Fantasy Landscape Gouache Painting @ Common Fields

Let’s make some fantasy landscape paintings in gouache at Common Fields!

This Fall, we’ll make dazzling, colorful and fantastical landscapes at Common Fields. Perfect for beginners, small groups, teens and adults, this workshop includes everything you need to start making fantasy landscapes with gouache!

Come join us on Monday, November 7, 2022 at 6:00 pm
at Common Fields in downtown Corvallis

In this 2-hour workshop, we’ll practice with gouache, a water-soluble paint, to create illustrative landscapes to inspire stories, and fantasy. References, paint, paper and equipment are all included.

No painting or drawing experience needed for this laid back art making night!

Food and bevergaes are available at the locallyowned food carts at Common Fields.

This painting workshop is open to beginners and experienced painters, teens and adults. Registration is $25 per person
All materials provided and included.

Fantasy Landscape Painting with Gouache at Common Fields Registration

Gouache Class at OCCC Fall 2022

Create whimsical illustrations and paintings with gouache, a water-based medium that layers like acrylic and dries with a matte finish. Perfect for children’s illustrations, cards, and small paintings, this medium can bring to life all kinds of wondrous imaginings. Beginner-friendly class with live instruction on materials and techniques. Students can expect to end the class with at least 2 finished paintings. Materials list provided; materials are available from instructor (includes material fee).

Materials list provided; materials available from instructor (includes material fee)

Class Schedule:

October 20 – November 10 (4 weeks)
Thursdays
10:00 – 11:30 am

Registration fee: $xx
Materials fee: $25
Register at Oregon Coast Community College (coming soon)

Bespoke Bookbinding II at OCCC Fall 2022

More bookbinding for beginners! We’ll practice 4 more bookbinding techniques including binding with old book covers, star books, long stitch, and decorative spines bookbinding. No previous experience needed (no need to have taken Bespoke Bookbinding I).


Class Schedule and Registration:

October 20 – November 10
Thursdays, 1:00 – 2:30 pm

Register at Orgon Coast Community College


Materials

Special materials and equipment are required for this class (click to see materials list).

Bespoke Bookbinding at OCCC Fall 2022

Bookbinding for beginners: In this class we’ll practice 4 different bookbinding methods from around the world to create our own unique sketchbooks and journals. Each class will include step-by-step instructions for each method, and live demonstration by the instructor. Create a travel watercolor journal, a sketchbook with pockets, a personalized diary, plus gorgeous decorative binding. 

Plus, extra tips and instructions for single-page books and zines on the exclusive class website.

Special materials and equipment are required for this class.
See class info and materials sheet for supplies and links.

Class Schedule

September 22 – October 13 (4 weeks)
Thursdays
1:00 – 2:30 pm

Register at Oregon Coast Community College

Colored Pencils at LBCC Fall 2022

Explore the vibrant world of colored pencils in this class for all levels of artistic skill. Learn about techniques for blending colors, using solvents, and creating compositions based on references.

Practice skills that you can use to create landscapes, portraits, still life and more in this versatile medium, plus get practice in drawing skills with graphite pencil. Each week, live demonstrations will cover drawing exercises to warm up with, and then studio practice with real-time guidance and feedback.

No previous drawing experience necessary, this basics class will give you the starting ground to take off with your imagination..

See the class syllabus here

Class schedule:

September 27 – December 6
Tuesdays, 11:00 am – 12:20 pm
Virtual on Zoom (join from anywhere!)

Register at Linn-Benton Community College

Materials

Suggested supplies:   If you do not have some of these supplies at home, and it is difficult to get them you can get by with the materials you do have.

  • Wax-based (recommended) colored pencils (instructor will primarily use Prismacolor and Faber-Castell; Crayola/ Rose Art, other brands are welcome)
  • Colors: Prismacolor Premier 24 set 3597T plus, Cream (PC914), Cool Grey (PC1061), French Grey (PC1074)
  • Water-soluble colored pencils, any brand (instructor will use Crayola watercolor pencils, Derwent Graphitint, and Derwent Inktense)
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Tortillons
  • Drawing pencil (any of 2B, 4H, 6H)
  • Kneaded eraser
  • Mineral spirits (Gamsol)
  • Small watercolor brush
  • X-Acto Knife
  • Inexpensive watercolor paper pad (9×12 or 11 x 14) (such as Strathmore or Canson)
  • Black and/or toned paper
  • Optional: tissue, cotton swab, paper towel (can substitute for tortillon)
  • Optional: Carbon transfer paper and tracing paper

Ink Illustrations at LBCC Fall 2022

Create illustrations for books, comics, cards and fine arts with inking techniques to express drama. Practice sketching, linework, stippling, shading and scumbling with one or more pens to create effects of depth and movement. This class is perfect for beginners who want to develop illustration skills or combine ink illustrations with other media like watercolor for journals.

September 27 – November 15, 2022 (8 weeks)

Register at Linn-Benton Community College

Already registered? Click here to access the student page (password protected)

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
Laptops
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 artcentereast.org

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 https://jenhernandezart.com/2022/06/27/monster-makers-summer-2022/.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jenhernandezart.com/about/.

Upcycled Planters & Propagation Tubs

This activity was developed for The Arts Center’s 2022 Spring Break Art Carnival. In this one project, we combine art, crafting, scientific observation, and dialogue about social and personal responsibility for waste and care of natural resources.

Using non-biodegradeable materials that would normally be thrown away, we create propagation tubs and planters for small plants, starts or seeds. Through the acticvity, we talk about what we know about plants and waste materials, what we are curious about, and what we observe about plants, the planet and single use plastic products.

To celebrate this project, spring, and the wonder of plants, I created a poetry zine about my indoor garden that’s free to download here!

Materials

The materials for this project are very accessible, especially if you’re like me and save every single plastic tub you’ve ever seen in your life. If you are having a hard time finding plastic food tubs, ask friends and family members to save theirs, or check out a nearby materials exchange organization. Here in the Willamette Valley, we have MECCA (Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts) which is legitimately one of my top 3 favorite art resorces in the world.

Planter Materials:

  • Plastic tubs (yogurt tubs, cottage cheese, butter, etc.) – I found an adorable tiny tub for green chiles!
  • Yarn, collage materials
  • Adhesive (white glue, mod podge, hot glue)
  • Awl or screwdriver for making drainage holes
  • basic potting soil with perlite
  • plant starts, seeds or ground cover/ moss
  • dechlorinated water (see notes below for how to do this)

Drawing Materials

  • Sketch paper
  • Pencils
  • clipboards

Learning outcomes

Through this activity, participants will be able to:

  •  identify non-recyclable materials (plastic tubs) and alternative uses for those materials
  • to construct a planter with drain holes and understand what a plant needs to thrive (water, air, light, soil)
  • practice observational skills using different senses for drawing plants and observing conditions of soil
  • describe their observations verbally
  • know when to change the circumstances of a plant’s environment (more water, more light, etc.)
  • use different weights and types of line to depict plants
  • identify and label different parts of a plant
  • understand and recall the different stages of growth of a plant

Process & Notes

To create the planter:

  1. Select a plastic tub to use for this project (one with a lid is best).
  2. Clean the tub well with soap and water, and dry thoroughly.
  3. Pierce the bottom of the tub with several holes using the awl or screwdriver. These will be drainage holes for the planter.
    • Drainage holes help keep the soil the right moistness. Without them, when we water our plants, the water will collect in the bottom of the tub and could rot the plant’s roots, which can kill the plant. The drainage holes also help keep the soil areated and not compacted so the plant’s roots can grow freely.
  4. Decorate your tub! Use collage paper, yarn, paint, anything you’d like to decorate the outside of the tub. Don’t add decoration to the inside of the tub, those materials can leech into the soil and make the plant sick.
  5. Allow your decorations to dry while you mix your soil with perlite (3:2, soil:perlite)
    • The perlite is a natural material that helps keel the soil airy and helps balance the water in the soil, to keep it from getting too wet and to release water when the soil is dry.
    • As you mix the soil and the perlite, observe the material:
      • with the soil in your hands, notice what it feels like: dry, damp
      • hold the material to your face and look closely, what do you see?
      • smell the material, what does it smell like?
      • as you mix the soil and the perlite, what does it sound like?
      • DO NOT taste the soil or the perlite
  6. Place your soil and perlite into the planter when it’s dry. If you need more drying time, use the time to look at the plant starts, and make observations using your senses. You could even start drawing the plants.
  7. When your soil and perlite are in the tub, you can add your seeds, plant starts or ground cover.
    • Gently place the plant or ground cover onto the top of the soil. If the start has long roots, carefully dig into the soil and place the roots gently into the soil, and then cover.
    • For seeds, use your finger to poke holes to the depth of about your first knuckle and place seeds into the hole. Cover with soil.
  8. Water the soil with fresh, dechlorinated water (see notes below); use observations about the soil and the planter to know how much water to use.
    • when you water the soil, listen to the water run into the soil. what does it sound like?

