I recently introduced to my 1st grade students a French artist named Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899). As a child, Rosa had two sisters, and one brother. Her mother taught piano lessons, and her father was an artist. Rosa's father believed that little girls should be educated as well as little boys, so he gave all four of his children drawing lessons.
It turned out that Rosa was very good at drawing and painting. She was especially good at drawing animals. As she got older, she looked at real animals to create realistic pictures. She began to visit a veterinarian school so she could see the animals there, and draw them. At the veterinarian school, Rosa was very well-respected, and treated nicely because she was so good at drawing.
I showed the students several paintings by Rosa Bonheur. In each one, we noticed how the animal was painted very realistically, with attention to details, but also that each animals was in a realistic setting. We saw a painting of deer in the woods; of oxen plowing a field, and of sheep lying in the grass. The realistic settings Rosa painted her animals in made the pictures even more realistic!
Then, I told the students we were going to draw an animal just like real life, but not an animal Rosa Bonheur had ever drawn. In fact, she probably never saw this animal: a clown fish. I projected a clown fish on my Promethean board, and the students agreed with me that it would be very hard to draw. I traced the outline of the fish with my Promethean pen, and the students didn't think they could draw that tricky shape!
Well, real artists don't usually draw shapes that tricky either, I informed the students. Instead of drawing one hard shape, we drew six easy shapes and put them together. I guided the students through drawing an oval, adding fins and a tail, and finally details. Each fin got a black edge; we drew three white stripes, each edged in black as well. After adding an eye, we colored all the orange parts orange.
The following week, we talked about where we could find a clown fish. We needed to paint a realistic scene, just like Rosa Bonheur! In each class, often at least one student knew that clown fish are often found near sea anemone. So, we drew sea anemone, and some coral reef plants if the students wanted to, and then painted the water blue with watercolors.
Here are some finished results: