Andy Griffith in the Art Room?

I began studying the Grant Wood painting, The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere, in fifth grade this week. The study of the painting is followed by a student composition that shows their understanding of the bird’s-eye point of view used by Wood.


I began the class with an analysis of the painting based on a great lesson plan, from Picturing America, a project from the National Endowment for the Humanities. I asked my class how many knew the story of Paul Revere’s ride.  Not one hand went up. Ready for this I had remembered an OLD episode of The Andy Griffith Show I had seen. I like to use video clips to illustrate my lessons. For this technology-laden generation, anything that appears on a screen captures student’s attention immediately.

My kids were shocked to see a black and white image appear and one young one popped up with, “Oh, my grandma watches this all the time!” Body-blows to my ego non-withstanding, the five minute clip shows sheriff Andy helping history come alive by telling the story of the ride of Paul Revere. In my opinion, a great telling of the story, which made my students look again at Grant Wood’s painting with new eyes. It was a great class.

Wikiart Image



Like I Said..

dog-1240645_1280It’s a good thing to keep journals when you’re a teacher. That way, when you finally do go round the bend, the docs can read your journal and say ” Ah yes, this was the exact moment she slipped over the edge.”


..just after New Years’ a few years back

We were discussing the concept of space in artwork (the area around, within and between objects) in a 5th grade art class. I’m using food as my example because that always gets their attention. I’m talking with one student who is obviously not getting it.

Me: “Tell me the name of a food that has a hole in it.”

Student: Nothing. Silence. Crickets chirping.

Me: “OK, I’ll give you a hint. You eat it for breakfast and you buy it at Dunkin….”

Student:  “Pancakes? ”

Really. You can’t make this stuff up.

Me: “Class, help him out.”

Class: “Donuts!”

I’m trying to make this student feel better, so I say …

Me: “Let’s switch to another art element, texture. Here’s where you can use texture in your drawing. If you want to draw your pancakes with something sticky running all over them. Great texture. What would that sticky stuff be?”

Student: “Butter?”

Me: “……OK.”


..just before Thanksgiving a few years back

A student in my 6th grade art class tells this story as his “one Good Thing that happened to you this weekend” story. We are talking about Thanksgiving dinner at the time and this young man says, ” My Dad likes turkey but he doesn’t like to shoot them, so he catches them in a bag.” I let that sink in for a minute and then say, “Really?”  ” Yeah,” he says.

“We have some property that’s fenced in with tin and we corner the turkeys. But this one got out and it chased me and pecked me.” Laughter fills the classroom as he is enjoying the telling and I’m thinking, “Probably so.” He goes on.” So we kept that one as a pet.” “Really , the one that pecked you?” I said. “Yep.” he says. ” I named it Speedy.”



Photo: CC0 Public Domain, Pixabay


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.

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:


DSC08952You are never too old for Halloween fun. Something about this holiday inspires you to be silly and creative. That is if you were raised with a Halloween like I was; where it was all about spooky stories, slightly scary but harmless costumes, hay rides, bonfires and trick or treat candy you did not have to check. Period. No other meanings implied or intended. Having said that, I broke out the pipe cleaner spider project just as a way of reminding myself that the Halloween of the past can still be recreated in my room. Yes, you can make a science curriculum connection in the study of arachnids…blah, blah, blah….I want to make slightly trembly spiders on hot glue spider webs, because they make people squeal and they are cute.

Can we just be kids in the art room for a second? Okay.

Here’s what you need for each spider.

  • 4 pipe cleaners
  • 16 beads

Here’s what you need for the spider web.

  • adult supervision to use the hot glue gun
  • a background of some kind – I like black foam board
  • hot glue gun and hot glue sticks

To make the spider:


  1. Get 4 pipe cleaners and bend in half.
  2. Cross over half the legs. make sure that the body loop is no bigger than a quarter. Short-legged spiders are not as cute.
  3. DSC08946Twist the legs under the loop at least 3 times so the legs won’t come undone. Place the body of the spider on the table and bend the legs up so that you can separate 4 on each side.
  4. DSC08947Add 8 of the beads close to the body.
  5. DSC08949With the spider still on its back bend the knees in the same place on each leg and position the second bead on each leg above the knee.
  6. DSC08950Turn the spider over and spread the legs for balance. 4 to the front, 4 to the back. By the way this fashion maven spider sports the Mineral Wells Ram colors.

