• supporting creativity in the classroom and beyond •

• supporting creativity in the classroom and beyond •

Sunday, March 15, 2015

what can you do with an old map?

Like a lot of people, I scout around on Pinterest for ideas. When I find an art activity that looks interesting, I post it to my own "Art Things To Try" Pinterest board. So the other day when I was getting ready to substitute in a friend's second grade classroom, I went looking on that board for something new to do. I landed on two different ideas that intrigued me. One was using bleeding tissue paper with just water to create colored paper; the other was creating a cityscape collage using the classified pages from a newspaper. Jumping off those two ideas, I came up with this cityscape idea.

To create the colorful background, the students used bleeding tissue paper, applied to wet paper. I happened to have an overabundance of blue and pink tissue paper, so I encouraged them to mix the blues and add a little pink to suggest a morning or evening sky. They just needed to brush on a little water, apply a torn piece of tissue paper, and continue applying sections of tissue until about half the paper was covered. We let it sit for about a half hour, then peeled off the tissue paper.

Since I had recently discovered about thirty old maps in my filing cabinet, we used those for the buildings. I cut up several, handed them out, and showed the students how to draw rectangles in between the folds with black marker or crayon, draw windows, and then cut them out. I suggested that they make eight or nine buildings of different sizes, and encouraged them to draw some interesting rooflines. I demonstrated putting the taller ones in the back with a little space between them, and then the shorter ones in front, to create a feeling of depth.

I love the colors of the buildings drawn on maps, and it was interesting to watch kids actually choose sections of maps to use. One student even flipped her map over and drew a building on the list of cities. The skies are particularly beautiful. We had talked about leaving white space to represent clouds, and many did, but the best part of this was that no glue was involved at all... just water! The colors are brilliant and the blending is actually more interesting than with a tissue paper (with glue) collage because the water helped bleed the tissue color more fluidly than glue.

This lesson will definitely go into my file for future use... and I still have a ton of maps!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

what artists do

When I was teaching art on a regular basis, I created some very simple visuals to remind students that art begins with observation, that artists think about what they are going to do before they do it, and that before they start they have to make some choices... about materials, size, format, composition, etc.

My original "posters" were simple, hand-drawn with Mr. Sketch markers (my favorite! and yes, I know they smell, but the colors are outstanding), created quickly on the fly one morning before school started. I displayed them in my classroom and found that I was referring to them quite often during art lessons to remind students to slow down and take care with their creations.

Somewhere along the line I decided to offer them for free in my TeachersPayTeachers store, and they've been picked up by many, but I always meant to update them with new drawings. And then the other day I shifted gears, got an idea, went into my clip art files, and revised them using clip art from my absolutely favorite TeachersPayTeachers clip artist -- A Sketchy Guy.

These days, I occasionally drop in to teacher friends' classrooms to do art lessons with their students. I always write LOOK.... THINK....CHOOSE....DO on the board before starting, but now I'm thinking of just printing these out, having them laminated in a strip, and hanging them up before every art lesson.

I just love the way these look. Wander on over to my TeachersPayTeachers store and pick up a free set for your classroom. And while you're there, visit A Sketchy Guy's TeachersPayTeachers store, too. You might find something you can use in your own classroom!

Monday, November 24, 2014


Sometimes I work backward, like with this little color theory activity. One day on Facebook I came upon a free turkey-coloring page that was filled with pattern. Normally I avoid coloring pages like the plague, preferring students to be creating their own drawings. But there was just something about this one. I thought maybe I could give some color instructions, like use all warm colors or all cool colors.

But then I had another idea: use analogous colors.

Rather than just tell students what analogous colors were, we would make a color wheel!

I thought all this through on the drive to school (40 minutes, mountains to valley, a view to die for... but I digress....)

I started by having students draw a large, equilateral triangle on the top half of their paper. It had to be large, so I checked for size right away. If it seemed small, I had them turn it over and make it bigger. That triangle was superimposed by another triangle the same size, but "upside down" (which, of course, is a misnomer, since a triangle is a triangle no matter what direction it sits in, but I digress again....)

At the very top, I asked them to make a yellow circle and color it in, then do a red and blue on the other vertices of the first triangle. They knew what happened when red and yellow, blue and yellow, and red and blue are combined, so we drew and colored in circles of those colors in their appropriate vertices.

Under these triangles, I had them note "primary colors" and "secondary colors" and then we went on to the tertiaries. (I love that a box of crayons has all the colors one needs for this, but again, I digress...)

Finally, we were able to talk about those analogous colors... the ones next to each other. Once I felt confident that most of the students could identify three analogous colors using the color wheel (I had made a large one, along with them, as a model), I showed them the turkey page and gave directions to choose four analogous colors for coloring. The key was to have them show me their color choices before I gave them the coloring page. If they had an outlier, I asked them to look again.
As they finished coloring their turkeys, I had them write "This turkey is analogous." on their paper and then write on the back of the paper what analogous colors are.

They had a great color lesson, a relaxing coloring session, and got a little writing in to boot. I found something interesting to do with a plain old coloring sheet. Win-win for everybody!

The coloring sheet was found at http://doodle-art-alley.com.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

still life contour drawing

Drawing is all about seeing, and still life drawing lessons are particularly good for emphasizing the importance of careful observation. When teaching this still life lesson, I started by "thinking out loud" to show how I observe and define shapes and lines. With a quick model drawing, I showed how to overlap items, talked about how those items in front are a little further down the page than those behind, and talked just a little about shadows and shading. Then I turned the kids loose with colored pencils in secondary colors only.

The drawing subject matter is always simply a collection of random items I have lying around the house, plus a few gems from a box I keep in the garage labeled "candles and trinkets".... you know... those items you don't really want to throw away quite yet, but don't really want out, either.

In this case, I also brought in a selection of colorful gourds and a bouquet of autumn-colored chrysanthemums, so each of three tables had a bud vase with flowers. Each table had a slightly different selection of items and every student already had a mini pumpkin on their desk so I invited them to add those to their drawings. I also suggested that they did not need to draw every item, that they could draw only those items they wanted to draw. Other directions included not to color everything in, and to think about overlapping and shading.

And to look, look, look very carefully at the items they were drawing.

I love the vastly different results from different students. Some drew small, some drew large, some overlapped the items, some had them lined up across the center of the page. Some paid great attention to details, others drew in a more general, stylized way.

This drawing lesson followed a "looking at art" activity in which we looked at Norman Rockwell's "Freedom From Want"... an activity that included talking about what was going on in the painting, which turned into talking about main ideas and details. If someone said it looked like Thanksgiving, I asked how they knew, which turned into a discussion about details. I thought that would be a nice segue into a "harvest" type still life drawing, but realized pretty quickly that I had too many generic items in the set-ups and not enough "harvest" items. Something to remember for next time!
Still life drawing is a great way to add a little seasonal art to the classroom, and it's a great way to integrate science, too! It requires practically no prep, other than gathering the items, and it's amazing how much attention some students will give to their drawings. This art lesson is available in my TeachersPayTeachers store. Look for Still Life For Kids:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

harvest moon and spooky trees

Sometimes I get inspiration for art lessons from random pictures, and that's how this one happened. One day my Facebook feed presented a photo of a tree silhouetted against a huge moon and this art lesson immediately formed itself in my mind:  tissue paper collage moon + spooky tree. I could see the end result in my brain, and backtracked through that image to develop the lesson for a second grade classroom.

At first, I thought it would be a fine idea to have the students create the circle using a compass, but no compasses were to be found so I opted for a hand-drawn circle, which turned out to be a huge benefit!  The circle was filled with tissue paper collage, and while that dried, we made the trees -- basically a line drawing outlined with another continuous line, cut on the outside line, and flipped over.

My suggestions to the kids:
Don't put the moon in the exact center of the page.
Don't put the tree in the exact center of the moon.

Some of the kids had a little trouble cutting out the tree shape, especially if they had crossed branches, so I helped by showing them how to cut into a closed shape. For a "first time" try, I think these turned out great! I wrote up the lesson and had a few other teachers try it out, and it was a hit with everyone!

It's a great art lesson for teaching how to use space, talking about the use of warm and cool colors, and working with interesting lines. It was fun, easy, a little messy, and generally pretty successful. And it's perfect for October! Just spooky enough to be "Halloween-y" without all the Halloween hype. This lesson, with step-by-step directions, is available in my TeachersPayTeachers store. Look for Harvest Moon Tree Silhouette!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

what is art?

I often ask kids the question, "What is Art?" And of course, they are quick with the "drawing" and "painting" but they are also quick with the "beautiful" and "fun" and that always leads me to a confusing explanation in an attempt to define the difference between what art actually is and what people think about art. 

So the other morning as I was driving through the rolling hills toward the school where I was scheduled to substitute in a friend's second grade classroom, I was going over the three components of my lesson -- talking about what art is, looking at some art work by Wasily Kandinsky, and then having them work with circles.

And as I drove along, it suddenly occurred to me that I could incorporate a little "fact vs opinion" into this lesson. Why had I never thought of this before?

In the past, whenever I've done this introduction, I've always explained why I could not put the words "beautiful" and "cool" and "awesome" on the chart, because my goal was geared more toward documenting different media, the elements of design, and sometimes who is involved. But this time I used their opinion words, but I sorted as I wrote their responses, with the factual responses in one column and the opinion responses in another column. When the responses were exhausted, I then defined "fact" as something that is true for everyone and "opinion" as what somebody thinks, something that other people might not agree with. I then reviewed each word on the chart, and threw in some examples here and there.

This strategy made it a lot easier to talk about opinions later on, as we were looking at their art work at the end of the day. I could ask, then, "Is that your opinion or is that a fact?" and we had a lovely anchor chart for reference.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

art goes back to school

In the back-to-school preparation frenzy, art education is the last thing on many, if not most, teachers' minds. And yet, what could be more fun... and even relaxing... than a little art during the first week of school? Best of all, teachers can find out a lot about students' fine motor and other skills, as well as their work habits and level of responsibility and concentration. 
One of my favorite things to do as an art teacher was to start the year with a little multimedia exploration. I set it up like Kindergarten stations, with four different media on four different tables for 1st and 2nd graders, and 3 different media on 3 tables for Kindergarten. Students started in one place and took their papers with them to the next station and added to their design. Kindergarten students used the same paper for the whole exploration, while 1st and ends used two sheets of paper, mixing two media on each paper.
First and Second stations included all of these, and Kindergarten stations were the same, minus the paint:
• tempera paint with brushes and straws for blowing
• crayons
• colored pencils with shapes to trace
• construction paper, scissors, and glue
It took a little extra thinking to decide in which order to arrange the stations for rotation, because each group of students started with a different media, and I wondered how feasible it was going to be for those who started at the paint table. In the end, I decided to just not worry about it and see what happened. Before starting the activity, I quickly introduced the materials at each station and explained the procedure, including making a point of explaining to students that they would keep the same paper when they moved to a new station. Other than that, I didn't really give any earth-shattering directions, because I really did want this to be an exploration.
An interesting side benefit of this activity on our first meeting day was that it gave me an instant overview evaluation of important skills: use of scissors, glue, and brushes; painting technique development; pencil and crayon grip; and fine motor and eye-hand coordination skills. It even revealed what kind of sense students had in putting together a composition, including whether or not they thought about what they were doing. It was especially interesting to see some students just start cutting shapes and gluing them on the paper at random, while others would spend time arranging their shapes just so while gluing, or giving slow, thoughtful attention to how and where they applied paint to paper, or how they lined up shapes for tracing.

Some students were obviously organized and/or methodical, and some students were obviously less so:

For those teachers and administrators who think art is just an extra for random Friday afternoons before vacations, I propose that there is much to be learned, by students and teachers, when children make art. Teachers can learn much about individual students' fine-motor skills, spatial sense, responsibility, and more, and students can learn how to develop concentration, practice motor skills, and more.... not the least being able to express themselves and create a little beauty for this world.

So.... how about starting the school year with a little mixed-media exploration? My store at TeachersPayTeachers has lots of art lessons for teachers who don't have art background. This mixed media exploration is included in the bundle Start With Art, and you'll find a couple of free art lessons, too! Check it out!