Art lesson resource: Candy skull lino printing

At this time of year, we tend to roll our timetable forward so that students can begin their GCSE art and design classes before the Summer break. For us, this is Year 8 into 9 (12 to 13 year olds) who may lack maturity and sometimes skills. My new classes are keen as this is their option choice but need to be engaged by skills, topics and presentation. For this purpose I pick something that they find slightly familiar; Day of the Dead candy skulls (calavera).

What you will need

  • Linoleum tiles cut to A6
  • Day of the Dead resource sheets
  • Lino cutting tools (v and u shaped blades)
  • Water-based printing ink
  • Ink rollers
  • String and washing pegs – to provide a drying line for prints


Dia de muertos (Day of the Dead) is a Mexican cultural festival that takes place over three days from October 31st to November 2nd. Although essentially linked to Halloween and gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died, there are links to much older traditions such as the Aztec festival for goddess, Mictecacihuatl.

day of the dead skulls
Mexicana: calavera skulls

Day of the Dead family

Decorative skulls (calavera) are a symbol used during the festival applied to decorative or edible skulls made from either sugar or clay which are used in the Mexican celebration or even face paints for party-goers! As an inspiration for print-makers, they provide a cultural reference point from which to explore symmetry, shape, pattern and texture.

© damoward 2017
Artists’ examples


I get students to draw from examples of calavera, concentrating on symmetry and pattern. Once they understand common motifs, they can begin to produce their own designs. A double-page spread in a sketchbook can show research and presentation skills – this forms my home learning tasks and a deeper understanding of looking into other/unfamiliar cultures. I think this idea was magpied from @LeedsArtTeacher on Twitter as she found it an engaging theme for Year 9.

The video at the top of the post help the students understand the Lino printing process from sketch to mono print.

Resources such as this image help the artists achieve a variety of textures and they are asked to explore at least two blades for cutting details.

Finally, reviewing progress against a simple ladder of achievement (below) can help move ideas and details forward.

© damoward 2017

A single colour mono print can be a starting point for further exploration of lino printing, experiments with other media on top of dry prints or gradient effects with wet ink rolling. Final prints can be used as part of the double-page spread presentation or as individual page presentations.



Art lesson resource: Film Noir Photos


Here is  a recent project I have completed with Year 9 GCSE Photography students based on the theme of Film Noir imagery. Developed from a project created many years ago for the NCFE level 2 course, there are a few essentials needed but basically it is about interpretation of the visual style. The examples presented here were all produced this half term by the students working in teams of 4 or 3 (there are 27 in my class).

What you will need:

  • Ideally DSLR cameras but use what you can
  • Photo editing software, ie. Photoshop
  • Battery torches – even cheap £1 LED ones work well
  • A studio light would be great
  • Black sugar paper and masking tape
  • Costume props: police-style caps, Macintosh coats, long gloves
  • Props: plastic handguns (must be relevant style to 1940s USA), plastic Tommy guns, plastic handcuffs and/or police badges.



As a starting point we looked at clips from some of the best Noir movies of the ’40s. We used collaborative team methods to identify the key elements common to each of the examples (lighting techniques, good guys, dubious gals, the femme fatale etc). We also looked out for common costume, make-up and hair as well as props. Students went from there to research contemporary artists (and movies) that employ some of the iconography of the 1940s Noir. The mood board above shows that a student has identified Noir ideas in the work of Vandervell and Carr.


Usually in a photography project, I will start students with idea research to get visual prompts for the imagery they will go on to experiment with and develop in their own way. However, the Noir style is quite intuitive once you have the props. It is surprising how many members of staff had a classic Macintosh coat hiding (probably hardly worn) in a cupboard and I sourced three. The handgun props I found at Poundland and even got a Police Set that included a badge and cuffs. Tommy guns were trickier; eventually I got some made in Hong Kong in bright blue and orange that took an age to arrive in the UK; cost just £5 each including p&p. Trilby hats and police-style caps we had in school already from drama performances.

So session one included the smaller teams of 4 wearing/using props in a drama studio and basically improv acting, more accurately ‘acting up’! Cameras were gradually introduced to the teams who were starting to get it. These were photography students after all and didn’t want to be the ‘models’.

After a review of the first shoot, students identified what did or didn’t work the first time. Here we introduced lighting effects. Bringing in their own family torches (and the odd Pringle tube*), we blocked out all the natural light in the studio to get a more developed contrast in tone. Using our two studio lights too and lots of black sugar paper also helped create more abstract tone shapes.

*Empty Pringles tubes with a torch gaffer/duct taped to one end make a makeshift snoot or mini spot-light.

Screen Shot 2017-05-12 at 22.12.16
Sample contact sheet

Contact sheets of the second shoot were compared to inspiration and to a checklist of creative studio techniques. What was missing? How could we develop further using adjustments to light meters, aperture, ISO etc.? What can be done in post-production to create a Noir look and feel?

