Monday, February 25, 2013

Favorite ART projects in the classroom

It has been a pleasure to share the joy of art with my high school students. I am blessed with the good fortune of being able to admire beautiful works of art created by my talented students. Student art is to my eyes what chocolate is to my taste buds. Very satisfying, indeed. Sometimes intricately complex, sometimes blissfully simple. Leaves me wanting more. Time to share.....

Students in Introductory to Advanced Art love to paint with acrylics. We use DickBlick acrylic paints and canvas boards. I don't dictate what the subject matter is supposed to be, but I am a stickler about addressing the use of color and a planned color scheme. I find that if I don't get them to commit to a palette before they begin the project they end up with one of two palettes: 'Muddy Mix' or 'Rainbow Brite'! Students devise a color scheme using paint chips or color scraps cut from magazines and then they custom mix the colors to match. These are examples of a few of my favorite color palettes created by students:

Students in the introductory art class work on an abstract painting using a pre-collage method I learned about from a U of M art professor. They really enjoy creating this painting as they focus on color mixing, composition, and color schemes.
To learn more about the abstract project below, click here.



JIM DINE, American Pop artist, was able to make a simple tool (hammer, pliers, etc.) look really fabulous. After studying his work, my students were inspired to create these
lovely charcoal drawings:

Oh my...what to do about digital art. We want to do it, we just don't have enough computer labs at my school. We can get the lab signed out for a few days, but not weeks. So, we create drawings in class and scan them for use in our digital collage. This student enjoyed creating anime-type drawings which lent themselves well to the collage process.


What can I say? This lobster is definately the largest ceramic item anyone has made in my class. It was complex and meticulous. Great job. Loved it! So glad it didn't break!

Ceramic Tripod Mugs
First, check out this fantabulous video describing the process tripod mug tutorial
 Let your students imagination soar as they decide what type of impression they will make on their mug. Lace, buttons, leaves or even clay stamps they made themselves. I give students a paper template measuring 5" by 11" to cut out the rectangle. They make the impression BEFORE they cut out the rectangle. Biggest problems to look for...lobsided shape caused by pushing down on the mug, thus compressing/bending one of the 'legs', legs not evenly spaced (put 3 evenly spaced marks on bottom edge), seam gets distorted/thin due to too much pressure, handle falls off due to poor score and slip). For lots of image examples of mugs check out my pinterest board
Totem Poles-Ceramic 
Start ceramics class off with a small project that allows students to learn a variety of processes without wasting too much clay and glaze on those inevitable and highly educational FAILS. Fails happen more often in ceramics class than other one I teach. I've learned to love the little failures because they save us lots of time and money making big failures. Students make a HAT, NECK, and FACE. We all use the same size dowel for the hole. They are painted with acrylic, then a thin layer of black wash or white wash is applied which provides a sense of unity when the various pieces are mix-n-matched on the poles. Holes are drilled in a painted wood base and dowel is glued in. Most of them are pole-worthy...some aren't, but that's okay because THIS is a learning experience!
Glass marbles are glued in as eyes on this red creature. E-6000 is my glue of choice for hard surfaces.
Shapes were cut from 1/2 thick slab and placed inside a bowl lined with paper towel. The clay can remain in the bowl until it is dry. Students really enjoyed coming up with pattern ideas. However, breakage is frequent in the greenware stage unless great attention is paid to scoring and slipping!

We HAD an ugly pillar outside our media center. It's been covered with lovely 4 x 4 tiles now. Looks great. Good advertising banner for my ceramics class too. This was one of my favorite tiles.
This is our final project of the year....when I have excess clay leftover. These largish bowls are fast and fun! Students enjoy going outside to gather leaves in spring. They roll out a slab, lay the leaves on the clay, use medium/hard pressure with a rolling pin, cut out a circle (using a template) and place the circle on top of a plaster mold. We set the mold outside in the sun so it will stiffen up within 30-40 minutes. At the end of the hour they take the bowl off the mold. After bisque firing, they apply one coat of underglaze, wipe it off with a sponge (glaze remains in the impressions) and apply 2 coats of clear glaze. For detailed instructions and photos visit this page.

Another favorite tile....this student made this tile from a mold. There are no words or item in the hands in the mold, just the character and ground. The student would customize those two features for each tile. He would also change the facial expression to match the mood of the message. Brilliant!
I encourage students to turn their ceramics projects into 'mixed media' projects. All that is needed is a little pre-planning as the adornments will be added AFTER firing. These simply need holes to put the metal leaf stems in. Students love to add marbles, wire, lace or string woven through open holes. I use E-6000 glue (a tube is about $5) for ceramic, glass and metal. Works GREAT.
Ceramic students and 2D students were involved in a community service project that raised funds to help support our downtown holiday light show. Students made ornaments for a tree that was auctioned (along with many other trees donated by local groups) to the public. A local business was the highest bidder for our tree and displayed it in their office. The ornaments depicted each student's favorite local establishment, event or location such as a bakery, restaurant or park. Students inserted high temp. wire loops into the clay while it was still soft. The backside of the ornament has the name of the business or location.

2D students drew their image on shrink plastic (aka Shrinky Dink) with prismacolor colored pencils. They made a frame from cardboard which was custom-sized and painted. Some students drew a design on the cardboard with Elmers glue before painting to create a raised design effect.

