8th Grade Art-Printmaking

DSC_0038This year my school decided that I needed a real classroom.  I had been residing in a closet (literally, it used to be the storage for a make-shift kitchen) for the past two years, and with the growth and interest in my program, a real classroom only made practical sense.  Not only did my sink upgrade, but now there is more space to breathe, and I feel confident that I can do more complex projects with my students.  It’s really fantastic for students to have a little more elbow room, and to be able to take real brain breaks and interact with each other.

I rarely will do a project with a student where I have to do more than 10% of the work. DSC_0032 Even 10% is pushing it.  So while I know that technically younger grades can make relief prints, I hesitate to do the project with grades lower than 7th.  Next year I’ll reevaluate that, since I needed to do so much of the ‘work’ with 7th grade of inking their blocks… I don’t know.  I suppose it’ll depend on the enthusiasm of the group, as I like to plan my projects around student interest.  This year all of my middle school classes are phenominal, so we’ve been experimenting more with painting, printmaking, and I hope to even do ink (with ink wells-scary as far as potential messes go!)

DSC_0037I was excited to try out letting the 8th graders ink their own blocks.  They are doing great with the new Speedball blocks, which are so much softer than the grey linoleum.  Before beginning I had the students work on a scratch art project, in order to help visualize that all their ‘mark’s would be white, instead of black.  Afterwords I let the students sketch out a new design for their relief prints.  I showed them several examples, and emphasized how important texture and line would be in this project.  After my carving demo the 8th graders really took to relief print like fish to water!  By the end of the second class, most of them had at least half of their project carved, and several were able to do a few test prints.  I like seeing their faces when the print comes out-it’s always ‘backwards’ and looks completely different from the block.  So far everyone has done some post-test editing, and those who finish early will do a second project.  I can’t wait to see all of the projects together!  Everyone is making such different images, I love it.


dsc_0025In 6th grade art we just wrapped up the Zentangle/Pattern project.  I love doing this project in the younger grades, because it’s one that many of them can not only practice their fine motor skills, but also feel a great deal of success.  It’s very difficult to ‘mess up’ on this project, but it also teaches students to take their time and work on craftsmanship with their marks-since once you lay down sharpie, it’s pretty much forever.  This isn’t always the easiest thing for students, because when the unfortunate mistake does happen, the student needs to then problem solve on how to make that a part of the work.  White out is never an option, more often than not, it just makes it look so much worse.

dsc_0017The requirements for this project were to create a zentangle drawing with a colored pencil portion incorporated into it as well.  I want students to continue to practice colored pencil (even though we did an entire unit on it to begin the year), because the techniques we learned in the color pencil unit are the foundations of all other art making processes.  I expect not all students will love colored pencil, or pursue it when they get to the higher grades, but for now every grade level practices it over and over again.

dsc_0019I really enjoy seeing how each student approaches this project.  Some take to ‘fine detailed’ patterning like fish to water, while others need more encouragement to add more lines, and make more detailed work.  It’s sometimes difficult to explain to a student that they just don’t have enough lines to meet the requirements of the project, at at some point (especially if they’ve already started coloring) they just end up needing to accept that they won’t get all the points for techniques.  Since I grade with only 25% of the grade as technique-based, this never causes a student to fail, they just won’t get an “A”, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t the end of the world.  There’s always the next project to improve their (listening) skills on.

dsc_0026One thing that I struggled with on this project, compared to others, is reminding the students to not take too much time on their rough drafts.  Although it’s important to plan and experiment before starting a final draft, at the same it’s also important to not turn your rough draft into your final draft.  It leads to nothing but disappointment for all parties, but it’s difficult for the students to remember that I only need to see a glimpse of their vision to make sure it’ll work, not the entire masterpiece.  Usually it’s not a huge problem, but this such a detailed project, some students really lagged behind in the rough draft department.  It’s definitely something for me to keep in mind for the future.


dsc_0004 Critique is hard.  No one really likes critique at first, and some never like it at all.  It’s scary, putting yourself out like that.  It’s one of the most important parts of making art, though, so starting in the 7th grade we do critique.  Critique begins with a presentation of their artwork answering: 1. What did you create and why did you choose your imagery? 2. What are the techniques you used to create your artwork, and 3. What are the things you like/would improve on your artwork?

After the presentation critique begins.  Critique is when we take our artwork, present it to someone (or someones) and then we ask for their constructive compliments and constructive criticism.  The key word being ‘constructive.dsc_0003

Constructive compliments don’t just
say “I like it”.  They say instead phrases
like “I like the way you colored x”, or “I like the way that you used contrast to make your object stand out from your background”, etc….  Only stating that you like something in general does nothing but inflate the ego.  We want the artist to be able to know exactly what is working, so that they are able to incorporate similar techniques into their next artworks.

The same goes for constructive criticism.  It does nothing but hurt feelings to say “I don’t like it”, “This is not good”, “your artwork doesn’t convey any feeling”.  None of those statements, or similar statements, help the artist improve.  They come across as personal attacks, and don’t offer any significant information for the artist to take with them.

dsc_0005Instead, I ask students to offer solutions to specific problems.
Comments could include
“I wish you had used coloring techniques we used to even out your
ackground”, “I wish you had added some more detail in the left hand corner because it’s empty”, “I think you could have taken a little more time with your lines”, “I think it would look better with more contrast”, etc….

Often it’s easy to take these dsc_0006constructive criticisms personally, but
it’s important for theartist to remember that all the comments being made are about the technical aspects of their artwork, not the emotional aspects.  No one is saying their artwork is not good, but instead that there are still areas to improve.

Usually after the first few critiques students feel much better about presenting and listening to what their peers have to say, and there is a feeling of trust that goes both ways between all my students.  Everyone understands that nothing is personal, and that we all just want the artwork to be amazing, to always be better.

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!