Rendering Water with Simple Lines

Montalvo Arts Center / Teaching Artists in the Schools Residency / 4th grade, 10 session project, Schallenberger Elementary School, San Jose, CA, Fall 2016.

This first exercise of the Water Project is about drawing lines and thinking about what is happening. The directions are simple, yet, concentration is needed. When I talk about the “quality of the line” I want the students to experience what it is to decide the path of a line, to feel the tool they are using and the pressure on the paper, to make variations and see the differences. This exercise is about discovering the power of a simple black (or blue!) line when we are in command. It also shows that creativity does not depend on the quantity of material we have at our disposal. With simple means so much can be done.



I started a new project with 3 classes of 4th graders at Schallenberger. The project is about water, a little bit different from the first Water Project, but is still focused on the water in our region. It is very nice to work with 4th graders and although there are 33 students per class, they are focused and engaged.



I briefly presented my work with a few slides at the beginning of the session. I work a lot around water and environmental issues in our area so it is interesting for the students to see that what they are going to work on is actually something I am very interested in and passionate about.


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I presented a series of slides about the importance of water in our life, from fresh water to salted water, from leisure to pollution and drought.


About the way things are going to unfold during the whole project I explained that there is no magic, it takes time to get better at anything, people who are “good artists” are in fact people who try a lot and practice a lot. The art class has a limited time and I would like to see everyone trying as much as they can.

The material used in this lesson is  simple: white paper and black fine sharpies, later in the exercise blue/grey/teal markers. Small square 6×6″ are a non threatening way to deal with space. The students should feel comfortable.


The first exercise: doodling about water

Ideas that come to mind one after the other. Just focus on lines, it can be anything related to water, directly with the sharpie. Show some of the drawings under the projector. They all have something interesting. A pattern, the quality of the line. I show as many as possible, especially if I see someone struggling. I pick his/her drawing and find a quality to talk about; may be the space is interesting, it can be one detail. That is very encouraging for the student.


Second exercise: making a drawing about water with just lines.

What do I do with the line I am tracing: where does it start, where does it end? The idea is not to rush, but rather to think about the way I am tracing each line.

I ask the students to think about the space between lines, the way they were going to fill the whole space or not. To start thinking about all the different options they had just by using a few lines on a square of white paper.

I show as many drawings as possible. I sometimes draw an “example” if I want to explain how to trace a curvy line without stopping. But I never leave my drawing under the projector. I insist my drawings are just examples.


Third exercise: making a drawing about water with just one line without crossing.

That obliges the student to really think about what he/she is doing and to think about space/distance/rhythm.


material: squares of white smooth paper 6×6″, as many as the students need. The students may make two during the session, or ten. Fine black sharpies, blue/grey/teal markers.


During the next session the students are going to learn about signs/logos. How to represent an idea related to water (rain, river, ocean) with a simple sign. The students are going to use colored paper squares and work essentially with cut out shapes.