Paper Sculpture

How can you take something flat and change it into something 3-D? Students are prompted with this question and offered the challenge of transformation. Paper sculpture has a strong mathematical connection and allows students to understand form through hands on exploration. By taking a flat paper and rolling it into a cylinder, students see a transformation of space take place and see the birth of a base, that wonderful chunk of matter that can stand on its own!

Motivation: I often begin this lesson by asking students if they have ever seen a 3-D film on the big screen. I then move onto a clarifying question and ask them to describe the difference between a 3-D and a regular film. Once we get to the idea that something 3D pops out, I ask them to show me how they think we can take flat paper and transform it into something that pops out, or is three-dimensional. I first demonstrate how to roll a cylinder. First place glue on the far edge then roll and tuck, hold still and stick. I also demonstrate how to fold a strip into accordion to create a zig-zag form, how to cut a spiral from a square that dangles in space. Students are sent to work independently to test these strategies as well as develop their own.

Lesson Development: Students can “shop” for 5 different shapes of paper. After rolling their cylinder base, smaller shapes can be transformed into 3D forms then glued to the base to add more dimension. The goal is to form a base that stands on its own then add to the base to make it “pop out” even more. Fringes are cut, cones are rolled. Space is transformed! After all their shapes are used, students can go shopping for more. Be sure to clarify how to roll a cylinder as you may find that some students tend to begin by folding the paper over creating a tear drop base. This is still 3-D so it does suffice. However, if your goal is to achieve a cylinder (because you wish to satisfy a math objective), students need to see and hear the proper way to roll a cylinder.

Reflection: Have students share their transformation strategies with the class. Ask them if they see similarities between the works of art created in the group. Critical Thinking can be exersized by asking students where they have seen these forms in nature and in and around town.

Materials: Cut paper strips, squares, full sheets varied colors or limited to your liking for dramatic effect.

Vocabulary: Transform, 3D, 2D, cylinder, cone, spiral, accordion, base.

Skill Level: Kindergarten through Second Grade

Gesture Drawing

drawing a live model

Gesture drawing with children creates an open and accepting classroom environment. It allows students to loosen up their drawing style and helps them to view the “gestalt” of the figure or the big picture.

using the page as visual documentation

When beginning this activity, students may feel like every mark is final and may feel self-conscious. I emphasize that gesture drawing is about capturing the flow and movement of the figure and an abundance of moving and energetic lines are necessary for capturing a gesture. Ask students to embrace the process of drawing and enjoy the flow of the moving marker across the page. After a few poses, students begin to feel comfortable with modifying their drawings and using the page to explore their technique. When reflecting back on the school year, gesture drawing is often shared by students as the top favorite art experience/activity. I think it is connected to the emotional experience of learning to loosen up and enjoy working outside of a controlled “pretty” drawing. Students start off self-conscious, then see and feel progress in the process and, in the end, feel proud about having a realistic human figure on their page. Empowerment through perseverance.

students begin to feel comfortable modifying their drawings

Motivation: To help students understand gesture, I have them all stand and pose in a gesture. Ask them to look at the movement of their body, noticing the placement and angles of their appendages and try and feel where their weight is placed. This kinesthetic activity will help students actually “feel” the gesture while drawing later in the activity.

Lesson Development: I talk about the core, or torso, and ask students to draw the core first. Be sure to emphasize the use of the entire page. You may have a few students who tend to focus at the bottom, but because gesture is focused around loosening up, students should be directed to branch out and use the entire space of the page.

Materials: As said above, offering a variety of materials will help students explore what works best for them. Offer markers, pencil, oil pastels, charcoal, and paint. Cheap paper that is at least 12×18 in size is necessary for capturing movement. If working with older students, ink and eye droppers allow much freedom because of the fluidity of the material. This was actually my favorite life drawing material in high school (and I do recall being accepted to Pratt with two gestural figure drawings done in ink).

Skill Level: Third Grade and up

Lesson Extension View Mini Me Self-Portraits

Materials Workshop: Organizing with COLOR

markers organized by hue and temperature

The local thrift store in my neighborhood organizes their articles of clothing by type and by COLOR. This method of categorization is what excites my senses and motivates me to search, touch and discover great finds. But this is not the first time I have seen this done, for it is an imperative attribute of the display of materials at the infant and toddler schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy. I had the opportunity to experience being in their classrooms and have learned that the Reggio approach believes that the learning environment is the third teacher and the organization of materials plays a crucial part in engaging students in art making. To learn more about the Reggio approach to teaching, click here.

beautifully organized wooden materials at Beginnings Nursery

To promote self-service, the materials in my art studio are always available to students and on display on the counter tops. Markers, colored pencils, oil pastels and water color pencils are organized by hue and temperature. Students use trays to collect their color choices as well as scissors and glue at their leisure when they need them. We take the time to discuss how materials can be used mindfully and respectfully and how we can practice responsibility during clean up by placing every tool back in their “home base”.

oil pastels organized by temperature

The material display is eye-catching and inspiring. When objects are organized by color, I can’t help but want to TOUCH! Promoting student engagement and a desire to explore is my goal as an art teacher and maintaining a welcoming work environment will help achieve that goal. When a space is cluttered, our minds can easily become cluttered. Children will feel safe and eager to explore in a planned, clean space.

bins labeled by hue and temperature through text and color swatches

Using text and visuals together in a label or message display helps children to make connections between words and images. Every picture tells a story, don’t it?

Do you enjoy organizing? What have been some successful and/or aesthetically pleasing ways you have designed a space?

Shape Collage

Collage is a meaningful experience.  It helps develop eye hand coordination and fine motor skills.  It creates a deeper understanding of shape, form and detail…and of course it’s fun!  You can vary your learning experiences during each lesson, while teaching collage through a variety of motivations.

Collage Exploration

Today I am going to discuss the tried and true Shape Collage.  This lesson usually comes after a class of collage exploration where we are getting to know the materials and processes that go along with collage itself.

Symmetrical Shapes

Motivation: Motivating for collage is fun times!  For the primary grades it is about holding the scissors, using them to cut shapes and gluing them down.  A fun way I introduce how to cut shapes in collage is to “talk” to my scissors.  I get up close and whisper to them, and let them know that they can draw, just like a pencil.  They talk back to me, and let me know they’ll try their best!  Just like our pencil, our scissors can draw shapes we all know, like triangles, and rectangles and they can draw shapes we invent ourselves.  It is quite amazing!

Lesson Development: It is empowering to realize that all things come from shapes.  Adding shapes together, we can illustrate almost anything!  I begin with a tray on each table of cut squares and rectangles.  During the first conversation about shape we learn all those wonderous mathematical truths.  If I fold one rectangle in half, and cut, it will make two rectangles.  If I cut those in half, and cut, it will make four..and so on.  If I cut the square in half and cut, it will make two rectangles, and if I fold those in half and cut, it will make four squares.  If I fold those diagonally, I will have eight triangles!  The possibilities are endless.  There is such joy in seeing the pile of shapes growing…the mathematical discovery is immense. What a meaningful way to integrate math and spatial learning through art.

Materials: background paper of your choice no larger than 8 1/2 x 11in , cut paper shapes in various sizes and colors, glue jars, glue brushes, scissors.

Hand Painted Paper

hand painted papers

Ever wonder how Eric Carle creates such vibrant and crisp, delicious illustrations? His secret is painting on archival tissue paper. The papers above were made with tempera on tissue paper. If this photo excites you, read on.

construction paper scraps

Construction paper collage can be a become redundant when you work with the same colors and textures. I like to jazz up paper collage with newspaper text clippings and other found papers. However, with hand painted papers the possibilities soar. You have the choice of creating any color, any texture and any printed patterns to overlap with. I have used hand-painted papers for intricate sculptural works of art that you can view right here: Wrist Candy.

