Workshop Notes: The ART of Writing

The following is from a workshop I attended last Saturday on both Art Appreciation and writing. I’ve always wanted to do this. In fact, I have attended this workshop TWICE now. But I always feel like I’ve got just the right amount on my hands already and adding in anything more makes me feel overwhelmed. It sounds so easy… and so enriching… but somehow for me it is also so hard to implement.

You might do better, though.

Penny Gardner was the presenter and this is her website.

Here we go.

First – Choose an artist. You could choose one you think your child would respond well to, maybe in preparation for visiting a local art exhibit, or maybe the artist goes along with your current history study.

Second – Choose 6 pieces from that artist. You can just find stuff online by just googling the artist. She mentioned art museum gift shops but those get pretty pricey. My favorite idea is just to get a monthly calendar featuring your artist. But another resource I was recently introduced to is I’ll mention that site again in just a minute.

Thirdly – Choose a schedule. Option one is doing your art study once a week for 5 or 10 minutes. You spend a month with each picture, meaning you are studying one artist every six months. Mrs. Gardner mentioned she tried this method and kept forgetting she was supposed to be teaching art once a week so they ended up going months at a time without it. She prefers option two, which is art study 4 days a week for 5 or 10 minutes. You do one picture a week and therefore get done with each artist in 6 weeks. Then, to mix things up, you can do an artist for 6 weeks, a composer for the next 6 weeks, and maybe a poet for the 6 weeks after that and then start the cycle again. (This is where you might want to check out They have ALL of that great kind of stuff. Very helpful!)

How do you study the art (in only 5 to 10 minutes)? Like this! Look at me taking notes on my phone! It’s so millennial, if not clear and readable.WP_20160611_15_19_23_Pro

First – find a children’s book on that artist and you read it. To your child. Then your child can narrate the book back to you (this is a Charlotte Mason thing. I’ve never succeeded much with having my kids narrate. But it sounds good.)

Here is the one I did in class – I wrote the description without looking at the piece and without knowing what it was called. (It’s called “The Adirondack Guide” by the way.)


There is an older man in a little rowboat near the shore. His back is turned to us but his head is looking over his shoulder. Maybe he is searching for something, or maybe he has heard something that has caught his attention. His oars are up out of the water as if maybe has has stopped rowing. It looks dark – maybe it is night time. I wonder why he is still on the water.

Second – do a picture study. Have the child investigate the picture for a few minutes. (one of the things Charlotte Mason emphasizes is observation – in fact, police and FBI train using the CM method of observation.) Then turn the picture over and have the child tell you or write down themselves what they saw in the picture. A list is fine, but she encourages adjectives.

Thirdly – and Fourthly and Fifthly, etc. – Do one or two of the following.

Use the picture as a creative writing story starter.

Have the child imagine themselves in the picture and describe what they see, hear, smell, feel, taste, and are otherwise experiencing. Including opinions, she said, was good, even though one time her student’s entire analysis of the painting was, “This is dumb. It isn’t even art.” (She’s pretty honest, too, I guess.)

Create an “art experience.” So essentially any sort of craft or art project imitating the picture. Pinterest. And then just don’t expect Pinterest results. Because we are real people. But you can see the educational benefit in this, I hope. (for ideas Mrs. Gardner suggested the book “Discovering Great Artists” by Kohl and Solga)

Do a Memory Sketch. This is the same idea as the picture study, but instead of writing or narrating the picture, draw it out with pencils or pens. It is ok if the student wants to look at the picture every now and again to remember what it looked like, but the idea is still to recreate the picture without looking at it the entire time. Observation. (Also, she suggested Georgia O’Keefe is a great artist for this kind of stuff since her work tends to not be as complicated.) On day one of the memory sketch just do the pencil or pen and the next day add the color.

So after 4 days or so of one activity a day, whichever you choose, you are done with that painting and you move on to the next piece. You a copy of the pieces of art and add all of your narrations, sketches, creative stories, etc. into a big notebook – with a cover page for the different artists – and at the end of the year you have a beautiful scrapbook of sorts with your wonderful creations along side with it.

Doesn’t that seem easy!

OK – now now we get into the writing part of the ART of writing. This was new to her presentation this year and I really liked it. These are essentially just a few more ideas on how to study the art through writing. But her point was that we can use fine art to inspire fine writing.

She said a fun idea would be to go to a museum and walk around. Then have your kids stop at a piece they admire and then have them write one of the following about the piece.

A picture study – maybe a creating writing prompt or just a description of the piece.

Here is my little poem on this piece of art, Monet’s “The Artists Garden at Vethueil” that I wrote in class – don’t laugh. At least I tried.


If I am lucky
And quick enough
I get ahead of my mother and older sister.
The flowers
The sun
The smells
The bees
The crunch of the pebbles beneath my feet
I am small and all alone
Beneath the tall stems and stalks
But I feel mighty and important
Strolling through my garden.

A haiku – that’s the 5 syllables, 7 syllables, 5 syllables Japanese poem. You may not have to stick strictly to the syllable rule, but the point is to capture the moment and make a strong impression.

A Diamante – this is a poem set up like a diamond. Lets see if I can format one here. Well, I don’t know how to make the spacing closer, but here you go.


Adjective, Adjective

Verb, Verb, Verb

Noun, Noun, Noun, Noun

Verb, Verb, Verb

Adjective, Adjective


And acrostic – Most kids do these with just one word for each line, but you can create an entire phrase per line. Her example was the following (except I couldn’t copy it down that fast so you get a bunch of ellipses. The fist letter of each line spells Alice.

A boat…


In an…


Eager eye…

A pile on poem – I didn’t really get what this was, but I noticed the poem she used to describe the painting was just a long narrative but each line only had 3 syllables. So, maybe something similar to that?

A truism – She shared an example of a black and white close up photograph of a strong lock and chains. Elementary school kids were told to come up with truisms for the photograph. My favorite was “Some things you just can’t open.”  A truism is like a proverb or a wise saying that applies to life in general. She suggested you follow up with a persuasive essay on the truism.

Text Structures – On these you just follow the pre-written formulas to write kernel essays. This is a great place to start practicing writing.


So my analysis of the workshop? I really loved it! It’s so much MORE than just the basics – reading, writing, and arithmetic. (yeah, so technically it is still writing, but it’s more than just grammar, etc.) It’s enriching! And that is what I think education is all about; enriching our children’s lives! My 7 year old daughter who was with me really loved it too. She is excited to do art appreciate studies in her school work.

But what I don’t understand is HOW this only takes 5 to 10 minutes a day? Which is why I don’t know how I can really incorporate this in. (This is a major theme and constant question – how in the world do I add MORE good and enriching material and still give the children lots of time for free play? And without feeling overloaded myself. I want to do this – and I want it to take only 5 to 10 minutes a day – but I don’t really know if I am capable of doing it. Maybe that is a topic for another blog post.)