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Inspire and create… Joan Miró

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By Brenda Whittle — Educational writer and former deputy headteacher

Enter the world of the surreal to and let children’s imaginations run wild

Spanish painter and sculptor, Joan Miró (1893-1983), is well known for his surrealist and abstract works. Here we use one of his pieces, The Nightingale’s Song at Midnight and the Morning Rain, as a starting point for children’s thinking, discussion and artwork. Children have the opportunity to use clay to create a simple tile. They draw their designs onto the surface of the clay and paint the tile when it is dry. If you have access to a kiln, the clay can of course be fired and glazed.

Joan Miro image

Getting inspired

  • Look together at the work of Joan Miró (examples can be seen by typing his name into Google Images). Focus in particular on The Nightingale’s Song at Midnight and the Morning Rain.
  • Ask the children if there are any images in the picture that make them think of night-time. Can they see any moon or star-like shapes? Talk about the other shapes used, including triangles, circles and rectangles.
  • Examine the lines in the picture. What colour does the artist use for the lines? Look for examples of zigzag, wavy and straight lines, and the use of spirals. Challenge the children to find lines that are used to join or cut through shapes.
  • Invite the children to work with a partner and use black felt-tipped pens to draw examples of the shapes and lines that they see in the picture. Pin the drawings on a board and encourage positive discussion of each others’ drawings.
  • Explain that you want the children to use Miró’s work as a starting point for their own artwork. Stress that instead of drawing on paper, they will be creating a clay tile and drawing and painting on that. Demonstrate the steps shown opposite to teach the technique of preparing the tile and drawing onto clay.
  • Encourage the children to be creative in their own ways. Make it clear that you value their own ideas and creativity and do not want them to copy your example, thinking that is the ‘right’ way to do it.

Step 1

Give children time to enjoy squashing, pulling and moulding the clay in their hands to learn about its properties. Younger children may need help to get started if the clay is firm.

Step 2

Roll or squash the clay to about 1cm thickness; any less and it will crumble as it dries. Encourage the children to stand up and press down firmly to manipulate the clay.

Step 3

Mould the clay into a stone-like shape. Then either leave it that shape or cut it into a more formal shape using a cutter or template. (We have left it as a stone in this example.)

Step 4

Refer to Miró’s work, The Nightingale’s Song at Midnight and the Morning Rain, and the children’s drawings of shapes they have observed in his work. Decide which shapes to use when drawing onto the clay.

Step 5

Using a pencil or clay tool, draw the design onto the surface of the clay. Demonstrate how to cover any mistakes or alterations by smoothing the surface of the clay with your finger. Leave the clay to dry thoroughly for a few days.

Step 6

Refer to Miró’s painting and choose appropriate colours to paint the tile. Here we have used ready-mixed paints. You could also sponge on a light coloured paint all over the tile first. For a bright, shiny effect, varnish the finished result.

Taking it further

  • Allow children to mould clay into irregular star or moon shapes. When dry, paint these using metallic paints and display them together on dark blue or black fabric.
  • Invite children to choose images from The Nightingale’s Song at Midnight and the Morning Rain and draw these onto coloured paper. Cut out and arrange the images on backing paper to create a class collage.
  • Ask the children to think of an alternative title for a piece of artwork. For example, instead of The Nightingale’s Song at Midnight they could consider The Blackbird’s Song at Midday and make line drawings in the style of Miró. Remind the children to draw what they would see in the sky.
  • Take the above suggestion a step further by inviting the children to experiment with more surreal ideas for the same title. Explain that there can be no ‘wrong’ ideas. If children choose to draw flying dogs or a blackbird hanging from a parachute, that is their choice. Encourage positive discussion about the finished drawings, and praise creativity.