Motivation: pass out color swatches to students upon entering the art studio. Ask them to organize them in a meaningful way during your circle intro. 99% of the time, students will create a color wheel or spectrum. Invited students to share what they know about the color wheel and why colors are organized in a circular pattern. Students will have a goal of mixing as many different shades of the color they were assigned. These colors will be painted onto small rectangles of tissue. Talk about adding white to a color mixture. How does white change a color? As discussed in my post, “Painting with Children“, I offer only the primary colors, magenta, turquoise and white to students during color mixing activities. For this activity it is helpful if a majority of the colors have a bit of white in the mixture to create an opaque color. If the paint colors are translucent, they do not show up as vibrant on the tissue as a color that is opaque. This does not mean that all the colors will be pastels. You can add just a dabble of white to achieve a less translucent color.

Lesson Development: Remind students to be generous with their paint mixtures. A large amount is needed for painting a full sheet of tissue and you don’t want to run short on a color before completing a sheet. Be sure to have small sponges for removing water from the brushes as a watery mixture will not create an opaque color. Painting Tissue: For the first class period, have students focus on painting solid sheets of 8×10 inch white tissue paper. For the second class period, students can re-mix colors that are not well represented as well as add textures with printing tools to the dry solid sheets. Corks, bottle caps, and pencil top erasers make great dots. Thin brushes can create lines or a grid design. Cut sponges into geometric shapes for stamping fun as well. Collage: Cut paper into four or two smaller sheets for children to share. Modge Podge or any adhesive and gloss/matte medium product works best for collaging hand painted tissue because the paper is so thin. Have students coat the area where they want to glue first then place the tissue over it and paint on top as well. In the past I have had students collage over foamcore stars as well as on paper.

Materials: White tissue cut into 8×10 inch rectangular sheets; Tempera paint; Modge Podge; brushes; stamping tools, mixing trays or small plastic cups for mixing.

Skill Level: Second Grade and above.

For insight into paint set up and lesson execution, view my post “Materials Workshop: Painting with Children”.

Nature Prints in Clay

a roller is used to carefully press nature into a clay slab

Much of the texture of an object goes undiscovered when we study something with our eyes. But when we feel it with our fingers or even our cheek, we are able to discover the bumps, nooks and crannies of an object. Printing allows a viewer to discover the textural qualities of an object by sight. By printing nature into clay and glazing it with this specific technique, students will be able to now view the texture with their eyes that they could only feel with their hands before. View our most recent faux fossil creations that skip the clear glaze for a more natural, authentic fossil appearance.

nature is carefully removed from the clay slab

Prior to this activity, students take part in monoprinting with ferns and nature. They carefully roll white ink over a fern (from the center out) and press on blue or black paper. Fadeless paper works well for relief and monoprinting with students because it is thin and smooth and therefore transfers texture easily.

finished fern prints in clay

Motivation: I have often used this activity as a way to integrate with science when students are learning about fossils. I will introduce the medium and invite students to create faux (fake) fossils using nature and clay. Any textural item can be used to make prints in clay, however, nature prints create a stunning quality product. I discusse texture and invite students to share ideas about nature and texture and how, as artists, we may be able to tell a story of texture in a work of art.

