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.

Dalí Inspired Clay Projects for Primary

Teaching Art


From his flamboyant persona and crazy moustache to his whimsical dream like paintings, students always love learning about Salvador! Using this paintings as inspiration as well as trolling Pinterest for primary clay project ideas, I have completed Ceramic Surreal Butterflies with Lower Primary and Ceramic Clocks in the Sun with Upper Primary.

After introducing Surrealism by discussing the work of Dali, students learned some basic ceramic skills – making a slab, cutting around a template with clay tools, making a coil and how to score and slip when attaching two pieces of clay together. These techniques were then applied to create the butterfly shapes from air dry clay.

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The butterflies were placed in bowls with the student’s name, class code and table colour. The bowls then were stacked once dry and passed back to the correct table the following week for painting. Students painted the entire butterfly one solid colour using acrylic paint.


To make the butterflies ‘surreal’ students used white, black and then gold or silver to splatter paint on top of their butterfly. I mixed acrylic paint with some water and GOLDEN ADDITIVES Acrylic Flow Release to create the right viscosity to allow for the paint to drip, drizzle and splatter.


The students loved the process and learning many different techniques to apply to clay constructions and finishing.

For Upper Primary, students used Dali’s most famous painting, ‘Persistence of  Memory’ to make clay clock creations.


Using the same techniques as Lower Primary, the older students rolled out a slab and then cut out a the clock shape that they wanted. After adding a coil around the edge, they added numbers, hands and other details of their choice.


Students created them flat and then before allowing the clocks to dry, they were hung off the edge of a table. Once dry, students painted the face and trim of the clock. Lastly, students painted numbers, the hands and final details.

Venus McArsty sang a song about Salvador Dali while students worked on their clay projects. By the time they were finished, students knew several facts and details about Dali’s life and artwork. The power of music!

Ink Wash Painting with Lower Primary

Teaching Art

I was a tad nervous trying this lesson out – black ink, little colour, brush control and presenting it in China, the country that has popularized it. YIKES! But, thanks to video demonstrations, practice and students’ prior knowledge, it ending up being a successful lesson and one I will definitely build upon and do again.


I began with an general introduction to Ink Wash Painting. Known as shui mo hua in Chinese, it is said that ink wash painting originated in China over 2000 years ago but can be seen in other Asian countries and cultures such as Japan where it is called, sumi-e and in Korea where it is called sumukhwa. With animal hair for the brush and a bamboo handle, the brush used for painting in ink is the same used for calligraphy.

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After introducing the Chinese Ink Wash Painter, Qi Baishi, who is famous for his ink washings of animals, insects and plants, students practiced making washes with the ink and controlling the brush. I had them focus on using the side of their brush to create a thick line, the tip of their brush to create a thin line and the whole brush to create a leaf or petal shape. Then with those three brush stroke techniques students painting bamboo which was a formal assessment to see if they could create three different values using ink washes and the three brush stroke techniques.


Once dry, student wrote their Chinese name, added a chop or stamp in the corner and glued a black dowel at the top and bottom for display purposes.

Now, remember when I said I was a bit nervous about presenting Chinese Ink Wash Painting in China? Well, here is a good reason why. After half the classes had finished, a student asked me why we were writing our names in red as that meant that that person is dead. This was then confirmed by a Chinese teacher. UGH! All 246 Lower Primary students have created an artwork that symbolizes their death…guess I won’t be hanging them up then.

Watercolour & Ink Wash Lanterns

Teaching Art

If you are a teacher in China, in the month of January or February, you WILL make a lantern. The lantern is the Christmas tree of Chinese New Year. Ugh! Don’t get me wrong, I love a lantern but I am over the construction paper, slouchy, slotted mess with a handle that always breaks. OVER IT! So, this year I made it my mission to make a lantern with students that broke away from the mundane. But before we move on, please repeat after me… “I will not, put a real candle, with a real flame, into my lantern.” Good, moving on.


Students started by painting an ink wash made from recycled and soaked marker cartridges.


While the paper was still wet students either sprinkled rock salt or drops of rubbing alcohol to create a interesting background to which they would paint on top of. The following week, we used black ink and a straw to blow branch like trails of ink across the coloured backgrounds.


