Things to Make & Do

Alice's field bag and pencil case

Published by Lori Pickert on April 19, 2008 at 09:23 PM


Check out Alice’s wonderful field bag and pencil case! More pictures on flickr!

And in case you missed it, the original project:

Make a field bag from recycled clothing

Art lesson: Watercolor techniques

Published by Lori Pickert on April 16, 2008 at 07:30 PM


We’ll be taking watercolors with us to the woods and the prairie and the garden this summer with our nature journals, so we can give our drawings a wash of color.

Since it’s still quite cold and blustery in our corner of the world, we did a little drawing outside for Friday’s art class, then we headed inside to review some watercolor techniques.

I’ve already shared that I think the best way to introduce any child to a medium is with plenty of free exploration. Time — time to play and explore and experiment! Children need time to master materials before they can work purposefully.

This is a pretty common material, though — most of my students have already used watercolors. And my time with them is limited to an hour and a half a week. So I thought I’d lead them through some simple guided experiments to become familiar with (or become reacquainted with) what watercolors can do and how they behave.

This “lesson” isn’t about making art — we’re just going to learn and/or practice a few skills so we’re ready to make art next time!

Everyone started out with their watercolor paints, a nice heavy sheet of watercolor paper, a paintbrush, and some clean water.

First, we talked about how to get the paint wet to get it started. We loaded up our brush with a lot of color. Then we painted one big stripe across the top of our paper.


Then we dipped our brush back into the water and without getting more paint, we painted a second stripe across the bottom of the first stripe. The paint ran together, but the bottom stripe was lighter. Then we did it again and got an even lighter stripe. Now we had a graded wash.



Next, we cleaned out brushes thoroughly (by swishing our water violently) and then painted a wet square of plain water on our paper.


Then we loaded up our brush with color again and painted on the wet paper.


Then we painted another line beside it on the dry paper and talked about the differences.


(The kids loved this whole exercise — part art, part science experiment, lots of excited exclamations: “Look at mine!” “Cool!”)

Now we painted another big block of a light color.


We cleaned our brush and loaded it up with a darker color and then put some splotches into the light color to see what would happen.


We talked about what happens when the colors mix together.


Then we chose a different color and painted another big area next to this one, allowing them to touch.


What happened? The colors blend together. When might we want this to happen? If we don't want the colors to mix, what should we do? (Wait for the first color to dry!)

Next we painted another big blue square.


More science! This time we're going to practice taking paint up from the paper.

We rinse our brush well and then use our fingertips to squeeze the water from the bristles.


Now use your dry brush to suck up some paint from your blue square. You've made a white spot! Magic!


You can also use this technique to fix mixtakes — well, a little mistake anyway!

Then we used a crumpled piece of paper towel to take up more paint, and stamp a pattern as well!


If you have time (and materials), you can experiment with using a small piece of sponge, crumpled tissue paper, leaves from the garden, and anything else you can think of to stamp in your watercolors.

Next, we used a white crayon to draw on the paper to make a resist.

Anything waxy will create a place the watercolor paint won’t stick — crayon, oil pastel, even a candle! (I know it’s a little late, but those plain wax crayons that come with Easter egg-decorating kits are perfect for this.)

Draw a little something on your paper and then paint over it.


We talked a bit about when you might want to use your white crayon — if there is something white in your picture that you want to stay white, for example.

Of course, you can use any color of crayon to make a resist painting! For our nature journal kit, though, we'll make sure to carry a white crayon.


Finally, we finished by using everything we just learned to paint whatever we wanted!






See also:

Nature journals

Free exploration/working purposefully

Make a field bag from recycled clothing

Published by Lori Pickert on April 12, 2008 at 07:33 PM


It's nice to have a small field bag for nature walks — to hold your art supplies and also to bring home any treasures you might find.

An old pair of pants can yield 2, 3, or even half a dozen bags depending on the size. We've made many a field bag from an old pair of jeans. Jack and I made this bag out of an old pair of khaki camo pants he had outgrown.

(Denim and khaki are great materials for a field bag because they are tough, durable, and hold their shape without a lining.)

First, find an old pair of pants. Any size will do!


We thought that knee pocket would make a great detail on the front of Jack's bag.


These back pockets would also make a great bag front. If you are using jeans, you can use the front pocket as the front of your bag and the back pocket for the back!


Mark where you want to cut your fabric, and make sure your sketchbook will fit inside your finished bag!

Right away you'll notice one great thing about making a field bag out of your old clothes — you won't have to sew very much, because you can take advantage of the seams that are already there. We cut this bag out of the middle of one leg, so we sewed the bottom and around the top. If you used the bottom of the leg, and the bottom hem of the leg became the top of your bag, you would only have to sew one seam!


Cut along the marks you made. Since we cut out of the middle of the leg, we now have a tube of fabric.


Turn your material inside-out and sew the bottom seam. We triple-sewed ours for extra strength.


Fold over the top and sew around, making the top seam. You can pin it in a couple of places if you are worried about it moving around on you, but uneven seams give extra character.


Jack really wanted a matching strap, but you could also make the strap out of any old ribbon or woven tape you have in your stash.


We cut a strip of fabric about 2 1/4 inches wide and then used that strap to cut out another.

Since there is no pattern for this project, you don't need to worry about how wide your strap ends up being — there is no right or wrong!


Sew the two long sides of your strap — but not the ends! Because next you need to turn it inside out.


Sew the strap onto the bag! We went back and forth a few times for extra strength. We are expecting this bag to get some heavy outdoor use.


All done! Wasn't that easy? While we were at it, we made another one:


You can decorate your finished bag by sewing on patches, sticking on your favorite pins, embroidering them, or anything else you can think of.

Then fill them up and take a hike!



See also:

Nature journaling: supplies

Nature journaling: supplies

Published by Lori Pickert on April 10, 2008 at 07:25 PM


The best part of any new project is gathering the supplies, right?

naturesketching.jpgFor kids:

  1. Sketchbook. This is a great one. It has heavy paper so you can watercolor in it and the pages won't fall apart. But any sketchbook will do — you can even make your own.

    I like a journal about 5 x 7", because you only need a small bag to carry it and your supplies, but the page is big enough to draw a whole scene as well as details.

    Pay attention to how the journal is bound — spiral obviously allows you to work flat. If the binding is sewn it may also lay flat — you don't want a journal with a spine that won't open all the way and allow you to use the whole page.

  2. Pencils + self-enclosed pencil sharpener + white eraser. Ideally you will have a few pencils of different hardness. These are sold grouped together inexpensively at the art supply store. But again, ordinary pencils are fine, too.
  3. Pencil case — hard or soft, as long as it protects everything in your bag from being covered with pencil marks and your pencil leads from breaking.
  4. Watercolors + brush. Any old watercolor set will do! They usually come with a brush. I personally like Prang because they are very good quality, last a long time, and the colors are bright and clear. You can buy Prang watercolors at any department store; you don't need to go to the art supply store.

    You can get a little fancier by buying a few extra watercolor brushes of different sizes. It's nice to have at least one extra brush in case you lose yours. Again, you can buy a few brushes bundled together at the art supply store for a few dollars. (You can always find a more expensive version of every art supply, but don't worry about that for this project!) You can also investigate water brushes; they are wonderful for painting on the go: like this or like this. Check your local art or hobby store to see what they have. These unscrew and you fill them with water, then you simply squeeze them to clean the brush. (Bring a piece of old t-shirt or similar to dab against — you can wash and reuse these.)

  5. Water bottle. Again, any old empty water bottle or soda bottle will do. Fill it up about three-fourths of the way. Fancy: I like these water-bottle clips that fit over the neck of the bottle and allow you to clip them to your bag or belt loop. But you can also carry it inside your field bag.
  6. Ziploc bag or small plastic case for holding treasures. Pinecones, leaves, and seed pods will take a beating if they're just thrown loose in your bag or stuffed in your pocket. Keep one ziploc bag (freezer type is best — they are heavy duty) and reuse for each trip.
  7. Field bag to carry your supplies. If you want to do some extended walking or exploring before you draw and paint, it's nice to have your hands free. We'll be sharing our instructions for making easy field bags out of recycled clothing!

Extras: A folded paper towel (for drying your brush or taking up paint), a white crayon (for resist work), a black or other color crayon (for rubbings; a soft pencil also works), and that's about it! Camping cups — the ones that telescope or lie flat — are nice for pouring water into (as bottles are generally tippy). I have a little canvas bucket that I use.

For grown-ups:

  1. Your own kit (everything on the previous list). If you are working with a large group, it doesn't hurt to bring an extra of everything.

    You can carry an extra small bottle of water for the kid who inevitably dumps theirs, but don't be tempted into carrying more water! It's heavy and it will make you cranky and weigh you down.

  2. Sunscreen, bug spray, wipes, bandaids, ziploc bag. (Wipes are great for the unexpected bird bomb or "ugh, what did I sit in?!" One ziploc bag can hold all your garbage. Reuse it if you love the Earth.)
  3. Field guides for looking up interesting finds on the spot.
  4. A roll of masking tape for when kids want to tape something in their journal.
  5. A field bag or backpack to carry your supplies and keep your hands free.

With this kit, you'll be all set.

Art lesson: Nature journal

Published by Lori Pickert on March 29, 2008 at 02:33 PM


Nature Journal Posts

Nature journaling: supplies

Make a field bag from recycled clothing

Watercolor techniques

Drawing outdoors

Get closer to wildlife at the nature center

Watercolor prints

• • • • •

Spring has arrived and our homeschool art class is moving outdoors.

We'll be working on a long warm-months natural journaling project.

If you're following along at home, you will need a sketchbook, pencil, colored pencils, watercolors (I like Prang), and an old water bottle.

First step will be to make a field bag to carry our supplies!

While you're going through the winter clothes and deciding what to discard or donate, keep an eye out for an old pair of jeans or khakis — they make awesome bags. Check in next week for instructions!

• • • • •

If you send me a link, I will make a blogroll of people who are in our virtual class. And don't forget to join the Camp Creek Art Flickr group! All you need to participate in Flickr is a Yahoo e-mail. Any questions? E-mail me!

Sharing our work

Published by Lori Pickert on March 19, 2008 at 01:06 AM


Domesticali shares her experience observational drawing as a family — check it out!

Visiting the museum with children

Published by Lori Pickert on March 8, 2008 at 04:05 PM


This week I took my homeschool art class to the museum to draw.

We walked around and looked at some of the exhibits, then we headed for a part of the museum with a few large bronze sculptures that the children could touch.


We sat down and drew.


First: contour drawings. Choose a spot. This is your perspective. Draw your contour.


Contour drawing helps us slow down, pay attention to the way things really look, and gets our hand used to drawing what our eye sees.


When we had produced a contour drawing we were happy with, we moved on to doing an observational drawing.


The sculptures were very large. Some children drew the whole sculpture,

mu-j-sculpt.jpg mu-j-obs.jpg

but most concentrated on a particular part. It's best to start with your favorite detail and then, if you have time, you can sketch in the things around it.




My tips for visiting the museum with children:

Take your time.

Choose one spot to concentrate on and branch out from there if you have time. (Just like drawing!)

The experience is more important than how much of the museum you see. (Process over product!)

Be clear about the rules (no touching walls or artwork, etc.) — discuss them before you go, and take time before you start browsing to discuss them again.

Talk about what you see together! Model asking good questions, and model looking for answers. Wonder aloud. Read signs. Ask questions of the museum staff.

Prepare before the visit. Talk about what you might see. Wonder aloud together. You don't need to tell them everything — you can talk about it afterward, comparing their expectations to what really happened.

Bring a notebook and pencil, even if you aren't there to draw, for note-taking. Get your child in the habit of drawing and making notes about important things he or she sees — to share later with another parent or family member, perhaps. (Or your dog — dogs love art.) Even pre-readers can make notes that they will be able to refer to and "read back" later.

Pick up free brochures, exhibit cards, etc., at the desk for your child to add to her notebook later at home.

Talking about the visit beforehand, taking your time, taking notes, reliving it later at home — all of these things add up to a more fully realized, more meaningful experience that they will remember for a long time. Reflecting on the experience deepens their understanding and exponentially increases their learning.


My tips for drawing at the museum:

Pack light. Small bag with notebooks, pencils, enclosed pencil sharpeners, white erasers.

Choose your drawing spots carefully, to be out of the way yet not against a wall, with a good view of what the children want to draw.

If children will be sitting on the floor, make sure they can see their subject clearly from there.

Often the large, touchable sculptures are either in the entry, near the entry, or off in an alcove. Go to the front desk and ask if there are any large sculptures or other exhibits that can be touched.

