Chalk Pastel Observational Drawings 

Students create observational drawings using chalk pastel.

After observing still lives by Georgia O’Keeffe, elementary art students create their own “up-close” observational drawings.

Art Lesson Videos: Chalk Pastel Observational Drawings, Part 1 & Chalk Pastel Observational Drawings, Part 2

PowerPoint: Observational Drawings

Supplies: 

  • 9″ x 9″ colorful construction paper
  • Sharpie
  • Chalk pastels
  • Assorted objects

Students create observational drawings using chalk pastel.
I wanted to put a new spin on my usual Georgia O’Keeffe observational drawing project. In the past, I’ve had my students observe and draw flowers after learning about Georgia O’Keeffe. This year, my goal was to continue to focus on observational drawing and filling the whole paper, but to switch up the subject of their artwork.

Students create observational drawings using chalk pastel.

We started by discussing Georgia O’Keeffe’s artwork. Then I played my video demonstration for them which broke down the steps of looking at an object and drawing the lines and shapes you see.

Students create observational drawings using chalk pastel.

After the video I followed up with a couple of important reminders. I showed them how to pick a part of the object to go off the page. I also encouraged them that our goal was not to create exact photocopies of our objects. (If we wanted to do that we would use a camera!)

Instead, our goal was to be inspired to create interesting lines and shapes.

Instead, our goal was to be inspired to create interesting lines and shapes. Overall, this took a lot of the pressure off and allowed the kids to focus on drawing what they actually saw instead of being critical of their artwork.

Students create observational drawings using chalk pastel.
I chose objects that I had 6 multiples of; I did not want any “object envy” between tables to cause a disruption! I also tried to pick objects that were simple enough to sketch in one class, but with enough details to keep them interesting.

Students create observational drawings using chalk pastel.

Observational drawing with students of any age is always a little stressful. Some students have a hard time getting started and others are easily discouraged when their drawing isn’t turning out how they envisioned it.

Students create observational drawings using chalk pastel.

The best fix I’ve found is to let kids start on a fresh piece of paper when they get frustrated. And, of course, lots of pep talks! Another trick I’ve discovered for the kiddos who are about to give up completely is to offer them a “very special object” to draw. I have a couple of stuffed animals that work perfectly!


Most of them have time that first day to trace their pencil lines with Sharpie. If they have any extra time, I always have a Sketchbook Project that they can work on. For this assignment, they drew a spot they observed in the art room. They created so many fun drawings of our classroom!

Students create observational drawings using chalk pastel.

I love how much my students felt free to experiment with the chalk pastels. In the second video demonstration, I showed them a couple of techniques they could use. Chalk pastels ended up being the perfect medium for this project. They were able to finish adding color to their project in one class period. And the freedom they had with the pastels was nice balance to how intensely they had to focus on the observational drawings.

Students create observational drawings using chalk pastel.

I inherited the chalk pastel setup from the previous art teacher. Now that I’ve used muffin tins as a way to organize pastels, I can’t imagine doing it any other way. The kids had a wide variety of colors they could easily see and choose from. And I was able to put out the tiny little pieces that, in the past, I would have just thrown away.

Students create observational drawings using chalk pastel.
This combination of subject and medium was a great way of tackling drawing from observation and introducing an artist. It felt less fraught than other realistic drawing lessons I’ve done. And a little controlled mess along with some color mixing always makes for a joyful art class!

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Frank Stella Inspired Drawings

Student use positive and negative space to create art inspired by Frank Stella.

Fourth grade students created drawings using geometric or organic shapes after viewing artwork by Frank Stella.

Art Lesson Videos: Frank Stella Drawings, Part 1 & Frank Stella Drawings, Part 2

Supplies:

  • 9″ x 12″ white drawing paper
  • Pencils, erasers
  • Drawing tools (rulers, protractors, compasses, etc.)
  • Colored pencils
  • Markers

PowerPoint: Stella Drawings

I was inspired by a post I read on Art is Basic to create a Frank Stella drawing project to start the year with my fourth graders. I loved that it introduced them to new drawing tools and gave them freedom to make artistic choices.

Student use positive and negative space to create art inspired by Frank Stella.

I created video demonstrations to use at the beginning of class for this project. On the first day, my students saw examples of Frank Stella’s artwork – one piece that used geometric shapes and one that used organic shapes. I paused the video and asked the kids, if they were leaning towards using geometric or organic shapes for their artwork. In most classes, overwhelmingly they were planning to use organic shapes.

Student use positive and negative space to create art inspired by Frank Stella.

I played the second part of the video, which was a demonstration of how to use the drawing tools or your imagination to draw shapes. It was interesting that after watching the video, the majority of the class switched ideas and gravitated towards using the tools to create geometric shapes.

Student use positive and negative space to create art inspired by Frank Stella.

Their goal for that first class was to draw their shapes, outline them with marker or colored pencil and cut their paper to a custom shape if they wanted to. We talked about how Frank Stella would create custom canvases that were the same shape as his artwork. I didn’t require that they cut their artwork – they could also choose to leave it as the rectangular paper.

Student use positive and negative space to create art inspired by Frank Stella.

During the second day of class, we started off with another video demo – this time I told them to be listening for the definition of positive and negative space. After they watched, we talked about balancing the positive and negative space by coloring shapes all over the paper.

Student use positive and negative space to create art inspired by Frank Stella.

Giving students the freedom to leave some of their artwork blank was a new approach for me. My mantra has always been “Finish your artwork, finish the background.” For a lot of projects it is important that students think of their background as a part of their work that needs attention. But for this project, leaving negative space felt like a natural fit.

Student use positive and negative space to create art inspired by Frank Stella.

Their goal for the second day was to finish their artwork by coloring the shapes that they wanted to be positive space. It was tricky for me to balance my expectation that they not just color a couple shapes with my desire to give them creative control over their artwork.

Student use positive and negative space to create art inspired by Frank Stella.

There were times that I might have colored a few more shapes, but I could tell that the student had worked hard – so I let them decide when their artwork was finished. There were also times when I knew that a student had only been working for 15 minutes and was in a rush to be finished. It was easy to say, “I think you need some more positive space” in order to encourage them to do a little more.

Student use positive and negative space to create art inspired by Frank Stella.

It’s tempting to just jump right into the coloring part of a project, but I was so grateful that I had taken a couple minutes to demonstrate some coloring techniques. Overall, I could see a huge difference in my students taking their time and putting a lot of craftsmanship into their work.

Student use positive and negative space to create art inspired by Frank Stella.

It was very cool to see the wide range of ideas that my students had for this project! I liked that the assignment was concrete, but also open-ended enough that students could take it in their own direction.

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.

 

 

Klee-inspired Watercolor Crayons

Inspired by Paul Klee’s artwork, second grade students used watercolor crayons to create artwork with geometric shapes.

Supplies:

  • Light poster board
  • Rulers
  • Assorted circular lids for tracing
  • Watercolor crayons
  • Paint brushes
  • Cups

Downloadable PowerPoint: Klee Watercolor Crayons

This quarter I have the 2nd graders that I had at the beginning of the year. I have been looking forward to expanding the curriculum to projects that go beyond one day and use materials other than crayons, markers, paper, and glue.

I showed my students examples of Paul Klee’s artwork. On the first day of the project they drew shapes all over their paper with pencil. I gave them the option of using rulers or circular lids to trace. They could free hand other shapes if they wanted.

I demonstrated how to color in their shapes using watercolor crayons. A great way to encourage 2nd graders to take their time with coloring is to have them trace a shape before coloring it in. I also explained that they could make “artist choices” about pushing down hard or soft and blending different colors together.

On the second day, I showed them how to paint water over their shapes that had been colored in. We used the same technique of painting the outline first and then painting the inside. I reminded them to rinse their brush in between colors. They were super excited to start painting; there were definitely gasps of amazement when they saw the crayon turn into paint!

On the last day of the project, about half of the class was already finished with their Shape Painting. I started class by having those students work on a sketchbook page. They could draw anything they wanted and use supplies from the Supply Station to color it in. I will staple all of these drawings to create a sketchbook and display them at the Showcase at the end of the quarter.

After the class had settled in, I passed out a piece of cardboard to each table for our collaborative project. We prepped the cardboard and they worked together to paint it once they finished their Shape Painting. I was nervous about combining two projects into one class, especially for 2nd grade, but it went smoothly as long as I made my expectations clear for each transition.

