Israeli Landscapes

by Laurie Ballet

In my previous column, I described how the 8th grade students at Oakland Hebrew Day School connect to Israel through the creation of terragraphs (paintings mixed with sand from Israel), inspired by Israeli artist Theo Tobiasse. Another favorite art experience amongst OHDS middle school artists is the rendering of Israel landscapes. This is a very simple experience that immerses the student artist in a selected destination.

Students begin by pouring through photographs of Israel—coffee table books, travel books, picture postcards and personal photo albums. Each student selects an image to render and makes a color copy of the specific picture (this frees up the book or photo for other students to consider). Although some students begin by searching on the computer, they generally migrate to the book area because it is a more social activity and sourcing photos on the computer can present a challenge. I require  that every student make a preliminary sketch and tell me how s/he intends to create the final art piece. In order to really ‘see” the scene, the artist uses a ruler to achieve the most accurate proportions possible and, depending on the medium chosen, renders a light sketch on canvas board (paints –acrylic, tempera or oil), watercolor paper (paint—watercolors or oil pastel and watercolor resist) or construction paper (colored pencils, chalk pastels or crayons). We do not use markers because it is very difficult to achieve shading or texture with markers.

As students work, they discuss, amongst themselves, the locations they are picturing and they share the information and details they are learning about their landscape location. Because each artist has selected an image which is well within the individual’s skill set, students achievement and satisfaction level are high. It is tremendously exciting for the student artist who then travels to Israel and discovers, personally, the scene created in the Israel landscape.

My students in 1st grade undertake a similar experience by selecting either a plant or animal, indigenous to Israel, to paint. The children select from a deck of picture cards (Animals and Plants of Israel) the one they prefer. Each student has a different card, eliminating any competition to render the “best” picture.

Unless a student persuades me otherwise, each one works in block tempera paint on water color paper. After completing a sketch that pleases the artist, each child begins to paint, always careful to paint the bigger areas first. As with their middle school counterparts, these artists chat quietly amongst themselves about the picture they have selected and what they are learning about the plant or the animal.

Opportunities abound to teach directly to the material both in quiet conversations with working artists and in class presentation. An artist statement, describing the picture and its place within Israel as well as the personal artistic challenge confronted in completing the art piece itself deepens the learning. Each of these art experiences can be adjusted for younger and older students and, even using top quality materials, are inexpensive to complete. One of the ways I assess the success of an art experience is to see, at year’s end, which pieces the students select to display at the Oakland Hebrew Day School Art Show. By that criterion these activities are triumphant!