In February and March 2023, I visited the Kindergarten through 5th grades at the Chinese Immersion School in Eugene for a Comics-making residency! This residency was organized by Lane Arts Council as part of their ArtSpark in-school residency program. Lane Arts Council is an incredible organization with amazing people, check out their website for more information about their programs and events for arts in Lane County, Oregon!
Comics-making is a really special practice for me. When I get to visit a new school and work with students on these projects, I also get to practice and learn more about making comics.
In this residency, we focused on learning about what makes comics different from other ways of telling stories with images and words. We practiced linework for illustration including figure drawing and using line of action. We also made 4-panel comics on bristol board with liner pens.
Since this was a school-wide residency, I created lesson plans for each grade, built around the Oregon State Standards for Visual Arts. Using the state standards helped me create themes for the residency and focus on goals for specific activities and discussions. Scroll down to the end of the post for links to the residency outline for each grade.
In kindergarten and first grade, we focused on shapes, color blocking, and drawing expressions. Students also had practice in using the artist pens, making plans and sharing materials.
Second and third grade students focused on the structure of comics.We talked about how if we see Calvin 4 separate times on the same page, it’s just one Calvin doing 4 different things.
All of our classes got to look at images of comics and compare them to other artistic images that are not comics.
Grades 3 and up made their own sketchbooks, using the basic pamphlet stitch method. It’s still my favorite way to begin a class, with lots of choice and gaining a new skill. It’s also a really great opportunity for students with different skills to help each other and ask for help.
In the older grades, we also practiced figure drawing using Image Theatre from Theatre of the Oppressed. First, students created a list of ideas, based on a prompt. In some cases the prompt was “Where’s somewhere you’d like to visit?” and follow up with “What’s something you’d like to do there?” Student responses generated a list of action-oriented words that we could then use in our Image Theatre game.
In Image Theatre, we act out actions or stories silently, repeating the same action sequence over and over again, like an animatronic in a theme park. We start out standing in a circle so the whole class can see each other, and all together act out the same action like “eating pastries in Paris.” As we act out our actions, we look around and see how each of us interprets the same action the same or differently. I also ask us to freeze in mid-movement so we can see what the action looks like from a still moment.
After a couple of whole-class rounds of Image Theatre, I split the class into two groups. One group will remain actors for the next part, and the other will be the artists, who will use their sketchbooks and drawing materials to draw the actions they see their classmates acting out. I ask them to focus on drawing quickly, and suggest they try to draw their classmates as stick figures, introducing the concept of line of action in this way. The actors act out a couple more action prompts, freezing partway through so the artists can draw them. Then, the groups switch and the actors become artists and the artists become actors.
This small game is just a quick practice to introduce line of action and action-oriented poses, and I think in the future I’d like to incorporate it into a longer residency focused on observation drawing.
From an anti-oppression education motivation, this Image Theatre/ Figure Drawing game is at the heart of this residency: it begins with student responses, which become the action prompts, and allows students to approach art with their whole bodies. Students are also grouped with each other, to avoid making one student feel specifically targeted or left out.
We spent about the last day or day and a half working on final comics, which were 4-panel comics on bristol board. I gave students the option to make their comics about anything they wanted, and we had spent the week leading up to the final comic working on prompts based on observations from life, imagining scenarios and places we’d like to visit.
The older students in this residency got into a discussion about what kind of jokes or art are appropriate to make, what it means to make art that is “offensive” or what happens when art causes harm. This was a really important moment for me to learn from, and moving forward, I’ll include a discussion of being intentional about what subjects to include in art making and the consequences from making those choices.
We ended the week at Chinese Immersion School with gallery displays in the classes of the artwork made, which is always a really fun moment. I love to see students look at each other’s artwork and make joyful reactions. Check out our art from the Story Makers and Comics at Chinese Immersion School in Eugene:
Special thanks again to Lane Arts Council for organizing this residency! Lane Arts Council serves all of Lane County in Oregon, with in-school programs, community arts and First Friday Art Walk. They’re a truly amazing group of folks that are essential to what makes this a thriving creative community. Check them out here and learn about getting involved and events and programs coming up!
Links & Downloads
Here are the quick outlines for each of the grades, with Oregon State Standards for Visual Arts included:
This is the slide show of artwork I showed students, using Visual Thinking Strategies to support student discussion and learning:
Comics and Story Makers Lesson Plan k-5 by Jen Hernandez Art LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Based on a work at jenhernandezart.com. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at jenhernandezart.com/about.