Using Spatial Intelligence to Make Earth-Friendly Art

Apr. 15, 2011 | 0 Comments | Fine Arts | Science | 9-12 | Natural Resources and Wildlife

Lesson Steps

Preparation Step:
     1. Have the class collect leaves from the school grounds or have students bring them in from home.

     2. The teacher will have to collect the various ingredients ahead of time for Activity 4: Making Your Own Paint. The teacher should prepare the soap flakes by grating a bar of homemade soap (found in any health food store). It may be helpful to create workstations for each group of students. Each station will be set up with the ingredients needed to make one color of paint, that way the class as a whole can have a wide array of colors to choose from when painting with their paints later.

Warm-Up: Visual-Spatial Intelligence
     1. Break students into groups to discuss the meaning of visual-spatial intelligence (this will be review if students already completed Earth Day Network’s Multiple Intelligence lesson plan, found at www.earthday.net/lessonplans).

     2. Pass out Reproducible #1 – “Understanding the Brain: the 8 Dimensions of Intelligence” and review with students. Explain that just as we all have different strengths and weaknesses, we also have different intelligences. People learn in many different ways, yet it is possible to stretch other areas of the brain through exercise, the same way you would strengthen any muscle.

     3. Students should brainstorm which types of activities require them to use their visual-spatial intelligence (for example: drawing, painting, sculpting, doing a puzzle, reading a map, recognizing faces, packing a suitcase or box, building things).

     4. Have students match which intelligences they feel that they most strongly relate to.

     5. Explain to students that they will be using their visual-spatial intelligence in the next few activities to study the environment.

Activity One: What’s in Your Paint?
     1. Do your paints have harmful dyes in them? Do the markers have toxic fumes? Have students look at their art supplies, or at the ones available in the class room, and read the ingredients list. Look for ingredients such as ammonia, formaldehyde, acetone, methanal, and methylene oxide.
               • For more information on harmful ingredients and products to avoid, please visit the Oregon Toxics Alliance. For a comprehensive list of toxic ingredients that humans are most likely to be exposed to, please visit the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry website to view the CERCLA Priority List of Hazardous Substances.
               • Many manufacturers do not list their ingredients on their packages. For example, when a consumer wrote to the Crayola Crayons company website asking what ingredients were used in making their crayons, the company replied, “The exact ingredients of our products are proprietary...” and would not publish their recipe. They assured consumers that their crayons were free of common allergens such as latex, peanuts and shellfish.

     2. Explain that toxic chemicals found in some art supply pigments and dyes, in large doses or sustained exposure can cause headaches, nausea, burns, breathing problems, lung and kidney damage, and even cancer.

     3. Describe to students how some paints and other art supplies contain Volatile Organic Compounds, (VOCs) which, in addition to being harmful to human health, can also have negative impacts on the environment. VOCs are a group of chemical compounds that contain carbon. In chemistry, organic means something containing carbon. Volatile means 'easily evaporated' - like water boiling away in a kettle. It can also mean explosive. A compound is something that is made up of two or more elements. So a Volatile Organic Compound is a carbon substance that is made up of two or more elements, evaporates easily, and may be explosive. The VOCs in paints are emitted or evaporate into the atmosphere and have been found to contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer.
               • According to the federal Labeling Hazardous Art Materials Act (LHAMA) passed by Congress in 1988, art supplies must carry labels to warn people if a product is hazardous. Also, the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) is a not-for-profit organization where member companies volunteer to have their products evaluated for safety. Products that have the Approved Product (AP) seal are not toxic to humans, and products with the Caution Label (CL) contain harmful ingredients and should be used with discretion. Follow the link above to see pictures of what the seals look like. You may want to project or pass out examples of the labels for the class to familiarize themselves with what they look like.

     4. Do any of the products in the classroom have either an AP or CL label on them? Have students search around their classroom or art room for materials with a label from the ACMI and share their findings with the class. Note: Products with the CL label are prohibited for use in K-6 schools in California. To view a list of art products that are prohibited in schools, please visit California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment.

Activity Two: The Chemistry of Color
     1. Pass out Reproducible #2 – “Chemists Probe Secret Dyes from China and Peru” (also found at http://www.physorg.com/news3563.html). Have them read the article, as an introduction to the following activity.
               a. Summary: In 2005, a chemistry professor and chemistry graduate student from Boston University traveled to China in search of ancient mummy textiles and found ancient fabrics dyed with plant dyes. Using their knowledge of chemistry, they developed a new technique to identify the specific plants that were used to dye the textiles that does not damage the pigment molecules. This innovation led to the discovery of a new dye found in ancient Peruvian textiles and will continue to help archeologists and anthropologists learn more about ancient cultures.
               b. Use the article to demonstrate to students the connection between art and chemistry.
                         i. Why did ancient people use plants to dye their clothing and textiles? Just like modern humans, they had an eye for the aesthetic and fashion trends existed. Plants were used because they naturally have strong coloring that can be used to dye fabric.
                         ii. Why might scientists be concerned with the fabrics and dyes used by ancient people? They tell us about the technology and scientific knowledge of these cultures. They can also give insight into trade routes and migrations based on where the textiles and plants originated. They also tell us about the person who was wearing the clothes, such as their origin, wealth, status, occupation, etc.
                         iii. Based on the article, can anyone guess what chromatography is? How is it used in this case? Chemists analyzed the fabric dyes through a combination of methods, including high-performance liquid chromatography. Derived from the words “color” and “to write”, chromatography is a method for analyzing complex mixtures (such as dyes and inks) by separating them into the chemicals from which they are made. This will be further explored in the following activity.

Activity Three: Paper Chromatography with Leaves
     1. Plants are great sources of pigment molecules. In this activity, students will experiment with different types and colors of leaves to separate the different pigments in each leaf into a wide spectrum of colors. Have students familiarize themselves with what chromatography is and the definitions listed on the student fact sheet below. Then have students complete the procedure as follows. Note: this activity will require about 90-120 minutes to complete.
Materials:
     • Leaves found in your local environment; they can be from trees, shrubs, bushes, and other plants (try to find a variety of different colors of leaves picked in different seasons if possible). The leaves should be fresh, not dried.
     • Baby food jars with lids (or other recycled glass jars with lids)
     • Rubbing alcohol
     • Coffee filters
     • Hot water
     • Shallow pan
     • Kitchen utensils

Procedure:
     1. Take 2-3 large leaves (or the equivalent with smaller leaves), tear them into tiny pieces, and place them into small jars with lids.
     2. Add enough rubbing alcohol to just cover the leaves.
     3. Loosely cover the jars and set them into a shallow pan containing an inch or so of hot tap water.
     4. Let the jars sit in the hot water for at least a half hour. Replace the hot water as it cools and swirl the jars from time to time.
     5. The jars are “done” when the rubbing alcohol has picked up color from the leaves. The darker the color, the brighter the chromatogram will be.
     6. Cut or tear a long strip of coffee filter paper for each jar.
     7. Place one strip of paper into each jar, with one end in the alcohol and the other outside of the jar.
     8. As the alcohol evaporates, it will pull the pigment up the paper, separating pigments according to size (largest will move the shortest distance).
     9. After 30-90 minutes (or until the desired separation is obtained), remove the strips of paper and allow them to dry.
     *Pass out Reproducible #3 – “Paper Chromatography” – Student Fact Sheet and Reproducible #4    “Paper Chromatography with Leaves” – Student Lab Sheet, Have them look over the reproducible and fill out the Student Lab Sheet or have students write a formal lab report according to your formatting standards.

Tips:
     1. Try using frozen chopped spinach leaves.
     2. Experiment with other types of paper.
     3. You can substitute other alcohols for the rubbing alcohol, such as ethyl alcohol or methyl alcohol.
     4. If your chromatogram is pale, next time use more leaves and/or smaller pieces to yield more pigment.

Activity Four: Make Your Own Paint
     1. Recall the ancient textiles and dyes discussed in the article in Activity Two. How did some of these ancient people make their dyes?

     2. Recall the art supplies found in your classroom in Activity One. Review the ingredients and discussion of VOCs. Explain to students that there are ways to make homemade paints and art supplies using all natural ingredients that are safe for the environment and people.

     3. Have students work in groups to follow the recipes for making all natural paint.

               a. Make the Paint Base
                         • 1 cup cornstarch
                         • 1/2 cup water
                         • 1/3 cup soap flakes melted with ½ cup boiling water (Make sure students practice safe techniques for handling boiling water)
                         • Combine the cornstarch, water, and melted soap in a bowl and stir. Let the mixture stand until it thickens.

