Archives for category: texture


I love this time of year! This season of magnificent color presents an exciting opportunity for students to notice and record what they observe happening around them. If your students aren’t already keeping “art journals”, I suggest that now is the time to have them start! You can read my earlier posts about the ease of setting up and using art journals here, here, and here. There’s also a post here about observational drawing that you might find helpful.

My proposal is simple. Have your students observe leaves, one at a time — over time — as they change colors throughout the fall. While many different approaches are possible, I would suggest that you begin by simply having them each select one leaf to bring into the classroom. For this first observation, I would encourage you to suggest that they look for leaves that are primarily green. You might say something like, “We’re going to go outside (to some specific area) and spend just a few minutes while you each find one green leaf to bring back inside our classroom.” This sets a few basic parameters as well as your expectations: A) we will all be staying in the same area together, and B) we will be spending a very short amount of time doing this.

Once back inside, the process of carefully observing their leaves can begin. (Having each student set his or her leaf on a small, pre-cut square of black or white construction paper will help simplify the background, and will make each leaf seem “special” as if on display.) I would not have any pencils or paper out at this time to help focus their attention on their leaves only, and on LOOKING. Oral language and sharing would be great here… what do they see? Students can share their observations with a neighbor. Perhaps you could make a list of class observations. Vocabulary words like line, form, shape, color, and texture can be introduced or reinforced.

When it’s time to draw, journals/paper, pencils, erasers, color pencils, crayons and anything else you might make available can be distributed and the drawing can begin. You might encourage your students to draw one large image, or perhaps you might encourage them to draw several smaller images — or “studies” — of the same leaf from different angles. (This is great for those students who always finish at light speed! Ask them to move their leaf and take another look at it from this different angle.) Most of all, encourage them to take their time, to slow down, and to really look at what makes their particular leaf special and unique. The trick to observational drawing is to actually draw what you see in front of you, not what you THINK you see. Every child in your class has seen a leaf, and generally knows what leaves look like, but today you want them to do the best drawing they can of the particular leaf that is right in front of them.

If you have the time and the inclination, you might attach a writing component to this activity, having students describe what they see, or perhaps how they felt looking at their leaf and trying to draw it, or maybe even compose a poem about it. This writing could be as structured or as “free form” as you want it to be. The writing and drawings can be shared aloud with a partner and/or with the class. Another idea is to have everyone leave their journal open on their desk (or their paper out) and everyone moves around the room doing a “journal walk” or “gallery walk” to enjoy everyone’s work. (If this type of activity is new for your students, you might need to spend some time talking about how important it is to value all efforts, and to stick to constructive comments.)

As you notice the leaves changing colors over the next several days or weeks, explore this same process all over again, but this time you will encourage your students to select leaves that are say, yellow. Maybe a few days or weeks after that, everyone will select red leaves. Reinforce for your students how amazing it is that while you are returning to the same area over and over again for leaves, they have changed color dramatically.

This simple, multi-step journaling practice can be repeated using a multitude of subjects, some of which include growing plants, trees budding out in the spring, or something rotting like a small piece of fruit — kids LOVE the gross-out factor of this last one! Once kids get the hang of what you expect from them out of this process, this type of drawing can even be something that your students can do independently like at a station or center, or perhaps when other work has been finished. When practiced frequently, observational drawing is so much more than an art exercise for students, but rather it becomes a thoughtful, meaningful way of viewing, thinking about, and of understanding their world.

IMG_1816In northern California where I live, May has arrived with an explosion of flowers. If this is true where you are too, why not take your students outside to enjoy some of nature’s splendor? Help your children really slow down and see the spectacular colors, the interesting textures, and the wide variety of shapes that spring flowers have to offer.

IMG_1819After some careful observation, consider giving them about 15 minutes or so to carefully draw what they see. Have them focus in on one small area. If your students already have sketchbooks, that’s great! If not, a sheet of plain while copy paper held on top of a book for support will work just fine. Don’t make it complicated… just don’t miss this opportunity to teach your students the simple joy of slowing down and really seeing the beauty of the world around them.

IMG_1820If winter-like weather is still in full swing where you live, bring a small potted flower or two into your classroom for your children to observe and draw. This small bit of color and cheer will help you all be patient as you look forward to warmer weather that should certainly arrive soon.

