color-spheresAs long as I live I will never forget the special education students in my art classes. They have provided the most genuinely sweet moments for all the students in my classes over the years.

Today a little guy named Pete (not his real name) broke up my entire sixth grade class with his reaction to the color paddle chain I use to teach color mixing basics. This is a child who literally had to have his little fingers lifted off the door jam one by one as he entered the class. To say he was not feeling interested in attending art class was an understatement.

I took a calculated risk and brought everyone to the table where he sat with a paraprofessional to explain a color theory project to the rest of the class.

As I manipulated the red and yellow paddles over each other….I said to Pete, “Look, it’s magic…orange!” His face lit up like a Christmas tree…he grabbed the paddles and we were off to the races. He spent the rest of the class in a rainbow-colored trance, combining the colors, looking at his world through those paddles. The students gathered around us were smiling, laughing at his joyful reaction. God, it was a nice moment. Can you ask for a better explanation of the effect of color on the world?

As I walked around the room the rest of the period he kept looking up at me through the green paddle with this mischievous grin, saying “You look like the incredible hulk Mrs Strandberg, ……aaarghhhh!” I’d say “Aaaargghhh” back.

You have to love it.

Art Elements 101


I found a wonderful beginning art project to explain and practice the seven art elements all on one composition on the great blog So thank you Miss Osborne! I love this project.Art Elements 1

Art Elements 2

A little background. We have a twelve week fine arts rotation schedule in our elementary school. Fourth, fifth and sixth grade students come to art for twelve weeks, music for twelve weeks and technology for twelve weeks. Thirty minute classes, Monday through Friday. It is a great schedule for continuity in the lessons. Students don’t forget what they learned yesterday like they do if you only come to art class once a week. So we hit the ground running at the beginning of the year, to cover as much material as we can. After the have-to’s in any classroom; behavior rules, emergency drills, where does everything go discussions, we get down to art business, which was about Wednesday of the first week.


dsc09790The art elements are a critical understanding in my class. As I tell my students, “They help you interpret new art you have never seen and organize the art that you create today.” This year I built an art elements power point to help us progress through the lesson. the-elements-PowerPoint
The words I use with each slide are on the notes pages of the power point. Plus I used a super art elements handout from Pinterest that focuses on each element in a kind of short-hand way. At this point my intent is more about building a visual vocabulary than creativity, although there are plenty of opportunities to be creative and make choices. My students really seemed to respond well to this beginning and now we are on to a new project with out art elements firmly in mind. Here’s some results:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.





Bad Hair Day


Repetition of shapes, lines and colors is one of the strongest organizing principles in art and it takes practice to see it and create it.

A simple and fun drawing exercise called Bad Hair Day on The Incredible Art Department website helps bring this concept into focus.

Fun, because everyone can relate to “bad hair day” and useful because it emphasizes the use of a repeated shape as a pattern. The “hair” is divided into at least five sections. Each section must have a different pattern in it.

This started out as a sub project, but my 5th and 6th grade students enjoyed it so much we continued the project over several says. Here are the results.

The Daily Prompt – Colorful

A wonderful website called has a Pop Art lesson plan that produced some very colorful Mona Lisas from my 5th graders a few years back. They grid the drawing and copy it square by square, then paint each square with a different color, texture or tone. It always suprises me how the mind balks at drawing hands. Tough stuff, but such good practice at isolating shapes. I hope you have as much fun looking at them as we did making them. Here’s the lesson site.

Giant Crayons


There are few things in this world as appealing as a new box of crayons. They are just splendid in their neat little paper jackets all lined up and sharp. That waxy smell, color points, perfect like a sharpened set of rainbow teeth. ( ok, that’s sounding strange….) I saw this great project on a fabulous teacher website:

IMG_0237I could not help myself. We just had to try it.

I worked this project with my fifth and 6th grade classes. The focus of the project is a discussion of the principle of unity in artwork. “What elements unify an artwork? Is it color, shape, size…what things bring the artwork together as a cohesive unit?” We looked at the American flag hanging in my classroom. ” What elements draw this design together?” As a side product of this discussion, a debate about what elements unify the people of this country developed. The very phrase ” United States” was discussed. Good stuff.

We moved to discussing everyday objects that we use but don’t really look at. Like crayons. “The packaging and function unify the crayons in the box, but what about scale? Does scale unify the crayons? What if we change the scale?” Hooked.

I created a stencil earlier this month and had students who were finished early duplicate thirty stencils. I used large sheets of black bulletin board paper for my work surface. Not as expensive as using 12 x 18 sheets of black construction paper and it works just as well. Here was my set up:


Then it was a matter of going step by step teaching the method on the first crayon. We used pastel for these for the richness of color. We discussed highlights and how to position them.

I challenged my students to do at least two crayons and that the second one should overlap the first in some way. They loved the idea and I can’t wait to get these up on the wall.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Banyan Tree


A lesson on color schemes took on a vibrant life for my 5th graders this fall. Warm colors (reds, oranges and yellows), cool colors (blues greens and purples) and neutrals, (browns, blacks and greys). A great lesson I found on Artipelago offered a wonderful opportunity to play with color schemes.

The Banyan Tree lesson was presented in three steps.

  1. Observe and draw the Banyan Tree in pencil. The branches go up, the roots (if you draw them), go down. Your choice as to whether or not to draw the root system to the ground. Caution should be used here as to not make the branch system too small or delicate.
  2. Paint the pencil lines with thick lines of black tempera paint.
  3. Color the negative spaces in between the branches and the background with oil pastel. Choose a color scheme for your artwork and write it on the back of your artwork. Some students chose to do a warm color scheme on the tree branches and a cool color scheme on the background and roots.

My students really enjoyed working with the oil pastels and used a 12 x 18 sheet of paper for maximum effect. Here’s some of our results: