The Freedom in a Project

dsc_0001I believe it’s important to give my students as much freedom to create as possible.  Of course they have project outlines, and requirements, but as far as the conceptual imagery they choose to include in their artwork?  It’s all them

dsc_0003Currently in my high school class we are working with colored pencil technique, along with some other elements and principles of design.  Most of my students have been in art for 1-3 years with me, so we spend less time on the basics of the elements and principles, and more time on developing their techniques and personal style.

The project read: :Choose a representational ‘object’ and using your vocabulary as a guide, you will create emphasis on this object.  Make sure you have a balanced composition.  Include both types of implied line.  Color this in using the colored pencil techniques demonstrated in class.

dsc_0002Most of the students have chosen to draw people, or fictional creatures.  I love how every
student has a distinct style, and personal point of view.  I can tell that the students I have had for multiple years have grown tremendously, and that my new students are not only talented, but are excited to learn.

We will end this project after having worked on it for about a month.  I like to give my students plenty of time to work, but I have a hard deadline for them as well.  I can’t wait to see their final works!

dsc_0010Pictured to the left is a student I’ve had since he was in and 8th grade!  I can’t believe it’s been three years since we’ve been together.  Every single day all of my students astound me with their talent and willingness to continue to grow.  Somedays it’s a little more difficult than others, but overall they are great.

dsc_0004Many of my students use their phones to reference pictures online to help them with proportions and shading.  I’ve been encouraging them to use pictures they’ve taken as
well, and I’m happy as a teacher that we have access to at least this type of
technology.  It was a little bit of a fight, initially, to let the students use their phones in class, but in the
end their ability to use every resource available to them was deemed most important.  I do have to continue to keep an eye on my snap-chatters, but after all these years I trust them to use their time wisely, and give me their very best.

Metamorphosis – Middle School

The process of change from one thing to another.  We see metamorphosis in nature, but after browsing Pinterest for new lesson ideas I cam across several metamorphosis projects.  Most of them were of cans changing from an upright position to a crunched position, or from a whole lemon into a sliced lemon, but I though it would be fun to do another surreal project that challenged the student’s imagination.  A quick google search for ‘metamorphosis drawings’ gave me great (and not so great) examples to show students.  I always ask students to look at the examples for the do’s and don’ts in their own work.  Some questions I asked when we looked at examples where ‘does that make sense? Could the craftsmanship be better?  What grade would you have given them?’

I started off the project talking about our key vocabulary.  I always give the vocab first, so that when students are  being given the project that can start forming ideas right away.  The vocab for this project was Metamorphosis, Surrealism, and Series.  Although Unity could have easily been incorporated I didn’t want to overload the students with vocab.  I find it better to focus on a few smaller words, but still touch on other vocab as we’re going over the projects.  That way, in the future, when I do introduce unity, they’ve heard the word in context and can make those connections.  I also talked about things like value, color, and craftsmanship.  How to make a polished work of art using skills we’ve used for previous projects, while we are focusing on new skills and techniques.

I always have the students make a rough draft and then give me a proposal.  This allows me to see whether or not they are under or over reaching as far as their individual skills are.  I am also able to reinforce vocabulary with them as they explain their proposed project, and help them navigate whether or not they are making decisions that are going to result in a work of art they can be proud of and learn from.  After the rough draft the kids got started.  With so many panels (at least 6 required), some of them struggled to sustain the same level of craftsmanship throughout the project, but a large portion of their grade is weighted on that area, so they were able to persevere.

Overall the students did a fantastic job.  Some students struggled with the steps in-between, but were able to pull it together with a little bit of guidance.  The hardest part of this project was helping the students achieve a consistent level of craftsmanship throughout all of the panels, but by now students are used to the revision process and asking myself and others how they can improve on what they already have.

Rhythm, Movement, and Emphasis

I am not afraid when to admit that I need help.  This project was one of them.  I have always struggled with teaching rhythm, and so when I saw a good teacher friend post some of her projects labeled ‘rhythm’ on social media I was so excited!  I sent her a quick email, and that night she sent me all her lesson planning material.  What she had down matched fairly closely to what I was already writing, but some of the detail of hers are what made it extra awesome.  She required more rhythms than I would have, and I liked the way she outlined her power points for notes.

I did not end up using everything she gave me, but the starting point was fantastic.  As a teacher I don’t believe I have all the answers, but I know when to ask for help.  I hope to never lose that ability, as we don’t stand alone in our profession.  Many of my lessons are based off of images I’ve gathered from Pinterest, remember from when I was in high school, or enjoyed in college.  I don’t mind tailoring the projects for my students, making projects fit my classroom.

I started off the lesson with notes, as usual.  We talked about emphasis first.  Creating a focal point in the artwork.  We talked about how to do this (size, placement, contrast), and why we do it.  We talked about whether or not something needed to be representational in order for it to be a focal point.  Afterwards we moved onto visual movement.  How does your eye move around an artwork?  Is it possible for artwork to lack any movement, and how do we tell if something has implied movement or not?  Finally, we talked about the 5 types of rhythm.  I showed them examples of each.  We went through slides and they identified the different types of rhythm.  Some of the pictures had more then one, and we talked about that.  I was able to weave in talking about emphasis and movement, as we discussed how to use rhythm to create variety and visual interest.  It was great to watch them pull knowledge out of their brains from prior lessons!

After notes I gave examples of different artists that used rhythms primarily in their artwork.  They were in awe of some of the detail different artists go into with their work.  This let us talk more about craftsmanship, planning, and the small details that can make an ‘ok’ work of art exceptional.

Then the lesson.  I required very little, but at the same time so much.  They needed to have a focal point, or emphasis on one area.  They needed to create visual movement.  Finally, they needed to have at least 3 different types of rhythm.  My students would need to explain how they created all these things, not only with their project proposals (rough draft), but also throughout the project and during their final reflection.  Secondary requirements were given as well.  They would need to display craftsmanship (always), and fill the page.  We talked about ‘blank’ space, and how even if you color in a space, it might still be ‘blank’, even if it was not white.

Most of the students worked in colored pencil, although I allowed several to experiment with watercolor and chalk pastel.  I always encourage the students to explore.  Although the official ‘requirement’ was colored pencil, if a student can justify why they want to use a different material, I let them.  They can’t just tell me ‘because I want to’ or ‘because it’d be cool’, but instead I make them tell me why.  Does it add visual interest?  Does it make more sense with your content?  Does it create contrast?  Etc.  The kids are good about it, and I love to see the different results.

Warm and Cool Colors

I love Pinterest.  I’m just going to say flat out, that it is a great resource.  Not only are there a ton of ideas for lesson plans, but the inspiration overall in the art and design sections are fabulous.  I’ve been pinning ideas for lessons for over a year now, and when I’m in a creative pickle I go through all the ideas I’ve stored away in my “Teaching Ideas” folder and start thinking about how to revise the ideas into my own, and to work with my classroom.

A project that I saw that I really liked was this warm and cool color mixed media artwork that an art teacher created.  Unfortunetly I don’t have a sink in my classroom and I wanted the students to continue to practice their coloring skills.  I know it sounds strange, but it’s difficult to learn how to color well and many of the students need to continue to practice.  I decided that I would make it a coloring pencil project.

I also didn’t want to do self portraits.  As much as I believe that it’s important to draw yourself, that is a project I am saving for when we talk about balance and proportion.  I decided to let the students choose what they were going to draw.  I had a few stipulations, but for the most part they had freedom to choose their content.  Kids love that, and I love seeing what they come up with.

After talking in depth about color, and the difference between warm and cool colors (and how to make cool colors look warm, and warm colors cool off), I showed them the examples.  We talked a lot about craftsmanship.  I feel like we talk about it a lot, and the kids probably think I’m obsessed with craftsmanship, but it’s really what separates okay work for excellent work.  The level of craftsmanship can turn something pretty good into something either awesome or awful, depending on the level they have strived for.  Interestingly they always know what looks ‘good’ and what looks ‘bad’ and if prompted it’s easy for them to pick out the things that could have been improved upon (messy lines, not colored all the way, not enough contrast, etc.), as well as what they loved.  The things they love always have to do with one of two things; either the creativity of the project, or the level of craftsmanship.  I know.  I’m obsessed.  I hope by the end of the year they are too.