Observation and drawing:

  1. Hold your planter with your plant or seeds in your hands. Use your senses to observe the plant or seeds, and use words to descibe what you observe
    • What does the plant, soil, planter look like?
    • What does the plant, soil, planter smell like?
    • Gently feel the soil or the plant leaves, what do they feel like?
    • Does the plant/ seed/ soil/ or planter make a sound as you hold it?
    • DO NOT taste the plants, seeds, or planter
  2. Use your pencil and paper to sketch what you’ve obsereved (using all the physical external senses, not just sight).
    • What kind of marks or lines do you use to depict what you have observed.
    • What do you notice when you look/ smell/ feel/ touch/ listen more?
    • What different ways can you approach your planter or the plant to observe it differently? From above, from below, from a different side, etc.
  3. Make predictions: what do you think will happen to the plant next?
  4. Use your plant diary in the zine to make notes. Include the date and time and write about what you notice.

Project Tips

How to dechlorinate water

The water in most taps will be treated with chlorine, in amounts that’s typically safe to drink, but can be harmful to plants. Spring water is best for plants, as it contains natural occuring nutrients that can support plant health. Distilled water is not advised for plants as it can damage plants. If tap water is your best option, you can dechlorinate water by filling a large bowl with water and allowing it to sit at room temperature for 24 – 48 hours. Since chlorine is a volitile chemical, it will dissipate from the water over those hours. I give the water a stir every few hours to make sure I can bring some water up to the surface where the chlorine can dissipate.

What plants to use

For the project at The Arts Center, I brought clippings from my own houseplants: spiderettes and persian shields, which I prepped the night before by dipping their stems into rooting hormone and placing in a holding container with some potting soil and perlite. I also brought baby’s tears, an easy-to-grow ground cover from a local nursery, and some packets of wildflower seeds.


This was a super fun activity, and my first time doing a community event like this with actually 100’s of folks over a few hours in such a long time! Some of the participants came up with clever ways to turn their planters into hanging planters, and different ways of collaging and decorating the plastic tubs. I also brought extra handbound journals to give away since I always have a bunch of those lying around, and special Plant Love stickers I designed and printed for the event!

Thanks so much to The Arts Center for inviting me to be a part of this event!

Pamphlet Stitch Journals

One of my favorite activities to do with my kid and adult classes is to handbind our own sketchbooks and journals. For classes or residencies where students will use sketchbooks for practice, writing, or to make observations, this is usually one of the first activities I introduce.

Journal-making is a great activity to set the tone for the class; with so many options for choice and customization for individuality, I like to demonstrate that the preferences the students make are celebrated and choice is a standard in the class. I focus on that freedom particularly for youth students where we may also explore new skills and story-crafting.

This pamphlet binding is super simple and straight-forward, and uses a small collection of materials that I’ve been able to source somewhat inexpensively from local craft stores and online. Plus, it’s expandable, with the option to add more pages as students need them!

Another reason this is my favorite initial activity is because of the sense of wonder I usually see in most students when they finish this project and realize they’ve made an actual book! I do teach bookbinding classes for teens and adults where we dive into more sophisticated and complicated methods of binding. In those classes, the point is to practice bookbinding specifically. In my other classes that are centered more around community, story-crafting and reflection, creating a journal/ sketchbook can be the first way to dip into personal expression for the class.

I remind students in these classes that the journal they make is their book; they can put anything they want in it and they don’t have to share, so it’s a safe space to experiment, practice, fail, and try again. I’ve seen multiple students do this project and then want to spend the rest of the class period just making more books because they’re so elated to have actually made something themselves, so I always have more materials on hand.

Here’s the activity process, which can be done with most students 8 years and older. That’s the age group I’ve kept in mind for the project plan, although I’ve also made these with much younger children with some adaptations. See the end of the post for those and other adaptations to make this project accessible for all ages and abilities.

Handbound Sketchbooks/ Journals

Description:

Students will use materials to make choices and create their own sketchbooks for use throughout the class.

Goals:

  • Students will make choices from several options
  • Students will use special tools and materials for book-making
  • Students will be able to use the words and identify an awl, embroidery thread, a needle and book signatures

Materials (per student)

  • One sheet 12″ x 12″ Scrapbook paper, decorative, several options
  • 4 – 16 individual sheets of writing or sketching paper, cut to 9″x 11.5″, folded into 4 sheet signatures
  • Awl
  • Tapestry needle with large eye (No. 18)
  • 1 hank embroidery thread, various color options
  • Scissors (one pair for the whole class is usually enough)
  • Optional (for no-pocket option): Paper cutter
  • Optional (for pocket option): glue sticks

Set up:

Students should have their own individual spaces and materials to use. Place the signatures for each student, the tapestry needle, and the awl at each spot. Make separate piles of scrapbook paper in different areas of the room so that students can see the options and make choices.

Process:

  • Invite students to observe the materials at their desks and share their observations.
    • What do you think the tools are called?
    • What are the tools used for? What could be a different way to use the tools?
    • How should the tools be handled for safety?
  • Introduce the activity: we’re going to make our own sketchbooks
    • Name the tools and their use:
    • The awl is the sharp tool with the wooden handle, we’ll use that to punch holes in our paper and cover.
    • We’ll use the needle and thread to sew the pages of our book together.
    • The paper is four sheets folded together, which makes one signature.
  • Students can select their covers from the piles of paper around the room.
    note: I usually have lots of options so I make sure to tell students to look at everything and share what they find with each other.
  • After students select their cover pages, ask them to fold the page in half into the orientation they want for their book cover. Some decorative pages might have patterns that have a specific orientation, so make sure students understand that how they fold their paper is how their book will look in the end.
  • It’s helpful to also demonstrate that the cover pages are too long for the book, and so they’ll need to be trimmed down by 3″ off one end. Or, students can fold the sheet up 3″ from the edge to make two inner pockets. I ask students to make the choice of what they want to cut off or fold.
  • If not making a pocket, use the paper cutter to trim off the excess 3″ and the student can keep the scrap to make a bookmark or an even tinier sketchbook.
  • If making a pocket, use the glue stick to glue the two open edges of the pocket to the cover.

Binding the Sketchbook

  1. Use the awl to safely punch three holes into the folded edge of their cover: one about 1″ from the top and bottom edges, and one in the middle. Help students do this safely by securing their cover in their hand with one finger on either side of the folded edge.
  2. Take one signature of paper and fold it on the outside of the cover.
  3. Using the holes in the cover as a guide, punch holes in the same spots on the signature.
  4. Measure embroidery thread to 3 times the length of the spine of the cover.
  5. Thread the needle to prepare binding.
  6. Place the signature into the cover, making sure the holes line up.
  7. Sew the needle into the cover from the outside into the middle hole, going all the way through the signature as well.
  8. Pull the thread through, leaving a 3″ tail on the outside of the cover.
  9. Next, sew into one of the edge holes from the inside of the signature, pulling the thread through to the outside of the cover.
  10. Sew into the last hole on the outside of the cover and through the signature.
  11. Lastly, sew back out the middle hole going through the signature and the cover.
  12. It’s helpful to make sure the beginning tail and the needle are on opposite sides of the thread that’s passing down along the outside of the spine.
  13. Take the thread off the needle and tie the thread and the tail together to finishing the binding.

To add more pages to the sketchbook, take another signature of 4 sheets of paper, folded in half. Lay the signature along the inside of the sketchbook, near the inside of the spine and mark on the signature where the holes of the sketchbook has been punched. Use the awl to punch holes in the new signature in those spots. Place the new signature inside the sketchbook behind the signature already bound, and follow steps 7 – 13 above to bind in the next signature.

Note: The dimensions for cutting the cover paper and the signatures leaves enough room for 4 signatures to be bound into one book.

Adaptations for Accessibility

This project requires eye-hand coordination, ability to fold paper, thread a needle and sew. Students with limited dexterity may need support from other students and adults.

  • For students who cannot use the awl safely or effectively, students can point to where they want another person to use the awl to punch holes in their paper for them.
  • Students may need support with threading their needle. A needle threader or a needle with a larger eye may be useful.
  • Students may need support with folding. Having pre-folded signatures is helpful for saving time and avoiding confusion. Adult or other student help for folding the cover page will support students with folding.
  • For much younger children, adaptations can be made by using a hole punch or larger awl to make holes in the cover and signatures larger, plus a large plastic darning needle and yarn instead of thread. Adults can also hold the cover and sheet together and point to where children can sew into the binding. I’ve made this project with children as young as 24 months with adult or older child help.

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)
In-person

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.

Observations:

  • 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!