It’s no secret that when art and science meet, visual magic can occur. This Art of Anatomy lesson is the perfect mix of the two subjects, as students learn about the body and create amazing artwork at the same time.
I love this project because it teaches our students the importance of looking closely — a key ingredient to making successful art. As they work, they begin to realize they have to measure carefully to create a drawing that’s proportionately accurate. They also must look to find the subtle differences in the values of the bones.
Here are the step-by-step directions to teach your students how to make their own fabulous Art of Anatomy works.
1. Find a skeleton.
The key to this lesson is having a skeleton for your students to observe. In my case, I was able to use a plastic skeleton from my science department. Ask your co-workers if they have something you may be able to use. If not, it may be worth reaching out to other teachers in your district.
2. Set up the skeleton.
Begin by setting up the skeleton on a sturdy table in the middle of the art room. This set-up allows each student to observe the skeleton from all sides. It also allows each student to move their seat or easel and find a good place to work during the course of the project.
3. Discuss what you see.
Before beginning any drawing, discuss the skeleton with your students. Show how to use a common measuring point and to measure the bones against one another. This guidance will help them create a proportional drawing.
Remind students to look for the subtle value changes found throughout the skeleton. Then, discuss the negative space surrounding the skeleton.
Have students draw a minimum of two full-length skeletons as practice using contour lines and simple shading. This extra practice time sets them up for success from the beginning.
5. Draw 3 areas.
Have students draw at least three areas of the skeleton as realistically as possible using graphite and blending stumps. (You’ll want to allow about a week for students to complete Steps 4 and 5.)
During this step, you’ll quickly begin to notice this lesson pushes your students’ skills to the next level. Often accustomed to working with a seven-tiered value scale, my students end up using up to nine or ten different values in these works!
If you’re looking for even more ways to teach drawing in creative ways, be sure to check out the Rethinking your Drawing Curriculum PRO Learning Pack. Among other things, you’ll explore new ways of generating ideas and planning to help students develop interesting and engaging work and how to vary the materials, surfaces, and sizes your students work with to take their drawing to the next level! Don’t miss it!
6. Mix up the media!
This lesson gets exciting when students have the opportunity to mix up the media and play with size variation! After the initial sketching and drawing, add a creative dimension by having students draw a bone using pen and ink and another using charcoal. If they would like to add more bones using various other media, they are free to get as creative as they like.
7. Create the final composition.
Once all of their drawings are done, students are required to cut or tear them out. Before students get to this step, you’ll want them to consider what their final compositions will look like and plan accordingly. Remind them playing with size can make things more interesting. For example, drawing a phalange (finger bone) very large or the pelvic bone very small can create an engaging final artwork.
8. Add a background.
Once students have their final drawings cut or torn out, encourage them to create a background to emphasize the drawings. I encourage my students to use cardboard or other non-conventional materials.
Give your students the freedom to complete their work creatively. I don’t have any exact size or surface requirements. In addition, they can adhere their drawings to their background in any way they’d like. This artistic choice is why their final pieces often become award-winning works of art!
I love watching my students become the divergent thinkers I know they all are!
When students are allowed this type of freedom, they will come up with incredible work. Mixing technical and creative skills will push your students to the next level and prepare them to create more professional portfolios.
From glue and tape to staples and stitchery, from cardboard and fabric to paste paper and relief sculpture, these works truly become originals. For this reason, this lesson always becomes one of my students’ favorites!
You won’t regret giving this lesson a try. You can even create a school-wide teaching tool by displaying the work alongside the scientific names of the bones! I can’t wait to see how you and your students springboard off the Art of Anatomy!
How do you merge creative art and science lessons for your students?
How do you incorporate direct observation drawings with creative thinking?
One great thing about art is that you can turn the most overlooked items into something beautiful. As art teachers, we’re no strangers to stashing random items, like Styrofoam trays from the lunch room, in our storage closets. But sometimes, the problem becomes finding the perfect project to use up all that stuff.
A few years ago I watched the video, Caine’s Arcade, in which a young boy creates an arcade out of cardboard inside of his dad’s auto shop. After watching, I was inspired to bring this learning into my classroom.
Using Caine’s Arcade as inspiration to move through the engineering design process can help your students develop a wide array of 21st-century skills. Not to mention, it will allow you to use up all of that scrap cardboard you’ve been hanging onto!
Let’s dive into how you can use the video, Caine’s Arcade, to inspire your students’ cardboard construction projects!
1. Ask – Define the Problem
The first step in the engineering process is to ask questions to define a problem. Show your students Caine’s Arcade and ask the following questions to help guide their thinking.
What type of problems do you think Caine overcame to create his arcade?
What type of art could be created from cardboard and other recyclables?
What do you think Caine learned from creating his arcade?
How can creating with cardboard help the Earth?
Getting your students to think on a deeper level will begin to help them wrap their heads around the concept.
2. Imagine – Generate Ideas
After you watch the video and discuss, it will be time for your students to come up with their own ideas. Decide if you want to give your students a prompt to guide their project or leave it open-ended to see where their imaginations take them. In addition, decide if you want your students to work independently or in groups. The amount of supplies you have in stock would definitely be a factor to help you answer this question.
Here are 3 prompts to consider:
Create a game others can play.
Design a useful invention to help others or solve a problem we have in our world.
Challenge: Using only the materials given, create a sculpture.
