Bleezer’s Ice Cream – 1st attempt at “flipping the art room”

I’ve often thought about creating instructional videos, but I am one of those people who are VERY UNCOMFORTABLE in front of a camera.  I was less nervous when I jumped out of an airplane than I am every time I stand in front of a microphone.  That being said, nothing will give you a good push like coming back to work after a week off due to a sprained knee. I was going to be on crutches for a few weeks (I still am), and I had to figure out how to teach without standing at the board or sitting on the floor.  I wanted to come up with a project that was K-3 appropriate to get me through the week.  Just at the right moment, I saw a post on the Art of Ed that reminded me of an oldie but goodie project inspired by the poem Bleezer’s Ice Cream.

First, I found a video on YouTube to help introduce the poem:

Then, I rewrote my own abbreviated version and played around with stop motion animation.  It’s still a little awkward but gets the point across:

A short video with directions followed:

Even though the directions talked about drawing ice cream, I always try to include elements of choice in my projects.  Students were told that if they weren’t in the mood for ice cream, they could create flavors of cupcakes, donuts, or just about anything that they could illustrate with 3 or more flavors.  What I really wanted them to do was practice sketching lightly to build up their compositions and then add value and texture. Most students stuck with the ice cream theme, but we had quite a few bakeries and sweet shops as well.  During the second class, a few second graders had time to write and record a poem.  I had a template for them to follow, but one student wanted to sing a song instead…

Overall this turned out to be a great experience for me for a number of reasons:

  1. I realized how much easier it is for students to see the demo when is it projected on a large screen.
  2. As they watched the videos, I had two whole magical extra minutes to set up their supplies. What I wouldn’t give to have those two minutes more often.
  3. This turned out to be a two day project and a few students were absent on day 1.  Instead of ignoring the rest of the class while I got them caught up, I was able to just play the videos again (so helpful!)
  4. Once the videos are done, I have them forever.  No need to reinvent the wheel each year.
  5. It got me to step outside my comfort zone.  Now I’m so excited about prerecording my demos that I’ve got three in the works for next week. Stay tuned…


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Experiments with Pronto Plates

1st test smA recent Explore. Create. Make it Great. visitor asked a question about my last Pronto Plate tutorial that I couldn’t immediately answer.  I always heat set digital prints simply by running them through the printer a second time. If you don’t want to mess with your printer, you can heat set in an oven, with a heat gun, or on a hot plate.  I tend to draw into images with Sharpies and china markers because I always have them lying around and they are so easy to use. You just draw on the plate, ink it up, and run it through the press. Joanna wanted to know whether litho crayons had to be heat set and I hated that I couldn’t confidently answer her question. I decided to test a whole range of supplies and the above image (1st test) happened.

The two obvious problems were that the Sharpie pen (not to be confused with Sharpie marker), and litho crayon began to break down with the first run through the press. I decided to test a few other materials before heading to the kitchen.spray test sm

For the second test I sprayed some paint through a paper stencil and then scribbled around it with liquid acrylic. I love the misty halo effect from the spray paint.  No heat required there. The acrylic stuck in some places and wrapped around my brayer in others.  I may not have given the acrylic long enough to cure before printing, but I moved it over to my heat test list anyway.

paint marker test 3 sm

Test #3 involved a few quick scribbles with paint markers.  I was impressed by how easily they took to the etching ink. No heat needed there either.

After a few more scribble tests I came up with two lists:

no heat sm heat set

Materials that usually need to be heat set before printing a Pronto Plate include: (Try placing plate on tin foil in the oven at 200 degrees for 15 minutes or so.  If you do this often, you should not use the same oven that you use for food)

Laser prints, litho crayon, Sharpie pen (not marker), India ink, pigment ink (stamp pad), liquid acrylic

I hear that you can also add laser toner to water to make a wash, but I have not tried this yet. A toner wash would need to be heat set.

Materials that usually do NOT need to be heat set before printing a Pronto Plate include: 

Sharpie marker, ball point pen (different brands may have mixed results), paint markers, China markers, wax crayon, spray paint

*Please note, the above list is a result of my personal experiments.  You should always run your own tests before committing to a large project. Happy printing!


