Abstract and Realistic Metallic Drawings 

Inspired by Paul Klee, students draw one realistic and one abstract piece of artwork, then color them with metallic crayons.

Fourth grade students discussed the differences between several of Paul Klee’s paintings. They created one realistic and one abstract drawing, and then colored their artwork using metallic crayons.

PowerPoint: Abstract and Realistic

Supplies:

  • 9″ x 9″ black construction paper (2 per student)
  • White colored pencils
  • Metallic crayons

 

Inspired by Paul Klee, students draw one realistic and one abstract piece of artwork, then color them with metallic crayons.

This project provided the perfect opportunity for my students to become familiar with the difference between abstract and realistic artwork. (I struggle with how in depth to go when introducing these concepts. I’ve settled on saving the “non-objective, abstract, representational” conversation for middle school and beyond.)

Inspired by Paul Klee, students draw one realistic and one abstract piece of artwork, then color them with metallic crayons.

We started by comparing and contrasting paintings by Paul Klee. The students usually made an observation that dovetailed into a discussion about the difference between realistic and abstract art.

Inspired by Paul Klee, students draw one realistic and one abstract piece of artwork, then color them with metallic crayons.

I wanted each student to have a chance to create both and abstract and realistic piece of artwork. During the first class period, they sketched their drawings with white colored pencil on the black squares. I loved how much creative freedom my students had for this project. They came up with so many unique ideas!

Inspired by Paul Klee, students draw one realistic and one abstract piece of artwork, then color them with metallic crayons.

During the second and third class, they used the metallic crayons to color in their artwork. I encouraged that they color the whole page, although some kids explained why they wanted to leave parts of their artwork black. I am always a fan of my students making “artist choices!”

Inspired by Paul Klee, students draw one realistic and one abstract piece of artwork, then color them with metallic crayons.

The biggest reminder I had to give them was that if they wanted the shapes to look shiny, they had to press down hard with the crayons. It takes a little elbow grease, but the results are so stunning! I also had a handful of students who chose to use colored pencils. I was impressed by how sharp they looked on the black paper.

Inspired by Paul Klee, students draw one realistic and one abstract piece of artwork, then color them with metallic crayons.

This ended up being a two and a half day project. I had my students work on sketchbook projects when they were finished. Next time, I’ll probably plan to follow it up with a project that we could get started on during the second half of class.

Inspired by Paul Klee, students draw one realistic and one abstract piece of artwork, then color them with metallic crayons.

 

Create a Coloring Page

Students draw a coloring page, then color a photocopy of a classmate's drawing.

Third and fourth grade art students drew their own coloring book pages, then colored a photo copy of a classmate’s artwork.

Supplies:

  • Copy paper
  • Pencils
  • Sharpies
  • Crayons
  • Copier (Make one copy of each drawing)

Downloadable PowerPoint: Create a Coloring Page

 

This project is a winner for artists of all ages – I have done it with high school seniors and they loved it! Last year it became my classic end-of-the-quarter project. After the Showcase was over, this was a fun project that allowed students to think creatively and work together.

On the first day, we observed an abstract and realistic example of a coloring page. We talked about how the artwork only had the outlines. They got to choose what the subject of their artwork would be. This is the most fun part for me! I love seeing the wide range of topics that they come up with. It is also a great opportunity for kids who want to get better at drawing realistically to practice drawing from observation. If kids need to see an image in order to draw something, I paste it onto a blank PowerPoint slide.

They draw using pencil first and then trace over it with Sharpie. We take two days for this step. As they finish a page, they turn it in to me so that I can put it in the “Copy” folder. If they finish a page early, they can draw another page to have copied.

The next step was a little confusing for some of the kids, so I tried to explain it a different way each day we were working on the project. After the second day, I photo-copied all of the coloring pages that were finished. On the third day, they got to pick someone else’s page and color it in using crayons, markers or colored pencils. (I reassured them that they would get back their own original drawings.) Because they wrote their names on the back with pencil, it was easy for me to see which were originals and which were copies.

On the third day, they got to choose someone else’s drawing to color in. Each table got more pages to choose from than people who sat at the table. That way the last person to choose still had three options to pick from. I mixed together all of the drawings from the entire grade level. Before I passed out the photo-copied drawings, I gave a pep talk on speaking respectfully about each other’s artwork.

Before I passed out the photo-copied drawings, I gave a pep talk on speaking respectfully about each other’s artwork.

I modeled polite ways of talking about which artwork you were going to choose (“I don’t care for snakes, so I think I’ll color the drawing of the flower…”) and I gave examples of inappropriate ways of talking about the art (“Eew! I hate snakes! I don’t want that one!”) I was so proud of my students! After doing this project with 28 classes, I only had to talk with one or two kids about speaking respectfully.

The coloring portion of this project is so relaxing! I put on mellow music, and the kids get really into coloring their classmate’s artwork. They also love the idea that someone else is coloring their drawing. If they finish the first page early, I give them back their original artwork and they can start coloring it in as well. At the end of the class period, everyone leaves with at least two pieces of artwork – their original drawing and the photo-copied drawing that they colored.

 

 

 

 

Bold Wax Resists

Students create wax resist artwork using crayons and india ink.

Wax resists are a great way to end the quarter! Each student created an abstract or realistic drawing, colored a thick waxy layer with crayon, crumpled it and painted it with india ink.

Art Lesson Videos: Wax Resist, Part 1 & Wax Resist, Part 2

Supply Set-up Video: Ink Set-up

PowerPoint: Bold Wax Resists

Supplies:

  • 9″ x 12″ or 9″ x 9″ drawing paper
  • Crayons
  • India ink, watered down (approx. 1 part ink to 3 parts water)
  • Wide bristle brushes
  • Newspaper

Students create wax resist artwork using crayons and india ink.

Every teacher develops a toolkit of lessons that get kids through those last few weeks of school before a big vacation. With summer break inching towards us, I knew I needed to unleash one of my special projects to keep my third graders excited about their artwork. What I love about wax resist is that the process is oddly calming – coloring a thick waxy layer of crayon is a good way to work out some frustration!

Coloring a thick waxy layer of crayon is a good way to work out some frustration!

I let them know that their design needs to be big and bold because small details will be lost once you crumple and paint the paper with ink. But other than that, they are free create any idea they like! It’s a project that kids can easily choose their own subject for. The majority of my students decided to create abstract designs.

Students create wax resist artwork using crayons and india ink.

When we use 9″ x 12″ paper the coloring takes awhile, usually two solid days. At the end of the second day I might have a kid that is ready to ink. This year, I used 9″ x 9″ paper instead. Most kids were able to finish coloring during the first class and then ink during the second. I was excited that there was a way to make this a two day project!

Students create wax resist artwork using crayons and india ink.

I keep the inking at two or three tables that I call kids up to when they are finished coloring. The kids rotate in and out of inking. When they are finished inking, they go back to the coloring table to work in their sketchbook. I decided to make a quick video about how to set up the table for ink. It has streamlined that process to be able to point to the paused video and say, “When your table looks like that, I can give you the ink.”

Students create wax resist artwork using crayons and india ink.

Crumpling the paper is so much fun for the kids! I make sure to tell them about that step before we even start sketching, so that they don’t feel surprised or sad when I ask them to crumple their artwork. I show them how to open and crumple several times to get cracks in the wax. We talk about how the ink will soak into those cracks, but the wax on the rest of the paper will resist the ink.


My demonstration for inking is a little dramatic. I make a very big deal about how india ink is permanent. I tell them that even if they aren’t inking, they need to walk around the room calmly and carefully during this project. You never know who might be behind you with artwork covered in ink! It is essential that they wipe off all the ink from their paper before they walk it to the drying rack. Cleaning up india ink trails from the floor is no fun!

Students create wax resist artwork using crayons and india ink.

Getting a good coat of ink without over-doing it can be tricky for a lot of kids. Not enough ink means the cracks don’t show up. But too much ink can mean that their paper tears when they pick it up. I’ve started telling them to “scrub” the ink into the paper with their bristle brush. I also have to remind them to paint all the way to the edges – that’s what the newspaper is for!

I’ve started telling them to “scrub” the ink into the paper with their bristle brush.

Students create wax resist artwork using crayons and india ink.

The results from this project are stunning! Most quarters, we were working on this project when the Showcase was already hung up. I definitely was tempted to mat their wax resist projects and hang them up in between classes! I’ve thought about re-structuring the order of my projects, but the wax resist is such a perfect way to keep my 3rd graders engaged before a big transition that I think I’ll keep it right where it is.

Combat Boredom with Sketchbook Projects

Students' sketchbooks are an amazing way to keep kids engaged when they finish a project!

Use sketchbooks as a way to extend students’ learning after they finish working on their art project for the day.

Supplies (for each book):

  • 12″ x 18″ construction paper
  • 4 sheets 12″ x 18″ drawing paper
  • Staples!

The best change I made to my classroom last year was introducing sketchbooks! The first quarter I used the old “you can free draw on computer paper when you’re done” strategy. Which, let’s be honest, is not a strategy that works very well! Giving students their own sketchbook added so much meaning to the shorter projects I gave them to do after they finished an assignment. Because they were invested in what they were creating, I saw a dramatic shift in how focused my students on their drawings.

At the beginning of the second quarter, I decided to make sketchbooks for my 3rd and 4th grade classes. I color coordinated my room by making each class a different color of the rainbow. On the first day of Art, I taught them how to draw block and bubble letters. They drew their names and filled them in with patterns using Sharpie.

On each of my PowerPoints, I added a slide at the end for the Sketchbook Project that kids would work on when they finished their artwork. They could always choose to go back and finish an old sketchbook drawing before they started the new one. For the Monster Sculpture project, the prompt was “Draw your monster’s family.” Some students decided to draw a group of monsters who looked similar and other monster families were very different.

The first sketchbook project my third graders did was after they completed their Shape Robots. After we talked about what a verb is, we brainstormed ideas of things they could draw their robots doing. It was incredible to see the wide range of ideas they came up with!

After the fourth graders finished their Notan Project, I showed them how to create radial symmetry by repeating shapes on a piece of circle graph paper. Creating mandalas was the perfect sketchbook project because it built on our discussions of symmetry for creating notans. The process of drawing mandalas is so calming; it was a nice break for the students who had gotten a bit stressed from the brain work that goes in to creating a notan.

One of my favorite sketchbook projects was the Roll a Miro game I found online. After my third graders finished their Miro Creatures using lines and shapes from Miro paintings, I taught them how to play the game. They rolled a dice to choose the eyes, body, arms and color scheme of their creature. Some students just played it once and spent a lot of time on their creature. Other students, who finished a day early, were able to create several creatures. This was a sketchbook project that the kids asked for me to bring out again after our next assignment, especially if they didn’t get a chance to do it the first time.

At the end of the Hybrid Animal project, my fourth graders drew their animal throughout it’s life cycle. I liked that this sketchbook project connected the artwork they created with scientific concepts. It was interesting to see how creative they got with imagining how their animal would look at different stages.

After they finished using pastels for their Castle Creativity project, I asked my students to draw an inside room of their castle. This was a great extension because they were able to tie in the theme and mood of their castle. A student whose castle was made of ice cream could create an interior drawing that showed the ice cream machines in the kitchen.

The comic book project was a huge hit! After my third graders finished their Pop Art Words, I invited them to create a comic strip in their sketchbooks. I had whole tables of kids working together and laughing about the stories they created! This was definitely a project that my students continued working on after the painting assignment was over.

One of the most rewarding parts of introducing sketchbooks into my class was seeing how proud my students were of their sketchbooks at the Showcase. I put the sketchbooks out on long tables in the hallway next to the mounted artwork displays. It warmed my heart to see kids looking through other students’ sketchbooks and asking their parents to take their photo with their own sketchbook.

It does take some extra time to put the books together before a new quarter starts. I have learned to offer art tickets for doing the job of “sketchbook-making.” Both my third and fourth graders can get quite an assembly line going as we all fold and staple the books together. Usually, I can get them all done in about a week with my students’ help.

 

Independent Projects

4th grade students choose their subject and medium to create Independent Projects.

At the end of the quarter, fourth grade art students created Independent Projects by choosing their subject and medium.

Supplies:

  • Markers
  • Colored Pencils
  • Crayons
  • Watercolors
  • Construction paper and glue
  • Printmaking supplies
  • Yarn
  • Poster board
  • Drawing paper

PowerPoint: Independent Project

4th grade students choose their subject and medium to create Independent Projects.

For whatever weird scheduling reason, the third quarter is a little longer than the others. I decided to use that time to encourage my fourth graders to express themselves creatively through Independent Projects. I’ve done this kind of assignment with high school students, so I was interested to see if my fourth graders would embrace it or feel overwhelmed.

4th grade students choose their subject and medium to create Independent Projects.

They blew me away with how much ownership they took of their projects! I started the assignment by reviewing subject and medium. I reminded them of the difference between abstract and realistic. Then I put up a list of all the materials we had used throughout the quarter. They were able to pick just one or several materials for their project. The first step was sketching, which they did directly onto their final paper.

4th grade students choose their subject and medium to create Independent Projects.

I was so excited by the way their ideas bubbled out of them. You could feel the creative energy in the room! The wide range of ideas was incredible and seeing the students work together to problem solve and brainstorm warmed my heart.

4th grade students choose their subject and medium to create Independent Projects.

I had the art supply options set up at the front of the room, so the most intense part was getting each student the appropriate kind of paper. I had stacks of poster board, drawing paper, and printmaking paper ready to go. After they had written down their subject and medium, I would check in with them and give them the paper they needed.

4th grade students choose their subject and medium to create Independent Projects.

Several students in each class decided to do mixed media. They had to plan what order they should use the art supplies. If they needed to wait for one step to dry, I had them work in their sketchbook for the rest of class.

4th grade students choose their subject and medium to create Independent Projects.

If a student had a hard time getting started, asking them if they’d rather do an abstract or realistic piece of art was usually enough to jump start their thought process. It was also fun to watch them be inspired by each other’s artwork. There were definitely some trends that ran through each class period.

4th grade students choose their subject and medium to create Independent Projects.

The timing was a little tricky; there were about 3-5 kids in each class that finished much earlier than everyone else. Luckily, the assignment lends itself to further exploration. If there was enough time left in the week, I let the student go ahead and start another Independent Project. They could decide if they wanted to stick with the same medium and subject or if they wanted to change it up.

 

 

Hybrid Animals

4th grade students practice observational drawing by creating hybrid creatures.

Using photo references, fourth graders practiced observational drawing by combining characteristics of two different animals to create a hybrid.

Supplies:

  • Pencils, erasers
  • Photo references of animals
  • Sets of 24 colored pencils
  • 9″ x 12″ drawing paper

Downloadable PowerPoint: Hybrid Animals

4th grade students practice observational drawing by creating hybrid creatures.

I wrote my hybrid animal lesson plan the first year I was teaching. I had middle school students, and it was the perfect mixture of silly and structured for them. This year, I decided to try out a variation of the lesson with my 4th graders. They really enjoyed it!

4th grade students practice observational drawing by creating hybrid creatures.

I start off the project by showing them examples of Photoshopped animal hybrids, which always grabs their attention! Then I give them a pep talk about drawing realistically. The main point is that drawing is all about teaching your eyes how to see because your hand already knows how to draw the simple straight, curved and angled lines that everything is made up of. I let them choose two photos to use as reference for their animal. I inherited a whole notebook full of animal facts that have great photos, but I also take requests and put photos of specific animals up on the board.

4th grade students practice observational drawing by creating hybrid creatures.

The first day is spent sketching their animal. We talk about the different ways that the artists of the Photoshopped examples combined their animals. I spend this class period running around and helping students to “see” the lines and shapes so that they can draw their animal how they envision it. It helps that the final outcome is supposed to look kind of weird and crazy; it takes the pressure off for the drawing to be perfect.

4th grade students practice observational drawing by creating hybrid creatures.

If they have time on the first day, they can start drawing their background. I talk with them about habitats and ask them to imagine what kind of habitat their animal might live in. I start off the second class period with a brainstorm about ways that you can color neatly. The kids write their ideas on scraps of paper and I randomly draw several to add to our poster. I have found that this step makes a huge difference in encouraging them to take their time when they start using the colored pencils.

4th grade students practice observational drawing by creating hybrid creatures.

Once the first student is ready to start coloring, I have the class circle up to watch a demonstration. I show them several ways to add texture to their artwork using the colored pencils. I usually demonstrate leaves, bark, rocks, fur, feathers, and scales. Then, I’ll ask if anyone has any other textures they’d like to get ideas for. I also show them how they can blend colors by overlapping them.

4th grade students practice observational drawing by creating hybrid creatures.

The coloring part of the project goes at wildly different paces for different students. Some students finish in just one day and others need extra time during centers after the assignment is over. When they finish early, their sketchbook project is to draw their animal at different stages during its life cycle. If a student finishes that project early also, they can draw anything they choose in their sketchbook and color it with colored pencils.

 

 

Listen Up! Game

Listen Up! Game is perfect for introducing elementary students to the art classroom.

Listen Up! is the perfect game to introduce art classroom procedures while teaching composition.

Supplies:

  • Markers
  • Computer Paper
  • Scrap paper (optional for writing)

Downloadable Lesson Plan: Listen Up! Game

This is the first year that I have taught Elementary School (2nd-4th). I was nervous going into it, not sure if I would love it as much as I love teaching high school. With half of the year under my belt, I can confidently say that I love teaching the little ones just as much as I have loved teaching teenagers!

Listen Up! Game is perfect for introducing elementary students to the art classroom.

One of my big concerns was how much less time I would have with my students. I only see my 2nd graders one day a week for two 9-week quarters. That’s just 13.5 hours for the whole year! So I knew I had to find a way to get right to making art on the first day, while still teaching them basic routines and expectations of the art room.

Listen Up! Game is perfect for introducing elementary students to the art classroom.

To accomplish this, I created the “Listen Up!” game. Students learned our routine for getting supplies when setting up their table with markers and a piece of computer paper for everyone. They learned the call and response that I would use when I needed their attention. (I say, “Listen up!” They say, “All ears!”) Then they learned our routine about writing their name and their teacher’s name on the back of their artwork.

Listen Up! Game is perfect for introducing elementary students to the art classroom.

I talked with them briefly about composition – how an artist decides how to arrange their artwork. Then, I would call out a prompt, like “Draw a robot, draw your favorite number, draw something from nature, draw a circle that goes off the paper…” I would give them 2-3 minutes to add something to their drawing and then get their attention back by saying “Listen up!”

Listen Up! Game is perfect for introducing elementary students to the art classroom.

About halfway through the class, I had each student write down their own idea of something we could add to our drawings. (This was a great way to introduce them to the procedure of how we doing writing activities in my class; I keep slips of scrap paper in their supply boxes.) Then I put those slips of paper into a big bucket and would randomly pick out a prompt. They had so much fun hearing their idea called out and drawing their friend’s idea!

Listen Up! Game is perfect for introducing elementary students to the art classroom.

The visual results from this game were exactly what I had hoped for. It showed the students that every single person’s art would be different, even though we all had the same prompts. Helping them to explore their creativity and make choices about their artwork is the best way to start off our time together!

 

 

Eagle Challenge

Eagle Challenge - Students' interpretations of the eagle, using their choice of materials.

As an art teacher, sometimes I bristle when people ask me to make “decorations.” There are a few exceptions – I am always excited to do a unit on papel picado for Cinco de Mayo. When the music teacher told me about a concert the symphony would be putting on for the community at our school  and asked if the art students would like to be involved, I jumped at the chance!

Eagle Challenge - Students' interpretations of the eagle, using their choice of materials.

She told me that one of the themes of the concert was going to be the eagle. I decided to create a challenge assignment for the students and leave the medium and interpretation of the eagle up to them.

Eagle Challenge - Students' interpretations of the eagle, using their choice of materials.

It was incredible to see how many different directions the students took their ideas. I made a list of possible media on the board and let them decide if they wanted to work alone or with a partner.

Eagle Challenge - Students' interpretations of the eagle, using their choice of materials.

Because the art was going to be viewed from far away, I made one of the limitations of the challenge be that their artwork had to be at least 12″ X 18″ – many students went much larger than that.

Eagle Challenge - Students' interpretations of the eagle, using their choice of materials.

The artwork turned out incredible! Having it displayed along the walls when the symphony played made a big impact. It was a great opportunity for a lot of them to work with larger pieces of paper.

Eagle Challenge - Students' interpretations of the eagle, using their choice of materials.

Supplies:   Watercolors, Lino-cut materials, Chalk pastels, Sharpies, Colored pencil

Paper Challenge

Paper Challenge - students create art using only paper and adhesives.

High school students design a solution to the challenge “Create a piece of artwork using only paper and adhesives.”

Supplies:

  • Paper (Construction, card stock, origami, etc.),
  • Adhesives (Glue, tape, staples, etc.)

Paper Challenge - students create art using only paper and adhesives.

At the beginning of the second semester, I decided I wanted to try something new. With such small classes, I felt like I could open up the projects so that students had more room to explore. I came up with the idea of presenting assignments as “challenges.”

Paper Challenge - students create art using only paper and adhesives.

The first challenge they did was simple: I asked them to create a piece of artwork using only paper and adhesives.

Paper Challenge - students create art using only paper and adhesives.

In order to get their brains thinking of ideas, I showed them a PowerPoint filled with examples of artwork that were made out of paper. I made it very broad so that they could see how many different directions they could take their project. I didn’t leave the PowerPoint up while they sketched because I wanted to encourage them to come up with their own solution instead of copying another project exactly.

Paper Challenge - students create art using only paper and adhesives.

Another way I helped them to think of ideas was to list examples of all the different kinds of paper and adhesives that we had in the room. If a student was stuck coming up with an initial idea, I would help them begin to narrow it down by asking them if they wanted to make a 3D or 2D piece of artwork.

Paper Challenge - students create art using only paper and adhesives.

Instead of requiring them to do a sketch first, I told them they could choose between sketching or experimenting with an idea. I was impressed by how many of them took their experiment seriously and came up with some very cool results.

 

 

Abstract or Realistic?

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

For the first semester this year, I took a new approach to teaching the Elements of Art. Instead of just having a project that used the element we were focusing on, I explained the concept and then gave my students a choice of two projects – one that was realistic and one that was abstract.

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

On the first day of class, I showed my students examples of realistic and abstract artwork. I also demonstrated how artwork is not either/or when it comes to abstract and realistic. We talked about how any piece could fit anywhere on a “timeline” of representational to non-representational artwork.

abstract vs real 2

In the middle of the year, I had them work in groups to practice thinking about where a piece of artwork would fit on the “abstract to realistic” continuum. I printed out five pieces of artwork for each group and had them discuss and sort where they would place each one.

abstract vs real

Doing all of this work with abstract vs. realistic up front made it easier when we got into more complicated concepts like Space. Since they already understood that they could make artwork anywhere along that continuum, they could focus their energy on understanding the element of Space.

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

After discussing the element of Space, I gave students the option of creating a more abstract notan or a more realistic drawing of a room. The notan used the concept of positive and negative space, while the room focused on drawing in two-point perspective. (For the room drawing I used the same lesson from last year about Surreal Spaces, but I only briefly touched on incorporating surrealism.)

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

Some students drew incredibly realistic rooms, while others created more surreal atmospheres. The notans were equally diverse. It was exciting to see my students exploring the full spectrum of abstract to realistic artwork.

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

I could see that opening up the assignment helped students to feel more comfortable being adventurous with their project. Instead of ending up with a set of cookie cutter pieces of artwork, each student’s art was truly unique. Another benefit was that even though my students each picked one project, they got to learn about and see the process of doing the other assignment while they watched their classmates.

Abstract or Realistic? A student-led approach to teaching the element of Space. Students chose between creating a drawing using perspective or a notan using positive and negative space.

Abstract (Notans): Black construction paper, White construction paper, scissors, X-acto knives, glue

Realistic (Perspective drawings): Drawing paper, colored pencils, markers

Downloadable PowerPoint: Abstract vs. Realistic