Tag Archives: art class

Is Your Artist a Perfectionist?

At our co-op this year, I’m teaching a senior high art class. This is the first time in a while that I’ve taught older students, and we’re having a lot of fun with the projects. The purpose of the class is to show the students different techniques for drawing and painting and to introduce them to new types of media. Hopefully in doing so, they’ll find something they enjoy doing as a creative outlet, whether or not they pursue art in the future.

Recently, a comment was made that got me thinking. After working with oil pastels, one of the students stated that he really didn’t like anything he drew. This reminded me of my own 12-year-old daughter who, after participating in numerous art classes in my home, has sworn off art forever. Both students are perfectionists, and if the image on the paper doesn’t appear like the one they envision, they are unhappy with it. My daughter will even say that she’s wasted her time in drawing the picture.

But it’s never a waste of time. Every time you try something new, you learn something — you work your brain, you dip into your creative abilities (latent though they may be), and you grow as a person. And drawing, just like any other skill, takes time — it takes know-how and practice to become proficient. Why do we assume we should be able to create a great drawing just by picking up a pencil? True, some people are so gifted they can do that, but the rest of us need to work at it, just as we need to work at learning an instrument or learning how to crochet. Would we expect someone to build a house without first learning how to use the tools?

If you have a child who’s a perfectionist and become discouraged about art, remind him that drawing and painting are skills that he can learn. Then set it aside for a while, but encourage him to try other creative avenues (my daughter is currently involved in scrapbooking and really enjoying it). He may come back to art, or he may not. But either way, he would know that he could.

How to Read a Painting

Yesterday, we took a field trip to an art museum for a special class on “How to Read a Painting.” The program, which lasted just under an hour, went very well; I learned a lot, and apparently, my children did too. Even my shy six-year-old raised his hand and answered questions correctly.

The class focused on two of the main elements in art: line and color. The teacher presented some good ways to remember what each one symbolized. As she spoke, examples of several famous paintings were presented and discussed.

Wide, vertical lines, the children learned, are like a tall, straight soldier; they demonstrate strength and stability.

  • Horizontal lines remind us of someone sleeping or laying down; they represent peace or rest.
  • Diagonal lines are the lines formed by a body moving quickly, such as when someone is running. Diagonal lines, then, represent action.
  • Curved lines are similar to those formed by a ballerina when she dances, so those lines show movement and warmth.
  • The instructor then told the children about another line they can’t see — an implied line that is formed when a person in the painting is looking at something or when light is streaming down on an object.

After discussing lines and figuring out what the artists were trying to express, the instructor then told the children about color and what the colors often represent. She pointed out that the meanings of some colors have changed over time, even to the point of representing complete opposites. Yellow, for example, used to convey betrayal; today, however, it depicts friendship. Some of the others discussed included:

  • Blue – for loyalty or sadness
  • White – for purity or mourning
  • Red – for strong emotions
  • Green – for growth

The instructor also made a point of stating that not every artist follows these painting “clues” — some depict things exactly as they see them, some choose lines and colors just because they like them, while still others make up their own meanings for line and color.

The talk concluded with a self-portrait a student had created using only lines and color — a piece that, though it didn’t look like her, represented who she was and how she viewed herself. It was a fun way to apply what we learned, so I know what we’ll be working on today‚Ķ ūüôā

That’s So Beautiful!

A couple of weeks ago, I taught an art class at a local craft store. The class involved step-by-step painting in acrylics on canvas; first I would paint something on my canvas (the sky, the grass, etc.), and each person in the class would paint the same thing on their own. The class consisted of both children and adults.

One student in particular, a fourth or fifth-grader, made quite an impression on me. It wasn’t because of his skill or finished product, but the comments he made throughout the class time. Every so often, I would go around from person to person, look at their work, and see if they needed any help. Every time I came to where he was sitting, he would say, “That’s so beautiful!” Then he would paint something else, and say it again.

His painting didn’t quite follow the one I was doing. I had a bright blue sky; he made his a night sky with yellow dots for starts. Mine had three flowers; his had three flowers of another color and a berry bush. And every time he took a step back to look at it, he would say, “That’s so beautiful!”

A few days later, I told my friend about this student. “Wouldn’t it be neat,” she said, “if we all encouraged ourselves in that way? What if we said, ‘Good job washing those dishes!’ or ‘What a great job you did with the laundry!'” We laughed, but we both agreed — that would certainly change not only the atmosphere in the home, but our attitudes as well.

