Archives for the month of: November, 2011

I’m taking a break from writing about Art Journals to say how thankful I am for art in my life. Looking at art… making art… seeing art all around me in my everyday life.

Don’t miss the beautiful “exhibit” nature has on display right now!

Back next week with more easy ideas for bringing art into your classroom. As always, click on Fresno Pacific University at the top of this page if you’re interested in taking one or more of my Professional Development classes.

Happy Thanksgiving!


In this continuing saga of the many benefits of using Art Journals with your students, today I’d like to suggest a few ideas to keep your students excited about and engaged in their journals.

1. Generate excitement. This one is so easy you won’t even believe it — but it’s true. If you want kids to get excited about something and to observe it really closely… put it “under glass”. I had an old glass display box that I would put things in, and suddenly the contents would be magically transformed into priceless objects! I’m here to tell you that this worked equally well for first graders as it did for high school students. As people, it seems we are just naturally interested in things “on display”. My little display case was glass on three sides and the top, had doors on the back — which is how you could put things inside — and it also had the ULTIMATE feature… a light inside! Well, you can imagine how fascinating things became when placed inside the display box with a light shining on them! Just stand back and let the students look, draw, and describe. I think any kind of display area/stand/cover would do… it just sets the objects apart from being ordinary and helps them seem special and worthy of study. I put all kinds of things “on display” in that case… a bird’s nest I found on the ground… rocks… shells… leaves… you name it. In elementary school I used this display box as an “Observation Station”, and students would go there to work independently in their journals. Something to keep in mind — you’ll want to establish expectations for your display container. For example, will your students be allowed to lift it/hold it? Or is it to remain on the counter/table/floor? Be sure to make it very clear to your students how you expect them to use this “special display container”.

2. Choose “unexpected” subjects for their observations. This is not for the faint of heart, but if you’re game — think about having the kids observe something that changes over time like fruit or vegetables or cheese. (You probably want to have some sort of glass container for this stuff!) As you can imagine, watching fruit/food rot is enough to make children giddy — the more gross, the better! From an observational point of view, it really does make for a fascinating study with lots of opportunities to use descriptive language and to include specific details in their drawings that show the transformation.

Next time… some easy ways to incorporate the Art Journals into your classroom curriculum. Click on Fresno Pacific University at the top of this page if you’re interested in learning more about the art classes I teach. Thanks for reading my blog! If you have any specific questions/comments that you’d like me to respond to, please leave me a comment or write to me at

So my last post was VERY long, and I promised this one would be shorter — so here goes!

If you’ve been able to get your students started working in an art journal of some sort, here are a few tips to keep in mind that will keep the journals relevant, meaningful, and fresh for both you and your students.

1. Collect the journals and comment in them periodically. Don’t make this a huge chore… just gather them up every so often and check out how your students are using them. This can be an excellent time to get a feel for any improvements/challenges in their writing, and also for checking out their attention to detail in their drawings. Keep comments to a minimum. Things like, “Great observation!”, “I agree with you here.”, “Love the detail in this drawing!”, are all things that will encourage your students. I wouldn’t think of this as “correcting” their journals, but rather just an opportunity to touch bases and see that they are being used as intended. (For example if you see lots of drawings of cartoons, you might want to speak to that student and remind them of how their art journal should be used.)

2. Work as a whole group periodically. Just as you did in the beginning to establish your expectations for the art journals, work every so often as a whole group to reinforce those expectations and offer encouragement while your students are actually working in them. One fun thing to do is to observe and draw something seasonally as a group. As a first grade teacher, there was a small tree in a planter right outside of my classroom, and a few times a year — at the change of seasons — we would all take our journals outside to carefully observe and draw this tree. The students loved looking back at the drawings they had done previously to see how the little tree had changed. It was a simple, but powerful way to help them be more aware of their everyday surroundings. Many would report back to me about how trees were changing around their own neighborhoods, “just like our tree”! Imagine!

3. Don’t keep a journal with your students. I’ve touched on this before, and I can’t emphasize it enough: DO try keeping an art journal of your own, but please DON’T  draw in it along with your students. First of all, if you are trying to observe and draw in your own journal, you will not be able to monitor and be engaged with your students as they work. Secondly, if you are working in a journal, your students will lose interest in their  own journals and will want to watch what you are doing. Finally, that’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself! Your students don’t need to see you draw to be able to have a meaningful experience drawing in their own journals.

In my next post, I’ll give you a few more suggestions about how to keep your students on track and engaged with their art journals, as well as easy ways you can incorporate them into the curriculum you are already covering in your classroom. As always, if you find yourself in need of Professional Development credits and/or are looking for ways to bring some meaningful art experiences into your classroom, click on the Fresno Pacific University link at the top of the page for information about courses I offer. Also, I’d love to hear what you think of this blog, so drop me a line if you’re so inclined.

So you’ve decided on your expectations for the way you’d like your students to use their art journals. Now comes the fun part! It’s time to work in these very special journals for the first time. I strongly recommend that you have your entire class work in their journals together for the first few times, simply to lay the foundation for your expectations of their use. I know it’s so hard to carve out time in the schedule for this, but a small amount of time spent now will help insure that the journals are used productively and independently by your students in the future. I would suggest working maybe 3-4 times as a whole class in the journals before the students are allowed to work independently — but you are the best judge of when your students are ready.

Keep it brief: I would suggest working perhaps only 10-15 minutes at a time at first. Observational drawing requires a great deal of concentration and might be difficult for some the first few times. Children tend to expect to be “entertained”, so having them slow down and really look carefully at something will require practice. (Can you already see the tremendous benefit this type of drawing will have for your students?!)

