Posted by: keepingthemistakes | February 11, 2012

Ode to a Grecian Urn

Once again, I’m at that “overwhelmed and it’s dark and cold” time of year. Actually, this year isn’t feeling quite so overwhelming.  I think the third years a charm.  While I still have things piling up, somehow I feel a bit more on top of things.  My art room organization is finally coming together, thanks to my principal finding about 40 vintage wooded drawers, or totes, for me to use.  I’m putting art projects in them with paper I’ve cut, etc. and labeling them with grade level and lesson title, including my examples, etc.  I think it will be awesome!  I don’t have a picture of them now, maybe later.

Here are a few examples of things my classes have been working on, and I have a big question for my fellow art teacher, so keep reading!

4th, 5th & 7th grades are working on Greek Vases.  It falls into my art history unit, and teaches about symmetry, telling stories with art, and it’s just plain fun.  After discussing Greek vases and looking at pictures of some, we start our own by folding our paper in half vertically, and drawing half of the vase on one side of the fold with black oil pastel.  We then refold and use a craft stick to rub rub rub it to get the black to transfer to the other side of the paper.  After we redraw the transferred outline, we fill the vase in with heavily colored oil pastel — any color they want but black.

Next, we paint over the vase ONLY with thinned black tempera paint.  It shouldn’t be real thick, and it’s ok if it looks like the oil pastel is showing through a little bit.

After the paint has dried, we review how the Greeks told stories on their vases and that they also had some pretty cool patterns on them.  We discuss that the vase itself is symmetrical and that some of the patterns are symmetrical, but the part that tells the story is not.  We talk about ideas for stories from their own lives that they could tell on the vase.  I then pass out wooden styluses (after demonstrating how to use them) and let them have at it.   This is the really fun part!  When they’re done, they choose one color and color around their vase.  This part could be done with paint too.  I got this project idea here.  

Two other projects we’ve been working on are symmetrical color wheels (2nd grade) and Op art hands (3rd grade).

I’m really excited about some other projects we’ve started, so will try to post more soon!

Now, for my question.  I have really been struggling with issues of control as an art teacher.  My problem is, while I understand the need for control in the classroom, I wonder if sometimes I am too controlling and that it inhibits creativity.  I want my students to be creative, but at the elementary level, it doesn’t seem like a good idea to just leave things completely open-ended, especially when my time with them is so limited.  It’s chaotic enough painting with 24 2nd graders when we are all attempting to do the same general thing.  I find myself saying “that’s not the direction I gave”, but sometimes I think it’s not so bad that they did their own thing.  Still,  I think if everyone did, it would be chaos.  What are your thoughts??  I really  would like to have input on this.  I want art to be fun and I want them to learn to be creative and think in new ways.



  1. Yes- how much control; that is the question. I teach mixed-age art classes, 1st-5th grade, usually 20 students. My approach is to set “problems” with “rules”; they know I expect them to solve the problem using the rules I set, and find ways to be creative within that framework. (This is what artists do all the time, though we usually set our own problems and make up our own rules…)

    For example, we were recently studying color, and talking about how artists use color. We looked at prints by Andy Warhol, and talked about color schemes, then I asked them all to draw a small design on a pre-printed 5×5″ square. The problem was to draw any kind of design (geometric shapes, flowers, faces, etc.); the rules were to make 3-4 largish spaces, and some detail, but not too much. (Vague, I know!) Some kids got it right away, others, needed several tries. I just looked at the designs and said- “Yes, that will work.” or “No- too much detail / not enough spaces / try again” Everyone completed a design eventually, with only some minor exasperation. Then I made 4 copies, and we colored each with a different color scheme. Some of the results are on my web page (

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