Teaching the Elements of Art: Space

Recently in art class, we did a short activity to explore the concept of positive and negative space in art. We began with the prompt “you’d be surprised to know _____ about me”. We were supposed to use that prompt to come up with something our classmates wouldn’t know about us, and then cut out a shape to represent that thing.

I chose to cut out a silhouette of me riding a camel, since few of my classmates knew I rode a camel while working in Niger in 2010/2011.


Once we had the cutouts, we took either the positive space (cutout) or negative space (outline of cutout) to trace our outline. We needed to make sure we got pastel both on and around the edges. I used the positive space for my outline (see left image below).


Once we had traced around our cutout, we moved the cutout to a blank space on the paper and smeared the pastel off of the edges using a piece of paper towel (see right image below).


The end result was two outlines, one made by tracing the cut out with pastel and one made by smearing the pastel off of the cutout.


We also did a few other activities that explored the use of space in art, especially when it comes to differentiating between the foreground, middle, and background.

For example, we attempted a vanishing point activity,

and sampled several other ways techniques for emphasizing space, or perspective, in art. I’ve included her examples/directions, followed by my version, below.


While there are a variety of ways artists can use space in their work, I chose Malaysia-based graphic designer Tang Yau Hoong as my mentor artist for space because of his unique use of negative space in his work.

Possible Mediums To Explore the Disciplines of Art with a Grade One Class

There are copious ways to explore the disciplines of art with young students. Below, I’ve outlined three possible ways you could allow a grade one class to try out each discipline.


Use sharpies or crayons to draw on eggs or rocks, then dip in dye or paint.

Cut out a picture from a magazine then add your own elements using felts.

An oldie but a goody Bobracha – #sky #knight

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Let kids “draw” on a scratchboard using a stick.


Make puffy paint.

Using alternative objects as paintbrushes.

Tape lines/shapes/words on canvas then let kids finger paint. Once paint is dry, remove tape.


Press leaves into clay

Make a imprint in styrofoam (with pen or pencil), then use it as a stamp

Dip string in paint and place on half of paper, then fold paper to make mirror image.


Make play dough.

Make a paper mache object (for example, a mask).

Make an abstract sculpture out of pipe cleaner and styrofoam and knick-knacks.

Mixed Media

Take a photo and then doodle on it using a tablet.

Make a texture collage.

Make and/or Decorate Cookies.

New Media

Make light up drawings using conductive tape and LED stickers (teacher can then connect battery). 

Make a sound garden.

Make “pixel art” in Minecraft.

I love sharing resources, so if you come across any great art activities that introduce one of these key disciplines please share it in the comments below.

Teaching the Elements of Art: Texture

Our art instructor has encouraged us to find a mentor artist to refer back to as we explore each of the elements of art. For studying texture I’ve examined two artists who both arrange objects in order to form their own creation; Andy Goldsworthy arranged nature to form his own original pieces, while Bernard Pras uses “trash” to remake classic or well known images (see video below).

In class, we did several texture based exercises. For the first exercise, we walked around the school gathering several crayon rubbings of different textures.

14489634_10157534832105387_55820871_oOnce we had several different textures, our instructor asked us to cut up the textures and arrange them however we wanted to on half of a small piece of paper. We were then asked to attempt to draw our texture arrangement on the other side of the page.


Before we began our next activity, our instructor quickly flipped through The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle to show us how he cuts and arranges his finger paintings into a collaged story. Then, we took our finger paintings from last week and looked for specific shapes and textures in the pages. We then cut out any spots that stood out to us and arranged them on a piece of construction paper (of any size).


While in many ways this activity wasn’t much different from the typical ladybug craft many teachers will do after reading Carle’s work, our instructor prompted us to allow kids to create their own problems, rather than just just giving them a problem and asking them to solve it.

Finger Painting with Different Sensory Preferences

Our second art class focused on learning styles and how to appeal to different sensory preferences when we teach. Loosely drawing from Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, we examined four major sensory preferences. Below, I’ve outlined those sensory preferences using some of the descriptions provided by our instructor.

