SPACE Illustrations – 10 year olds


After the rain forest mural project I had a strong sense that the 60 young artists needed a complete break from observational drawing. I set a new topic that complimented our term’s topic of SPACE.


I created a power point showing some stunning photographs taken by NASA of black holes, nebula, galaxies, butterfly nova , etc. I showed them a couple of examples of Zentangles, and lastly they looked at a some, monochrome illustrative drawings like this and especially this.

The purpose is to INSPIRE, STIMULATE, DISCUSS, and enter the realm of imagination.

ASK QUESTIONS LIKE…What do you see here? (chat on your tables/with your partner) What do these remind you of? Does it give you a certain feeling? Can you see an end and a beginning? What’s interesting about it? Which is your favorite and why? Highlight to them that pattern does not finish at the edge of the paper. It is free. There is no right and wrong.

They will need: Square paper (2 small and 1 large-I cut up A4 sheets), 4 different thicknesses of black Berol pens (hand writing thin one, thicker gray one and the broad red ones. Plus a very thick one.), some inspirational material on each table and on white board e.g. space photos, illustrations etc. NO PENCILS!

After an engaged discussion you can get them going by taking them through how to do this Zentangle star called an Auroknot. Do it on the scrap little squares, or on the big one.(Remember Zentangles are copyright so you’ll have to bear that in mind).

I really enjoyed teaching myself this Auraknot and the children will find it a challenge but fascinating. It sets the standards high and gives them a starting point.

Invite them to use the Space reference pictures to start their own space inspired illustration. You can show them my one if you don’t have time to do your own!


(Please note that the Auraknot in the centre is taken from Zentangle how to video and I do not claim it as my own work. The surrounding images are my own! This was purely for the purposes of education and not for financial gain.)

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The main pattern below was inspired directly from Zentangle’s Mooka, purely for the purposes of education and not for any financial gain.


I showed the children some of these patterns on the white board and they worked them out with me on their little squares. I demonstrated how to make a tube look curved and 3D, and I gave them ideas of how to fill area with pattern.

The children absolutely loved the lesson and continued to finish their Space illustrations during break time duties, and other little moments throughout the day. Here is some of their work in progress.

IMG_1550 Every now and then, stop the class and remind them of composition, drawing the person’s eye around their picture and most importantly balance. Use your hands as a way of showing a weighing scale and show how a very large dark area on one side of a picture can unbalance the work.

Challenge the children to silently stand up, tuck their chairs in, and with no comment or facial expressions, wonder around the room to see what other people have been working on. Reward them if they can do this maturely!IMG_1549


I was blown away by their ingenuity, and creativity. No one struggled with this out of the 60 children, and very often the children who did not shine so much during the rainforest mural project, certainly shone here!

During this lesson I had a table with two marbling trays, every one took two minutes out of their lesson to have a go at Space inspired marbling. We then displayed the work like a chequerboard in school, which received many wonderful compliments.


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As they did the marbling they were encouraged to remember the theme of Space and use the black holes, galaxies, nebulas to explore with the marbling. You can really see the space influence in these pieces.

NB There is the temptation to call these doodles. They are not doodles, they have  purpose, meaning and are the catalyst for further developed work.

Space illustration

My next post will show how this project progressed to incorporate calligraphy, pattern and illuminationIf you need any advice, have any suggestions or wish to share photos of your class’s work,e then pleas don’t hesitate to contact me below.


Second steps to painting a rain forest mural with kids

Here is the second of the promised posts describing the step by step, week by week progression of art work that built up to the mural. Please note that each weekly session was generally one and a half hours long. This post covers the second and third sessions with a focus on: insects and bugs, birds and frogs.

To read The first steps to painting a rain forest mural with kids, click here.

My Learning objectives.

I rarely tell the children what they are learning in a formal way such as a LO because I like to avoid too much teacher talking time during art. I feel that the more of an art lesson that is spent in right brain activities the better. A formal LO also implies that someone must be successful at it, in order to achieve that LO. This is inappropriate for creative flow and confidence building.  However, I’m always  very clear of pupil learning targets, and often share these with pupils in order to help them improve.  I find it is very important to clearly explain what is required of them and why, as this sets the scene for the lesson.

Learning objectives: Session 1

  1. To use mixed media to create informative sketches of insects and similar creatures.
  2. To understand the difference between information sketches and a finished painting/drawing, and to begin to decide when to use each technique.
  3. To use observation skills to perceive small details and to choose suitable materials to capture that information quickly.
  4. To be able to objectively observe own work and begin to assess the areas that need improvement.
  5. To adapt, change, adjust the areas that need improvement incorporating any advice given by adult.
  6. To begin to use descriptive language to describe a colour in more detail. e.g. olive green, lemon yellow, warm red etc.

Session 1: Drawing insects/bugs from dead specimens-large scale

I contacted our local Natural History Museum and asked if they had any rainforest samples for us to borrow. They were marvelous and provided us with a box of goodies which consisted of: a very long python snake skin, lots of trays of butterflies, a tarantula, a black scorpion, a small monkey skull, a centipede and a couple of beetles. I am ashamed to say that I never actually took any photos of the samples, we were loaned them for a week free of charge.

The lesson began with ‘scribble’ drawings in pen for the first five minutes, to warm up. I then encouraged them to use the insect specimens to create accurate but large scale, sketches on A3 paper using chalks, water colour, charcoal and pen. I demonstrated the technique of drawing with charcoal first (as any inaccuracies could easily be rubbed away), then using chalks to put in some colours and adding water colour paint to other areas.

Here are a few examples I did before the lesson which I pinned up on the white board to  give a clear idea of what I was after. Below is a ‘scribble’ butterfly, done be holding a handwriting pen at the end and without resting your wrist on the paper/table. I then worked over this one with chalks.



The one above is black chalk pastel (over charcoal sketch). Water colour for the orangey brown parts and yellow-white for the spots.


The one above is all chalk pastels over a charcoal sketch.

I noticed that some children did insist on drawing a butterfly from their heads, even though there was the most beautiful butterfly in front of them. These children just needed encouragement to actually look at what they saw and use some proportional measurement techniques to assess how long the legs were, or how fat the body was. Children who were naturally confident with drawing the insects were then asked to look very closely at a leg, or the colour of a wing. Often they would notice a tiny detail/colour that they hadn’t seen before. Here are some of their sketches.


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Every child had a piece of work good enough to be put up on the wall. Every one engaged with the insects in an amazing way and produced what I would describe as very mature work. ( 9-11 year olds produced this.) I managed to display it in such a way that one person’s success could cover up another person’s less successful area, leaving the especially good bits exposed.

If you have no museum from which to borrow samples then why not book a trip to a natural history museum and make a day of it? Or even a zoo? Alternatively collect creatures from the school gardens, or borrow pets maybe? As a last resort you could work from photos and pictures but there really isn’t anything to be compared with working from real insects.

Session 2: Birds and frogs-from photos (unfortunately)

Unfortunately I was not able to borrow a pet parrot or any live creatures. However I did get my hands on 30 feathers. Fifteen were the large quill feathers from plain birds, the others were those colourful packets of craft feathers that you can buy in craft shops. So we began the lesson by observing and drawing feathers. The children were quite accustomed to the mixed media techniques from the last lesson so I invited them to choose what ever medium and technique they felt they were good at and was appropriate for the feather they were observing. Here are just a few sketches they did.


I reminded the children that birds are covered in feathers ( an obvious point, but actually an important link when drawing birds). We then looked at a quick power point about toucans. I chose toucans because they feature in Tim Viner’s book The Tree and because they are typically inspiring rain forest birds. I then chose a picture, printed out and laminated several resource pictures of toucans and asked the children to begin sketching in charcoal, pen, pencil chalk pastels and water colour (their choice) the toucans.

In all my art lessons I encourage the children to think of ‘mistakes’ in their work as not mistakes but areas that need adjustment. They even use that term now too. It shows them that there is no real thing as a mistake but rather something that just needs a little more work or observation. I strongly encourage the children not to cross out their work but rather to write a little comment about what it is that needs adjusting in that particular sketch. This process allows them an opportunity to: self assess, to show me their improvements in observation, and show their friends that they realize that something isn’t right yet and gives them a chance to correct it. Here are some of their toucan sketches, the first one is a perfect example of a child who is self assessing in a positive way as they draw.

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As children began to improve and practice their weak areas on the toucan I then allowed some of them to branch out and try a tree frog. These were entirely independent with no help from me. Others continued to try a toucan on sugar paper with chalk pastels. Here is a display we put together.

IMG_1238 IMG_1239The chalk drawing below is one of my favourite. I love this boy’s sense of colour, the bird looks like an edible sweetie and I just love his comment next to the bird on the right…’needs to go on a diet’.


I hope this post is helpful in giving some ideas about painting and drawing birds. I found that giving clear instructions, demonstrating techniques and reminding the children of skills they learnt in previous lessons worked really well. This lesson set them up fantastically for painting their actual mural which featured a toucan. Do contact me with any questions, comments or if you need any further help with lesson plans.

Tinker Tailer Soldier Sailer…Doctor: Get kids sewing!

My friend related a story to me once of her husband returning from a trip abroad to find his three children sewing. His youngest, a boy and the apple of his eye, had begged his mother to be allowed to join his elder sisters in sewing their own pencil cases, to which she agreed. Upon the father’s arrival, mayhem and madness broke out as devastated, he swiftly removed the needle and thread from his son’s hands and then turned enraged upon his wife.

‘Why is my son sewing?’ he demanded, adding something along the lines of ‘sewing is for girls’!

My friend then gently and respectfully reminded him that if he wanted his son to be a surgeon then sewing skills would come in quite handy. As they would for a sailor mending the sails of his ship, an army officer sewing the badge of his latest promotion onto his uniform and a cobbler mending antique leather goods.

Needless to say the half finished pencil case was quietly returned at a later date when father’s ego felt a little less bruised, and is now a fully functional pencil case to this day.

Sewing is actually a very practical and useful skill that all children regardless of gender should practice not only for the reasons above but also to improve those fine motor skills and hand eye coordination that all help towards good writing. It also extends concentration skills, and teaches children to think practically. It is a transferable skill which can be used to help reduce reuse and recycle-how often have you thrown away a pair of trousers, shirt or socks because of a missing button or a little hole?

Here are some ideas to try of varying degrees of difficulty and adult supervision.

  • Make a P.E. bag for your son/daughter’s school p.e. kit. You could use an old pillow case, cut it down a little and decorate it with fabric paints/pens. Add a simple draw string at the top to keep it closed. Here are some easy tutorials. Alternatively make it from a bit of old cloth, bed sheet, recycled t shirt, pin it together so it is easier for your child and start them off with not too long a bit of thread as they’ll annoy you by getting it into a tangle. Add simple patch pockets, add beads, buttons, poppers, sequins if you like. Felt is very easy to sew and you can pick it up in fabric/craft shops for less than a pound for a little bag-sized square of it. Image
  • Here’s a bag my son is working on. He was so proud of it, especially as his sketch book fits inside perfectly.Image
  • Here he’s sewing on a long pocket for pencils and pens.
  • Keep it simple and decorate a little square of felt with different colour embroidery thread. Use a simple running stitch. My boys started with this and were so so proud of it.
  • Make a glasses case or pencil case. You could fasten it with a little zip if you ‘re feeling brave or else what about some velcro-I’m sure you can find velcro in super stores from the little sewing sections.
  • Try some cross stitch-you’ll have to get the squared cross stitch fabric and some embroidery thread though. (You may find that some cross stitch magazines from WHSmiths may actually have a free sample when you buy the magazine). It’s fun to decorate a little piece of fabric or write a name/message and then cut it out and stick it onto a card for Gran maybe.
  • If you want to go fancy then get t-shirt or skirt and sew on decorations such as ribbons, bows, home made buttons out of fimo, sequins, roses etc. If your in Oxford then here’s the place to get all this haberdashery. This is also a great way to customize a gift for a baby, toddler or anyone really.
  • Make a teddy, for those feeling brave. First cut out the shape of the teddy in felt, then find something soft to stuff inside it-old pillow stuffing, feathers,dry beans/peas. Sew round the outside not too close to the edges with thinned embroidery thread (take out some threads so its only two or three strands thick), but leave a gap to stuff the stuffing into the teddy and then sew up the hole. Decorate teddy and give him bead/googley eyes, a little bow tie out or spotty ribbon and sew his paw pads. Cute idea huh?
  • Easy sock caterpillar. Stuff sock with plastic bags/stuffing and tie the end with rubber band or string. Sew or glue eyes on, sew on felt spots/sequins. Make little felt feet if you want. Embellish as you desire.
  • Sew an easy cape. Obviously this could be a Little Red Riding Hood cape a halloween beast’s cape or what you will. Get a piece of square cloth long enough for a cape and a bit of ribbon (1m). Sew the ribbon on the inside of the cloth about an inch and a half from the top of one of the edges of the square cloth making sure the ribbon sticks out either end so you can tie it round your shoulders. Decorate your cape with fabric pens, paint, sequins, glow in dark paint, plastic spiders etc.ImageImage
  • Here’s a cape we made and decorated.
  • Sew an easy bean bag. Bean bags have gone out of fashion a bit but they’re great for toddlers to learn how to throw and catch (before the frustrating move to a ball where you spend more time fetching the ball than actually playing with it). All you need are squares of scrap cloth. even flannels,    so you need two matching sized squares per bean bag, some dry beans, and sewing materials. sew four sides of the bean bag, turn it inside out (so think about the colours of the fabric so your nicest colours will be on the outside) stuff it with beans-not too many as it should be floppy, and sew up your last side of the square. This lady has an excellent tutorial if you’re still confused. For some good bean bag games visit here.
  • Sew some felt flowers, cut out the petals and the central bit out of different colour felt cloth and sew them together. Make wire stems and arrange them into a little bouquet. (You can find ways of sewing the base of the petals so that they hold in their positions). Or sew them to a bag you’ve made. Or sew them to a piece of backing felt, add a ribbon and tie as a necklace.
  • Sew a felt necklace pendent. Cut out a bib shaped pendent that is the correct size for your child and decorate it with anything you want, beads, sequins, painted pasta, fimo shapes, varnished card shapes. Then sew ribbon to either end of the bib part and tie round the neck.

Hope this article provides some exciting ideas, please feel free to drop me a line.

Exciting ways to get creative with your children-for the tentative parent.

Sketching upon waking

There are many research articles suggesting that spending positive, quality time with our children at home (especially at primary age) directly impacts their attitudes and beliefs in their own capabilities at school. If you’re interested in reading more about this then here are a few articles.

Article 1 Parental involvement in children’s education. Why does it make a difference?

Article 2 Parental involvement in their children’s learning

Quality time put in by fathers, mothers or any other important family member gives  children the opportunity to see, copy and integrate skills that are important on a social, practical and emotional level. Creative activities are a fantastic way to begin some quality interactions with your child and is often an irresistible distraction from the addictive pull of PSP’s, Nintendo, T.V , etc.

In this article I will share some of my ideas (all tried and tested), some useful places to visit, some tips along with great links to online resources.

Get Creative: No 1

  1. Choose a book
  2. Pick a related topic
  3. Choose your focus and skill
  4. Get Creative

Choose an exciting, well written story book suitable to your children’s level of understanding and find a family time where this book gets read everyday (its bed time in our house). Now you’re probably thinking, How’s this creative? Well I’ll explain.

Let’s take The Iron Man and The Iron Woman by Ted Hughes, or The jungle book by Rudyard Kipling. Both books contain excellent language, and vocabulary as well as perfect subject matter to stimulate fantastic art, drama or creative writing.  What I often do with my children is to pick a topic that links in with the current book I’m reading, so for example you could choose topics like recycling, wildlife, pollution, save the planet, reduce, reuse, junk,for The Iron Man/Woman. And for the Jungle book you might choose topics such as forests, jungle animals, India, tigers, traditional peoples.

Once your book and topic are chosen (either by you or by the kids) then you need to decide what you want to get out of this. For me, there are some occasions where I know precious little about our chosen topic so its a chance for the kids and I to learn together. Other times I know that I have a skill, or a particular idea in mind that I want to pass onto the children. And yet other times it is simply another ploy to distract them from the t.v. or from bickering with each other.

Lets imagine that you’ve chosen The Iron Man/Iron Woman, your topic is recycling and your aim is to improve skills in art, creating from imagination, sculpting, painting, cutting and such like. You could then collect all the house hold recyclable junk like cereal boxes, toilet/kitchen rolls, tin cans, milk bottles and lids etc. and build the Iron man out of them and paint him metallic colours. You could make ‘space bat angel dragon’ wings using old black plastic bags, or Iron Woman masks out of old cd’s, wire and cardboard. You could make papier mache half men half fish, or air dry clay painted models of fish and hang them from the ceiling. Go and visit a fish farm and draw the fish there, if you’re in Oxford then here’s a great place to visit. Go and take photos of pollution in a lock, canal or river near you, then make a piece or art work or poster persuading locals not to dump rubbish into it. I know a few local children near me who made posters, laminated them and tied them with string to the fence along my local stream. Also show them this.

All this can be done with any good book at any level and ability. I will suggest some more fantastic books at the end of this article. Just to add one more example for a lower age group lets take a fantastic book like The snail and the whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. (a book appropriate to pre school and foundation year children pictured above). You have topics such as the sea, seaside, whales, snails, sea wildlife, and from these topics can stem all sorts of wonderful art such as painting shells, collecting empty garden snail shells and decorating them with acrylic paint and then varnishing them. Visiting the seaside and collecting objects that can later be put together into a piece or art, or stuck onto a cardboard frame for a picture, making a sand sculpture of sea creatures (remember to photograph them and you can make them in any sand pit), look at Hokusai’s The Great Wave and make your own painting inspired by it. Play them this, a beautiful composition of John Masefield’s Sea Fever.

Get Creative: No 2.

  1. History, Art, Music Drama (and a bit of science too)
  2. Chose the topic
  3. Bring it to life-visits, online links/games, references
  4. Get creative

I did three history topics with my children that worked really well and will share one of them. Although this idea can work with any historical topic of your choice it is obviously most effective if it is adapted to the children’s age, ability and preferences.

My three topics were Castles, the Vikings, and Ancient Egyptians.

Castles hold a fascination for children so it needs little persuasion to capture their interest. I connected it to the battle of Hastings but there are many castles that can be used and many kings, queens and historical events that you could connect to your topic for even more drama. I ‘story told’ ( this is my special term for dramatically retelling a story in an animated way) the battle of Hastings cutting it down to the key events, Of course the most dramatic being that King Harold of England gets an arrow shot in his eye. Naturally here you’ve immediately got the perfect situation for some drama, one child is the Normans, the other child acts out the Saxon army and they have a great big battle using pencil swords and Harold can then rather dramatically die a slow and grueling death upon the living room carpet. Need I mention that your arts and craft’s session is already organized as you will need to make some helmets out of cardboard for your little solders to wear, some cardboard swords wrapped in kitchen foil, some shields with coats of arms for each army, and naturally bows and arrows out of string, garden canes and cardboard. Oh and what about milk-carton horse faces, with knitting wool mane and brown paint.

If you’ve got girls who are far too sensible to launch into full battle with pencils and garden cane bows then take a look at the Bayeux tapestry and try some easy weaving at home using cardboard and knitting wool. Then you can collect some large and small boxes along with cardboard tubes and first design on paper and then make your own cardboard castle. Make sure you all know the important parts of the castle such as the turrets, draw bridge portcullis etc. Why not make a draw bridge that actually works. Maybe make some actual knights that can defend the Queen/King of the castle. Go and visit a castle first to see all the things you need to make. Here is a fantastic cardboard castle . A good blog too. And don’t forget all castles have a well designed flag to tell everyone who’s castle it is.

Here’s a lovely blog all about homemade castles.

Here’s where bit of science comes in. Make a catapult out of lolly sticks and plastic spoons and make the ammunition out of clay, wet tissue and other objects and see which catapult works best with which object. Then investigate what it is that makes the ammunition go further or not and discover the forces behind what makes the catapult work. Here you could challenge older children to actually make a catapult that works using house hold objects or junk such as old spoons/ladle, rubber bands, old picture frame imagination.

Lastly I worked with a class of thirty children last year and we made musical instruments out of junk which we then used to create a series of soundscapes of the battle of Hastings. We made the shakers out of bottles with beans in, tissue boxes with rubber bands round, tins and old cooking pots with pencils and sticks to beat with, bunches of old keys strung together and more. I then set them off with each group working on one bit of the essential part of the story to create a sound scape which they then performed to each other at the end of every session and then to key stage one at the end of term. You can decide together what sort of noises they would hear at each part of the story and then find the instrument that lends itself best to that particular sound. Then put the sounds together in the right order to tell the story.

Places to visit linked with castles, Jousting day at Blenheim Palace, Warwick Castle, town of Battle, Castles of Great Britain and Ireland.

Web links for castles suitable for children, Castles for kids, Castle interactive learning, Crush the castle game, Bayeux tapestry comes to life

Further ideas. Dragons, George and the Dragon, Mythical castles, Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast all have castles in (NOT the Disney version-the proper traditional tales), Jane and the dragon (CBB’s program-well made and beautiful animations), tower of London.

Get Creative: No 3.

  1. Fun and Funky quick ideas-choose one
  2. Acquire your materials
  3. Get creative

For some quick and easy projects requiring less thought than No’s 1 and 2.

  • Get two very large boxes (from super markets, recycling centers), carve an arch in the ends of the boxes with a craft knife so that they become a tunnel through which a child could crawl (you could leave one end un-carved so it becomes a den). Decorate the outside of the boxes. We made ours into a dragon tunnel, we attached cardboard wings using holes and garden wire, a neck and head and toilet paper roll ‘spikes’ along its back. Once painted it served as hours of fun for all the children in our neighborhood from toddlers to eight year olds.
  • Get air dry clay, roll it out flat to about half a cm thick. Impress into the surface found leaves, flowers, twigs, and other interesting textures and then cut sections of the clay and create a clay sculpture. Let it dry and then paint it using acrylic paints. Once the paints are dry you can then varnish it. Mix a little clay with water to make clay ‘glue’, it should be the consistency of soft cheese. When attaching one piece of clay to the other roughen the surfaces a little, apply the ‘glue’ and then press together. This ‘glue’ is properly named slip.

Air dry clay sculpture


  • Get ceramic paints and a black ceramic/glass pen along with some old tiles you’re no longer using for DIY and draw and paint on them. Plan it on paper first just to be sure of what you’re doing. There are oven bake paints that makes your ceramic piece dishwasher safe and there are other ones that are air dry only. Here’s some we did inspired by William de Morgan.Boat
  • Collect some bottles with lids, some rubber bands and an old empty frame, and make your own musical instruments. Decorate them with paper and glue, sequins, threads etc. Have a family jamming session.
  • Try body percussion. Create a rhythm using sounds made with your body. experiment with how many interesting sounds you can make with your body and have a jamming session with them. Have a look at this for some inspiration. And this.
  • Lastly, start a sketch book with your kids. Stress to them that the sketch book is for drawings that they are going to take care over.(anything else can be done on scrap paper) Keep an eye on what they do in there, praise them, point out things that could be improved next time. Make sure that they colour pictures done in outline and stress the importance of finishing one picture before moving on to the next. If they cross out a ‘mistake’ then point out that there’s plenty of space next to it to try again and have another go-no need to cross it out. Remember to write the date when you got the sketch book, it may be a treasured memory later on.

I hope this article provides a place to start for some and a little inspiration for others. Please let me know if you have any useful suggestions or resources you know of that I can add.

A few more book suggestions:

Matilda by Roald Dahl, The clever boy and terrible dangerous animal by Idries Shah, The gingerbread man, Goldilocks and the three bears, The rainbow fish by Marcus Pfister, The Hobbit by JRR Tolkein, Alice in Wonderland by CS Lewis, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, Charley and the Chocolate factory by Roald Dahl, Grimms’ fairy tales, Beatrix Potter, Friend or Foe by Michael Morpurgo, The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson.