Critique Cards

Teaching Art

I have always been a fan of Critique Cards to help with reflection, discussion, and self-assessment. However, the cards that I have used or have seen online (ahem…Pinterest) seem a bit trite or trivial. So, I have created a set of Critique Cards that have a bit more critical thinking skills than deciding, ‘ Which artwork I would put it in a museum’ or ‘Which artwork I would buy’ (ahem…trivial).

Below are the pdf files for printing sheets of 8 cards in a set. The definition of the cards are labeled left to right corresponding to the names of the files.  The meaning of the cards can be changed based on the need or the objective.

Critique Cards_Strong Composition

Critique Cards_Excellent Observational Drawing

Critique Cards_Craftsmanship

Critique Cards_Most Improved

After laying out all of the student’s artwork, I gave one set of Critique Cards to each pair of students. Working together encouraged discussion and promoted students to provide reasoning in why they were giving the cards to individual artworks.


I was surprised by the conversations my 1st Graders had thanks to this simple concept. It also enabled me to assess students based on their discussions and the language they used when deciding on which artwork would receive a Critique Card (ahem…winning).

Reducing Waste in the Art Room

Teaching Art

Consumptions of exhaustible materials is a part of any art program but it has been my mission to champion reducing waste in the art room over the years. Below are some simple ways to reduce, reuse, and recycle in any art room.


1. Use cloth towels in lieu of paper towels to dry clean hands

      As a way to cut down on cutting down trees, instead of using paper towels in the art room for drying our hands, we use cloth towels that are kept above the sinks. After taping the paper towel opening closed, the kids learned pretty quickly to use the towels to dry their clean hands. We use paper towels to blot brushes sometimes and even then, we dry them and reuse them three to four times before throwing them away.


2. Use cloth rags for cleaning tables, spills, and messes

The same principle as above, but here kids get to learn that messes can be cleaned up without using paper towels which can be transferred outside of the classroom. I typically wet the rags and have them on the table when we are painting or need to clean-up as we make art. At the end of the day I quickly hand wash the rags and hang them to dry.


3. Use old containers for paint mixing and storage

From yogurt containers to old paint bottles, reusing bottles is a resourceful and easy way to recycle. Because we mix a lot of paint in the art room, empty paint bottles with the tops cut off work great. I have also found some lids that can be used as covers.


4. Refill glue bottles and limit glue sticks

Empty glue sticks do not get recycled and just think of how many are used each year in one art room in one school. Instead, use refillable glue bottles or glue cups with brushes to help reduce plastic waste.


5. Use plastic trays for organizing materials  

Supermarket meat trays make great trays for organizing materials. I use them so much that I have put a request out to parents and teachers to wash, save and send to the art room.


6. Use plexiglass palettes for tempera & poster paint and paper plates for acrylic paint

If we are using tempera paint in the art room, we use plexiglass palettes to put paint on then wash them when we are done. In turn reducing the waste of one-time use paper plates as painting palettes. If we are using polymer-based paint, we use paper plates, let them dry and reuse them several times before peeling off the thick plastic build up and use it for other art projects. This helps to reduce washing the plastic base paint down the drain and into the water.

7. Limit lamination

Let’s be honest, teachers love to laminate, myself included but if you think about when you laminate something it becomes plastic and the kind you can’t recycle. Limiting lamination to only what you need to last a long time will help reduce plastic waste.

IMG_23278. Say no to glitter

I know, I know, glitter is great and we all love it but it is micro plastic and once it goes down the drain it goes into our water source. Use glitter sparingly and when cleaning up, avoid washing it down the drain.


9. Avoid simple use items

From throwaway plastics table clothes to make clean-up easier, to one use popsicle sticks, throwing it away doesn’t mean it goes away. It goes to a landfill and much of it can’t be recycled, so reducing single-use items can help decrease the amount of waste produced in the art room. Let things dry and re-use them again and again!

10. Use old items as art room tools

Old toothbrushes, caps, even sizers from canvases make great tools to use for creating textured papers. It is also a great way to reuse something and give it a new purpose, and it’s free!


We can all do our part to help reduce the amount of waste we make and if we model this in our art rooms we are teaching our students ways to be global citizens who are respectful and responsible stewards of the environment.

Mindful Mandalas

Teaching Art

The simplest definition of a Mandala is that it is a design within a circle. However, Mandalas typically encapsulate deeper meaning to the individuals, religions, and cultures who create them.


Mandalas for me mark change and growth. From the varied pathways of the lines presenting different opportunities in my life, to reminding me to keep growing, adding and take risks. The mindfulness of Mandala making has provided opportunities to create as well as provide time for reflection. After having my own positive experience creating Mandalas, I knew I wanted to provide my students with artmaking opportunities that could offer mindfulness, reflection and create a deeper meaning and connection to their artmaking.


Katie Flowers & Claire Kirk

Katie Flowers and Claire Kirk are the owners and teachers at Wild At Art, which hosted the workshop where I made my first Mandala back in the spring of 2017. Wild At Art provides creative wellness and art therapy workshops and retreats within Hong Kong that offer intentional and therapeutic artmaking to facilitate healing, emotional expression, creativity, development, and self-understanding.


The Mindful Mandala unit that I created for my second-grade students was based on the lesson, workshop format, and product produced at the Wild At Art Mandala workshop.


My first Mandala, May 2017

The unit began with a discussion about mindfulness and ways we try and find a sense of calm, peace and balance. From Tai Chi to creating art, students shared ways that they can be mindful of their actions and thoughts. Mandalas have then introduced an opportunity to make mindful marks and building patterns and designs to help them center self.

In preparation for their mindful mark making, students painted the background of their canvases within the first lesson. Using warm or cool color schemes, students radiated a lighter color mixed with a small amount of white from the circle blending the darker colors to the outer edges.


Once dried, I taught the 8 point Mandala formula to students before they began drawing shapes on the directional lines that were prepared for them.


Students draw four shapes on the directional lines North, South, East and West, and then draw another set of four shapes on the directional lines Northeast, Northwest, Southeast and Southwest. In the small valleys that can be created between the shapes, students draw a fill shape that floats inside the valley. Note that this is all the same language I use with the students as it really helps them to visualize the shapes and to place them.


Students then decorate the fill shapes on directional lines before they draw the jumps. Jumps arch over the fill shapes and connect to each directional line. Jumps need to be high enough so as to create a new valley to place another set of eight shapes into, and repeat the formula sequence again and again.

Students created borders, built patterns and embellished lines and shapes to grow their mandalas. The pens that are used are Posco Paint Pens which allow them to layer color and use color to help create unity and further build pattern.


The formulaic and repetitive nature of Mandala making allows for creative decision making within an easy to follow and sequential process. Although students have been given the same materials and instructions, the artwork produced is as different and unique as the students who made them.





Seed Pod Prints

Teaching Art

From a tiny seed, this lesson grew from diverse and thoughtful processes to bore a dynamic and stunning finished product. From participating in the design process to exploring a variety of art materials and techniques, Grade 1 students created seed pod motifs on foam print plates inspired by their observation seed pod studies to create a textured print influenced by the artist, Sophie Munns. This original lesson idea and plan was spawned by my teacher partner, Claire Kirk, and I had to privilege to help cultivate and participate in learning that flowered and flourished by both student and teacher.

Students began by discussing the artwork of Sophia Munn’s, A Hong Kong artist whose passion and love for nature can be seen in her artwork.

With seed pods and seed capsules as the subject in most of her bodies of artwork, her textured surfaces and bold layering of seed pod motifs lent lots of inspiration to our young artists.


Students then created an observational drawing of various seed pods. Using pencil, ink, watercolor and pen, students learned how to look for lines and shapes to help them draw what they see.



After learning about stylised designs, students created motifs based off of their detailed seed pod studies. They then selected two motifs to transfer to foam print plates. After cutting them out, they were ready to prepare the background for their see pod print.


Using dark red card, students learned how to dry brush to create a textures background resembling a fall forest floor. Students then used thinned teal acrylic paint to produce their first print on the background using one of their seedpod print plates.


Then finally, they printed their second seed pod print plate using thinned white acrylic paint. Students were able to successfully use the design process as well as printmaking vocabulary while participating in the process.

The ideas taught in the lesson will hopefully begin to grow and produce new artwork from the seeds of learning sewn.


Teaching Art

This lesson carves out learning regarding collage, overlapping layers, how to draw with scissors, proportions of the figure and cheesy one-liners from Full House. Even though my students have no idea who Joey Gladstone is I can still have a bit of fun teaching them a 90’s catch phrases along side some essential learning for my primary peeps.


The lesson began introducing students to the artwork of Matisse. Although I showed students some of his early work, I focused on his later work of cutting and arranging shapes from paper. To begin the artwork, students used some painted they made at the beginning of the year as well as plain colored paper to arrange squares and rectangles like puzzle pieces to create a patchwork background for their artwork.


Students then spent one lesson trying to cut out the figure without drawing it first like Matisse. After gluing the cut-outs into their sketchbook, students then drew the figure and we discussed what was more challenging.


To create the silhouette that would dances it’s way onto their artwork, students could decide if they wanted to draw the figure or draw with scissors. Once their silhouette were cut out, students glued it onto their background and then began cutting other shapes to add to their composition. From leaves and swirls to coral-like branches, students continued practicing their cutting and problem solving skills to create their artwork.


