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Artistic Pursuits, Junior High Books One and Two Review by Kathy Gelzer

Brenda Ellis
Artistic Pursuits, Inc
2626 East 109th Ave
Northglenn, CO 80233

Artistic Pursuits is a comb-bound set of two art curriculum, non-consumable books for junior high students. It includes art instruction, plus art history and appreciation. Book One contains seven units on the Elements of Art: space, line, texture, shape, form, value, and line in three dimensions. Following that there are nine units on composition: Visual Paths in Line, Center of Interest, Symmetry and Asymmetry, Rhythm, Space With and Without Depth, Perspective, and Proportion.

Book Two, Color and Composition, has eight units on color: Hue and Intensity, Primary and Secondary Colors, Monochrome, Complementary Pairs, Neutrals, Analogous Colors, and Color Applications. The units on composition cover: Balance, Parallel and Converging Rhythm, Depth, High and Low Viewpoint, and Emphasis. This book, with its focus on color, requires Nupastel colors (hard pastels) and Sakura Cray Pas Oil Pastels, various papers, a paper stump for blending, and a kneaded eraser. The lessons in each book follow the same format.

Each unit is broken down into four lessons: Building a Visual Vocabulary, Art Appreciation and Art History, Techniques, and Application. This lesson format is repeated in each unit. As explained on the "What Parents Want to Know" page, the suggested schedule is two one-hour class sessions a week for thirty-two weeks. So, the student would do one lesson per class, taking two weeks to complete each unit. Accommodating the student, his work pace, and allowing enough time for the creative process are considerations to remember, so one will want to be flexible in scheduling this class.

To get a better understanding of Artistic Pursuits, here is what Unit 4 in the first book, which covers shape, looks like. Lesson 1 begins with a simple definition and a visual example. Next there is a creativity assignment to find, for example, a building, and examine it more closely than the student has done previously, and then he is to sketch the structure with its purpose in mind. The lesson objective appears in a box at the bottom of the page: "to see a common object in a new way and to encourage further development of ideas and subject matter." A fun component of the lesson is "Creative Cory," a little single-pane comic appearing on most of the first lessons of each unit.

The second lesson tells the student to "Look at Shape in Art." A full color--except where the original art was not done in color--photo of art, carefully chosen for its illustration of the principle being studied, is included for observation. The author's narration under the art clearly explains what the student should notice, with a helpful annotated sketch as needed. In this case, Katsushika Hokusai's Beneath the Wave off Kanagawa is the art being studied. The second page of Lesson Two is the art history component of each unit, with a short section of text on the culture and one on the artist (of the art studied on the previous page). This lesson ends with a challenge, in this case to observe moving water and draw it with exaggerated shape.

Next is the "How To" lesson. The one for this unit on shape is how to draw a still life with a preliminary drawing to check for variety of shape, a balance of positive and negative space, and contrast. The final lesson of the unit is an application project where you draw an animal from a photo, paying particular attention to the shapes in the fore and background. A student example is shown, with author commentary. A materials list for the assignment is included. A reminder at the bottom of the page admonishes the student to "Look Back" at his work and check to see that the assignment was completed thoughtfully, with the intention in mind. Throughout the unit, in each of the four lessons, all projects are printed in a gold colored font (brown, in Book Two).

These books don't spend more space than necessary on the preliminaries. One page is devoted to the table of contents and the art supply list. In Book One, there are a couple out-of-the-ordinary items besides basic drawing tools: light-weight wire, wire cutters or pliers, and modeling clay. In addition to the already mentioned parent page, there is a student page with a charge to observe your surroundings intentionally, with a specific focus. A "Getting Started" page explains the author's "Ready, Set, Go!" approach to drawing and the two types of drawings students will be doing. In the second book, these pages to the student are different:   the invitation here is to understand the principles of the color wheel, to see the fullness of colors, and to exaggerate colors. The "Getting Started" page talks about using color pastels, regarding types and safety.

There is an evaluation sheet with a grading rubric in the back of each book, which helps parent teachers with their record keeping. A short bibliography rounds out the book.

I wish these books contained at least a short author bio since knowing something about the author helps you understand and appreciate the curriculum or book more. There is a lengthy and interesting one on the website, but having one right in the book would make it immediately accessible to the parent and student. Perhaps some sort of index of artists by name/country/time period/title of work would be a useful addition, especially if you wanted to integrate this course with history, geography, etc.

I really liked that the lessons are short and to the point, with an emphasis on observing and drawing and trying out new things. The books are written to the student, and a mature, self-directed child should have no trouble using these books. Even though I could find no information on prerequisites, I think someone with no drawing experience or artistic inclination may possibly find these books intimidating.

Overall, I think these Artistic Pursuits art curriculum books are a high quality, user-friendly, fun product!

Product Review by Kathy Gelzer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, December, 2011