Brushstroke Paintings 

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After observing artwork by Alma Woodsey Thomas, second graders created a watercolor background and filled their painting with brushstrokes using tempera.

Art Lesson Videos: Brushstroke Paintings, Part 1 & Part 2 & Part 3

PowerPoint: Alma Woodsey Thomas

Supplies:

  • 9″ x 12″ poster board or watercolor paper
  • Brushes
  • Watercolor paints
  • Tempera paint
  • Scrap paper to create shapes

I was so excited to share Alma Woodsey Thomas’s artwork with my students! They had so many interesting observations to make about her paintings. This turned out to be one of those projects that really captured my students’ attention.

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They started by creating a watercolor background using the wet-on-wet technique. This was its own special kind of magic! It is always fun to hear gasps of amazement when students are experimenting with a new material.

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The second day we worked on the project, we looked at her painting “Starry Night and the Astronaut” again. (Isn’t that the best title!?) They noticed that the shape in the top corner was a different color than the background.

Create brushstroke paintings inspired by Alma Woodsey Thomas.
Starry Night and the Astronaut, Alma Woodsey Thomas

They tore a piece of paper into an interesting shape and traced it on their paper. Some students just traced it once and others filled their paper with shapes. In the process of tearing, a lot of kids created more than one shape that they wanted to use.

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During the middle of class, I played a video demonstration about using tempera paint to outline their shapes with small brushstrokes and fill them in. I wasn’t sure how my second graders would respond to doing what could be seen as “tedious work.” They surprised me by how focused they were on painting their dots! I gave them large brushes so that it wouldn’t take too long.

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On the last day of the project, they watched a video about filling in the background with brushstrokes. A lot of students wanted to experiment with mixing colors together on their artwork. I reminded them to wash their brush in between colors and they went for it! Some kids finished quickly and others still had a bit left to do, so we saved the paintings to finish on a Centers Day.

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The paintings are so bright and cheerful and the kids had so much fun making them! It was a great introduction to tempera paint because it focused their energy. It was definitely worth spending three weeks on just one project!

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Kandinsky Circles

Elementary students paint artwork inspired by Kandinsky.

A collaborative art project for 2nd graders – students painted circles inspired by Kandinsky’s artwork.

Supplies:

  • Colorful poster board, 12″ x 12″
  • Tempera paint
  • Paintbrushes

For Hanging:

  • Staple gun
  • Staple Remover (This kind of staple remover has saved me so much time and frustration!)

PowerPoint: Kandinsky Circle

Elementary students paint artwork inspired by Kandinsky.

My goal last year was to display one collaborative piece of artwork at each Showcase. For our last Showcase, I included all of the grade levels I was teaching to create a large mural-like display. We began by observing paintings by Kandinsky. My students talked about what the two paintings had in common and how they were different.

Elementary students paint artwork inspired by Kandinsky.

I did a short demonstration about layering colors to mix them right onto the poster board. Then I set the kids free to paint. They had very few limitations – I asked them to create a painting inspired by the artwork they saw on the board. They got to choose what kind of shapes, colors and composition they used. Some students created realistic paintings, but most created something abstract, like Kandinsky’s artwork.

Elementary students paint artwork inspired by Kandinsky.

The best organizational decision I made for this project was to have each class paint on the same color poster board. It made passing the artwork back infinitely easier! While I was hanging the artwork, I happened to do it in waves because I had three classes that were finishing their artwork just a couple days before the Showcase. I really liked the “gradient” effect that the larger piece ended up with because I hung it two or three classes at a time.

Elementary students paint artwork inspired by Kandinsky.

It was liberating for the kids to create a project in one day. Many of them were the most excited about experimenting with creating new colors. At the Showcase I had a lot of kids stand in front of our mural and search for their piece. They were so excited to point it out to their families!

 

Relaxing with Rothko Watercolors

Students create artwork using watercolor washes inspired by Rothko.

Fourth grade art students used color schemes to create watercolor washes inspired by Rothko’s artwork.

Supplies:

  • Poster board scraps, various sizes
  • Color Wheel worksheet
  • Colored pencils, one set of 12 for each table
  • Wide watercolor brushes (for washes)
  • Watercolors
  • 9″x 12″ watercolor paper

PowerPoint: Rothko Watercolors

Students create artwork using watercolor washes inspired by Rothko.
I needed a quick three day project for my fourth graders to fill in one of those weird weeks where the schedule is off, but I have enough time to start a new project. I was also wanting to do something that would keep my antsy fourth graders engaged as we approach the last 2 weeks of school!


I remembered how excited one of my classes was when I demonstrated how to create a wash with watercolors for their Rizzi-inspired wax resist projects. At the end of the year I always have scraps of poster board left over. I decided to use those odds and ends to create a project using washes inspired by Rothko’s paintings.


I planned to talk about color theory on the first day. The kids filled in a color wheel, then drew symbols on it to show complementary, analogous and split complementary color schemes. (I downloaded the Color Wheel worksheet from this website.) I had a PowerPoint on the board that showed the symbol key. I also walked individual kids through figuring out the color schemes. The split complementary was especially tricky.

Students create artwork using watercolor washes inspired by Rothko.

It was a little crazy finding all 12 colors and creating colored pencil sets for each table. I had to substitute some random colors, and I dug deep into my buckets of old pencils looking for multiples of the same color! For blue-violet, I had the kids color purple on top of blue, which worked just fine. The crazy part of this project was that the day I was going to start with the color wheel, there was a huge storm so they had to relocate my classes to the library for the day. I was so happy that the lesson I had planned was perfect for a day outside of the art room!

Students create artwork using watercolor washes inspired by Rothko.
The second day was a lot of fun! I did a demo of how to create a wash using watercolors. I emphasized the importance of mixing up all of the colors in a tray before starting the painting. Each kid made three small paintings using the three color schemes they had marked on their color wheel. They decided how they wanted to arrange the different colors.

I was pretty loose with this first practice round. If a kid only finished one or two small paintings, they were able to move on to their large painting on the third day. I wanted this project to feel more like a chance to experiment than a list of tasks to complete.

Students create artwork using watercolor washes inspired by Rothko.

As I was tidying up my supply closet, I discovered a beautiful stack of watercolor paper. It was just enough for me to cut down and give each kiddo a 9″ x 12″ piece. For our third day, they were able to create their own color scheme using any combination of colors they wanted.

Students create artwork using watercolor washes inspired by Rothko.

It was so interesting to see how different each student’s large painting was. Some stayed pretty close to the color schemes that had used on their smaller painting. And some students tried combinations that were totally different.

Students create artwork using watercolor washes inspired by Rothko.

I enjoyed the sense of ease and excitement that this project created in my classroom. I love having a project that introduces students to an artist’s work, teaches them a new technique and then sets them free to explore and experiment!

 

 

Pop Art Words

Students use onomatopoeias and tempera paint to create Pop At.

Third grade art students drew and painted onomatopoeias inspired by Lichtenstein’s artwork to create Pop Art Words.

Supplies:

  • Poster board, 9″x 12″
  • Pencils and erasers
  • List of onomatopoeias
  • Sharpies
  • Tempera paint
  • Brushes
  • Water cups

PowerPoint: Pop Art Words

Students use onomatopoeias and tempera paint to create Pop At.

I was so surprised by how quiet my classroom got when my first group of 3rd graders started painting their Pop Art project! I had been nervous about classroom management with paint, but setting up routines made this a project that made them go into super-focused mode. I was inspired to create this lesson by a post on There’s a Dragon in my Art Room.

Students use onomatopoeias and tempera paint to create Pop At.

I started out by showing them examples of Lichtenstein’s artwork and talking with them about pop culture and Pop Art. We talked about onomatopoeias and how he used them in his artwork. Before they started sketching, I did a demo of how to draw block and bubble letters. I showed them that if they draw the regular letters very softly, they can trace an outline around the letter and then just erase the inside. I also brainstormed with them about what lines and shapes I could fill the background with that represented the word I had chosen. When they went back to their table, they picked a word from a list of onomatopoeias.

Students use onomatopoeias and tempera paint to create Pop At.

I learned the hard way that the two most important supplies for painting at the elementary school level are poster board and Sharpies. Anything thinner than poster board is going to get dripping wet with paint and cause a huge mess at the drying rack. Tracing over their sketches with Sharpies before they paint helps my students to see their lines throughout the process. And it makes the design of the finished piece stand out.

Students use onomatopoeias and tempera paint to create Pop At.

As usual, it was so much fun to see my students make this project their own. The backgrounds could be realistic or abstract, and they had a lot of fun connecting the background design to their word. The sketching went quickly, so I started off the second day of class by demonstrating our painting procedures. First I walked through the jobs of setting up the table for paint. (Each seat has a job that they are responsible for during set-up and clean-up.) I also show them how the supplies need to be arranged on the table; if the paint and water are easily accessible to everyone, there are much fewer spills. I walked them through the expectations for the Sink Room – only one person at a time, stand on a red line while you wait, only fill the cup up half way. It is an in-depth demonstration, but saying it once at the beginning makes painting go so much smoother for the rest of the week!

Students use onomatopoeias and tempera paint to create Pop At.

Then we finally got to talk about painting! I have observed that most kids will naturally use a paintbrush the way they use a marker, moving it back and forth to fill the space. This makes it hard to control where the paint goes, and they get frustrated that they can’t keep the paint inside the lines. I show them how to load up their brush with paint and then pull it in “one direction” (cue boy band joke!) along the line that they drew. I also show them how to turn their paper so that their hand is always comfortable when they are painting.

Students use onomatopoeias and tempera paint to create Pop At.

Because I have given them so much new information about how to paint, I don’t talk about mixing colors for this project. They have the primary and secondary colors at their table. In almost every class a student will ask me how to get pink, blue-green, or another mixable color. When that happens I explain how to mix colors and give them a mixing tray. Sometimes it catches on like wild-fire and by the end of the period every table has a mixing tray! I love that they are exploring and experimenting at their own pace.

Students use onomatopoeias and tempera paint to create Pop At.

I have several third grade classes back to back, so I emphasize with every class the importance of keeping the paint trays fresh. We talk about rinsing out our brushes and getting fresh water. I also tell them that accidents happen and that if a color does get mixed, they should let me know right away so that I can teach them how to clean it out. Giving them the responsibility of fixing the mess, should it happen, makes them a lot more proactive about keeping the paints clean. Putting away a hundred paintings and passing them back out 4 days in a row is a bit overwhelming, but I have perfected a organizational system that makes it quick and easy!

Students use onomatopoeias and tempera paint to create Pop At.

I love that this project introduces my students to an interesting period of art history and teaches them the basics of painting. The results are so eye-catching! Because some students finish a day earlier than everyone else, I have an engaging sketchbook project that they can work on after. They get to draw and color their own comic. Some of my students get so invested in the comic they create that they go back to those characters and continue the story as a sketchbook project after other assignments.

 

 

Watercolor Animals

Create abstract and realistic watercolor animals using a variety of painting techniques.

My students started this painting while they were waiting for their clay projects to get bisque fired. I showed them examples of incredibly detailed animal drawings, most of which were filled with abstract designs. Since they had just finished creating an animal out of clay, I gave them the option to choose another subject if they wanted to. I had a big box of animal photos and facts for student to look through if they decided to draw an animal.

Create abstract and realistic watercolor animals using a variety of painting techniques.

They sketched their design before transferring it to watercolor paper using the carbon copy technique. (They shaded the back of the sketch with pencil, taped it on top of the watercolor paper, and traced over their design.) Before they began painting, we had a day of experimenting with the watercolors. I demonstrated five different techniques. I’ve found that letting students practice on a small piece of paper first gives them more confidence on the final artwork.

Glazed wash, Wet on wet, Sgraffito, Salt, Rubbing alcohol
Glazed wash, Wet on wet, Sgraffito, Salt, Rubbing alcohol

For the glazed wash, students would paint a color and let it dry, then paint another color. This showed them that watercolors are transparent and that you have to let the first layer dry if you don’t want the next color to mix with it. I gave them small spray bottles to moisten their paper with for the wet on wet technique. (I bought body mist at the dollar store and filled it with water.) When they combined colors on the wet paper, the colors blended together in an interesting way.

Students experimented with watercolor techniques.

I explained that “sgraffito” means scratched in Italian and showed them that they could use the other end of their paintbrush to scratch a design into the paint. In order to make the salt technique successful, they had to paint a very liquid-y layer before they sprinkled the salt on top. Once the paint dried, they could scrap off the salt with a rag. The rubbing alcohol was the most popular technique. After painting a fairly wet layer, they would dip a Q-tip into rubbing alcohol and then splash it onto their paper.

Create abstract and realistic watercolor animals using a variety of painting techniques.

It was so much fun to see so many of my students come up with their own ideas of what they wanted their subject to be. My goal is for students to become more and more comfortable branching out on their own as the year progresses.

Students experimented with watercolor techniques.

After they were finished with the watercolor portion of the project, they worked on an Independent Project while they waited for the paint to dry. Then, they used felt tip pens and Sharpie to trace over their pencil lines. This really made their designs pop. I almost didn’t include this part because our order of black pens hadn’t come in. I glad I re-ordered them because their pieces looked so much more polished after this step.

Students experimented with watercolor techniques.

We worked on this project in bits and pieces because it was combined with the clay project and fell in the middle of a testing week. It was easy for my students to pick it back up where they left it. I will definitely pair it with clay again.

Create abstract and realistic watercolor animals using a variety of painting techniques.

Materials:

  • Watercolor paint
  • Mixing trays
  • Brushes
  • Watercolor paper
  • Small container of salt
  • Small container of rubbing alcohol
  • Q-tips
  • Felt tip pens
  • Sharpies