Monday, July 30, 2012


WOW! I just read the most thought provoking article on Education Rethink. This is the first article that I've read on the site, therefore I can't vouch for the worth of any other post. However, I do think this one in particular is a worthy read for anyone, but especially for art teachers, artists, and art lovers.
What is the difference between graffiti and art?

We Need Art Parks addresses an issue that has weighed heavily on my mind since I became an art teacher in the fall of 2011. While I have always been an art lover, I never before understood the importance of the arts in our communities and schools. After teaching first grade for 6 years, then teaching elementary visual art, I became acutely aware of the impact the arts can have on a person, especially a young learner. The fact that most of our communities and schools have a lack of one of the fundamental aspects of human existence concerns me. WE NEED MORE ART!

John T. Spencer dips his toes into the "Art or Vandalism" controversy over graffiti in We Need Art Parks.  However, the "meat" of the article is the idea that our communities have a need for more art. Told through a conversation between children, Spencer asserts that, "We need art to be like sports".

That statement is well worth repeating:
 "We need art to be like sports." 

Our culture places an enormous amount of importance on sports. The fact that the 2012 Summer Olympics have just kicked off can only be a testament to that. We take our kids to little league ballgames at parks built for the sole purpose of sports activities. We buy season tickets to collegiate games of our favorite football teams. We buy the jerseys and car tags of our favorite Major League Baseball teams. We watch Basketball Wives. All things "Sports" are readily available to the masses! 

Now, I'm not saying there is anything wrong with this. I love sports too. I will be sitting right beside you at Davis Wade Stadium this fall to see my beloved Bulldogs play football. And, I'm not saying that our culture doesn't place any value on the arts. It does. 

I'm just saying, "What if...". 

What if we could promote the arts on the same level that we promote sports activities? What if we had places for art competitions the way we have little league baseball fields? What if students had more access to the arts both in school and in the community?

Research has shown over and over that an education rich in the arts greatly increases a student's level of academic success. It increases test scores and graduation rates. It provides a positive outlet for students who are experiencing negative emotions. The arts add value to a community. They provide a common ground for reaching across social barriers, including race, economic status, and age. The arts make the world a more beautiful place. If you don't believe me, check out some of these wonderful resources: Mississippi Alliance for Arts Education, Mississippi Arts Commission, National Arts Education Association.

I would personally like to see more arts activities and festivals in our schools, more art-related activities in our communities. The arts bond human beings together emotionally. Like sports, the arts can bring groups of people together. The arts can unify us for the common good. We need more of that in this country during these trying times. When so many lines are drawn politically, economically, socially, etc., we definitely need more art! 

A Call to Action:

How can we accomplish this? How can we make art like sports? Here are a few ways that I know of: become a member of your local art museum (see below), contact local arts teachers for volunteer opportunities in the schools (just call, they want your help), donate arts materials to local organizations like the Girl Scouts and 4-H Clubs (again, just make the call), follow your local arts organizations on Facebook for updates on arts events in your area (see below), become a member of this blog for more ideas (check the right hand column and click "Join This Site"). 

I can guarantee that if you do any of these things your efforts will be welcomed and appreciated. Also, don't forget to comment below with your own ideas! Let's start a discussion and bring to life all of the possibilities that the arts can offer! 

By the way, while I am on the subject of supporting your local arts organizations, The Gumtree Museum of Art in Tupelo, MS is a wonderful community resource for visual arts. Please check out the site, follow on Facebook, and support the museum by becoming a member.

 Copyright 2012 Amanda Koonlaba-There's a Party in the Art Room (text)

Saturday, July 14, 2012


Timeframe: 4-45 minute sessions
Grade Level: 5th
Materials: pencils, black oil pastels, liquid watercolors, salt, paintbrushes, 12x18 white drawing paper, 9x12 white drawing paper (2 sheets per student OR fold another 12x18 in half), glue, scissors, cardboard, construction paper crayons, 12x18 black construction paper

This project was inspired by a Dick Blick lesson plan entitled, Painted Story Quilt. I was so intrigued by this lesson, it is absolutely beautiful. However, we didn't have the budget to purchase all of the materials required to do it the Dick Blick way. So, I improvised and came up with my own lesson that is similar but cheaper. I used the concept of "Dreams" as a focus. We discussed dreams in class, and the students imagined and sketched a scene from a dream. I must say they came up with some of the most creative sketches I've ever seen in the elementary art room. (I also want to point out that I am working on finding funds for my classroom that will allow us to do the full Dick Blick lesson. It is really a great lesson, and I am trying to find a way to bring it to my students!)