IMG_1679For many of us, creating something is much easier with some sort of visual reference. Whether we’re making a drawing, a painting, or a sculpture, having something in front of us to look at helps us get the details right. It helps us with things like proportion, texture, pattern, and color. Here are a few easy suggestions that will help you establish a valuable set of image files that your students can use again and again when they need a visual reference. Why the need for such files you ask? Well, if one is drawing a rose, for example, it’s not too difficult to simply bring one into the classroom. The same holds true for any number of fruits, vegetables, and small objects. But what if your students are trying to draw or sculpt say, an elephant, or a particular type of fish? Not so easy. Enter the image file.

My suggestion to you is that you create a series of files filled with photographs that your students can reference as needed. I want to be very specific here about saying that your images files should contain only photographs — not drawings or paintings of things. The problem with using drawings or paintings of things as a reference is that someone else has already made all of the decisions about color, line, texture, etc. When you have your students work from photographs, they must decide how to interpret the “reality” of that photo into their work. This involves a tremendous amount of observation and problem solving skills that are essential to student growth and learning.

For my own classroom files, I purchased some very inexpensive books of photographs of whatever I was looking for. (Yard sales can be a fantastic source!) Because having an entire classroom of students share one book is not practical, I simply tore the pages out of the books I collected. (As a lover of books, this was kind of hard to do at first, but I persevered and it worked so well, I never looked back.) I used hanging file folders to store these now single sheets of photos, and labeled them by category such as, insects, fish, mammals, reptiles, birds, flowers, etc. (Often these photos also have an accompanying paragraph about whatever is in the photo, which I find to be a real bonus as far as student learning is concerned.) Once these files are established, it’s simply a matter of pulling them out when you need them. So for example, if you’re working on an art project that involves reptiles, you simply bring out the reptile file and you’re all set. If only one topic is being used, I simply spread out that file’s contents on a table for students to peruse. If we’re using multiple subjects, I place the files we’re using in a small hanging file container someplace where the students can look through them.

When I initially set up my image files, the internet was not something we had access to in classrooms. And while it might be tempting to let students search for images on the computer, I would advise against it. In my experience, students will make a selection from this type of photo file within a minute or two of looking over the photographs. How long do you imagine they might look on the internet…?

Trust me that after only a small initial investment of time and money on your part, you will end up with files that will serve you well for years. You won’t be able to imagine how you ever lived without them!

Need other ideas for great art experiences YOU can do in your classroom or with your homeschooled kids? Check out my affordable and convenient professional development courses here. You can register at any time for my distance learning classes, and best of all, you complete them on your schedule. I hope to “see” you in class soon!

IMG_1468Here’s a lesson idea that will create a fun, fresh, whimsical look for  your classroom or school this January. Consider the exciting possibility of having your students make REALLY BIG snow people and/or animals! There are lots of options for this lesson, from having your students make life-size snow people that they decorate to look like themselves, to having them create large snow people that they decorate to represent characters from literature or historical figures, or perhaps instead they make snow animals that represent real animals you might be studying in your classroom. You decide how “connected” to your curriculum you want this to be. No matter which way you go, you’re sure to get a wonderful cast of winter characters!

Materials are simple: white butcher paper, construction paper in a variety of colors, paper scraps, fabric and other miscellaneous materials you might have on hand such as cotton, glitter, twigs, wrapping paper, glue, tape, and scissors.

You will have pre-determined the “theme” of the snow people/animals for your class, so talk to your students about what they will be doing. (Obviously, everyone should be working on the same theme, i.e. all will be making themselves, or all will be making a favorite character from literature, etc.)

Talk with them about why tearing out the circles for their snow people (or animals) is a better approach than cutting out the circles. (Tearing produces a more “snow-like” texture.) Have them tear large ball-like shapes out of white butcher paper. To help ensure that all finished snow people are about the same size, it might be a good idea to have large, pre-cut squares to give to the children — each child getting a large, medium, and a small square. If they carefully tear so that they “touch” each side (or edge) of their square, their finished snow people (or animals) should end up being similarly sized. (They don’t have to be identical to each other, just similar. You don’t want one 6 inch tall snow person, and one that is 3 feet tall.) It would be a great idea to have several extra large, medium, and small squares cut out, just in case someone needs to start again. (Someone probably will… and that’s ok.)

Let me stop here and say that for some of you it might be tempting to make one of these yourself and then show it as a sample to your students. There is no need for you to do that. I would suggest instead, demonstrate what careful paper tearing looks like by beginning to tear a large circle out of one of the pre-cut squares like you will be asking them to do. Show them how to “touch” each side (or edge) of their square, using their whole paper. This is all they need to see — they DO NOT need to see a finished snow person or animal in order to make one themselves.

Once the basic snow people or animals have been established, have them cut or tear all of the features they want to use such as eyes, nose, mouth, glasses, braces, mustaches, etc. that will enhance the snow person’s identity. These should be glued to the snow person’s head. After the three graduated body parts have been glued or taped together, your students might want to add special decorations like a hat or scarf. Depending on the “theme” you’ve chosen, consider if any other “accessories” or items need to be created and added to further determine the snow person’s identity. Any “extra” materials you’ve gathered for the children to use will come in handy here, such as fabric, glitter, cotton, twigs, etc.

These large creations would look fantastic in your classroom, but don’t let a lack of display space stop you. Because they are so large, they make a wonderful display along a hallway, in the office, library, or cafeteria. If you’ve chosen a theme that connects with an area of your curriculum, perhaps a bit of writing by each student could be included about the character, historical figure or animal represented.

I’d love to see your display if you have your students make these. Please email photos to with “Big Snow People” in the subject line. Enjoy!

IMG_1446Just in time for the new year, here’s a lesson idea that’s sure to delight you and your students! Called “Winter Village”, this lesson will create a wonderful group display while it reinforces the concept of geometric shapes.

The materials required are simple: construction paper in a variety of colors (whole sheets and scraps both work well), any drawing tools you have on hand (crayons, markers, color pencils), tape and/or glue sticks, and scissors.

Talk with your students about geometric shapes and tell them that they are each going to “build” their own home, cabin, or castle using just these shapes. Their buildings may be realistic or imaginary, but they must use geometric shapes to construct them. Consider having your students tape or glue their shapes down onto a background sheet of construction paper, which will enable their creations to “grow” with as many shapes as they want to use.

Together you can brainstorm a list of architectural details that make a building distinct, like windows, doors, shingles, addresses, steps, and shutters, as well as all of the different materials buildings can be made of such as bricks, cement, wood, metal, etc. Encourage your students to add these kinds of “textures” and details to their own dwellings using cut or torn paper, or any of the drawing tools you have supplied. For some extra fun, have each child place one of their school photos in one of the windows of their building!

An exciting way to display these once they are finished, is to cut away any background paper that is still showing, and then place all of their little houses on a “winter scene/landscape” bulletin board, thus creating a little winter village made up of all of your students’ buildings. They may want to add a few trees, street signs, and lamp posts around town to complete their village scene. A little torn paper “snow” on the roof tops would look fantastic too.

If you decide to create a winter village with your students, I’d love to see it! Please email photos to: and please put “Winter Village” in the subject line.

Like the song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!”. In so many ways, this wonderful season is especially beautiful, and I encourage you to take a few moments when you can, just to notice it. Really look around you right now. This time of year is heavy on the sparkle and glitter, the warm glow of candles, the riot of color, pattern, and texture. Savor it. Let your eyes just drink it all in. And while you’re at it, why not help your children and students notice this bounty of beauty as well? Amid all the hustle and bustle, show the children in your life how easy — and rewarding — it can be to just stop for a moment, take notice, and enjoy.

In the classroom, this type of “visual study” could be the jumping off point for some very meaningful writing, whether it be reflecting on past holidays, thinking about wishes for the future, or writing about what’s going on right now. Maybe it could be a piece of descriptive writing, filled with as many adjectives and details as possible. Observing something thoughtfully, and then drawing it as carefully and as accurately as possible, is also another worthwhile experience. (This is especially good for quieting down energized little ones while helping improve their focus too.)

Teachers: don’t forget that winter is the perfect time to sign up for professional development courses! The art classes I teach are affordable and convenient — and you have up to one year to finish your course work! Picture yourself… hot cocoa in hand, with warm slippers on your feet, earning 3 units of graduate credit in the cozy comfort of your own home… Click here to find out more.  🙂

While counting your blessings this Thanksgiving, my hope is that you will also take time to notice the many little artistic miracles that surround you, such as vibrant color, rich textures, interesting shapes and forms. When you begin to pay attention, life can truly be a feast for the senses each and every day.

Happy Thanksgiving!