Finally students folded the paper into fourths, cut six triangle notches at the top of each fold and clipped the ends of the paper so they would fit together. After folding up the flaps, students glued the seam and then glued a piece on black card stock onto the bottom and top. If you want the top or lid to open and close, only glue one flap to make that possible.


To actually turn it into a lantern, put an electric candle inside. The ones that flicker are the best, however the intensity of the glow will be different depending on the thickness of the paper. A wire handle can also be added as well for display purposes. The kids loved the way the lanterns looked and I think we were all pleased to have changed the status quo of the lackluster lanterns from earlier years.

Radial Balanced Circle Weaving

Teaching Art

Search ‘circle weaving’ in Google, Pinterest or Youtube and you will find hundreds of paper plate loom examples. How is this circle weaving lesson different, you say!? Well, there are actions, a rap song and giant props! Inspired by the art goddess herself, Cassie Stephens. I combined the work of a local artist and learning objectives centered (pun intended) around the Principle of Design, balance, to create a dynamic multi-faceted art lesson for my primary students.

Using the artwork of Salome Tam, students learned about radial balance from viewing  and discussing the ‘nature piles’ that she creates from found natural materials.

In fact, Venus McArtsy interviewed Salome Tam! So, if you would like to watch her create a nature pile before your very eyes, click on the link below.

Before drawing concentric circles on paper plates, students learned the three different ways they can create balance in their art – symmetrical balance, asymmetrical balance and radial balance. Students then painted the circles with colours of their choosing.

Once dry, students demonstrated their understanding of radial balance by painting patterns that radiated out from the centre point of their plate. It was almost a shame to cover up some of the patterns with their weavings!


Students warped the loom with black yarn and then began adding different colours of weft as they wove.

If you have facilitated a weaving lesson before, you know that getting the students started is challenging but once they get the hang of it they can whistle while they weave! So stay strong weaving compadres – it gets easier and is well worth it!

Here is a step-by-step demonstration of the lesson from beginning to end. Trust me, watch until the end so you can see the rap song!


Teaching Art

I have been tie dyeing before Jerry Garcia joined the Grateful Dead! So, I thought I knew everything there was to know. WRONG! For starters, tie dying gets its name from the tieing and binding of the fabric, which I did not know. DUH!


I also didn’t know that tie dyeing that we now know today was spawned from traitional Japanese Shibori dyeing. The earliest known example of cloth dyed with a Shibori technique dates back to the 8th century. In fact, Shibori in Japanese means to compress, squeeze and/or wring fabric.

After learning more about the process, I purchased several indigo dyeing kits. I selected the brand that has been recommended by Cassie Stephens (shout out) to teach and facilitate a Shibori lesson for my Upper Primary students.


Using donated fabric, 10 X 10 inch fabric squares were cut then bound, squeezed, tied, pinched and compressed using rubber bands, popsicle sticks, PVC tubes and binder clips.


Students worked in groups of four to six and started by preparing the dye vat. The instructions that were included in the kit are very detailed and easy to follow.


After pre-soaking the tied fabric in a water bath, students started submerging the bound bunches into the dye vat. The fabric first turns green and then turns blue when oxidised by the air. SCIENCE!




Students dye dipped each piece four times allowing 20 minutes in between each dip to allow the colour to bloom. The goal is to achieve various values of the indigo pigment as it slowing reaches the compressed and squeezed areas.


After all of the fabric was rinsed throughly, they were hung to dry. Once dried and ironed, the squares will be used to make a quilt and then auctioned at our annual fundraising event in the spring.


img_0862If covered, the dye vat can be used for several days. So, I managed to dye some fabric for myself which I plan to turn into table napkins. SCORE!


Shibori is addictive – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED! Tie dye was just the gateway drug. I am now a full-blown Shibori addict! The pattern possibilities, brilliant blue hues and dramatic contrasts makes Shibori an exciting and fun trip…I mean, lesson…exciting and fun lesson.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

Teaching Art

On Wednesday, November 23rd, 2016 a mature female sea turtle washed up onto Stanley Beach, minutes away from our school, dead. It had eaten a plastic bag floating in the water thinking it was food. The plastic problem plagues our seas here in Hong Kong and almost every waterway on the planet. Because this problem is so large I am trying to teach young people that art can be used as a message to elicit change.