The first step was to draw the main image for the dream. All of the students kept the field, fence, barn idea; but drew their own images to jump over the fence. One student had two apples with faces, arms, and legs. They were really able to come up with some unique images for this project, even though they all used the same basic background. I told the students that they could be as detailed or as vague as they wanted. This particular student has the basic, "fuzzy" outline of a horse. 

They outlined everything with black oil pastels. The black oil pastels give a different, more powerful look than a black permanent marker would. It is more dreamy, and less defined. The background and the main images are painted with liquid watercolors and sprinkled with salt for texture. 

The main images are glued to a piece of cardboard and then glued to the background. This adds depth.

The border around the image was created by drawing designs on a 12x18 piece of white drawing paper with construction paper crayons; then painting over with liquid watercolors to create a resist. Then the students just cut out shapes and attached to the edges on the black construction paper with glue. Make sure the students don't try to cut out their designs. They need to cut over them. In other words, warn them not to cut on the lines they drew. This way you get shapes with more than one color and design.

Copyright 2012 Amanda Koonlaba-There's a Party in the Art Room

Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli

Timeframe: 3 hours, summer camp setting
Grade Level: K-4
Materials: pencils, 11x14 white tagboard, 9x12 white tagboard, 11x14 blue construction paper, black permanent markers, condensed liquid watercolors, crayons, scrap construction paper (especially black, yellow, white), crayons, old magazines, newspapers, salt, glue, scissors, cotton balls

This would be a GREAT activity for a regular classroom teacher. It lends itself easily to a writing activity. After creating their own monster, students could write about what their monster doesn't do! The possibilities are endless!

This project is based on a book by Barbara Jean Hicks entitled, Monsters Don't Eat Broccoli. I came across this book, as well as a lesson plan for the art project at Deep Space Sparkle. Deep Space Sparkle is a wonderful site for teachers, and I highly recommend it. However, I usually find that some things have to be tweaked in order to meet the needs of my students. So, that is what you will find here. This is how I implemented this plan for summer camp. At this camp, I had one 4 year old, two 5 year olds (who will enter kindergarten this fall), a 6 year old (who will be in first grade in the fall), and three students who were third grade and above. Thus, there was a wide range of abilities at this camp. This project worked well for that unique mixture of students and was easily adaptable for each one's ability level.

I started by reading the book to the students. We stopped and discussed as we read. The ending of the book is great for addressing comprehension skills, especially with younger students because they have to grasp an abstract concept by looking at the pictures. 

Then the students drew a monster on their 9x12 sheet of white tagboard. We discussed how monsters can look anyway that they imagine. They can have twelve arms and 1 1/2 eyes if desired. This was truly the most fun part of the project. After they were finished drawing, they traced over their pencil marks with a black permanent marker.  They used liquid watercolors to paint the monster and sprinkled salt over it while it was wet to create a texture. 

After they cut it out, they used the construction paper scraps to create eyes, teeth, horns, and even shadows. I allowed them to add whatever details they felt their monster needed only after discussing it with me first. If a student explains to me why they want to do something, I almost never tell them that they can't do it. However, I like for them to discuss it with me first when they want to do something that I haven't given specific instructions for. The dialogue is important for their academic development, and it is a great way for me to informally assess their learning.

They used the 11x14 white tagboard to create the background scene for their monster. I had originally envisioned the monsters in a city for this project, and some of the students did want their monster in the city. However, after reading the book, their little brains went wild with possibilities for places their monsters could be. They also used black permanent markers to trace over the pencil marks on their background scene. They used crayons to add details and then painted over everything with liquid watercolors to create a resist effect. 

