Many Ways of Making: Students Use Imagination to Guide Art Creation

By Angela Willetts 

There’s a lot of debate among art teachers about the best approach to teaching their beloved subject. All artists have their preferred materials, tools and techniques and tend to gravitate toward certain ways of making. Some enjoy engaging with centuries-old techniques, spending hours learning to draw and paint realistically, diligently and patiently building their skills.

Others prefer to explore and make discoveries, move around between materials and let their imaginations guide them. Some see the process of making as more important than the product and vice versa. There are so many ways to make art and to be an artist and none of them are wrong or better than others, despite what others may say.

At Mount Madonna School (MMS), the art program offers opportunities for students to experience many ways of making. There are units that teach traditional skills, such as drawing light and shadow, using one and two point perspective and learning the proportions of the human figure. There are other units that require students to express emotions visually, experiment with materials and develop creative ideas. What I have learned in my twenty years as an art teacher is that students need both sets of skills to feel successful – the technical skills and the creative thinking skills. Students feel more empowered to express their ideas when they feel confident about their making skills. They feel frustrated when their ideas are big and heartfelt but their technical skills can’t meet the vision in their head/heart.

The photos presented here offer a glimpse into some of the projects MMS student artists are working on in their art classes.

Third grade – Expressive sculptures. Students considered how best to express the “feeling” of a color. They chose lines, shapes and patterns that helped to express the feeling of the color.

Fourth grade – Continuing their unit on experimentation, students learned the Japanese marbling technique called “Suminagashi.” Inks are floated on water to create swirling shapes and lines and then captured by printing the designs onto rice paper.

Fifth grade students learned to notice and draw how light and shadow help to show the form of an object.

Seventh grade students explored using one and two-point perspective to create the illusion of depth.

Eighth grade students studied the proportions of the body and then created sculptures that captured the gesture of a body in motion. These sculptures are in progress, and depict bodies that are skating, surfing, dancing, cycling and more.

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Contact: Leigh Ann Clifton, director of marketing & communications,

Nestled among the redwoods on 375 acres, Mount Madonna School (MMS) is a diverse learning community dedicated to creative, intellectual, and ethical growth. MMS supports its students in becoming caring, self-aware, discerning and articulate individuals; and believes a fulfilling life includes personal accomplishments, meaningful relationships and service to society. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville. Founded in 1979.