Welcome to my Art Spotlight series. In this series, I delve a little deeper into individual works of art to help give you ideas for how to use them in your classroom. For each artwork, I include discussion questions, a short description of its significance and context, and learning activities.
Today, I have selected a series of artworks created by the great Japanese ukiyo-e artist, Katsushika Hokusai. You probably know of the famous Great Wave (above), but you may not know it is the 21st in a series of 36 other prints featuring Mount Fuji. Today, I will highlight a few of my favorites as well as help you come up with ways to include all of these in your homeschool and classroom lesson plans.
As always, use these tips for how to look at art with kids. Always let them look and think about it before you give them any information! Also, use my free art appreciation worksheets with these works to help your students form a deeper connection with the art.
Recommended Age: Everyone!
Hokusai Discussion Questions
- What is going on in this artwork? What do you see that makes you say that?
- What emotions do you feel when looking at this artwork? What emotions do you think the artist was feeling?
- Describe the lines and colors in this artwork. How do the colors and lines contribute to the emotion?
- Describe the ways Hokusai included Mount Fuji in the artworks.
- What can you tell about the Japanese way of life in the Edo Period by looking at these artworks? What types of things are the people doing?
- What do these artworks have in common? How could you tell that these were created by Hokusai during this time period?
Conventions of Ukiyo-e Prints
Hokusai was a prolific printmaker of the Edo period in Japan. He worked in the late 1700s and early 1800s and created hundreds of gorgeous prints. The ukiyo-e prints overall all seem to have a set of similar characteristics. The common characteristics of an art period or style are called the conventions.
The conventions of these ukiyo-e prints are:
- peaceful or idyllic scenes that create harmony between humans and nature
- asymmetrical composition – the left and rights sides are balanced but different
- limited color palette of about 4 colors plus black – because of the printmaking process, each color must be printed separately in layers
- unclear space or perspective – clouds or fog sometimes confuse the composition. You can’t tell the difference between sky and water, or lines end in the middle of nowhere.
- diagonal or curves lines that guide your eye through the composition – these lines help tie it all together and add a sense of energy to the work
- outlined shapes filled with solid, flat color – all objects in the artwork are outlined in black usually, and there is not a lot of texture in the areas of color, because of the way they are printed
Hokusai Learning Activities
1. Haiku Poetry. This painting is perfect for a poetry-writing exercise, especially haiku because of the Japan connection. You can download a free haiku writing worksheet by signing up for my e-mail list here. The worksheet walks the students through a warm-up of writing adjectives, verbs, phrases, and metaphors before they end up with their haiku. Have students pick their favorite Hokusai work to write about.
2. Woodblock Printing. These paintings are woodblock print, so a natural fit would be a printing activity so your students can better understand how these were made. There are lots of way to do this at home, and I just did a post about this earlier in the week to prepare for this post. Click over to that post to learn about all the ways you can do woodblock prints at home with your kids.
3. Compare/Contrast. Pick 3-4 of Hokusai’s prints (or all of them if you are feeling ambitious) and have the students make a list of all of the things these prints have in common. Through this activity, your students will come up with the conventions of ukiyo-e printing as described above.
Hokusai and Printmaking Resources*
- Great Wave of Kanagawa Katsushika Hokusai Poster Art Print — Super cheap print of the Great Wave ($4!).
- The Old Man Mad About Drawing: A Tale of Hokusai — Children’s book (grades 5-8) about this artist. I haven’t read this, but it is very highly reviewed.
- Printmaking Supplies
* These are affiliate links. A small percentage of your purchase through this link goes to the Art Class Curator. Thank you for your support.
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