Best and Worst Art Projects for 2013-14

Creating art lessons is what I do. Developing cool techniques, inventing simple ways to teach hard art concepts and incorporating unique subjects into art is why I love teaching. It thrills me when a lesson resonates with a child and for one small moment they know they are a great artist.

I am fortunate to be able to teach pretty much what I feel is best for my students. I get a feel for each classes strengths, I sit down with kids at lunchtime and listen to what they love (or not!) and go from there. Everything I create is with the child in mind–not an administrator or a governing body.

I usually come up with enriching lessons but every now and then, I fall a wee bit short.



I’ve been teaching this watercolor duck lesson since I first began teaching. Hundred’s of sixth graders have created these beautiful ducks over the years and almost every single student has been successful. The teaching approach is nuanced and highly individual for each student. I try and sit with every student to discuss painting challenges and we brainstorm techniques that are unique for his chosen duck. This individual approach makes it hard to wrap up in a PDF lesson plan but I did feature this lesson in my new art curriculum that will be released this August. The video helps student with specific watercolor techniques.


Another perennial favorite, Chinese Vases is a lesson I pull out when I need a one-session lesson. Not only does this lesson teach symmetry, art history and color theory, it’s super fun to do. Really! Kids LOVE creating their flowers with just 3 colors of paint. And it’s a beauty. When these projects line the art room walls, they never fail to elicit oooh’s and ahhh’s.


Although I created Ceramic Missions, I’ve never created a lesson on drawing the Santa Barbara Mission. When I finally got motivated to sit down and think of the best technique and drawing steps, I knew I had a winner. I taught this lesson to a second grade class and even though the lesson featured the Santa Barbara Mission, the lesson was mainly about drawing buildings. The missions could easily be castles. The best part is the rose garden at the bottom of the paper and the Santa Ynez Mountains behind the mission. Such a wonderful infusion of color…just like my beautiful city.


This multi-step, collage Snow Angels might intimidate some teachers due to all the prep and stages but quite honestly, these types of lessons engage little ones more than any other type of project, except perhaps clay. I think it’s the freedom to create their own thing, move around the room to find just the right piece of paper, or dig through a container of buttons to find the perfect shape. Kids love it. I love the individual results and how each piece of art reflects the artist. And should that be how all projects should be?


This lesson or rather, experiment, was a bit of a surprise. I wasn’t entirely sure my students understood the variety of watercolor techniques available to them. So we embarked on a review of sorts or at least a document that could provide some proof as to why watercolors act they way they do. This experiment was intended to serve as a resource for our Watercolor Ducks lesson that would come later and it did, but it also turned out to be a beautiful project.


Before I expose the sweet efforts of my students, I want to say that I consider the following lessons a bit of a flop because of my teaching techniques and NOT because of my students efforts. Some times, age and techniques just don’t mesh.


I will admit, this was a very sweet lesson. The kids loved their Sky Color Imagination Drawings, but if I had to do it over again, I would have asked the children to create a lighter background, perhaps with a wet-o-wet watercolor technique and a sprinkling of salt. The kids worked so hard on their sweet portraits that I felt many didn’t show up well. Also, a black outline may have offered more contrast. Still a pretty cute project.


I can’t say enough about the book that inspired this Horace Pippin Drawing Project. It might be one of the best books about an artist, both in text and illustration, that I have ever read. Yup. It’s that good. It was so good it inspired me to get my fifth graders thinking about what they would love to paint if they could paint anything in the world. I asked them to draw themselves painting in their bedroom. We started with pencil and I knew within 30 minutes that I had made a mistake. Starting an unstructured drawing project  with a pencil is absolutely wonderful but you need 6 or 7 classes to finish it. Since I only see my students 15 times a year, this project literally took up one-third of their art class. Not good. Still, it was a wonderful project for my advanced students to do but those kids who didn’t have as much patience, lost interest after day 3.


Super fun book but quite honestly, this subject is perfect for a paper craft and not necessarily an art project. Can’t believe I said that but it’s true. Kids loved the book but for some reason, painting Pete was slightly more difficult. I love all the Pete crafts out there with real laces and paper eyes that I know that is a far more appealing way to go. If I were a first grade teacher and wanted to tackle a directed drawing lesson and tempera paint, I would opt for a project that could incorporate more color and individual expression. What do you think?

Well folks, there you have it. I have lots more keepers that will appear in my new art curriculum and a few more flops that have yet to appear on my blog.

What about you? Was there a lesson that you created that you loved and will do over and over again? What about something you’ve tried and won’t ever do again?


What do you think?

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  • jess

    I do Pete the Cat drawings with 1st grade. What I have done to give it a bit of individuality…
    1. They choose what color shoes their Pete is wearing (I even have had kids draw roller skates, rainbow shoes, etc.).
    2. They also have to include a background of their choice.

    I have found it to be sure cute and I love seeing where they choose to put Pete and what he will wear.

    Still love all your projects/lessons! 🙂

  • Lillian Connelly

    I love seeing the kids creations. I miss being a kid in art class.

    I’m still picking my jaw up off the floor about the kids only having 15 art classes in a year. That isn’t enough!

  • Elizabeth Ables

    A keeper lesson this year was a new 1st grade lesson featuring chickens and roosters. The students hatch 5 chicks in their classrooms in early May so I coordinated this lesson with that. The kids drew the chicken or rooster of their choice (after looking at many different kinds), painted their background (in tempera) , then we sponge painted little chicks. Lastly, they used long brush strokes to paint the chicken, gradually blending the colors. The kids loved it and it really challenged them to blend without over mixing their colors. Fun exercise!


    My Grade 1/2 students loved their Pete the Cat art projects this year. First they painted Pete in his red armchair – from the book “……..Groovy Buttons” and then later they painted Pete rockin’ out with his cool guitar. Here are the links to our Artsonia exhibits:

    I will be using my DSS curriculum workbook and will be re visiting all of my favourite, not so favourite and unsuccessful art projects so that I too can figure out why some projects didn’t go as well as I planned! Thanks for all your wonderful products Patty!

  • Katie McNeese

    Thank you for sharing your best and worst art projects for 2013 and 2014.

    I’ll start with the worst to get it out of the way. I attempted a project to create our own scratchpads using crayon only (I had 4 boxes of crayons and figured this would be a good way to utilize them.) The project was a flop because the different brands of crayon did not work well on top of each other, the kids had a hard time pushing hard enough to cover the back colors with black, and the crayon was super messy and smeared every where and all over the floor. I will definitely be deleting this one from my curriculum. (p.s. I think I found the crayon idea project on Pinterest.)

    The best lesson of the year was Glue resist contour drawings and oil pastel flowers based on Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings. The kids LOVED picking out their flowers (I had large printed images of numerous flowers up-close) and they were very successful with blending the oil pastels and creating various values for their highlights and shadows on each individual petal and leaf. All in all, these finished art works received MANY compliments from everyone at the school, even the custodians, teacher I didn’t know, and the principal made a point to tell me the students art looked beautiful.

    Thanks for your blogging and thanks for the watercolor techniques poster project, this was one that I did with my students before water-coloring our own “Starry Night” posters. It was very successful and the students loved experimenting with the materials.

    I am currently creating a blog and working to get it up and running before the school year so my parents can have instant access to me and what their students are learning in Art class! Thanks for the inspiring blog.
    Katie McNeese

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