The project was fairly simple-the students were directed to create a representational line drawing.  Afterward they needed to divide up the space in an interesting way.  This could be by radiating lines out from the middle, drawing circles randomly throughout the page, or even with flower petals or straight lines.  Aftwards they needed to designate each divided large space as a ‘warm’ space or a ‘cool’ space and then begin coloring in.  Some of the more advanced students took some creative liberties with the project, but I was okay with that.  The ground rule is that they need to ask if they want to change a requirement and get approval.  In order to get approval they need to be able to defend their artistic decisions.

I gave them a demonstration on coloring after introducing the project.  We talked about the amount of pressure you put on your colored pencils, about layering in order to intensify the color, as well as glen and transition.  We talked about how to fix mistakes (‘cross-hatching’) and things to avoid (pressing down too hard, randomly changing direction).  

From there we created rough drafts, and started working.  I found that some of the kids really struggled with differentiating cool from warm, despite going over it multiple times (‘but the green looked warm!’), and in that sense the rough draft was even more invaluable than ever.  I was able to help work out kinks and clarify misunderstandings.  Some of the students still struggled with the directions, but for such a simple project it can be complicated.  Next go around I will work on my directions and see what I can do to help clarify the expectations.  Considering that, though, the projects turned out beautifully.  I might be biased, though, considering they’re my kids.  🙂

For more images check out the gallery!

Standing, Stretching, and Breaks

This year I’m teaching in what I believe is a very small classroom for secondary art.  We’re in the type of classroom you teach math and English in, sitting at the same small desks.  While I am just thankful that the school has art classes to begin with, this just isn’t the ideal set up.  Students not only have less space to spread out and work larger, but they are less inclined to stand up, move around, and seek the advice of students who are across the room.  I personally believe that all these things are just as important to learning and becoming more confident in creating.

When I was in graduate school we used to make fun of our professors, who would tell us that students can really only pay 100% attention for about 20 minutes, but then spend the next 2 hours droning on and on about theory.  In the past few weeks I’ve begun to remember how hard it was to sit for that long, and have noticed that about halfway through our 90 minute classes, that the kids start to get restless.

So I started to make them get up.  It’s a part of their participation.  They have to all stand up, give it a good couple of stretches, and then walk around the classroom and take a look at everyone else’s artwork.  I give them 3-5 minutes to accomplish this.  I figure I’m killing several birds with one stone by doing this.  Not only are the kids getting a little brain-break and a good stretch, but they are experiencing their peer’s work, getting new ideas, and are able to reflect as a group afterwards (with me leading the discussion) on what they liked about the work they saw and how they can incorporate those ideas into their own art.

I’ve noticed that the second half of the class goes by a lot quicker when we do this, and the kids work more consistently. It’s been a great addition to the day, and I’m pleased that what was a joke during graduate school turned into a really useful tool in practice!


Classroom Management

I believe that one of the most important things I teacher can do for their classroom is set strong ground rules and then abide by them.  One of the ‘jobs’ of a student is to find the boundaries, and if you don’t have any they won’t know when to stop.  It is the teacher’s job to clearly build the fences that teach students appropriate behavior in the classroom.  The skills that you can give to students in the learning environment will transfer into the working world, and we want our children to be able to grow up and reach their potential.  They can’t do that if they don’t learn how to focus, settle down and be productive in addition to the content and skills of your course.

It’s hard to remember sometimes that we aren’t just teaching art, or English, or math anymore.  We’re teaching life skills.  We’re teaching our students how to behave in public society-as contributing members of their community.

