Painting a School Garden Mural

In May 2023, I partnered with Maxtivity Art & Crafts Creative Space, and Philomath Elementary School for a special mural project with students! This project was a spring residency program, in which I worked with students on arts education and practice.

Oregon State University Extension’s Food Hero Program planted a new garden in the school’s courtyard. We thought a colorful garden-themed mural would match perfectly! The goal of the project was to engage the students of the school in thinking about healthy food choices, learn about the mural painting process, and to create lasting memories for the school.

Maxtivity’s amazing art educators went into the school to talk with students. They collected ideas for what could be represented in the mural. Students created a list of colorful foods, plants, and insects, plus the school mascot (a blue falcon), and some key school symbols like golden tennis shoes.

Painting Mural Process

I had taken measurements of the walls to be painted. Then, I created digital sketches based on my measurements and the students’ ideas. We presented those sketches to the school staff and administration and got further input. When we’d finished the revision process, we had a design that included a colorful garden of flowers, veggies and fruits, plus wild foods that grow along our rivers, trees, the falcon mascot, a scarecrow sporting some golden shoes, plus an interactive tree swing!

Then the painting began!

Philomath Elementary school hosts grades 2nd through 5th. Each class got to participate in the painting in two sessions over a whole week. That way, they got to see the full development of the mural from sketch to finished design. 

Students contributed their hand prints placed along the border around the mural.

The finished mural features green beans, marigolds, tomatoes, rainbow carrots, cabbages, rainbow chard, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries and apples. This project was made possible through generous donations and support from Maxtivity Creative Space, Philomath Elementary PTO, Philomath Open Studios, OSU Extension Food Hero, Republic Services Charitable Foundation, and Philomath Community Foundation.

Creating Our Own Adventures in Art Camp

For Spring Break 2023, I joined up with a troupe of young artists to explore and create our own Adventures!

Adventure Characters Camp at The Arts Center was 3 days of drawing, sculpting, exploring and playing our own original role playing games. This camp experience has been years in the making! Adventure Characters Camp included lessons designed around core learning standards, handmade workbooks, and integrated math (probability/ statistics) writing (story, game design) and visual arts (illustration, small figure sculpting) education for kids 8 -12. 

Students learned about role playing games and how they’re different from other games. We also learned about probability through dice rolling for outcomes.

We created original characters. Students designed characters using a character chart that included aspects of story: what are the character’s unique characteristics, what makes them stronger, and what challenges them? With the opportunity to dive deep into a story-driven narrative, students could become their characters. They could make choices, interact with others, and explore their world, while seeing through the eyes of their characters.

Students also created special items for their characters, and practiced balance in their game crafting. We used the logic that if something is extremely powerful, it should bear a cost that balances its use to make the game play fun and challenging.

On the first day, students tried out their characters and items by exploring a haunted house map created specially for the camp. They took turns moving through the map, exploring items and spaces, and making choices by dice-rolling. They helped each other along with strategy and advice, building trust and friendship among their group.

On day 2, students upgraded their character stats by considering what they needed to be successful in different situations. They also sculpted character pieces in polymer clay and practiced clay building techniques.

Students also started working on their own game maps, choosing to collaborate with each other or work individually. Students developed their own guidelines and goals for playing their maps, and even worked to link their different maps together into one large play space. On the final day of camp, students played their maps, guiding each other through choices and experiences in the worlds they created.

This camp was an incredible opportunity to watch students work together on problem-solving, focus on goals and iterate on writing and visual art to craft entire worlds that others could also experience. This is a camp/ class that will naturally need to change and evolve with each new group – guild! – of students. As we push the boundaries of our imaginations more, we’ll have new worlds to create, share and explore!

Check out the next Adventure Character classes, camps and clubs:

Residency: Comics and Story Making

In February and March 2023, I visited the Kindergarten through 5th grades at the Chinese Immersion School in Eugene for a Comics-making residency! This residency was organized by Lane Arts Council as part of their ArtSpark in-school residency program. Lane Arts Council is an incredible organization with amazing people, check out their website for more information about their programs and events for arts in Lane County, Oregon!

