Ho two teach art to kids when you don't consider yourself an artist

How to Teach Art When You’re Not an Artist

How to teach art to kids when you don't consider yourself an artist



Did the answer come quickly or did you pause?

You may think that in order to say Yes you must have had some sort of formal art training. Or at least be working on a canvas or watercolor. At some point someone may have recognized a talent–your high school art teacher perhaps–so you must be an artist, right? But there are no paintings on your walls that bear your name so you must not be an artist.

If this is a hard question to answer, what about this one:


Do you often wonder how to do things? Crochet a granny square? Bake a red velvet cake? How to be happier?

Was this easier to answer?

I don’t really know how to define an artist. Or what actually need to do to become one. I know it’s a term and a career title and a longing. I know it comes with rules and judgments.

So it’s a term I don’t use very often.

Instead, I favor Curiosity.

Asking the questions–both big and small–is the path to living a full-hearted creative life.

How to teach art to kids when you don't consider yourself an artist-Big Magic

I’m reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. Oh my goodness. Please read this book. It will have you on page one.

My copy is marked with stars and hi-lighters. And I’m only half way through.

The Universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then stands back to see if we can find them.

The hunt to uncover those jewels–that’s creative living. – Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic)

Does that ring true to you?

For many of my readers, how they define themselves really can make a difference in what they choose to do.  Many ask me, Can you teach art to kids if you are not an artist?

Of course you can!

How to teach art to kids when you don't consider yourself an artist

For all my readers who have art degrees and teaching credentials, I’m not saying the unqualified can take your place.

But there are many opportunities to be in front of kids sharing your love of all things colorful, expressive and joyful. It’s not just as a full-time art teacher. You can volunteer, create art at home, with your church, in a community center, open a studio. It’s your life and you can do with it what you want.

And if teaching art to kids is part of that dream, here are a few tips to help you start off on the right path:

Be yourself

It’s really not about how well you draw or paint that will make you a great art teacher. It’s how you relate to kids. If you behave in any way that is not your true self, kids will detect your insincerity.

Despite how parents feel about kids being hard to deal with, it’s been my experience that it is the other way around. Kids are for the most part tolerant of adult personalities–even the strangest amongst us–but only if we are truly being ourselves. As soon as we try to fake it by acting too be sweet or cool or funny so that we can become someone we think they’ll like, they will revolt.

And be okay with every kid not liking you. It’s perfectly fine.

Learn how to teach a lesson in kid-friendly steps

Despite publishing hundreds of lesson plans that explain the process of teaching art to kids, it really does come down to you.

It really doesn’t matter if you can draw or paint well, but if you can explain how to do a lesson, the kids will get it.

Become familiar with basic painting and drawing techniques

Notice that I said basic. This is where most people get caught up with their own expectations. I never used tempera paint before I stepped into an elementary classroom. I never used a kiln or played with clay until my third year of teaching. Heck, I never taught an art class before stepping in front of my students.

So how did I learn?

I practiced and experimented.

Use blogs and art resources sites (such as this one) to find out what other teachers are using and then start experimenting. PLAY with your paint. PLAY with your pastels. PLAY with your paper. What do YOU like best?

Play up your strengths but play with your weakness

So you can’t draw.

Do you have a great lesson from someone who does know? That’s all you need.

Let someone else do the heavy lifting while you facilitate the lesson by delivering the supplies, offering the steps and being a cheerleader for you kids.

Shameful plug here but my Art School for Kids videos are perfect for this situation.

If that’s not enough for you, do the lesson first–alone–so you can practice. Then when its time to teach the lesson to the kids, you can draw and paint to your heart’s delight. It may not look like the resource and so be it. The trick is to make a BIG deal about your drawing efforts.

The kids will love you for calling out your flaws and there will be a huge benefit: They will feel empowered by seeing how much better they did at the project than you. True.

This is true because you never want to be too much better than the kids. It can discourage them and even make them think that they have to live up to your standards.

One last thing: Don’t be embarrassed if you love kids art more than adult art. I do. Really. I’m obsessed with it. Always have been. It’s how I became an art teacher. I went to school to be a fashion designer not an art educator. I switched gears because I love being surrounded by children’s art and creativity.


Articles on How to Teach Art

How to teach art to kids when you don't consider yourself an artist

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  • Michelle Gifford

    Oh Patty, I adore this post, because this IS my story! I am not an artist, but I am a curious teacher. When I met you last year at the reading conference in Ventura, I tried to explain how you had inspired and equipped me to teach art to kids. 4 years ago, I found myself at a new school where the classroom teachers were expected to teach art, which I had never done. I was so nervous and overwhelmed. Your resources made ALL the difference. At your conference this summer, I still felt a bit out of place when I looked around at all of the amazing pieces of art that other people created. But as I told you before I left, I try to keep my samples simple enough for my second graders to feel like they can make what I am making. I still get a little nervous before every art lesson on Friday, but it is a joy and a privilege to share the ideas and inspiration you have given me with my students. Thank you so much for sharing your gentle, encouraging, and creative voice with the world. I am forever grateful.

    • Patty Palmer

      Thanks, Michelle. You are certainly not alone. So many people write to me basically apologizing that they aren’t an artist!

      And speaking of the workshop last summer, my daughter was appalled at how awful my demonstrations looked. She said she knew I could draw and paint so much better than I did. I told her it wasn’t about how well I illustrated a chameleon or mixed paints. It’s about the directions!

      Thanks for sharing your story, Michelle. You are the BEST!

  • Terri

    Patti I couldn’t wait to read this as I felt like it was directed to me. I went to school to be a classroom teacher. My first year of teaching there were no teaching positions available, but I was asked if I would be interested in doing a long term sub position in elementary art. I was nervous since I was “not an artist”. I ended up really enjoying my year. The next year I taught kindergarten and ever since then I’ve been back at the same school I did the long term sub position in art, as their art teacher. I’ve been there for 18 years and love it! Although I had to take classes to get certified in art too, I never considered myself an artist. As a child I always loved art and did a lot of sewing as well as bead restringing. So art has always been in me. I too, keep my lessons kid friendly. I love, love , love visiting your site. The internet has always been my source of inspiration even in the early years. Thanks for all you do.:)

  • Shanna Piatt

    Hi Patty! I love this topic. I do not have an art degree nor did I study to be an artist. I was a classroom teacher and a mentor teacher to 7 different teachers at my elementary, one of those being the art teacher. He WAS a certified art teacher with an art degree but was struggling in the classroom. When I say struggling, that is putting it lightly. I did some research to try to help him be successful in the classroom. I found your blog and shared it with him. He continued to struggle so badly that he was dismissed from our school. The art teacher before him was also a certified art teacher with an art degree. She also had trouble relating to kids and wasn’t committed to the art program. After our art teacher was fired, I begged my principal to let me give it a shot. It has been the best decision I have ever made. It is all because of your blog that I had the confidence to make this transition. I have since become certified to teach k-12 but still have no art degree. I know I could never teacher higher than middle school … that would be a disservice to the students but at the k-6 level I feel like I can and am successful. Thanks to you and all the other generous art teachers who share so willingly I am doing what I love and feel like I have the best job in the world. I say all this to say, just because you have an art degree doesn’t make you a successful teacher. There are so many things that go into teaching. Both those art teachers were hired because they had art portfolios of their own work. They just couldn’t transfer knowledge and excitement of that knowledge to kids.

    • Patty Palmer

      Oh my goodness. I’ve heard this so many times. It’s crazy isn’t it? Artists don’t always make the best art teachers for children. The ability to teach can often be far more important. I loved how you are now the art teacher. This is a great story.

  • Kathleen Broaderick

    I went back to school a few years ago to become an art teacher. I’ve been a student of art for the past 20 years but raising a family took precedence. Now I am lucky enough to be an art teacher AND an artist. I just launched my website and Facebook page this year and I teach elementary art 2 days a week. I think teaching art makes me a better artist. I find myself thinking more about the elements of art and the work of the famous artists I am teaching when I am painting. I have the best jobs in the world! Thank you for sharing your passion for art with all of us!

    • Patty Palmer

      I can totally relate. I think teaching art does make you a better artist. I know so much more no than after art school!

  • Robin Geitner

    I loved art from childhood but a very poor high school art teacher destroyed my belief in my abilities. My other love is children so I pursued a degree in education and I taught preschool and later undergraduates educational media. Six years ago I became involved teaching art as a volunteer in an under-resourced community that had dropped their art program. It has been extremely fulfilling and although the school finally re-hired an art teacher, I am still able to incorporate art teaching in a related volunteer position. I want to thank you for your generosity in posting ideas. I have used your blog and others to create my lessons as well as the many art classes I have taken over the years. I am grateful to you – thanks!

  • Lori Halben

    I have always loved art from early childhood. I was in the cosmetology field for many years and went back to school to get my degree in fine arts. I just loved school. You do see the difference, when you get to that level and can understand, just because you know the subject, does not mean you can teach it to others, that is a gift! I now am in a place where I have my hand in many things but, one job I have is teaching a mixed media class to kids. I just love art! I know my limitations though as I am not a teacher. I am a Mom as well and I try to share my love and enthusiasm for art in a small scale. I get a lot of ideas from your website, they are great!Thank you for sharing!

  • Susan

    Hi Patty!

    First – Happy Anniversary! Wishing you many more!

    Second – Although I wish I were an artist, I certainly am not! But I do have a creative streak and a friend of mine runs a summer art camp and needed some help, so I obliged. I teach 4-7 year olds and on occasion some of the older kids (camp goes through 14) and by doing so I have become better at art! Not only do I love to teach the kids, but I love to do the prep work and learn new techniques, new materials, new things all the time. So much fun.

    I may have lost this outlet, however, and now I am struggling to find a new one. I want to branch out but not sure how to do it. Any suggestions would be so welcome!

    Thanks for your blog! I just love it!

  • L

    HI Patty!
    OMG. This question caught my eye because I have been a teaching for 18 years. These past three years of those 18, I have spent teaching art. However because I am not ART CERTIFIED our new principal picks on me and always mentions how teaching art is my weakness since I am not art certified. So now I know that I CAN teach art because I love it, the materials/supplies and the students. Plus I have an excellent rapport with them! Thank you!

    • Patty Palmer

      Yes you can!

  • Tammy Wooten


    I loved reading your article as I am into my first year of teaching art to Kindergarten students through 6th grade. I have a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Nursing and worked in pharmaceutical sales for 20 years. I grew up loving art and taught myself different techniques. I have 2 grown children and then started over with 2 more and now have the privilege of teaching art at at my 10 year old’s school. During college and my professional career, I pushed my art to the side. When I retired to stay home with my 2 younger ones, I began doing art projects with them. I even created art parties for all of their holiday and birthday events. Thanks to the director of my school who believed in me and saw my work with the children when I substituted in art. She hired me last spring. I have the best job in the world as I don’t work, I get to create, play and teach with my students and enjoy my daughter each day at school. I love seeing the creativity that is expressed in each student’s piece of work. The children display a great sense of pride, confidence and feeling of accomplishment when seeing their art hanging in the hallways. Thanks to your fabulous website, for your ideas and tips in art that helped me create fun projects for my children.

    • Patty Palmer

      Loved reading your story. I’m so happy that you found what makes you happy and you get to be with your kiddos. Thanks so much for sharing.

  • artventurekids

    Hi Patty! I’m your silent reader until today.. this article caught my eyes because I myself do not have any art background. I am just a mom with creative kids and love being surrounded with beautiful things. I opened my studio 5 years ago with thought that if nobody registered I still have my kids to teach. I realized that the creative part can be learned and actually, the most important thing you should have to become teacher is to have lots of LOVE for the kids!!:-)

  • Patty Killeen

    I love this encouraging post!! It describes me perfectly. I was hired as an interim art teacher (after 4 years of preschool) and ended up staying for 10 years. I do not have an art degree and have never had my own art show. In the early years I was not so confidant about my art. I resonated with you words Patty, that the kids could be stressed if they saw my skill so exponentially greater than theirs. I definitely was better every year and the kids were always thrilled with my art direction.

    I have always been curious and your description of testing and playing with media is exactly what I would do! I enjoy kids a lot and would work through many art lessons with various media. I would tweak and change projects for my students, change media or move the project to a different grade if necessary and sometimes throw out a lesson that did not click with that age group. I believe all kids are creative, I believe in practice and restarts and I believe every kid can be skillful at some type of media. You know that kid who draws really well but struggles with 3-D and vice versa and they are frustrated saying “my art is bad”? I loved working them their frustration and seeing their art as their own and it had value. I really loved art shows too!