I’m not sure exactly what the student’s parents did to foster such a sense of accomplishment and appreciation in their son; perhaps it’s just his personality. But one thing’s for sure: he was a joy to teach and have in class. And his painting really was “so beautiful!”

Gesture Drawing

This fall, I’m teaching several art classes — some in my home and one at our homeschool co-op. This week, we worked on drawing a still life, a project that included lessons in proportion and shading. To get the students warmed up and focused, however, we did a quick activity before working on the main pieces — a very quick activity. The students created some gesture drawings.

Gesture drawing is the name given to the quick sketches an artist creates of a particular subject — sketches to capture the mood, feeling, emotion, or movement of the subject. The sketches are created as a series of overlapping (often circular) lines without any erasing — no changes can be made once a line is on the paper. These drawings are done quickly; depending on the subject matter, one may spend as little as 10 seconds drawing a particular object, while more difficult compositions may take five minutes or so.

The purpose? This style of drawing helps to literally “loosen” up an artist; no erasers can be used to make corrections, and the artist is encouraged to draw quickly and freely. Gesture drawing is also aids in sharpening observation skills as the artist must focus all of his or her attention on the object.¬† Here’s how we did it:

I found a number of objects to use from my kitchen, some symmetrical, some not. The objects included mugs, syrup bottles, bananas, pears, cooking utensils, and toys (yes, we have toys in our kitchen too!).  I placed one object in front of each student, then provided them with a piece of scratch paper on which to draw. I gave them all a pencil but no eraser. They then had 30 sections to draw the object they were looking at.

We all found out that thirty seconds goes by very quickly when one is drawing. Next, I had everyone pass their objects two people to the left. We then spent another 30 seconds drawing the second object. We followed this procedure two or three more times. I even had them try drawing the object while looking only at the object and not at their paper at all.

The best part of all — you don’t¬† even need an art class to try this fun activity!¬† You can do it together with your children around the kitchen table, and everyone can create a gesture drawing (or two or three). You’ll find it’s good practice for everyone — and a lot of fun!

Shaving Cream Art

As we wind down with another school year of art classes (I teach in my home), I like to surprise the students with a different type of art project for the final session. Last year they created some abstract art by spattering paint using several different methods; this year, we’re making marbled paper using‚Ķshaving cream!

I have three classes that meet every other week — one of the classes finished up a week ago, while the others will conclude on Wednesday. I tried the project with the first class, made up of boys ages 9 – 13, and it went great!¬† I figured it would, though; after all, we were using shaving cream.

There are some good sites online explaining the history of marbling, which we talked about before getting to work. Here’s how we did it:


  • Cardstock
  • Shaving Cream
  • 9″ x 13″ Pan
  • Tempra paints or food coloring
  • Paper towels
  • Toothpicks, combs, skewers

¬†To prepare, I purchased one can of shaving cream and a disposable 9″ x 13″ foil pan for each student. After reading more about it online, I probably had way too much shaving cream. One teacher recommended using only a few cans for a class of 20. I saved our extra for¬†my next class, though.

 Then I had each student squirt out a layer of shaving cream about one inch thick in the bottom of their pan (Fun!).

¬†Next, the students painted the top of the shaving cream with tempra paints. Food coloring worked just as well but was more expensive. We also tried watercolors, but the finished pieces didn’t seem as bright as those with the tempra paints. Craft acrylics didn’t work at all.

 Before painting, we added water to the paints to make them more fluid. As the students painted, they tried to cover most of the surface of the shaving cream with color. This usually results in a more interesting final product.

Using a toothpick, comb, or skewer,  the students  then ran the object through the color, creating swirls and other patterns in the shaving cream.

Next, they carefully placed the paper directly on top of the shaving cream. We patted it down gently so that the entire sheet came in contact with the shaving cream. Then we pulled it up gently again.

I wiped off the paper using a paper towel (a bit of a mess). Even though the shaving cream surface was smudged, the design had transferred nicely to the paper.

¬†We then set the paper aside to dry, and the students tried again.¬†To do so, we simply mixed¬†the used paint into the shaving cream until there was a¬†“clean”¬†surface again.¬†¬†We were able to use¬†the same shaving cream for all of their projects that day — about four to five pieces of art each.

Working With Polymer Clay

sculpeyIn my art classes the past couple of weeks and for one of our recent co-op classes, I’ve had the students work with sculpey. Sculpey is a brand of colored polymer clay that becomes hard when baked in the oven — and the kids have been so creative with it.