Visual – neat, organized, calm, detail-oriented, works slowly, sometimes labelled as “fussy” or “neurotic”, wants quiet while working, worried about “flaws,” loves colour and detail in art.

Auditory -processes verbally (speaking out), learns through discussion, tends to work quickly, enjoys auditory elements in artwork (graphic novels, comics) and beautiful sounding language (poetry).

Tactual – touchy-feely, loves symbolism, looks for deeper meaning, wants to be comfortable (wants teacher to like them), communal learner, wants you to model directions, enjoys texture in art.

Kinesthetics – learns through movement/action, doesn’t care about mood of the room/teacher, risk-taker, can seem chaotic, struggles with detail, works quickly, involves whole body in activities, may enjoy the experience of making art more than the outcome.

Through our discussion, many of us were able to guess which sensory preference(s) we had and would be most likely to use in the classroom. Our instructor then led us through the same activity (finger painting colour transitions) using multiple approaches in order to appeal to each sensory preference. In each corner of the room a table was set up in a way that prioritized different sensory experiences.

The visual learner table provided  tools and gloves so that students wouldn’t be forced to actually touch the paint with their hands.

The auditory learner table was stationed near the computer, where they could choose music to play while they worked.

The tactual learner table focused on texture. Instead of painting directly on the paper, this station allowed students to paint directly on the table, then press their paper onto the paint like a reversed stamp.

The kinesthetic learner table had no chairs, so students could stand and move around as they painted.

I began the activity at the kinesthetic table. Although I love standing during activities and fully immersing my hands in the paint, I wasn’t able to produce the kind of texture I was looking for. In the photos below, you can see how my attempt to pile up the paint in sections only soaked through the paper and didn’t do much to create the illusion of texture from far away.

Once I moved to the tactual table I was able to produce much more satisfying results. By pressing the paper (very gently) against the pain smears I had made on the table, I made a much more effective textured look.

I really appreciated the opportunity to see how one activity can be set up in multiple ways for multiple sensory experiences, however, I think the tactual table was too different from the other stations. While I do consider myself a very tactual learner, I imagine that the opportunity to paint directly onto the table was appealing even for students with very little tactual preference. It was a great reminder of how difficult it may be to create equally appealing sensory experiences for students who don’t share my sensory preference.

Holistic Art Experiences: Reflection

We began our first art class activity by reading The Dot by Peter Reynolds. Reynolds’ story follows Vashti, a young girl who doesn’t think she’s artistic, but is encouraged to explore her own creative angle by a teacher who refuses to doubt her creative ability. 

Using this story as a prompt, our art instructor encouraged us to break into small groups to experiment with a variety of materials on a large piece of paper. Afterwards we brought our posters to the middle of the room and offered a few “non-judgemental critiques” of the other groups.

My group’s collaborative effort.


For the second half of our activity, we were encouraged to create our own individual pieces using smaller pieces of paper.


This was also followed by “non-judgemental critiques”. For this reflection, we were encouraged to consider if this type of activity could be considered a “holistic arts experience”.

I appreciated the instructor’s choice to begin the activity with a prompt (The Dot). This helped to remove the pressure and stress of a completely unguided activity, but still allowed us considerably freedom in our creative choices. I also appreciated the intentional nature of a non-judgemental critique. Rather than ranking artwork according to an often arbitrary ranking system, this approach targets key elements that were done well (colour use, spacing, form, etc). This could really help students remain emotional engaged with the artistic world (unlike those of us who dropped out early because we were never “good”), while also challenging their knowledge of key elements of the artistic method. Physically, the open-ended objective allowed us to move about the classroom and engage in a type of art more compatible with our learning method (for example: I crumpled up my paper to make a 3D shape, since I’ve never really enjoyed drawing, or artistic forms that require small, neat detail). I could easily see this kind of activity fitting into current elementary education practices, while also producing a more holistic learning experience than some classes currently provide.