Expressive Self Portraits

Quite possibly one of my favorite lesson plans that I do all year. When students hear that I am making them do ANOTHER self portraits, after we just finished up a realistic one, they ask WHY. Once we start working on these, their attitudes typically change and they are a lot more excited.

I like giving the students the option to explore symbolism a little bit further and consider what imagery they can use to show the world more about themselves, rather than just their appearances. The PowerPoint that I created for this lesson can be found here,

I can thank the wonders of Pinterest for many of those photo examples, but I also chose to incorporate Frida Kahlo into this lesson. Frida has so many amazing examples of symbolism and she is truly such an inspiring artist and person, that I wanted my students to learn more about her. We had discussions about The Two Fridas, and also about one of her self portraits. We discussed the symbolism and imagery in her artwork and how it reflects her personality and mood.

Students found this to be very interesting. We also discussed more in depth realism, abstract, and non objective. I told students to consider how realistic they wanted this to be. They had the option to be more symbolism and do a silhouette rather than a realistic approach that would require them to do eyes, nose, mouth, etc. This allowed my students of all different skill levels to choose a way that would be successful for them.

I also gave them an option in what art mediums they wanted to use. They had the options of graphite, colored pencil, pastel, watercolor, or mixed media. After the presentation, I had students write 5-10 things about themselves in their sketchbooks. These could be interests, personality, mood, appearance, home life, friends, etc. We then broke those down and considered how to interpret them into a symbol or some sort of imagery.

Students brainstormed with the others at their tables and came up with some ideas. When they had enough ideas, they began a sketch of what their portrait would look like. I offered suggestions to make sure that students were challenging themselves enough, and were not doing things too hard. I told students that if they chose not to draw a realistic face, that they needed to put extra details somewhere else, to ensure that all students were still working the same amount.

I graded these using four main components. Subject Matter & Creativity, Use of Symbolism and Details, Craftsmanship, and Effort.

I was SO happy with how these turned out. Here are some of the great examples from my classes!


Blackout Poetry

Blackout Poetry is one of those lessons that I’ve always been intrigued by, but I’ve never tried it. I have some pretty cool classes this year and decided to give it a try. I must say, I really enjoyed this lesson. We began this as a sort of introduction to a Unit on Words and Art. Following this lesson, students created Altered Books (blog post on that to follow later on)!

I introduced my classes to the idea of Words and Art and we discussed how words can be used to further get the point across. I showed them examples of both Blackout Poetry and Blackout Poetry with Illustrations. They were required to create a poem or phrase of their choice and then come up with an illustration that fit their idea.

We incorporated a few different concepts into this including:

Emphasis: How can you emphasize your poem and make it stand out from the rest of the words? How can you emphasize your illustration?

Movement: Is your poem easy to read or is it jumbled and somewhat confusing?

Contrast: Is there a strong contrast between your illustrations and words versus the actual page of the book?


I would love to hear some other examples and perhaps how this lesson has been taken a step further! Like I said, I used this as an introduction to a Unit on Words and Art. I am very pleased with these results!




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Watercolor Notans

This project was extremely successful for a variety of reasons. The first and most obvious, is that it wasn’t a super tedious project, and it did not require a ton of thought for the students. I purposely organized it so that this project would be worked on the last, short week before winter break. My students were almost mentally checked out anyway, but this really helped to keep them engaged and interested!

We had just begun a watercolor unit and students learned the following watercolor techniques, which were practiced on a strip of paper, with the definitions written on the back:

Wet Onto Wet

Graduated Wash

Dry Brush




Of course, there are many more different techniques to use, but these were the ones I wanted to focus on. We had an EXTREMELY relaxing day that began with me showing them various watercolor examples of work that is both Representational and Non-Representational. We discussed what the differences were and then they were asked to create a non-representational watercolor painting using at least four of the watercolor techniques that we discussed. This was also a great opportunity to discuss layering: we began with wet onto wet and lots of water, and as each new layer dried, they added less and less water and more dry brush techniques.

We then discussed positive and negative space. I showed them various examples until I felt that they had a clear understanding. Then, they went to their sketchbooks, where they created their own notan designs. We talked about designs being symmetrical or asymmetrical, and how each would look when reflected on their notan design. Lastly, students were given black squares to draw, cut, and glue their notan designs onto watercolor paper.

After this lesson, now that students have returned from break, I have them working on a watercolor and ink project, which will be posted in a few weeks. I felt that by doing this, it gave them the ability to add a lot of water and paint, and to not be afraid of messing something up with watercolor. This next project will focus on a more controlled, more detailed composition, and I think it is important that students experience both types!

Have you done anything similar to this?

High School Watercolor Notans Art Lesson
High School Watercolor Notans Art Lesson

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Ceramic Coil Pots

First off, super excited with how these turned out. Secondly, incredibly proud at how hard my high schoolers worked on these!

This was their second ceramic project. After just finishing up pinch pot techniques, I had them focus on coil building. I had them sketch out ideas of what they wanted to make. They learned about the coil building process, and I also introduced them to the Elements of Art and Principles of Design.

They had to create a coil pot form (we talked about the difference between shape and form) that include either geometric or organic shapes. One great advantage to doing this, besides them learning about the Elements and Principles, is that I felt it helped them relax a bit with the smoothness of their form.