I purchased a variety of colors for both classes. The clay comes in 2 oz. blocks, and you can sometimes find it on sale at your local hobby or arts and crafts store. You could also purchase the plain white sculpey, which comes in a larger size; after you mold and bake it, you can paint the sculpture with acrylic craft paints.

Before class began, I did an Internet search for “polymer clay” images and printed off a few to give the students some ideas. You can also find ideas in polymer clay craft books at your library.

Then they let their creativity go, and I helped them along if they needed it. They made small sculptures of everything from horses to roses to beetles to fruit and candy. Even my five-year-old was able to make a strawberry without assistance using a picture as a guide.

You can also vary this project to suit your lesson. Because our co-op class was reading stories about snow, winter, and Christmas, we used the sculpey to make simple Christmas ornaments. The children formed simple shapes, such as triangles for Christmas trees, circles for snowmen, hearts, etc. We then cut a small piece of floral wire, bent it into a “U” shape, and pushed both ends into the scupley, making a “hook” for the ornament. Because the wire was metal, it could be baked along with the clay.

After the sculptures were complete, we followed the directions on the package for baking them, and they turned out great! If you decide to try working with polymer clay with your children, though, be very careful not to over-bake it, as it does give off fumes. A well-ventilated area is best for baking.

Now get started molding that clay — and have fun!

Painting the Perfect Pumpkin

DSC_0007_jYesterday, I had an art class meet in my home, and I felt like I was well-prepared. I had a plan in place — each student was to create a painting of a pumpkin in watercolor. I had purchased some small ornamental pumpkins from the store, enough so each child could have one. According to my plan, each child would draw a pumpkin on her paper, then use some watercolor techniques to fill it in.

I had thought it through before we began: the students would spend a few minutes drawing the pumpkins, then they’d paint the background a deep, fall-ish brown color with a little green mixed in, and then they’d paint the pumpkin a vibrant orange. The pumpkin would really stand out against a dark background.

But‚Ķthe one thing I didn’t have on hand was an example. And so I merely explained the plan to the students, and they started to work. Some drew their pumpkins quickly, others more slowly, but they all worked diligently.

Then the first student was ready to paint. I explained my “vision” for the background again, and she replied, “Can I just make a blue sky with some green grass?”

“Well,” I said, a little taken aback, “I guess so. Let’s get out some other colors.”¬† We did, and she painted a lovely blue sky and green grass. Then she painted her pumpkin.

The next student, who loves horses, asked if she could add a horse to her picture. “Well,” I said, again a little unsure, “I guess so. Let me find a picture of one you can look at.” I pulled out several photos of horses, and she chose the one of a horse laying on the ground. She drew the horse with its neck outstretched, sniffing the pumpkin.

The third student, inspired by the horse photos, decided to add one to her painting too. Her horse was looking over a fence and licking the pumpkin. There were beautiful yellow flowers in long green grass in front of the fence.

The fourth student decided to try my idea with the browns and greens behind the pumpkin. It was a wonderful painting too, but not because of my idea. Like the others, it was an example of the creativity of the young artist. When I stepped out of the way, the students’ personalities came shining through — as each one created the perfect pumpkin.

Dot Pictures for Preschoolers

One day a week, I teach art lessons to homeschoolers at my kitchen table. In one of the classes, I have several little ones ages 5-6 working on projects at the same time. Even when copying a simple picture, these younger ones often get stuck, not knowing where to begin or how to continue. I’m usually bouncing back and forth between them, pointing out shapes and where they fit in.

For example, if a child was drawing a puppy, I might say, “Look, see this eye? It’s a circle, isn’t it? How many eyes does this puppy have? Let’s put two circles where the eyes would go.”

Sometimes, though, a young child might still be at a loss of what to do next. They want to draw, but they don’t know how to get the pencil going in the right direction. When that happens, I just have them connect the dots.¬†¬†I outline the rest of the child’s picture in dots, placing them close to each other and without any letters or numbers beside them. If the dots are close enough together, even children as young as three can follow them with a pencil. It’s easy enough for them to do, helps improve their fine motor skills, and gives them a great sense of accomplishment for having “drawn” the picture.

While dot pictures have helped my art students in class, they’re great for preschoolers anytime!¬† You can create your own, even if you don’t feel comfortable drawing. Simply place a coloring page under a sheet of copy paper and “trace” the outline in dots. Children love to guess what the pictures¬†are before they begin, and they can even color them in with crayons when they’re finished. And at some point along the way, these young students will become confident enough to move ahead with their drawings on their own.