Musings about the importance and impact of art and art education in the 21st century.

Musings about the importance of art and art education

Square 1 Art Fundraiser

♠ Posted by ArtMuse in

Every other year I work with the PTO (parent teacher organization) to do a school-wide fundraiser along with the company Square 1 Art.  If you're not familiar with the company, click the link HeRe

They basically put your students work on all different types of objects and a portion of the money comes back to the school. Two years ago I had the students create different animals, fishes, birds, cats, etc, and then fill them in with different patterns. This year I had about 3 weeks to get over 600 forms completed, so I decided to create painted landscapes with everyone.  At first I had a few classes use tissue paper to create a collage and then add a marker landscape over it, but there was too much room for error and I had to be a drill sergeant to make sure the kiddo's really glued the tissue paper flat. Here are a few of the tissue paper samples.  These are the brighter ones, unfortunately some of them ended up coming out really dark

After trying a few classes without the tissue paper, using only paint and then marker over that, I found the results to be pretty much fool proof.  Here's a few samples....I always marvel at the variety of results I get even though I'm teaching the same things to every class!


4th Grade Paul Klee Heads

♠ Posted by ArtMuse in


I've taught variations of this lesson before, but this variation is my favorite.  In the past I've had the kids use tempera paints and create tints and shades to fill in their drawings, but I was finding that the opacity of the tempera was causing them to cover over or accidentally fill in all the great details they had originally drawn in.  Thinking on that, this year I decided to scrap the focus on tints and shades and focus on warm and cool color families using watercolors.  I got a little of the value in with the watercolors, reviewing with them how adding water to the watercolor paints lightens the value and would be the equivalent of adding a white to a tempera paint.

These were the original projects:
 These are this years projects:

They have A LOT more personality than their predecessors, lol! The kids really got into this project.  They liked the fact that the head didn't have to look realistic but was simply comprised of implied shapes.

For the project each table got a water bucket, small brushes, white oil pastels and 2 sets of regular watercolor paints and 2 sets of Crayola "mixing color" sets (thank you Cassie Stephens).  The mixing set has 2 yellows, a cyan, blue-violet, and a white, the white is pretty useless but the kids loved the blue-violet and cyan colors. The oil pastels were used to replicate the texture found in Klee's painting.

Overall, the lesson took 4, 40 minute periods.  I HIGHLY suggest investing in some inexpensive hand towels to use when painting instead of paper towels.  If your school is anything like mine, the paper towels are really flimsy and don't absorb anything..I bought the rags seen in the pictures below from amazon. They came in a set of 24 for about 25 bucks. Or you could always send out an email and get some donated.  I don't recommend cutting larger towels down because the loose unbound edges won't hold up.
 The first we examined the work and discussed its features.  I then demonstrated how to use a ruler and gave out a bunch of various sized lids for them to trace circles and draw straight lines.  They used black Sharpie first, so if they made a mistake, we discussed ways to make it become part of the art.  On a side note, one of my favorite things of all time that kids say to me is, "ya know Ms. C.  I had made a mistake but then I fixed it and it turned into something that I really like about my work."  I feel like if I've given them the confidence and opportunity to make mistakes and then "fix them" that I've taught them an important life lesson. I mean, let's face it, life is about what we do with the mistakes and wrong turns we make!

Day 2 was devoted to learning and then painting warm and cool colors. I had a smartboard slide with a diagram showing both color families for the kids to use as reference.
Day  3 reviewed and discussed a Powerpoint on Klee's life and work and then the kids continued painting adding the white oil pastel.

 Day 4 we finished painting.  For their background they had the option of using the same color family, using both, or using the opposite one.  I think the next time I teach this lesson I'll have the students just continue with the same color family. I discussed with them that they didn't want the background to be so busy it competed with their heads, but I think impulsiveness won out. Keeping it all the same may help keep the face the focal point.  Maybe I'll even have them cut the heads out and mount on a solid piece of contrasting paper like I did with the first lesson examples.

