Art Teacher Talk

Colored Pencil Holiday Drawing Art Project

Festive Fabulousness guaranteed in your Art Classroom

Teaching is about reflecting. Constant, incessant reflecting. Tis the season with a holiday drawing.

The questions are endless…and it goes something like this…

Before the unit begins…

  • “What do I want them to learn?”
  • “How will they learn it?”
  • “How will I know if they actually learned it?”

Next step, actually teach the unit

(Unit unfolds perfectly, just as I imagined it, with no issues whatsoever and glowing, engaged children, gorgeous artwork, and perfect attendance – every. single. day…yeahhhhhh, right)

After the unit is over…

Cue the reflecting…(rather, cue the indecision, the doubt, the regret, the wishing for a re-do, the angst…)

As teachers, we are so invested in the success of our students. The reflecting part of our job is the secret sauce in our professional sandwich. It motivates and inspires us to move forward. To get better. To do it more effectively next time. It’s what makes us special. 

Fast-forward to White Colored Pencil on Black Paper Unit. 

I’m always looking for a fun way to teach the Art Element Value. It doesn’t matter what the media is. It’s just plain fun to teach and watch kids see how easy it is to take a shape and turn it into a form using Value.

When I teach High Contrast Drawing to my beginner artists in the Fall, the unit usually ends up falling right before the holidays. What better way to get in the giving spirit than drawing and shading holiday bows?

When I began teaching high contrast drawing I was solely focused on the Ice Cream Lesson – and for obvious reasons. The kids loved it, it yields amazing results across all skill levels and abilities, and who doesn’t love ice cream? And it’s perfect for a late Spring lesson, as the weather is warming up and we’re all thinking about summer.

But in the Fall semester, by the time we get to this White Colored Pencil Unit, it’s cold outside. The holiday music is floating across the room. The Santa hats and ugly sweaters are everywhere, and ice cream drawings just feel out of place. 

So I’m in TJ Maxx (aka “The Mothership”) and I see these bags of bows. I get this “Art Teacher Revelation” (we’ve all had them) and I buy the biggest bag they have. I’m envisioning the sea of gorgeous bow drawings hanging on my board and in the hallway, I’m seeing the kids get excited (well, I’m hoping…) and I’m feeling re-energized.

New art project ideas are better than a shot of B-12…“Who’s with me?”

Here’s how the project unfolds.

White Colored Pencil High Contrast Drawing is the 5th “Unit” in a 6-part Drawing Scaffold – full scaffold explanation. So the kids already have a clear understanding of how to compose an image/object using basic shapes. In this art project, it is a bow composed of a series of triangles. 

Students choose from a series of reference photos and using black construction paper (we use Tru-Ray brand) and a white colored pencil (Prismacolor brand provides the brightest whites but Crayola brand will also work). They draw a very light contour line of their bow first. They need to keep it light, because the goal is to “shade away” all the outlines and end up with a 3-dimensional bow once the value is added.

Because they have just wrapped up (no pun intended lol) the graphite pencil unit on Value, there is a clear understanding of Value, Value Transitions and Value Placement. Students know how to “read” a reference image. They also know how to use both the Quadrant Method and the Shape Building Method to lay out their contour line.

My lessons always include introduction to media through practice prior to the final project. This is true for all of my curriculum, even up into advanced drawing and painting lessons. For the white colored pencil holiday bows, artists will first “get to know” the media by completing a White Colored Pencil Sphere. Next they will draw a small practice masterpiece (Balloon DogElephantOrigami) to ensure they can transition the values properly with the new medium. 

Once those two mini-exercises are completed, we move on to the bows. Reference images are approximately 3.5×3.5 inches. Finished drawings are 10×10 inches (with an additional one inch border – cut that black construction paper to 12×12). This is the perfect size – not too small and not too big – the “Goldy Locks” of project sizes. I found little to no “rushing” or “project burn out” with this size choice, AND we had success for students of all skill levels and abilities. 

Students may choose a quadrant method or a shape method. There are reference photos without grids for the shape method. There are also reference images with 4-part, 9-part and 16-part grids already on the reference photos. This will enable student choice and success for every skill level in the room. When they draw the grid onto the black paper, it is important that they keep the quadrant VERY light, so it won’t show when the drawing is finished.

