Artist Larry Verdoorn helps students create unique artwork

by: GAZETTE PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - Simpleton artist-in-residence Larry Verdoorn explains to fifth-grade students how they should draw the animal they chose to embellish using previously painted papers; at the front table from left are Dylan Evans, Michael Melillo and Ashton Hughes; at the back table from left are Micheal Starling and Dylan Ely.Middleton Elementary turned into a Color Factory in April and May as artist Larry Verdoorn worked with all the grade levels to mix paint colors and paint thousands of sheets of white paper before turning them into finished pieces of artwork tied to each grade’s curriculum.

Verdoorn first met with the teachers from each grade level and did a planning day with them before Spring Break to learn what subjects the teachers wanted to tie into the art project, which was paid for by a grant from the Sherwood Education Foundation.

The kindergartners’ project was based on the book, “The Hungry Caterpillar;” first-graders were studying the life cycle of frogs; second-graders were studying birds; and third-graders were studying communities, with their project focusing on an “abeula” or grandmother in Spanish; their project featured a village of little houses and buildings with grandmothers looking out the windows. The fourth-graders were studying Native American totem images; and while the fifth-graders’ subject was ordinary animals, Verdoorn encouraged the kids to bring them to life using fanciful colors and patterns.

An example he gave them was artist Eric Carle, who in one of his books painted purple foxes, orange elephants and pink rabbits.

The project started with color selection, as Verdoorn used yellow, magenta and cyan as the base colors instead of the traditional red, yellow and blue. Over four days, 60 students at a time painted sheets of white paper in the gym, which created the foundation for all the artwork projects.

On May 5, as Jennica Smith’s class of fifth-graders trooped into the “Idea Lab” classroom converted into an art studio for the duration of the six-week project, Verdoorn explained the “rules of the studio” and led them through the steps for that day’s assignment.

The kids had already selected the animals they wanted to use, but first they had to draw them freehand much larger than the original, which might have been the most difficult part of the whole process.

When that was finally done, it was time to move on to the more fun part - selecting the painted sheets of paper, cutting out the right shapes for the different parts of the animals and gluing them to black sheets of GAZETTE PHOTO: BARBARA SHERMAN - These fanciful animals were created in one session by Middleton fifth-graders using colorful paper that was previously painted by all the students in the school.

“Think about using colors across the color wheel from each other – they look great together,” Verdoorn told the kids.

Principal Jeremiah Patterson said that Verdoorn came to do art projects at his school in the North Clackamas School District 11 years ago. “He is the best artist and the first person I called,” Patterson said.

Verdoorn taught music in elementary schools for 30 years in the Gresham-Barlow School District, noting that “visual arts are important to me.” He added, “You can use various elements and designs to teach kids because they need to start with the building blocks. I love that kids can be successful given some basic skills, and it builds their confidence.”

Verdoorn is now in this 14th year as an artist in residence at various schools around the metro area. “I still love it, and I’m as busy as I want to be,” he said. “I’ll probably do it until I croak.”

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