After finishing their background scene, each student determined whether or not their scene needed to be mounted on construction paper. Some felt their work did not need to be cut out and mounted (the picnic scene and the fountain above). Others wanted a blue sky, so they glued their scene to blue construction paper. They used white crayons to draw clouds. Another student wanted his monster to be roaming around the city at night, so he used black construction paper. He also used silver, yellow, and white crayons to create stars (below).

Below is an example of how a student used magazine pages to add detail to her city scene. She tore a strip of magazine pages and painted it green with liquid watercolors to make grass. The newspaper can be used in this way as well.

The final step was to glue cotton balls behind the monsters and then to glue them on top of the background scenes. The cotton balls added depth to the work. 

This was a lot of fun and very successful and engaging for the students. 
Let's face it! Kids love friendly monsters!!! 

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Time Frame: 3 hours over the course of three days in a summer camp setting
Grade Levels: 2nd-4th
Materials: dome lids, plastic shopping bags, balloon ribbon, pony beads, liquid condensed watercolors, tempera glitter mixing medium, glue, fishing line, clear tape, 1-hole punch, scissors

This is another project that uses mostly reusable trash. I got the idea from the Dick Blick Art Materials lesson plan: Recycled Jellies

The actual lesson plan calls for the purchase of  A LOT of expensive materials. Since I was teaching this at a summer art camp for our district with a budget of $100 for the week, I had to improvise a good bit. It turned out to be awesome anyway! :) 

My husband and I ate a lot of ice cream to collect enough dome lids from Sonic for this project. Since I didn't know who the students would be for the camp, I couldn't ask them before hand to save lids. However, if I were doing this project with my regular classes, I'd ask students and parents to help.
It was important to me to actually use trash because I wanted to teach that art can be made from all sorts of reusable materials. That was actually the premise of the camp. It was called 2nd Time Design. However, if that isn't something you want to focus on in your classroom, you could ask Sonic or other places to donate them. BUT, if you are doing the project, why not teach about conservation too?!?

Start by mixing the liquid condensed watercolors with the tempera medium. I usually buy both of those products from Sax Arts and Crafts. (Sometimes this type of watercolor is called concentrated liquid watercolor.) It doesn't take very much watercolor, but it does take quite a bit of medium. Meanwhile, have the students cut strips out of the plastic bags. These will become the arms of the jellyfish. They need about 7 or 8 strips. It is hard to cut a plastic bag into perfect strips, especially for a young student. So, tell the students not to worry about that. The more uneven and wavy the strips are, the better it will look. It gives the project charm. And, they can always go back and trim later.

Depending on the age of the students, either you or them will need to punch 7 or 8 holes around the bottom of the dome lid with the 1-hole punch, and two at the top on opposite sides.

The students will need to paint both sides of the plastic strips, and the inside and outside of the dome lid. It dries pretty fast, so this can be done in one sitting. Make sure they glue the strips in between the holes that have been punched. Explain that they don't want to cover the holes, because they will have to thread ribbon thru them later. They can trim as needed to make this work.

Next, the students glued the plastic strips to the underside of the dome lid. Plain school glue will work. I told them to hold it in place and count to 100 before they glued the next one.

After the plastic strips had dried, I pulled 4-5 students at a time to a small group table to tie the balloon ribbon and pony beads. This worked for me because I had so many different ages of students attending the camp. If you are teaching older students of the same grade level, it would probably be fine to do it whole group. 

This is a little tricky though. Thread the pony bead (I used white) onto the balloon ribbon (white again) first. Tie a knot with the ribbon so that it knots on the bead. Make sure that this knot/bead is about 1/4 of the way from the top of the ribbon. Thread the top part of the ribbon into the hole on the dome lid. Pull until the bead stops at the plastic. Then tie two knots around the bottom of the lid with the top and bottom part of the ribbon. You can curl the ribbon with scissors if you want it to have more wave.

The fishing line and tape will make a hanger for the jellyfish. I did this part for the students for the same reason that I taught the ribbon threading in a small group. Again, though, I think it would be fine to do it with a whole group of older students of the same grade level.

Thread the fishing line across the top and thru both holes. You can tie it in a small knot, but the knot will probably not hold. If that is the case, wrap the knot with tape. I didn't have clear tape, so I used duct tape, but I recommend clear for obvious reasons. The fishing line will be in a circle. In this picture, I am holding the top part of the fishing line (you can't see it) and it circles around to the tape.

