I was pleasantly surprised a couple weeks ago when I was asked to teach another art class. There were some cancellations, so none of the originally scheduled classes were happening. My mom offered to teach about magnetism, and I was happy to help out with a class. The only question: what to teach?
A DIY-ers dream, I flew to Pinterest for inspiration. Some sort of painting project was ideal, since the kids always love painting classes. When I saw a brief tutorial for an acrylic galaxy design, I knew it was perfect.
You may have seen similar images before. Galaxies have been trending the last few years, unsurprisingly due to how cool they can look. From an artist’s point of view, they’re also comparatively easy to make. While things like anatomy and perspective have rules (or guidelines, anyway), all you need to focus on with galaxies are composition and the contrast of values.
Galaxy paintings vary in design, but generally there are a few bright spots of color against a dark, almost black background. Then small spatters of stars are painted or drawn on top as a finishing touch. (To be honest, most of them are shaped more like nebulas (a.k.a. star nurseries) than galaxies.)
For the class, I pre-painted the previously white canvases a navy color. It took about three coats each to achieve a solid color.
I went with the popular blue and pink version for my example [below], as well as some touches of green. That was the idea, anyway. When I was trying to blend the green it kept growing, and before I knew it the color became more of a splotch.
I really wanted to create movement in my painting, as if you could sense the swirling of the space clouds. Taking inspiration from Bob Ross and a pencil tutorial book I have, I tried to be loose with my brush strokes, while also ‘buffing’ the fresh paint to blend it into the background. The end result was alright, I think, given that I was not working with Ross’ oil paints or any pencils. I also wasn’t using actual brushes; instead I had cheap foam tools, since that’s what the kids would be using.
Pro Tip: Classical artists often use the technique of visible brush strokes to convey motion and drama in their works. Some of my favorite masters of this include Joseph Mallord William Turner, Eugene Delacroix, and of course Vincent van Gogh.
Originally, I wanted to walk the kids through the painting step-by-step. That way I could teach about things like brush strokes and how to use acrylics. But most of it ended up too complicated. Most just wanted to paint, and I understand that. The other students did ask for more instruction and feedback, which I was happy to provide.
Because the concept of painting a galaxy leaves so much room for creativity, it was fun to see how they each interpreted that. Many of the boys were excited to add black holes to suck in their galaxy. It was interesting, too, how the kids played around with the shapes and colors of their paintings.
Be sure to click through the slideshow to see their artworks!
The real excitement came when it was time for the stars. There were a couple kids who preferred using a brush to paint them on, but the idea of using toothbrushes for art was hilarious to the others.
The way it works is you dip a (clean) toothbrush into a tiny bit of water and then into white paint. It’s a little hard to explain, but you can then use your thumb to push through the bristles fairly quickly towards the handle. This causes the paint to splatter forward, creating a random scattering of dots. In this case, they look like stars. The more water you have on the brush, the larger the dots will be.
Perhaps my favorite moment from this class was when two of the kids were discussing how to sign their paintings. Like famous artists, they wanted to hide their signatures somewhere within the work. Also, one of them told me that, “If we rated classes, I would give it five stars. No, five galaxies!” It made my day.
As it turns out, this was the last class I’ll probably be able to teach for a while. The homeschool group’s ‘school year’ is over, and I’ll be heading to London for college before they start up again. I want to give a big thank you to all of the wonderful kids and parents there. Thanks for letting me share some art with you!