• supporting creativity in the classroom and beyond •

• supporting creativity in the classroom and beyond •

Saturday, November 20, 2010

where's the art?

Last spring, the elementary art program in my district met the chopping block.... and lost. When a few creative ideas for bringing the program back were shot down due to assorted legal and contractual technicalities (and, in my mind, also due to a lack of creative thinking coupled with a rigid mind-set), I found myself out of a job after twenty years in the classroom. It's taken me some time to adjust to this, and even though I eventually decided to retire, I have not given up advocating for more authentic art in the classroom. I hope that eventually I can get back in there to make art with students. In the meantime, I'll do what I can here....

Thursday, July 22, 2010

what if?

What if I just put out a bunch of art materials and don't do a lesson? What if I ask students to think about other art they've done? What if I tell them to do something similar to something they've already done, but to change it somehow or, if they want, to just explore?

One student might draw herself in a garden, surrounded by a rainbow, under a rainy-sunny-starry sky:

Another student might explore lines with watercolor and crayon:

Somebody might do a bird collage:

Somebody else might do a three-dimensional line collage:

Somebody might do a shape rubbing:

Somebody else might draw or trace a series of rectangles and fill them with colorful patterns:

And somebody else might make a collage of the sun:

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Frank Asch has a wonderful poem called Sunflakes that's the inspiration for this second grade activity that incorporates radial symmetry. I introduce the art activity by showing photographs of snowflakes from the book The Art of the Snowflake by Kenneth Libbrecht, giving students time to look carefully at the shapes and negative space, and pointing out how the shapes repeat on each ray of the snowflake. This introduces the concept of radial symmetry. We then do a shared read-aloud of the charted poem, and talk about what a sunflake might look like.

To make the sunflakes, students first cut three skinny lines from a 9x12 sheet of construction paper which are overlapped and glued onto white paper, arranged to create six equally-spaced radial lines.... not as easy as it sounds! They then cut and glue a variety of shapes onto and between the lines to build up a "sunflake" shape. Emphasis is on radial symmetry and color. Only red, yellow, and orange construction paper is used for the sunflakes, so a lesson in warm colors can also be thrown in. These sunflakes reinforce cutting skills and geometric shapes. Another possibility is to have them paint sunflakes, which could incorporate color mixing.

The discussion at the end of the lesson focuses on a review of the concept of radial symmetry. A wall display includes the poem and an assortment of sunflakes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

cityscapes on watercolor background

This second grade lesson combines a watercolor wash, drawing with construction paper crayons, symmetry, and a little color theory. In another version, students draw symmetrical cityscapes on black paper, but one day I came across sunset cityscapes at the TeachKidsArt blog which inspired me to combine the two ideas.

First, students use sponges and either warm or cool colors for the washes. They wet the whole paper first with the sponges using clean water, then fill the paper with color, either stroking or blotting the paint. If papers are not wet enough, I am right there with a spritzer bottle. :-). I have them use sponges for the wash because I don't have any large-sized watercolor brushes. The sponges have the additional benefit of adding some interesting texture. The washes are put aside for later (in our case, this is weeks later).

For the cityscape drawing lesson, I first have students observe and discuss several photographs and art examples of cityscapes. Then I ask them to tell me what they know symmetry. The most common responses usually refer to a line, so I use questioning to bring the discussion around to what it means to be symmetrical, and how we know something is symmetrical. I also introduce the word bilateral, explaining that "bi" means "2" and "lateral" means "side" -- this leads students to the idea that bilateral symmetry means that two sides are the same.

The cityscape is drawn on black construction paper using construction paper crayons (which they love!). I suggest that students first draw a horizontal base line, then start with the center building. They color in doors, windows, and roofs before adding two identical buildings on each side of the center one. They work out from the center two buildings at a time, coloring in all details. When the drawings are complete -- that is, they have drawn as many buildings as will fit -- they cut around the buildings and glue the silhouette onto their own watercolor wash.

After students have a chance to walk around and see everyone else's work, I have them discuss with a partner what they like most about their composition, and explain how they used bilateral symmetry.

Friday, April 2, 2010

mixing colors

The whole point of this activity is to let my second grade students mess around with primary colors to make secondary colors. I also throw in a little mini-lesson on using the brush appropriately and encourage students to not only use equal amounts of two primary colors, but also to use UNequal amounts to create different shades.

Rather than have all students use all three colors, I set up each of three large tables with two primary colors of tempera paint in small containers: one table with red and yellow, one table with blue and yellow, and one table with blue and red. Students choose which table at which to paint. Each student gets a small paper plate on which to mix paint, and a medium-sized round watercolor brush.

