraits of important and powerful black people, such as Macolm X, who made huge contributions to the civil rights movement, and who dedicated his life to empowering the black community. 

Jarrel uses a mix of bold, vibrant colours that reflect African textiles, and the vibrancy of African-American cultures, and repetitive, rhythmic patterns and letters or words. He explores contemporary African-American life, using both African and Western motifs, and expressive paint strokes, (often applied with cement trowels and other implements), which both evoke an emotional response from the viewer, and represent liberty. 

How to Paint a Sun, inspired by Jarrell

Using some of the techniques and methods Jarrell used in his paintings, we are going to create a beautiful, vibrant sun painting. 

by Poppy (aged 8)

Here are some steps to follow, but remember you can be creative, and use any of your own ideas too: 

  1.   Gather your materials:  
    – paint (acrylic or poster will work best)
    – good quality paper (we used A3 water colour paper)
    – paintbrushes, palette knives, forks, straws, anything you want to experiment with for applying paint 
    – something circular to draw around, like a plate 
    – water and an old towel, or kitchen roll 
    – a pencil
  2. Lightly draw around your circle to get your sun shape
  3. You could draw the rays here, depending on the style of sun you want 
  4. When you are happy with your outline, mix your colours – use yellows, oranges, maybe reds, and white too. 
  5. Paint the base colour onto your sun
  6. Start to build up the sun – you could use patterns like Jarrell, or begin with layers of texture
  7. This is where you can begin to use different things to apply your paint; try a fork for a line pattern effect, use a palette knife to get thick markings… 
  8. Experiment – Jake used string to make wavy shapes, and Poppy used a straw to blow the paint out into the rays
  9. Keep building your patterns and textures until you are happy. Use a mix of colours to get the fiery effect of the sun. 
  10. Consider adding words to your sun – you could use descriptive words, or perhaps something more personal to you. Write or paint the letters to blend in with your painting. They should be part of the picture, just like Jarrell’s work. 
by Jake (aged 10)

The important parts of this activity are

    • to be expressive
    • to use patterns and textures
    • to experiment with different ways of applying and manipulating paint
    • to use text as part of the painting

Have fun, let your creativity run wild, and see what happens! Don’t forget to share what you create; I can’t wait to see. 

Afternoon Viewing

Your film today is Kukuschka… this surreal and oddly charming animation follows a strange bird who’s obsessed with trying to reach the sun… but her travels are about to be interrupted… 

I also wanted to share this short animation, which is a bit more colourful than Kukuschka. 

““Ahau”, one of the many sun signs in Mayan culture, represents a universal fire that is loving, blissful limitless, creative and rejuvenating. Follow the Sun is a short animation about searching for this “universal fire” in a parallel world between imagination and reality.”

Play Video

Afternoon Reading

Journal Prompts

Sun Sketches
  • Jot down some thoughts about the piece of work you made today. Are you pleased with it? Why?
  • If you did it again, would you do it differently? 
  • Did it make you think of any other ways you could apply paint? Make a list… 
  • Doodle suns all over your page – how many different ways can you draw the sun? 
  • Write about a memory where the sun was a part of it? Maybe you were at the beach, or a hot sunny day in the garden, perhaps you went swimming in the river…?
  • Write a poem about the sun. Think about how powerful it is…. 

I’ll see you on Sunday for our final day of Art Camp at Home!! 

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Katherine is a mixed media artist, art teacher, writer, designer, photographer – and mum of 2 – who works and lives in North Devon, nestled in the woods on a little smallholding. She has a BA in Performance Studies, an MA in Fine Art, and an MFA in photography, alongside a background in early years childhood and special education. Katherine uses her artistic talents, passion for helping people, and unique creativity to create articles, courses and classes that promote creativity, artistic skills, self expression and well-being. She believes in the power of the creative arts and how engaging with them can improve so many aspects of life.
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