My Lower Primary classes has already started a unit with an environmental focus. Just a few weeks prior, many students from my school attended an Ocean Alliance beach clean-up. Although the death of the sea turtle was very upsetting for the children, I believe it truly resignated with them as it was close to home and to an endangered animal.

We began the unit by making paper from recycled menus from a local restaurant. Students then sketched different see creatures from a selection of reference points to use later for their final piece.

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Students then selected one to three animals to draw in black marker on their recycled paper. Students added a dash of colour by re-using old dried out markers. You simply dip them in water and then they act like watercolour paint. The kids were amazed!

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The artist that we used as inspiration was Aurora Robson. She is a contemporary artist who creates sculptures from plastic that she and communities collect from the seas and waterways.

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Venus McArtsy stopped by while students were adding their marker colour to sing a song reiterating the message: reduce, reuse, recycle.

I wanted to model reducing, reusing and recycling in the classroom therefore the artwork produced no waste and in fact used all reused and recycled materials. My hope is that students will carry this message into their classrooms, homes and communities. Whitney Houston said it best, ‘I believe that children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.’ Sing it, Whitney!

Altar Boxes

Teaching Art

The imagery generated from Dia de Los Muertos (The Day of the Dead) celebrations in Mexico has crossed into mainstream culture and now can be recognised internationally. I have always wanted to facilitate a Day of the Dead art unit but wanted it garner a more meaningful purpose other than having students paint a sugar skull. So instead, I focused the unit on ‘Remembrance’. Students looked at many different festivals and celebrations around Asia that honour lives once lived. From Tomb Sweeping in Hong Kong and China to the Bon Festival in Japan, students began to see that art can be used to honour, celebrate and remember people who have passed through design, imagery and craft.

Then, with a focus on altar boxes created for Day of the Dead, students began designing an altar box that would honour a loved one, pet or a historical figure. Each child brought in their own box which they then painted with acrylic paint.

Students added details and imagery synonymous with Day of the Dead – marigold flowers, skulls, ornate patterns, repetition of shape, line and colour ect.

Students also needed to include an image of the person or animal they were honouring. If they did not have an image or photograph, they had to draw one. As you may guess, most everyone ended up with a printed image. Lastly, students added tissue paper flowers, sequins, ribbon, bric-a-brac and other items that were connected to their loved one.

The altar boxes were then displayed as a collective under the stairwell of our school. The electric flickering candles help light the shrines as well as tie in the importance of light and fire in various celebrations honouring the dead. The reaction from people has been remarkable. From joy and appreciation to sadness and even fright, the altar box installation has spurred rich discussions on how we all find ways to cope with death.




Teaching Art

At university I specialized in fibre arts. From weaving on floor looms to making hand-made paper for book making, I always fantasised about using the processes I learned in my studio classes in the classroom with students one day. With pruney hands and an art room that smells like a wet dog, I am proud to say, my students now know how to make paper!

The video below shows the steps in which I lead students through the process.

Papermaking with 25 students in the classroom felt overwhelming. So, after a lot of thought, I figured the best way to manage the lesson without having students waiting around for ‘their turn’ to make a sheet of paper was to have students rotate to different stations and take part in various steps of the paper making process.

With 4 to 5 students per group making it manageable, students made their rounds to five different stations. One station was simply reading books to discover paper making in different ancient civilisations, and another studying paper making vocabulary and quizzing each other. More active stations included ripping paper,making pulp and pulling paper.


 After collecting paper from previous projects and from our community, students began by tearing up the paper into small pieces before blending it with water to make a paper pulp.

I was a bit nervous about the children using the blender but I stressed safety and made the rule that the power must be off on the power strip before the lid of the blender comes off – POWER OFF, LID OFF.


I then helped the children at the papermaking station to demonstrate how to properly use the mould and deckle and to couch the paper onto the felt before bringing it to the drying rack. We repeated the same lesson a second week to take advantage of the students’ knowledge and confidence using the paper making equipment. Many of them were able to complete each station on their own, allowing me to monitor and assist where needed.


It was a wet but wonderful two weeks facilitating a lesson that I have always wanted to teach. This lesson also highlighted another topic I am passionate about – finding ways to reduce, reuse, recycle and minimise the waste produced in the art room.