    I enjoy reading all the other comments of other teachers like me. Thank you for your comments that encourage me so much!! I had to leave my art position due to a school change and am hoping this is only a hiatus year and I get to teach again next year.

  • Melissa

    Hi Patty, great post! I was hoping you may know… do you need to have a teaching degree to instruct an art class? I am looking to make a career change and would love to open a studio. I would like to host classes but I do not currently have a teaching degree. Art there any legal requirements I should be aware of?


    • patty.palmer@deepspacesparkle.com

      Hi Melissa,
      You need a teaching credential for most school districts, but for teaching privately, no. Experience help obviously! Good luck! You’ll do great.

  • Annie

    Hi, dear Patty:

    After going through this program, I wanted to say thank you very much. I am planning to teach art but I have a question regarding how I should teach them.
    Should I get them to do it step by step or should I just show them an example of what the final piece is and get them to try and replicate it? Thanks


    • Patty

      Hi Annie! The best way to teach art to kids is to determine what suits you best. Does step by step resonate with you? I’m not sure which program you are in. Do you mean The Sparklers Club? If so, definitely join the private Facebook group as that is where we can dive deeper into your questions. Here’s a link to join:https://www.facebook.com/groups/312027762462393/

  • Leslie

    Love it!
    Very inspiring- I’m thinking about applying for a junior high position but have no experience- just took 1 class of drawing, ceramics, design, etc. and totally unsure if I could pull this off…

  • RR

    I love this site!
    And, to be honest, not disrespectful, at first this post made me upset and sad. I am VERY glad you put in
    “For all my readers who have art degrees and teaching credentials, I’m not saying the unqualified can take your place.
    But there are many opportunities to be in front of kids sharing your love of all things colorful, expressive and joyful. It’s not just as a full-time art teacher. You can volunteer, create art at home, with your church, in a community center, open a studio….”
    That needs to be made VERY clear to the readers. “For all my readers who have art degrees and teaching credentials, I’m not saying the unqualified can take your place.”
    Thank you for adding this to your article.

  • teachsthom

    I need help BAD! I have to teach Art K-5 in an elementary school the first half of the year and I start Monday! I have NO experience at all or degree in Art, my degree is in Music. I will be teaching Music the second half of the year, as well as, Chorus 1 day a week all year after school. My school does not have a full time Art teacher or Music teacher so they hire one person to do both. A friend of mine who teaches art told me to go to your sight. Can you please help me???

  • Marya

    Thank you Thank you Thank you

  • Mary

    From the looks of things, this post is about 5 years old, but I just stumbled across it.
    I am a 48-year-old mom of 3. I went to vocational school and have worked as a nurse for the past 27 years, but my dream has always been to be a grade school art teacher – since I was a kid that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I am not an artist in any way, shape or form. I can’t draw a straight line, I can’t paint or sculpt or anything else. I truly lack all skill when it comes to art, but I want to teach it and be surrounded by it and live it so badly. I am considering going back to school to get my bachelor’s degree, but I’m just not sure I could be an art teacher with no skill at all. I love this article because it spoke to my soul and I saw myself in so much of it. I love kid’s art, I love paint and clay and paper mache and glitter and glue! I love color and joy and creating! I’m just looking for a path to get to my dream.

  • Jael Anderson

    Love this & want to do this..very encouraging ❣ I’m seeing it could be possible but could I make a living doing this. Love kids, love art. ❤

  • Deirdre

    Thank you! I’m thinking of setting up art classes for kids around 3-5 years in Berlin, Germany. I think so often about the art I made in kindergarten when I was 4 years old – it keeps coming back to me. And I want to be in that zone again – helping other kids to go wild with their hands and imaginations. Thanks again! Your resources are brilliant.

  • MM

    Love this! I stumbled into teaching art a few years ago and I love it…and I think I am doing a pretty good job. But, too many years have passed without drawing and I feel very insecure about it. I practice all the time and am getting to where I feel ok around the kids but there are still the dreaded “staff meeting activities” where admin wants a diagram and everybody says, “get the art teacher.”

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