3rd grade plate weaving

♠ Posted by ArtMuse in

 Weaving is one of those things that I wish I had learned in grad school.  When your studying to be  an art teacher you take your theory classes, you take your methods classes, and you take your fine art classes, but the multitude of media you will teach your students is something that, for the most part, you'll have to learn on the job. For me, weaving was definitely an on the job learning experience.  Without all the great art ed blog posts about various types of weaving I don't know how I would've learned everything I have about it!

I got this particular project from Cassie Stephens. She had posted it awhile ago but is actually posting a whole series right now on weaving. The link for the original project is here: However, she recently posted a whole new tree plate weaving post that you can check out here

The link for her weaving series is here: 

The project took 5-6, 40 minute periods.  The first period was dedicated to viewing and discussing landscape paintings and how artists create a sense of depth in their paintings by using value, scale, and detail.  I then showed the kids how to mix tints of white with green to make the grass and they painted their plates. 

On day two the kids added details with Sharpie markers and then modge podged the plates to give them a nice sheen. 

Day three consisted of making the notches in the plate and then creating the "tree" loom. In Cassie's post, I believed she used a template to show the kids where to cut.  I tried this but found that my kids didn't need it.  It was easier for me to just demonstrate making 8-10 notches in the top and 2 on the bottom, centered on their landscape.  That was, of course, after I explained what a "notch" was, lol.

 On day four and five the kids weaved.  I have a visualizer hooked up to my computer and smartboard, and I found it using it was perfect for this lesson. Having the ability to show the kids how to weave, tie knots, tie on new threads and knot the final thread close-up really helped them to understand what to do.
 Day six was a catch-up for the kids that were absent or who just work really slowly!

4th Grade Pop Art Prints

♠ Posted by ArtMuse in
I don't think I've ever taught a pop art project before. It's not that I don't like pop art because I do, I just haven't gotten around to teaching that particular movement. Apparently this has been a big mistake because I've had quite a few students tell me that the pop art prints they made with my leave replacement was one of their favorite projects OF ALL TIME!  Say whaaaa?? Who would've thought they'd love it so much?!! I teach a printmaking every year but I suppose it's just not the same unless it's pop art! 

 I think the students were given the option of drawing their own symbol or tracing pre-made ones, which I have mixed feelings about.  Given the fact that it's a pop art project, is it ok for the students to trace their images, or does it devalue the art making experience when you simply can copy something?  Andy Warhol made his fame from appropriating recognizable images and after he gained some notoriety, didn't even make the prints himself, but had a "factory" of people making it for him. I wonder if in this instance, if you discuss with children the idea of appropriation in art and copyright, and the way it was used within the movement, if it becomes valid for them to trace images...What are your thoughts???

New Art Centers

♠ Posted by ArtMuse in

Every year when I order the following years supplies, I always try to order a handful of new items that I think would be good to add to my center repertoire. Over the past 3 years of trial and error, I've found a few guidelines are helpful when thinking about whether a center item will be successful or not.  Here's what I've come up with: 

1.  Can the children easily set it up and put it away?  Things that require a lot of directions, steps, or guidance from me are a NO GO. The whole point of centers is self-directed, open ended exploration...if they need me every 5 seconds, it's not a successful center. Tied into this, is the level of mess it makes.  If there's an opportunity for the children to get really dirty, chances are it will be fun, but chances also are that you'll have to watch that group like a hawk for misbehavior or a little too much "exploration".  Again, if it doesn't run smoothly and with minimal teacher interruption, I'd say skip it.

2 Is it open-ended and exploratory?  If the activity is too structured and the product-based, chances are, the kids won't have time to complete it, and will be bored in the process. Also, if there are too many "right" or "wrong" steps they're guaranteed to get confused and discouraged (see also, # 1). 

