Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Fall Frescos

Plaster of Paris scares me a bit. It's one of those materials I hear that people use, but I've never used myself. Well, I've decided that if I'm serious about this "art teacher thing" I'd better start moving outside my comfort zone and trying some media I've been shying away from. So, I bought a big 'ol bucket of Plaster of Paris at the craft store and created a project!
A Scarecrow with a Sunset Sky!

Frescos are paintings done on wet plaster. I showed my students a couple examples of Giotto's work from the late 1200's. He was considered quite good at using color to model his figures and create the illusion of form. When we look at his work today, we may think what he was doing is pretty obvious, but it was innovative at the time when paintings lacked perspective and figures were more "flat."

I also showed them an example of Leonardo da Vinci's Last Supper, also an example of a fresco. Although this piece is considered one of da Vinci's masterpieces, it was also a major mess-up of his as well. He was experimenting with paint and plaster techniques and before the piece was completed it was falling apart. The piece has been restored many times throughout the years, but it is a wonderful way to show the students that sometimes when they are trying something new, they may make a mistake. It's OK. We discussed ways that they could work their mistake into their piece. I was able to share with them my mistake that I made the week before when trying this project out at home: I had mixed some egg yolks with some dried paint pigments someone had given me and tried to paint on plaster--I had been trying to simulate egg tempura, but it was pretty disappointing. I tried to salvage the technique to no avail, and ended up switching to watercolor on plaster instead. SIGH.  Sometimes that happens.

Well, on to the fresco project! Worth the try and embraced by my students! ENJOY!

Supplies Needed:

  • Plaster of Paris (quantity will vary depending on the size of your mold)
  • Plastic plate for mold (I used a plate that was 1/2" deep and was 5" across the bottom)
  • Paper clip for hanger
  • Stirring stick and disposable pan to mix the plaster in
  • Cold water
  • Paper plate
  • Pencil
  • Piece of paper the size of your cast to plan your drawing on (ours was a 5" circle)
  • Hole punch, optional
  • Bit of crushed charcoal and cotton balls tied in a muslin cloth, optional
  • Watercolors and brush
  • Water container
  • Paper towel

1. Following the manufacturer's directions, mix up some Plaster of Paris and pour into your mold. Insert a paper clip if you'd like the piece to be able to hang on the wall.

2. Let the mold set up for about 1/2 hour or so. While you are waiting, plan what you are going to paint on your fresco. Use the pencil to draw the picture on a piece of paper the size of your mold. Fill up the entire area of the paper with big, bold shapes. You'll want to add detail to make the piece interesting, but not so much that everything becomes a jumble--you are painting with a paintbrush so tiny details will become lost. This drawing that the fresco is planned from is called a cartoon.

3. Once the plaster has set up enough that you can pop it out of the mold, do so gently and place it onto a paper plate. You can transfer your drawing onto the paster in one of two ways. Either, 1. place the drawing onto the plaster and retrace your image with pencil pressing down so a fine impression is left in the wet plaster OR, 2. punch holes around your image using a hole punch. Then place the paper onto the plaster and tap the charcoal-filled bag over the holes in the image. Remove the paper and "connect the dots" using a pencil and the original image as a guide (option 2 is more historically accurate). Go easy on the charcoal if you go with step #2, it will make your image gray and dirty-looking if you put too much.

4. Paint your image using watercolors. You'll need to get your brush loaded with paint and water since the plaster soaks up the liquid. Also, start with the lightest colors you want to paint, say, yellow, and work your way down the line towards black. You can always go darker, but you can't lighten up watercolors on plaster.

5. Make sure you add details and a ground and sky, if applicable. I encouraged the students to paint right off the edge of their pieces (on the 1/2" side of the plaster piece). I thought it made the piece look more finished that way. Let the piece dry for a few days before hanging. Hang out of direct sunlight and away from moist areas. ENJOY!
This flower has some beautiful brushwork in the background.

A beautiful fall pumpkin!

Monday, October 17, 2011

I LOVE a good conference!

This past Saturday I went to a WONDERFUL conference for art Educators at the NH Art Institute held by the New Hampshire Art Educators Association. It was my first conference with the NHAEA and it was absolutely great! They had many options for sessions, some were talks, but many were studio-based! It was so fun to learn and be able to create projects while we listened! I am blown away by all of the caring and friendly art educators we have in New Hampshire! Everyone was a joy to talk with and to learn from!

So, my brain is now FULL to the brim with all sorts of ideas to incorporate into my classes! My first session was entitled: The Art of Geometry given by Jaylene Bengtson, Integrated Art Specialist and Linda Otten, Math Educator. These ladies had fabulous ideas to create a piece that will really SHOW children (7th graders) all sorts of geometric concepts. You pretty much HAVE to get geometry while creating this piece. Also, the finished product is absolutely beautiful! My just-started sample is below, and doesn't do the project justice, but I'll post more on this project at a later date.

I went to a printmaking talk by Liam Sullivan that was very inspiring! I went away with many ideas on how to create some inexpensive printing materials for my students. He encouraged us to look at a variety of sources for printmaking fodder: hardware stores, recycling bins, craft & dollar stores, etc.

The lunchtime talk was given by Dr. Foad Afshar, Phy.D. entitled "The Brain, The Whole Brain And Nothing But The Brain, So Help Me Art."Dr. Afshar was entertaining while he spoke to us about how art engages the entire brain and how, as human beings, we are inherently creative--"we cannot not create." Definitely thought-provoking well beyond my art classes--I have four children so I had many thoughts on the practical application of his talk with regards to how I'm raising my children to be lifelong learners with inquisitive minds. I was very interested on his information about flourescent lighting and its effects on children with autism, causing their brains to remain in a heightened state of activity and how it effects them at school and in other places with "pumped-up" flourescent lighting (department stores in particular).

My final session was by Claire Provencher and was entitled "Art History-Based Art Lessons." It was a make and take session, so I was thrilled to be creating projects while I learned! We created seven pieces that I'm sure will be loved by my students. My samples are below. I will be writing more about them in future posts. Claire gave out a very comprehensive handout with a copy of the letter she sends to parents at the beginning of the year, her entire curriculum for K-5th for the year as well as the art assessment form that she uses with each student. I was amazed to see the level of quality art instruction that she is able to provide her 25+ classes on a very modest budget! Since I design my classes around art history her teaching methods resonated with me. Also very inspiring!
Front Left to right: (Left Upper) Roman Coins, (Left Lower) Chinese Calligraphy,  Andy Warhol Self Portraits, (Right Upper) Rose Windows, (Right Lower) Wayne Theobold "Cakes," (Far Right) Mythical Creature Machines
My day at the NHAEA Conference was great! It was nice to connect with other creative people in a personal and professional way! I really learned so much both in and outside of the sessions! I left there refreshed and renewed and with a feeling of certainty knowing that this is what I was born to do. Thank you to the NHAEA and all of the creative art educators who contributed!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Dancing Skeletons

This project is one of those "I can't believe I never thought of that!" type of projects. I was brainstorming during a play date this week about some ideas I had for a quick craft to make relating to Fall/Halloween. My girlfriend, who used to be a teacher, shared the idea for this craft with me. Thanks Jill! It is super easy and super inexpensive--I bought the chalk & dog bones at the dollar store. The dancing skeletons are cute and remind me of an old Disney cartoon I used to watch when I was a girl! Have fun making a whole conga line of dancing skeletons!

Supplies Needed:

  • Dog bones (the hard crunchy kind, the ones I used are "medium" and are about 2" long)
  • White tempera paint
  • White chalk
  • Black construction paper (you can use 9x12" or a larger sheet if you want to create a background)
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint tray
  • Water & paper towels


1. Using chalk, draw the skeleton's head (skull) onto the paper. This should be somewhere at the top and be about 2" tall. I like to make my skeletons happy and smiling--they are dancing after all!

2. Place some white tempera paint onto the paint tray. Dip the dog bone into the paint, getting a nice coat on the dog bone's flattest side. Place the dog bone, paint side down, onto the black paper and slightly rock the dog bone a bit to make a nice print. You may want to practice your technique before you start your piece. I stamped one bone shape for the body and two each for the legs and arms.

3. Use the chalk to draw the fingers and toes on your skeleton. You can also draw a background if you'd like, but you may want to keep it simple. I drew a couple of gravestones, some stars and a moon.

You are done! Enjoy your happy, dancing skeletons!

**This project doesn't have to be for Halloween. It is a good activity for a younger child to do when learning about the body and the skeleton inside him/her. I know it isn't anatomically correct, but it gets a dialogue going and if fun to create.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cave Drawings

On our first stop on "Art Around the World," we looked at the cave paintings from Lascaux, France. We saw how detailed and beautiful the drawings are while being so simple. I showed the students a great double-page spread from the book, "Art and Civilization: Prehistory," that shows the tools the ancient artists used and also shows a depiction of the scaffolding that they must have used in order to create the drawing so high up on the cave walls. I also had a series of posters of the Lascaux caves that I bought from Dick Blick Art Supply.

We then experimented with charcoals and pastels to create drawings of our own. The children could incorporate ancient or modern animals, symbols, weapons, etc. They were also encouraged to add their handprints as their "signatures." Once they had filled up their large paper, they could choose a portion, make a frame from twigs and lace their masterpiece to the frame. The finished piece has a tribal or even Native American feel to it.

Supplies Needed:

  • A large paper bag, crumpled, rinsed with water & then ironed until dry and flat (the wrinkles will make the bag look like a cave wall or an animal hide).
  • Charcoals, pastels, conté crayons, or vine charcoal
  • Packing tape
  • Hole Punch
  • Suede lacing (or brown yarn)
  • Four twigs for frame
  • Hot glue gun & glue sticks

1. Spread out the brown paper bag and using the pastels, draw animals, figures, symbols and trace your hands onto the page. You can make the animals all sorts of sizes and make sure to show the detail of their coats. Are they striped, spotted, or have shaggy fur? Make sure you "sign" your work by tracing your hand.

2. Once you are done drawing, select a portion to frame. You can either rip the paper gently or cut it with scissors to crop the piece to size.