This was their first time working with red clay, because I wanted to show them a different option besides the gray clay. I also used this project to discuss more glazes with them. In the first project, they only used underglaze and clear. Now, I introduced them to matte glazes versus glossy. I discussed jungle gems. I also talked about the Stroke & Coat glazes (if you haven’t used them, they are great)! They are like if an underglaze and a regular gloss glaze had a baby. They are true to color and shiny!

With almost all coil projects I’ve ever done, I felt like this project did take quite some time. However, the kids stuck with it and really created some good stuff!

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Pinch Pot Pumpkins and Skulls

So it’s almost Christmas… and here I am finally posting about the Pinch Pot Pumpkins and Skulls that my high schoolers completed as their first project! Better late than never though, right?

I wanted to share this project because although it was my high schooler’s first project, I felt that they were all able to succeed in it. I had them sketch out ideas for either a pumpkin or a skull design. They needed to create their design by putting two pinch pots together. For example, a pumpkin would be a pinch pot upside down on a pinch pot that was right side up.

Students drew out colored sketches- they showed me which parts were going to be carved out, where they would add clay, add designs, etc.

After viewing, students worked on creating their pinch pots. I reminded them to keep walls consistent, lips even, and to really work on smoothing out their clay.

As far as glazing went, we stuck to just underglazes since this was their first project. After the bisque firing, we then painted a clear coat onto the top. I am so proud of these results. Please comment if you have any questions regarding this project!

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Keith Haring Causes Unit for Elementary

I created a fourth grade unit featuring Keith Haring and how to use art to bring awareness to different causes.

** Be sure to watch all videos or media before you show it to classes, as it is often not appropriate for elementary grades.

This unit took three different class periods.

Day 1: I had students fill out a pre assessment asking, What is a Cause? What Causes are you familiar with? Who is Keith Haring? What is Keith Haring’s style?

We then jumped right into it and I began teaching them about who Keith Haring is as an artist. Students became familiar with the phrase “Artist’s Style,” and they understood that not all art should look a certain way, that artists tend to develop their own style. This was a very successful lesson, as the students had just finished up a lesson on still life.

Day 2: Students spent time brainstorming causes. We wrote down as many examples of causes as we could on the board. Students worked in groups to come up with more examples. We watched a video on Keith Haring that showed him working on various projects, including his work for the Children’s Hospital.

We focused a lot of Keith Haring’s subway art. We talked about how he would create art using chalk on a black surface because it was simple and it would not take a long time to do. I decided to create their final artwork in a similar style for two reasons:

  1. Students really enjoyed drawing Keith Haring style cartoons using chalk, just like he did.
  2. The school did not have the funds to buy enough drawing paper and materials so this was a great way to save, by using very simple materials and still getting a great end result!

Day 3: The final day, students were asked to get in groups and select one cause. I let them work, we talked about making it big and using up the entire space since it would be public and we wanted people to see it from everywhere! At the end, students did a critique where we went around to each one and the students explained what their cause was and why they drew what they drew. Students ended with a post assessment asking them similar questions that were asked in the pre assessment.

Hillsboro Art Show

Hillsboro’s First Spring Art Show is up and running! This art show features work from grades K-8. Students have been working on this artwork since January. The follow lessons are included in this artshow:

Kindergarten: Fish Weaving

First Grade: Henri Rousseau Inspired Jungle Paintings & Pinch Pot Monsters

Second Grade: Laurel Burch Inspired Cats & Mola Art

Third Grade: Warm Vs. Cool Georgia O’Keeffe Watercolor Paintings & Circular Clay Weaving

Fourth Grade: Aboriginal Paintings

Fifth Grade: Superhero Grid Drawings & Onomatopoeia Paintings

Sixth Grade: Tessellations, Value Animal Eyes, Optical Illusions

Seventh Grade: Portrait Drawings, Watercolor Depth Trees, Optical Illusions, Wayne Thiebaud Inspired Ceramic Food, Chuck Close Inspired Acrylic Paintings

Eighth Grade: Mexican Folk Art Ceramic Suns, Frida Kahlo Inspired Expressive Portraits, Printmaking Linocuts, Watercolor Techniques Paintings, Surrealism Drawings in One Point Perspective, Exquisit Form.

Empty Bowls Fundraiser

If you are looking for a great fundraiser opportunity, to raise awareness to the art program at your school and to raise money for your local community, look no further!

Empty Bowls is the largest project from Imagine Render. Their goal is to create a positive and lasting change through the arts, education, and projects that build community.

For more information on Imagine Render, click here!

Empty Bowls was a quick clay project that I completed with my Art I students. You don’t even have to have a pottery wheel to get great results. None of my classes’ bowls were done on a pottery wheel. One great method that we used was getting plastic or paper bowls. Before I had them do this, we discussed Empty Bowls and how art can be used to better a community and to raise awareness. I had students come up with two sketches and they could not begin their clay until I saw both of them.

We lined the bowls with strips of paper towels so that the clay would not stick to the bowls. The students then rolled out their slabs and tried to make them an even consistency. They carefully placed the slab and fit it to the shape of their bowl.

The actual event took place outside of school. Students and their families, staff and administration all came. They paid five dollars and were allowed to select one bowl of their choice, come in and eat soup. We even had some students who were in a band playing music while everyone was eating and socializing.

Overall, it was a great event. Somewhat simple, yet brought awareness to a great cause and taught students how art can be used as a means to raise awareness and money.


Please comment on this post if you have participated in an Empty Bowls event before! Post pictures and show me your examples, I would love to see them all. 🙂