Here are my classroom rules:

1. Be respectful of myself, your peers, and your self.

  • No talking when the teacher is talking
  • Respectful and school-appropriate language only
    • Examples of inappropriate words: cuss words, ‘shut-up’, ‘this sucks’, etc.
  • Constructive Criticism only
  • No touching other people’s artwork without permission or if found on floor/knocked over
  • Always be on time
  • Always be productive
  • Always listen and be aware
… and since no list of rules can be complete without a set of consequences:
2. Discipline Progression
  • 1st warning
  • 2nd warning (that I will move your seat to the front of the room)
  • Seat moved
  • 3rd warning (that parents will be called
  • Parents notified if this is a consistent problem for multiple class periods
  • 4th warning (that the principal and parents will be called)
  • Administrator and parent notification if student shows they cannot be respectful of the learning space and are distracting peers-last result
I will be honest.  The be rule there is respect.  Everything under it is just outlining ways to be respectful, or reminding students what kind of behavior is disrespectful.  Most of the kids respond with great behavior once they understand that as well.  It’s never about holding anyone on a short leash, or being in control.  It’s about teaching respect.  That’s it.
Also, I have to say that I have rarely had to involve parents in the discipline process, and only once had to notify an administrator.  Usually the kids respond very quickly when they realize that not only do I know who they like to sit next to, but I also know who they’d rather not sit next to… and in such a social class, the threat of moving to a new seat or a seating chart for everyone is usually enough to keep the bad behavior at bay.
What are your classroom rules?  Are your consequences different?

Surrealism, Value, and Ben Heine

The first few days at a new school are always so strange.  They’re even stranger when you don’t know what type of materials you have available to you in the classroom.  When I arrived at my new teach position I realized fairly quickly that I would need to put an order in for supplies.  There wasn’t going to be enough paper for all three courses, which at the time had 30+ students in each one.  As a teacher my ‘creative problem solving’ skill have started to improve, and I was able to think of a project that would use little materials, but still be valuable and interesting for the students.

At one point in time I have pinned some images from the artist Ben Heine, whose work I really admired.  There was a playfulness that was lovely to take in, and I loved the subtle surrealistic qualities of his drawings.  It was fabulous how they were obviously surreal, but not in your face mind-melting crazy surreal.  Salvador Dali, for example, is a marvelous surrealistic artist, but sometimes it’s nice to have something a little… closer.  Something more relatable at a young age.  Ben Heine’s work was going to be perfect as a jumping off point for the new project.

I started off the project by introducing value (the scale of light to dark).  Everyone knows what value is when it comes down to it-it’s pretty much shading.  The questions are why do we add a wide range of value to our artwork, and what is a ‘good’ range of value to add.  My answers are simple: a good range is one where you have dark darks, light lights, and a few shades in-between.  We’re not talking about contrast yet, just having ‘enough’ value in order for the shading to do it’s job: make things look ‘realistic’ or 3 dimensional.

When you think about it, that’s why we shade.  To show that whatever it is exists in a world where there is enough dimension in the shape for it to cast some type of shadow.  If we were 2 dimensional, we wouldn’t need to shade because a shadow wouldn’t exist.  This is important, because when we start talking about what surrealism really is, the students will need to remember about the ins and outs of value.

Next we talked about Surrealism.  The definition I gave was ‘something that looks realistic, but could never occur in real life’, although I love the new definition they gave me from their English class of ‘fantastic imagery’.  Isn’t that just… fantastic?  I love the way ‘fantastic imagery’ looks and sounds.  Fantastic like fantasy.  It’s perfect.  Anyways, back on track, next I showed them examples.  Of course I showed them Salvador Dali, as well as a few others.  Afterwards I showed them Ben Heine.  Let me tell you, they liked the Dali okay, but they loved the Ben Heine.  How could you not enjoy the whimsy of his work?  It’s pretty difficult to not like.

Then we introduced the project and off we went.  The artworks they created were fantastic.  There are a few things I would have done differently, such as a stricter minimum and maximum size limit, but overall the lesson went beautifully.  As much as the students protested against the constant revisions to add more value and refine their details and work on craftsmanship, the results were beautiful and the students were proud of their work.

I do wish I had gotten some more pictures, but I wasn’t thinking at the time.  For more images check out the gallery!