An in-depth analysis of the projection room sequence from Citizen Kane (1945) helped us to understand how important a range of grey tones can be in obscuring detail. How could we do this without a smoke machine? This informed our next two studio shoots before post-production editing.


To help develop the Noir style, students used monochrome, spot colour, curve/level adjustments, fog layers and when a neutral back drop had been used, replaced backgrounds. The editing and refining aspect took a number of lessons to get right.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Specific skills lessons were undertaken on picture planes (creating depth), cutting out around hair and rendering lighting and clouds.

Kids’ Feedback

“Best project so far; really enjoyed the studio sessions especially dressing’ up”

“Made me use my imagination”

“I can’t draw so this is my most creative piece of work as I could imagine being a character in an old film”

“I liked using the lights to make a Noir scene. Not using Photoshop all the time”


This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Art lesson resource: recycled shoes

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-15-43-10As a variation on the Surreal Shoes project for Year 8, here is an idea for the creative use of some recycled materials.

Our school caretakers wanted to dispose of various half-full tins of emulsion paint and asked if we could use them in art – of course! Students were asked to bring in an old shoe (or any item of footwear) or share a pair with a partner.

Like all good art projects, always start with a basis in observational drawing; shoes are always a favourite and a fairly good stretch of skills with a pencil.



Next step was to do a bit of research into Claes Oldenburg’s gigantic sculptures. Of interest were how these ‘pop’ icons (everyday or popular items) can transform a public space.


Shoe sketches were then translated into a similarly gigantic object; a bridge, a building, an archway or a skate park! Ladders, slides and doorways were added to the shoes and even vehicles, trees and people around them to get a sense of the scale.

Using the emulsion/wall paint in which to dip the shoes made them a) no longer a usable shoe and b) dried to a hard finish almost like cast plastic. It creates an instantly sculptural effect and a superb surface in which to work.

Taking inspiration from Roy Lichtenstein’s pop art style, the shoe can be used as a 3D surface for a 2D image. Some students chose to add features; this can be done using cardboard cut into shape and with a layer of mod roc /plaster bandage. To adhere this to the shoe takes quite a bit of PVA glue! As you can see from these details of my practice piece; I added the speech bubble and base. The shoe is hardly recognisable and adds to the distortion of the pop art image.

Screen Shot 2016-12-10 at 15.44.42.png

The final stage is to use acrylic paint to add the details and colour. Using elements of pop art style such as primary colours, outlines and even ‘dotty’ textures adds an extra element of skill and is quite manageable for Year 8s.








Recording art demos

Do you find yourself repeating demonstrations of art techniques? I keep my most recent art sketchbooks in school as a reference to show the kids that I have also ‘had a go’ at whatever I set them. However, this is not the same as seeing a work in progress. I am reminded of the video of Picasso painting on glass:

Seeing the artist at work often can give more hints and tips to resolving art problems than merely the finished piece. With our abundant availability of tech these days, it isn’t too hard to create a mini-video to share as a ‘what a good one looks like’. The popcorn task above was filmed with an iPhone in my left hand. Ok, so I added some music after but this isn’t so hard these days especially on a tablet. My advice is: record it, upload it. preferably to YouTube so that they can review it at home (review, rewind and pause).


Art lesson resource: Mandala ‘pizza’


Here is a great GCSE project idea suitable for developing a theme in terms of differentiation and widening the scope of tired secondary source images. This pattern making painting activity takes about 8 weeks (three hours per week) with Year 9 GCSE students and slightly longer with a one year group when they main part has been delivered in 7 weeks or half a term and students finish at home.



Circular designs exist in all sorts of global contexts and can be used as sources of inspiration for this project. As my starting point was based on observational drawings from natural forms, I introduced elements of pattern using MC Escher, Islamic tiles and Damien Hirst’s butterfly work. Only as the process became more apparent to students did  I show a YouTube time-lapse video of a Tibetan sand-painting and links to my Pinterest page. Other inspiration (not mandalas as such) came from artists, Vincent Scarpace and Jim Dine.

What you will need:

  • Metre rulers
  • Transparency or tracing paper
  • Acrylic or gouache paint
  • Thick card or grey board
  • Craft /x-acto knife
  • PVA glue
  • Tissue paper for papier-mâché


The starting point for this is observational drawing but through the use of secondary source material start to explain how abstraction works and why individual artists produce images of such varied style.

Focussing on formal elements and ways to simplify patterns, students explored both manufactured and natural shapes producing an A3 study sheet of each.