Concentrate on plain pencil and paper. Later, after a good deal of drawing practice, consider adding colored pencils. (Color tends to distract when children are initially building their skills.)

Take photographs of what your child is drawing, from their perspective.

If you have been following along with these art lessons, try a contour drawing first. It can settle a child into working quietly and purposefully, and their observational drawings will reflect this preliminary attention to outlines.

Go back! As I've said before, there is beauty in repetition. If you make the museum a familiar place, it will be easier for your child to settle and enjoy drawing there rather than chomping at the bit to see more. Take your time and walk around for awhile before sitting to draw (and there will always be new exhibits, even if you've visited before). Don't be afraid to do the same thing over and over — it's how we grow.

Related stuff:

Art lesson: Observational Drawing

Benefits of observational drawing

Observational drawing with the young and/or reluctant: tips

Sharing our work: Observational drawings

Observational drawing: Where do we go from here

Art lesson: Blind-contour drawing

Art lesson: Contour drawing

Art lesson: Contour drawing

Published by Lori Pickert on March 1, 2008 at 01:26 PM


contour drawing by J, age 9

Last week we did some blind contour drawing, using a paper plate on our pencil so we couldn't see our paper — we kept our eye on the outline of what we were drawing and let our hand follow along.

We then followed up with a regular observational drawing. Our observational drawings are improving dramatically after just a few classes. The children are getting into the habit of looking for more detail before I ask them (nag them), "Do you see another detail you can add?" When they say "I'm done!", they really do have a mostly completed drawing to show me.

Blind contour drawing forces us to slow down and really look hard at the outline of what we're drawing; afterward, their observational drawings show how much attention they had given to the object they were drawing.

This week we tossed away the paper plates (metaphorically) and did some contour drawing.

Once again we started by talking about outlines. We drew backpacks during class, so I held up a backpack and had one of the students come up and trace and major lines with her finger while we all talked about it. Then we were ready to draw.



• Try to draw the outline of all the major parts of the backpack with one long line — no stopping and starting.

• It's okay to glance at the page to make sure your lines are going where they're supposed to go, but try to mostly keep looking at what you are drawing.

• This is not an observational drawing — don't stop and add details. Just keep going forward and outline the big/important elements.

• Your line needs to be strong and go straight ahead like a slow freight train — it's fine to draw over the lines that are already there.

• No coloring in or filling in — just do the outline.

• Draw big! Try to fill your whole paper.


Since this is the first time we were doing this type of drawing, I did some "that's great, but let's start again on this side of the paper and this time..." encouragement as I walked the room.

I always tell the kids that sketching is practicing and we will usually put more than one drawing on a page. If they have an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper and they are making a drawing that is about the size of a pack of cards, I will encourage them to just draw it again in an empty part of the paper. If they are drawing a large object very small, then I will ask them to try to draw it larger.

In the same vein, when I emphasize that sketching is practicing, I don't say or imply "you're doing it wrong" — I say "great, now do it again and change this or that". When they are doing an observational drawing of a small object, I flip it over or around so they can draw it from a different perspective. If they tend to draw very lightly, I might ask them to do another one with big strong lines. Sketching, I tell them, is about trying a lot of different things.


J, age 9, contour drawing, first attempt



second attempt


E, age 7, contour drawing

Contour drawing, like blind contour drawing, is about drawing the outline of something as it really looks. Many of the children made a first attempt, then we talked about the results, then they made a second attempt. Most of them needed at least two tries to figure out trying to draw the whole thing in one line. We talked about using an etch-a-sketch — how you just go over another line or through the empty part to get to the next thing you are going to draw.


Left to right: first attempt at contour drawing, second attempt, final observational drawing, by E, age 6

After we finished our contour drawings, we did an observational drawing. You can see the children used the information they gathered during the contour drawing to improve their observational drawings.


observational drawing by Jack, age 8


Related stuff:

Art lesson: Blind Contour Drawing

Art lesson: Observational Drawing

Benefits of observational drawing

Displaying children's art

Published by Lori Pickert on February 29, 2008 at 11:11 PM


My friend Jo asked me if I had anything to contribute to this delightful post at the Cookie Nesting blog on kids' art displays. I didn't manage to send her anything because I've been a little swamped.