3. Plan – Select a Solution
Once students have decided what to make, they need to make a plan. Planning helps them practice their higher-order thinking skills as they problem-solve and collaborate with one another. Of course, the design may evolve as they create, but having an initial plan will help get them started and can cut down on wasted materials.
This is a good time to give your students a mini-lesson on the various ways to attach cardboard. This way, they will know what types of attachments and structures are possible.
4. Create – Make the Item
When students have a solid plan, it’s time to create. This will be an active time in the art room as students begin to find materials, cut cardboard and focus their efforts on building their creations.
Make sure to have an array of supplies conducive to your students’ creativity and success. Cardboard should be your main material, but adding a few other items can spark new ideas.
You may consider providing:
Small boxes and smaller pre-cut pieces of cardboard work well.
Paper towel tubes
Toilet paper tubes
Construction paper scraps
If you decide to provide hot glue, think about the age and maturity level of your students. You may be able to let them use the hot glue themselves, but be sure to provide gardening gloves or something similar to prevent burns.
5. Test – Evaluate the Item
After students create their items, they’ll want to make sure they work as intended and that everything is securely attached.
Students can shake or turn their design upside down to make sure nothing falls off. If they designed a game, they can play it and see if it works as they planned.
6. Improve – Make Revisions
After testing, allow students to make changes to their work. Be sure to stress it’s ok for a project to evolve; they can make modifications if needed. You may also want to encourage your students to ask their peers for perspective and advice.
This is a great moment to connect student learning with real-world applications and talk about how the engineering process is useful in society.
7. Share – Present the Results
To complete the engineering process, it’s important to have your students share their work through an informal or formal critique. Presenting their work will allow your students to share their hard work with others and give insight into their design process. In this way, students can learn from each other’s experiences.
Here are 5 prompts you may consider for student response:
What problems did you run into?
How did you problem-solve to find a solution?
How did you improve your original design?
What types of skills did you learn throughout the process?
If you worked with a partner or team, how well did you collaborate?
No matter how you go about introducing your students to cardboard construction, they will get so much out of the experience. Your students will be engaged from start to finish as they get to build their own creative cardboard designs.
How do you introduce cardboard construction to your students?
Have you already designed a project inspired by Caine’s Arcade? If so, how was it implemented?
As you know, adding contemporary artists to your curriculum can have a big impact on your program. There’s something about the work of living artists that immediately captures student interest. Plus, with more and more artists showing their work through avenues other than traditional galleries, it’s easier than ever to share a wide variety of work with your students.
Here are 7 contemporary sculptors sure to enthrall and inspire your students.
image via Tate Gallery
Whiteread generally works with casts, using materials like concrete, resin, and even snow to create sculptures of objects such as mattresses, stairwells, and an entire house. The point of interest, however, is that Whiteread creates casts of negative space. If you look at the image of the sculpture above, this concept is illustrated perfectly. What originally looks like bookshelves are, in fact, the negative spaces in between those objects. This twist is sure to captivate your kids.
Lam’s amorphous blobs somehow manage to look adorable and dangerous at the same time. With an Instagram account full of squishes, blobs, and drips, she can make you want to reach through the screen and try to touch her work.
Sarah Sze’s work can best be described as a mix of order and chaos. Her sculptures and installations are part architectural design and part intricate detail. The everyday objects she uses create fractal-like patterns that can disorient and overwhelm you, but they never fail to fascinate.
Donovan’s biomorphic sculptures are painstakingly assembled (and disassembled) with everyday objects to create site-specific works. Whether she is using toothpicks, drinking straws, or styrofoam cups, her installations accentuate the qualities of those objects in unique and exciting ways. Like the time she stacked one million index cards.
Because you always wanted to know what a sculpture made entirely of bird feathers looks like, right? Her organic, undulating forms are created with layer after layer of feathers. In her own words, “I gather, collate, re-use, layer, peel, burn, reveal, locate, question, duplicate, play, and photograph.” And the results are spectacular.
Simone Leigh’s thought-provoking work includes sculpture, video, and installation. She often uses materials and forms traditionally associated with African art, and her work draws from a variety of cultures, time periods, and locations around the world.
The work above is made up of 250 plates of golden, mirror-polished metal, overhanging the paths of a New York park. It immerses anyone who walks under it, showing their reflection as they walk between buildings and nature. Her large-scale sculptures and installations are inspired by fire, cloud formations, meteors, and other natural phenomena.
The fact is there are hundreds of sculptors to choose from. Use this list as a jumping off point for your own exploration. Teaching your students to seek out work they can connect with is also a good idea. You never know what they might discover!
Who are your favorite contemporary sculptors?
Which sculpture artists would you add to this list?
There’s something about working in 3-D that fascinates and engages our students. When students have the opportunity to take two-dimensional ideas and build them before their eyes, fantastic learning takes place. Creating sculptures is the best way to do this, but it can seem daunting when you don’t know where to start.
Today I’m going to share a sculpture project that is suitable for all grade levels and easy to implement!
Introducing “Trash to Treasures”
The old saying goes, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” With this sculpture project, your students can explore this idea in a literal sense. Using recyclable materials, students can not only create artwork but also practice good citizenship by taking care of their natural environment.
This project is a great way to bring awareness to the importance of recycling. To date, humans have created 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic. That’s the same as the weight as 1 billion elephants! This number will only continue to grow without consumer changes. What are we doing to inform our students about the significance of this in our environment? Creating art is an excellent way for students to enact change and bring awareness!
Here’s how to get started.
1. Gather materials.
To start this project, you’ll want to gather a variety of recycled items. Your students will go through quite a bit of material, so make sure you have enough. Reach out to your staff, students, and parents to start collecting. Don’t forget to check with your school’s kitchen staff for cardboard, as they are receiving deliveries almost every day!
Here are some of the popular items with which students love to build:
Have students collect these during lunch instead of throwing them away.
Paper towel rolls
In addition to recyclable materials, you will also need:
Paint (acrylic is recommended)
2. Inspire your students.
Next, you’ll want to inspire your students with some contemporary artwork.
Before students begin to build armatures, they will need to develop a plan in their sketchbook. Encourage your students to create a drawing of their sculpture, keeping in mind what materials they will use where. During this stage, it is important for students to know what materials are available, so they can begin thinking about how they will use them to create their piece.
4. Build armature.
Once sketches are complete, it’s time to build! It’s important to demonstrate techniques like creating curved and rounded forms with newspaper and masking tape. Students tend to use a lot of masking tape during this step. Show them they don’t have to cover the entire armature in tape if they are using it in only the essential spots.
The building process can get out of hand quickly, and larger-than-life sculptures will start to take over the art room. If you are limited on space or materials or want to adapt this to lower grade levels, limit your students’ sculpture size. You can do this by limiting the size of materials you provide or providing dimensions the sculpture must fit within.
5. Cover the armature in plaster gauze.
When working with a sculpture project like this, there are a variety of ways armatures can be transformed into a more permanent state. My favorite material to use is plaster gauze. It allows flexibility in the work without worrying about drying time or having to rush through the application process.
Remind your students of the importance of rubbing out all of the plaster holes and wrapping the gauze tight, so it doesn’t hang from the sculpture. Make sure when students cut the plaster they are cutting over a container to collect the dust. The plaster dust can be used to fill in any holes that were not smoothed out in the application process.
6. Add color.
Once the plaster gauze is dry, students can begin to add color with paint. If painting directly on plaster, the finish can become very dull as it absorbs into the surface. To get a more brilliant finish, apply a layer of gesso to the sculpture first. When the gesso is dry, students can begin adding details with paint. Acrylic paint works best, but some brands of tempera paint can work without cracking especially if the sculpture is treated with gesso.
7. Bring the sculptures to life.
If you’re looking for a way to differentiate this project for more advanced learners or create an extension, try using technology. Using the Makey Makey device students can code to bring their sculpture to life and create an interactive experience for viewers. Students can record and create sounds to go along with their sculpture or record an artist statement to explain their process! To see this idea in action check out this video.
Not only does this project teach students the value of recycling, but it also forces them to use their problem-solving skills. At each step challenges will arise, and you’ll be surprised at the solutions they come up with! Give it a try and let your students’ imaginations run wild!
What is your favorite way to use plaster gauze in your classroom?
How have you used recyclable materials to create sculptures?
Right now my sixth graders are so deeply engaged in a collaborative art project that many of them are begging to skip recess to work on their assignment. The surprising thing is that it is an art history project! So, why are they so excited?
We are creating a student-designed, 18-hole, art history inspired, mini-golf course to play at our spring art show!
Let me take you back to the beginning. This summer, my husband and I embarked on a rejuvenating midwestern road trip. Our adventures took us to Minneapolis, Minnesota where we took in the sculpture gardens of the Walker Art Center. We were there to see Claes Oldenberg’s Spoon Bridge and Cherry in person, but we got more than we bargained for.
Within the sculpture garden was the Walker’s annual summer “Artist Designed Mini-Golf” event. This interactive masterpiece is simultaneously a series of artworks and a functional mini-golf course. Each hole within the 18-piece course was designed by an artist or team of artists. Some holes were reflective of that artists’ work, and some were a nod to art history. My husband and I were enchanted, and I knew I had to bring this idea back to my students.
When school started, I spent a lot of time sharing this idea and advocating for resources. Now, almost six months later, this passion project is just weeks away from coming to fruition. Along the way, our mini-golf course has promoted cross-cultural connections with teachers with whom I would have never expected to partner. It has also injected problem-based learning and STEAM into my art room in dynamic ways. The best part is that it has inspired some reluctant artists.
Here is a guide for implementing a similar project in your art curriculum!
First, find collaborators!
A project of this size is easier to manage when multiple people are involved in the research, design, and funding process. The characteristics of this project can lead to some unusual and fun pairings.
Consider inviting the following types of colleagues:
Mine are teaching a mini-unit on golf the week of our show.
Librarians or Technology Specialists
Our school’s technology teacher led the charge with the research component of this project.
Science or Math Teachers
There are HUGE opportunities for STEAM connections embedded in the process.
They frequently plan family and community events, so supporting a mini-golf night is a natural fit!
As you approach each of these potential stakeholders, be sure to point out the exciting benefits of an “art history mini-golf collaboration,” from their professional perspective. Once they see the potential benefits for their own programs, they can’t help but want to be a part of this project.
Next, guide meaningful research!
Present a variety of interesting artists from which to choose.
While some students already have a favorite artist, many need encouragement to pick an interest area. I like to present 20-30 artists, doing a brief “commercial” for each. I share an image via PowerPoint and take 60 seconds to share the most interesting tidbits I know about that artist and their work. This process is similar to a “book talk.”