Overall, I really valued the process of this project. The watercolor crayons I had already were pretty old, so I hope if I do it again next year with better quality supplies, the kids will enjoy the colors step more and the paintings will have a little more “umph!”

 

The Magic of Wax Resist

Students are inspired by James Rizzi's artwork to create wax resist landscapes or cityscapes.

Inspired by James Rizzi, fourth grade art students drew landscapes or cityscapes in crayon, then painted their art with watercolors to create a wax resist.

Supplies:

  • Poster board (I used light weight)
  • Crayons
  • Watercolor paints
  • Cups
  • Brushes

Downloadable PowerPoint: Wax Resist Scapes

Students are inspired by James Rizzi's artwork to create wax resist landscapes or cityscapes.

I love love love the first painting project with a class! For 4th graders, I have discovered that wax resist is magical. It introduces my students to watercolor, and gives their work some structure. The crayon outlines help to define what could easily be a messy first attempt at watercolors.

Students are inspired by James Rizzi's artwork to create wax resist landscapes or cityscapes.
James Rizzi, 2011

I began the lesson by having my students observe a painting by James Rizzi and discussing what types of personalities they saw in the artwork. They shared their answers and we talked about how the artist showed those personalities. Students are inspired by James Rizzi to create wax resist landscapes or cityscapes.
I got the idea for this project from Deep Space Sparkle. I wanted to broaden how my students could interpret the assignment, so I let them choose if they wanted to create a seascape, landscape, or cityscape. They got to decided if they showed personality by adding cartoon faces or doing something different, like choosing their colors based on what personality they were trying to show.

Students are inspired by James Rizzi's artwork to create wax resist landscapes or cityscapes.

We spent the first day sketching and tracing over the sketch with crayon. I did a demonstration to show them how important it was to push down hard with the crayon. Then I showed them two watercolor techniques: wet on dry and wet on wet. It is always so much fun to wow them with the magic of colors mixing together!

Students are inspired by James Rizzi's artwork to create wax resist landscapes or cityscapes.

In one class a student asked if they could do an outer-space scene. I said “Of course!” That idea took off like wildfire, almost half the class ended up doing something related to outer-space; it was a great opportunity to teach them how to use a compass. I was so excited by the results, I’m going to add it as an option in the PowerPoint for next quarter’s classes.

Students are inspired by James Rizzi's artwork to create wax resist landscapes or cityscapes.

I felt like this project really hit the sweet spot of everything I want in an assignment. My students learned about an artist, got experience with new materials and techniques, and they were able to express themselves creatively in all kinds of different ways! This one is a keeper!

 

Organize Artwork using Art History

Students learn art history through a coloring center that uses artwork from an artist their table is named after.

 Elementary students learn about and connect with the artists their tables are named after.

Downloadable PowerPoints: Table Artists 2015 & Table Artists 2016

Supply Box Printables: Table Artist Images & Table Artist Names

 

I only have my students for 28 class periods, which makes me want to fit art history into every facet of our classroom routines. I discovered a great way to expose my students to important art history figures while keeping their artwork organized and easy to pass out.

Students learn art history through a coloring center that uses artwork from an artist their table is named after.

The supply box at each table has their artist’s name taped on it, along with a portrait and example of the artist’s work. The names change each year, so that over a student’s experience at our school they will become familiar with 24 different artists. I choose a diverse group of artists from different time periods and styles.

Organize student artwork by naming tables after famous artists.

On Centers Days, we spend 5-10 minutes learning about one of the artists that their tables are named after. We discuss the artist as a class first, then each table discusses their answer to a question about specific works of art. I created a Coloring Page Center so that my students would have something tangible to help them remember each artist.

Organize student artwork by naming tables after famous artists.

I publish an art newsletter that keeps our faculty and staff informed about what is going on in the Art Room. I post it in the bathrooms and leave a stack in our waiting area for parents to read. Each month, I include a section about one of our table artists.

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I created folders for each class that have their artist’s name written on both sides. This is how they turn in their artwork at the end of each period. I use the folders as a way to separate their art on the drying rack. It makes passing out artwork at the beginning of class so much easier!

Keep track of student artwork by naming tables after famous artists.

These simple routines have made our classroom run smoothly. Students always know how to turn in their art and at the beginning of the period they can get right to work. They are so excited when we get to learn about the artist that their table is named after!