I really love what this student did with the colors. She took longer than anyone else to finish, but she did an exceptional job!

This would be a great project for integrating science into the art classroom or art into the science classroom. You can teach about the anatomy or lifecycle of a jellyfish.

If you have any questions, leave a comment.
 Copyright 2012 Amanda Koonlaba-There's a Party in the Art Room

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Melting Crayons

Time Frame: 1 hour
Grade Levels: All
Materials: Old crayons and oil pastels, old muffin pan, muffin/cupcake liners, paper plates, plastic spoon

I've been seeing this on Pinterest a lot lately. I was especially intrigued because I've always been annoyed at the idea of having to throw old crayons away. Crayons and oil pastels just get to a certain point where they are not really usable anymore, but throwing them away seems shameful!
Anyway, nothing I read really prepared me for the job I was undertaking. So, I have included what I learned by trial and error in this post, along with some helpful hints.

I decided to try this with all of the left over oil pastels and construction paper crayons from the school year. I brought home three gallons of these in zipper seal bags. 

I emptied them into bins like this and began to sort them by colors into muffin pans.

You can sort them any way you like. Sometimes I sorted by exact color matches. That means that I put only turquoise crayons together. Sometimes I sorted by similar color matches, meaning that I would put shades of red together. 

In other words, if I wanted to make a new crayon exactly like the old crayon, I put only matching crayons together. When I felt adventurous, I mixed it up. I also mixed odd colors together, like greens, blues, and oranges. It is okay to mix oil pastels and crayons together. The wax combines perfectly.

Two very helpful hints: 
First, have your students sort the crayons at school. You can discuss color theory and conservation of art supplies. You could have them work in groups to create colors that represent certain objects. For instance, the sun would be a very concrete thing, and they would probably want to use oranges, reds, and yellows. You could also have them think more abstractly. A row boat would be something that they would have to really think about in order to identify the colors it represents. Afterwards, you could have them explain their choices. This will save you A LOT of time at home.

Second, use muffin/cupcake papers. It makes it much easier to remove the crayons from the pans after the wax cools. It won't save your muffin pan from wax ruination, but it does make the job less frustrating. That being said, you don't want to use your grandmother's muffin pan to do this. Designate one or two cheap pans from the dollar store for this purpose.

Set the oven to about 300 degrees. It only takes about 20 minutes for the wax to melt, but you don't have to time it. You can see when it is ready to be taken out. I used a plastic spoon to stir the wax while it was still melted. You can stir as much or as little as you like. You will be able to see the colors swirling together. The more you stir, the more solid the color will be. The less you stir, the more swirly it will be.

Place the entire muffin pan in the refrigerator until the wax cools. You don't have to do this, but it really speeds up the process. You can touch the top of the crayon to tell when it is cool enough to remove.

After the wax cools, just peel the crayons out like you would a cupcake or muffin. I used a paper plate to hold them after I peeled off the paper. They were cool enough for me to remove the paper, but still needed a little more cooling time. The paper plate helped. It also saved me from marking on a real plate with the crayons.

I plan to save these for a day when we don't have the full 45 minutes of art. Sometimes our schedule is abbreviated; and it is too hard to get out supplies and work on a regular project in just thirty minutes. Also, I often don't know ahead of time that we are going to have an abbreviated schedule. So it makes it hard to plan ahead. Having things like this on hand really helps for last minute needs!

 Copyright 2012 Amanda Koonlaba-There's a Party in the Art Room

Hundertwasser Flowers for Little Ones

Timeframe: 4-45 minute sessions
Grade Level: Pre K-2
Materials: 12x18 white tag board, liquid watercolors, black permanent markers, pearlescent or metallic watercolors, sequins, glue, pencils

This lesson was inspired by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He uses a lot of concentric circles to represent flowers and trees in his artwork. Thus, the circular flowers in this lesson. I have taught this with fifth grade in the past, and it has always been a very productive and delightful lesson. I was curious to see how the lesson would go with younger students. I taught this lesson to a group of students grades pre-K through 5th. You will be able to see the difference in the age and ability levels in the photographs. I was really pleased at products the students of all ages produced. This is a great lesson for all ages. You can incorporate the art skills and vocabulary into this lesson that suit your students' needs. Its a very adaptable lesson. 
It is also a great lesson for regular education teachers. It lends itself well to a descriptive writing project.