To keep my students engaged during these commercials, I provide them with a graphic organizer. This worksheet is divided into categories. The students are responsible for fitting each artist into one or more of the groups. This process helps students unpack their thinking and begin to form opinions about who they might like to study further. If you’d like to try this strategy, check out the download below.
The ILT (Information Literacy and Technology) teacher in my building was eager to join this project because it offers a rare opportunity for students to do something “hands-on” with their completed research.
Whether you oversee the research process yourself or collaborate with another teacher, keep the following three things in mind:
Chunk the assignment to ensure success!
Give students a set of specific questions so they can easily identify the purpose of their research.
Figure out how students will organize and share the facts they are learning.
You may require students to gather certain biographical information or collect information on their chosen artist’s most famous works. If you’re looking for a simple form to collect information, you can find one by clicking here.
Decide how you will handle nudity and sensitive biographical information.
As students start to explore artists on the internet, these issues will inevitably come up. If you have concerns, discuss it with your administrator BEFORE beginning the project. Make sure you have a clear action plan.
Finally, provide structure and build your course!
Choose a format for the entire course.
I was fortunate to have my PTO purchase actual putting greens for this project, but you could use particle board or set up in a carpeted room!
Once the greens arrived, I laid one out in the classroom and let the students putt around for a bit, to fully understand the unique constraints of their project.
After playing, I laid down some necessary parameters:
The viewer should make an obvious connection between the appearance of the hole and the chosen artist.
The holes will be set up for one night in the gym. They must be durable but don’t need to be waterproof.
No cutting or painting the greens is allowed; so sculptures must sit on or around the grass.
Any supplies in the art room, within reason, are available for use.
Assign groups or allow free choice.
This year, students were grouped according to the artists they had researched. In some cases, friends intentionally chose the same artist as other friends, but it still seemed to work out well. Choose the format that will work best within your classroom’s dynamics.
Sometimes, collaborative projects can be tricky to manage. With multiple students participating and wide-ranging parameters, it becomes important to inject a clear planning process.
Here is what worked in my room:
Defining what supplies would be available to the kids.
Having planning meetings with each group.
Providing a structured planning sheet that helped the group identify next steps and promoted accountability.
As they plan, help facilitate the transition from research to a three-dimensional interpretation of the artist’s work. Don’t limit the options or media; your students will think of applications you’d never imagine. Their creativity will astound you!
Here are a few of my favorites so far:
A pool noodle arch decorated with Georgia O’Keefe flowers
A gray cardboard barn with a splatter painted floor in the spirit of Jackson Pollock
A paper mache bowler hat and apple ala Magritte’s Son of Man
A skateboard ramp being re-purposed and painted in Picasso’s cubist style
Use a few “hacks” to keep your sanity.
Finally, experience has taught me one of the key factors for success with this project is time. Whether they decide to recreate da Vinci’s inventions in cardboard or explore Seurat’s pointillism in puffballs, students are going to need a substantial amount of time!
Besides time, here are six other helpful “hacks” we have discovered:
Start stockpiling cardboard early.
Talk with your custodian and ask them to start saving large boxes for you.
Many of these creations are going to be enormous, so clean out your art closet to make room.
Tackle the cardboard cutting challenge by purchasing a cardboard cutter for teacher use.
You will be shocked at the time this saves you. This tool is invaluable.
Create project sustainability by communicating the temporary nature of things.
For example, if students choose to use expensive materials like wood, let them know it will be re-purposed by another artist next year to save money.
Regularly set up the green to allow for testing.
Don’t underestimate the trial and error that goes into this process. Allow your students to play, to make sure their design works!
Promote safety as they golf!
My PE teachers were excellent consultants when it came to safety. Ultimately, we decided to opt for foam balls and putters due to the age and volume of the students. There have been countless days I have silently thanked them for help with that decision!
Choose a venue for the community to play the course.
After all of your students’ hard work, you will want to share the course with the community! Mini-golf is an ideal fit within several spring events that are common at the public school: spring carnival, field days, or your art show. Choose one and begin to publicize the course! Don’t forget to invite your administration or even the school board. Who doesn’t want to play a round of golf?!
At first, building an art history mini-golf course can seem to be an impossibly expensive undertaking. But, as with all art projects, it just takes some creative problem solving to make it a reality for your school. Your efforts will be rewarded tenfold, as you see students who were never invested in art class clamoring to put in extra work on their mini-golf hole!
What tips do you have for efficiently organizing group projects?
As first-year teachers, we all run into things for which we are not prepared. For me, one of those experiences was teaching an adaptive art class to 20+ students with severe and profound needs on my very first day of school. Needless to say, coming in with no formal special education training, it was a train wreck. It took many weeks of failure before I finally figured it out.
Walking into the art room is a fantastic experience because there is a place for all students to thrive. For many students with special needs, the art room might be the only inclusive part of their day. However, trying to meet the needs of all students can be difficult and time-consuming. The key is to start with the same materials and subject matter the rest of the class is using. This method will prevent you from having to start from scratch.
Here are 4 concrete examples to help you get started.
1. Use technology and transparencies to modify portrait lessons.
Creating portraits is challenging for almost all students whether they have special needs or not. Above, you can see the results of a smashed portrait project with a painted background. Here, students used the grid method to draw the portrait.
