Everyday Workers

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – Community Helpers, Careers

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Lewis Wickes, J. Howard Miller, Winslow Homer, Shauna Frischkorn, Gordon Parks, Ramiro Gomez, Gustave Blache, William H. Johnson

Art Genres – Portraits, Art Medium – Painting, Drawing, Photography

While watching last week’s Sunday Morning Magazine, I discovered that the Obama’s are not the only ones adorning the walls of the National Portrait Gallery right now.  “The Sweat of Their Faces; Portraying American Workers Exhibit” has many exciting  relatable images which would make a great addition to a community helpers or careers unit. There are some famous historical works such as Lewis Wickes’  “Icarus High up on Empire State“, J. Howard Miller’s Rosie the Riveter and Winslow Homer’s “The Cotton Pickers”. However, what I really love are the images that your students can really identify with and recognize from their everyday lives. Images such as Shauna Frischkorn’s “Kean, The Subway Sandwich Artist”Gordon Parks’ “Government Charwoman”Ramiro Gomez’s “Woman Cleaning Shower in Beverly Hills” and Gustave Blache’s “Cutting Squash”.  I also love Francis Criss’ “Alma Sewing”.  

I’ve adapted a career lesson from Mrs. Knight’s Greatest Artist’s  that can be found  here. You can use the above mentioned artworks as motivation. Brainstorm different community helpers or careers. The Sweat of Their Faces exhibit also has a William H. Johnson portrait who Mrs. Knight mentions in her lesson. It is entitled  ” Farm Couple at Work”.  Look at the simple shapes Johnson uses to create his figures.


Then, using a black crayon and simple shapes, students draw a career self portrait. Next, they add props and a background.


Just like Johnson, the students will paint in the shapes with bright colors. I used watercolors. The black crayon keeps the colors from running together. If you don’t have watercolors, crayons or markers will work just fine.

Hope this post brought you some fresh visuals for your social studies units. How do you teach community helpers or careers? I’d love to hear. Simply click on the post’s title and scroll down to the comment section. If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

Thanks so much for reading. Hope you’ll stop by again real soon!


Let Me Count The Ways!

In my last post I talked about Barack and Michelle Obama’s official portraits. Through this blog, I try to show little ways visual arts can be incorporated into your everyday teaching. Today, I would like to take one work of art and see just how many ways it could be used in the classroom. So this time I’ve chosen to use Barack Obama’s portrait again. I hope you don’t mind.

  1. Social Studies Presidents Unit: The most obvious use of this painting is to study it as a presidential portrait. Presidential portraits date all the way back to Gilbert Stuart’s painting of George Washington . Most presidential portraits emulate this very first portrait. How is Obama’s portrait the same or different from Washington’s? Both men are depicted as a full length portrait. The men are both painted realistically. Washington is standing and Obama is seated. Stuart’s portrait has a very formal background of an office, whereas Wiley places Obama in a patterned background of leaves and flowers.                                                                        While researching this portrait, I discovered some pretty colorful stories behind other presidential portraits. Check out some of those stories here.
  2. Famous African Americans Unit: Our first African American president commissioned an African American artist to paint his portrait. Kehinde Wiley is most famous for painting an individual every day African American man, dressed in contemporary clothing, but in classic painting pose. A number of his paintings have a flower patterned background like Obama’s portrait. Wiley has incorporated more traditional backgrounds in his recent series, Tricksters, featuring contemporary African American artists. He even includes Nick Cave who I recently blogged about here. I particularly love his newest series,  In Search of the Miraculous, some of which were inspired by  Winslow Homer’s island seascapes.      Back when Obama was first elected president, I introduced my students to another African American artist named Jacob Lawrence. Lawrence has created several painting series about African American history, including ones about Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and The Migration. I asked the students to create a painting depicting some memorable event from President Obama’s election or life. Find a few results below.

  3. Language Arts Lesson/Symbols: I talked about this in my last post. Visit here if you missed it. Above, I talked about Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington. He also used some symbols in his painting. Read about the patriotic symbols he used in this Mental Floss post.
  4. Mathematics/ The Number Three, Counting, Pattern: Have the students I Spy the three different types of flowers found in the portrait’s background. How many of each can they find? Which flower is painted the most?  Students could graph the information. Talk about the fact that, yes, this is a pattern (flowers and leaves are repeated), but an irregular pattern.
  5. Science/ Botany:  Read what Popular Science has to say about the flowers in this portrait here.

I found five different subjects where you can use this one piece of art. Can you think of others? I’d love to hear about them. Simply click on the post’s title and scroll down to the comment section. If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

Thanks so much for reading. Hope you’ll stop by again real soon!

Patterned Portraits

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – Presidential Portraits, African American History, State Flowers, Language Arts – SymbolsMathematics – Pattern, Science – Botany (Flowers)

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Kehinde Wiley, Amy Sherald, Art Elements and Principles – Pattern, Symbols, Positive/ Negative Space, Art Genres – Portraits, Art Medium – Quilting, Printmaking, Painting, Collage

The amazing official portraits of Barack and Michelle Obama were recently unveiled. These portraits have generated long lines and much positive attention. So much attention that the portraits were moved to a larger space in the National Portrait Gallery.

I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with the two African American artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald who painted these amazing portraits. Since I’ve researched their work, I’m obsessed.

Upon close examination of the two portraits, I’ve found several similarities and differences. Using a venn diagram, let’s investigate some of them.


 As you can see, both artists chose to paint their models in a seated position and both included an irregular pattern in their composition. Wiley placed his pattern in the background or in the negative space of his composition. Sherald placed her pattern on the dress or in a portion of the positive space. What I found most interesting were the hidden symbols found in the patterns. Wiley painted three different kinds of flowers   nestled among the many many leaves in his pattern. Each flower represents a place   significant in Obama’s life. The African blue lilies are a symbol of his father’s birthplace in Kenya. The white jasmine flower symbolizes Hawaii, Obama’s birthplace.  The chrysanthemum is Chicago’s official flower, the city he where Obama worked before  becoming president. Sherald chose this patterned dress for Michelle to wear because it  reminded the artist of quilts.  She mentions, in this podcast with The Jealous Curator, that quilting is an integral part of African American history. She also talks a bit about how the pattern’s images remind her of  underground railroad quilts and Gee’s Bend quilts.


These portraits got me thinking. A self portrait containing symbol patterns might be a great beginning of the year project to get to know your students.  It could also be an alternative to a family tree project where the students include flowers from the countries and states of their heritage. But, I ultimately decided to create a pattern portrait about my mother. (a GREAT Mother’s Day project for your students) I began by creating a pattern that symbolized my mother. I used erasers to stamp print my irregular pattern. Then, I created details with a fine marker. I used what I had around the house to print my pattern. However, for your students, you might want to use foam shapes hot glued onto corks or bottle caps as stampers. Or, perhaps the most inexpensive way to create a symbol patterns is fingerprinting. Ed Emberley’s Fingerprint Drawing Book has all kinds of ideas for animals, transportation, etc.  In a pinch for time, just Google Ed Emberley’s Fingerprint images. Don’t have enough stamp pads for your whole class? Find a simple stamp pad hack below.  I stamp printed this way all the time in my teaching days.


Mom was a creative and crafty person. So, my symbols were balls of yarn with knitting needles to symbolize knitting, crochet hooks to symbolize crocheting, a series of triangles surrounded by broken lines to symbolize quilting and hearts to symbolize all the love she shared with our family. I just so happened to have a childhood photo of my mother. And she’s actually seated in a chair. Once my pattern was complete, for one composition, I cut out the  chair and glued it onto the background, mirroring Obama’s portrait. For my second composition, I cut away the dress and glued the pattern behind the opening and then adhered the cutout chair onto a plain colored background reminiscent of Michelle’s portrait. You could have students bring in a photo of their mom from home or have them draw a portrait of their mom to use in their portraits. The portraits could also be the cover of a Mother’s Day card. Students could create a key of the symbols on the inside of the card, or even incorporate the key into a poem or limerick.

I think the Obama portraits could be interesting and inspiring to your students. Michele Obama’s portrait certainly was to this little girl. And what a bonus, learning about symbolism and a little African American history to boot. What do you think? I’d love to hear. Simply click on the post’s title and scroll down to the comment section. If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

Thanks so much for reading. Hope you’ll stop by again real soon!

ABC Art Cards

Possible Classroom Concepts: Language Arts – Letter Recognition

Mathematics – Number Recognition

Possible Art Concepts: Art History


I’ve talked in the past about my love for Art Page-A-Day Gallery Calendars and Art 365 Days of Masterpieces Desk Calendars. I’ve been buying them for several years. And being the art hoarder that I am, I just couldn’t bring myself to recycle them. Then I got to thinking, when my girls were in preschool, they would study one letter of the alphabet each week. In that week, they would investigate each letter using all their senses. They would even make an artwork to symbolize each letter. At the end of the year, all the artworks were compiled into an alphabet art book. With this in mind, I thought artwork ABC cards might be useful to preschool and kindergarten teachers. If students are going to look at images depicting different letters of the alphabet, why not I spy them in famous artworks?  So, I went about creating three art card sets from my daily calendar pages, one set for each of my preschool teacher friends. 

Now, I have to say this was quite a time consuming task, that you might not wish to tackle. If that’s the case, do I have a solution for you. The Metropolitan Museum of Art just so happens to have published The Museum ABC Book which includes four artworks for each alphabet letter. So, the individual pages can be shared during each letter’s special week. Or the book can be read as a review at the end of the letter unit. In my teaching days, I often used Norman Rockwell’s Americana abc to review the alphabet and study Norman Rockwell.

The Met also published Museum 123 which can be used for number recognition.

I hope you have gleaned some new ways to reinforce letter and number recognition in your classroom. What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinion. Simply click on the post’s title and scroll down to the comment section. If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

Thanks so much for reading. Hope you’ll stop by again real soon!

Scribble Away!

Possible Classroom Concepts: Fine Motor Skills, Social Studies – Countries Around the World (Japan)

Language Arts: Literature

Possible Art Concepts: Art History – Jackson Pollock, Jay Dart, Wassily Kandinsky, Sally Muir

Elements of Art – Line, Texture, Styles of Art – Abstract (Objective and Nonobjective)


I was recently perusing Amazon looking for an art related gift for a toddler. Frankly, there wasn’t much out there for kids at the scribble stage. I found some finger paints and a sad looking sticker activity that I would never buy. Then, the other day, the wonderful blogger vlogger art teacher, Cassie Stephens, mentioned the picture book  I’m NOT just a Scribble… by Diane Alber. I immediately looked up the book and was blown away. This book is “NOT just about scribbling”. It’s also about feelings, acceptance, and friendship. It comes with a sticker sheet so that readers can create their own Scribble creatures. I can see this book being read and enjoyed by children aged one to seven. Go to Alber’s Facebook page to learn more about the importance of the scribble stage and see a video version of her book. See what you think.


Diane Alber is a parent who was inspired by her son’s scribbles. This reminds me of  artist, Jay Dart, who incorporates his son’s scribbles into some of his drawings. I Spy here  the drawings with scribbles which become the northern lights, a rock to climb or fish from. What a great way to record both artist’s progress. I wish I had thought of that when my girls were young. Alas, I do have the scribbles incorporated into this post as a gift from one of my three daughters though. Not sure which one, made the wonderful markings in the empty journal I keep on my dresser. Thanks whichever of you did. What a treat!


A famous artist’s work that looks a lot like scribbles is that of Jackson Pollock.  He literally scribbled in the air with very thin paint that dropped on a canvas on the floor. This is probably why his paintings were dubbed “Action Paintings. Look here to see his Autumn Rhythm (Number 30). Find a Mati and Dada video explaining Pollock’s process here.

Older students can create art with scribbles as well. In my teaching days, I’d have students break up their picture plane with a large scribble. Then, just as we tried to find images in the clouds as kids, I’d ask them to find images in the scribbles. See a couple examples of this process done by Art Mash here. I also like these Japanese koi fish made from a looped scribble taught by Art Project Girl. If you click on Cassie Stephen’s name above, you will find another scribbled line lesson about Wassily Kandinsky‘s work. I love how she incorporates the definitions of objective abstraction and nonobjective abstraction in her lesson. Students can also make close scribbles to create a furry textured animal shape like artist, Sally Muir, did for this dog. Create some really cool accidental scribbles with these Spin-Art Dreidels by Crafts by: Esther O .


So, whether for fine motor skills, literature or creativity,  I say “Keep Calm and Scribble On!” What do you say? I’d love to hear. Simply click on the post’s title and scroll down to the comment section. If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

Thanks so much for reading. Hope you’ll stop by again real soon!

And Let the Games Begin!

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – Cultures Around the World (Korean), Natural Resourses

Mathematics – Geometry

Possible Art Concepts- Fine Motor Skills – Paper Folding

Medium – Ceramics, Paper Folding, Decoupage, Paper Clay, Paper Mache


With all the excitement surrounding the Winter Olympics starting this week, I thought perhaps an introduction to Korean culture might spark your student’s interest. I knew nothing about Korean art, so off I went to research. I assumed Korean arts would pretty much echo their fellow Asian countries, for example pottery, paper folding, etc.  However, upon close examination, I discovered that they do some unique variations in the paper crafts department. Koreans do paper folding but they call it jong-j-jeobgi instead of origami. Koreans also use hanji paper, a strong paper made from mulberry tree bark, to create their jong-j-jeobgi. A simple paper folding you might like to do with your students is called a ddakji. Ddakji are folded squares similar to folded triangles our children make to play table top football. The Koreans just so happen to play a game with their ddakji as well. You can find video explaining how to make a ddakji and how to play the game here. Did you see that parallelogram made in the folding process and the squares and triangles formed? Geometry anyone? I would also have your students use different colored papers to form their ddakji or decorate the unfolded side. This way they can more easily see if the square has flipped and tell the squares apart. More advanced students could also fold traditional Korean outfits found in this video and this video.

The mulberry tree is a natural resource and boy do the Koreans take advantage of it.   It turns out that hanji paper is not a one trick pony. It was originally used as window screens. Hanji paper is also used to decorate boxes and furniture similar to the way we decoupage. They call this jido. The paper is also made into a clay called jiho and modeled into dolls. It looks as if the dolls are also made using strips of hanji paper similar to our paper mache process. Hanji paper is woven into bowls and fans in a process called jiseung.  And believe it or not clothing is also made from hanji paper.

I certainly learned some exciting new things researching this post. Sharing the information found here may show your students that they aren’t so different from the children of Korea. What do you think? I’d love to hear. Simply click on the post’s title and scroll down to the comment section. If you like what you’ve seen here, please feel free to toss me a “like” or better still become a follower.

Thanks so much for reading. Hope you’ll stop by again real soon!

Year of the Dog!

Possible Classroom Concepts: Social Studies – Cultures Around the World (China)

Mathematics – Symmetry

Possible Art Concepts: Art Mediums – Sculpture, Ceramics, Painting, Collage, Drawing

Art Principles – Symmetry


Another Chinese New Year is upon us. It is the “Year of the Dog”. For my family, it truly is the “Year of the Dog”, as my daughter just got a puppy. All kidding aside, while researching dogs in Chinese art, I found mostly ceramic sculptures and a few brush painted dogs as can be seen here. The “Celebrating the Year of theDog” exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, also shows all sculptures.The clay sculptures were buried along with corpses for companionship. If you’d like to do some brush painting with your students for a Chinese New Year celebration check out this blog post. Simply replace the monkey with a dog. Want to make some dog sculptures? Try putting a dog face on one of these paper roll animal structures from Frugal Fun For Boys and Girls.


I’ve also seen plenty of Chinese paper cutting images of dogs in reference to this year’s Chinese New Year. In Japan, paper cutting is called Kiragami. I don’t know what they call it in China. I know they cut paper because when my daughter visited China, she took a class in the skill and brought me back a how to book. You can find a super simple dog cutting video here. (a good lesson for teaching symmetry) If that dog is too simple for you, students could draw and cut out this dog or this dog. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but all the Chinese paper cutting seem to be cut from red paper. So, find yourself some light weight red paper and cut yourself some dogs. Then you can either fold them and cut shapes into them like you do while making snowflakes or you can draw patterns on them using a white pastel or colored pencil. You can also cut out a fancy frame like you see above. Or, why not glue your dog onto a Chinese kite like Mrs. Stacy does in her blog, Elements of the Art Room, found here.

However you decide to celebrate the Chinese New Year, ENJOY!

Come back again real soon!