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Stripes With Gravity

How can you paint with gravity? Explore the beauty of pure, flowing hues with this abstract method of coloring paper.

  • Grade 4
    Grade 5
    Grade 6
  • 60 to 90 Minutes
  • Directions

    1. Morris Louis, who was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 28, 1912, was an artist who was profoundly influenced by Abstract Expressionism. His early work has been compared to the work of Jackson Pollock, who used layered drips and pours of paint to build complex surfaces. Abstract Expressionists were interested in creating work that was nonobjective (had no recognizable subject matter). They preferred to work emotionally, and their work is usually abstract and personal.
    2. One of the most profound influences in Morris Louis's development was his meeting with Helen Frankenthaler in New York. Frankenthaler, an Abstract Expressionist like Pollock, used diluted paints to stain her canvas. Shortly after meeting her, Louis produced 12 canvasses that showed carefully controlled spills of diluted, thin paint. This was the beginning of his trademark style.
    3. ORganize students in small groups to research the life and career of Morris Louis. Encourage each group to collect photographs of several of Morris Louis's work for classmates to view. Ask children for their reactions to the artwork. After dividing students into collaborative groups, each group will cover their work area with recycled newspaper. Have pre-poured one capful each of several colors of Crayola® Washable Paint in separate, small paper cups. Students will add at least four times that much water to each paper cup. Mix each gently with a Crayola Paint Brush.
    4. Invite students to look closely at Morris Louis's Burning Stain, created in 1961. Louis began by holding his canvas up, then pouring single colors of diluted paint down the canvas, carefully controlling their motion. To try a similar technique, students place a spoonful of one color of diluted paint on the top edge of a paper that is flat on a table. Slowly lift the paper from the top, controlling the movement of the dripping paint as the paper is lifted. Challenge students to attempt to make a perfectly straight line of paint from top to bottom. Keep lifting the paper until the paint runs off the bottom, and onto the newspaper.
    5. Students repeat this process until they have created a multi-colored stripe, similar to Louis's Burning Stain. Dry.
    6. Once paintings have dried, provide time in the school schedule for the class to view all the Louis-like artwork created by classmates. Ask for their reactions. Is this method of painting easier or harder than representational painting? Write about their thoughts and experiences using Crayola Erasable Colored Pencils. These responses can be posted with student artwork.
  • Standards

    LA: Read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grade level text complexity band independently and proficiently.

    LA: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

    LA: Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

    SS: Describe ways in which language, stories, folktales, music, and artistic creations serve as expressions of culture and influence behavior of people living in a particular culture.

    SS: Explore factors that contribute to one's personal identity such as interests, capabilities, and perceptions.

    VA: Select media, techniques, an processes; analyze what makes them effective or not effective in communicating ideas; and reflect upon the effectiveness of choices.

    VA: Intentionally take advantage of the qualities and characteristics of art media, techniques, and processes to enhance communication of experiences and ideas.

  • Adaptations

    Possible classroom resources include: Jackson Pollock by Mike Venezia; Abstract Expressionists by Rachel Barnes; Abstract Expressionism (Art on the Wall) by Richard Spilsbury

    Students work in small groups to research Abstract Expressionism. What are the characteristics of this technique of creating artwork? Organize research in preparation for presentation to classmates.

    Encourage students to compare and contrast the work of Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis.

    Students experiment with the direction of the flow of their thinned paint, then compare their work to the art of Morris Louis that they have investigated. How much similarity do you see? What differences do you see?

    Students work in small groups to compare the work of Jackson Pollock with both Frankenthaler and Louis. How is Pollock's work similar? How is it different?


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  • Creativity.
  • Capacity.
  • Collaboration.
  • Change.
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