Here's what we did:
First, the students viewed and discussed Hundertwasser's artwork. Then, they drew concentric circles with a pencil to create the flowers. I traced the circles on the paper with my finger for the younger students who then made the same motion with their fingers. After they were comfortable with the motion of their fingers, they drew it with their pencils. It is very hard for young children to hold their pencils steady. That is a very important skill that they work on for several years before mastery. Therefore, celebrate the uniqueness of the lines they create and don't worry about the smoothness of their marks. The projects in the pictures below really have a special charm to them because of the unsteady lines the young students created.

The next step was to trace over the pencil lines with a black permanent marker. Again, the younger students won't be able to do this perfectly. Even the older students miss some pencil marks when tracing with a permanent marker. Therefore, it is best to have the students erase the pencil marks that are left after they trace.

They painted the flowers with a combination of liquid watercolors and pearlescent watercolor sets. This is a great project to teach warm and cool colors. You can instruct the students to select either warm or cool colors for their flowers and the opposite for their background. (Just a suggestion, I didn't do this with my lesson, but wish that I had.) I usually have my students to trace over their permanent marker lines with another black marker after painting. However, the permanent markers won't write on the pearlescent watercolor paint. (Just a hint!)

Notice the difference between the pre-K work and this 5th grader's work.

I really love this project. So many things make it wonderful for students of all ages. It is easy enough that all students can do it with great success. It can be done in a shorter time span than most other projects. Students have choice in how they draw the flowers, stems, and leaves. They have choice in the color schemes. They enjoy using the pearlescent watercolors. It helps younger students develop fine motor skills. It meets the needs of learners in a wide range of ages and readiness/ability levels. 

As always, please feel free to post comments. Let everyone know if you like this lesson, if you have tried it, offer helpful hints, ask questions, etc. Like There's a Party in the Art Room on Facebook to share photos of your projects. Also, don't forget to become a member of this blog and share with your friends and colleagues!
 Copyright 2012 Amanda Koonlaba-There's a Party in the Art Room

Animal Masks

Time Frame: 3- 45 minute sessions
Grade Level: 4th grade
Materials: plaster wrap, mask molds/forms, water, tub for water, acrylic paint, paintbrushes, knickknacks for eyes and hair

I would like to give a special shout out to The Dreaming Zebra Foundation. This organization donated the mask forms and plaster wrap to my art students. Without their help, we wouldn't have been able to afford these materials. Thank you Dreaming Zebra!
My fourth graders absolutely loved this project. I must say that I have never seen them so engaged in anything. Because I only had one set of mask molds, I had to rotate the classes so that one class made masks each week. The first classes that got to do it told all the rest of the classes. Thus, they came to art begging for it to be their turn to make the masks.

Basically, all you have to do is wet the plaster wrap with water and lightly squeeze some of the water out. I told the students to use their pointer and middle fingers to make scissors and run them along the wrap. It is very important to warn them not to squeeze all of the water out or they will lose the plaster. Then, they just put the plaster wrap into a mask mold. We used animal mask forms or molds. It takes 4 layers of plaster wrap. 3 layers creates a mask that is too thin, 5 layers is slightly too thick! 
It takes a couple of days for it to dry completely. You will think it is dry by the next morning, and the packaging will say it dries in only hours. BUT my advice is to wait for at least two nights. You will need to pop the dried mask out of the mold like ice from ice trays, and it is harder if the mask is still damp. You can see how I labeled a sheet of paper for the masks. You can't put names on them while they are wet (obviously). This method worked great for us because we had to take the masks to another room to dry. The paper also made it easier for the students to carry.

These masks are still in the molds. You can see that you have to put the plaster inside the mold, not on top.

I do not recommend letting the students remove the masks from the molds. It can be tricky, so it is best if an adult does it. 

Use acrylic paint to paint the masks and add details with knickknacks such as sequins, buttons, yarn, or ribbon.


 Copyright 2012 Amanda Koonlaba-There's a Party in the Art Room

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