The most important part is always the initial contour line drawing. A solid foundation is critical and in this case the foundation is the contour line drawing. It will be so much more exciting for the kids to see the drawing come to life if they see success in the beginning stages. There’s something about seeing those first few triangles go from shapes to forms, complete with glowing reflections. It will definitely pump up the student engagement. 

If this is your first time on my blog, I am a HUGE fan of bragging on the kids and displaying their work every day. We always hang all in progress class work on the board/wall in between classes. No folders, no portfolios hiding the beautiful work occurring in our midst. Students hang the work up at the end of class (each class has a section of wall space) and retrieve their work at the beginning of the next class to get started right away. 

Added bonus: it’s easy to take attendance, just look and see whose work is still on the wall. 

This classroom management tip of hanging the work during the process yields amazing results in student engagement and quality of work. It’s a lot more motivating to know everyone who comes in the room will see the drawings (or paintings). Kids love to be celebrated. I used it as a chance to have everyone who walked in (or by) see what was going on in my room. Administration especially loved this, as they could walk in on any given day and see exactly how the kids were doing in my classes. Give it a try, you’ll love the results. I promise.

Ok, Tiff, sounds good, but how long does it take to complete this holiday bow masterpiece?

On a block schedule – 5-6 classes give or take a day. On a period schedule 9-10 classes, give or take a day. In my room, due dates are suggested by me. They are approved by the kids (I just ask them, “Is 5-6 classes doable?”) Then any extension is given only for circumstances that rob us of work time (lockdowns, fire drills, testing, etc.) OR if they are working SO hard every class period and on the last day I feel they truly need another day…not to be confused with an extension given because people are not working up to their potential…we don’t ever do that.

Alright, Tiff, what about grading these beauties? 

Easy. A project specific rubric that hits on all the goodies – drawing skills like scale and proportion (scaling up twice is no joke, that is a big jump for beginners), colored pencil application (burnishing), displaying a full range of Value, having correct Value edges to convey the illusion of reflections and silk, and last but not least – my favorite, “Attention to Fabulousness” – which encompasses all the work ethic components you can think of. It’s an easy half sheet rubric and I have the kids tape it to the back of their project on the first day so it won’t disappear during the project process…no more, ”Mrs. Fox! I lost my rubric!!!” 

Final artwork always ends up in the hallway (and on Instagram and Facebook)  for the whole world to appreciate and enjoy. All of it. Not just “the good ones.” I cut white drawing paper 14×14 (I buy my drawing paper in a 500 ream of 18×24 inch 80 lb. sheets – Blick Sulphite Drawing Paper) and have the kids “glue-stick” the drawings to the white paper so the one inch border is even all around. In my room “glue-stick” is a verb – I tell them to “glue-stick-it to the white paper” – they think I’m nuts, but they glue-stick the heck out of it. Maybe I am. LOL.

What I do know is I’m nuts for seeing people succeed, both students and teachers. I’m also nuts for watching the confidence in young artists grow exponentially over the course of a semester. This art project delivers that confidence building success that will enable kids to move on to greater challenges with white colored pencil – my latest two favorite projects are the Funny Bonz Animal Portraits and the Drama and Light Self-Portraits

This Holiday Bow Drawing Lesson is cost-effective, easy to roll out, and a fan favorite every time. You can reduce the size to 6×6 if you are pressed for time or you only have 9×12 construction paper. (I purchase the Tru-Ray brand paper in 18×24 sheets and cut to size.) 

Most important thing about this lesson is your kids will love it and all those questions from the beginning of this post will be answered like this:

s an art teacher, I wanted them to learn how to add Value to a shape and turn it into a form – CHECK!”

“I wanted them to display knowledge of how to create Value Transitions appropriately to convey the illusion of silk and reflections – CHECK!”

“I wanted them to use white colored pencil burnishing techniques to create a realistic holiday bow – CHECK!”

Do I sound confident? Yes. Because I know it’s a slam dunk art project and I know your kids will kill it and love doing it in the process. I hope you send me pictures of these beautiful holiday bow drawings. I also hope your holiday is beautiful and filled with rest and joy.

Thanks so much for stopping by my blog. If you landed here accidentally, click the link at the bottom of the page to join my email list. I send a weekly newsletter and it usually has a teacher freebie art resource in it. It’s a quick read, only three pages tops.

Have a wonderful day and Happy Teaching!


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