Monthly Mentor

Dr. Patty Bode (July)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Patty Bode just wrapped up her second year as interim principal of Amherst Regional Middle School in Amherst, MA. She is an art educator, researcher, lecturer, and activist. Bode’s research, teaching, and community collaboration focus on advancing student and teacher voices in art curriculum reinvention and transformation—opening borders and questioning what counts as knowledge. Throughout her work, she consistently asserts critical multicultural perspectives and teaches racial literacy through imaginative practices in art education. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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June 30, 2017

Copper Point Drawing and Da Vinci: A STEAM - Renaissance Connection

From: Carrie Jeruzal

As June quickly slips into July, I find myself happily reminiscing about an amazing Professional Development experience that I had last year at the 2016 Summer Teacher Institute at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

"The Teacher Institute is a six-day seminar that helps K–12 teachers (of all subjects) strengthen their knowledge of art history and integrate visual art into classroom teaching. The program features lectures, gallery tours, teaching strategies, and hands-on learning experiences."

This was my classroom for 6 days:


I would highly recommend this experience to all art teachers, (really any teacher), that can connect curriculum back to the NGA’s featured collection and is looking for an authentic, enriching and inspiring professional development experience.  The variety of instruction, resources and time with the art is really unparalleled.  I met 24 other wonder colleagues from around the country and I am confident they would say the same! 

The theme of the 2016 Institute was, The Renaissance.  Throughout the course I immediately saw strong correlations between the ideals and philosophies of the Renaissance and the methodologies of the Science Technology Engineering Art and Mathematics, (STEAM), art education movement.  I began to see Leonardo Da Vinci and other Renaissance artists like him as the original STEAM innovators.  

I made many curriculum connections from the knowledge that I gained at the NGA Institute, but for this blog post I would like to focus in on one in particular, Copper Point Drawing.  Before my NGA Institute I have to admit that I did not even know that the metalpoint technique existed!  I quickly learned that Renaissance artists like Da Vinci used to draw on a grounded surface, (usually gesso made from ground animal bones), using a drawing instrument that we might call a silver “stylus” today.  It was a kind of pencil with a silver “lead” instead of graphite or charcoal.  The silver would scratch the surface of the gesso, leaving a very fine, delicate, soft image.  Lines scratched in the surface of the gesso would retain residual silver and that silver would oxidize over time thus slightly darkening the image as it aged.  There is no erasing this medium but the artist could draw darker lines over other  lines and even paint over them, allowing the silverpoint drawing to function as a kind of preliminary sketch or as an under-the-painting-drawing.  The silverpoint drawings are minimal in color but communicate artist intentionality in a gentle and intimate way.

Here is a silverpoint drawing by Da vinci:


To begin my Junior High / High School STEAM lesson I introduced my students to the scientific studies and meticulous medical illustrations by Da Vinci.  We discussed the importance of observational drawing for scientific purposes.  We looked at Da Vinci’s drawing of a dog’s leg compared to that of a man as well as other examples from his journals. 

Then I gave students the chance to do the same type of scientific/artistic observation.  Silver was out our price range so I fashioned copper styluses instead by stripping copper utility wires donated by a parent that works in construction.  I cut them 3 inches long or so, and then taped them to thick, unsharpened primary pencils with adjustable electrical tape.  I prepared pieces of gessoed mat boards and borrowed a whole slew of bones, both animal and human, both genuine and faux, from the science department. I discussed with students the importance of treating the remains with dignity and respect as they once belonged to living creatures in order to avoid misuse and inappropriate handling.  Finally, students were given the opportunity to draw the bones from close observation using the copper point technique.  To enrich the experience and authenticate it further to the Renaissance time period, I invited a local guest musician to come in and play Renaissance music on a lute while students drew.  Aside from cell phones and laptops, my classroom began to look and sound like a real Renaissance atelier! 



Because erasing isn’t possible, I gave students a number of days to experiment and build confidence with the media.  I encouraged them to practice with paper and pencil first to warm up.  Students learned that it wasn’t easy and the task required immense focus and intentionality.  Students not only had to address artistic problems such as proportion, value and texture, but they also had to think like a biologist and consider; How does this bone move? What is its purpose?  How does its shape or spatial relationship to other bones help accomplish its function?  How do different bones compare? Etc.

In this STEAM lesson inspired by the Renaissance collection at the NGA, students not only honed their drawing skills, they also practiced discovery through scientific observation and illustration.   Just as my authentic encounters with the art at the NGA inspired this curricular approach, students were given a truly Da Vinci-like experience.     




James Rees

I did this session one last year! It was a rich experience!

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