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Pronto Plate Lithography Tutorial

pull printI put this tutorial together for an upcoming workshop with high school art teachers. I often use this exciting process in my own work, but have not yet worked out how to bring it into my elementary art room. You can click this link to download a pdf or continue reading below. Pronto Plate Workshop Handout

PREPARING YOUR IMAGE: Images may be printed from a laser printer, drawn by hand, or a combination of the two. Possible drawing tools include: Sharpie, ballpoint pen, china marker, litho crayon, india ink, or other waterproof materials.

If using a laser printer: Line drawings or high contrast, gritty images work best. You can use a copy machine to transfer an image to a plate (this will add a bit of contrast), or print directly from a computer. I usually begin with the following formula in Adobe Photoshop and adjust to fit the needs of the image. The following is just a place to start. Experiment and see what works for you. Note: this process will not work with inkjet printers.

1) Start with the correct image size.

          Image-Image Size I suggest 8 x 10in @ 120 pixels/in for an 8.5 x 11 plate.

2) Change image to grayscale.

         Image-Mode-Grayscale OR Image-Adjustments-Black and White

3) Increase contrast.


4) Add a bit of “grit”.

Try: Filter-Artistic-Dry Brush

Note: Large, solid black areas can be tricky to print because the ink won’t have anything to hold on to. If you are concerned, you can select those areas and click: Filter-Noise-Add Noise

5) Change image to Bitmap. Printing ink can only read black and white (not grayscale), so you should change your image to bitmap before printing.

          Image-Mode-Bitmap Try: Output = 120 pixels/in., Method = diffusion dither.

You can also experiment with halftone screens in bitmap. I do not recommend 50% threshold because it will yield large, solid black areas that are tricky to print.

6) Important: warm up your printer before you print. In order for the toner to fuse to your plate, you need a warm printer. Open a blank document in MS Word and print 5 blank pages before printing your image.

7) Print your image emulsion down. When you run your plate through the etching press, the image will be reversed. This can be corrected by telling your laser printer to print the image “emulsion down”. Load your plate into the bypass tray, then click

          File-Print (⌘P).

Under the output menu, check box next to Emulsion Down. (See below)

pronto print

8) Heat set your image. Immediately run your plate through the printer again to heat set it. Use your blank MS Word page and press print. (Alternately, you can bake your plate in the oven at 250° for 10 minutes).




Pronto Plates

Printmaking paper (Stonehenge, Rives BFK, Kozo)


Oil-based etching ink (Gamblin, Charbonnel, and Graphic Chemical work well. Some people prefer litho ink)

Magnesium Carbonate (to stiffen ink if necessary)

Gum Arabic Solution

Medium size bowl (metal is easiest to clean)



Straight blade putty knife

Paper towels

Rubbing alcohol and vegetable oil for clean up

Inking surface (18×24 acrylic works well)

Spray bottle filled with water

Press or wooden spoon

Rubber gloves


Fantastik or 409

pronto set up


  • Cut paper to size. We will be using 9×12.paper
  • Use the spray bottle to dampen both sides of each paper. Stack the papers to keep them moist. The top layer may need occasional misting.
  • Put on a pair of gloves.
  • Prepare your ink. Many etching inks need to be stiffened with a small amount of Magnesium Carbonate. If the ink makes your plate scummy, it may not be stiff enough.
  • Fill the bowl with water and add a splash of gum Arabic (1/2 oz-1oz.).
  • Use the sponge and gum/water solution to dampen both sided of your pronto plate. The damp back will help to keep your plate from moving, and the damp front will keep ink from building up on the white parts of your plate.


  • Load your brayer with a thin layer of ink and roll it back and forth on your wet plate. Roll up and down as well as side to side. Be careful not to let the plate wrap around the brayer.
  • Use the sponge and gum/water solution to gently wipe the plate between layers of ink.
  • Load your brayer with more ink and repeat.
  • Build up 4-5 layers of ink. Wipe your plate with the sponge between each layer and at the end before you print.

ink n wipe

PRINTING YOUR IMAGE:press sandwich

  • Lay your plate facing up on the press bed.
  • Remove your gloves and use clean fingers to place a clean, damp paper over your plate.
  • Layer two sheets of newsprint over the damp paper.pull print
  • Cover with blanket and run through the press.
  • Pull your print, return to the inking station and try again. The second print is often better than the first.



