Collaborative Art: Together As One

Teaching Art

This year I began the school year with a whole-school collaborative artwork and it was so successful I plan to do it every year! Yes, bold statement, but from having all the same theme, objectives, materials and focus for all grade levels, it helps set a tone for the whole school year as well as makes the first week of school less stressful and overwhelming than it already is AND it provides a large display before you have student art ready for show.

With our whole school year theme this year being ‘Together as One’ I decided to use an idea that the Art on Ed had featured on their website (SHOUT OUT!). Based on the artwork by Vasily Kandinsky, each student creates a concentric circle painting that will become part of a larger piece. Like the circles in Kandinsky’s painting, each circle is like all of us; different, shapes, colors and sizes but all of us together make one school, one community showcasing our unique differences.

Kindergarten through Grade 2 used watercolour paints and Pre-K used tempra cakes of only the primary colors.


Pre-K Primary color circles

For the final display, Kindergarten through Grade 2 was displayed together and Pre-K was separate. Both works are mesmerizing and each has a different mood, feel and strength.  The kids were very excited to see them displayed in the school and they could no doubt stare for hours trying to find ‘their dot’. This collaborative artwork is also a great segway into Dot Day which is typically in mid-September or can be hung to help celebrate the day.


All in all, collaborative artworks to kick off the year are the way to go! Not only for the ‘wow factor’ but to help you from going a bit dotty at the start of the year and oh, boy, it is going be dotty for me, we, together as one come December!


Beetle Invasion!

Teaching Art

My partner, Claire Kirk, created the Beetle Sculpture unit as a way to integrate 2nd Grade’s learning from the classroom to the art room. Studying habits in class, 2nd Graders started by drawing from observation beetles found in Hong Kong. With an emphasis on symmetry, students drew half the beetle and created the other half by painting over their pencil lines, folding the paper, and creating an ink blot to present the other side and complete the beetle.


After an understanding of symmetry and proportion, students began building the structure of their beetles using newspaper, newsprint, and masking tape. Students demonstrated their understanding of proportion and symmetry by trying to  construct their beetle’s head, thorax and abdomen accurately to their reference picture. Wire was then used to create the legs and antennas of the beetles and then were attached to the underside of the thorax and abdomen.

Students then began to papier-mâché their beetles by using white tissue paper strips and watered down latex glue. The glue helped give their beetle a hard shell and smooth surface to paint on. Furthermore, the latex glue works better than a flour and water mixture for the mâché due to the humidity and potential mold issue we have here in Hong Kong.


Beetles swarming the art room! SAVE YOURSELVES!

After allowing the beetles to dry thoroughly, students painted a base coat. Students first painted the body and then used their hands to massage paint on the legs and used their fingers to get paint into the nooks and crannies of their beetle.

Storage and organization was a massive part of behind the scenes preparation for each lesson. From finding enough places to allow the beetles to dry to storing them in-between classes, it was a gigantic task. I utilized the art room balcony for drying and storing the beetles in larges baskets in between lessons.

Lastly, students then added details, designs, patterns and highlights to their beetle with a second layer of paint. Because each beetle was different, students had to use their problem solving skills to make decisions about their paint color choices, which areas to paint first and what details to paint last. Although we could have spent one more lesson painting and refining, what the 2nd Graders achieved in this unit is impressive!


The swarm left the art room before the end of the school year and now I am left with the task of putting the art room back together after Beetle Mania! HELP!


Teaching Art

Every Chinese New Year there is always an urge and an expectation to create something ‘Chinese’ to help celebrate the culture and holiday in which we live. And every year, we see the same projects being cranked out on Instagram and Pinterest. You all know them, the straw blown black branches with Q-tip pink cherry blossoms or the various versions of the construction paper lanterns. This year, my partner and I sought something different, a unit that would yield deeper learning of process while tying in a local Hong Kong artist. Our efforts paid off as we embarked on an ambitious project to begin the Year of the Dog!

IMG_1735 Wanting to glean inspiration from the city in which we live, our unit began with looking at the artwork of Francesco Letti. An Italian artist, Francesco lives and works in Hong Kong and is well known for his Hong Kong-themed collages and paintings. Although best known for his Hong Kong skyline collages, we focused on his lesser-known watercolor and pastel paintings of dim sum tables. After drawing their own teapots, bowls and dim sum baskets from observation, students looked at Franceso’s artwork. With Franceso’s artwork being more playful and exaggerated, students discussed the difference between drawing from your imagination and drawing from observations.

Dim Sum G1.jpg

Students then painted over their pencils drawings with white acrylic paint before using dark blue paint markers to add designs and decorations.

After painting the canvas blue or yellow, students used templates to mark where the table would be in their background and then painted the table top using a watered down maroon acrylic paint.


After a discussion about composition, students arranged their items on their canvas followed by gluing each item down with latex glue.

Students worked really hard to create these impressive works of art that showcased a variety of skills and technique – we put it all on the table!

As a self-assessment and a time to reflect on their learning, students participated in a Critique which all artworks were complete. In pairs, the students had to view their classmate’s artwork and place a Critique Card next to the artwork that they thought had the strongest composition, another card for careful painting and gluing, one for excellent observational drawing and a card for someone whom they thought tried their very best.

This unit was mutually rewarding as it taught many different processes, included inspiration from a local artist and life in Hong Kong and produced individually unique works of art by early learners.

These artworks unleashed the artistic abilities of our 1st graders and proved to them and others, that the Year of the Dog was going to hear them howl!

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.

IMG_4682 2

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!