Screen Shot 2016-12-10 at 16.01.09.png

Based on an approximate 45° triangle, students used tessellation and symmetry to produce a mandala section (known by some students as a ‘pizza slice’). After refinement and colour experiments (restricted to 3 harmonising and one complementary) the mandala section is traced and then transferred to A2 grey board. Students make the decision to flip the image (or not) in order to create a circular design. Acrylic paint works very well but gouache is a lot more precise. My older students, working at home, preferred to add colour blends using gouache.

An additional idea is to bas-relief 3D shapes into the design or add cardboard relief structures. This is purely a differentiation based on skills and speed of working; painting alone is a time-consuming affair, however, some students may choose to work quickly.

Kids’ feedback

“An amazing outcome! It looks really complicated from a short distance but wasn’t too hard to do.”

“I think I got an idea as to how textile patterns and wallpapers were designed before computers.”

“Takes too long. I’m impatient! Looks good though so I will finish eventually.”

“I love my design! Drawing it out was repetitive but now I’m adding gradient paint tones I’m in love with it again!”

I have a handful of completed designs already and will post some on here after GCSE moderation. Please let me know how you use this #mandalaproject idea via my Twitter: @damoward.


Art lesson resource: Photo Serendipity




Here is a great photography task for students of all ages; indeed, it was introduced to me on an exam board course I attended in Manchester last year. I have since tried out variations with Year 7, 11 and sixth form photographers.

Run outside. Take a picture of the first thing you see. Run inside. Take a picture of the second thing you see. Write about the connection between these two random objects, people, or scenes.

The example above was basically “take a photo every 15 steps”. The key is to keep looking for the correct ‘feeling’ of a point of interest; ask why it is interesting, refine your composition using your camera controls and (most important) TAKE it. The annotation exercise helps the student draw contextual ideas not just formal descriptions.

In my exemplar, the Manchester Chinatown scene has an emphasis on yellow/red typography but also the serendipity of the guy with the red top who walked into my frame. A typically rainy Manchester scene also has a person with a long green ‘mod’ style parka. The second photo mainly shows the back of people’s heads (both people holding mobile phones to the ears as they walk) with some pleasing watery reflections on the pavement. The main interest being the bearded man with the pushchair. Connections between the two images can be drawn out such as thirds-composition, vertical lines, street photography, contrasting empty streets with pedestrians etc.

A variation on this idea is to use random-ish objects for mini still life set ups. This is particularly useful for younger photographers who cannot simply wander around your school or local environment.


Again, my example came from an exercise in Manchester. This one being: “be creative”. Presented with a glass, mug and spoon, can you take something interesting? This becomes more challenging if you try to over analyse the task. Merely looking at formal elements, camera technique etc are not enough on their own: happenstance and the creative flow have to play their part. Getting annotations and connections is surprisingly easier with the younger students who were much more open to ideas. Of course, you can influence the amount of randomness by being a bit more selective with the objects available. I tried seashells and metal tools as a starting point for instance.




Art lesson resource: Engaging Perspectives

Here is a lesson idea for engaging students in perspective drawing; suitable for Y5-Y7 students. 

How do you teach perspective drawing? Over the years I have tried the mundane (drawing blocks in single and two point) and the fabulous (surreal bedrooms) but find that the old faithful methods like the train track to a single point and the view down two streets have worked best. However, they’re not exciting and don’t introduce people into the 3D space. I like to teach perspective to Y7 so figures are tricky anyway.

Two-point perspective view down urban streets

So in an effort to engage the imagination and also partially inspired by a LEGO obsessed colleague, we tried a different approach based on the LEGO mini-figure.

Interesting that a photographer, Andrew Whyte has also used LEGO mini-figures as a way of engaging viewers with his work (seen here), my work colleague photographs a mini-figure representative of himself on school trips, usually at a relevant landmark.


© Andrew Whyte



Andrew Whyte captures his figure with a depth of field that belies the perspective available. I ask students: where would your mini-figure like to travel? What landmarks would she see there?

I ask them to look carefully at how the figure has been constructed. What shapes can they see?


My colleague made an awesome step-by-step video showing horizon line, vanish point and construction lines to assemble the figure that I can’t upload to here but the best thing is just to have a go yourself.

a) Bring in a mini-figure if they can or get someone kind to lend you a few (this project takes two lessons)

b) Construct it in single-point 3D perspective

c) Personalise it and place it in the city or on a country road using markers for colour.



Here is a selection of the outcomes that cover mostly a) and b) above; the next stage being to decide on the background. To say that they were more engaged by the mini-figures than simple blocks is an understatement!


I’m considering differentiating the background task so that some can do the city as it is a two-point perspective task and the rest attempt a row of trees like the example above.

What you will need

  • Pencils
  • Rulers
  • Erasers
  • Felt-tip/markers
  • Someone kind to lend LEGO people

Feedback so far has been amazing. They can’t wait to add to their LEGO scenes.