Venus McArtsy even stopped by to cut it up with the kids! Her song about Matisse played while the students worked and by the end of the lesson they knew Matisse’s major milestones as an artist.

On the last day of the lesson, students put a layer of latex glue on top of their collage which gave it a glossy seal. Students also played a variation of a Roll-a-Dice game to practice drawing shapes and silhouettes from nature before we called, CUT!


Students found this art project both challenging and fun. They also loved learning about the life and artwork of Henri Matisse. Although they may have not gotten my many references to 90’s pop culture maybe one day they will realise that their art teacher was all that and a bag of chips! As if!

Everything Starts with a Dot

Teaching Art

As the wise Wassily Kandinsky once said, ‘Everything starts with a dot.’ So, for the start of the 2017-2018 school year, students are doing exactly that, starting with a dot. The 800 dots created also coincide with International Dot Day with is celebrated on September 15th. Dot Day is in connection with the book, The Dot by Peter Reynolds. If you are an art teacher, you are more than familiar with this book as it is the Holy ‘Brail’ of the dot world.


Each grade level created a different dot depending on their developmental level, the benchmarks associated with that grade level and exposure to mediums and techniques.

Reception 1

Reception 1 (pre-kindergarten) students created dots that were inspired by music, like Kandinsky. Working in pairs, students listened to different types of music and used oil pastels to create lines, patterns, and marks to respond to the rhythm and beats of the music. Our magical dot journey continues with our friend, the White Rabbit who taught us about colour mixing. After reading White Rabbit’s Color Book by Alan Baker, students practiced their fine motor skills to drop primary colors onto paper diffusers to explore color mixing.

Reception 2

Reception 2 (kindergarten) transformed a white dot into a kaleidoscope of lines, shapes, and colors. This collaborative artwork also allowed students to review painting procedures and clean-up routines as well as basic Elements of Art. In the following lesson, we read Mix It Up by Henry Tuttle before mixing it up ourselves and exploring primary and secondary colors. Students then applied their skills to color mixing where they mixed primary colors to create different greens, oranges, and purples on their own white circle paper palette.

Grade 1

Grade 1 students began with a paper shape collage inspired by the paintings of Wassily Kandinsky. Students reviewed their painting and clean-up procedures by painting patterned papers which were cut into shapes and used for the collage. The Kandinsky dots created by students demonstrated an understanding of how to create a center of interest, or ‘busy spot’, by overlapping shapes of different sizes and colors. Students also have learned about creating eye paths by using pathway lines and ‘pointers’ to guide their eye in different directions.


Grade 2

Students in Grade 2 made mindful marks by growing magical mandalas. Using a compass as their guide, students created designs inside an eight-point circle by drawing shapes, creating patterns and adding detail to each mark they made. Students painted the background of their circle with watercolor paints, drew designs in pencil and then traced over their drawings with the marker.


On the morning of Dot Day, the other art teacher and I speckled, peppered, and polka-dotted students with circle stickers as they walked into school. In our spot inspired outfits, we were physical representations of what it means to make art and be art. It was a wonderful day with a wonderful message…just make a mark and see where it takes you…



DIY Knitting Needles

Teaching Art

I was actually taught how to make my own kitting needles when I was in high school. It began my love of knitting and was the cause of early on-set arthritis at the tender age of 18. It was a very memorable lesson and one I have always wanted to do with students.


Start with dowel rods that are 12 inches long. Sand the dowels and then sharpen them in a pencil sharpener and dull the tip of each needle. Dowel is usually very inexpensive especially when you buy in bulk. The entire cost of making one set of knitting needles is roughly less than $12 HKD which is about $1.50 USD per set.

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We then used a marbling kit to dye each needle creating swirling colourful patterns on their surfaces. Painting them with acrylic or water colour paint would work as well, or an even easier alternative would be using sharpie markers to draw designs and patterns.


Once dry students used wax paper and polished the needles to make them smooth and to make it easy to slide yarn across them while knitting.


Finally, students made clay buttons to attach to the end of each needle to prevent yarn from sliding off.


Knitting is a great skill to have regardless of age or gender. From the vikings knitting fishing nets in Scandinavian coastal villages centuries ago to knitting pink pussycat hats to champion universal suffrage and rights for women, knitting will continue to have a place in history as long as we continue to teach it. So, get started, make your own – it will have you in stitches!

Wire & Plaster Sculptures

Teaching Art

Our school’s Physical Education teacher always includes a dance unit in his P.E. curriculum every year and for the past two years, the P.E. teacher and I have collaborated to facilitate a integrated unit. This year students chose a pose from their group’s choreographed dance to create into a three-dimensional statue.



