Becoming the cave painter
This activity will give you a small taste of how ancient cave painters would have gone about leaving their mark. You too will be creating images of animal forms, using a palette of limited colours, and attempting to capture their essential elements through shape, texture, line and pattern.
To the Teacher
Collect good source material – photographs (not artists’ drawings or cartoons) of a wide range of animals. An even better alternative is to visit a zoo, where students can draw and sketch while looking at the live animals.
Paints should be prepared beforehand, and decanted into containers that two or three can share.
Give yourself and your learners a few days before you begin, to collect sticks, leaves, feathers etc. to draw and paint with.
You will need:
Brown paper sheets, for each learner – as large as possible
Photographic source material (such as National Geographic magazines or other photographic sources, wildlife magazines, travel brochures, books, postcards, with photographs of a range of different animals (not artists’ renderings of animals)
A zoo visit, allowing plenty of time for drawing a number of different animals
Sticks from shrubs and trees
Leaves and grasses
Feathers – a variety from large to fine
Mixed paint, in ‘earth’ colours: blacks, browns, yellow ochres, earthy reds, white
If you are sketching at the
zoo, your sketches might include both drawing and some
notes to yourself, describing textures or colours, for example, to remind yourself later. Look at hair or fur, the animal’s markings, the shape of its snout and ears, the way it seems to hold its head. Enjoy the process and capture your animal’s qualities quickly.
Once you have gathered your source material – whether photographs or sketches made at the zoo – you can begin your painting.
Choose an animal in a photograph or one of your zoo sketches. Look carefully at the animal you want to depict.
Start by crumpling up your own sheet of paper. Crumple it as much as you like; just a few areas can remain smooth. Now spread your paper out again. The crumpled paper will, to some extent, echo the rough surface of the rock face.
Find wall space big enough for your paper. (You may have to work somewhere outside of the classroom.) Using masking tape, put up your sheet of brown paper so that you can work on it vertically. This is important because it represents the vertical rock face. Use only earth colours. Mix black paint, and also browns, reds, yellow ochre, and white. Prepare your ‘tools’. Some of your sticks can be used as they are, others might need to
be sharpened, and still others chewed or hammered, then trimmed, into a brush-like end. Use feathers from ducks, geese or chickens (or any other birds you might find). You can also use your fingers.
Dip these found, natural implements into the paints, and now draw your animal directly in paint, onto the rough brown paper surface. How many mark variations can you make? How well can you control the mark? Can you achieve fine, delicate lines like the cave painters, as well as big marks?
Introduce palimpsest into your painting. Palimpsest is the practice of simply painting or drawing newer images partially on top of or overlapping earlier paintings or drawings (as if they were not there). After drawing the outlines of your animals, colour them in and also add stipple, texture, cross-hatching – all with your natural tools. You can also use your fingers, but do not use any modern manufactured paintbrushes!
Display your work together, to create a continuous cave wall.