  • Plate: Run your plate through the press with a few sheets of newsprint to remove most of the ink. You can use water with a dab of toothpaste to remove the rest of it. Rinse and store plate between sheets of newsprint for later use. DO NOT use rubbing alcohol to clean your pronto plate.
  • Brayer and inking station: Put on gloves. Use vegetable oil and a paper towel to thin ink on brayer and inking surface. Then use rubbing alcohol to clean up vegetable oil. A final wipe with Fantastik or 409 is often helpful.

SUPPLIES: best source for gum Arabic solution and other printing supplies. Shipping can be slow. for ink, pronto plates, paper, teacher discount in store large brayers at a reasonable price, paper, ink, teacher discount in store “school etching press” is a great deal for $180




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Pictures of Chocolate Inspired by Vik Muniz


This 2 day project has become a much anticipated staple in my 5th grade classroom. It’s short but sweet with excellent results.  During the first class, I introduce the artist.  Students have about 20 minutes to create and photograph their drawings.  During the second class, we use Photoshop to edit the images.

I start by using this Prezi to explore a few images and materials uchoc1sed by Vik Muniz. One of the Prezi slides includes the trailer to his documentary Wasteland.  If you have not seen this movie, please add it to your must see list! The final slide shows his chocolate version of a famous Jackson Pollock photograph. I then explain that “today we are going to create pictures of chocolate.”

I’ve taken a few liberties with this project in order to add color.  Instead of drawing on paper, I ask students to gently clap a piece of tin foil between their hands to give it texture. We use 4 oz. squeeze bottles filled with store brand chocolate syrup to create the drawings.



When students are ready for the cameras/iPads, they use 2 folded 12 x 18 sheets of construction paper to reflect color onto the tinfoil.  Students are asked to take photos from different angles so that they have choices when it comes time to edit it them.



During the second class, students are given a VERY brief introduction to Adobe Photoshop.  They are shown how to crop, change color saturation, and add filters.  If you aren’t familiar with Photoshop, there are many easier ways to edit photos with iPad apps.  In my current school, the only way I can have 20+ students edit at the same time is by using the laptop cart…which is already loaded with Photoshop 🙂

choc6 choc4


Teacher tips:

Yes, of COURSE they are going to want to eat the chocolate!  I am very clear about expectations before we start and have had very few problems. I warn them ahead of time that under no circumstances are they to quirt the chocolate directly into their mouths (yes, you have to say it out loud). Once they are finished with the camera they are allowed to use ONE FINGER to taste the chocolate before folding up the tin foil and throwing it away. I also make them turn in their chocolate bottle and wash their hands before touching the cameras.

Learn more about the artist:


If you can get your hands on a reasonably priced version, Vik Muniz: Reflex is an excellent book.

Here is a great source for high res images.

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Digital Photography Inspired by Vik Muniz

muniz_portfolio muniz_portfolio2

To learn more about this artist visit

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Dish Gardens Inspired by Chihuli


In my school district, the 3rd graders have art for two 45 minute classes per week.  This allows me to do a few more complicated projects with the extra time. Two years ago we were invited to participate in a special nature-themed exhibit.  This project was developed for that exhibit.  It took 5 class periods to complete (2 1/2 weeks).

The 3rd grade class learned about the work of glass artist Dale Chihuli.  Although we do not have the means to work with glass in our art studio, we did experiment with a few ways to imitate the effect.  First, students learned how to roll an even slab of clay with wooden slats.  They draped their slab over a plastic bowl to create a form similar to Chihuli’s “Macchia”.  Since Chihuli’s work can often be found in natural settings, we turned our glazed “macchia” into dish gardens where real vines live side by side with “glass trees” made from melted plastic cups.  The results were so much fun that I had to share them.


Rolling out a slab of clay.


Clay “macchias” in and out of the kiln

chi bowls

The dishes were beautiful on their own, but we kept working…


We took clippings from two parent plants.


After two weeks, the clippings began to grow roots.


While waiting for our plants to root, we used permanent markers to add line, pattern, and color to a series of plastic cups.


It took 60 seconds at 350 degrees to melt our plastic creations.


I used an awl to poke holes in each cup before students added pipe cleaners and beads to build their trees.



Note to teachers:

Melting large quantities of plastic in your oven is not great for your lungs! Make sure you have proper ventilation. These cups are similar to the ones we used. They can easily be found at any grocery store.

Other handy supplies include: plastic bowls, pony beads, 12″ wooden dowels, modeling clay (to help the dowels stand in the dirt), pipe cleaners

Our school orders clay supplies from Portland Pottery.

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Stop Motion Thanksgiving Card

Made on an iPad with Stop Motion Studio Pro by CATEATER, LLC

This second grade class was the first to win my behavior challenge for this year.  When I asked what they wanted to do to celebrate, they asked if they could have a puppet show.  Having recently taken a stop motion workshop with Melissa Hayes at the MAEA Conference, I asked the class if they wanted to try stop motion with their puppets.  The above video is what we came up with.  Not bad for a first try!

Thanks to Melissa’s advice, we started by watching this video on lip-syncing by the Animation Chefs. At first I planned to “keep things simple” and have the students tell knock, knock jokes.  Luckily, I tried it at home first and realized there was nothing simple about lip-syncing a conversation.  Singing a song seemed like a much easier way to go.  The students came up with the Thanksgiving turkey idea.  I had never heard the song before, and now I can’t get it out of my head.  Sorry for sharing!

The classroom set up looked like this:

set 1 set 2 students

The cutouts we used for the “puppets” were something like this. Students traced the puppet shapes onto felt and paper scraps in order to make the clothing. They were told NOT to add a mouth. During the recording, each student had a handful of pre-cut mouths modeled after this Animation Chef secret recipe.

In order to keep students focused, I called all of the boys to switch a mouth. Then I took one picture.  Then all girls switched a mouth and I took another picture.  After each student had about 8 turns, I copied and pasted the loop several times so that it would run long enough to sing a short song. Meanwhile, students had a few minutes to add permanent mouths to their puppets before taking them home.  At the end of class, we recorded the song, and students went on their way.  The entire project took two 45 minute class periods.


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Tempera Paintings Inspired by Tarsila do Amaral


After looking at the work of Tarsila do Amaral, my 4th grade students created landscape paintings with an emphasis on value. They were asked to think about foreground, middle ground, and background.


Tarsila do Amaral grew up on a farm in Capivari, Sao Paulo, Brazil.  In 1916 she began her study of art in Sao Paulo City and continued onto Paris in 1920.  The 1920’s were a time when it was trendy to copy the music, art and literature styles of Europe.

In 1922, Amaral returned to Brazil.  In February of that year, a group of “Coffee Barons” sponsored a series of events created by artists, poets and intellectuals.  Modern Art Week, as it was called, is considered the birthday of Brazilian Modernism.  Tarsila do Amaral is considered the “first lady of the Modernist movement.”

Although Amaral did not exhibit her art during this event, she made connections with other artists with similar ideas.  She soon returned to Paris to study under a group of cubists which included Fernand Leger.  Although his influence can be seen in her work, Amaral was determined to reveal a special “Brazilian-ness” through her paintings.  Her use of vivid color and surrealist forms are reminiscent of the flora and fauna of her home country, Brazil.

Adapted from

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Building Projects with Legos

elle kahlin

Every year I try out a few experimental projects.  If they are successful, we use them again.  If not, we learn something from it and move on.  A recent experiment involved printing with Legos because… who doesn’t love Legos?

The first round with 2nd graders was left very open ended.  Student were asked to use Legos and a stamp pad to “build” something creative.

up close


hands close

We learned that the students came up with amazing inventions, but the stamp pads were much messier than expected (sorry parents!).  I immediately ordered washable ink pads and tried it again with a “gadget print” pumpkin project.



Once again, the students created beautiful work. This time we learned that washable ink washes off our fingers much faster, but it also doesn’t print nice dark lines like the regular stamp pads. We even put foam sheets under our paper to get as much detail as possible.  It helped, but colored pencils were still needed for contrast.

pump print


dino book

First grade students read If the Dinosaurs Came Back by Bernard Most. They used large Legos with black tempera to build a background for their illustrations. I found an imitation set of Legos like this at the local grocery store.


lego dino


We learned that large Legos are much easier for little hands to manipulate.  We also learned that black paint makes a much bolder design than a stamp pad.  There is one more project that I want to try before packing the Legos away for a while.  It’s going to be the best one so stay tuned…

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One Sheet Sculptural Mini Book

This simple book is made out of one sheet of paper.  You can use just about any size or quality of paper as long as it folds easily.  80 pound paper will allow students to use crayon on both sides of the page without it showing through. The finish product moves with a fun slinky-like motion.  Kids enjoy watching the pages move back and forth between their hands.One page sculptural mini book

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