My Intro Art students get the little 3x4 easy-cut printmaking blocks from DickBlick. They have to make an image that connects to itself to make a repeating pattern. We do this project in early December. Many of them make holiday designs and print the image many times on a large sheet of paper ( cut from an inexpensive roll of paper) to make their own giftwrap. Just imagine how pleased mom is to get that gift.

Level 2 and 3 students get larger print plates.

Ahhhhh, collage. It may be the most fun project of all. It is probably the cheapest one too. Newspaper, magazine scraps, matboard scraps, broken pastels, lefotver paints, etc.. A virtual smorgasbord of creative idea's are brought to life. Looks easier than it is. Lots of problems to be solved. But that's okay...just cover up the mistakes and start over! We use a mixture of matte Modpodge and Elmer's glue to put it all together. We topcoat with Modpodge when we're done.


THIS is a great pastel project for Introductory students. Get some flags (garage sales) and dip them in 'stiffy stuff' or whatever type of starchy, stiff glue mixture you come up with. Drape them over a gallon paint jug to dry. Set them on the table and turn down the lights. Have students squint to see values. Use a view finder to get the right composition. I use 12 x 18 Strathmore 'Art Paper' pads from DickBlick. Great price, great paper with tooth.  Students have to use THREE values for each of the three colors of the flag (ex. pink, red and burgundy for the red stripes). Oil Pastels are easy to blend. This is a winner every time!

They all have digital camera's...err, phones, right? We all know the alphabet, right? Let's go exploring, shall we? What do you want to spell?

Now THIS portrait drawing using a grid project is really exciting because the students get to participate in making a difference in the lives of others through their art. I urge you to check out the website
There you will find instructions on how your students can participate. In short, students draw a portrait of an orphaned child and make a small donation to the cause. The portraits are delivered (a video is taken of the delivery event and you can access it online to see the child receive the portrait!) and EVERYONE is happy. Win. win. win.   I have my students use the grid method to get an accurate likeness. We don't want any distorted portraits getting delivered to the little ones!

Abstract Design. I shall never tire of the endlessly creative designs my students invent. In any medium, abstract design is always one of my favorites.

For this Paper Cutout Project we make our own papers. My favorite theme is BIRDS. We are inspired by the work of Charley Harper and Rex Ray for this project. A pre-planned color scheme is a must. I want to turn these into notecards. Who wouldn't want a dozen of these sweet things?

Text Portraits utilize the students ability to render value through the application of the written word. Students love this project not only because it's FUN, but because they get to infuse their thoughts and ambitions into the piece. I usually assign this as a self-portrait and the text should relate to the artist. However, students have drawn other people and inanimate objects using this method. We begin by taking high contrast photos with rich shadows and highlights. We put the image into Photoshop and use the cutout filter to help us identify the simplified areas of value. We use both the original and cutout prints as our guide as we draw the portraits (by sight or using the grid method) on bristol board. Some students like to begin with pencil, which they erase after they have applied the fine point permanant marker. Other students feel more confident about going straight for the ink pen. By practicing with some simple shapes, such as sphere's or fabric folds first, the students gain experience with this technique. The same size pen is used throughout the portrait. Darker areas contain text that is compact while lighter areas have text that is wide and airy.

 Text portraits are simply a modified version of a pointillism project. If you have a student who isn't quite ready for the text project, have them use tiny dots to create light and dark values. Students can print their resource image in black and white to help them distinguish values.



An excellent springtime Fundraiser is the Birdhouse Bling project. We began by taking a field trip to see The Heidelburg Project in downtown Detroit. This is a FASCINATING story about how one artist changed the direction of urban decay and advanced community awareness and appreciation for the value of art. We mimicked this artists concept by turning simple wooden birdhouses (very inexpensive, purchased from Joann's or Michaels craft store) into colorful and creative works of art. First, we had students vote for their favorite by putting spare change in a cup next to the birdhouses on display in the lunch room. Then we put them on display in a silent auction in our staff lunch room. Gosh, I love my coworkers! They were very supportive in providing the art dept. with a few extra bucks to stock up on supplies.
You can learn all about Heidelburg by visiting these websites:

Heiedelburg Project official website has links for educators
Youtube Video direct link to fantastic 4 minute video


 I use my Pinterest boards almost daily in the classroom to show examples of projects, connect to helpful tutorials or provide organized images for students looking for ideas. If a student is absent on a demo day or doesn't quite grasp a concept, I can easily direct them to a tutorial. I number the boards to make them easy to reference in class. Need ideas for your ceramic coffee mug? Check out board 7b! I also have a collaborative 'secret board' I share with my AP Art students to use as a space to share images and provide feedback and critiques as well as updated news about assignments, contests, etc. Feel free to use my boards in your classroom or simply follow me on Pinterest.
For a fun, collaborative classroom project idea click here


  1. Beautiful work! You really bring out the best in your students! Thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Those are great projects! I love the idea of using paint chips to stick to a color scheme. It's one of those ideas that lead to "Why didn't I think of that, and why didn't my own art teachers help me like that?"

  3. Thank you for your kind words. I appreciate that!


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