One of the first things I do with students is introduce what I call "artist behaviors" -- Look, Think, Choose, Do. When I had my own art classroom, I had reference pictures on the wall:
Now that I'm doing art lessons in other teachers' classrooms, I almost always write the four words on the board before starting an art lesson, no matter what grade level I am working with. If I'm with students I've worked with before, I have them tell me what "the four artist behaviors" are while I write them; if I am with students who are new to me, I quickly introduce them and then refer to them during the lesson. I explain first that artists look everywhere, at everything, to get ideas, and that once they have an idea they look more, very carefully. While they are looking, they start to think about what they want to do. They need to choose materials and tools, and also, if they are painting or drawing, where something is going to go on the paper, how big it will be, what colors they will use, whether it will be realistic or abstract, etc. I emphasize that an artist will always look, think, and choose before they begin to do their art work, and that this helps them to be creative.
Making a big deal about looking and thinking has helped me teach children to slow down, take care with their art work, and make personal choices that may be different from the person sitting next to them or across from them. If I am reading a picture book to introduce the art activity, I make sure they have ample time to look at the illustrations, and I will point out details if they don't find them. If we are using a visual reference, such as photographs or a famous art work, we spend time really looking at the elements of art and think about the artists' choices of color, line, shape, and texture, and the use of space, When they are ready to begin an activity, even if everyone is working on the same thing, I make sure they have choices of color, or materials, or sizes, or background colors, or something that will be theirs, not mine. I always ask them to think first about what they are going to do, picture in their mind where they will start and what they will be using before they start.
And I usually point out that "look, think, choose, do" are good behaviors for ALL school work... and even out of school.... not just for art work!