Art Teaching tips

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Teaching Tips: Sketchbooks

As a Head of Subject for art and design I used to spend a small fortune buying sketchbooks for my students. I wanted to raise achievement and make my department look outstanding. They would come embossed with the school logo, costing around £3 per student, they weren’t cheap. Even when I was able to charge parents for them I was still out of pocket. But did they raise standards? Nooooooo!!
I thought my students would take more care of them and want to do their very best work in them. For some, it did, usually the most able ones and usually (but not always) the girls. They would make every page as neat as they could, ripping out ones they didn’t like, to get rid of their ‘bad’ work. It was so infuriating! Then of course some students would lose them and worse still, often they would work in a completely haphazard way, completing pages in the middle first, missing out pages so they start on a clean page. They would do one small drawing on a page then turn over and do another. To be honest, I could tell low ability students immediately by the spaces and crossings out in their sketchbooks. 
What I learned in time was that I could save myself a fortune on sketchbooks AND raise standards by simply making our own books. The kids love making them and they are incredibly personal to them, making them much more of an item to treasure and look after. There are several ways of making your own sketchbook;
  1. You can cut a load of assorted papers, cartridge, newsprint, newspaper, sugar paper, brown paper etc. cut a scrap piece of card to the same size, fold them over and put an elastic band around the middle. That method was shown to me by PGCE students at the Baltic gallery Newcastle.
  2. Another method (my favourite) is to cut assorted papers twice the size you want them, then cut a piece of strong card to fit and fold them all down the middle. Now stack the papers on top of each other, not inside of each other, so that you can see the fold of each piece of paper. Brush a generous amount of glue down the spine of the book cover and on the folded edge of the papers, push them inside and place a weight on top until it is dry. Voila! You have a pretty good sketchbook.
Now all you have to do is to decorate the covers (a good homework task) I allow my students to do anything on the cover as long as I can clearly see their full name and year/class.
One more tip is to have a few spray bottles of watered down ink. You can buy these spray bottles in DIY stores. Then, allow the students to LIGHTLY spray their white pages and leave to dry. They make excellent surfaces on which to draw and you don’t get all of those blank, white pages. Instant improvement!
Cool Website: is a fantastic contemporary art site for students of art at any level, but especially at GCSE and A level. You can get some fantastic links to contemporary artists and some brilliant ideas for making art.
Top App: Tadaa. Tadaa is a photography app with some power. Used by professional photographers all over the world it is free and has some amazing built in filters (much better than instagram) They allow you to focus your photos, blur them, change perspective, easy HDR, distort, add filters and frames and colour shift. The only downside is that you need to have an internet connection on your device to use it. Available in Apple store for free, but not on Android (yet.)
Gallery links: the National Gallery in London is home to some of the worlds finest art. But what if you don’t live near London and getting to galleries is beyond you? Well you can get up close and in detail to much of their work with their new painting viewer. What better lesson could there be than to simply allow your students to pick a painting they like and to study it in incredible detail?
Youtube: National Gallery London also have a brilliant Youtube site, where you can watch artists and experts talk about their work. It’s a wonderful starter activity that improves literacy.
Boys Corner: To engage boys more in art, create a no girls allowed, boys only art club. Give them drawing challenges or competitions and put a couple of responsible boys in charge to hand out passes, take a register and look after materials. Mine like me to put a huge, table sized piece of lining paper down on some joined up tables so they can draw, doodle, graffiti and do cartoons as a group whilst they chat and listen to boys music! They love being away from the girls.
Paul’s resources in the spotlight: Contemporary Drawing. I created this resource to make drawing more inclusive. I’ve been teaching drawing for decades and no matter how good I thought I was there was always the inevitable cries of; “I can’t draw” By making drawing more fun and creative what I actually did was to expand their understanding of what drawing was. It really is a great set of activities. I spent ages contacting famous artists to endorse each drawing activity and I was lucky enough to get permission to use 12 famous artists’ work. Find it here



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