DO try this at home! What I’m about to outline for your students is something that you really should try at home — on your own — so that you can have a personal experience of what drawing from observation is like. I DO NOT advise that you work alongside the students in the classroom as they draw. The reasons for this are many, and I’ll outline my feelings about this in a future post, but for now, please try drawing on your own to gain some insight and understanding of what you will be asking them to do.

Describe the process of looking/seeing/observing: Get your students excited about this process by describing what they will be doing before they even get their journals out! Explain that they will be thinking and observing like an artist… observing little details… noticing things like light and shadow… edges… shapes… textures. (An obvious connection here is that this is also much like a scientist views things, so that might be something to bring into the discussion as well.) You might model this “looking” process for them by holding something up and then talking out loud about what you see. This provides a terrific opportunity for vocabulary development too.

Slow and thoughtful drawing: Let the students know that working in their art journals is a slow and thoughtful process, and that sometimes they might not even finish a drawing that they start, and that’s okay. Tell them that what’s important to you is that they look carefully, that they take their time, and that they work thoughtfully to draw what they see. I often reassure my students that I know they aren’t cameras, so I don’t expect their drawings to look like photographs — which usually gets a giggle. I’m not as concerned with the final product of their work (i.e. a photographic likeness of the object they’ve chosen to draw) as I am with their process of looking and seeing and of carefully recording what they see. Keeping a focus on drawing only what they can look carefully at will also eliminate them drawing things like cartoon characters, make-believe creatures, etc. Those types of drawings are valid and have their place, but let them know that this art journal is not about that.

Keep it simple: For the first few times working in the journals, you might suggest the subject to be observed. Depending on your situation, you might give each child something to draw… a small shell, a leaf… or you might direct their attention to something in the room. (Be sure it is something that each student can easily see from their seat to prevent the need to wander or move.) At first I would limit their subject to only one thing per session.

Here we go! If you are going to provide them with something to look at, hand it out now — or direct their attention to the subject. Ask them to just carefully look/study/observe their subject for a few minutes — maybe 1 or 2, you be the “timekeeper”. If you like, students might wish to share something they observed with the class. This is a wonderful language rich time… maybe you even make a list of what they are saying. You decide how involved you want to get here. Now direct your students to the first page in their journal — or the first sheet of paper in their folder, whatever you’re using — and ask them to carefully draw what they see. Remind them to look for and include things like light and shadow, edges, textures, etc. Ask them to work large so they can include lots of the details that they see. Remind them that they will only be drawing for a short time and that they might not finish their drawing — and that’s okay — it’s more important that they work carefully, slowly, and thoughtfully like an artist would. (You get where I’m going with this…) In my experience there are always those who rush to finish, and to them I gently suggest that they keep looking and be sure to add everything that they see. In other words I let them know that I expect that they will keep working on this drawing adding as much detail as possible — and not moving on to another page/sheet or drawing. Try to discourage lots of erasing… remind them about the camera/photograph thing… ask them to just keep going with drawing what they see.

Okay, so this post is really long! There’s just so much I want to share with you about this. Please come back again and I’ll write (briefly!) about some things you can do to help keep the art journals on track once your students are using them on their own. If you’re looking for Professional Development credits, please click on Fresno Pacific University at the top of this page for information on the classes I offer. Thanks for reading!

I hope my last post got you thinking about taking the simple first step of bringing more art into your classroom by introducing the idea of Art Journals to your students. Whether you’ve decided to purchase actual blank books, give each student loose sheets of copy paper in a folder, or you’ve chosen to do something in between, here are a few things to keep in mind as you get started. Let’s begin with expectations.

Make Your Expectations Clear: It’s very important that you introduce the journals to your class as such… art journals. Let them know that these are special and are only to be used for recording their observations (things they see/think about) in both pictures and in words. Let them know that you expect work in these journals to be careful and thoughtful — and that everyone will be working in them the first few times together as a class so that they can understand exactly what you mean. (More about that in a future post.) I would suggest making a little list that you might post someplace in your classroom — this list can then be referred to as needed to reinforce your expectations.

When Students Can Use Their Journals: It’s up to you when you’d like your students to be able to use their journals independently… perhaps during station time, when other work is finished, or when waiting for help… decide what works best for you and let them know.

Art materials to be used in the journals: Again, this is up to you, but I’ve had great success in allowing simply a pencil and an eraser. This places the focus squarely on their drawing and writing — use other art experiences to explore other materials. This also eliminates the problem of them not having what they need to work in their journal — remember, we’re making this easy!

Observation Subject: I’ll talk about observational drawing in a future post, but for now while you’re thinking about expectations, I would suggest that you let your students know that the object(s) they choose to draw/write about in their journals should be something that they can easily see from their seat — it might even be something at or in their desk. Trust me, the last thing you want is for your students to start wandering around looking for things to draw — and believe me, they will! Moving around looking for the perfect thing to draw becomes more important than the drawing. You might guide them to select something that doesn’t move so that they can get a really good look at it — which rules out things like drawing their neighbor!

Next time I’ll talk about observational drawing and how to get your students off to a good start in their journals. Laying a foundation for use in just a few brief sessions as a whole class will help ensure the ease and quality of their use for the remainder of the year. If you’re interested in learning more about teaching art to your students and perhaps need some Professional Development credits too, click on Fresno Pacific University at the top of the page and you can read more about each of the courses I teach. (Specifically ART 900: Drawing Magic, and ART 904: Ideas To Draw From might interest you!) If you like what you’ve read here, I’d love to hear from you —