Tools & Techniques

Grid Jig

I have a couple of projects that make use of a 2″ grid. Students create their own grid for use in a drawing but there are always a number of absent students, students who fail to complete the grid correctly, and students who have to begin again. There are also new students added mid-project sometimes. In these situations, a grid shortcut is very handy and I finally caved in and spent a little time and effort creating a 2″ grid jig out of wood and masonite that I had laying around. I put together a wood frame and spaced strips of dense fiber board for straight-edges. I can produce a grid in about 20 seconds and they’re back to work. The advantage, of course, is time saving for the students and teacher. Also a little conservation of materials. The disadvantages are the time to make the jig (30 minutes for me) and certainly if your focus is to make sure each student knows how to create a grid on their own, this doesn’t accomplish that.  The jig is also not adjustable. It is for a blank grid of two inch squares and that’s it. For me, it will be a great time-save for those compatible projects I repeat each year.

Metallic Scratch Art

Students recently completed a scratch-art project on silver or gold metallic scratch board. In this example, the student used a reference animal graphic and chose to fill in the sections on the design using intricate patterns and designs. The lesson emphasizes the use of texture shading and using value and contrast to make details easily discerned. We also try to eliminate resorting to simply outlining in the designs. The scratch material used to be an actual metal foil with a black coating and has now been replaced with a metallic film, possibly mylar, in place of the foil. I miss some of the characteristics of the foil media but I suppose the plastic has it merits.

Linear Perspective Demo

We’re working with one-point linear perspective in 6th grade at the moment. I like to use my TV display for demonstration. I’m having pretty good results from laminating drawing paper and using wet erase fine-point markers to draw the steps while students follow along. Dry erase was handy but I prefer pens with a finer point than I have been able to find in dry erase. I keep a box of baby wipes at my desk for several uses but they are great for removing lines of wet erase marker from the demo sheets.

Beste Liner Brushes

I recently purchased some Beste Finest Golden Taklon Hair liner brushes from Jerry’s Artarama for use on our comic panel paintings in tempera paint. I chose these brushes primarily because of the price and I was particular in wanting a long haired liner brush for those students who wished to try outlining their paintings in black paint rather than marker. I selected sizes 4 and 6 and purchased about 15 of each. (more…)

Publishing on Demand

Last year I decided to experiment with on-demand publishing. This refers to companies who offer to print your publishing projects one unit at a time as needed. Automated printing and binding technology now allows this to be done in an affordable way. (more…)

Mechanical Drawing Heart Designs

This week, students began creating Kaleidoscope Heart Designs. I like to have them do some variety of this type of art each year. Our first step is to create a blank heart template on 18×18″ white paper. Each student creates theirs from a demonstration I lead using a compass and ruler. One of the primary challenges is getting students to draw very lightly on what is essentially an under-drawing that should disappear behind the finished art in marker and colored pencil. (more…)

64oz. Yeti Growler Handle

I’ve always like taking something to drink to work in a large container. I like to make a beverage (ice tea for example) in the morning, have it last all day at work, and even have quite a bit left to finish up at home. I’ve been through a number of refillable convenience store mugs and bubba kegs. Most recently, I’ve been enjoying the 64oz Yeti Growler. It stays cold all day and I never run out. There are several brands of this type of container, The drawback of the Yeti verion…No handle.   (more…)

Sanitary Wipes

One of the handiest things I have “discovered” for art class use are Pampers Sensitive Wipes. When working with messy materials, chalk pastels for example, my hands would tend to get very dry from all the excessive washing throughout the day. These wipes have a bit of moisturizing effect and are quick and easy for clean up so I don’t have as many trips to the sink. They remove a surprising amount of filth, but when ones take into account what they are made for…I guess it makes sense. They are also great for initial removable of spills from clothing. (more…)

Photo Booth

Each year, my more advance art classes do a project using a photo of themselves as a reference. I have a number of projects that may use these and I add to the list regularly. Earlier in the year, I have the students take digital photos which I keep on file until we are ready for them. I always had to set up my camera in the back of the room for a week or two while the photos are taken. I quickly found that students are more at ease and it is less distracting if I set up a screen of some sort with the camera behind it. I have used cardboard and other things for this set up. This year, I decided to build a free-standing screen to be a “photo booth” that doesn’t use up a table and takes up less room. I can also mount some lighting easily on it. It’s working out pretty good.  (more…)

