• supporting creativity in the classroom and beyond •

• supporting creativity in the classroom and beyond •

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!

Monday, August 4, 2014

start with art

I don't normally use this blog for direct marketing, but since TeachersPayTeachers is having a site-wide Back to School sale (Aug 4 & 5), and since I have a store there, I thought I'd take the opportunity to blatantly peddle my Start With Art lesson bundle designed for elementary classroom teachers who are not necessarily art teachers.

This collection of five art lessons is a great way to start the school year with lower grade elementary students. It introduces the elements of design -- line, shape, color, pattern & texture, and space -- with open-ended explorations designed to allow students to use a variety of art materials and techniques. And... it gives teachers a great opportunity to observe students motor skills, work habits, creativity, and responsibility!

Start With Art is a big seller in my TpT store, and it's 20% off for two days -- August 4 and 5. With the TpT promotion code (BTS14) you save an additional 10%, for a total savings of 28%!

Check out my store, and while you're there, download my free resource, Making Time For Art. It's filled with ideas and suggestions for incorporating more art lessons into the classroom. Enjoy!

Monday, June 23, 2014

got chalk?

Left to their own devices and given a few simple materials, kids will make art on their own. Shouldn't this tell us something about our innate need to create, to beautify, to express ourselves?

Give a Kindergartner some sidewalk chalk and leave him or her alone and some happy things might happen! These two sidewalk chalk drawings were done by Kindergartners at recess on two separate occasions. In each case, no adult told them what to draw, how to draw it, or made any suggestions.
I love the sun's rays and am impressed by their evenness of distance from each other as well as their length. And the sun's face is just too cute! The drawing of the person was done on a cloudy day when rain was threatening. It is hard to tell from this photo, but the drawing was much larger than life size, stretching across the sidewalk to a length far beyond the height of its artist.

But one does not need to be a kindergartner to enjoy sidewalk chalk art. Just today, taking a short break between starting and finishing this entry, I stepped out to the grocery store, and found this drawing on the sidewalk just outside the grocery store door. Considering it's careful symmetry, I'm supposing this was drawn by someone far beyond Kindergarten, a reminder that art really is for everyone, that personal expression can be spontaneous and very public, and that with just a little sidewalk chalk (or a crayon, or whatever!) anyone can make our world just a little happier, just a little more fun, just a little less boring.

Seeing this on the sidewalk outside the grocery store was a happy surprise that made me smile. I hope many others smiled when they saw it, too!

Got chalk?
Got a sidewalk?
Go out and make some art!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

looking at art with kids

With the idea that I would have students do some "mystery paintings" of faces.... white crayon on white paper with watercolor resist overlay.... I started out by having them compare two works, one by Pablo Picasso and one by Paul Klee. I chose these two works because I intended to have them do a contour drawing of a face and then use color blocks of watercolor over the drawings, and these two works are perfect examples.

We started with my standard question: "What do you notice?" I charted the students' responses, encouraging them to identify whether their "noticing" was of the Picasso, the Klee, or whether it applied to both of the works. I asked students to use the artists' names rather than saying "the one on the left" or pointing and saying "that one" or "the round one" or "the pencil one." Those attributes that applied to both were charted down the center. Since these particular second graders are familiar with Venn Diagrams, they understood right away how to read this finished chart after I added the "boxes" around the lists.

On to the students' art making...

I started with a short demonstration of the "mystery painting" technique, drawing a large face with lots of lines for hair and showing students how I could almost see the drawing if I held the paper up to the light. I added a line pattern in the background for interest, and then modeled painting in blocks of color. I emphasized that I was not following the lines, but letting the drawing come through on its own as I painted.

Then I switched gears and decided to invite them to draw anything they wanted with white crayon on white paper. Together we brainstormed subject matter:  animals, flowers, landscapes, and... of course.... faces.

As they drew, I reminded students to press hard with the crayon and try to use the whole paper, either adding more to their subject matter or perhaps including a pattern in the background for interest. As they were ready, they painted over their drawings. 

These were just plain fun to do. Watercolor resist is a popular art-making activity and really does not need a lot of prep or explanation, but the introduction with these two art works gives an added art-appreciation and art analysis dimension to the lesson.

Looking at these two art works helps the students see how a face can take up a whole page, and to realize that one doesn't need to "follow lines" when painting. It also gives students the opportunity to see and talk about representational abstract art, and to become comfortable with the idea that a face drawing does not need to be absolutely realistic to be successful.

This art-making session ended with students writing about their art work. I gave them the choice of simply telling about their own process, describing how to create a "mystery painting," writing about the difference between Picasso's and Klee's faces, or comparing their own art work to either Picasso's or Klee's. Most students chose to just write about their own process, but two students did write comparisons... one compared his art work to Paul Klee's, and one compared the Picasso and Klee faces.

All in all, a successful lesson, during which a good time was had by all!

Friday, January 31, 2014

what can you do with a heart?

What can you do with any shape, really? One would think it's pretty easy to just decorate a shape... any shape... with lines, patterns, color.... but what I've found lately when substituting is that kids seem to be getting less and less creative at a frighteningly increasing pace. Giving them free reign with a blank piece of paper seems like such a good idea on paper, but I've found that many need a little push of some sort... some examples, some modeling, sometimes even a whole lesson, or at least a mini-lesson, on drawing patterns or borders.

One day in a second grade class, with a little free time to kill, I just thought I'd have students draw a large heart and make it beautiful. The word "decorate" just didn't seem right to me, but it was precisely that word that finally made the difference. I did do a little modeling to begin with, just to give them some ideas, and invited them to use as many colors as they wanted, as many designs as they wanted, and to fill the paper completely.

One of the only requirements was that they had to draw the heart freehand, so we would have a variety of heart shapes, not a set of cookie cutter hearts all the same. I wandered around as they were working, suggesting that they think of patterns they could use, and giving a hint now and then about using bolder colors or perhaps outlining the heart for emphasis.

It was interesting watching them work. While most of the students really got into it and showed some thought in their designs, a few seemed at a complete loss as to what they could do with their heart. When I teach art lessons to kids, I always emphasize how artists usually create a plan, think about what they want to do and choose colors carefully. There are so many times that I see students just slap something together, or don't really look at the space they have to work with. It's very intriguing.

In the end, the results of this activity were interesting. We only worked with crayon on this particular day, but if I had planned it out beforehand I might have had some watercolors available, or some scraps of paper, especially decorative paper, for them to use to enhance their hearts even more. I might have done more modeling (as much as I hate to!) or a short lesson on patterning, or bordering, or ways to combine different types of lines. I guess I just really believed they would do all that all by themselves. They did produce some fun designs, and they had a good time, and maybe that's the best thing.

The most interesting thing of all to me in this whole lesson is that this is the same class that created some beautiful Zentangles just a few weeks before. I fully expected that would carry over to this activity, and it did not, but maybe that's ok too!