We incorporate art activities at home regularly into our homeschool rhythm. Sometimes we outsource to a local studio so the girls can have experiences in pottery and other mediums we don’t have easily available. Often though, we do the work right here.
These are seven of our favorite art activities and the artists to whom they are connected. I briefly introduce the artist and talk about their strategies and techniques, and then we do a project modeled after their work. We’ve had some fantastic projects in the past two years!
Find one that is easy to manage with the age levels that you’re instructing and jump in.
We read a couple picture books about Georgia O’Keefe as an introduction to her life and style.
My Name is Georgia by Jeanette Winter
Through Georgia’s Eyes by Rachel Rodríguez
In particular, we focused on O’Keefe’s use of space when she created full-frame flowers. In this case, the books that we read were helpful in introducing her work and the impact of her larger-than-life perspective.
For the project I had the girls draw a flower that filled the whole page – even to the extent of having some petals or other parts extend off the page.
It was challenging to scale something beyond how we normally envision it on paper.
Black Sharpie markers (optional)
We started by painting our flowers with watercolors.
Then, after the paint had dried, we colored over them with oil pastels. Since water and oil don’t mix, the combination created a richer color on the page. The oil filled in the gaps left by the watercolor.
In the end we outlined the flowers with black Sharpie markers to emphasize the contrast, but you don’t need to do that unless you want.
I forgot to take a picture of their work, but below is a picture of the piece that I did – not a flower but a much-enlarged version of a Meissner Corpuscle (a skin cell) from our 5 senses unit. I probably should have pushed it off the page a bit further to get the correct O’Keefe effect, but that’s a lesson to apply next time!
One thing that was helpful for this project was that we bought our watercolor and oil pastel set from the same maker so they had compatible colors.
This was one of our first art projects when we started homeschooling. Piet Mondrian has pieces spanning a range of styles, but some of his later works is what this activity mimics.
Mondrian’s later works, painted during his time in New York City, are a culmination of his movement toward abstraction. He tried to depict harmony between the most basic of geometric elements.
To get a feel for some of his art that this activity connects with, check out Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray, and Blue, 1921 and Broadway Boogie-Woogie, 1942
12”x12” canvas board (or other square-shaped canvas)
Black electrical tape
For this activity we used a canvas board, black electrical tape, and watercolors.
The girls drew, with a ruler and in pencil, a grid on their canvas.
Then, they set about coloring various blocks with a few pre-selected colors.
When the paint dried, we took strips of electrical tape (you can pre-cut a few strips while everything is drying) and placed them over the pencil lines.
Here’s a word of caution from our experience. Electrical tape is a lot wider than I realized. You have two options for handling this. Either cut the tape length-wise in half to make two thin strips. Or, be sure to allow only pencil lines with a lot of space between them. I didn’t make this connection until too late and the girls had already made a lot of tiny lines. When we added the tape there were some squished (almost non-existent) boxes.
Nevertheless, the contrast is striking and these projects have remained in our home – and inspired other work – since we made them.
When I initially chose to do agamographs I thought of it more as a “craft activity” without much connection beyond coloring and folding. I was happy to be proven wrong with a bit more digging.
Agamographs are art pieces created to change as the observer changes their point-of-view. These art pieces are named after the Israeli artist Yaacov Agam. Here’s a YouTube clip of Agam explaining his approach and intention with his pieces.
Though our paper activity was nowhere near as dynamic as some of the work Agam has created, it was a fascinating lesson as we talked about how the images change depending on where we stand to see them.
You can find several templates and downloads that are kid-friendly on the web, but we purchased our set from Pooley Productions on TeachersPayTeachers. We were going to the beach for a couple weeks in September so I wanted something appropriately themed.
Crayons or markers
Generally speaking, follow the instructions given for the template that you choose.
For our template, we colored the images provided, cut them out in slices along the lines provided, glued them back together alternating the image, and folded.
Ringgold creates beautiful story quilts. I had the privilege to see a collection of Faith Ringgold’s quilts when one of their exhibits came to the Harvey Gantt Museum. The one that stood out to me was part of a series called Coming to Jones Road #5: A Long and Lonely Night. The interplay between the intricate quilt work and the storytelling (which, given space constraints, has to be compelling) was captivating.
Later, when I created a homeschool unit study around quilts her name and work again surfaced.
Her quilts combine narrative and imagery to tell powerful stories. She’s written a book, which we also read, about one of her most recognized works: Tar Beach.
During our quilt unit study I was having the girls make one quilt block using paper for each of the sections that we studied. This activity takes just one block and focuses it specifically on Faith Ringgold’s art.
