5th Graders “Hired” in the Art Department on New Tim Burton Production

The last 5th grade unit that I was a part of was another that I designed and began teaching myself but was unable to finish as my time student teaching in the elementary came to a quick end and I had to move on to high school. I am a huge fan of mixed media art, printmaking, and movies so I decided to implement all of those elements into 1 unit and “hire” the 5th graders as my Art Department who would be working as character designers and developers, storyboard artists, and as printmakers.

Many people are familiar with the movie director, Tim Burton, who is famous for such films as Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Big Fish, Frakenweenie, as well as many others. What many people are unfamiliar with is that he is also an artist and that he designs all of his characters himself and develops his storyline from there. There is a featured article in The Scholastic Art magazine on Tim Burton’s artistic philosophy and process that inspired this unit.


I believe that his artistic philosophy is extremely important to teach young artists and I posted some of his quotes around the room for students to see.


And the quote that inspired the our lesson……


We began our unit looking at, analyzing, and interpreting character drawings done by Tim Burton but I kept the fact that all of the drawings were done by Tim Burton a secret in the beginning. Some character drawings I showed the students included…

We discussed the common themes in how all of the characters were drawn/painted, the style that the artist used and we learned the terms disproportionate, elongated, fanciful, gestural, expressive, and surreal. I also asked the students to come up with a quick back story for each character just by looking at them and what they came up with was absolutely hysterical and very creative! I asked if they knew who the artist was that created all of these characters and the most common response I received was Pablo Picasso, so I showed them a few more characters done by the artist that they might recognize 🙂

I then congratulated them on being “hired” as the art department on an up and coming Tim Burton film and there job was to design and develop a character and create a storyboard to “present to Time Burton”. In order to make our art room seem more like the art department on a movie set I gave each day we worked a title.

Day 1 of Production – CHARACTER DESIGN

On the first day their task was to design and draw an interesting character using Tim Burton’s style of drawing as inspiration.


We finished designing and drawing our characters and then transferred those character drawings onto linoleum blocks and began carving out our blocks in preparation for printmaking. We discussed simplifying and negative space. Everyone had a great experience carving out linoleum blocks for the first time, just like professional printmakers. They will be using their character prints and cutting and pasting them into their storyboards rather than drawing out the character every single time in each frame.


I showed the students a short video of how a professional storyboard corresponds to the actual movie and we discussed narration and storytelling through visuals. We were going to be doing a slightly shorter storyboard and I asked the students to sum up their character’s story in only 4 frames. They were given a variety of supplies and asked to draw out each of the 4 major scenes but not forgetting to leave room in each scene for their character print. The imaginations and creative ideas I witnessed working with the students was absolutely amazing.

Sadly I wasn’t able to be there when the students did the printmaking and finished their storyboards as my student teaching obligations took me to West High School but I can’t wait to see all of the finished products in upcoming blog posts!

Dr. Evermor Fantastical Machines


This last lesson with the 4th graders while student teaching was a lesson that I designed and taught myself. We focused on one of my favorite Wisconsin artists, Tom Every, aka Dr. Evermor.
Many of you have probably seen some of his giant, metal bird sculptures on the roof of Madison’s Children’s Museum or on Patterson Street in between East Johnson Street and Williamson Street. A handful of the students even said that they have had a chance to visit his sculpture park, just South of Baraboo, WI.

Our first day, the students were given a picture of Dr. Evermor’s famous Forevertron sculpture, which happens to hold the Guiness World Record for largest scrap metal sculpture. I asked them to interpret and analyze the picture without giving them any previous information. They discussed with their classmates what they noticed about the picture, what they thought the item in the picture was made from, and what they thought the item in the picture was used for.

FOREVERTRON by Tom Every aka Dr. Evermor

We then had a class discussion about their ideas and I introduced the artist Tom Every and his artwork. We discussed how he uses unaltered recycled scrap metal or “junk” in his sculptures, the importance of recycling, alter-egos, narration in artwork, storytelling, elements of a story, inventing, and the non-traditional art making process of generating the context behind the artwork after it is already made rather than the traditional process where ideas are generated first and turned then into final pieces of artwork. That last topic was something I really wanted to focus on in our initial discussion and following activity because that is exactly how Dr. Evermor works. He begins by welding various scrap metal together without knowing what type of sculpture he is making and lets the artwork itself help determine the content, concept, and story behind the sculpture. Then the students were given their own junk and were instructed to just start drawing using the “junk” as inspiration and begin creating a drawing without knowing what it was and to let the drawing itself decide what it is.


