We began our new ‘Landscape’ topic last week.  We kicked off with a stand alone session (around 45 mins to 1 hour) to introduce the children to the idea of landscape drawing, perspective and colour mixing.

The children worked in pairs at first and were given a print out of a landscape scene that had been cut into eight strips.  They arranged the strips so that it made a complete picture and then push every other one up slightly.  One child took the strips which had been pushed up and the other child took those that remained.  They then arranged them on a sheet of A4 paper, leaving gaps between each one (remembering to keep them in the correct order!).  Once they were happy with the arrangement they glued them down using Pritt Stick.

The next stage was to use pencils to roughly sketch in the missing lines.  They looked at the mountains and imagined the shape of those that weren’t there so that they all joined together.  Then they did the same for the shore line, tree line, clouds and rocks.  We tried to keep this part quite brief so as to leave time for the fun colouring bit.  Once most children had their outlines sketched in I took them through how to use water colour pencils.  Again, I kept this quite short as one of the purposes of this session was for the children to experiment themselves.

They set to with the pencils, using different shades and tones to build up colour to match the strips on either side.  They experimented with using black to darken a shade and found that this needed to be done with a lightness of touch!  They also found that sometimes colours occurred that they would not necessarily expect, for example, purple in the sky or yellow in the grass.  It was a bit of a rush to get them finished in one session but I think they have done a great job!


This was a two week project with each session lasting around 45 minutes.

Session One

The children were each given a lump of clay and told to roll it into a ball and then squish it down with the heel of their hand. Once it was slightly flattened, they rolled it out further using a rolling pin to the thickness of approximately 2 £1 coins (be careful that they don’t roll them too thinly as they will break when dry). They then placed a paper plate on the top to use as a template and cut around the edges to create a disc. Using a sheet of cling film to stop the clay sticking to the plate they carefully placed the clay disc on the paper plate and pressed around the sides to gently mould it into a plate shape with raised edges. Once this was in place they were free to decorate the plate in anyway they wanted. They were given some ideas such as stripes, circles, spirals but they really enjoyed the opportunity to get create and do their own thing using a range of mark making tools provided. Once complete, the plates were left to dry.

Session Two

The children used acrylic paints to decorate their plates. We talked about planning a colour scheme and putting some thought into which colours they would use. For instance, would they stick to a ‘family’ of colours or would they use a wider range of hues? We also talked about the necessity to paint the background colours in first with a larger brush then the details on top using a thinner brush. The children all took great care in using the paint to enhance their patterns and make them really come to life. I love how each plate is completely unique and tells us something about its creator.

Our Art Explorers have been busy making these fantastic cup cake shaped pots this week. Read on to see how we differentiated for all ages…

They all began by making the base by creating a ‘thumb-pot’ within a silicone cup cake mould. We found that this worked best if the clay was not over-worked. Once it became warm and soft it was more of a challenge to take it our of the case. In most cases, adult help was required to peel away the mould from the clay, leaving a cup-cake base shaped pot.

All children then set to work on the lids by rolling out a flat piece of clay and cutting around the circumference of the silicone mould to create a disc. Our groups with very young children then used clay tools to work directly onto this disc, adding patterns, decorations and ‘sprinkles’. They had a bit of help to curve the edges slightly to create the appearance of a muffin. We found that this was more than enough level of challenge for the five and six year-olds.

Decorating a ‘muffin-style’ lid
Taking care to join add-ons carefully!

For the older groups (7+), we showed them how to roll coils using the flat of their palms. Some who were new to clay needed some help to get theirs going. Once the coils were rolled we showed them how to score the clay to ensure that both sides stick together when dry. They also used small amounts of water to smooth the clay pieces together. Once the coils were in position the children got creative, adding decorations such as sprinkles, flakes or cherries. They needed a lot of reminding at this point to score even the little pieces! They also used the clay tools to add details. After a quick once over from an adult to ensure that all parts were properly attached, they were left to dry, ready for painting with acrylics next week.

