Honoring Kindness

posted on Dec 2, 2020

"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted,” is one of my favorite quotes from Aesop. It’s from the fable The Lion and the Mouse, where the spared mouse later frees the lion by chewing through the ropes of a trap. Social media has chronicled a trend of random acts of kindness leading to things like a chain reaction of paying forward at Starbucks drive-through lines.

Campbell C., My Art Teacher, watercolor, grade eight.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, someone started a nonprofit, Random Acts of Flowers, which delivers recycled flowers to individuals in healthcare facilities. In San Francisco, Creativity Explored has two open studios where artists with disabilities can make art and exhibit their work.


Good things are still happening in the world, and I believe they will continue if we teach our children the importance of serving others and appreciating what others in our community are doing for us. It just makes us better citizens of this planet.


Focusing on Kindness
I teach in a school at which students are asked to focus on an annual theme. This year, the chosen theme is “service.” I always like to design at least one lesson for each grade level that focuses on the year’s theme while enhancing the art experience for my students. Instead of doing another self-portrait lesson in eighth grade this year, I asked students to take notice how others around them are making their lives better by serving or showing kindness, whether to the custodian at school, to their teachers, to people in their community, to their friends, or to family members.


Capturing the Moment
Once students decided who they would like to honor, they asked that person if they could take a photo of them in the act of serving for a “school project.” Students knew in advance that as a final “act of kindness,” they would present these subjects with the completed artwork; however, they didn’t tell the individuals, since it would be a while before they would be completed.


After students returned with the photos on their laptops, I told them that I would need to approve the photos to determine if they were clear enough to scale. One student hesitated to show her photo to me. When she finally revealed it to me, it brought me to tears. She had snapped a photo of me in class having a conversation with another student. I guess I had been caught in the act of serving!


Top: Alaina D., My Grandmother Quilting, mixed media, grade eight. Bottom: Ava F., GG in the Garden, pen illustration, grade eight.

Scaling the Photo
Next, I showed students how to upload the photos to an app that places a grid over the photo. In the app Grid Drawing Tool (see Resources), students can select the spaces of the grid to match the number of spaces on their pencil-gridded paper. If you’re not familiar with drawing from a photo reference using a grid, I have a tutorial on my You- Tube channel (see Resources). When the line drawings of the photos were completed, students transferred their drawings to medium-weight textured illustration board.


Applying the Medium
Before students began shading their portraits, I demonstrated some watercolor techniques and discussed how beneficial the use of masking fluid could be in watercolor portraiture. Masking protects the subject while the background washes are applied. Once the wash and background are dry, the masking fluid can be removed and the subject can be painted.


I then showed students how drawings that were shaded in graphite could have watercolor or colored pencil added to show depth and form. I used some of my own paintings as examples, and students experimented with this method in their sketchbooks. Ultimately, students could choose for themselves which medium they wanted to use. Some chose watercolor, while others combined watercolor with colored pencil. One student completed an intricately designed drawing using only a drawing pen. She titled it GG in the Garden and won a Gold Key at the Mid-South Regional Scholastic Art Awards.


Painting the Message
The finished artworks honored many different people. There were several portraits of parents and grandparents gardening, driving, doing household chores, and even cooking. One student chose to do a formal portrait of his brother who serves in the Navy. Another student chose to portray her grandmother quilting. She used fabric her grandmother gave her to make a quilt square and stitched it to the illustration board.


Students were required to write a paragraph about their choice of subject. This was taped to the back of the portrait as a memento to the person who received this simple act of kindness from a grateful student artist.


Melody Weintraub recently retired from teaching art at Briarcrest Christian School in Eads, Tennessee. She is currently president of the Tennessee Art Education Association.


Creating: Conceiving and developing new artistic ideas and work.


Grid Drawing Tool:

Grid Drawing Tutorial:


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