Urban Lettering

by Lisa Gardner

One challenge most of us probably face is feeling like we don’t have enough time with our students.  For instance, this year I see my 7th grade classes every third day (once or twice a week).  Since our time is so limited, I try to bundle as many SOLs as I can into my lessons.  I want the students’ short time in art to be as enjoyable, memorable, and educational as possible. 

Initially, the idea for this lesson came from a Norfolk art teacher who presented a workshop at TVAEA’s Winter Workshop last year.  Below are some examples produced from my 7th grade students.

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I began my “urban lettering” lesson by showing works by a graffiti artist named “Above.”  Students were captivated by the human struggles and world issues addressed in many of his works.  Our discussion of these social issues produced feelings of empathy that inspired students to brainstorm words with “personal meaning” for use in their painting.gardner 2







Another aspect discussed was how personal opinion varies when determining “art or graffiti.”  I thought a perfect example of this was the true-life drama surrounding the court case of the City of Norfolk vs. Kevin Gallup which took place a few years ago.   As I presented the story, students voiced strong feelings about the chain of events.  They were able to assume the role as judge and share how they would rule on this court case.  Their discussion about the differences between vandalism, street art, and public art could have lasted all day.  Students were required to submit a written explanation of the “word” they chose along with their finished paintings.  I was extremely happy with the process involved with this lesson as well as how engaged the students were while creating their works.  gardner 3

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