While second grade excitedly researched rainforests in their classrooms it seemed a perfect opportunity to introduce Henri Rousseau in our art studio. A self-taught artist from France, Rousseau had never actually seen a jungle, yet he painted many pictures of how he imagined them. Rousseau would often visit botanical gardens and zoos to sketch.
What could inspire my students? From the depths of the school's storage area, I resurrected four palm trees often used for school functions and lined them up at the doorway. BINGO! Instant rainforest. The kids got a real kick out of walking under and through them, touching the leaves and branches, and observing their forms to draw. We learned to play with scale, drawing the very same trees so that they appeared larger than even the animals!
The process: After drawing the jungle's overlapping shapes with black crayon , children learned to mix varying hues and values of greens with watercolors. When finished, they chose a new colored paper and used oil pastels to draw a rainforest animal. Students cut out the animal shape and glued small pieces of corrugated cardboard to the back. Finally, the animal was glued in "front of the background", in the foreground, so that the cardboard risers provided a magical sense of dimension.