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Level: Junior, Middle School, High School
Grades: 3 and up | Age: 8 yrs and up | Written by: Andrea Mulder-Slater
[Andrea is one of the creators of]

This mixed media still life art lesson is a terrific introduction to ink, watercolor and chalk pastels. It's practically fool-proof, with results that are fun and impressive for you and your students.

What You Need:

WARNING: Ink can be messy if spilled, so be careful!. You can substitute washable ink but the results are not nearly as impressive. I have had success using permanent ink with students as young as 9 and 10 years - in the classroom - with no problems. The key is to use spill-proof containers for your ink and make sure students know that once ink gets in clothing, it doesn't come out.

What You Do:
  1. Set up your still life (if you have a large class, set out a number of different "still life centers" around the room so everyone has a good view). I always like using my collection of wooden masks but you can use any items you might have available (fruit, vegetables, vases, plants, etc.)
  2. Have your students draw what they see on a large sheet of paper (about 12" x 15" ) If you have students who groan and say "I can't draw" remind them that they should only draw a basic outline of what they see. Also, let them know that the lines they draw are simply guidelines, and will change dramatically once the water media is added to the paper.
  3. Encourage students to fill the entire sheet of paper with their subject matter. Even if it means "moving" some objects around so the paper fills up.
  4. Once there is a basic pencil outline on the paper, have your students wet the paper with clean water -- using a clean paint brush. The key is to not soak the paper totally and completely, just enough so that ink or watercolor will flow easily across the page.
  5. Next, while the paper is damp, have your students dip their shish kabob sticks into the ink (using the pointed end).
  6. They should then redraw their pencil lines, using ink (on the stick).
  7. The first thing that will happen is that the ink will "blob" up, and run on the paper -- DON'T PANIC -- you WANT this to happen! The idea is that you really can't control what happens next.
  8. When all of the pencil outlines have been traced with the ink on the stick, let the ink dry. (The paper can still be damp, but there should not be any wet ink blobs on the paper.)
  9. Next, have your students add details with watercolor paint.
  10. I usually encourage my students to use colors not associated with the items they are painting. If a mask is brown -- make it red. If a plant is green -- make it blue. Of course, color choice is completely up to the individual.
  11. When the painting is complete (but still slightly damp), hand out chalk pastels and encourage your students to highlight certain areas of the painting. The idea is not to fill in large areas with pastel. Just a shot of bright color here and there (ie: along the edge of an object) is all you need.

Share Your Work:

Have you made a Mixed Media Still Life?

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More Photos:

Student Work:

Recommended Books/Products:

My Very Favorite Art Book: I Love to Paint!
Creating with strings, fingers, rollers, straws, and other super techniques: no wonder this entry in Lark's fabulous new art series will have kids saying "I love to paint!"

Painting with Children
Painting with Children contains sections on the "moral effects of color," the experience of colors, preparation, color stories and poems, panting with plant colors, painting the moods and seasons of nature, and much more.

The Science Book of Color
by Neil Ardley
This book explains the principles of color and gives instructions for a variety of simple experiments.

My First Paint Book
by Dawn Sirett
Twenty-two activities, from stenciled boxes to T-shirt designs, are presented along with step-by-step, full-color photographs and clear instructions, in a visual introduction to making and decorating things with paint.

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