3. Would it work for grades k-5, or at least grades k-2 or 3-5 If the activity is too centered on one specific age or ability level it won't work in the majority of situations.  Flexibility and adaptability are the name of the game in center activities, so if it doesn't suit a broad grade range, skip it.  

4. Does it keep the children engaged for a decent amount of time In a typical 40 minute are period I usually have the class switch centers 1 time.  The breakdown goes something like this: Five minute for reviewing center rules. Five minutes for setup,  transitions, and cleanup, and 30 minutes for center time. So, any more than 2 switches and the kids really don't have the time to explore the center. This means it's got to keep them engaged for at least 15 minutes. 

5.  Is it individual based or does it have opportunities for collaboration?  I will try a center activity that is based on solo work, but I particularly like the activities that give the kids the opportunity to create something as a group if they so choose.  Most of what I do, and from what I've seen, other art teachers do, is individual work, and so it's nice if the children get the chance to work together on something.

6. Will the materials hold up?  Delicate, quickly used, and/or easily breakable materials may make for a fun activity but if you have hundreds of students like I do (almost 600 to be exact) the materials aren't going to be worth the investment if they don't make it through a school year. Granted, I don't do centers that often, but I still want things to last, preferably for a few years.  So anything flimsy might prove to be a short-live budget buster. 

7. Lastly, and most important.  Are the students flexing their creative muscles?  For instance, kids love color by numbers, picture searches, word searches etc.  But you have to ask yourself, is this activity even worth it?  Now, some may argue the educational value of centers in and of themselves.  If you do a center day once in a while don't expect that the kids are going to learn a wealth of knowledge from a 15 minute session of exploratory play. But in my opinion, a little open-ended exploration and creativity is a great thing, especially in this day and age.  That being said, if the activity doesn't foster some modicum of creativity, leave it out.  Busy work has no place in center time!

Here are a few new center ideas I've tried this year: 

Dry Erase Boards with Dry Erase Crayons

I've found the early childhood grades smash the perfectly new marker tips into oblivion, so I figured I'd try crayons.  
Final Verdict: They're so-so.  They draw well, but are really hard to erase! The typical dry erasers don't really work on them. You need the rags that come with the crayon, and even then, the crayons are particularly persnickety to wipe away.

Magnetic Architecture Boards

A magnetic set comprised of a variety of pieces to create difference "buildings". 
Final Verdict: Great for grades 2-5.  The pieces are tiny and may be too small and difficult for kinders and first graders to manipulate. One set has enough magnets for 4 kids but you need to buy 3 extra magnetic white boards to go with the center because the original set only comes with one magnetic board.  I got mine from school specialty. Wonderboard also makes a magnetic bug makers set I'm going to try next year. 

Project Bricks 

 I think I thought these had a variety of shapes when I purchased them, but they only have the rectangle shapes unless they are cut. 
Final Verdict:  Underwhelming at first but surprisingly creative when given a chance.  My second graders took one look at these and gave a unanimous sigh of "underwhelmingness", but once they worked together and started to build with them, they got surprisingly into it. Something like this would be light years better if it came in color.  (Although, they would make a pretty good sculpture material for a real project) 

If you are still interested in my explorations into the land of art centers, click on 'Centers and Games' on the link to the right or  use the direct links below to  read previous center posts I've written: 

Art Centers

Art Centers-Take 1 

Art Centers-Take 2 

Art Centers-Take 3

Something shiny in the spirit of the holidays

♠ Posted by ArtMuse in ,

This has nothing to do with the holidays, but it is shiny!  This was an enormous work of art that my 2 art teacher colleagues and I collaborated on with our elementary art students for a local recycled art contest we all participate in every year.  At the end of the contest and exhibit the projects usually get scrapped, which really is a shame considering the amount of time and planning that goes into them.  So I was pleasantly surprised to see this hanging in the administrative building of my district the other day.  I'm glad it's getting  a little more exhibition time!