Hello, thanks for joining us. Today we are going to be learning a little bit about Alma Thomas and looking at how we can make mindful art inspired by Alma Thomas’ paintings!
A note about ‘Mindfulness’ – “Mindfulness is the practice of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment” – in essence, and for children in particular, mindfulness is about connecting with whatever is right in front of you and focusing on it, rather than worrying about other things that aren’t there. Mindful art activities are a great way to teach children (and adults!) mindfulness techniques, whilst having fun and being creative!
FIELDS OF COLOUR
About Alma Thomas
Alma Thomas was an African-American expressionist painter and educator, best know from her colourful and vibrant abstract paintings. She was born in 1891 and died in 1978, she lived most of her life in Washington D.C, USA. Thomas is considered to have been successful despite her race and gender, however she herself did not turn to racial or feminist issues in her art, believing rather that the creative spirit is independent of race and gender.
A FANTASTIC SUNSET, 1970
Alma Thomas created paintings (usually in watercolour) that focused on colour, rhythm and pattern that expressed her affinity with the natural world. For example, the picture above is titled ‘A Fantastic Sunset’; although the shape is abstract and does not show a realistic sunset, you can clearly see the colours of a sunset in the image.
Thomas studied colour and other colour field painters, which, alongside having a rich mindful approach to the world around her, led her to create luminous, contemplative paintings, which have been celebrated around the world.
Now I am going to show you and talk you through how we made two Alma Thomas inspired paintings and how you can do this too.
GRASSY MELODIC CHANT, 1976
Our Alma Thomas Paintings
When I first introduced Alma Thomas to my kids, I showed them a lot of her work, so they could visually understand what we were talking about. Then I asked them if they could see how she could have made the work; encouraging them to think about the kind of paint she worked with or how she could have made the patterns.
Afterwards, I talked to them a little about how Thomas used a mindful connection with nature to inspire her art, and we discussed how we could do this too (especially, as we spend a lot of time outdoors and in nature). And from this discussion, we started to form a plan for the work they wanted to do.
CHERRY BLOSSOM SYMPHONY, 1973
Poppy (8 years old) really liked the Cherry Blossom Symphony (above) and decided that she would like to make some work based on pictures she had seen, and been mesmerised by, of the cherry blossom trees in Japan.
To get started, we spent some time on the internet at these photos and noted the colours, shapes, textures and feelings from the blossom trees. Then we got the paints and other supplies we needed ready.
Next, Poppy decided that she wanted to use a linear, rather than circular design for her painting and marked out some lines in with a light pencil to guide herself (if it suits your child, you can mark the lines, or circle out yourself). Once she was happy with the lines, she began filling in the spaces with colours and marks that she felt represented the cherry blossom trees she loved.
Whilst I encouraged her to spend some time looking at all aspects of the trees and their surrounding landscapes, I did not influence her or suggest anything, but just gave her space and time to study the pictures that she liked.
Poppy began by painting the solid green line on the left, so I reminded her that Alma Thomas used small marks to build the pattern, rather than long brush strokes (which are much more natural for children to do). I asked Poppy what brush or another implement would be good to make the marks. She came up with cotton buds (Q-tips), corks, small brushes and small erasures on the end of pencils. She decided to try with different size brushes this time.
Poppy worked for about half an hour, and here is what she came up with. I think she expressed the delicate nature and gentle movement of the blossom trees. She really liked the picture she made and was proud of herself.
Now I am going to talk you through Jake’s painting (Jake was 10 years old when we did this). Whilst we were looking at Thomas’ paintings, Jake really liked this one; he liked the different sized lines, the colours, and how they reds and yellows highlighted the blues.
IRIS, TULIP, JONQUILS, CROCUS – 1969
From this, and our discussions, he decided he would like to paint the large flower bed in our garden. During the warmer months, we are lucky enough to be able to work in a sun room on the side of our house, so Jake could paint while looking right at the flower bed.
He decided he wanted to mix shapes and lines to show the different kinds of flowers, and therefore show the shapes and textures in the garden. Jake also chose to paint the colours in solid blocks and make the pattern effect with white paint over the top. Although this wasn’t “my” intention for the lesson, it provided an opportunity to discuss different outcomes from different decisions and methods. Jake looked again at Thomas’ work and said that perhaps making the coloured marks as dots might be more effective than layering white dots on top, but that for now he liked what he’d done anyway.
I thought it was great that Jake took inspiration from an artist and did his own thing, and the outcome was fantastic! He really captured the vibrancy and bustle of our flower bed, and his love of the garden.
Want to try this?
You will need:
– Liquid paints such as water colour or acrylic, tempera/poster paint will work too
– Brushes, palette knifes (finger painting works great for this too
– Paper, card or canvas
Setting up the lesson:
1. Set up your work space with some paper (the bigger the better), paints, brushes, palette knives, other implements (such as corks, Q-tips, you could have your kids decide what to use too), water and a cloth or towel to wipe brushes. You may want to include a tablecloth and aprons if that suits you.
2. The first and best way to get kids inspired to make art like another artist is to show them the artist’s work! So either print out, or have a bunch of Alma Thomas’ paintings lined up to show on your computer or device. (Honestly the easiest way to do this is an image search on your favourite search engine – give Ecosia a try!)
3. Talk to your kids about Alma Thomas and her techniques, affinity with nature and her use of colours, abstracted patterns, and mark making to create her work.
4. Ask you children if there are any of Alma Thomas’ paintings that they particularly like – engage in a discussion about why and what they like.
5. Next, ask your kids if there is something in nature they really like, or even better, go outside in your garden, or out for a walk somewhere. Spend some time with whatever you children choose to look at, whether it’s a photograph or something real.
6. Ask them to think, write or talk about why they feel connected to the landscape or natural entity. Encourage them to study the colours, shapes, patterns, textures and, most importantly, the feelings they have when they look at it.
Making the Work:
1. Holding onto all of those things, head to your work space and help the children to plan the painting. Do they want to work in circles, lines, or a different shape. What colours do they want to use? Which tools do they want to work with? Try to ask questions, rather than make suggestions, unless they ask for your advice, or are struggling.
2. Encourage the kids to start making their pictures. Be on hand to remind them of the techniques involved, and to reflect on their experience of the subject of their painting. You know the children you are working with, so you can gage how best to navigate this, depending on their age, character, etc.
3. Be positive about the work, ask your children to tell you about what they are doing, and how they feel about it when it’s done.
I hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know if you try this activity and leave me a comment! Feel free to have a look around the site and try some of our other art activities.
PS: You might like this one: