Welcome to Barnesville School

As part of the second grade unit on community, students took the opportunity to talk about the community we have right here at school. We spent two class periods traveling to nine different sites on campus and drawing what we observed with clipboards and pencils in hand. Back in the art room, each student was assigned one of the nine places we visited and given a large sheet of paper. Using their sketches, students created an enlarged version of their drawings. The finished artworks explore such places as the front office, the lunchroom, and the playground.

A final component of the project was a “yearbook,” composed of drawings that featured each person that works at Barnesville School. Using printed photos from our online directory, students drew everyone from the music teacher to the admissions director.

Cloud Studies by 5th Grade


This three part project, first introduced students to a variety of watercolor techniques. Using the sky as our inspiration students practiced these techniques, while sitting outside in our outdoor classroom. Back in the art room, we looked at different types of clouds and talked about where they “live” in the sky (some are up high while others lie closer to the horizon). We also looked at the watercolors of the great British painter J.M.W. Turner. In his cloud and sea studies, we find loose, energetic, and abstract paintings not at all in alignment with popular painting practices of the time. Field painting, along with scientific and historical references, come together in the final watercolors seen here.

Next, students used paint swatches to create cloud collages. They then learned to mix various grays and blues to match their paint swatch colors as closely as possible. While they were mixing these colors they took careful notes inside of their sketchbooks, much like a recipe book for color.
With their recipes in hand, students moved on to the final phase of the cloud studies, an acrylic painting on canvas. Adapting some of the techniques from watercolor, such as wet into wet and dry brush, students built these paintings up layer by layer. These invented “skyscapes” are rooted in observation, but touched with a playful and surprising quality known best to the imagination.

Multiples, Still Life Drawings by 8th Grade


This project asked students to choose from three still life drawing prompts:

-trace one or more objects 10 or more times, with overlapping and shading

-photograph 10 or more of the same or different objects with overlapping, then draw from your photograph

-photograph 20 or more objects with no overlapping, then draw from your photograph

Students learned to shade with a variety of values, layering graphite rather than adjusting pressure to create darker areas. Likewise, we discussed how to use the weight of a line (whether it is thick or thin) to imply value and a sense of the object’s weight in relation to other things in the image. The quality of the shading, whether it is rough or smooth, was used to suggest the texture of different elements in the image. Finally, understanding where the light source is coming from proved especially challenging as students completing option one needed to invent shadows that were realistic and convincing.

An Art Teacher Goes Abroad

When the opportunity to accompany four of my students to Peru this summer arose, I was more than thrilled (if not also a little apprehensive) to take on the role of “chaperone.” Almost as soon as the school year had ended, my students and I, along with four other adolescents and their chaperone from Green Acres, boarded our plane and set off for Lima.

The trip, an exchange really, places students with host families for three weeks. Two of those weeks they attend school at Leonardo Da Vinci, while the other week is spent visiting Machu Picchu, Cuzco, and the abundance of archeological sites in the region. Like many chaperones to come before me, it was this latter week that I envisioned as the highlight of the trip. That week, which I now affectionately refer to as “the summer of rocks,” was indeed an experience of a lifetime.

But something else marvelous and magical happened on this trip, quite organically and without any hype:


This here is a bottle cap mosaic. During one of my first days roaming the campus of Leonardo, I came across a large collection of colorful bottle caps. They filled a glass aquarium (something I find particularly amusing looking back), and overflowed into a series of plastic containers. All of this sat in a kind of enclave, seemingly designed to house a large flower pot or sculpture. In this regard, I almost immediately read the collection of caps as a contemporary art installation. My second thought took me to the Maker Space at my own school, where we have our own collections of objects, occasionally in such large quantities that I am left perplexed as to why anyone would have accumulated so many foam snowmen, monographed stickers, or metallic pizza trays. But I digress.

Mosaics had been on my mind for a while. Some of the best projects I can recall from my early teaching days had been mosaics. Like these:


The tree and the flower were made by a group of 3, 4, and 5 year olds during my days as a preschool art teacher. Students were free to meander through “centers” like math, science, reading, and my own “art studio”, spending anywhere from one minute to one hour. This choice-based approach (which I have written about in a previous post), is a great way of getting students excited about learning because it cultivates curiosity and autonomy over the monolithic culture that dominates the majority of classrooms in the United States and elsewhere. In the art studio, Choice lends itself well to collaborative projects because it is centered around process. Students can contribute however much or little they want, but they are all investing something towards a larger goal. And the contribution is authentic, enthusiastic, and un-forced.

Despite having  a huge supply of ceramic mosaic pieces in my current classroom, and having successfully made collaboration a cornerstone of my teaching philosophy,  in my first year at Barnesville the list was long and those ceramic bits sat waiting for another year. The idea, however–to facilitate another collaborative mosaic–would not.

As chance would have it, the same day I came across the bottle caps, one of the English teachers at Leonardo asked if I might be interested in doing an art project with her sixth graders. Not only that, she wondered if I might somehow use the bottle caps. I enthusiastically agreed and the bottle cap mosaic was born.

In another twist of fate, the sixth graders were entering a unit on the environment, a passion of mine and a theme I return to frequently with my own students. The bottle caps lent themselves so well to a conversation about plastic in our oceans, and it was from that conversation (and some help from the internet) that project planning for an ocean-themed mosaic emerged.

Students sort caps by color.

Operating on a limited time frame, I recycled a lecture (I use that term loosely) from a previous lesson, which discussed how artists use data, or “visualize data” to make work that engages with some of the most pressing issues facing our world. In this case, the issue is water pollution, the data is how much plastic is dumped into the ocean (more than 8 tons per year), and the artwork is a mosaic made out of plastic and a snapshot of the ocean.


Barnesville and Green Acres students, along with the sixth grade class. Our students helped with various aspects of the project. 

What I love about this project is how it functions simultaneously as a celebration of the diversity of life and beauty within the ocean and as a warning of how human activity is threatening this natural resource. As students worked sorting and gluing the caps, it seemed there was a never ending supply. Even when we ran out of yellow, it happened that one of the host families was connected with the Inca Kola factory, and the very next day they brought in a large plastic bag filled exclusively with yellow caps. I was at once thrilled to submerge my hands into the pool of caps, and alarmed by how easily they were acquired.

The prevalence of plastic in our lives has become such that it is hard to envision a time when it did not exist. In truth, plastic as we know it today came about less than a century ago as a result of one of the most deadly wars in history. While great measures have been taken to encourage the recycling of plastics, the process is costly and fails to address the need for more biodegradable alternatives.

One of the most effective ways of changing the way plastic is regarded (cheap, disposable, efficient) is by simply drawing attention to its pervasiveness. The speed at which we were able to collect and create this artwork documents the powerful role plastic plays in our lives, and in a more nuanced way, underscores how the rampant use of plastic communicates our values as a society.

Art can become the platform for changing how we see and think about the things that have become engrained in our daily lives. Put more simply, art makes us tourists in our own lives. From this unique vantage point, we can begin to do the work of deciding what sorts of objects, people, relationships, and values we want for those lives.




Google Doodles by 8th

Eighth graders began this project with a screening of the documentary, Home. This film looks at how climate change is affecting our planet’s natural resources and in turn our earth’s population.

Each student then chose from a variety of issues related to climate change, including efforts to stop global warming. With their topic in hand, they created a Google Doodle inspired by their issue.

Silhouette Drawings & Cyanotypes

Fourth grade learned about Victorian Era silhouette art. This popular and affordable style of portraiture required only a black piece of paper, scissors, and careful observation on the part of the artist. Some artists even built elaborate machines to make the process easier. Students used Makerspace to invent their own machines for capturing each other’s silhouettes. Then, using pictures taken in profile, students cut out their silhouettes and traced them to white paper. They filled their images with words that describe themselves.

With the advent of photography, silhouette art became less popular. One of the most direct ways to capture a photograph is a method called cyanotyping. All it requires is paper coated with the correct chemicals, an object, and 30 minutes in the sun. Students cut their silhouettes once again, this time out of black paper. We lay the cut silhouettes on top of the cyanotype paper and left them in the sun. The silhouettes act as a kind of stencil, preventing light from passing through to the paper. After 30 minutes the paper is washed in water to remove any residual chemicals, and left to dry. Some students added leaves and other natural materials to their cyanotypes as a kind of wallpaper to their image.    



Sun Dance Skulls by 2nd

The Sun Dance is an important tradition among the Lakota-Sioux. This dance takes place during the summer and is a celebration of the gifts of the year. Because the buffalo provide an abundance of food and materials for clothing and shelter, the skull of the buffalo is an important part of the ritual. Often adorned with paint and feathers, these skulls are transformed into works of art.

Using an armature of cardboard and tape, second graders used plaster gauze to create their own buffalo skulls. They then used acrylic paint to add color and pattern.