Then the students were asked to create their own Dr. Evermor inspired fantastical machines based off their “junk” drawings and develop a story that explains their machines. The students were introduced to the various graphite pencils that artists use, blending/shading, hatching and cross-hatching drawing techniques, designing mechanical drawings, and even 1-point perspective!


The student’s Fantastical Machines and stories behind them were absolutely AMAZING! The creative and inventive ideas that came from the minds of the 4th grades was absolutely inspiring and everyone one had a fun time inventing their own Fantastical Machines!


Mandalas: Rotational Symmetry

IMG_5129I saw this lesson many places around the web but I first saw it at the art ed blog Splish Splash Splatter. Huegel third graders were learning about line symmetry in math class. Rotational symmetry comes up next and the second graders were just getting a head of the curve. I always hope that when I teach a concept earlier than their classroom teachers teach it, that when they see it in the classroom it makes more sense to them. We are all a team to support our students’ success! (Sometimes the art teachers are a forgotten part of that team).

Anyway, this was a lesson where every kid felt successful AND a lesson where their math concepts were being reinforced. I call that a win-win!

Some students choose to create one mandala and glue that on their background paper. Some students finished early and decided to create a second, larger mandala to attach to the back of their first smaller mandala with a brad. Their mandalas are now moveable art, they spin!


IMG_5137 IMG_5136 IMG_5135 IMG_5134 IMG_5133 IMG_5132 IMG_5131 IMG_5130

K/1 Snow Globes

Kindergarten and first graders created snow globes to learn about the art concepts landscape, horizon line, foreground and background.

Kindergartners learned that the horizon line is where the sky and the earth meet.  When we look outside, we don’t see a crazy space between our sky and earth.  The sky and the earth touch and the place where they touch is called the horizon line.  Then we discussed how a landscape is a picture of something outside.  We named lots of things we would see in a landscape including trees, snow, the sun, snow forts and snowmen.

First graders reviewed horizon line and landscape then learned their new art words, foreground and background.  Foreground is what is closest to us in a painting.  Things in the foreground are large, detailed and near the bottom of the painting.  Background is what looks farthest from us.  Things in the background are small with little or no detail and are usually found near the horizon line.

Kindergartners and first graders took their new found knowledge and drew landscapes in their snow globe circles.  Then we created a symmetrical shape for the base of our snow globes.

The second class period was spent gluing our snow globes onto our colored paper and drawing our backgrounds which showed where our snow globe sat.  Some students made their snow globes into an ornament and drew them hung on a tree.  Some students drew them in a special place next to their bed.

We watched the Pixar Short ‘Knick Knacks’ which inspired a kindergartner to draw her snow globe in the midst of other knick knacks.

Over all, I think most of the kindergartners and first graders really understood the new art concepts they learned!


Inspired by:  Sheila Zenk‘s ‘Winter Wonderland’ project, Mary Matula Elementary School and Tri-Center Elementary School.

2/3 Picasso

Second and third graders have been working very hard sketching facial features.  We learned about Pablo Picasso and how he painted and drew faces so we could see the front and the side at the same time!  After watching a video about Picasso, we studied his painting of Dora Marr.

Isn’t it crazy how we can see the front of her face and the side at the same time?  Check out those colors!

We began by drawing sketches of our portraits.

They got a little crazy.

Then we drew our final drawings on nice, heaving drawing paper.

Picasso used some crazy colors so we added that in too.

And the finished art!

We learned that Pablo Picasso is really famous for an abstract art called cubism.  One feature of cubism is that you can see all sides of something at the same time.   Ask your child to point out the front, back and side of their faces in their artwork.  We also learned about craftsmanship (really doing your best work).  If we hold our pencils lower, we have more control when we draw.  We need to be careful not to press too hard and to color gently.  We also need to be white spot inspectors!  Ask your child to show you how to blend colors using colored pencils.