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“I stand holding the apple in both hands. It feels precious, like a heavy treasure. I lift it up and smell it. It has such an odor of outdoors on it I want to cry.”
- Margaret Atwood
When I think of fall, I think of apple picking. We went just about every year when I was a child and would make a day of the experience. Apple picking at the same orchard, shopping at the farmer’s market, and then off to a place called Harold’s for lunch where the sandwiches are quite literally bigger than your head. It was magical. Now that I’m a parent, taking my kids apple-picking every year is something I always look forward to. There’s a sense of nostalgia at the apple orchard. The smell of the apples, the sound of wheel barrows chugging down the orchard aisles. It still feels magical.
We went apple-picking with the kids a couple of weeks ago. We’re still being very COVID conscious so it was a shorter than typical trip but we still had a lot of fun. Staring at the bowl of apples we picked on the counter, I knew I wanted to figure out a way to use our apples in our art history work. At first I thought we’d just do a still life of the multi-colored apples in the bowl but then I remembered René Magritte’s “The Son of a Man.” Perfection! I love this piece and knew it would be a great introduction to surrealism for kids.
The Son of a Man, René Magritte
The Son of a Man is a self portrait of Magritte in front of a low wall with a muted background. We see sky and water behind Magritte in the background. The painting of Magritte is unexpected. He’s wearing a bowler hat, a black suit, a red tie and if you look closely, one of his arms appears to be subtly bent backwards. Most surprising and strikingly, a green apple is placed floating in front of Magritte’s face. You can just barely make out his eyes peeping over the apple.
To start our lesson on Magritte we watched this cute episode of Art with Mati and Dada. It’s under ten minutes and my kids always enjoy them! I love how they described Magritte’s work as mysterious. It was a great way to introduce surrealism to the kids! If you’re looking for a book to add to your Magritte lesson, Magritte’s Marvelous Hat is quite cute. It doesn’t directly discuss Magritte or his paintings but instead uses him as inspiration. It’s a surreal story about a dog who paints.
Next we looked specifically at The Son of a Man and examined the painting. We identified the background and foreground. We also looked closely at Magritte’s arm in the painting and of course giggled at the apple on his face. I asked the kids if they thought this self portrait looked real or if it looked more like an imagination. We discussed how it’s a little of both and how surrealist artists sometimes use ordinary objects in an unusual way. It’s almost like a dream!
Next we got to work on our art project; a mixed media art project that involved wet on wet watercolor painting, modeling and photography and still life drawing.
Son of a Man Inspired Art Project:
Crayons or Pastels
Bowler hat (or a vintage hat you have on hand)
1. Using a wet paper towel, gently wipe your watercolor paper to wet it.
2. Next paint your background with watercolors. I tried to encourage the use of blues but Mr. J had other plans and I of course let him run with it! Observe how the paint colors are a bit softer on wet paper and that with the paper wet, you are able to mix colors together on our paper and that the colors bled and blended together.
My 2 year old painted this! I just love it!
3. While your painting dries, it’s time to play dress up. A suit jacket, bowler hat and a bowtie will do the trick. Observe Magritte’s painting and instruct your child to pose like Magritte. Where are his arms? Is he standing up straight? Which direction is his face?
4. Print out your photograph.
5. Grab an apple and encourage your child to draw a still life portrait of the apple on a blank sheet of paper. Have your printed photo nearby to encourage your child to try to draw the apple small enough to just over their face. Observe the shape of the apple, the color. Is there a stem?
6. Cut out the photograph of your child and the apple. You can have your child do the cutting or you can do this for them, depending on their cutting skills.
7. Using a glue stick, have your child glue your child’s photograph on to their watercolor painting.
8. Finally, glue the apple onto the face. I thought their little faces were too cute to completely cover with their apple drawings so we only put glue on the tops of our apples to make a little flap. Once dry you can lift the apple up to reveal their faces. The kids thought this was so funny!
I hope you’ll give this art project a try! Tag me on Instagram if you do! I’d love to see your child’s work!