My directions are pretty basic: I suggest that they use the paper plates to mix colors, and make sure they understand that they don't need to paint a picture of something but that they can just play around with lines, shapes, and patterns. I also ask that their finished painting have at least three different colors. This confuses some students, but I try not to say more than that.

The first time I did this activity I figured that, at the very least, students would use both primary colors and one mixed color. I found that some students used only mixed colors and figured out on their own that adding more of one of the primary colors would alter the color. Others needed a little creative questioning: "How much red did you use?" "What would happen if you used more yellow?" and the like.

For some students, color mixing is not new. For others, and a surprising number of them, they are surprised to get green or orange or purple. I find that kind of sad. Some students like to paint a picture of something, others are happy to play with lines, shapes, or patterns. I was surprised and curious to find some students spending an inordinate amount of time painting the paper plate itself and avoiding the paper altogether.

Discussion is pretty basic, relating to which primary colors create which secondary colors. It is during the discussion that I introduce the words primary and secondary, and show a color wheel.

Monday, January 25, 2010

shape people

These crazy-colored shape people are done by first grade students. They are an outgrowth of the bubble people I do with Kindergarten students. The goal is simply to move children away from drawing stick people and toward drawing people with whole bodies.

I introduce the lesson by having students name the shape of the head (oval, not circle), and talking about the elbow and knee as joints that join the upper and lower parts of arms and legs. We move our arms and legs in different poses. I then demonstrate the light drawing of a bubble person on a chart paper, using a pencil. I show how to outline the outside of the entire body shape with a marker, as this is a tricky thing for some students.

Students draw bubble people in pencil, one bubble at a time: head, neck, body, two-part arms, and two-part legs. I talk them through the body parts so that they don't leave anything out. Then they outline with marker around the outside of the "bubbles" to create a stylized person shape. They erase the pencil lines and "crazy-color" the resulting shape. If there's still time, they do a second one, either smaller or larger than the first. For this activity, we skip doing faces or other additions to the people shapes, and concentrate on bright colors and/or patterns. Some children have a hard time outlining the entire outside of the shape and outline each bubble instead, or cross through joints. I try to stay close and help them with their second drawing.

Other lessons in this activity are how to use and care for the markers (cap on the end while drawing, cap snapped shut when finished to preserve ink), how to use your empty hand to hold the paper still while outlining, and how to erase (just the line, not all over the paper), When there is fifteen minutes left (classes are one hour), I tell students that whatever they are doing right now, it is the last thing they will do: If drawing bubbles, they will outline and erase and stop. If they are outlining, they will finish and stop. If they are coloring, they will finish and stop. Some student work, then will have one or two "colored-in" shape people and one "blank" one. After putting away materials, students walk around the room looking at everyone's work. I ask them to look for something that is completely different from everyone else's. After they've seen everyone's work, they share what they've noticed.

Sometimes I display these in a long line across the top of the white board or over a window. Looks great!

Monday, January 18, 2010

observation drawing: people

I am not a fan of stick people. Children, I think, draw stick people because adults have taught them to do so. As a primary classroom teacher for ten years, I expected my students to always draw people with body parts, clothing, and details.

Now that I am teaching Art to young children, I have a mission to eradicate classrooms of stick people. This lesson with second graders asks them to closely look at another student and to draw a person using that student's clothing for inspiration. It is done with colored pencils on white drawing paper.

This lesson is partly a directed-draw lesson and partly an observation drawing lesson. I introduce the term "contour drawing" and define it as the outline shape of something. I have students look closely at shapes and contours in clothing, shapes of heads, arms, bodies and legs, direction of contour lines, and proportion of body parts to each other.

I talk students through the drawing of the person across from them at their table: an oval near the top of their paper for the head, the neck lines, shoulders, the shape of the shirt or blouse, short or long sleeves, pant legs or skirt and legs, then arms, fingers, and shoes. Finally, we look at different hair styles, and I emphasize that hair grows down, not up, and that it is drawn with lines, not shapes.

During the drawing process, I use my own clothes and body for reference; I do some modeling on the white board, but make sure to have them always refer to the person they are drawing for shapes, sizes, and details.

Once the contour drawing is done, I have students color in their drawing using the colors of and details on their partner's clothing. I ask students not to add faces because I want them to have time to draw another person and we will have a face drawing lesson another day. When this first drawing is finished, students then choose a different model and draw that person next to the first drawing.

This lesson ends with a reminder to students that they never need to draw stick people again, because now they know how easy it is to draw a person with a body and clothes. :-)