               b. Make the Juice Dyes:
                         • Use 1/2 cup of plant/ food material for each batch of paint base
                         • Use the juice from thawed berries or squeezed berries, the juice from a drained can of beets, or the strained water after boiling the tree bark, leaves, walnut hulls, onion skins etc.
                            Blue: blueberries, red onion skins
                            Brown: walnut hulls, paprika
                            Green: oak bark, crab apple leaves, spinach leaves or other greens
                            Orange: yellow onion skins, oats
                            Purple: purple grapes, pomegranate
                            Red: cranberries, beets
                            Tan: coffee and tea
                            Yellow: apple tree bark, white onion skins, turmeric, chili powder
                         • Combine the juice dyes with the paint base and stir until blended. Add more or less dye to alter the color.
                         • Information obtained from: http://www.coopamerica.org/pubs/realmoney/articles/toxicart.cfm

Activity Five: Green Art
     1. Now that students have an array of natural paints to use, students will create their own “green” works of art (preferably on recycled or homemade paper). Students can work individually and share the paint colors. (The teacher may want to pour the colors into smaller containers to pass around the class to share.)

     2. Painting Ideas:
               • Paint a landscape scene of your local natural environment
               • Paint a poster advertising non-toxic art supplies or an environmental event
               • Paint a picture of your “ideal” environment
               • Paint a self-portrait
               • Paint a still-life portraying the plants, fruits and vegetables from which the paint tints were derived.

Wrap Up: Discussion
     1. Ask students what intelligences they used in the activities they completed. Have students explain their answers to demonstrate their understanding of the multiple intelligences.
         Logistical- conducting the chromatography experiment, mixing paints to create a new colors requires planning and experimenting
         Spatial- painting posters and other creative works of art requires skill to determine how to space pictures out on the paper and how to draw a representation of something real found in nature
         Naturalist- experimenting with the colors found in nature, identifying which season leaves were picked in, painting a picture of the local environment requires you to observe the environment and have some knowledge about what it includes
         Kinesthetic- using a paint brush requires fine motor movement
         Linguistic- following the procedure to conduct an experiment, understanding the teacher’s directions requires language comprehension and interpretation, reading the ingredients list on art supplies requires literacy skills
         Intrapersonal- creating a new color that is unique to the student and painting a picture of their ideal environment requires self knowledge about their tastes, painting a self portrait requires self knowledge about what they look like
         Interpersonal- working as a group to make the all natural paints and dyes as well as sharing the colors requires interpersonal skills

     2. What are VOCs? How can they be harmful to humans and the environment? A Volatile Organic Compound is a carbon substance that is made up of two or more elements, evaporates easily, and may be explosive. The VOCs in paints and other art supplies are emitted or evaporate into the atmosphere and have been found to contribute to the depletion of the ozone layer. These and other chemicals found in art supplies can cause headaches, nausea, burns, breathing problems, lung and kidney damage, and even cancer in large doses or sustained exposure.

     3. What is chromatography? What is paper chromatography? Derived from the words “color” and “to write,” chromatography is a method for analyzing complex mixtures (such as dyes and inks) by separating them into the chemicals from which they are made. The technique results in a chromatogram which is like the fingerprint of a color. It was invented in 1900 by the Russian botanist Mikhail Tsvet when he discovered a method of separating plant pigments in a tube filled with calcium carbonate. Paper chromatography is one method used to separate colored mixtures into their individual pigment components, using paper to separate and display pigments.

     4. Name some organic materials that can be used to make paint? Which materials produce certain colors? The juice from thawed berries or squeezed berries, the juice from a drained can of beets, or the strained water after boiling the tree bark, leaves, walnut hulls, onion skins etc.
         Blue: blueberries, red onion skins
         Brown: walnut hulls, paprika
         Green: oak bark, crab apple leaves, spinach leaves or other greens
         Orange: yellow onion skins, oats
         Purple: purple grapes, pomegranate
         Red: cranberries, beets
         Tan: coffee and tea
         Yellow: apple tree bark, white onion skins, turmeric, chili powder

Extensions: Beyond the Classroom
     • Using the green artwork the students have produced organize a “Green Art Exhibit” for the rest of your school community to see.
     • Enter your class to participate in an art contest.
               o The American Geological Institute’s list of contests for students.
               o The North American Association for Environmental Education’s list of students awards and contests
     • Teach students deeper concepts of plant chemistry, photosynthesis, etc. based on their observations of the physical and chemical properties of leaves and plant parts.
     • Have students research the legislation regarding art supplies allowed in your particular school district. Have students devise a political campaign to lobby for non-toxic art supply use in schools for all grades
     • Explain to your students that there are many professional visual artists who work with all natural media. Please visit the Green Art Studio website for examples of green artist Greg Patch’s work using beeswax paint. The website also includes links to other environmentally friendly artists and organizations that support green art.