Structure and Expectations

A lot of times I hear that kids don’t want to really learn.  That given the chance, they will twitter away and have no desire to ‘get’ anything from class.  I don’t believe this to be true.  Last week I was hired to teach 7-10th grade art.  There are three classes; 7th grade, 8th grade, and High School.  The school year is already a quarter in, and for the last two months there was a long-term substitute teacher in the classroom.  While I was very pleased about the relevancy of his lessons (hitting on value, proportion, color, and art history!), his classroom management was less stellar.  I do not fault him for this, as we learn how to manage a classroom not only through experience, but through training during teacher preparation programs.  All in all, he was fabulous and I couldn’t have asked for a better long-term sub to take the reigns from.

Classroom management is hard, though.  It’s a battle trying to find the right balance between being strict and yet still approachable to students.  While staying true to the rules of your classroom and school is important, it’s equally important for your students to feel as if they can ask questions, make mistakes, and express themselves not only creatively, but as young adults figuring out their place in the world.  From observing other classrooms, I think that this is where a lot of teachers struggle… and if you are struggling with your classroom management you cannot be giving students the best education possible.

I feel like it’s a child’s place and right to challenge the rules.  To see how far they can push.  It is the teachers place to let them know where that boundary is, and hold fast.  If you are unable to hold that line, students will not only continue to push, but your role as a reliable authority is diminished in their eyes.  Why should they listen if they don’t have to?  You cannot just will them to follow the rules, you have to show them how.  Once you show them how it’s much easier to do things like give directions, introduce new information, have students follow through on projects, and clean up after themselves (every art teacher’s nightmare, the destroyed room littered with your supplies).

Along those lines it’s so important to outline clear expectations… and high ones at that.  I was having a conversation with another elective teacher about my 7th graders.  The substitute had warned me that they were too immature for projects longer than 1 class period.  Having worked with 7th graders, I was doubtful.  After spending time with them I realized it to be untrue.  What had happened was the substitute lacked the training he needed to give them the discipline they needed, and the high expectations to strive for.  I told my colleague that “if I give them high expectations they will strive to meet them”, to which he responded “and if you give them low expectations they will meet those, too.”

How absolutely true.

The Grid Project

This is a drawing/painting project that I took from my host teacher and altered to make ‘my own’.

Each student will create a self-portrait using the techniques of drawing with a grid, pen, and watercolor.  Students will utilize value and pattern into their artwork.

Grid Project – Value, Pattern, Watercolor, and Pen Drawing

Part 1: Introduction


  • PowerPoint on value, pattern, and grid
  • Handout on value and pattern – two worksheets to complete before beginning
  • Scratch paper for students to do a rough draft self-portrait
  • Mirrors
  • 18×12 drawing paper
  • Sharpie Pens
  • Watercolors
  • Erasers
  • Pencils
  • Rulers and a Long Straight Edge
  • Camera and Printer


  • Have an understanding of the concept of value and pattern
  • Have an understanding of how to use the grid to draw realistically
  • Create a self-portrait that uses value and pattern


  • Show students PowerPoint(s) on value and pattern
  • Have students work on the worksheet and their self-portrait.  This took 2-3 class periods.
  • While students are working on their worksheets, this is a good time to take their pictures.  I then uploaded them onto a computer and printed them out 6”x4” in black and white.
  • Show students PowerPoint on the grid project
  • Explain to students how to use the grid, and how it is a useful tool to create drawings that are in the correct prop
    ortion without getting hung-up on the subject they are drawing

Part 2: Setting it all up


  • Picture (6×4”)
  • Ruler and Long Straight Edge
  • Pencil
  • 18×12” Sheet of drawing paper


  • Show students how to map out their grid
      • At this point they will need to be given their picture.  They need to mark a border around it.  Starting at one corner of the picture, mark every ½” around the entire picture.  Then, connect the marks across the picture, creating a grid
      • Then, on the 18×12” sheet of paper, starting at the corner, mark every 1.5” around the entire sheet.  Connect all the marks across the picture to create a grid
      • Troubleshooting: Depending on your students, you may need to check their work before they connect their grid lines.  Many students struggled with lining things up straight, or measuring correctly.


