Favorite Places Project Captures Upper Students’ Special Memories of UCLA Lab School

Place plays a strong role in childhood memory and imagination, and the UCLA Lab School campus, with its shady groves, open yards and colorful nooks for learning and play, holds especially vivid meaning for the generations of students who grow up here.

As our Upper II students prepared to culminate and move on to middle school, reflecting on a place on campus that is special to them provided rich inspiration for writing a “Favorite Places” memoir. The students deepened their reflection by creating photographs and paintings to complement their essays.

A Process of Discovery, Reflecting and Making Art

The project began with a whole-group brainstorm session. Then students took their writers’ notebooks to the Dino Yard, Blacktop playground, Redwood Forest, North Yard, the Creek, Apu’s Garden and other special campus spots to write notes or make drawings about their sweet memories.

To get the feel and sound of memoir, we also read aloud books by Eloise Greenfield, Lois Lowry and Ralph Fletcher. Over the next weeks, students drafted their notes, observations and drawings into memoir. They spent many hours revising and editing them to perfection.

During this time, the students also took cameras to their favorite places. They created wonderful views of the places where they played hide-and-seek, ate lunch, told funny stories and shared tears throughout their elementary school years. Following our Upper II tradition, they decided to create paintings based on the photos.

Cubism Provides a Different Way of Seeing

For added inspiration, we explored the Cubist work of Diego Rivera and Pablo Picasso featured in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art show, “Picasso and Rivera: Conversations Across Time.” First, we closely examined landscapes, portraits and still lifes by the two artists, asking the same questions we do when we view primary sources: What do you see? What do you think it means? What questions might you have?

Then, we experimented with drawing using the Cubist style. Students looked at everyday objects such as their water bottles, and created prism-like images, repeating shapes they liked, drawing the form in parallel and adding extra vertical and horizontal lines. Students then added texture through shading, stippling or cross-hatching. Next, they turned to their favorite place photographs and rendered Cubist-style pencil drawings from them, each student emphasizing a favorite part of his or her photograph.

Students were eager to paint their images so they transferred their Cubist sketches from sketchbooks onto 18- x 24-inch canvases.

Their next step was to look back at their photos to identify key colors for their paintings. Students mixed the colors — multiple browns, greens, blues and others —  and recorded the color recipes in their sketchbooks. Students worked cooperatively to help each other achieve the subtleties they wanted from their palettes. For example, students learned from each other the impact of using chrome yellow versus deep yellow and ultramarine versus cobalt blue in mixing greens.

Like Rivera and Picasso, the students painted in layers. They began painting their images in acrylics with a watercolor-like wash to give their paintings added richness and definition. Later they added full-strength colors from their color studies in their sketchbooks. Referring again to their mentor painters, on top of the layer of dense, basic painting, they added a layer of shading and texturing, mimicking the cross-hatching, stippling or gradations they had in their pencil sketches. Sometimes students painted many layers to achieve the density and saturation of color they imagined. They often worked over many sessions in small groups to meet their goals.

The final step was to add a layer of oil pastel to emphasize the main area of focus in the paintings. Here we talked again about composition and also about how colors come forward or recede in a painting. Students constantly consulted both their Cubist-style sketches and their favorite place photographs to develop their paintings over many weeks.

Sharing Our Work With the School Community

The final step in the process for students was displaying and sharing their Favorite Place memoirs, photographs and paintings at our Upper II Memoir Celebration for parents and at the school’s 135th Anniversary Celebration, both in April.

Later in the spring we moved the work to the gallery in the school’s main hallway for visitors and the entire school community to enjoy.


Student Voices

I think that the Cubist project was a great opportunity for kids like myself to learn a little about Cubism and art. – Beija S.

My challenge was: How can I make my painting really look like my favorite place and still use Cubism? – Ezra C.

I think the Cubist project showed me that there are no mistakes in art. – Malachi E.W.

The Cubist project showed me that you can’t go wrong with art and don’t be afraid to be abstract. – Max S.

At first I didn’t know what Cubism was and when I saw the drawings, I thought it was strange.  When the teacher told us that we had to do extra marks, I thought it would be really bad. But once we started to do it, the picture turned out really well. If you make a mistake, you can cover it up with Cubism because you can’t make a mistake in this kind of art. – Kana O.

The Cubist project was fun. We got to find our favorite place, use the camera to find the perfect angle and find all the different ways we could distort our photos to make them the best. – Jake E.

What was surprising was how much fun it was. I thought it would be really hard to draw the shapes perfectly, but then I realized that it’s Cubism and it doesn’t need to be perfect. It’s one painting where you add texture and mix things around. I liked how we painted it. Cubism makes paintings exciting with lots to look at. It was hard to find one point to focus on until we brought out the oil pastels and that made everything pop. – Sofia H.