(Also, when anyone asks me for something, instead of rifling through my photos and immediately sending something in, I tend to think "oh, that won't do .. I need to take new photos" and "I'll wait until the light is brighter" and etc. and etc.)

So, up above is my favorite way we displayed children's art at the T.P.S. — in a hanging room divider of plexiglass frames. These are two pieces of plexi sandwiched together with two pieces of art in the middle — so you can see something different on each side. We drilled holes in the corners and used circle clips to attach them together and make a huge display, but you could easily have the plexi cut smaller (they will cut it for you at the hardware store) and hang them singly or maybe three in a row vertically. A smaller version would look beautiful hanging in a window.

And here are some of my favorite kid art displays from my peeps:

Estea's houses on the windowsill, rickrack art line, and wire book/art display shelf.

Geninne's son Daniel's window art

Kajsa's beautiful kid art line in the kitchen

Eren's drying rack gallery display

And, technically this isn't kids' art, but what a great display idea:

Hannah's little brother's stop sign as magnet board (awesome!) (totally stealing this for the boys' rooms!)

Let me know if you have something cool to share!


Art lesson: Wire sculpture, part 1

Published by Lori Pickert on February 25, 2008 at 03:04 PM


It's always interesting starting off a class with a large group of kids of various ages (5 to 12) and various previous art experience. They all come to the class with different expectations, different ideas, different biases, and different approaches.

Observational drawing is a great leveler. It gets us all looking at more or less the same thing and talking about the same thing — paying attention, drawing what we see.

Last week we did some blind contour drawing and we talked a lot about lines and outlines. We tried to follow things very carefully with our eyes and not look at our hands or the paper at all. The results were very interesting.

This week we started off with another blind contour drawing and we talked more about lines.

We talked about points, lines, planes, and cubes — when is something two-dimensional and when is it three dimensional? (Some good talk about 3D movies and things here — I remember cutting 3D glasses from the back of a cereal box, but then I'm about a hundred years old.)

While we talked, we drew. And after we finished our blind contour drawings and talked about them, we did an observational drawing. All in all, we completed our drawings in under 15 minutes.

Today we are working with wire, a great thing to start with after you've been talking so much about lines. With wire we can make linear two-dimensional works or three-dimensional sculptures. Each child was given several pieces of wire about 12 inches long.

I have a big cache of leftover wire cable that was used for running telephone and computer lines in our school. Most of it comes in cable form, and I use wire cutters to trim away the plastic from each section so I can pull the wires out.


You can buy this sort of wire at an art supply store like Dick Blick, however it is quite pricey (to me — but then, I am very cheap). You might want to ask around and see if a friend — or a friend of a friend — has access to some wire from a telephone, cable, or construction business. You don't need much.

This type of wire is easy to bend and form, soft and easy to cut with safety scissors, not likely to poke yourself (or a friend) with, and quite colorful.

We have also made great use of the type of wire that you can buy on plastic spools at the hardware store; it is very inexpensive. You can buy silver or copper wire of various thicknesses — as slender as a hair or so thick you can barely bend it. (The thicker the wire, the sharper the ends when you cut it and the more easily you can poke yourself and get hurt.)

This type of wire is easy to find, inexpensive, available in a variety of thicknesses, and comes in limited colors. I prefer it for doing more advanced work, because with color out of the equation they tend to focus more on form. The thicker wire has an entirely different look and feel, and it can hold its shape much more easily.


We are starting with telephone wire, and in this first lesson we will first review safety measures:

• Wire is sharp on the ends and can poke you or the person next to you — be careful!

• Don't whip your wire around in the air or throw it.

Keep the wire pieces 12 inches or shorter (no longer than, say, a pipe cleaner) to make it more difficult for a child to poke themselves in the eye. Still, this activity requires supervision! Some of us do like to crouch over our work.

Now we will enjoy some free exploration of the material. Everyone has their wire; they can do with it what they will. They will bend it, wrap it around things, see how well it holds its shape, twist pieces together, etc. We talk while we work and play — about what we are making and what the wire can do. I bring extra wire to anyone who needs it. If I can, I will sit and play with the wire beside them.

If someone does something interesting, I ask them to show it to the group.

Today, we simply play and explore. Next week, we'll extend our work and do a more involved project.


See also:

Working with wire

Adventures in wire continue

More fun with wire