  • Show students how to use the grid to draw their design.
    • Black out one square on the picture, and the corresponding square on the large sheet of paper.  Show the student that you are not drawing a ‘nose’ or ‘eye’ or ‘mouth’, but instead just the shape in that particular square.
      • Some students may need extra help with this, or paper to help them block out their squares.
      • Some students may need to divide their squares further, into quarters
        .  This can be especially true for areas such as the eye.
  • Continue to do this until you have an outline of the body, and the face/clothes.  Leave the background empty.
  • After students have drawn their outline, have them go over it with sharpie.  From there, students will start filling in every box with a different pattern using the sharpies (some may be repeated, as long as they are not next to each other, and are ‘changed’ somehow.
    • Remind students to keep ‘value’ in mind.  Some patterns will be darker then others.  The more sharpie/lines in their pattern, the darker it will be.
    • Remind students that they are not filling in the background yet, only the figure.
    • When students believe they are done hold the picture back for them, and have them look at the photograph and tell you where they might need to give it a darker value.  If they are struggling, point out areas that you find.
    • After students have finished filling in the figure, have them draw a motif.  This motif will be repeated in the background to create a single pattern.  The students can use the grid in the background to help them place their motifs.
      • Once they have a motif, have them draw it in the background in pencil, and then outline in sharpie.
      • After students are finished, they may begin filling in the figure and background with watercolor.
        • Note: At this point it is an option to go over ‘color’ with students.  I decided to save that (long) lesson for another project, and talk to them informally about how they would want to use contrasting colors to make the figure ‘pop’.
        • Depending on your students, do a quick demo on watercolor.
          • Remind students that they can use color to help them ‘deepen’ the value they already created with sharpie.  If they are making their face yellow, then they can use orange in the areas around the nose where there is shadow, etc.
  • Check to make sure that students don’t need to ‘touch up’ any areas of their drawing with watercolor.  Let it dry.  Marvel at how awesome they look.


  • Have students answer the following questions on a half sheet of paper to turn in for credit (full sentences!):
    • What grade to you deserve?
    • Why?
    • What are the techniques you used to finish this assignment?
    • Are you proud of the finished artwork?
    • Why?



  • Using the reflection as a guide, assess the students artwork based on your own classroom’s criteria.
  • I grade on the following:
      • Effort-how hard you work
      • Craftsmanship-how good/neat it looks (did you do your best to make it look awesome?)
      • Techniques
      • Creativity

Another Change

 Things just keep changing.  My time at the Canvas was short lived, only 9 months.  After a pretty difficult and cold summer, my boyfriend and I made the decision to move back down South.  I loved my time with the clients, and I learned more that I could have hoped for-not only about managing a studio and beginning to create a program, but about ceramics.  It was a fantastic experience, and I will miss all the clients and community members that I worked with.  Life has to go on though, and when you find yourself unhappy something must be done to remedy the situation.  Sunshine was what we needed, so we decided to head towards the Southwest.

Originally I was going to go back to school part time and work on a portfolio to get into graduate school for art, but on a whim I applied for a part time art teaching job.  I ended up being offered a position at a high school-which quickly turned into a full time teaching job!  It was a crazy process, and I ended up pushing up my plans and moving 2 weeks earlier then I had planned.  Everything is give and take, right?  So I got my almost-dream job, but I had to move without my car and only 2 bags of my belongings (plus the little bit my boyfriend had room for in his car).

I now teach 2 sections of “Art 1” and “Sculpture/Ceramics”.  We are at the end of our third week and I am finding myself challenged in ways I hadn’t quite realized I would.  Management is a huge issue right now.  Most of my classes are great, but I have one section that is giving me a lot of grief.  There are just too many kids, and there is a table of hyper boys that are putting me in a foul mood.  I’ll figure it out as time goes on, and it might result in a seating chart and privileges  taken away… but hopefully it won’t have to go that far.  The seating chart I think will be inevidable… but I hope I don’t have to turn this into a notes-heavy art-history class.  That’s the last thing I want to do.

Besides the issues I’m having with controlling that one class, things are great.  I’ll start putting up lesson plans pretty soon, as my students complete projects.  Right now my sculpture students are wrapping up a tile project, and beginning a writing assignment.  My art 1 students are working on a grid project (that I shamelessly took from my host teacher from FALA) after having completed their portfolio.

I can’t wait to see how this year goes, and hope to have some great projects to show for it.