Deep in the Kelp Forest

How do artists create an illusion of depth in their art? Muralists know how. Our fourth graders are creating a mural of the kelp forest habitat. To practice, we picked two items from the kelp forest – giant kelp and garibaldi (the California state marine fish) – and drew each one three times.

We started out by defining the foreground, middle ground and background. Next we talked about:

*placement (objects placed lower on the page appear closer)
*Size (larger objects appear closer)
*Warm and cool colors (warm colors come forward and cool colors recede)
*Value (lighter objects appear further away)

The students then viewed their completed sketches from a distance. They were happy to see the illusion if depth in their sketches.





Nice work! I think they are ready to paint the mural….



Beautiful Dia de los Muertos Altar

ddlm mingei #2

Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos) is this week. I just saw a beautiful, colorful DDLM altar at the Mingei International Museum in San Diego that I just had to share. The altar was made by a group including representatives of the Mexican Consulate in San Diego, so you know it is authentic!

The altars are in memory of a departed loved one. This one is in memory of Tin Tan, a Mexican film star who appeared in over 100 films. The signage reads:

Day of the Dead, one of the annual festivities celebrated by Mexicans, is a result of pre-Hispanic and Christian traditions. It is a day where families and friends get together to remember and honor loved ones who are no longer among us.  This celebration begins by setting up an altar containing favorite objects and mentors that reveal the personality of the departed, their talents and preferences. Other classic elements of the Day of the Dead altar are flowers, drinking water, food, fruits and salt, each with a special location and meaning within the altar.  The installed experiential space is valuable for its historical and cultural traditions that contribute to praising both the person the altar is dedicated to and the cultural heritage of Mexico.

mingei ddlm #1



mingei ddlm #3



ddlm mingei 3



Special Notice for San Diego Teachers and Parents:

  • Teachers: Do you want to take your class to the Mingei Museum? The Mingei provides free admission for all K-12th grade tours as long as they’re scheduled in advance.
  • Parents: The Mingei is free to San Diego county residents and military the third Tuesday of the month. Monthly Family Sundays offer admission and fun activities for just $5/family. Go to for more details.


Are you creating any special projects for Dia de los Muertos?

Animated Short Film – Dia de los Muertos

Gorgeous animated film 'Dia de los Muertos' by three college animation majors from Ringling College of Art and Design.

Gorgeous animated short video ‘Dia de los Muertos’ by three college animation majors from Ringling College of Art and Design.

If you are looking for a  fun video for Dia de los Muertos, please watch this beautifully animated short film about a little girl who visits the land of the dead, where she learns the true meaning of the Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos.

Produced by computer animation students Ashley Graham, Kate Reynolds, and Lindsey St. Pierre at Ringling College of Art and Design as their senior thesis. Student Academy Award Gold Medal winner, 2013!!

Score by Corey Wallace, sound by Mauricio D’Orey

Colorful Chameleons

colorful watercolor chameleons


Kids love chameleons! They change color almost like magic. Our second graders just finished a very successful watercolor chameleon project.


Day 1: Draw your chameleon

We watched the ‘Super Chameleon’ video on YouTube. The kids were amazed to see the chameleon change colors over and over. Then we took a close look at the chameleon books from our school’s media center. Next it was on to a directed draw. I modeled the basic contour of the chameleon’s head, body, tail and legs. Kids started in pencil, then outlined in Sharpie. They were free to use Sharpie to add their own details (stripes, patterns, dots, spikes) based on their reference photos.

chameleon drawing


Day 2: Color your chameleon

Kids used watercolor pencils dipped in water to color in the chameleons. The watercolor pencils were great for coloring in all the stripes and little spaces. The colors turned out really vibrant! The final step was to paint the background a single color using pan watercolors.

I encouraged everyone to stick to an analogous color scheme for their chameleons. Some kids did, some didn’t, but they all turned out beautiful.  After all, a chameleon can be any color.

blue and green chameleons

three watercolor chameleons

We tried a similar chameleon project last year using Crayola markers: click here to see more results.

Overall this was a popular, super successful project with minimal prep and clean up. It was my first watercolor pencil project, but it won’t be my last.


Here are two of the books we used for our lesson 

Seurat Pointillist Food

seurat pointillist food: Q-tips, pan watercolor and markers. Very successful!

Fourth grade just finished their Seurat pointillism art project. Our students used pan watercolors, Q-tips and markers to make pointillist food! The project was inspired by this project by Jessica Young at Miss Young’s Artroom.


  • pan watercolors
  • Q-tips
  • colored markers (we used Crayola and Sharpie)
  • pencil/eraser
  • white paper, 9″x12″
  • reference photos (I found dessert images on Pinterest)
  • loups or magnifying glasses
  • pointillist note cards (like these – available at and or books

Day 1: Learn about pointillism

I passed out pointillist notecards and magnifying loups (borrowed from our science lab). It was a lot of fun to see the dots up close.

Next we watched the first half of an AMAZING video: ‘Get to the Point’ – Georges Seurat and Pointillism  by Artrageous with Nate.

Finally  we completed a color mixing worksheet, using marker dots to make the secondary colors.

Use a magnifying glass or loop to examine pointillist art up close


homemade pointillist worksheet

Homemade pointillist worksheet

Day 2: Create dots with Q-tip or marker

Students selected a food reference photo, then lightly sketched their basic food shapes on paper. They had the option of using Q-tip or marker to dot their papers.

(warning: we discovered you can’t erase pencil lines after they’ve been painted with pan watercolor. Remind kids to draw lightly!)
seurat pointillist orange

Day 3: Erase lines, add more dots

Students erased their pencil lines from last week, then added MORE DOTS! Some students added a background – a couple even added pointillist borders.

pointillist sundae


Fourth grade results:




This was a VERY popular and successful project! I will definitely repeat.  Are looking for a group pointillism project? Please check out my earlier post for a Seurat mural.

Here’s the cool pointillism video by Artrageous with Nate


This is the first project of our food art series, in honor of the FEAST! exhibit at San Diego’s New Children’s Museum. This year we will be making food art projects at each grade level.

Do you have a favorite food art project?

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