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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Monarchs and Milkweeds: Collaborative Collage

A collaborative art project that combines scientific observation of a monarch's life cycle with a group collage project.

I was excited to bring four monarch caterpillars to our Art Room for my third graders to observe for their collaborative art project based on the monarch’s life cycle.

YouTube Playlist: Monarch Videos

Day 1: Observe and Sketch

Day 2: Painted Paper

Day 3: Collaborative Collage

Each class period, they got to observe the caterpillars. This was truly the most joyful part of our year! Every day they saw something new – they were so surprised by how quickly they grew. I had a couple of classes that were fascinated by the caterpillar poop. I told them they could talk about it, but they had to use the scientific word for it – fras.

I created videos so that I could share interesting moments with the classes that missed them. For a few weeks, it became a wonderful ritual that we would watch the latest video during our Circle Time at the end of class. One lucky group was there when a caterpillar morphed into a chrysalis. Another class got to be there when we released one of the butterflies.

A collaborative art project that combines scientific observation of a monarch's life cycle with a group collage project.

Monarch Caterpillars Video: Monarch Caterpillar Growth StagesMonarch Caterpillar Eating MilkweedMonarch Caterpillar Makes Path of Silk

A collaborative art project that combines scientific observation of a monarch's life cycle with a group collage project.

Chrysalis Video: Monarch Caterpillar Morphs into Chrysalis

A collaborative art project that combines scientific observation of a monarch's life cycle with a group collage project.

Monarch Butterfly Video: Monarch Butterfly Release

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!

 

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.

 

 

Monster Sculptures

Introduce students to sculpture with tube monsters!

Third grade art students created three dimensional monsters by painting their design onto a cardboard tube, then hot gluing “extras” onto their artwork.

Supplies:

  • Toilet paper tubes
  • Sharpie
  • Tempera paint
  • Brushes
  • Hot glue
  • “Extras” like googly eyes, gemstones, pom poms, feathers, colorful wire

I like to finish the quarter with a project that introduces my students to the difference between 2D and 3D art. I don’t have a kiln this year, so I decided to create a project using materials that were easier to work with. After reading this post on Redefine Creativity, I knew that creating monsters out of toilet paper tubes would be a great fit! I sent out an email at the beginning of the year letting teachers know I was collecting toilet paper tubes. I also told my students that they could donate them for an art ticket. I ended up with enough tubes to last 4 years!

Introduce students to sculpture with tube monsters!

I organized my curriculum so that this project is right after our Pop Art painting project. This way the procedures and techniques for painting are still fresh in my students’ minds. After discussing the difference between 2D and 3D, they sketch their monster onto the tube. I emphasize that the design should go all the way around the tube. If a student has trouble with that idea, I ask them, “What do you think the back of the monster might look like?”

Introduce students to sculpture with tube monsters!

After drawing it in pencil, they trace over the lines with Sharpie. This step is essential! Painting such small details on a curved surface can be tricky. Having the bold lines helps to keep the design from getting lost. This project goes fairly quickly, many students will be done tracing by the end of the first class period. I let them work on an old sketchbook project and then we all start paint on the second day.

Introduce students to sculpture with tube monsters!

Most students finish painting on the second day. After the paint dries over night they are ready to add their “accessories” on the third day. Some students will still need to paint on the third day. I usually have them choose the “extras” they want to add on and then help them hot glue it during an Art Centers day.

Introduce students to sculpture with tube monsters!

A sketchbook project is essential to having Hot Glue Day go smoothly! For this project, their prompt is to draw and color their monster’s family. I have 4 “shopping baskets” and I tell the students I will choose who will “go shopping” first based on who is focused on their sketchbook project. Each student brings their painted monster tube and chooses 7 items that they want to add to their monster. They can choose 7 different things or they could decide that they want to have all 7 items be the same thing.

Introduce students to sculpture with tube monsters!

At the beginning of class I show everyone a couple of techniques for taping some of the objects on. I stand at the front of the “shopping” line and help each student hot glue the things that can’t be taped. Past the hot glue station, I have a tape station, so that students can tape down the feathers and wires while I’m still close by in case they run into any problems.

Introduce students to sculpture with tube monsters!

Initially, I felt like this project was a little too “crafty” for my taste. But after seeing how well it reinforced the idea of three-dimensional art, I’m glad I tried it out. There is so much room for each student to think creatively; it’s exciting to see how unique each monster is. The kids really look forward to doing this project and they love seeing all of their monsters on display at the Showcase at the end of the quarter.

 

 

Color Theory Branches

Elementary students used color theory to paint branches as a collaborative project.

Students in third and fourth grade classes worked collaboratively to paint branches using analogous and complementary color schemes.

Supplies:

  • Tempera paint
  • Big and small brushes
  • 6 or more branches
  • Dental floss
  • Binder clips or small metal hook

Downloadable Sign: Color Theory

Downloadable PowerPoint: Collaborative Branches

Every quarter I get to collaborate with the Music and GT teacher to put on a Showcase for our students. I let my students choose two pieces of artwork from their portfolio, they help me mat it and we hang it in the hallways for a week.

Elementary students used color theory to paint branches as a collaborative project.
I like to have a collaborative project that changes every quarter. I use the same curriculum each quarter, so having a project that changes helps to break up the monotony of teaching the same assignments again and again. And it means there is a surprise installation that the school gets to look forward to each Showcase.

Elementary students used color theory to paint branches as a collaborative project.

Last quarter, I made a center for two Fridays in a row where the students worked together to create a branch as a class. Instead of introducing an artist, we spent the beginning of class talking about color theory. The first week, we talked about analogous colors, and they painted the base layer. The second week, we talked about complementary colors and they added dots and lines to their branch. (I compared the dots and lines to sprinkles on a cake, so that the base color would still show through.)

Elementary students used color theory to paint branches as a collaborative project.

I was able to find 6 branches to use by walking around the yard outside our school. The biggest prep component was mixing up the analogous colors for the first day. I mixed the whole set and then covered them with empty trays so they wouldn’t dry out. If you have more time or older students, you could have them mix the colors.

I learned from the first class to give the students separate brushes for each color. The water thinned out the tempera paint so much that it lost it’s vibrancy.

Elementary students used color theory to paint branches as a collaborative project.

I displayed them two different ways. For the Showcase, I tied dental floss (that stuff is an amazing, cheap way to hang art!) to each branch and used a binder clip to hang them from an outside ledge. Then, I retired them to a blank wall by the GT teacher’s room by tying all of them dental floss together and using and looping it over a metal hook. Displaying them as group definitely made a stronger visual statement. (Spreading them out made them stand out less.)

I hung up a laminated sign that explained how the students had used color theory. I hope that as students and teachers walk by, they will get to learn something new also!

Elementary students used color theory to paint branches as a collaborative project.

This was such a fun project to do, and an exciting way to introduce my 3rd and 4th graders to color theory. I love how the branches look in the outdoor spaces that we displayed them. I couldn’t have done the hanging part without help from the music teacher, so I highly recommend asking someone to assist you!