You can easily modify a portrait lesson like this one with the help of technology. Start by taking a photo of your student. Then, have them transfer that photo onto a transparency. Depending on the student’s needs, they could trace their photo onto the transparency using a permanent marker, or they could print the photo directly onto the transparency using a digital printer. If they do the latter, you could have them digitally edit the photo first.
Finally, instead of painting a detailed background, students could use a Gelli plate to create a monoprint to which their transparency could be attached.
2. Use a light box and modify requirements for drawing projects.
Above you can see a drawing lesson that focuses on contour line, value, and shading. Students start by creating a contour line drawing of their subject and divide the paper into different sections to practice value techniques.
To modify the project, have your students select an image, print it out, and use a light box or transparency to aid in tracing. Students can still divide their background with a ruler. But, instead of adding value to the sections, have students use a material like markers to fill in each shape. You can see a modified version of this project in the photo below.
3. Use molds and extruders to help with clay projects.
Clay is a versatile material and is excellent for students who have trouble with motor skills. However, working with fine details can sometimes be difficult. For example, rolling coils to create a vessel might be complicated. Instead, try using a mold. Slump molds are an excellent way for students to explore clay without having to worry about creating a coil or slab.
Cover the mold with plastic wrap and let students press pieces of clay into it, making sure to smooth them together as they work. No scoring or slipping is necessary if the clay is plastic enough. Make sure to remove the clay from the mold before it is leather hard to prevent cracking.
If students can create clay coils or you have an extruder, use the coils to trace. Placing coils over the student’s name or a drawing they’ve created is a simple way to modify the coil technique. Students will likely need assistance attaching the designs or names to another surface like a slab of clay.
4. Simplify and use templates to make lessons more accessible.
The above photo is a plaster gauze sculpture project made with recyclable materials. To modify a lesson like this for your adaptive art students, limit their materials and use templates.
To allow my students to have the experience of making something with recyclables and plaster wrap, I showed them how to make giant pencils. I gave each of my students one paper towel roll and a piece of oak tag paper. They used a template to make the point of a pencil with the oak tag paper and attached it to the paper towel roll using masking tape. I then gave students smaller pre-cut plaster gauze strips so they could apply them to their armature to complete their pieces.
No matter what projects you’re modifying, having a variety of modifiers to choose from is helpful.
Here are 5 essential tools to keep on hand for easy modifications.
Stencils and templates
Light box for tracing
Large, easy-to-hold materials
Transparencies for tracing
You can find even more tools and ideas in this video.
Creating effective modifications for your students does not need to be time-consuming. Remember to keep it simple by using the materials and methods already in place and finding ways to adapt them to meet the needs of your students.
What examples of project modifications can you share?
What are the biggest joys and challenges that come with working with adaptive art students?
Photography is one of the most popular electives in my school. I think a big reason for this is because students think it’s so easy to take pictures. These days, students can snap selfies and photos anytime, with little planning or thought. However, when they try to translate their social media skills to photography class, many of them realize their skills aren’t quite as sharp as they thought.
It’s important to show students taking a good photo involves more than a click of a button. In addition, we must help students discover a new way of looking and learn to see all of the details they’ve been missing. Starting off with projects to build these skills is crucial!
Here are 2 engaging projects I use with my beginning middle school photography students.
1. Photo Scavenger Hunts
Being able to leave the confines of the classroom is a big draw of photography classes, especially for middle schoolers. Scavenger hunts are a great way to help them focus during these periods of newfound freedom. Below are two ideas to try.
The Digital “Photo-bet”
The very first project we do in my middle school photography class involves locating the twenty-six letters of the alphabet in our surroundings. This Digital Photo-bet project takes time and hones students’ patience along with their observational and organizational skills. For this project, I typically have students use iPads to take the photos. This way, they stay focused on looking for the letters instead of playing with the camera.
The parameters of the project are simple:
Students must look for objects and shapes that resemble letters. They may not take photos of actual letters.
Students cannot stage their photos or retouch their findings. They must capture the “letters” as-is.
The letters do not have to be captured in order. However, students should keep track of which letters they’ve captured as they go along.
When finished, students must create a sentence or series of phrases that use all of the letters in a single composition. Students love to discuss these pieces and discuss the “letters” they see.
During the project, students quickly begin collaborating to find images and compare their letters with each other. There are usually a few students who insist the sticks they discovered had fallen exactly in the shape of an “N.” I trust them unless proven otherwise.
After the project is complete, I often notice students talking with each other about how they see their surroundings differently. They’re paying more attention, which is the goal.
Elements and Principles
Another early project involves photographing the elements and principles of art. It’s a good way to assess students’ background knowledge and introduce them to the capabilities of a Digital SLR camera.
For lots of students, this is one of their first exposures to a Digital SLR camera, and the features and capabilities of the camera are a bit overwhelming. Therefore, it’s a good idea to present and demonstrate a few basic concepts and techniques.
Here are 3 I like to focus on with my students:
Taking pictures in focus is a continual struggle because middle school students always seem to be in a rush to get things done quickly. They also have a tough time remembering their cameras might be set to Manual Focus instead of Auto. The main idea here is encouraging them to slow down and check the focus instead of snapping the picture and moving on.
Composition and Lighting
I encourage my students to try and shoot with the goal of as little post-production editing as possible. Therefore, we talk a lot about using the viewfinder to compose a good image to start with. I teach them to look for distracting backgrounds or poor lighting from the get-go. Thinking in this way will save time in the long run.
Digital means you can take lots of photos! I often have students go out to shoot only to return with a handful of images. They haven’t grasped the idea that they can take a large number of photo and choose the best shot from the group afterward. Many of them believe one shot is all they’ll need. Inevitably, students end up wishing they could have taken more images to capture a specific subject or moment.
Once students have gotten to know their cameras a bit and have reviewed the elements and principles, they head out to photograph them around our school. They really try to outdo each other with their images. I’ve had students look for textures no one can guess or use their peers to represent motion.
2. Light Painting
I usually do light painting with my students toward the end of the semester. It’s a fun way for them to learn how to manipulate images through the science of photography and light rather than software.
At this point, they’ve learned how time and light are the most important factors in creating a strong photograph. Now, they get to play with the concepts.
To do light painting, you’ll need:
A dark space
Setting up in a dark or virtually pitch black space is best, though not a necessity. Have students set up the camera and tripod and adjust the shutter speed to a setting upward of a second. On most cameras, you do this with the TV (Time Variable) setting on the dial. Students may have to play with the actual shutter speed setting to find the ideal shutter speed length for their image, so encourage them to try out multiple variations.
After the shutter is opened, students move the flashlight around in either a shape or letter and the light is captured in trails until the shutter closes. They can write messages, create effects, and just generally play with light. I often end up with students spending multiple class periods trying to capture the perfect photo.
These engaging projects are a surefire way to get your students comfortable with their cameras and the basics of photography. As your students gain skills and confidence, you can let them explore and play a little more.
What are your favorite introductory photography projects?
With which camera features do your students encounter the most challenges when they begin working with photography?
Teaching portraiture in the art room can be tricky because it doesn’t always engage all students. While some kids love drawing themselves, others loathe the activity.
One trick I’ve found for engaging students is to assign portraits as a theme and then allow students to individually respond to that theme.
In my room, I call themes “big ideas.” They inspire student work but allow students to choose how they approach a topic. Big ideas work at any grade level and allow for differentiation. Students learn a central concept, but they have creative freedom in how they authentically express themselves.
Let’s take a look at how to bring traditional and non-traditional self-portraits into your classroom using the big idea, Self-Portraits.
1. Share the big idea, Self-Portraits, with your students.
Start by sparking your students’ interest in self-portraits by sharing images. Be sure to include a variety of artists and a good mixture of thought-provoking traditional and non-traditional examples. Non-traditional self-portraits could include portraits created with unique materials or self-portraits that do not include facial features.
You may have some of your favorite portrait artists in mind, but here are a few other artists to consider.
During your discussion, you’ll want to make sure to define the words “portrait,” “self-portrait,” and “identity.” This will help students as they move to the next step.
2. Have your students brainstorm about their identity.
After you introduce the idea of self-portraiture, you’ll want to have your students think about their identity on a deeper level.
Ask your students essential question such as:
How can artists incorporate their identity into their artwork?
What is the difference between a traditional and non-traditional portrait?
How can a non-traditional portrait capture the identity of an artist?
Can an artist create a self-portrait without recreating an image of themselves? If so, how?
After discussing, have students think about themselves.
Consider having students answer questions such as:
Who are you as a person?
What is important to you?
What are your hobbies?
What words would you use to describe your personality?
What are your favorite colors?
What colors reflect your current mood?
Give your students some time to answer the questions and list any other words they can to describe themselves. This list will help motivate and inspire your students’ work as they consider who they are as a person and what they want to share with others.
3. Give your students time to build their skills.
Before students can jump into a project, they need to have some basic skills. Building in this time will allow you to demonstrate how to draw a portrait and how to use different materials. This can also be a time for students to get their sketches together and figure out which materials they want to use for their final self-portraits.
Demonstrating Different Portrait Techniques
You may consider demonstrating how to create a portrait using a mini-lesson. This should take no longer than eight minutes. Students can practice eyes, noses, mouths, heads, etc., or practice drawing a complete portrait.
This step can be optional. However, you may want to make it mandatory, so all students practice the skills. Either way, by the middle of the class, students should be working on a plan of their choosing.
Letting Students Explore Materials
You’ll also want to give your students a chance to build their confidence with new materials, especially if they’ll have access to materials they haven’t used yet.
When providing new materials, demonstrate a few ways students might use them. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Things like seeds, bottle caps, and cotton balls are all unique items that could be used to enhance their work.
If you have iPads, you can also give the option to work with digital media and use apps such as WordFoto, Silhouette or Aviary to edit photographs. Students could even take photographs of their work and digitally enhance it. The possibilities are truly endless.
4. Let your students create.
The first class period allows your students to learn, practice and plan. By the second class period, remind your students of the big idea and allow them to create. In no time, your class will look like a professional art studio full of engaged artists. I usually give my students a minimum of two to three class periods to create their pieces. Feel free to alter this plan depending on your students and class times.
Have all the supplies readily available for your students to get or set up tables with various supplies, so they have choices. This makes it easier for students to see what their options are and helps promote their creativity.
If some students finish early, you could give them an extension that allows them to take their work to the next level by using it to inspire a companion piece or allow them time to create another self-portrait using a different approach. Digital artists usually finish much faster than others, so it will be helpful if you think ahead.
5. Have students reflect with artist statements.
Once students have wrapped up the project, have them write an artist statement. This is a great way to understand why students created their self-portrait the way they did and their thought process throughout their work time.
Artist statements are especially helpful for the non-traditional, more abstract portraits.
Allowing your students to choose how they approach their own self-portrait will promote a wide array of unique, authentic student work. This not only helps them build their creativity, but it also helps them with 21st-century skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving.
How do you get your students excited about self-portraits?
What is your best instructional strategy to teach proportion for portraits?
We all know art educators should be advocating for quality visual art education every single day. It’s just a part of our job. But, in March, we have a special tool to help us advocate.
Youth Art Month is that tool!
In 1961, the Council for Art Education designated March as “Children’s Art Month.” In 1969, the event grew to include older students as well. And thus, Youth Art Month was born.
YAM, as it’s commonly known, is held each March. It’s a wonderful way to educate the public about the power of art education. Every child has the right to learn to create and think critically through a comprehensive art education program. When the arts are supported by the public, students are the ultimate winners!
Unfortunately, millions of students continue to go without an arts education on a daily basis. YAM is a way to showcase why this is a mistake on so many levels.
Youth Art Month is the way to share the need for quality art education with others.
Administrators, school board members, community leaders, and, most importantly, parents must see the need for quality art education. It’s important for stakeholders and voters in your community realize our children deserve opportunities to excel in our society. This means the arts MUST be included in our schools!
Participating in YAM is simple!
All art educators “do” YAM on a daily basis already. But, during March, consider the opportunities YAM can provide. I encourage you to go one step further and document your students’ work!
I recommend following your state YAM theme or the national YAM theme. Of course, you can create your own, too. During my time as the YAM coordinator for Georgia, we used several creative themes which we unveiled at our fall conference.
Here are 3 theme ideas to bring to your next state conference!
“eARTh: Where ART Makes a Difference
Give each teacher a brown lunch bag. Fill it with lesson ideas and advocacy advice! If you want to take it to the next level, consider including a mini bottle of water and a snack or two.
“It’s a pARTy” Give each teacher a party bag filled with the state YAM info. Include party hats and shoot off a confetti gun to get people even more excited!
At the conference, start to collaboratively build a state-wide YAM mascot. Then, have it travel across the state as students add to the mascot. When we did this, over 1000 students were able to add to the mascot as it grew to be over nine feet tall!
Now that you have some ideas to get teachers fired up, let’s talk about how to celebrate YAM in your school.
Below are ten simple ways to get started as well as five more in-depth ideas.
Participate in your state Youth Art Month Flag competition. If your state doesn’t do this, be the leader who gets it started! You never know when your student’s work might be selected as the art represented on the state flag!
Hold a community art exhibit at a local business like a coffee shop, museum or library. Don’t forget to advertise!
Invite parents and community leaders to come to your art room and observe or work alongside your students for a day.
Give students the prompt of “YAM” as a weekly visual journal assignment. I have had some incredible works come out of this prompt.
Ask to meet with your legislators and bring them a few pieces of framed artwork. Don’t forget to include the always important “artist statement.” You could also invite these legislators, your mayor, your superintendent, or your principal to officially proclaim YAM in your school. If you do, don’t forget to call your local newspaper. It might become front-page news!
Post student art on social media, advertising YAM in your school and community
Have a week or month of school-wide YAM activities. One example could be “Color Day” where students dress in specific colors or color schemes. Another example could be “Art History Day” where students dress as their favorite historical artist or painting.
If you have the time to dig a little bit deeper, here are 5 more fun ideas for incredible YAM events.
1.Hold a Vincent Van YAM Jam!
Van Gogh’s birthday is March 30th, 1853, making it a great day to wrap up all of your YAM activities. You might consider celebrating Van Gogh’s birthday with a student art exhibit! In my school, we taught the students to sing the song Vincent by Don McLean and then created a collaborative video of students’ visual responses to the song. But, the possibilities are endless!
2. Hold an Empty Bowls Dinner.
This is a great service learning activity where every art student makes a simple pinch pot to act as a visual reminder that many people see nothing but empty bowls as they struggle with hunger issues. The event culminates in a dinner where community members are invited to come and eat soup, bread, and water in exchange for a small donation. We have had our students perform and set up the cafeteria, create the invitations, and host an art exhibit to add to this special event. The money raised goes directly to our local food bank, and each guest leaves with a student-created “empty bowl” pinch pot.
3. Create a YAM Art Tunnel.
The first year I introduced YAM to my school, I brought in a giant refrigerator box and had my students turn it into an interactive and educational art history tunnel. Students researched art history eras from pre-historic to post-modern and made art images to go with the research. The info was put inside the box, and students could walk through with flashlights and learn about the history of art. We added colored crepe paper on the front and back of the box and decorated the outside as well.
4. Have students create portraits of your staff members.
Having students create portraits of teachers and other staff members in your building is a memorable experience for everyone. It’s a great way to celebrate the hardworking people in your building. It’s also a great way for students to work on their portrait skills and makes for a beautiful and powerful exhibit.
5. Make Artist Trading Cards!
Trading art with students from other schools across the nation or the world is a perfect way to collaborate, share, and celebrate your students’ talents. The best part is that there’s no wrong way to do it! It can be as simple as making art on 2″ x 3″ Bristol board and swapping with one other class. Or, you can go nuts and get involved in a much bigger swap. Make sure your kids sign their art! ATCs are always one of my students’ favorite activities.
Finally, empower your students to advocate for themselves!