Square cardstock paper
Sheet of white paper
Markers, pens, pencils or other favorite drawing tools
Think of a scene or story that you can tell on one sheet of paper
Draw the scene
Write the story around the outer edge
Glue story scene onto cardstock paper background
If you have older students they may be more able and/or interested in adapting this approach. View some of Ringgold’s work to get an idea of how she uses narrative and quilting together. Older children may not need the white paper if they choose to collage an image or incorporate text in a different way on the piece.
Henri Matisse was a French artist who is well known and respected for his use of color and his drawing techniques. His contribution to art, his pieces, and his range are extraordinary. It is one of the pieces he created later in his career, during a time when he was “painting with scissors,” that provided inspiration for this project.
Before jumping in we read a couple books to become familiar with Matisse and his work. The book by Jeanette Winter is a particularly good connection to this project.
Matisse: the King of Color by Laurence Anholt
Henri’s Scissors by Jeanette Winter
At the same time that we were reading about Matisse we were also discussing the seven elements of art, and form in particular. This was the perfect activity to blend Matisse and form together.
We took our inspiration from Matisse’s piece called La Gerbe. Instead of cutting and pasting, we gave form to the shapes.
2-3 colors of paper, quantity depends on the size of your balloons and cut-outs
Cut out shapes similar to those used in La Gerbe, free-form but rounded
Blow up the balloon
Hold the balloon by the tie-off
Carefully glue each cut-out around the balloon, the pieces should overlap
Cover the balloon about 4/5 up to the top, keeping the tied-off end accessible
Let the glue dry overnight
Pop the balloon and carefully disconnect it from the paper cut-outs.
Kandinsky was born in 1866 in Moscow. He traveled and studied and created throughout Europe during his life. But it is one of his studies of color that most often inspires creativity for students.
Squares with Concentric Circles was a color study that Kandinsky used to experiment with color placement and development. It’s a small drawing that Kandinsky used to support his work on other pieces.
Nevertheless, it has become one of his most recognized pieces.
Different colors of felt sheets – choose one (per person) to be the background and then several others in different colors
3 different-size circular objects to trace
Different sized buttons with two- to four- holes in center
Before we started our project, I purchased the felt. Then, I cut three different sizes of circles from the various felt colors. I used whatever circle-shaped objects that I had in the house to create the template sizes (bottom of a bowl, cup, etc.).
Once you have your circles cut out you can begin the project.
Using one full piece of felt, have your students arrange the circles in various layers and places on one full felt sheet. Do not use more than three circles combined or you’ll have to make some thick stitches.
Place a proportional-sized button at the center, grab a needle and thread, sew the button in the center.
This project is definitely the most time and labor intensive one on this list. I’ve seen other versions for classroom use where each child colors a circle inside a square and then all of the squares are placed together for a large representation. That’s a great way (and possibly more manageable from a time and labor perspective) to do it as well.
Georges Seurat is credited with leading the pointillism movement, but I was first introduced to this style of painting through Plage à Heist by Georges Lemmen on display at the Museé d’Orsay.
Pointilism is a fascinating artistic approach using small dots of paint to create a defined picture – much like pixels work in cameras today.
To introduce pointillism to my girls, we started with Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of the Grand Jatte. We talked about his approach, and then I discussed scale.
A picture on the computer doesn’t do any justice to the massive size of this work. It measures 6’x 10” by 10’ x 1”. Huge. Combine that perspective with the realization that it is done using small individual dots of color and your appreciation for undertaking such an endeavor will increase substantially.
If that doesn’t do it, after trying our activity with cotton swabs and watercolor, you’ll understand just what an impressive project it is.
Watercolor paper or art journals
Think of what you would like to draw
Dip a cotton swab in a bit of water and then in a watercolor.
Dab on the paper in the shape of what you’re making. Dab over and over and get more color as necessary.
Make your marks as close together as you can for the effect
Continue until you’ve achieved your picture
My girls loved the challenge and both of them made more than one attempt. I had fun trying it out too! We all were impressed by the effort and skill and patience necessary for making this style work. We also noticed that it was challenging to get the clean, crisp lines that define Seurat’s work
Using Art Activities at Home
I usually participate with the girls when we create these art pieces. I enjoy the creative process and the different mediums that we can bring to bear in a way that teaches something foundational about art itself.
We’ve completed these activities over the course of two years so I definitely don’t recommend trying to do them all in one week! Find one or two that are age-appropriate and connect with an artist and/or element or principle of art.
Encourage creativity – the purpose is not to directly engage with the product but to engage with the process.
Since my girls are in the elementary levels my goals are not to make sure they can name every artist, year of birth, and significant work. My goal is to introduce them to a range of creative expressions, consider general questions about what art is and can accomplish, and basic elements and principles through a range of learning tools.