AiA Lesson Highlight – 4-10 O’Keeffe, Flowers and Shells

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Georgia O’Keeffe was born in Wisconsin in 1887 and was deeply inspired by nature. Many of her paintings were centered around flowers, shells, and cow skulls. These objects were usually small objects enlarged to huge proportions. Though her flower paintings were more realistic, O’Keeffe also did amazing abstraction pieces, shown through her designs of oversimplifying or exaggerating different object parts. Because of her work with abstraction and modernism, O’Keeffe is considered one of the greatest women artists ever. 


The medium that O’Keeffe used for Flowers and Shells was oil on canvas. This Art in Action lesson focuses on art elements of realism, symmetry, and contour.  By enlarging the shapes of the poppies, O’Keeffe makes us pause and notice the tiny details in the painting. We can also see the radial symmetry from how all the flower parts radiate out from a center point. O’Keeffe also used just three hues: red, white, and blue. The lighter tints on the petal outlines, created by adding white, make the petals look like they are curving forward. In contrast, the darker shades, created by adding black, make those areas look far away. 





In this Art in Action lesson, students use shading and blending in order to imitate O’Keeffe’s contour techniques. The students will learn how to make effortless transitions between analogous colors with blending oil pastels to bring out highlights and shadows. This is similar to how O’Keeffe used tints and shades to make object parts seem closer or farther away. The students will also learn about radial symmetry since they will be shading away from the center of the flowers. Overall, students will gain a deeper understanding of realism through the use of small, contrasting details and the enlargement/simplification of forms in nature.






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