Capturing ‘on canvas’ the changes around us as our world warms up can help us understand and appreciate the science behind the seasons. In the Southern Hemisphere, Spring has sprung! Looking around, what elements can we add to an artwork that represent what’s happening in nature because of the changes in weather conditions? These changes can be taken for granted. However, as teachers and parents it is a chance to help our children develop a greater awareness of how the world works. In the science curriculum there are some key elements that we can focus on, with an eye on art.
Using the senses
Encourage children to ‘sense the seasons’. We see changes in the colours and appearance of plants, the shapes of clouds and weather patterns in the sky, and in the choices of people’s clothing and activities. We feel changes in the warming temperatures, the blustery wind conditions and the brighter levels of light. We smell rain on the hot roads, dust in the dry paddocks, blossom budding on trees and newly-cut grass. We hear distant thunder, rain on the roof, wind in the trees and the rustling of leaves, and bees buzzing around fields of flowers. We taste seasonal foods like juicy watermelon in summer and tangy oranges in winter.
Importance of learning through art
Creating artworks stimulates the neurons in our brain to make connections between what our senses have experienced and concepts we want to remember. There are common elements in visual arts which can be used to emphasise this growing awareness of the changing weather patterns and the effects they have on our world.
# Line refers to a mark made with a brush or drawing tool.
# Shape is a flat area surrounded by edges or an outline.
# Texture relates to how the effects of, say, smooth, shiny, rough, wrinkled or curly are created: wind, rain, puddles, storms, clouds, leaves, blossom, fur, feathers...
# Forms are shapes in three dimensions like sculptures.
# Colour starts with the primary ones of red, blue and yellow; artists make all others by mixing these to make secondary colours.
- Complementary colours across from each other on a colour wheel: red-green (red apple in a green tree), blue-orange (sunset and sunrise), yellow-purple (flowers in a garden) create strong contrasts.
- Warm colours like fire and sun stand out.
- Cool colours like snow and water recede.
Early Years: Grades 1 and 2
For junior primary children, these observations of the daily and seasonal changes in the sky and landscape help determine what to wear, what activities are possible, and what fresh foods are available to eat. Watching the clouds, the rain, the storms and how the water runs into puddles, creeks, rivers and the sea give an insight into the water cycle.
Middle Years: Grades 3 and 4
Middle primary students consider how the earth rotates on an axis around the sun giving us night and day and the seasons. The concepts of light and heat produced by the sun, and how it reaches the earth at different angles and intensity, can be explored. This website on Exploring Nature is helpful in explaining why we have the changing seasons. If you live in the northern hemisphere, the earth is tilted away from the sun during the coldest months of winter which means the southern hemisphere is much closer to the sun and experiencing the hot summer months. Hence, a snow white Christmas for some and Santa in sandals for others! Scientific investigations for kids can involve shadows, rainbows and melting things.
Upper Years: Grades 5, 6, 7
Upper primary science education includes investigations into how animals are dependent on their environment and adapt to ensure survival. Life cycles are often timed with the seasons to help ensure there is enough food, water and shelter. What is it about Spring that sees increased plant growth and the profusion of flowers, and the birth of many baby animals? Species develop physical features which fit well with the climate and conditions of their surroundings. Animal behaviours can be a result of the weather with many hibernating for the winter or migrating to more suitable climates - students can make inquiries into which animals behave like this. Extreme weather events can affect the habitats of animals: floods in the wet season, bushfires and cyclones in late summer. By discussing the source, reason, locations and aftermath of these occurrences, children can come to a better understanding of how the environment and the animals in it are affected. Creating labelled diagrams or drawings is an important skill, needed when presenting information reports.
Teaching science through art
The principles of art are very much reflected in nature: harmony, balance, proportion, emphasis, variety, movement, rhythm…
# Harmony - when all the parts come together as one making an artwork complete, or the interdependence between inhabitants of an ecosystem like the flowers and the bees
# Balance - between the visual weight of objects, colours, texture and space in artworks, as with examples in nature: symmetry in flowers, surfaces that repel predators, colours that attract attention...
# Proportion - when all parts relate well to each other in an artwork like with the head size appropriate to the body size and the window in the house suitable for the people living in it; so too with the survival of species through the number of offspring produced and the interaction of prey and predator, both situations influenced by the changing weather conditions
# Emphasis - what it is that captures the viewer's attention in an artwork; how birds use flashy displays to attract a mate...
# Movement - like lines drawing the eye to a focal point as a river disappears into the background; showing the wind blowing the leaves off a tree
# Variety - several elements that guide the eye around the artwork; the bees on the fresh flowers, the baby lambs in the green paddock, the budding blossom on the trees, the kite flying in the sky...
# Rhythm - aspects within the artwork repeated: the same flower, wind in the trees and in the grass, shadows of the tree and house...
How one artist explored changing seasons
Artist Claude Monet painted the same scene over and over but at different times of the day and in varying weather conditions. These varied expressions were created by his use of colour and texture and the absence of line, with edges defined by colour. For example, try a Google search for these: Bridge over a pond of water lilies, Waterlilies at Giverny and the Haystack and Poplar Trees series. Look at different versions and notice shadows, mist and light shown through the changing use of colour and texture. Compare images for the Poplar Trees series noting how Monet used common visual techniques and also the principles of art to illustrate the different times of day or year. How are the sky, the leaves and the appearance of light different? Can you tell which season it is?
Seasons for Aboriginal peoples
For the indigenous, First Nations people in countries around the world, ‘seasons’ were not determined by calendar months as those in contemporary society tend to follow. The Aboriginal people of Australia used the changing patterns in weather, animal behaviours, water and the stars to guide their daily activities and planning. They noticed when ‘the possums were fat’ and ‘the flies and insects are everywhere’. This approach to seasons is explained well for children in this video clip: The Different Seasons in Australia's Indigenous Cultures - Behind the News.
Seasons in perspective
So our perspectives will vary. But no matter who we are or where we are, as we focus on what it is our senses are telling us and contemplate what we know of the science behind the seasons we can engage in developing visual expressions that reflect the wonderful world as it changes around us. For a few ideas to help work with your students or children, try searching Artventure lessons for related concepts like seasons, spring, rain, wind, sun, fire or water. You can also find tips on mixing colours, making contrasts, creating shading and showing shadows. There are more lessons in the pipeline which will further support the ideas behind the art and science of the seasons. Enjoy your explorations! Send your artworks to Artventure. We love seeing what you create.