Flame Painter: An Exploration of Kandinsky, Synesthesia and Digital Art!

I love Vasily Kandinsky’s work!  The idea of synesthesia (or hearing colors) is fascinating to me.  The Noisy Paintbox by Barb Rosenstock. explains how Kandinsky discovered his gift of synesthesia.  The book is full of remarkable illustrations.  If for some reason you can’t read the actual book, here is a video of the book being read:


The tension between the ‘correct’ way to create art and the expression of an inner interpretation of something is intriguing to me.

I asked the third grade students to think about times that music has been particularly inspirational to them.  We talked about how various artists have used music to kickstart their art.

I shared this video that shows several of Kandinsky’s expressionist paintings and some music.  It would be a perfect soundtrack to have students create their own works of art.


We talked about what they noticed about the colors, shapes and the juxtaposition of the objects on the canvas.  It was a tough thing for them to think about how ‘sounds’ would be represented in color.  We wondered aloud if it would be a blessing or a challenge, or both to have this ‘extra’ sense.

Next we opened the webpage: http://www.escapemotions.com/experiments/flame/

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I’m not sure how, but this online demo is free.  For our purposes, that’s all we needed or wanted to try.  I just wanted the kids to create to music.  I considered watercolor, crayon and many other alternatives, but none of them produced as vibrant and unique images like what is able to be made on Flame Painter.

You create simply by moving the mouse across the palette.  When you click the mouse, it adds color.  You can tweak the gradient, noise, opacity, color palette, eraser and more with the simple click and drag interface.

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I knew my ‘ultimate’ goal of these pieces was to print them huge on our poster printer and hang them from our vaulted ceiling.  So, I had the students change the background color to white.  It’s a shame actually because the colors ‘pop’ so much more against the black, but would use up all of our ink if we did try to print in black.

Once  I felt the kids (in small groups) understood how to use the interface, I cued up some of my favorite music to use to ‘inspire’ them: Mussorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition.


There are stronger, more emotive parts of the pieces, so listen to it and choose the sections that you think are the most illustrative.

The students made several creations and chose their favorite.  I had them name them too.  That was an interesting  Then the students completed a reflection sheet:

These were the questions that got them thinking:

How did the music make you feel? What emotions did you feel or experience (Write at least three sentences)

Describe the colors and effects you chose and explain why you chose them: 

Give three describing words that would help others understand what you learned from this experience.

After the students completed their reflection sheet, they went around and looked at the various creations made by their classmates.  We ended the lesson by pulling up the images and talking a bit about what inspired us to create the way we did.

Finally, we chatted about creating this way.  We talked about what they liked and disliked. We discussed how using a digital ‘brush’ was the same and different from an actual brush, and how the pixels responded differently than chalk or paint would.

After teaching this lesson, I discovered this phenomenal installation at the Dolby Headquarters.

Collide – digital art installation from onformative on Vimeo.

Lastly, we printed them huge on our poster printer.  The finished prints were 2′ by 6′ and are stunningly beautiful!

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