Lesson Development: This is a two-session activity because the glazing must be applied to fired clay or bisqueware. White clay works best for this clay activity. Printing: You may want to have pre-rolled slabs for younger students and if your class duration is quite short. If you are working with older students, this activity is a great opportunity to introduce techniques in rolling out a slab. Students may want to share their successful strategies with others for a meaningful cooperative learning experience. After choosing the nature that they wish to press into the clay, students can arrange the nature in a pattern or design and carefully roll over the clay with a wide dowel or rolling pin. When rolling over the plant matter, be sure to start from the center of each plant and then roll to away from the center in all directions. Just as you would roll a slab from the center out, it is best to follow the same strategy or the plant may tear or buckle. Glazing: Fire the finished slabs and gather a selection of under glazes for the first step in the glazing technique. I tend to offer natural earth tones such as darker greens, warm and cool browns and black. Paint your bisque slabs by dabbing the glaze on so that it makes its way into all the cracks and grooves of the printed nature. A bushy watercolor brush works best for this activity. After the entire textured slab is covered, use a wet but not saturated clay sponge to remove the glaze on the surface leaving the grooves filled with glaze. If you feel that you removed too much, repeat the painting and wiping process. The underglaze does not need to be dry before sponging. The students will begin to see how the glaze stays in the cracks allowing the texture to come into view. You may want to talk about how this is opposite the visual effect that relief printing achieves because in relief printing, the grooves go untouched by ink. You could even take it one step further and discuss basics of intaglio printing, which has similarities with this glazing technique.  After the surface is quite clear of colored under glaze, cover the piece in a clear gloss glaze and place them in the kiln for a glaze firing. (Note: the slab could be cut into a rectangular form and rolled into a cylinder to create a vessel using this glazing technique.)

Materials: White clay (fires to cone 06-04); Underglazes ( I tend to offer earthtones for this technique such as Jet Black, Hunter Green, and Red Brown ); clear gloss glaze; clay sponges. I buy all my ceramic materials from Ceramic Supply Inc. in New Jersey. A link to the glazes can be found by clicking on the colors above.

Skill Level: Third Grade and above.

finished fern print

Expressing Emotions through Color and Line

Benny Goodman “Sing Sing Sing”

Music can transform any ordinary experience into something profound. Humans are inherently musical beings. As one of the first art forms, it is written in our DNA. For this selection of art activities, I play a collection of songs that have a strong emotional quality and allow students to explore color and line to express on paper how the sound makes them feel inside.

Jimmy Hendrix “Fire”

Some songs are fast, loud and intense. Others are slow and calm. Students begin by using an imaginary brush to form expressive lines in the air while listening to a song. They vary with each song, even each verse in a song. We also discuss color choices that would best express an emotion we feel from a song.

Ludwig van Beethoven “Moonlight Sonata”

What Does Music Look Like? I usually begin the fast paces songs, then move onto the slow, calm. This change allows them to really distinguish between sounds and asks them to stop and think how they plan to express the emotion that the music creates for the listener. Moving from loud to soft also settles the students and calms them down for the remainder of their work time. Do you play music while students work during class? Set up a meaningful research experiment by playing various types of music and documenting how it affects a students work ethic.

india ink and watercolor

In the image above, expressive lines are painted over a colored background. When your activity is focused on line, I find it best to use black so the focus stays on the content not the color.

expressive lines in oil pastel

This activity can be done with oil pastel and watercolor as well. However, as I noted above, using color to create lines may take away from the focus of the line and divide it between line and color. Choose your focus and then an art medium that will best achieve your learning objective. In the image above, students were asked to create a variety of expressive lines, each one in a new color.

oil pastel and watercolor

In this activity designed for 4-year olds, a colored watercolor wash was applied over the oil pastel lines. This magical duo is a thrill to watch every time.

Motivation: Have students generate a collection of expressive lines on a large bulletin or white board. Discuss how certain lines are slow and others are fast. Ask a student volunteer to draw a quiet line, and then a loud line. Then introduce colors and emotions. Read aloud “My Many Colored Days” written by Dr. Seuss. Ask students to pull calm colors from a color swatch pile. Can you express sad with a color? How about fast or loud?

Lesson Development: Have students listen to the song and discuss their line and color color choices. Ask students explain their choice. Draw the line movements in the air with a brush and begin. Once the music stops, the art stops. Wait for the song to play and begin your emotional art experience once again. Note: In the images display above, students created one work of art that expressed the faced paced, upbeat songs and a second that illustrated the more calm and slow songs.

Skill Level: Pre-K and above.

Materials Workshop: Painting with Children

self-service painting space

This image displays all the necessary tools for a self-service painting session appropriate for children ages 5 and up. I will set up one muffin tin, sponge and water bucket for two students to share. You can of course use this set up with younger students, just know that the act of filling each circle with paint takes precedence over painting on paper. Which could actually be a great way to focus a lesson on color mixing rather than painting. Muffin tins make for a wonderful mixing palette as students can create a new color mixture in each circular space. I only offer students the primary colors, white, magenta and turquoise when painting. This helps them to build personal knowledge of color recipes and also makes for vibrant and colorful works of art that don’t look like they came from a bottle. I share with older students that by mixing a little white along with the primaries will make the colors more opaque and less translucent, if that is the effect they want to achieve. Students tend to mix small amounts of colors and I will remind them frequently to take a large brush full of paint when mixing a new color. This way their colors will be opaque (when there is less paint students tend to add more water) and they will have a large quantity to paint with. A sponge will help students dry their brush before changing colors so that the paint does not become saturated with water. Have various sizes and shapes of paper cut for students to chose from. I begin with rectangles, then move to squares and on to long rectangles or fat strips of paper. I have also cut zig-zags and circles and offered colored paper when setting up for a painting activity.

varied brush sizes

After students become familiar with the painting set up and process, you may want to introduce different size brushes. First allow the child to explore each tool on their own and take note of how their marks may change with varied brush sizes. Talk to them about what you notice. Then offer suggestions like how to drag a brush or dab with the tip or side. After a few sessions with the brush, you may want to introduce stamping with paper towel rolls, corks, bottle caps, balloons, textured stamps, sticks, etc. This will open students up to a wide variety of ways to create works of art and help them to understand that art making has no boundaries.

crayola washable tempera

I find that Crayola brand is the best type of tempera paint out there. Primarily because the shade of blue they produce mixes well with both yellow and red producing a pleasing green and purple shade. Have you every tried to mix green or purple and created a brown ugly mess? It is because your blue was not secondary compatible.  When I am forced to use other brands, they tend to be watery which produces a chalky translucent product. I always opt for Crayola when purchasing tempera.

Clean Up can be a learning opportunity for students as well. I purchase the large block sponges from a local grocery or hardware store and have them on hand when there is time to wash the tables after a painting session. Students enjoy holding the large, soft cleaning sponge and feel a sense of responsibility when caring for their workspace. I rarely have students wash brushes, rather they place them in the “brush bathtub” a large container of water near the sink where they soak for a few hours or even overnight. This makes for easy clean up the next morning.

Litte Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni

Little Blue and Little Yellow is a sweet and silly text about color mixing and making friends that is appropriate for younger students. Mouse Paint is another text for young children that is tells the story of three white mice who discover the three primary colors and the magical mess that happens when they mix them together.

Do you play music during studio work time? I find that students are eager to listen to music in the art studio. The rhythm keeps them focused and engaged in their art. What type of music has created a successful work environment in your classroom?

Clay Fairy Houses and Geometry

clay fairy houses at work

How do you transform something that is flat into something 3-D? A clay slab can help you make that magic happen. A little rolling, folding, pinching, smoothing and voila!

fairy houses made from cylinders and cones

Such a malleable material, clay offers children the opportunity to create any shape, form or figure that they dreamed about last night.

clay cube made from a rolled slab

When studying geometric forms in math, students can use a clay slab to create a geometric solid (in this case a geometric hallow, giggle giggle, nudge, nudge). By first cutting flat geometric shapes from a slab and then bringing the edges together to create a sculpture, students will see the transformative process of flat faces and edges joining together to form a three-dimensional form.

Skill Level: Fairy Houses are appropriate for Kindergarten and above. Geometric Solid clay vessels are appropriate for students in Third Grade and above.

Joseph Cornell Inspired Assemblage

assemblage of found objects

An assemblage is a work of art that is three-dimensional and is made up of found objects. It’s cousin the collage is primarily flat (2-dimensional) and made up of various torn or cut paper scraps. When you begin to add textured fabric or bottle caps and buttons to your collage, you may want to spice it up and categorize it as an “assemblage” instead.

assemblage with a kinectic touch: the swiging cylinder

Motivation: I believe that materials are the best teacher. When given a selection of found objects and glue, students can think of a hundred ways of creating something that is meaningful to them. I like to have a selection of the materials with me during our circle introduction to discuss the ways in which we could use the shapes to form an assemblage. Rather than tell them how they should use the shapes, I talk about background, foreground and the use of the box as a three-dimensional space and let their imaginations decide how they wish to manipulate the objects to develop their confined space. Have a few images of Cornell’s assemblages for students to view and discuss. Talk about overlapping, storytelling and ways in which you can make your assemblage interactive.

Lesson Development: Students are given collection trays and limited to 10 objects to start. Once they use those objects, then can go “shopping” for more. Once a student comes up with an interesting way of using a material, her classmates will want to try it as well. This is a great opportunity to take the time to discuss what it means to be “inspired”. I tell my students that there is no such thing as copying in the art studio and when someone uses your idea, it is because they are inspired by you, and that it is really special that you invented something that others think is great.

Materials: I keep a container in my kitchen for corks, bottle caps, paper towel rolls, cans and just about anything that I can clean easily and that will inspire a sculptural creation. The two assemblages in this post were created inside shoe boxes that were donated by a local shoe store. Local lumber yards may have wood scraps that you can salvage. I quickly brush over woods scraps with sand paper to remove any stray splinters waiting to happen. A strong tacky glue works best for this project and it is extra safe to have a low-temp glue gun handy to help make the impossible possible.

Skill Level: First Grade and above

Watercolor Blow Painting

This unconventional way of painting will open up students to new ways of using tools to make art. They usually think it is silly and therefore their care free demeanor helps to create a fun and relaxed atmosphere.

controlled blow painting creating a tree

A more mindful and controlled work of art, this tree painting asks students to strategically plan the direction of their straw and how forceful their breath should be to achieve a desired product.

finished primary color blow painting

It is magical to watch the primaries cross over one another, blend together and form new colors. It tickles me green, orange and purple every time!

Motivation: You may want to make a historical connection and discuss how art was made before brushes were invented. It is thought that early humans used hollowed out bones to blow pigment over a surface.  Note: I make an effort to inform students that they will only use a watercolor brush to apply bubbles of color to the paper. Our breath should be the only force that makes the color travel across the page and a straw is the main art tool for this activity.

Lesson Development: Using only the primary colors with magenta and turquoise included, students explore blow painting and learn about how their breath force and direction have an effect on their creations. A few drops of colors are placed on the page using a small watercolor brush. The brush is then put aside and the straw is the primary tool. After the watercolor has spread, more drops are added and blown. The following class is focused around using their knowledge of blow painting to form a tree. A brush is used to paint the trunk and add bubbles on the top and bottom to form branches and roots. Connect this experience to observations of nature.

Materials: Although a watercolor set will work out just fine, I have used liquid watercolors for this activity because students need not wet the color cake first before applying the drops. In general, I find that the concentration of the liquid watercolor creates a more vibrant product. Watercolor paper will of course absorb the paint better allowing it to look its best, however for budget reasons and if you wish students to test out their technique on multiple papers, drawing paper will work out fine. I usually place all dry paintings under a stack of books overnight to keep the art from buckling. Smaller brushes work best since a larger puddle will create a less intricate pattern and more of blob when blown with a straw.

Skill Level: Kindergarten and above.

(Top two photos taken by Shannon Timoney Photography)