It’s helpful to remind your students that many employers are looking to hire people with the exact skills the arts provide. In fact, according to this report from The Conference Board, 78% of employers are looking for candidates that have the “ability to look spontaneously beyond the specifics of a question.” Sharing data like this helps your students be the best YAM advocates because they see the value of their own art education.
If you’re looking to share even more reasons the arts matter, download the handy list below! Share it with your students, your school, and wider community!
These are a few exciting simple, ways to honor the importance of this national event. You can go as big or small as you’d like, but I’d encourage you to find at least one way to recognize this national event!
If you’re a YAM coordinator, remember you’ll be required to collect all of the info from your teacher’s Youth Art Month celebrations and create a state scrapbook, so don’t forget to document! The Council for Art Education gives out national awards for state YAM participation, so be sure your state is involved!
Together, we can share with the nation and the world the importance of art education and our children will continue to reap the rewards! Use the YAM tool, created for art educators, and watch your program soar!
What YAM activities do you have planned for March 2018?
What YAM activities have you done in the past to help promote your program?
Have you ever had to teach a class without any experience or knowledge about the topic?
I’d never made jewelry or taken a metals class, yet there it was, on my schedule. There were tools I’d never seen before and a bin filled with torches. (Was I really to give my students torches?!) I asked for help, read books, and spent a lot of time on YouTube, realizing it didn’t need to be as intimidating as I was making it out to be. I learned a lot the first year, and so did my students. Being able to create wearable art is magical. Here are the first skills my students and I learned together.
A Beginner’s Guide to Making Metal Jewelry in the Art Room
Step 1: Gather Materials
Of course, the materials you’ll want to gather will depend on exactly what you want students to make. However, the list below is a good start.
Sheet Metal (22 gauge)
Jewelry saw frame
Jewelers saw blades (No.2/0)
Bench pin (optional)
Metal hole punch
Sandpaper (assortment of 180-2000 grit)
Bar of soap or wax
Wire cutters (optional)
Computer or tracing paper
Step 2: Gather Inspiration
Jewelry supplies are an investment well worth the cost. High school students love the opportunity to create professional-quality jewelry. There is no erasing or “undo button” when comes to working with metal, so it’s important for students to have a detailed plan before they make the first cut. Have students look through magazines or Pinterest to create an inspiration board.
Have students create sketches, making sure they are accurate in scale and design. Draw the final sketches on tracing or computer paper, then cut out to create a template.
Cutting metal is time-consuming and can be quite challenging for a beginner. Therefore, I recommend having students start with a simple shape. Trying something too complex too soon can lead to students feeling overwhelmed and giving up.
Step 4. Prepare to Cut
We’re all familiar with the agony that is a student cutting a small shape out of the middle of a piece of paper. Guess what? They do it with metal, too. Be sure to remind them to place their shape as close to the edge as possible. If their design has a straight edge, align it with an existing straight edge.
Have students take their paper template and glue it onto the metal using a glue stick or rubber cement. The glue will rub off the metal when finished.
Make sure the glue is dry and the paper held in place before cutting.
Step 5. Use the Jewelry Saw
Before students start cutting their metal, they need to learn to use the jewelry saw.
All students must wear safety glasses. Jewelry blades are thin and often break under pressure, which sends them flying through the air.
After everyone has their safety glasses on, teach students how to put the blade into the saw frame. Blades need to be facing out and down. They also need to be tight, if the blade bends or gives under pressure it won’t cut well.
Contrary to what your students may think, a jewelry saw needs only a little pressure to work. Allow the blade to lead and move it in a vertical motion.
If you have bench pins, you’ll want to attach them to the tables. Bench pins help to ensure students aren’t cutting through the table. My tables have extremely thick edges, so bench pins don’t fit. Students cut with their piece on the table, and work to be aware of the edge.
Allow students to take breaks, making it less likely that they’ll break their blade. Do not lay the metal down with the blade still in the cut as it will break. Instead, loosen one end of the blade from the saw frame. Then pull the blade down until it is free from the cut.
Students may create a design that requires cutouts within a shape. To make these cuts, you’ll need to pierce a hole into the metal using a drill or metal hole punch. I prefer a metal punch as it’s easier and doesn’t risk sending a piece of metal flying through the air. Once finished, thread the saw blade through the hole and begin cutting.
Step 6. File the Edges
Once the piece is cut out, it’s time to remove the paper template, rub off the glue, and make the edges smooth. Use jewelry files around the edges, making sure to only file in one direction. Moving in both directions will quickly dull the file. File the front and back of the piece, creating a beveled edge.
Step 7. Sand and Polish
Remove all scratches and blemishes by sanding. Start with 180 grit continuing to move to finer sandpaper until the piece looks smooth and shiny. Finish by wiping with a polishing cloth.
Step 8. Add Finishing Elements
At this point, students need to add elements like a chain for a necklace or hooks for earrings. After determining how the piece should hang, use the metal hole punch to create holes, and add a jump ring to attach the chain or earring hooks. You can buy jump rings or teach students how to make them. To make jump rings, wrap the wire around a pencil, then cut one coil at a time with wire cutters.
Using two pairs of pliers, one on each side, turn one toward your body and the other away causing the jump ring to open. Close the jump ring using the same technique.
Working with metal takes patience and practice, but the results are worth the work.
Have you ever had to teach a class without any experience or education on the subject?
When you’re looking for handmade jewelry, what are your go-to shops, websites, or designers?