• supporting creativity in the classroom and beyond •

• supporting creativity in the classroom and beyond •

Thursday, July 16, 2015

making time for art [a repost]

Another school year will be starting soon, and I look ahead to creating art with kids when substituting in my friends' classrooms. It's great fun to watch students be creative, to help them see that there is more than one right answer to an art-making challenge and to see them learn that creativity means letting go a bit and taking some risks.

I also love just giving them some time to use their imaginations and express themselves.

Sadly, I hear more and more teachers say they don't have time for art.
And I can help!

Making Time For Art is a free download in my store at TeachersPayTeachers. This resource offers suggestions and ideas for finding and making time for art. It includes:

• ideas for integrating art into other subject matter
• a basic list of art materials to have on hand
• ideas for teaching students to think and act like artists.

Making art is important for all students, and it's especially important for those who learn best with hands-on experiences and those who learn visually. Art experience is instrumental when students need to illustrate a story or poem, create a graph or chart, or use pictures or other graphics to supplement or support their writings.

Need a place to start

Start With Art includes five comprehensive, open-ended art lessons that introduce young students to the elements of design and allow them to work with a variety of simple, common materials. Each lesson takes about an hour, including an introduction and a "talking about art" session where students analyze the success of their own art work.

These art lessons are written with "non-art-oriented" teachers in mind, with detailed directions, photos of students art work for reference, and ideas for integrating across curriculum. Start With Art is also available in my store on TeachersPayTeachers,

I know that there IS time for art in every classroom, if a teacher uses time creatively and understands that visual literacy is just as important as other kinds of literacy.

Creating art with kids ..... enjoy it!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

flowers, shading, and the creative process

It's a common art lesson: close-up, enlarged flowers inspired by Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings. In this case, instead of paint, we used oil pastels. And because this particular second grade class had not used them before, I did do some modeling before turning them loose to work, showing them how to put down a bit of color and then spread it out with their fingertips to create the shading. They came up with the word smear during the demonstration.

First we did look at several examples of O'Keeffe's flower paintings. I chose ones that showed the centers, and made sure I had at least a few that went "off the page" because that was what I was going to ask them to do. They noticed that her paintings used bright colors, that the centers of the flowers had extra petals or other interesting parts, and one student noticed that there was a lot of shading. Yes! So on the chart I was creating, I set that word aside and gave it some prominence. I also wrote the word close-up off to the side, and reiterated that they would draw a flower in close-up, then shade it.

To demonstrate how to draw the flower itself, I showed them how to position a loosely drawn circle near the center of the paper, but not directly in the center, they to draw petals that went totally off the paper. I made a dramatic display of completing the petal shapes -- in the air, but not drawn -- going beyond the paper's edges. After demonstrating how to use the pastels, I posted several large, close-up photographs of flowers and had them take a look at color, shape, and some of the details in the centers of the flowers. I had intended to get into a discussion about radial symmetry, but decided to leave that for another time.

So I sent them off to create their own.

And we ended up with some beautiful results.

But before we got to this end point, some interesting things happened. Like one student doing the shading with the side of her fist. Like another student pressing some of the oil pastels so hard that the color was thick on the paper, with tactile texture, and the black lines from the Sharpies were missing. Like a few of the students deciding to color their flowers with each petal a different color.

I don't know if it's right or wrong, but I redirected these multi colorings in a direction that was more scientifically accurate, such as petals that were the same all the way around, whether they were one color or several colors.

So I learned some things, too, and had some things to consider. Like, how much modeling is enough? How much is too much, and how much is too little? Like, how much explanation is necessary? Like, at what point should a teacher just let the students mess with the colors, and at what point does the teacher step in and suggest something that is liable to produce a result that is more likely to follow the initial directions?

I want them to be creative, but I also want them to learn art technique that works, how materials are used to their best advantage, and to end up with a successful piece of art work that still shows their personality, and not mine. And most of all, I want them to think about what they are doing in the process, to take care with it, care about what they are doing, and like and be proud of it when they are finished.

I think these pretty much fit that bill:

Friday, April 3, 2015

haiku for all seasons

Second Grade Work
Haiku is one of my personal favorite poetry genres, rich with images, spare of words. Teaching children to write Haiku is not difficult, and it gives them a little practice with syllabication. It's a great supplement with units on seasons, animals, habitats, or other science topics!

For this lesson, the Haiku writing is only the first part; to me, they are incomplete until illustrated. I have done this lesson with second graders, at-risk students, English language learners of all elementary grades, and with fourth and fifth graders. The basic format of the lesson is identical for each of these groups; differentiations are made for specific needs. For example, a little more work on syllabication with second graders and English-language learners, and a push for more rich and detailed vocabulary with older students.

Second Grade Work
It's important to help students understand that Haiku does not tell a story, but simply presents an image for the reader to visualize. And I always tell students that it's more important to get a clear, beautiful image than to have the exact syllabication, so a little fudging is allowed. 
I always do a shared writing activity first, writing a Haiku with students. I model making a word bank, trying out different words, testing the syllables, and trying substitute words if the syllabication is not correct. But that 5-7-5 pattern can be tricky, especially for little ones, so I do make sure they know it's ok to leave a syllable out or add an extra, if they can't make their image work with the words they want to use.

Fourth Grade Work
Children can write a Haiku pretty quickly if they have an abundant word bank, so I do like to have them try two or three and then choose their favorite for publishing with illustration. Most often, I have students do a torn paper collage for the illustration, but cut paper collage, drawings, and even just a colorful tissue paper collage are just as beautiful.

Illustrated Haiku is a wonderful way to integrate Art with Language Arts, and it also can easily connect to Science as well. Any nature-oriented subject matter is appropriate, and the results make a beautiful, colorful, and maybe even informative bulletin board display.

This lesson, Illustrated Haiku for All Seasons, is available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store for those who would like step-by-step directions.

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: