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Thursday, October 2, 2014

How to Inject More ART into your Homeschool, plus a Mixed Media Art Project for Fall

My kids LOVE to create stuff and they are always drawing, but in the past I’ve struggled to “make time” for messy art projects.  My homeschool art,such as it was---it was often just a big fat FLOP (yes, being totally honest with you here) was mostly focused on art appreciation or picture study (ala Charlotte Mason).  It sometimes got done, but more often it didn’t. 

I kept telling myself that they were doing plenty on their own between drawing and randomly gluing bits of paper together.  I was lying to myself.

Tips for bringing more ART into your homeschool, plus instructions for fun (and easy) fall art project @ Homeschooling Hearts & MindsThe truth?  I was an art failure. 

But I like art.  I like creating.  I AM artistic.  I used to paint (watercolors), make artistic quilts, sculpt in paper mache, do all manner of artsy things.

I knew that failing at art was not a good thing for my kids! 

I had to acknowledge that if they were in school, in spite of budget cuts, they probably would have had more opportunities for experimenting with different media (besides pencils and computer or construction paper).

That’s sad, isn’t it? 

Especially since part of the reason that our family homeschools is so that our kids can have a more well-rounded, individualized education.  I had gotten so hung up on the academic end of that that, well…

I got hung up.  My homeschool was looking too schoolish without having the fun parts of school in it.

Bah!  I can do better than that!  It would be easier to send them to school if I’m not going to give them better quality education than they would receive there.

So, among other things, this year I’m making a conscious effort to have a day each week that we get out the watercolors or acrylics or paper and glue or oil pastels or some combination of the above and whatever else they come up with.  I have invested in some better quality (not highest quality, mind, because my budget has limits) materials for the kids to work with.

I’m also much more flexible about getting materials out at request and keeping them accessible to the older kids.  (If the 5-year-old could get out the paints, whoa, boy!  Common sense overrules here.)  Over the summer, there were some weeks they painted every day.

Things are going well.  We sometimes look at other artists’ work, but we do not study their biographies or do “picture study” really.  We just look at their work, note what media and techniques they use, talk about what we like or don’t like, but the main thing is getting our hands dirty by trying our own thing.

How to inject more ART into your homeschool!

(note:  links are for you convenience, they are NOT affiliate links)

1.  Stock up on decent quality supplies. 

If you have multiple kids, you will need more stuff (we don’t want fighting).  Here are some suggestions, but choose whatever works for your family:

    • quality drawing pencils
    • quality colored pencils---Crayola is ok, but I will probably invest in something nice once we use up my stockpile.
    • beeswax crayons (they blend well and have more vibrant colors than Crayolas)---Can’t afford Stockmar?  Neither can I.  We are using these Faber-Castel jumbo ones and they are great.
    • oil pastels---We have these.
    • modeling beeswax---I did spring for the Stockmar, but you can google recipes for making your own.
    • pan watercolors for young kids (we prefer Prang, not Crayola)
    • tube watercolors for the older kids and mom
    • a wide variety decent brushes---I have 2 levels of quality, because the younger kids still need to be reminded to not “scrub” with the brush, but they are learning.
    • thicker, quality papers, including watercolor paper, sketch paper, mixed media paper---These do not need to be the “best”, but you can really see the difference in your finished product when you use a nicer paper.
    • other papers---construction paper, scrapbook papers, colored cardstock, plain white
    • glue---sticks and regular tacky glue (but I do avoid Elmer’s school glue, it is sooo thin and messy)
    • scissors---if you can afford a little better than the cheapies, go for those and try to get scissors to fit your child’s hand.  No 14-year-old should have to cut with his 5-year-old sister’s scissors.
    • Whatever else looks good at the craft/art store!  Try something new.

2.  Don’t be afraid to let your kids really USE the art supplies.

You spent a bunch of money on supplies, but gulp, what if the kids wreck them? 

As much as we want to keep nice things nice, there’s no point in having them if we don’t use them, right?  This is part of the reason I recommend having more than one level of quality in materials if your kids are a wide age spread.  Young kids will eventually learn to take better care of art supplies as they watch their older siblings do so---and wanting to be like the bigger kids and use the nicer stuff gives them an added incentive.

3.  Have a space to do art so it won’t disrupt your whole household or schedule it in such a way that it won’t interfere with other stuff.  

Up until this year, we did “school” in the kitchen---meaning any writing, math lessons, etc. (we actually learn all over the house and outside).  This year I did something that I shoulda done like 5 years ago---I converted my den/library into a “school room.”  That sounds so schooly, right?

That’s part of the reason I resisted. 

But we don’t have desks lined up in a row.  We have a dining room table with maps under a clear vinyl tablecloth, computers, everything we need for our lessons, supplies, etc. 

It’s also a room with doors, so if we have something going on in there, we can just close the doors after we are done for the day and we don’t have to look at it.

We don’t do art in our school room, though, we do that at the kitchen table.  The beauty there is that we can drop whatever we are doing in our lessons, go create, and come back to what we were doing.  I can move any drying art projects into the school room to clear the kitchen table for a meal. 

While putting together the schoolroom was a major job to do (and I’m still working on it), it has had a very positive impact on our lives---I plan to post on this more in-depth at some point in the future.

But, you say, I don’t have room for a school room!  I agree, that’s a luxury for me that I never had before this house.  So here are some suggestions to make your space work for you:

  • Keep your art supplies in a portable tote of some kind.  Or keep them on a shelf or in a cabinet near where you will be working.
  • Schedule your art sessions to not happen right before a mealtime (right after lunch is a good time), that way if you need to leave things to dry on your kitchen table, you can cordon off an end for that.
  • Do art on a moveable platform of some kind.  We have some large, plain dry-erase type boards (no frame) that I picked up second hand.  We use them as paint boards or a base to do projects on, so they can be easily picked up and moved even when a project is “in progress.”
  • It might be helpful to have some place/area to move art projects to while waiting for them to dry or if they need to be completed in steps.  Be creative. 

4.  Schedule time for art and have an actual plan. 

I don’t know about you, but when I just put on my list “do art this week,” art doesn’t happen

If I say “Art Wednesday, mixed media project on trees,” it is much more likely to happen.  Especially if I put it on the kids’ list (they will remind me). 

Now, you can be flexible and change your project, or you can even leave it more open-ended and just say something like “work with oil pastels.” 

5.  Find inspiration in your other studies.

Maybe your young ones are doing Five in a Row and this week’s row was illustrations using wet-on-wet watercolors---sounds like the perfect time to break out the water colors.

Maybe you are learning about the change of seasons and finding out why leaves change color---time to do a fall leaf project.

Maybe you are studying the middle ages and learning about illuminated manuscripts---ahh, calligraphy, gilding, and more!

6.  Try out my list of free online art resources for links to art instruction and more ideas for your homeschool.

Now, how about a fun project to get you started?

The young kids are doing A Tree is Nice FIAR-style this week, so I decided to do a tree-inspired art project this week.  This project is great as a follow up for a fall nature walk---pay special attention to the trees and their shapes on your walk.

Mixed Media Fall Art Project

Mixed-Media Fall Trees


  • paper for base (we used 8-1/2” by 11” cardstock because it allows more color option than some other papers, is more sturdy than construction paper, and easily fits into a small portfolio)
  • “tree trunk-colored” cardstock
  • oil pastels
  • acrylic paint in fall colors (we used the kind in little bottles)
  • glue stick
  • cotton balls
  • cotton swabs
  • a palette (a paper plate or piece of cardboard will do)

I was inspired by Gustaz Klimt’s Birch Forest (click the link to see it).  When I say “inspired” I don’t mean that I was trying to copy this painting, it just gave me the beginning of an idea and I ran with it.  This project takes advantage of the high blendability of oil pastels to create the look of tree “bark.”

Step 1:  Choose your papers.  The completed project above was made by my daughter, Mary.  She used a dark green background and light tan for the tree trunks, but you could used any colors you like.  Also choose your orientation (landscape or portrait).

Step 2:  Color the trunk paper all over with oil pastels.  Try to keep it roughly going up and down if you chose a portrait orientation or across if you chose a landscape orientation.  You might stick with tree colors, but feel free to add in some unusual colors (when sunlight bounces off of things in real like, there are often colors there we don’t “expect” to see, doing art helps us to see these things).

Step 3:  Blend the pastels with your fingers or a paper towel.  Take your time with this.  You can blend as little or as much as you want---this step adds some depth to your trees.

Step 4:  Cut out your tree trunks/branches.  Be creative!  You might do relatively tall straight trunks with no visible branches that go from edge to edge, or you might have branches.  Try to imagine the trees you are making---bring out some pictures of different types of trees if needed.  You can make separate pieces, or continuous pieces.

Tree shapes for mixed media fall art project 

Step 5:  Find a pleasing arrangement for your trunks and branches on your background paper and glue them in place.  Use this moment to show how placement can help to create the illusion of objects being closer or farther away---closer trees will be lower on the page and bigger, smaller trees place higher will look farther away.

Step 6:  Time to paint!  Squirt various colors of acrylic paint onto your palette.  Dig a cotton ball or swab into the paint and gently dab paint on your picture to make “leaves” (both in the tree and on the ground).  Continue to dab with the same ball or swab to feather (leaf?) out your colors.  Pick up a new swab or ball with a different color and repeat (you can layer colors over each other).  Continue until you achieve the look you want.  Note:  Sometimes the cotton will leave a bit of itself in the paint---just pick it off before it dries.

A word to the wise:  Littles will sometimes go overboard with the paint---it may be helpful to say, “Oh, that’s just perfect!  Let’s let it dry now,” before they do too much, if you know what I mean?

These are just general guidelines/suggestions.  I recommend keeping this as open-ended as you can.  Peter, for instance, decided to create a “Man-eating Plant” (with explosions, of course) instead…good thing he’s homeschooled.

Man-eating plant with explosions

What thing do you want to do with your kids that you never seem to get around to doing?

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