This was a drawing project for 4-6 year olds, inspired by the 19th century Japanese master printmaker, Hokusai. His most iconic work is the woodblock print, Under the great wave off Kanagawa, which dates from around 1832 (pictured below).
Each child was given a copy of the print to refer to, and we started the session by looking closely at the shapes of Hokusai’s waves, the way he depicts the white foam, and the boats almost hidden within the surf. Several children noticed the mountain at the centre of the picture – Mount Fuji – which looks tiny compared to the crashing waves. One of Hokusai’s waves is similar in shape to the mountain, making a direct reference to its colossal size. I also pointed out the stripes of light and dark blue underneath the waves, which help to show the dynamic movement of the water.
The children used black pens to draw their own waves, and then added boats and people in the water. If you look closely at their drawings, there are boats riding the tops of the waves, surfers, and people being thrown out of their vessels or jumping out with smiles on their faces!
Colour was added using oil pastels in just three colours – white, blue (a range of shades) and yellowish-brown – which reflect Hokusai’s palette.
I encouraged the kids to try and recreate the energy and movement of the waves swelling and crashing by drawing with lots of energy and movement!
Some of the drawings ended up looking really abstract, such as the one pictured above.
This child’s drawing reminds me of the prominent British mid-twentieth century painter, Peter Lanyon (1918-1964), whose gestural, abstract paintings referred to the sea, the sky and the weather around the Cornish coast where he lived.
Pictured to the right is Peter Lanyon’s 1959 oil painting on canvas, Lost Mine, which is in the collection of the Tate in London.
To finish off, some of the children signed their names in a vertical line, to emulate the Japanese characters of Hokusai’s signature.
Watch the slideshow below to see all of the children’s Great Waves: