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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Watercolor Grid

Draw a grid with crayon and fill it with letters. Paint over it with watercolors to create a wax resist.

After discussing a painting by Jasper Johns, second graders drew a grid using crayon and filled each square with a letter of their name. Then, they painted over their drawing with watercolors.

Art Lesson Video: Watercolor Grid, Part 1 & Watercolor Grid, Part 2

PowerPoint: Watercolor Grid

Supplies:

  • 9″ x 12″ poster board
  • Rulers
  • Crayons
  • Watercolor paints
  • Brushes

 

Draw a grid with crayon and fill it with letters. Paint over it with watercolors to create a wax resist.

I love the first painting project I do with second graders! They are ecstatic when I start our class by saying, “Today we are going to begin our watercolor project.” This year, I decided to do a lesson that used watercolors along with crayons. When I saw Kristin Thomas’s post about a Jasper Johns-inspired project on her blog For the Love of Art, I knew I wanted to try it out. After they observed Jasper John’s artwork that used a grid filled with letters, I showed them a video about how to draw their own grid and trace over it with crayons.

Draw a grid with crayon and fill it with letters. Paint over it with watercolors to create a wax resist.

At first, I was worried that splitting this project into 2 days would leave us with too much extra time. It ended up being perfectly timed. We definitely need a whole class period to draw the grid and fill it with letters. After the video, I reviewed the steps to drawing the horizontal and vertical lines for their grid (with hand motions, of course!) Those few extra minutes made a huge difference with helping them remember how to use their ruler.

Draw a grid with crayon and fill it with letters. Paint over it with watercolors to create a wax resist.

I toyed with the idea of adding measuring into the mix, but I’m glad I didn’t. Just using the ruler as a straight edge was a lot for them to process. I made sure to tell them that their squares didn’t have to match. In fact, it would make their artwork even more interesting if they didn’t! I also emphasized in the video and during class that they had to press down hard with the crayon. If they didn’t, the letters wouldn’t show through the paint.

Draw a grid with crayon and fill it with letters. Paint over it with watercolors to create a wax resist.

In my example, I used the letters of my name to fill the grid. I let the kids decide if they wanted to do their name, another word or just random letters. Most kids decided to use their name. I think next year it might be fun to use adjectives that describe them.

Draw a grid with crayon and fill it with letters. Paint over it with watercolors to create a wax resist.

Painting day was so much fun! In the video demonstration, I focused on just the basics of how to use watercolors. It was exciting to watch all of the different experimental directions that the kids went with their artwork. Some kids experimented with letting colors bleed together. Other kids tried out mixing more than one color in a square.

Draw a grid with crayon and fill it with letters. Paint over it with watercolors to create a wax resist.

Overall, this one of my favorite painting projects that I’ve done with second grade. It was the perfect balance of structured and loose. And it was an amazing introduction to the magical world of watercolors!

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!

 

 

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.

 

 

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!

 

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