Students began the unit with observational figure drawing. The classic stand-on-a-table-and-strike-a-pose activity happened which allowed students to practice breaking down the figure into simple lines and shapes.

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Students then drew a pose from their dance in a similar fashion. One of their group members, struck the pose so they could draw the move they would three-dimenstionally sculpt. I then modelled how to draw the ‘skeleton line’ which helped them prepare for the wire formation in the next lesson.

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Using 18 gauge wire, I demonstrated how to create a simple human structure. Students could also use the printed guide to help them when they got stuck. Once the body was formed, students contorted the figure into their dance pose before cutting a 4 by 4 inch styrofoam base and positioned their figure on top.


The following lesson, students cut themselves a stack of thin plaster gauze strips and began carefully wrapped their sculpture. This process took two lessons to ensure that the figure was smooth and the base was covered completely.

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For the final step, students painted the statue in metallic jewel tones.


The art history component that I linked to the unit was viewing and discussing the life and artwork of Edgar Degas as he was famous for his depictions of ballerina dancers in his paintings, drawings and sculptures. However, I have seen similar art projects linked to Giacometti figures. Both work, it just depends on what you want to focus on in your unit. As the last messy art project of the school year, I think I’ll take a bow.

Tips & Tricks for an Organized Art Room

Teaching Art

1. Table Tubs

Each table has a table tub that holds all of the materials students will need for the lesson. I bought these table tubs at IKEA. They have several different compartments that are different sizes to store a variety of different art supplies.


2. Table Teams

Students have assigned seats in my art room. It is a good way for me to learn names at the beginning of school but more importantly it is a way to stay organised and to use time efficiently. Each table is a colour which correlates to many different routines and procedures in art class. Each table has a colour coded hook where they hang aprons which helps to avoid crowding near the aprons. In addition, each table has a weekly Table Task which gives them different responsibilities. Table colours also allow me to store and pass back artwork faster as I will keep the artwork organised by class and table colour.


3. The Lounge

I fortunately have enough room in the art room to have a corner devoted to reading. Earlier finishers can use the lounge to read books AFTER they have cleaned their space and washed and dried their hands. I will also use the lounge to read a story or present information or a demonstration. The students love the lounge so much that I have to ensure they do not rush their work to read their favourite book in the art room collection.



4. Reducing Waste

Between empty paint bottles to dried up markers, the art room can produce a lot of waste. Therefore I try where I can to reduce and minimise waste. One way is to use cloth towels in lieu of paper towels. One of my biggest pet peeves is watching students use one, two or even three paper towels to dry their hands. Instead, students use towels hanging on hooks before the sink to dry their clean hands. The towels on the drying rack are used for wiping tables, cleaning up messes or drying paint bushed and palettes. The towels are then washed once a week. In fact, I do not have paper towels at all in the art room which massively reduces unnecessary paper waste. Every little bit helps!


5. Art Smart Chart

The Art Smart Chart is part of my classroom management system. With each class, I review the classroom expected behaviours which are:

  • Be Safe
  • Follow Instructions
  • Show Care
  • Work Together
  • Try Your Best

If the class is not exhibiting these behaviours, they will get strikes. If they get three strikes, the class will not get a check on the Art Smart Chart. If they get less than three strikes they get a check. Once a class gets ten checks the class gets a special art surprise. This can be a video, lesson of choice and/or a trip to a mini museum a.k.a. pictures under their tables.


Silhouette Collage

Teaching Art

Did you know that ‘silhouette’ in French means, ‘shadow’? Or that ‘collage’ is a French word which means ‘to stick’? Well, I didn’t until my French students taught me in my introductory lesson for this unit on movement and the human figure.

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The unit began by looking at the artwork of Edgar Degas. From there, students practiced drawing different postures, positions and proportions using picture from books, mannequins and even poising for each other. The following week, students learned about silhouettes before etching a silhouette into cardboard. Students carefully went around the edge of the figure with an etching tool leaving an indented line where they had apply pressure. Students then traced the almost invisible line in black marker.


After a brief introduction on collage, students ripped tissue paper and applied it to their cardboard and outlines using watered down PVV and a sponge brush.


Once the collages were dry the following week, students retraced the black outline of the figure and then used black poster paint to paint the inside of the figure creating a silhouette.


The result was very visually successful. Ideally these skills would then be used to create something less formulaic but overall the objectives of the unit were met and the students felt really proud of what they created.

This unit was intended to teach students that there are many resources to help draw the figure. From drawing from observations and references like Degas to employing tools to make it slightly easier, my hope is that representing the figure is their art feel less intimidating.

Venus McArsty even stopped by to share her song about Edgar Degas! The song was played while students worked on their silhouette collages.