Spider webs are just hot glue applied to a black foam board. Make glue lines out from a corner and then half circles that cut across.  If you want your spider to stay put on the web, apply him while the glue is still sticky.DSC08951


DSC088825th grade this week. Positive space. Negative space. Exploring the Japanese designs of Nōtan.

The Bugs Bunny-shaped hole left when Bugs runs through the mountainside in the cartoon.

This conversation about space always makes me think of the great scene in the movie Stand and Deliver where a brilliant math teacher tries to explain the concept of negative and positive numbers and motivate a less-than-enthusiastic student. It is a pivotal moment in the movie. It’s also a pivotal moment in math and in art when you understand the concept of positive and negative.

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Writing in the Art Room

Every year our priorities shift a little as the spotlight searches our student’s abilities and stops on a data-backed shortcoming. An important goal on my elementary campus this year is to improve our student’s writing skills. That means across the curriculum, every subject teacher has that as one of their priorities. Our directive is to include writing as often as we can in our lessons and encourage our students to express their thoughts in full sentences and use punctuation. I can hear the sense in this goal. Who doesn’t want their child to be able to write down what they think, to keep a journal, to learn the beauty and richness of our written language?

As an art teacher, I want student writing to connect in a meaningful way to the art curriculum. Of course the current Texas art TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills – 4th grade in this example) include developing appropriate art academic language skills in our students:

  • use appropriate vocabulary when discussing the elements of art, including line, shape, color, texture, form, space, and value, and the principles of design, including emphasis, repetition/pattern, movement/rhythm, contrast/variety, balance, proportion, and unity;…

The TEKS also include students developing the skill to analyze their own artworks and artworks of other times and cultures and be able to communicate those ideas:

  • compare content in artworks for various purposes such as the role art plays in reflecting
    life, expressing emotions, telling stories, or documenting history and traditions;
  • compare purpose and content in artworks created by historical and contemporary men and women, making connections to various cultures
  • investigate connections of visual art concepts to other disciplines

But somehow those sterile TEKS descriptions don’t do justice to what I want to do. As a twin sister to the visual language I teach, the written word has a separate beauty. How can I get these little minds to grasp the context of the word that describes art? That the word is not just a label for the parts of the artwork, but clues to meaning. What does it represent? Why did that artist choose that image to convey that idea?

So now, what to do? I teach 4th, 5th and 6th grade art, so there is a wide ability spread in my student’s writing skills. Even though I see my students every day, I only have 30 minute classes (not much time!), so I decided I would dedicate one class a week, Fridays, to short writing assignments that would connect to art history.

I used a mimio whiteboard presentation and include video and audio clips to supplement the visuals. My attempt at a three-slide streamlined format (read as: make it fast and easy to understand) are included below.

The first slide sets up the learning process. I ask the students to look at the artwork:

Lascaux Lesson_2

  • study the artwork and take an inventory of what the see
  • analyze what the artist’s message could be
  • evaluate if the artwork is successful in their opinion and how they feel about it

The second slide gives a short art biography (if the artist is known). It also gives the nationality of the artist or location of the artwork by country and a link connected to that countries’ flag that takes them to further enrichment resources. In the case of our study of Lascaux cave art, this link takes you to a short video virtual tour of the Lascaux site.

I also included a YouTube clip of the movie Ice Age. It was a lucky leap, but the scene where animated characters see cave paintings come to life somehow brought home to my students that the people who drew the art in the Lascaux caves where real. They lived and ate meat and left us a cryptic message about their life on the walls of the cave. What could they mean?

Lascaux Lesson_3

The third slide brings the lesson to a writing conclusion. For 4th grade, we are just starting with one sentence that describes an artwork. We will build up quantity as they learn the routine. Write about the artwork, using the word bank and the writing guide notes.

Lascaux Lesson

The students write their sentence in their sketchbook, which reinforces the sketchbook as a place for thoughts and notes as well as their drawings.

The jury is still out on how much this format will improve my students writing skills, but one of the first things this process has accomplished is giving me a renewed interest in teaching art history to my elementary students. They are little “travelers of the mind”, and love exploring different times and cultures inspired by the artwork. As to finding the right words to describe an artwork, as Mark Twain said, “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”1280px-Lightning_NOAA


I recently ran across this wonderful optical illusion lesson on Pinterest posted on Flying Shoes Art Studio, by Oklahoma artist Kristy Patterson. It is simple and has a great success rate with 4th, 5th and 6th graders. Great use of the art element line and a fun way to reinforce how line can create depth in your 2-D drawings.