Camera Rig

Moving into my renovated classroom required me to design a new camera rig for my display system. I still haven’t seen a better adjustment solution than the long handled mount that I took from a discarded video camera tripod. I had to purchase a 1/2″ steel rod, which fit perfectly in the camera mount. The rest of the rig is just an arm built of steel pipe and fittings. It is mounted to a wood panel that replaces a ceiling tile. It will accept any camera with a video output. Next time, I will get one that has a remote control for the zoom. (more…)

Doodle Techniques

My students are currently working on their Doodle Design drawings. We are working on glossy rainbow paper with Sharpie. When a paper is glossy and the back is white, any color printed on the paper is typically sitting on the surface of the sheet, rather than permeating into the paper fibers. This allows for a technique to be used in which a standard pencil eraser is used to scrub away the printed material revealing the white below. Hard edges and fine detail are not as easy so its more of a shading effect. I introduced this an an option for those who wanted to try is to add more variety to their Doodle Design projects. Another possibility is following this eraser technique with applying marker of a contrasting color to the now white areas of the paper.

Op-Art Designs

My students began working on op-art designs this week. The designs are actually pre-printed copies. The activity is centered around applying color to the images. It’s a good opportunity to introduce a new technique or medium. This group is using watercolor pencils. As the designs are printed on regular copy paper, special considerations must be made. Students are instructed to use minimal water and to avoid “scrubbing around on the surface too much. I also advise them to paint alternating shapes while leaving dry spaces between the painted areas. This allows the paper to maintain is structure, avoid excessive wrinkling, and cut down on drying time. I have a drying rack but seldom need to use it on this project. It also prevents colors from bleeding into one another and gives the students more control. The following day, when the painted areas are thoroughly dry, the intermediate areas may be painted. I created a page with a grid of rectangles for practice with the new medium before starting their final art.

We are using Crayola watercolor pencils in sets of twelve. I place them in a zip-bag with a small sharpener. I have some spill resistant cups for the water. The brushes are Dynasty Ruby Student brushes. They were purchased in a classroom assortment from Sax (School Specialty). Students tend to choose the smaller sizes for this project. (Angle 1/4, Flat 6, Round 10)

This is a good project for allowing students to catch up on past projects. I have those students who need to finish previous work instead of moving on to the op-art designs. When they are ready, the op-art project is easy to abbreviate. I generally begin with large 11×17″ prints. Students with less time can do a 8.5×11” instead. Also, to save time, I may allow some students to black out selected portions of the design with a permanent marker before painting. Permanent marker must be used to avoid the color bleeding into the wet media. Finally, Students with very little time could be allowed to color the op-art with  marker of regular colored pencil if necessary.

More Presidential Progress

Earlier this week, students began applying color to their Presidential Portraits. We used watercolor marker for our color medium. When I know this project is coming up, I order a supply of red, blue, and black markers. Those happen to be the colors that tend to be used up quickest anyway, so its good to have a supply of extras on hand. Recently, I have been ordering individual color broad-tip markers from Dick Blick. I get them for .34 cents each. They are actually some of the better performing economy markers I have tried. Each table has one of each color and those are shared with four classes during the day. The projects are almost complete and, so far, no “used up” markers. That is to say that the original markers have been able to complete at least four 12×18″ artworks. We began with brand new markers but that is still pretty good for cheap markers on a colorful project.

Foam Carving Tiles

I like to do a foam tile carving project with my Art 2 students each year. It’s an easy way to incorporate simple three-dimensional relief sculpture into a curriculum. The material carves easily with scratch art type tools and tongue depressors cut down to a flat edge.This year, we are doing contour names. It was fairly easy to create concentric contoured name lettering for each student. They transfer the image to the tile surface with graphite and begin on the outer edges to “step” the stripes one by one right up to the letters. We may paint or stain them when complete.

Preinstructional Drawings

I like to begin a new group of students with a series of preinstructional drawings. One of the series makes use of a small still-life object. One is placed in front of each student to be drawn for a example of drawing from life in order to compare that activity with a number of other drawing types. Finding good objects to draw isn’t always easy. I need the items small for a brief drawing and easy storage, yet with enough detail to maintain their interest. Pictured here are a number of objects that I have used for several years.

I like this thing…

I picked up two of these from Harbor Freight over the holiday. It’s already proving to be as useful as expected in the classroom. The price was $18.99 in-store. I notice that the price online has gone up (since a week ago) to $19.99. I don’t know if this price has been updated in the stores yet but I am glad decided to purchase two of them when I did. All metal construction and very handy storage for probably any classroom. I use mine near my desk for supplies that I need access to. The trays are 12″ across and it’s 18″ high over-all The bottom two trays have larger compartments and the top two have more smaller ones. As it requires assembly, one could easily leave out some dividers to adjust the compartment sizes.

Which brings me to the one negative and it is that virtually nothing comes assembled. There are no less that 75 tiny bolts with their accompanying washers and nuts. It is by no means difficult. It just takes some time to do it all….Particularly if you’re assembling two of them.

Nutcracker Graphics

My wife’s students were going to see a performance of The Nutcracker this week so she asked me to help her out with an activity for when they return. I prepared a set of nutcracker inspired faces for her students to color. They are full page designs but also set up to print in other sizes. There are 31 different faces altogether so the students can choose the one they want and they will make an interesting display when hung together on a wall. The graphics can be colored with marker, colored pencil and crayon. They would also be useful for other mediums. I have no doubt that I will, at some point, use them for scratch-art images. Watercolor and watercolor pencil actually work well on photocopies…particularly with heavy outlined graphics that divide up the paper quite a lot like these. The toner actually works as a bit of a resist to help the paper hold up to the wet media. When applying water medium to copy paper, I use water sparingly of course. I also find it’s best to paint one area, leave the adjacent area blank and paint the next one. Continue leaving a blank space between painted spaces over the whole paper surface. When the paint is thoroughly dry,one can go back and apply paint to the intermediate areas. This helps keep the paper from warping and curling excessively which causes water media to pool. It also prevents colors from bleeding into one another. Sometimes I will have each student begin two designs. This way, one can be drying while the other is being painted.

The nutcracker graphics are available in my TPT store.

Shading with Texture

My classes will be moving on to Scratch-Art soon. I always like to precede scratch-art with some texture shading lessons. I have quite a few handouts prepared for this but I only use a selection of them depending on the grade and skill level. Currently, I am working with 6th grade. We began a few days ago with pointillism. I show a few examples of pointillism in art and then demonstrate some techniques using a digital metronome to establish rhythm. The students then begin my pointillism fish handout. They work on it the remaining 20 minutes of the 45 minute period. This is the bulk of the time to be spent on the activity and it is not enough time to complete the fish if executed properly. The following day, I may allow a few minutes at the beginning of the period to get a bit more done on it before moving on to the next texture. I discuss it briefly and then provide the next handout with approximately twenty minutes left to practice. We keep up the same procedure for the next few days to work on five different handouts/textures. I expect students to complete about a third of each worksheet and I emphasize that they are to show me that they can create different values before moving on. We use regular ball-point pen for the activities with the exception of felt marker on the fish pointillism.

Aestheometry Designs

Students are currently working on their Aestheometry design. Pictured here are the materials that we use daily. Upper left: Nineteen different aestheometry practice sheets that are distributed over several class periods. Upper middle: The large paper with the number four is a student folder that we create at the beginning of the year. It’s a 18×24″ sheet of heavy paper folder in half and labeled with the student’s name and class period. Upper right: A green cardboard ruler I provide for my students and a plastic/mesh zipper bag for individual student materials. The pink card inside is numbered according to the student’s seating assignment. Among other things, the bag contains a hard-lead pencil and eraser. Lower left: A manila file jacket for resources. One of these is supplied to each table. Lower right: The contents of the manila resource folder. A booklet of aestheometry instructions and examples. It’s probably around 10 pages front to back and corner stapled. Also, three examples printed in color and laminated so they can be reused. In fact, my goal is to preserve all the file jackets and their contents and use them year after year. (more…)

Overhead Display

My classroom is equipped with video display for demonstration purposes. I chose to use a cheap video camera that cost about $120 twelve years ago. I mention it because I have compared it to ELMO document cameras costing in excess of $1000 and I prefer my set-up in every way. Expensive document cameras seem to be less suitable for video. The frame-rate on the ones I have seen is low enough that the video image appears stuttered. A pencil shading demonstration, for example, would show my hand jumping abruptly around the screen like poor stop-motion animation or something. The camera video is much smoother. Additionally, it can double as a camera to record video. As for longevity, I seldom ever turn mine off. I literally turn it on in August and leave it on through the weekend all year. I turn it off before school is out for holidays..but then, only if I remember to. So its been running for twelve years and shows no degradation in the image or camera sensitivity. (more…)

