Isabelle Johnson 
1983 Governor's Award for the Visual Arts
Isabelle Johnson was born in Absarokee, Montana, and attended public schools in Billings. She earned a 
B.A. degree from the University of Montana in Missoula and the Master of Arts degree from Columbia University. She also studied at the Los Angeles Museum School, the University of Southern California, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, and the Art Students' League.

In 1946, she was selected by Henry Varnum Poor to be one of 25 students for an experimental school in Skowhegan, Maine, an experience which had a profound effect on her work. She returned to Montana to teach in the Billings Public Schools and from 1949 to 1961, at Eastern Montana College, where she also chaired the Art Department. She returned to the Johnson home ranch, where she continued to paint and to write until her death in May, 1992, at the age of 91. 

Isabelle produced a prodigious number of paintings, comprising a major body of work reflective of the Montana landscape. Her many students have been enriched by working with her, and the impact of her own work continues to stimulate younger artists. She bequeathed her entire studio collection to the Yellowstone Art Center. That remarkable gift included 71 oil paintings, 240 watercolors, 317 individual drawings and 40 sketchbooks (comprised of 834 pages of drawings).  In addition to the Yellowstone Art Center's collection, her work was seen in exhibitions at the Montana Historical Society, the C.M Russell Museum, the Amon Carter Museum (Fort Worth, Texas). Her lifelong interest in the history of her home county led her to help found the Stillwater Historical Society and write, in her later years, a history of the Stillwater Valley. 



USE OF THIS SUITCASE LESSON

It is suggested that you may wish to view the video first, as an introduction to the artist. Next, take a look at the reproductions of Isabelle's art, and read the booklet about her life, as each lesson suggests.  Explorations of her art will show you that her painting style was somewhat abstracted, and mostly about Montana nature images.  

Next, follow instructions for one of the general lessons geared for either K-4 (drawing and finger painting) or 5 -12 (drawing and painting) which may take several art periods to finish.

Finally, choose one or all of the remaining lessons to explore the use of ink for creating values from black to many grays, and finally to white - thus showing an entire value range, similar to a black and white newspaper photograph or a black and white television image. We need this entire range to more accurately portray shadows, lights, subtleties and nuances.

The watercolor lesson is suggested for junior high and high school students and for this lesson, either water colors or tempera (water based) paint may be used. If desired, oil paints may be substituted.

Lessons are intended as guides and we expect the teacher to adapt the materials according to her/his own needs. 

Variation: A written assignment may evolve in conjunction with any of the lessons. Because Isabelle Johnson's paintings were often about a special place, we suggest that you might wish to ask your students to write about a place of importance, then proceed to make a drawing and then a painting about that place. You might wish to show some examples of other artist's works which are in an abstracted style as further reinforcement to suggest that art does not have to be exactly realistic. In this way, each result can be a completely individual expression. 

We hope that you enjoy using this suitcase lesson. Good luck, and have fun!
 

Art Methods students: 
Tim Kern 
Jake Ping 
Mike Wilson 
Dave Loewen 
Sally Colburn EdD, Assistant Professor of Art/Education 



SUITCASE LESSON 
ISABELLE JOHNSON, ARTIST

Until the last 100 years, women were not generally recognized in art history references. Before this, women were recognized for art forms such as china painting, quilting, and needlepoint. However, in this century women artists have taken their place of honor among their male counterparts. In 1981, the Montana Arts Council, the state agency responsible for fostering the arts in Montana, began a Governor's Arts Awards Program to recognize both outstanding artists and outstanding service to the arts. Isabelle Johnson won the Governor's Arts Award for Visual Arts in 1983. Isabelle Johnson represents a woman who has had a long career in the arts, as an art teacher and as an artist. She was a painter. She also ran a ranch. 

The Montana Chapter of the National Museum of Women in the Arts is pleased to sponsor this Suitcase Lesson. Part of the purpose of this organization is "to encourage the development and recognition of Montana women in the arts."

