Questions for Picture Study

Ben tells me about his picture.

1. What colors do you see?

Do you see red? orange? yellow? green? blue? purple? black? white? brown? pink?

2. Do you see straight lines? Do you see curves?

3. What shapes do you see?

Can you find any triangles? Circles? Rectangles? Squares? Ovals?

4. What textures do you see? Rough or smooth? Fuzzy or furry? Soft or hard? Shiny or dull?Warm or cold? Anything prickly, fabric, papery, sticky, wet?

5. What do you think it smells like if you were in the picture?

6. What do you think it sounds like if you were in the picture?

7. Do you see any people?

What are they doing?

What are they wearing?

Do they seem happy, sad, lonely, joyful, angry, thoughtful, worried, puzzled, peaceful, busy. . . ?

8. Do you see any animals? What kinds? What are they doing?

9. Do you see any plants? What kinds?
Trees? Bushes? Shrubs? Flowers? Moss? Fruits? Leaves? Branches? Stems? Roots?

10. Can you tell where is the light coming from? Which areas are dark and which are in shadow?

12. Do you see any weather? Sunlight? Clouds? Moon, stars? Rain? Snow?

13. Do you see anything manmade in the picture?

Any buildings, structures, roads, bridges, fences? Any tools, books, furniture, clothes?

14. What’s in the foreground of your picture? What is closest to you?

What is in the midground or middle of your picture?

What is in the background of your picture? What is very far away? How can you tell?

15. What is the mood of the picture?

16. Does your picture tell a story?

17. How does the picture make you feel?
18. What does the picture make you wonder about?

19. Does this picture remind you of anything else? Something you’ve seen, a place you’ve been, a person you know, another picture you’ve seen?

20. Do you think you’ve seen anything else by this same artist?

21. Can you tell a story about your picture?

22. If you could get into the picture, like Katie in the books, what would happen? What would you do? What would the people in the picture do?

23. If Katie went into the picture what would happen?

24. Can you sketch this picture? Can you make a sketch that focuses on colors? Can you make a sketch that focuses on lines?

Bella and Sophie sketching.

* * *

On Thursday night I was planning what to do on Friday with all five kids sick and miserable with a cold. I figured math and copywork were out, but maybe I could catch up on some picture study. The kids enjoy that and it will be schoolish without being toilsome.

As I noodled about the lesson (should I have them draw a sketch or just describe the picture?) it got tangled in my head with thoughts about nature study and some leading questions someone had shared: What do you observe? What do you wonder? What does it remind you of? And suddenly I found myself drawing up a list of questions to ask, a whole bunch of questions. I wondered if it was too many, but decided to give it a test run.

We began by everyone picking out a picture postcard from a bag. I’ve collected a bunch of postcards over the years. I usually buy a bunch every time we go to a museum. The kids pick out some special ones to hang on the wall in their room, but I also get some to tuck away in my picture box. So I chose a handful of postcards and let everyone pick one. If they got one they didn’t really like, they could trade them; but I didn’t let them get too picky.

Then I asked everyone to study their postcard for a few minutes and think about how to describe it. When the time is up, I will ask you to put your card facedown on the table and then describe what you remember. That went pretty well and I was surprised at the detail of Bella, Sophie, and Anthony’s narrations. Ben and Lucy were more reluctant.

Then I asked them to pick a second card and I asked them my questions about that card. They liked that better, though at times they got frustrated with everyone trying to answer at once. Each child had to have my full attention while they described what they saw. My original plan was to have them turn the card over and narrate it after we’d all answered the questions, but by the end they weren’t that interested. Instead, we drew sketches of their pictures. Ben and Lucy and Anthony and I chose to make crayon studies, focusing on color. That worked well with the impressionist pictures. Sophie and Bella chose to do pencil sketches focusing on outlines. I told them it was to be very rough, just getting some ideas about the picture down on paper, not trying to make an exact copy.

They were all pretty satisfied with their work. Anthony, who had chosen a Renoir painting, had a hard time getting started so we began by drawing a few details. Then we flipped the paper over and I had him tell me about the colors and choose crayons while I shaded in colors for him. After a while he began to pick up the crayons and a pencil to add in details. So in the end it was a very collaborative sketch. He was happy with having help executing his vision, but still doing some of the work. It overcame his reluctance to begin.

As we worked I added some questions that popped into my head, I eliminated some others that seemed redundant. I think you could tailor them to the pictures if you had only one picture everyone was studying. Of course you don’t need to do the whole series of questions, especially if attention wanes. It’s a rather long list.

Giving children questions to focus their investigation can help them to look more closely. I use a handful of such questions when we are looking at a painting at the museum. It’s more interactive, I tell them what I see as well as asking what they see, it’s Socratic, but I’m not one hundred percent a teacher, I’m also just enjoying the conversation, sharing a moment.

Sophie sketching.

Bella with her completed sketch.

Lucy sketching.

Ben with his completed sketch. He was very pleased and wanted to hang it in his room.

My crayon sketch of a Georgia O’ Keeffe.

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