Ink Elephant Art Lesson

Regular black markers morph into beautiful watercolors with the help of a bit of water and a few techniques. An elephant is a perfect subject in which to experiment with this media as the resulting color is a perfect gray.

I remember the first time I discovered that regular black ink would bleed and discolor when mixed with water. Halston was my favorite dress designer (am I dating myself?)  and after completing a drawing of glamorous models wearing flowing black dresses, water dribbled onto my artwork. The water smeared everything it touched. I remember looking at the paper and loving the violet and grey hues that emerged from the ink. I was mesmerized.

I was twelve.

I didn’t have fancy art supplies. Mostly typing tablets and Bic markers, but it was enough.I transformed all my ink drawings into “watercolors” with a simple brush. It was like magic.

So when I saw another art teacher do this effect on elephants last year, I was transported back in time to my twelve year-old self.

Start with a picture 

Draw elephants with regular Crayola black markers. You can use a pencil to sketch out the shape first, but I hesitate using pencils. Sometimes they encourage perfectionism in the artist (which this lesson is not about). After the drawing is complete, hand out water and brushes. The trick is to make sure there is enough ink on the paper to create “paint”. It also helps to have some control over where the water is placed. The kids loved this lesson and I could see how magical it was to them as well. This only requires one, 45-50 minute lesson. Use regular paper.

Photocopy a picture of an elephant...

We drew the elephant together using directed-line instruction and foregoing pencils!

It helps to create dark, marker lines in order to provide enough "ink". Use a wet brush to create shadows and creases on the elephant.

Tips for achieving the “special” look…

First of all, make sure you are not using a waterproof black marker. You want the ink to run and smear. It really helps to go over the contour or outside shape of the elephant a few times with the marker. Think of it as loading up on paint. Add lots of wrinkles and try not to over-water.

Have fun with this fun technique!

Other Elephant Projects:

Elmer the Elephant (3-Ingredient Art 1/2)

Painted Elephant



  1. Mary says:

    What a wonderful effect with just markers and water! And you’re right, the possibilities are endless. Your third graders did a great job with their elephants!

  2. Polly says:

    I love this! Definitely going to do it with Boys and Girls Club kids soon. Thanks so much for sharing your great ideas!

  3. Another great lesson idea. The results were so impressive! This would even be something easy enough to leave for a substitute to try with the kids. I love it. Thanks!

  4. Nic Hahn says:

    I love this project. I have had it book marked for over a year form Thanks for reminding me that I need to try this. Elephants are perfect for this method.

    • Patty says:

      Yes! Thanks for the link. That’s exactly where I got this idea from. Thanks Fun Art 4 Kids!

    • Lori says:

      Thanks for mentioning me Mrs. Hahn! I am so glad that everyone is finding this lesson fun! I am getting ready to do it again after my Paul Klee copy cats (Senecio). Patty, I like the little baby elephants, too! So sweet. Painted Paper….if you are listening…these would look great with your elephant project- I loved your rich tapestry designs- the color that brings it all alive. You have inspired me to make these into circus elephants???? What do you think?
      Here is the link to the ones we did last year…

  5. Alicia says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your ideas. I did this project with my K5, 2nd, and 4th grade children. They loved it! We started with a groundhog for Groundhog’s Day and expanded to the elephant and penguins. I know my son will be doing this for months to come with his art.

  6. Nicholas Macri says:

    Wow! Great site… a must for all art teachers. Thanks for the motovation and new ideas.
    I’ve been teaching art for the last 10 years 23 years of teaching kindergarten total 33 years and still got excited when I found your site. I teach 700 kids each week my kids will love your ideas. Can’t wait to try the winter painting lesson.Thanks for your hard work and love of art.
    Nick Macri

  7. Ashley says:

    I taught this to a K/1 group and a 2nd-5th group and it was very popular with both classes. I told them no pencils and I think this worked out for the best because there were some pretty unique elephants! All the teachers that come into my room compliment me on this project. Keep up the good work! I am telling people about this site everyday. =)

  8. [...] 2. Think about ink. Learn how ink is made and what makes it permanent. Then get artistic with ink blots, thumbprint art or coffee filter prints. You don’t need fancy art supplies to be creative – let their imaginations go wild! [...]

  9. Heidi says:

    Just tried this with my 2nd-4th grade classroom (yes, 3 grades, all day, every subject). Every child loved it, and we quickly decided that elephants that looked more like mammoths were not a problem. One thing that fascinated the children was that different brands of black markers produced very different shades of elephant including blues, purples, teals, grays, and aquas. Ocean picture with this technique is definitely on my list. Thanks for the ideas!

  10. savera says:

    hello! i’m student teaching and found your lesson when looking for elementary ideas. i did a unit on texture going from real texture to implied texture, and i used your lesson as inspiration for the final implied texture marker paintings of elephants with wrinkles all over with my 1st and 2nd graders. the results were amazing and i will post them up on my student teaching blog:

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About Patty

I teach art to 400 school children in Goleta, California. My art library contains hundreds of free art lesson ideas. My shop has art lesson plans, videos and resources to help you teach art to kids. It's a whole lot easier with Deep Space Sparkle.

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