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Above the Gravel Pit

Above the Gravel Pit, 1936
oil on paper
61.0 x 91.1 cm
Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Anonymous Gift
1980.038.001

Above the Gravel Pit

Above the Gravel Pit, 1937
oil on canvas
77.2 x 102.3 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
VAG 42.3.30
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery

An Artist's Materials

Objective:

Students explore Emily Carr's choice of art materials.

Description of Activity:

Students produce two versions of Carr's painting Above the Gravel Pit, 1936-1937: one by using traditional artists' materials such as watercolour and heavy paper to create a two-dimensional image, and the other by using non-traditional materials such as found objects to create a collage.

Duration:

2 sessions, 60 minutes each
Independent research time

Background Information for Teachers:

Working in an experimental style, Emily Carr often found it difficult to make a living as an artist. She sold only a small number of paintings in her lifetime, often for prices that did not reflect the cost of her materials, let alone her time and energy. As a result, Carr found inventive ways to "extend" the life of her materials, such as oil paint. Economic necessity was only one factor in her use of new and often unusual art materials. Carr was also interested in finding ways to ease and enhance her interpretations of the forests of British Columbia and First Nations culture.

Her ingenuity is apparent in her decision to mix oil paints with gasoline (an inexpensive product at the time). The gas thinned the paint, making it easier to manipulate on the canvas. It also stretched her supply of paint. Similarly, for her sketches and some paintings she used manila paper, which was both economical and lightweight. She could easily carry large amounts of paper with her when she worked outdoors. Carr continued to paint on stretched canvas and to work with conventional materials such as watercolour and charcoal, but her unconventional materials remind us that her creativity and inventiveness as an artist extended beyond her use of form and colour.

Read more about Emily Carr's choice of art materials.

Preparation for Teachers:

  • Examine Above the Gravel Pit, 1936, and Above the Gravel Pit, 1937. Carr painted two separate versions of this work between 1936 and 1937, one using oil mixed with gasoline on paper, the other using oil on canvas.
  • Read the excerpts from Carr's autobiography and journal (see Appendix) that follow this activity, in which she describes her preference for oil mixed with gasoline on paper.

Materials for Students:

  • Reproductions of both versions of Above the Gravel Pit, 1936–1937 (one for each student)
  • Heavy paper
  • Paint (watercolour or oil paint when available)
  • Found objects (provided by students)
  • Cardboard
  • Glue

Process:

Part I

  • Introduce students to the material aspects of Carr's work. Show them both versions of Carr's painting Above the Gravel Pit, 1936–1937, one painted with oil mixed with gasoline on paper, the other with oil on canvas. Compare the two works.
  • Invite students to produce a version of Above the Gravel Pit using heavy paper and paint.
  • Display students' work.

Part II

  • Have students produce the same work again, as a collage made from non-traditional materials (fabric, natural materials, recyclables).
  • Display this work alongside their paintings.

Discussion:

  • Have students discuss the experience of working with different types of materials. What were the benefits of each material? What were the limitations?
  • Return to Carr's reasons for experimenting with materials. Based on their observations, have students speculate on why Carr might have chosen to vary her materials.

Further Engagement:

  • Invite students to research other materials that Carr worked with, including ceramics and textiles, using this web site.

Appendix: Quotes from Emily Carr