Last month, the colourful, abstract expressionistic paintings of Alma Woodsey Thomas gave us life! Summer picked her as our featured artist for August and we enjoyed recreating her work.
In fact, if you are looking for projects that can put your mind at ease and cheer you up at the same time, Alma Thomas’s work is the perfect inspiration. But before getting into the activities, let’s get to know this legendary woman a little bit more.
MEET THE ARTIST
Alma Thomas has always been a creative child. As a little girl, she enjoyed making puppets, sculptures and plates out of clay she collected from the riverbank behind her childhood home. Her artistic pursuits continued as she grew and when she studied fine arts in Howard University, she started experimenting with abstraction. This was during a time when abstract art had not yet become popular in America which made it even more appealing to her.
Alma Thomas made her own marks in history throughout her life as well. First when she became the first graduate student of the Howard University Fine Arts program in 1924. Then in 1972, at the age of 81, she became the first African-American woman to have a solo exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Even after her death, she continued to make history as her work, The Resurrection became the first work by an African-American woman to be put on display and included in the art collection of the White House.
Learn more about Alma Thomas by watching this video:
PROJECT 1: Color Field Finger Painting
Alma Thomas’s color field paintings are her most recognizable works. The Resurrection, now part of the White House’s permanent collection, is one of them. It is a vibrant and rhythmic composition of concentric circles which, to me, mimics what you see when you squint and attempt to gaze at the sun.
There are many more of these cheerful, mosaic-like circular paintings by Alma Thomas. We searched for them online and took time to look at them together. I let them give their own unique interpretations and asked them what they saw. Summer saw planets, Emma saw an eye and Jo saw rainbows, of course. Afterwards we tried to create our own versions of it.
Materials: Poster / Acrylic Paint, Paper, a Plate or Palette to hold the paints and, last but not the least, your Fingers!
1. Squeeze different colors of paints onto a plate or palette for easy access
2. Dip your fingers into the paint and dab dots onto the paper to create concentric circles. Start in the middle of the paper and keep dabbing, changing colors as you go, until you’ve created a big colourful circle
TIP: Use your different fingertips so you get varying sizes of dots!
Once you’ve created a spiral painting, you can also try making a landscape version, similar to Alma Thomas’s “Apollo 12 Splash Down”
PROJECT 2: Expressionist Flower Bouquets
This project is inspired by Alma’s less popular but equally remarkable expressionist floral paintings. Expressionism, in simple terms, is a type of art that is more about emotion than real life objects. In this painting style, the subject may appear distorted, blurry or exaggerated depending on the feelings the artist is trying to express.
While observing Alma Thomas’s expressionistic flowers, it’s good to discuss with the children what kind of feelings they think Alma was trying to convey when she painted them, Perhaps she was happy and calm? Perhaps a little hurried and agitated? The use of color can also suggest the feelings prevalent in a piece of art.
Now let’s try making our own.
Materials: Watercolor, paint brush (various sizes), paper
1. In the first project, we used our fingers as the primary tool. In this one, we’ll use paintbrushes. Create quick watercolor strokes on the paper. Try painting them in one direction. Then try creating strokes in different directions.
2. Because we are trying to make flower bouquets, group the strokes together like a cluster of flowers. Mix colors and use varying brushes to get different stroke shapes and sizes.
3. Once your satisfied with your strokes, you can add stems. Use the smallest brush you have and paint fine dark-colorer strokes from the bottom of the paper and work your way up to the middle of the cluster. The key is to quickly flick the wrist to create the fine lines.
4. Feel free to add small dots or green strokes to give the painting more detail and nuance.
TIP: Once you’re done with your painting, try making a second one. This time, think less about the technicalities or the step by steps. Instead, feel more. Let your hand move freely and let the paint flow.
These seem like the easiest projects we’ve done in this artist series so far. All you need is paper and paint! And they’re perfect for slow days at home when you yearn for a creative outlet that’s not too difficult or challenging. Maybe play some music, make yourself a cup of coffee or tea (juice for the kids!) and paint your feelings out just as Alma Thomas had done back then. You might just come up with your very own masterpiece!