Here’s a few results. What’s not to like about drawing Wormies!

When Horses Roamed at Travis

A few days ago I found images from a sculpture project my teaching colleague Skipper Bennett and I did with our 5th graders in 2009. Time flies. Our student artists made a herd of found wood horses based on the work of sculptor Deborah Butterfield. Today I look at this project as an old friend that I found again by chance and would like you to meet now.

Hina 1990-91 Deborah Butterfield, American, born 1949 Unique Bronze 80 x 112 x 28 inches

What struck me as I looked at this project now is how often artists find their inspiration in nature’s left-overs or in cast-offs from other processes. Somehow the artistic mind is able to put the random pieces of our visual world into their unique art, much like writers take random thoughts and build their writing into a cohesive whole. Small artistic world isn’t it?

Skipper and I had a great process for this project, from the original seed of the idea, which came from another teacher, Mary Fields, showing us Deborah Butterfield’s work, all the way through the finished project.

BullettHead bent

Trigger in Front of School

We started with a field trip to Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth. Their education department worked with us to highlight some wonderful equine artworks on the trip.

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We took a walking tour to view equine statues in the museum complex area. This included statues in front of the Will Rogers Memorial Center and the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.


At the national Cowgirl Museum and hall of Fame.


Finally a stop at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, to take in Butterfield’s horse. It was an amazing experience.

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A teachable moment with Mr. Bennett and Butterfield’s sculpture.
A hands-on experience with the art – priceless.

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Next the students toured the Bryant Art Foundry in Azle, Texas, where our kids saw the steps of creating a metal sculpture.  It is an invaluable part of any art form, learning the process of how things are really produced. The people at the foundry could not have been nicer or more willing to share with our students. Remarkable people.

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A connection was made.

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Back at school we had a studio space to work in (a portable building), because this was messy work.


The wood was procured from the local land fill. Recycling at its best

. Landfill2 Load er up

It was a challenge to get our students to see the bone structure of the horse and how the wood suggests where it should be joined.


wood Joint

We made maquettes of the horses we were about to build to teach the students the basics of combining wood shapes.

Best #2Horse 1

Still when you are asked to make a horse, then confronted with a pile of branches and a spool of wire, it can be a daunting moment for a 5th grader!


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We forged ahead and after weeks of work and a few thousand wire cuts, the horses were transported from the studio to the front of our school campus and staked and wired into the ground.

Loaded Up
Loaded up for installation.


Afternoon ShotFront View

The Big Guy

This was a special group of art students and you can see their talent and effort in their work.

The Travis Herd. Hope you enjoy their work as much as we did. The most fun I’ve had with stick horses since I was a kid!

Blue Dog

If you don’t know Blue Dog, you should meet him, as my 5th grade artists did this past month. He is the creation of artist, George Rodrigue, native to New Iberia, Louisiana. Rodrigue is most famous for Blue Dog, but began his career painting the mossy landscapes and vibrant people of his hometown. Crawfish boils, garlic aioli dinners and peppery Zydeco dance scenes were his subjects. But then the Blue Dog, based on a Cajun folk tale of a mythical, were-wolf dog, became famous and the focus of many of his works. Rather than see Blue Dogs’ popularity as a limitation (like a singer who is asked to perform the same hit song over and over), Rodrigue used the image as an exploration. He asked children to explore color and friendship in his book, Are You Blue Dog’s Friend? He used the image to raise money for victims of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. That’s one of the messages I wanted my students to hear when we studied George Rodrigue. That not only can you create your art and have commercial success, but you can lend your talent to good causes. While we lost George Rodrigue in 2013, his art lives on. An exhibit of his paintings (including some of the Blue Dog works) will be in Houston April 25th through July 5th.

We began by reading Are You Blue Dog’s Friend? (a little young for 5th grade word-wise, but they love the illustrations) and studying the illustrations in the book. We outlined the pencil drawing in sharpie and used watercolor to complete the composition. I gave my students freedom to place Blue Dog in any colors and setting of their choice. When you combine a child’s natural love of dogs with imagination and color, you never know where it will take you.

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