Comics-making is a really special practice for me. When I get to visit a new school and work with students on these projects, I also get to practice and learn more about making comics.

In this residency, we focused on learning about what makes comics different from other ways of telling stories with images and words. We practiced linework for illustration including figure drawing and using line of action. We also made 4-panel comics on bristol board with liner pens. 

Since this was a school-wide residency, I created lesson plans for each grade, built around the Oregon State Standards for Visual Arts. Using the state standards helped me create themes for the residency and focus on goals for specific activities and discussions. Scroll down to the end of the post for links to the residency outline for each grade.

In kindergarten and first grade, we focused on shapes, color blocking, and drawing expressions. Students also had practice in using the artist pens, making plans and sharing materials.

Second and third grade students focused on the structure of comics.We talked about how if we see Calvin 4 separate times on the same page, it’s just one Calvin doing 4 different things. 

All of our classes got to look at images of comics and compare them to other artistic images that are not comics.

Grades 3 and up made their own sketchbooks, using the basic pamphlet stitch method. It’s still my favorite way to begin a class, with lots of choice and gaining a new skill. It’s also a really great opportunity for students with different skills to help each other and ask for help. 

In the older grades, we also practiced figure drawing using Image Theatre from Theatre of the Oppressed. First, students created a list of ideas, based on a prompt. In some cases the prompt was “Where’s somewhere you’d like to visit?” and follow up with “What’s something you’d like to do there?” Student responses generated a list of action-oriented words that we could then use in our Image Theatre game.

In Image Theatre, we act out actions or stories silently, repeating the same action sequence over and over again, like an animatronic in a theme park. We start out standing in a circle so the whole class can see each other, and all together act out the same action like “eating pastries in Paris.” As we act out our actions, we look around and see how each of us interprets the same action the same or differently. I also ask us to freeze in mid-movement so we can see what the action looks like from a still moment.

After a couple of whole-class rounds of Image Theatre, I split the class into two groups. One group will remain actors for the next part, and the other will be the artists, who will use their sketchbooks and drawing materials to draw the actions they see their classmates acting out. I ask them to focus on drawing quickly, and suggest they try to draw their classmates as stick figures, introducing the concept of line of action in this way. The actors act out a couple more action prompts, freezing partway through so the artists can draw them. Then, the groups switch and the actors become artists and the artists become actors. 

This small game is just a quick practice to introduce line of action and action-oriented poses, and I think in the future I’d like to incorporate it into a longer residency focused on observation drawing. 

From an anti-oppression education motivation, this Image Theatre/ Figure Drawing game is at the heart of this residency: it begins with student responses, which become the action prompts, and allows students to approach art with their whole bodies. Students are also grouped with each other, to avoid making one student feel specifically targeted or left out. 

We spent about the last day or day and a half working on final comics, which were 4-panel comics on bristol board. I gave students the option to make their comics about anything they wanted, and we had spent the week leading up to the final comic working on prompts based on observations from life, imagining scenarios and places we’d like to visit.

The older students in this residency got into a discussion about what kind of jokes or art are appropriate to make, what it means to make art that is “offensive” or what happens when art causes harm. This was a really important moment for me to learn from, and moving forward, I’ll include a discussion of being intentional about what subjects to include in art making and the consequences from making those choices. 

We ended the week at Chinese Immersion School with gallery displays in the classes of the artwork made, which is always a really fun moment. I love to see students look at each other’s artwork and make joyful reactions. Check out our art from the Story Makers and Comics at Chinese Immersion School in Eugene:

Special thanks again to Lane Arts Council for organizing this residency! Lane Arts Council serves all of Lane County in Oregon, with in-school programs, community arts and First Friday Art Walk. They’re a truly amazing group of folks that are essential to what makes this a thriving creative community. Check them out here and learn about getting involved and events and programs coming up!

Links & Downloads

Here are the quick outlines for each of the grades, with Oregon State Standards for Visual Arts included:

This is the slide show of artwork I showed students, using Visual Thinking Strategies to support student discussion and learning:

Comics and Story Makers Lesson Plan k-5 by Jen Hernandez Art LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.Creative Commons License Based on a work at Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Design Mentees Meet a Professional Artist

Lane Arts Design Mentees in my Digital Storytelling group got to hangout with Corvallis-based illustration artist Janique Crenshaw this month for a Ask An Artist session!

This group is the 4th generation of my Digital Storytelling class with Lane Arts Council Art and Design Mentorship program. In this class, students learn story writing, character design, planning, illustration and coding a website for visitor interactivity. Their stories are published on my student website, where anyone can read their stories, click through illustrations, and even choose their own adventures.

Since the beginning of winter term in mid-January, this group of students have been working on creating stories, making comics, and designing characters, as well as navigating doc-sharing platforms, uploading to the class website and building community within our group. Since this class is generally focused on digital art (although not exclusively, students have the option to work with traditional media as well), for our mid-term class session, I decided to switch it up and brought in some gouache (my favorite!) painting.

Students worked on a character chart for the characters the’ire currently imagining, and then practiced painting those characters in gouache.

Also for this class, we had Janique Crenshaw, a fellow Corvallis-based artist join us virtually to talk about her artwork, what inspires her and answer student questions.

Janique’s work is colorful, inspired by popular media in movies, music, and shows, and she explores identity in her traditional and digitial illustrations. She was perfect to talk to this group of students who are creating in their own voices, inspired by media in books, movies and games.

Before meeting Janique, students came up with a list of questions to ask her, including:

  • Do you ever really feel satisfied with art that you make? (They started out with the big questions.)
  • What’s the first artwork you made that wasn’t scribbles?
  • How to do you get into conventions?
  • What’s your favorite/ least favorite work of art that you made?
  • Is bread the best food? (This is both an actual question and actually my favorite question my students asked. Janique’s answer was correct, by the way: it depends on the bread and she likes garlic bread.)

For the next 6 weeks, these students will work on refining their story ideas, illustrating their work and uploading to the student website, where they’ll add the interactive elements that makes these stories unique. They’ll be celebrated at the April First Friday Art Walk in Eugene at Spark on 7th, where folks can come by and try out their interactive stories in-person!

Check out some of the past student stories from Lane Arts Design Mentorship Digital Storytelling at

Find out more about the Lane Arts Design Mentorship program at

Monster Makers with The Annex Charter School

Monster Makers Art Camp: Students will learn about animals and plants that are adapted to live in particular environments around the world; they will create new amalgam creatures (Monsters!) with different animal and plant characteristics and an environment their creature can live in. 

Materials & Equipment
Polymer clay
Clay tools
— rollers, pins, cutters, awls
Clay adhesive
Aluminum Foil
Toaster oven, power source
Drawing materials
Sketchbook materials
— paper, awls, thread, needles

Extra paper for dioramas
Slidesho, access to internet

Skills: research, discussion, sketching, polymer clay handbuilding, use of clay tools, presentation of ideas, reasoning, connection of researched ideas into a final product.

Get the Monster Makers lesson plan here (link)

Other versions of Monster Makers:

I love this monster makers camp, and I was so excited to be invited in the summer of 2022 to visit The Annex Charter School in Ontario, OR and make some monsters with students as part of their amazing STEAM month! Ontario is right on the Oregon-Idaho border, directly on the other side of the state from where I live in the Willamette Valley. Located in the Snake River Plain ecoregion, The Annex Charter School is in a completely different environment from what I’m used to. 

My visit to Ontario was organized with Art Center East’s Artists in Rural Schools Program made possible in part by The Reser Family Foundation, Marie Lamfrom Charitable Foundation, and Lamb Foundation. Art Center East is an arts organization serving Eastern Oregon with all kinds of amazing art opportunities including gallery exhibits, creative community events, an art shop, and connecting artists with rural schools.
See more about Art Center East and the work they do at

With a whole week for our camp, we had lots of time to work on developing sketching skills, research, and claywork. Each day of the camp and each new project lead directly into the next, so that students could connect ideas and practices throughout the week.

Of course, we started off with sketchbook making! We made the classic pamphlet style binding for simple sketchbooks that students would collect ideas in by drawing and writing over the entire camp.

We took our sketchbooks outside to draw plants and objects we could find in the school playground, starting with basic shapes and adding details to our sketches.

For this iteration of Monster Makers, I did some extra research to make the information accessible to the students specific to their home and local environment. I created an interactive slideshow with Google Slides, that students used to learn about animals from different ecologies, including the Snake River Plain ecoregion.

Students used laptops and worked together in pairs or groups to learn about animals and adaptations they have developed to thrive in their environments. We discussed what we observed and students took notes and sketched different kinds of animals in their sketchbooks.

The notes and sketches students made in their books informed their designs for clay creatures. We practiced polymer clay techniques, starting with simple forms and adding pieces or using tools to shape their creatures. 

While we waited for the clay to bake and cool, students also created environment dioramas, using cut paper and drawing to make 3D popup scenes for their creatures to inhabit.

At the end of the week, students shared their work with family and friends in the community in an Open House hosted by the school to showcase all the cool things students made during STEAM camp. There was honestly a lot of cool stuff, including a bridge build challenge, flying things, and slime (who doesn’t love SLIME?!)

Check out some of the local media about The Annex Charter School’s STEAM Open House:

This camp was filled with so much creative thinking and surprising creations from students, and I also got to learn a lot about an ecological environment I didn’t know much about (which I LOVE). Thanks again to Art Center East for helping put this camp together and connecting me with such a wonderful community and school!

Want to bring Monster Makers to your school or community? Contact me or your local arts organization today!

Check out the 4-day residency lesson plan for Monster Makers to make your own camp that’s perfect for your school or group.

See other versions of Monster Makers:

Creative Commons License
Monster Makers Residency Plan by Jen Hernandez Art LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Monster Makers Camp Overview

In Summer 2021, I got to work with some creative minds at The Arts Center in Corvallis, OR, in a Monsters Maker 4-day camp for kids.

In this camp, students created their own creatures using illustration, image references, sculpting and making considerations for where and how the creatures might live and what physical adaptations the creatures would need to survive. This camp ignited so much creativity and inventiveness among the students and encouraged sharing ideas, inspiring each other and joining their imaginations. While our focus was mainly on using the sculpting tools and being creative with our stories about our creatures, this camp can be adapted to meet more rigorous science and biology standards for early education.

In this post, I’ll share my camp outline and some of the resources and discussion we used in this camp. This outline can be adapted to different ages, contexts and physical abilities.

Set up & Goals

Schedule: 4 days, 1.5 hours per day (6 hours total)

Ages: 6 – 13 years old (1st – 6th grade)
Note: since this was designed as a summer camp, I kept the ages pretty broad to accomodate families. As a school program, I would offer this for narrower age ranges (1st & 2nd grade, 3rd & 4th, etc.) and make changes to my discussion points and objectives for different age groups. Keeping the ages broad meant that my focus was more on the skills of art-making rather than being specific to science learning, although there’s lots of room for adaptation and change with this outline!

Camp overview/ learning objectives:
Students will:

  • Discuss habitats and physical adaptations of animals to exist in those habitats
  • Share their ideas with and respond to the ideas of their peers
  • Practice drawing skills with shapes and details
  • Work with polymer clay and special tools to create unique objects
  • Write about their creations as characters, developing a world for their character to occupy
  • Share their work and respond to the work of others

Materials & Equipment:

  • Sketchbook
  • Cardstock
  • Drawing and coloring materials
    • Pencils
    • Erasers
    • Waterproof pens – (Micron 12)
    • Markers
    • Colored pencils
  • Polymer clay (oven bake)
  • Clay tools
  • Polymer clay glaze
  • Paintbrush
  • Aluminum foil (full roll)
  • Adult only use: Toaster oven, safely plugged in and placed in well-ventilated area
  • Optional: findings for jewelry, key chains to turn figures into toys
  • Adult only use: Epoxy glue for broken pieces

Environmental Set up:

  • Tables and chairs for each student to sit or stand comfortably & safely while working and interacting with others
  • Access to bathroom/ hand washing stations
  • Materials and tools for each student (clay, clay tools, paper, drawing tools)
  • Table for educator to demonstrate, visible by all students, or the ability to walk around, if needed
  • Extra supplies nearby
  • Toaster oven easily monitored by adults, in a well-ventilated area, safely plugged in
  • Space for cooling sculptures after they are removed from the oven

Introductions & Agreements

In all of my classes/ residencies/ camps, I’ll start off with student introductions and an overview of the class. For youth classes, I’ll also work on agreements for the class, which I’ll write up and have available to look at and review for each of the class sessions.

  • Student Introductions: Say your name, pronouns, and choose one place to live: the boreal forest, the rainforest, the ocean, a city, the desert, the savanna, the tundra, or somewhere else (tell us)
    • Bonus (to engage student experience and ability): What is something you could teach the rest of us?
  • Class Agreements:
    (These agreements help set the tone for the class, and are a useful place to return to when things start to feel “off track” in a way that might leave some students behind.)
    • Try – some things we do might be new/uncomfortable/ difficult or even seem boring, and our job is to try our best as much as we can!
    • Non-judgemental language – When we look at each other’s artwork and share our own, let’s avoid words like “Good” “Bad” or “Like” and let’s think about what we can ask the artist about their work, what their work reminds us of, and if it’s our art, what we might want to change or try that’s different.
    • Share – Be willing to share your work so we can learn from each other and get new ideas!
    • Experiment – Try something different when you can, be curious about the materials, tools, and find different ways to use them or create something new!

Observations & Discussion

In this first day of the class, we looked at examples of ecosystems in our opening, starting off the conversation with an idea that we’ll be creating creatures that would exist in an environment they were adapted for (even if the creature and the environment were both imaginary). We look at examples of boreal forest, rainforest, ocean, cities, deserts, savanna and tundras and ask observational questions:

  • What do you notice about this environment?
  • What do you think a creature would need to live in this environment?
  • What else are you curious about this environment?

We also looked at examples of real-life animals and imaginary creatures. I brought a set of reference images for the class to look over and started our discussion again, this time encouraging students to use their sketchbooks to sketch out physical elements (ears, tails, horns, wings, etc.) from the animals that they were interested in or curious to explore more. Students were invited to pick an animal from the pictures on their desks (the students had different collections of images) and talk about their creature:

  • What is something you notice about this creature?
  • Where do you think this creature could live, and what physical elements do you think help it to be adapted to its environment?
  • What else are you curious about this creature?

Click here for Reference Image Set

Art Making Practice

I try to dive in immediately with art-making, since that’s really the hook of the class: students want to MAKE!

Drawing Practice

When students are working on drawing, it’s my goal as an arts educator to preserve the organic impulse to create immediately. I encourage students to look again at the references I’ve provided them, along with any of the sketches or doodles they’ve made so far. After 10 – 15 minutes of leaving space for students to explore, I’ll begin to make suggestions for approaching drawing practice, while also still preserving room for students to follow their own paths.

Start with basic shapes: using a reference as an example, I demonstrate how to find the most basic shape that’s similar to the biggest parts of the reference. For example, I’ll show an image of a bunny and how the body of the bunny is round like a circle, and start by drawing that, making adjustments with my pencil and eraser as I go. As I go over the different parts of the bunny, I’ll find more shapes and add those on top to make a bunny shape.

Next, I’ll start adding details like eyes and noses, and remind students that this is where we can get creative with different features and think about where our bunny-creature might live (add wings for an aerial bunny? a flexible tail for a tree-dwelling bunny? big scooping claws for an underground bunny?). This is a fun moment to invite students up to the demonstration drawing to add their own elements and talk about how this changes where the creature might live or what it might be able to do.

Students use their sketchbooks throughout the camp, referring back to doodles as they create with clay.

Polymer Clay Practice

On the first day, I try to also get clay into kids’ hands as soon as possible so they can start to experience this medium and imagine ways to use it right away. I’ll encourage them to explore the medium first, share any observations or questions about it with each other and also share some guidelines. These guidelines will be repeated throughout the entire camp, so I try not to take up too much space at first by trying to say everything all at once.


  • The clay starts out hard when it comes from the package
  • Artists can warm it up and soften the clay with their hands by kneading it and smooshing it or using the roller (clay tool) to smooth it out. This is conditioning the clay
  • When we make something we want to keep, we’ll bake the clay in the oven. The clay will harden in the oven and stay that shape forever! But until we bake the clay, we can still change things about the creatures and objects we make.

Recommendations, Tool use

  • Use a small amount at a time
  • Figures can’t be too big or they won’t bake well – try to keep them to about palm-size
  • Don’t see the color you want? Try mixing colors together!
  • Like drawing, shape simple forms (balls, pyramids, cubes)
  • Use tools to attach with scoring
  • Use tools to smooth out finger prints
  • If clay feels sticky, allow it to cool on your foil
  • Things to consider with polymer clay: too thick, the clay might not cure evenly, too thin, the clay might be brittle and break easily when handling it
  • Details can be carved into the clay and then painted after being baked
  • Marbling colors is also a cool way to get effects
  • Wash hands before and after clay use
  • Polymer clay is not appropriate for food use

Demonstrating Techniques

One of the first projects I’ll demonstrate to the students is to make figures using balls and snakes: by creating large or small clay balls and pressing them together (this is a way to make the body shape of some creatures), or creating a long thing clay snake that can be coiled or twisted for cool effects (like making tails or horns).

I also demonstrate tool use to create details and to join pieces of clay together by first scoring the clay in the spots where they will be joined. This will prevent the pieces from falling apart after baking.

Sometimes that falling apart happens, anyway, and so having a small tube of epoxy glue to mend broken pieces was very useful.

For baking times, I follow the directions for the materials I use, making sure to bake in my toaster oven that’s specifically for polymer clay pieces (I got mine cheap off of a community board), and kept in a well-ventilated area. I also make sure to keep the students aware of the bake and cool down times so that they know they can look at their pieces but they won’t be able to touch them until they’re fully cooled.

Some students wanted to make necklaces and keychains with their clay pieces, so I helped them prep their pieces before baking by adding holes for jump rings that we could attach after baking.

World Building

While students create and have their pieces baked, I encourage them to write and draw their creature’s environment:

  • Where does it live
  • What does it eat
  • What does it usually surround itself with (treasure, tools, other creatures…)

Students can illustrate their scenes on cards that we fold to create backdrops for their creatures. I also encourage students to create character cards about their creatures, which includes information about the creature:

  • Creature’s name
  • Favorite food?
  • What’s its special abilities?
  • What is it afraid of?
  • What makes this creature unique?

As a special element of the class, I also created stickers for the students using their drawings and my die-cut machine at home.

Outcomes, Further Exploration & Adaptations

As the week went on, the students became more familiar with the tools and materials and created some amazing pieces. The depth of detail and imagination that went into their creations was truly impressive. This camp could have been adapted into a deeper exploration into ecosystems in which the students’ creations lived and worked alongside each other.

Accessibility adaptations to consider:

The motor skills of the student: for some students a softer clay like paper clay may be more accessible. Paperclay is definitely different from polymer clay, and it can be wetted with water to make it softer, as well as baked in the oven. The use of cookie cutters or molds to help shape clay is a great way to also increase accessibility, where students can use those to get started and then add details on top.

The smell and tactile feel of the clay should be considered and may be offensive to sensitive students.

This was such a fun camp in the summer, and it’s an outline I’m continuing to develop for my other residencies and classes for kids. If you’re an educator or artist and plan to use some of these ideas, tell me about it! I’d love to hear about any changes you make or challenges you come up with in your experience!

This camp was made by The Atelierista and shared openly to make arts education accessible to everyone! Educators, artists and students are encouraged to use this description to explore and learn more about creativity and art-making. If you like this and want to support The Atelierista (and get updates and exclusive content access), check out the Patreon page and consider becoming a member!