Dampening a coil ready for joining

Last week our after school club children had lots of fun experimenting with mark making in clay. Using shoes to make the patterns caused much hilarity! Here’s what we did:

First the children were given a lump of air dry clay to squish and squeeze until it warmed up in their hand and became easier to manipulate. Then they used rolling pins to roll the clay out to approximately the thickness of a £1 coin. Each child took off one shoe and we had a look at the patterns on the soles. I had taken a packet of wipes along so that any mud could be removed! Once the shoes were ready to go the children pressed them into the clay and carefully removed them to see the pattern it had made. They then passed their shoes around and had a go with a different pattern. Once their clay was covered in patterns they took a circular cutter and selected their favourite areas to cut out.

Those that wanted to be able to hang them used a pencil to make a hole in the top. I provided them with a range of mark making tools to allow them to enhance the patterns further if they wished, adding borders and details. They all got onto such a roll with this that they ended up with a whole plateful of medallions each to take home! I told them that once the clay had dried they could decorate them using acrylic paint. Many of them did this at home, which is fantastic! It’s lovely to see the learning continuing outside of our sessions.

Happy New Year!

I hope you had a lovely Christmas break.  The topic for the coming half term at Art explorers is Clay so I will be spending the next few days getting all of the materials and tools ready and distributed to our club leaders.   Clay topics are always lots of fun and children take great pride in what they produce.  It is a good way to show children that that there is more to art than drawing and is particularly good for those who struggle with the fine motor skills involved with holding pencils and brushes.   We are trying a couple of new projects this time which will incorporate both mark-making and moulding and hopefully produce some great results.   We use air-drying clay for our clay work which you can buy in Hobbycraft or online, should your child wish to continue their clay journey at home.  It takes a couple of days to dry out and harden and then it can be painted.  We use acrylic paints in our classes as they sit on the surface of the clay and have a lovely sheen rather than soaking into the surface.   I will be sharing these projects with you here over the next few weeks should you need some inspiration or ideas so please check back in a week or so.  Now, off to round up some mark-making ‘stuff’…

I have recently returned from a trip to Vienna where I was lucky enough to visit the Hundertwasser House and Museum.  I must admit that I did not know a huge amount about the work of Friedensreich Hundertwasser before this, other than seeing pictures of the amazing Humdertwasser House (see below)c5c8a59fe4694e1cf53dd810bfa6830e

The house is certainly a high point of any visit to Vienna but it is in the museum where I really began to find out more about this fascinating artist.  Looking at his  fantastical, dream-like  paintings , created with beautiful, vibrant colours, my main thought was, ‘my Art Explorers would LOVE this.’

On returning home I did a bit of research and found ‘Harvesting Dreams- Hundertwasser For Kids’ by Barbara Stieff (Prestel).  I was hoping for a bit more background about the artist and his paintings but this book is much more than that.  It is written for children but is in no way patronising and is a great and informative read for adults too. It is under-pinned by the importance of creativity in all its forms and sets about challenging the reader to think creatively, as Hundertwasser did throughout his life.  It takes the reader through the whole of the artist’s life, beginning in war time Vienna.  Each chapter relates to a different aspect of Hundertwasser’s creative output and also sets the reader creative challenges such as creating your own symbol, changing your name or designing a dream home.  These are brilliant starting points for creative thinking and would be great fun for adults and children to explore together.

The book takes us on a journey though the artists’s very unusual life and shows children that there are many interesting paths their lives could take.  It brings together aspects of visual art, nature, architecture and travel and presents a world view that challenges the status quo.  At the back of the book there are lots of ideas for practical activities that tie in with themes in the book. In a world where the education children receive at school is increasingly narrowing it seems that we could all do with a bit of Hundertwasser in our lives.


This week in our holiday clubs we have been focusing on still life drawing, using both pencil and chalk pastel.  We have quite an age range in these clubs (from 5 – 11) and so the challenge is always to come up with something accessible for the younger ones while also offering challenge to the older children.  As a bit of an experiment, I decided to let them build their own still life composition rather than restricting them to one I had already set out for them.  I took in a range of pumpkins and squashes of different shapes, sizes and colours, along with a selection of autumn leaves and conkers.  I set them all out on a separate table and told the children that they could pick one out, take it to the table and draw it and then return it and select another.  In this way they would gradually build up their own composition.

There are some downsides to this approach.  For example, it is hard for them to compare the sizes of the objects if they only have one in front of them at a time.  It is also a little tricky for them to think of the composition as whole as they are gradually adding to it.  However, despite these issues, I found that working in this way really freed most of the children up and seemed to minimise the stress that some children can feel when presented with a complicated selection of objects.  This method broke it down into much easier to handle chunks.  Some children actually went to to create quite complex compositions. thinking about layering and creating depth.  It seemed that, because they were selecting the objects themselves, they felt much more empowered to give it their best go.

The children were all very pleased with their results at the end of the two hours.

Using Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ as inspiration, the children in our art clubs have been busy making collages this week.  It has been very nice to see how they have brought in elements from previous sessions to enhance their work.  It is always heartening as a teacher to see children remembering what they have learnt and using this knowledge to reach for new heights.

One of the biggest challenges in this project was for the children to grasp the concept of layering.  This was particularly key here as by far the easiest approach was to put in the table and background first, followed by the vase and then finally the flowers.  Some children really struggled with this idea of working from the bottom up and as a result found that they had to fill in around their beautiful flowers to create a background.  Not impossible, but certainly challenging! I guess that, because the flowers were the main feature of the painting, it was those that they couldn’t wait to get started on, despite my frequent reminders to ‘do the background first’!

Not to worry, however, they all produced lovely work in the end.  It was pleasing to see that they all had the creative confidence to use the original painting as a starting point but take it in their own direction.  So many of them asked, ‘Can we do other flowers as well as sunflowers?’ and ‘Can we do our own background?’.  I wholeheartedly encourage this sort of open ended thinking so of course the answer was a resounding yes.  I hope you love them as much as me!

Work by children aged 5 – 7


One of the things I strive for most when planning our art sessions is to create a framework that allows children to create work they are pleased with and also encourages them to think independently and take their own path.  This can be a fine balancing act. Too much freedom in the ‘brief’ and they can easily lose their way and end up with a finished piece that they are not 100% happy with.  Whilst on the other hand, if the guidance is too specific and prescribed, creativity is stifled and it becomes more a test of following instructions rather than an opportunity for self expression.

I like to think that our most recent work has achieved this balance.  The creation of the pop-up element of the ‘Van Gogh Chair’ meant that every child began with roughly the same template.  From this starting point they were already all on a trajectory towards success.  Providing a range of inspiring collage papers also helped to spark their imagination.  I provided pens and pencils so that they could draw if they wished but this wasn’t essential – collage on its own was also fine.  I think that this flexibility helped all children feel confident that they could create what they wanted in their own way and removed the stress that some children feel when asked to draw something specific.

They all worked so quietly for this project, completely lost in creating a miniature world of their own.  Seated around a large table, they were also able to take inspiration from each other (something I encourage – I am trying to teach them that this is not ‘copying’ and that they should be flattered if someone else likes their idea).  The creative juices were really flowing for this topic.  Nearly every child came up with original ideas and it was lovely to see them developing their problem solving skills along the way.   They couldn’t wait to take them home to show their families.


Our new collage topic is underway in our after school and home education groups.  We have eased the children into the new term with a simple, one session activity that introduced them to some of the possibilities of collage.  In preparation for this lesson, I visited a travel agent (thankfully still on our local high street!) and managed to get a donation of lots of old holiday brochures that could be cut up.  Some of the children also brought along print outs of photos from their own holidays to add a personal touch.

Each child was given a piece of A5 card which I had folded in half.  They were told that they were going to use the brochures and photos to create a scene either reminiscent of their own holiday or of a fantasy holiday destination.  Many children, in the end, opted for a combination of the two.  Firstly they created their backgrounds, thinking about the setting.  Would it be a beach scene?  In the mountains? In a forest, or perhaps a city? Some children chose to also use pens to add details at this point which was fine by me.

Once the background was created I showed them how to make the ‘pop up’ element.  We did this by selecting individual buildings, animals, people or natural features from the brochures and gluing them onto some card.  Then they needed to carefully cut them out (this is great practice for cutting skills and challenged even some older children), remembering to leave a tab at the bottom that could be folded and stuck onto the postcard.  I demonstrated how to make sure it fitted into the postcard when flat by lining it up before gluing and checking the positioning.

Once they had the idea, they got very absorbed in making their pop ups and some of the more able children even started to think about perspective, placing larger things near the front and smaller things behind.  If they couldn’t find a picture of what they wanted to pop up in the brochures? No worries, they grabbed the pens and drew it themselves! A lovely example of building confidence and artistic expression. I think you’ll agree that they did a great job!