3. Flip the cropped section over and reinforce the edges of the back with packing tape (this will make edges more sturdy when you lace them later). Use the hole punch to create some holes around the edge of your piece about 2-3" apart.

4. Create a frame with four twigs. Hot glue the corners where the twigs overlap--this will help the frame be a bit more sturdy. Then take a 6" section of the cord and tie the corners of the twigs where they overlap. This will cover the hot glue and make the piece look more authentic.

5. Cut a piece of cording about as long as you are tall. Tie a knot in one and and thread it through the holes of the artwork and around the twig frame to secure. Keep sewing through the holes of the artwork and around the twig frame until done. Enjoy!

*Be aware that the piece is still sort of messy since it uses charcoal. You can spray the finished piece with a coat of hairspray to fix the dust.

Here are some other pictures of the project to enjoy:

"Take a picture of my hand!"

Another finished piece.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Snowman & Bird Mosaic for PTA Auction

I am so thrilled with this craft! This past Friday, I went into my oldest son's fourth grade class to help the students create a piece to be auctioned off by the Amherst PTA this fall in their online fundraiser. Since the auction will be ending November 22nd or so, we couldn't create anything that had a Halloween theme. I chose an image that would be great to display through the winter: a Snowman and Bird (this image came from a magazine, it was intended to be a pillow).

The image was divided into 24 sections and each child was responsible for one section, or 100 tiles! It sounds like a lot, but it really wasn't all that bad once we divided it up! The children were amazed that the image was made from over 2400 little paper tiles! This was a great way for the students to recharge after a long week of standardized testing and learn something new! The lesson has a bit of math thrown in and next week the students will be learning about maps, so working with the grids was a nice tie-in.

The tiles are scrap booking paper and the final piece was mounted on canvas and framed so it is ready-to-hang. I think that will make the piece more marketable-it certainly looks good to me!

Here are some pictures documenting the process. I will be posting a tutorial for a similar project as soon as I can. Thank you so much to Mrs. Nagy for letting me come in and do this craft with her students and thank you to all of the boys and girls who worked so hard on this piece. It truly came out fantastic! ENJOY!
This board shows the entire piece on the grid, how the sections are divided and the steps to create the piece.
Each student was given a 10x10 block section of the piece. Students then copied the diagram with 1/4" squares cut from scrap booking paper.

The finished colors were much more vibrant than the original diagram.

This picture shows the piece in progress. Each section is attached to the canvas using Modge Podge. It's fun to see the image magically come together!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Fall Wall Hanging

This is a quick and inexpensive craft that celebrates the beautiful colors of fall while teaching children about basic printmaking skills. After I explained the basics of printmaking and showed them a couple of options for layout, I let the children make their own creative decisions on this project. They seemed to really enjoy it!

Some background information on printmaking: Some would say that the most important invention to come from the medieval time period was the printing press. I showed my students the double page spread from the Eyewitness book on the Renaissance which has a wonderful picture of a printing press from that time. I also brought in a wooden letter from a press for them to examine. I explained that printing plates could be used over and over. This seemed like a much better idea than spending one's whole life creating one book (like some scribes and clerks did with illuminated manuscripts!).

I then did a short demo on how to use the stamps I created to make a print and we discussed some of the different ways to lay out the leaf prints (in rows, in a circle, to make an initial, etc.), then the children went to work!


  • Kraft paper or brown paper bags for stamping on
  • Stamps (I glued sticky-backed foam shapes stuck to pieces of foam core)*
  • Brushes
  • Paint trays (I used foam meat trays)
  • Acrylic paint (I used red, orange and yellow)
  • Water and water containers
  • Paper towels
  • Background paper (I used wrapping paper in green)
  • Glue sticks & Elmer's glue
  • Sharpies or markers
  • Scissors (I used regular and decorative edged)
  • Stapler or tape
*If you don't want to purchase the supplies to make stamps, you can use an apple cut in half--this also makes a wonderful fall banner

  1. Create the stamps or cut the apple in half (a grown-up's job). I cut 4" squares of foam core and attached some ready-made foam stickers I found at a craft store to them.
  2. Place a bit of acrylic paint in the meat tray. Using a paint brush, paint a thin coat of paint onto the surface of the stamp. If you put too much paint, the stamp will be slippery and not make a good print. Print the leaf shapes onto the kraft paper in a circle (wreath shape) or in the shape of your initial (or whatever you choose). Once you are done all the stamping, put the piece aside to dry.
  3. Cut a piece of wrapping paper (background paper) to create the background of your wallhanging. Fold over a section of the top to make a casing to hang the finished banner. You can secure the casing with tape or staples.
  4. Use the scissors to create fringe on the bottom edge of the banner. To do this, make a series of cuts up from the bottom about 1/4" apart. The fringe can be any length you'd like.
  5. My students used the Sharpies to decorate the banner and write things like "Welcome Fall," their name, or just make a decorative pattern on the banner.
  6. Glue the kraft paper with the leaf prints on it to the background using Elmer's glue. 
  7. Once the leaf prints are completely dry, use the Sharpies to draw in the veins of the leaves, if you'd like.
  8. Insert a twig into the casing, and hang your fall banner for all to see!

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