This Suitcase Lesson was created by students in the Art Methods class at University of Montana -- Western of the University of Montana. We hope that you enjoy using the lesson as an arts resource for your classroom.

This art teaching resource is for the classroom teacher to have a visual art resource unit.  The purpose for creating the unit is threefold: 
1 . To give students familiarity with a Montana artist 
2. To inspire students to make art and become artists 
3. To teach a r t methods 

This package contains the following materials: 
A biography sheet about Johnson 
Six laminated reproductions of paintings by Isabelle Johnson 
A video about Johnson 
Five lesson plans, each dealing with a different medium: 

  • ink (Flair pen) and water
  • watercolor
  • oil painting
  • finger-painting
  • pencil drawing
An overhead color transparency of Johnson's painting: East Fiddler Creek (made from a slide from the Yellowstone Arts Center, Billings, Montana)
A booklet about Johnson, compliments of Yellowstone Arts Center
A pamphlet about Johnson's workA list of questions to ask when looking at a piece of artwork

A special Thanks to the Montana Arts Council for sharing the videos showing the artist being 
presented with the Governor's Award for the Arts. Special thanks to Yellowstone Arts Center for 
providing information and materials. 
Note: University of Montana -- Western pays to send this to you. You will need to pay return postage.



Lesson Plan
Based on Isabelle Johnson's Work 
Grade Level 5 -12 

Isabelle Johnson...... 

  • painted the emotion and the feeling
  • loved the Montana scenery
  • painted in an impressionistic abstract style
  • worked primarily in oil paint and water color
To have the students depict in oil paint or water colors their favorite local landscape in a similar way as that of Isabelle Johnson. The goal of the lesson is to capture the feeling the student experiences when thinking about this locale, not to paint a photographic reproduction of it. 

Lesson Rationale:
In keeping with the Disciplined Based Art Education (DBAE) curriculum standards, through this exercise students will be exploring the concept of expressing feeling and emotion in art production using colors, shapes, values, etc. The students will be more apt to show and explore these feelings when thinking about a special 
place that is important to them. The students will also be looking some history behind Isabelle Johnson, discussing some of her work, and critiquing their own work. 

Plan:

  • Introduce the project to the students.
  • Give background and history of Isabelle Johnson.
  • Display the Isabelle Johnson prints provided and discuss the feelings the students get and why.
  • Discuss the feelings Isabelle Johnson may have had.
  • Ask questions of the students from the enclosed Questions to ask when looking at a piece of artwork.
  • Have the students sketch a drawing of a special place and list the colors they feel when thinking about this place.
  • From the sketch, using the colors the students have listed, have them develop their paintings, always reminding them that capturing the feeling is what's important.
  • Upon completion of their paintings, students can discuss their work and give opinions on other students' work.
Note: This lesson may take several class periods. Water soluble acrylic paint may be substituted in for oil paints. Students may paint on stretched canvas, canvas board, formica, tag board, cardboard, etc. Painting on plain paper should be avoided because it is less durable and tends to buckle and wrinkle when paint is applied to it.


LESSON PLAN
SEEING VALUES USING INK AND WATER

Lesson Topic: Observing and applying the value scale in art paintings and drawings. 

Rationale: The understanding and application of the value scale is a fundamental part of 
art. Different values create depth and edges. It is also used to create mood in a painting or drawing. 

Objectives: The student will: 

  • understand and apply the value scale.
  • create 2 flair pen and water drawings of types of trees (or other subject matter) using the full range of the value scale.
  • explore the flair pen and water technique.
Materials:
  • colored flair pens
  • water brushes
  • paper
Evaluation:
  • completion of project containing at least 3 value ranges
  • student self evaluation.


LESSON PLAN
EXPRESSIVE LINES USING PEN AND INK AND/OR PENCIL 

Lesson Topic: Observe and apply expressive line qualities in a landscape sketch, drawing, and painting. 

Rationale: The use of expressive lines invokes feelings of motion and emotion to a sketch, drawing, or painting. 

Objectives: The student will: 

  • create a landscape drawing using the pen and ink technique or pencil.
  • use expressive line qualities to show shape, motion and emotion that they wish to convey from the setting.
  • become aware of expressive line qualities in a landscape or other drawings.
Materials:
  • pen and ink (nibs of various sizes and shapes).
  • paper
  • pencils (optional)
Evaluation:
  • completion of project containing different line qualities
  • student self evaluation.


LESSON PLAN
WATER COLOR WET INTO WET TECHNIQUES

Lesson Topic: Explore water color painting using the wet into wet technique.

Rationale: Learning about water color techniques is helpful for understanding the random, surprise element 
which results from allowing paint to flow. 

Objectives: The student will: 

  • Understand the difference between the wet and dry brush techniques.
  • Create a landscape painting of choice, using wet as well as dry brush techniques.
Materials:
  • water or tempera paints
  • watercolor paper
  • brushes
  • back boards
  • gum tape
  • stapler


LESSON PLAN-WATER COLOR-WET INTO WET TECHNIQUES

Lesson Plan Based on Isabelle Johnson's Work 
Grade Level K - 4 
Isabelle Johnson...... 

  • painted the feeling and emotion
  • loved the Montana scenery
  • painted in an impressionistic / abstract style
  • worked primarily in oil paints and water color
Lesson Objective: To have students depict in finger paints their favorite special place. The goal of this lesson is to allow the younger student a chance to express how they feel about their special place using colors and shapes in a similar way as Isabelle Johnson. 

Lesson Rationale: In keeping with the Disciplined Based Art Education (DBAE) curriculum standards, through this exercise students will be exploring the concept of expressing feeling and emotion in art production using specific colors, shapes, and design.  Students will also be looking at the life of Isabelle Johnson, discussing her work and critiquing their own. 

Plan:

  • Introduce the project to the students.
  • Introduce Isabelle Johnson and give brief history.
  • Display the Isabelle Johnson Prints provided and discuss the feelings the students get and why.
  • Discuss the feelings Isabelle Johnson may have had.
  • Ask questions of the students from the enclosed Questions to ask when looking at a piece of artwork.
  • Have the students sketch a drawing using paper and pencil of a special place and have them list the colors they feel when thinking about this place.
  • From the sketch, using the colors the students have listed, have them begin to develop their finger painting, always reminding them that capturing the feeling is what's important.
  • Upon completion of their paintings, students can discuss their work and give opinions on other students' work.
Note: This lesson may take I to 2 hours or longer depending on how in-depth the teacher wishes to go. students may finger paint on newsprint, cardboard, tag board, heavy construction paper, etc.


Questions to Ask When Looking at a Piece of Artwork
  • Who is the artist?
  • Where is the artist from?
  • What medium was used to create this piece?
  • Why do you think so?
  • In what style is this piece created?
  • What do I like about this art work and why?
  • What does this art work remind me of?
  • What kind of message or meaning does the work express?
  • What is my favorite color, shape or line in this artwork?
  • What story might you invent to go along with this artwork?
  • If I could go inside the painting (drawing, sculpture, etc.) where would I go and how would it feel?
  • How much time did it take to make this artwork?
  • How carefully is the artwork crafted?
  • Where do you suppose the artist got his/her idea for the artwork?
  • The time the artist spent working on the art?
  • The skill of the artist?
  • How realistic it is.
  • How eye-catching it is.
  • The feelings or emotions it gives me.
  • How (or if) it makes me think about the world in some new way.
  • How original or different it is from other works I've seen.
  • The beauty of the subject depicted.
  • How much it sells for.
  • Other (please describe:________ _.)
  • I f you were going to make a work of art like this one, how would you do it?
  • How do you think the artist made this work of art? Why do you think so?
  • Why do you think the artist made it? What things i n the work make you think so?
  • I f you could choose one of the works of art you see here to take home, which one would you choose? Why?
  • Where in your home would you put the work of art which you chose?
  • Choosing two works of art, how could you compare and contrast?
  • How are these works alike? And different?