Marker Multiplied

When using marker in class, I like to encourage students to try applying additional layers. It tends to deepen the color and lessens some of the characteristic streaky texture that marker is notorious for. Some colors and brands benefit more than others. Black, for example always seems to look richer and less…marker-ish. I give a quick lesson early on and emphasize that one should allow the marker layer to dry thoroughly before attempting a 2nd coat. Waiting until the following day is best. It becomes a handy technique particularly for students who finish a bit early and need an additional activity. In the picture, the upper right corner has a single layer of marker coloring while the rest of the drawing has a second coat. The markers used were Crayola cone-tip watercolor markers in the non-washable variety. (more…)

Elusive Gel Pens

Students are currently working on their Hidden Lizard Drawings. We color the background and leave the creatures blank at first. Once the background is done, they can visualize and make a more informed decision about what to do with the design on the animal itself. At this time, I discuss some of the materials and techniques to help point them in the right direction. During the last couple of days on the drawing, I like to provide some white opaque pens so the students can add a few highlights to the animals such and reflections in the eyes and on the skin texture.  This is getting more challenging because my favorite pens for this are getting more difficult to acquire. (more…)

Prison Tool Control

I don’t use them all the time, but for some materials and situations, these blocks make things much easier. Dad calls it prison tool control because it’s among the methods of accounting for tools used by inmates.The advantage being that one can see at a glance if all the materials have been returned before dismissing students. If the block is full before distributing materials, then it should be full again when materials are put away. Easy. Right now I have three blocks that each hold 24 items. I wish I had made them to hold 28 or 30 as my classes are larger these days. One has small holes for pencil-size items. The other two have medium and large holes. Scratch-art tools and special markers have a tendency to “wander” unless special arrangements are made. Of course, one does have to be diligent about using them. Forget to check the block once and you’re back to replacing those lost items. If a school district has a wood shop program, special favors could be called in. They are easy to make, but a drill press is really a must in my opinion.

Harder is Easier

While I don’t see much benefit in large sets of drawing pencils of various hardness, one shouldn’t overlook the fact that a standard, no.2 pencil is not necessarily the best choice for every task. I find 6H and above are often preferable. I understand they even go up to 10H but these are difficult to find.  I issue each of my students a pencil with a hard lead to use throughout the year. They have plenty of advantages to make the purchase worthwhile. (more…)

Keep Your Students in Line

You think you know who you’re dealing with? How many of your colleagues glue their desks to the floor?

Mmm hmmm. That’s what I thought.

I’ve been doing this for about fifteen years so its clear that I think it’s awesome. Clear acrylic furniture cups…The little plastic discs that are intended to protect the floor from casters and furniture legs. After I set up my classroom tables, I proceed to glue a cup to the floor beneath all four legs of the 24 tables in my room. My tables are NEVER moved out of place. I never hear the grating sound of a table being scooted around. The polish coat stays intact since it won’t be ground away with table legs and grit. I love it. Our custodians strip and re-wax every summer. In May, I remove all 96 cups, store them,  and start over again when August rolls around. It takes about 45 minutes to do the whole room.

Easy Receipts

Gotta love a good stamp. There is a student art fee at my school to help purchase some of the supplies used in class. A few years ago, my school began to issue student planners. I promptly purchased a custom date stamp so that I could stamp the “receipt” in a student’s planner and stop writing receipts all the time. Even without the planners, I believe a date stamp receipt would be of use for many teachers who are responsible for collecting funds.

Stump Blending

For my Art 2 classes, I demonstrate how to use and make available some medium-sized blending stumps for use with colored pencil. I only provide them as an option as, at this level, some students really take to them while others could not care less. In my experience, the stumps can’t salvage poor shading. Rather, one can blend good shading and just make it noticeably smoother.


Sharpener maintenence


Even custom built monster sharpeners eventually need replacement blades. One can prolong the useful life of a sharpener by swapping blades on the dual hole models. This is due to the fact that one blade will likely get more use than the other. In my classes, the sharpeners are used most heavily for extra thick Prang colored pencils I provide, resulting in the blade for the smaller opening lasting much longer. My first step when encountering a dull blade is to use a screwdriver to switch blades from one hole to the other. I also can’t say enough about the use of premium sharpeners as compared to School Specialty budget versions. Many of the blades originally installed are still going over a year later with no particular maintenance needed.