This Disco Ball Painting checks all the boxes for student engagement in middle school and high school artists. Teaching Acrylic Painting to beginners. Always daunting (for me anyway) at the start. There are so many factors that go into teaching painting successfully. From setup to cleanup, art classroom procedures alone can make a person feel very overwhelmed – and this is before the actual painting begins!
Essential Questions for Teaching Painting
- How do I distribute supplies?
- What supplies do I even use?
- What brand of paint?
- What kind of Brushes?
- What about Storage?
- How soon do they clean up?
- How do I get students to care about and maintain art materials?
- How do I maintain a chaos-free clean environment?
And these are just a few questions.
It has been at least five years since I taught Foundations Art 1. We call it Visual Arts Beginning. This year I got the privilege to teach it once again. I had 36 kids in the class. In a room that comfortably houses 28. A chaos-free clean painting environment was a must.
When I had Art 1 in previous years, I taught watercolor but not acrylic. This year I thought, “why not do both?” We did watercolor in October and they loved it, so why not cover acrylic too?
Then came the next question, “What would be a really engaging project that everyone from freshmen boys to over-it seniors would enjoy and have fabulous results?”
This brings me to Instagram. I follow an amazing artist by the name of Sari Shryack (@not_sorry_art) and she creates these phenomenal disco ball paintings – you simply MUST check them out I definitely plan on purchasing a print over the holiday break. As I was trying to figure out what to do with Art 1 I kept coming back to these beautiful disco balls in my Instagram feed and it hit me like a ton of bricks – we’ll do the Disco Ball Painting!!!!
Okay, now for a little backstory. I also teach Painting 1 & 2, and I teach a very traditional method where students use only a warm and cool version of each primary hue and titanium white. No secondary paint tube colors. No black.
In classic Mrs. Fox style, I began obsessing,
“Do I water down the color theory process for this Art 1 class?”
“Do I give them both warms and cools or just one or the other?”
“Do I let them use the good paint and brushes or do I buy cheap paint?”
“Is this too difficult?”
If you’ve read some of my other blog posts, you know that overall my classroom expectations are pretty high.
I always teach on a scaffold to ensure confidence and skill building before we tackle a final project.
I’m all about the challenge.
I’m all about success.
So why all the anxiety? ‘Cuz that’s what I do. Get myself all worked up. Especially since I haven’t taught beginners in so long. And not just regular beginners. These are beginners who haven’t been in school in 18 months. My 9th graders haven’t been in an art class since 7th grade, and some not since elementary school.
After a long week of obsessing I said to myself, “STOP.”
These kids can do it.
They always work hard no matter what you give them.
They killed the watercolor unit, right?
Yes, they did.
The Request and the Permission
I dialed up my IG account, went straight to Ms. Shryack’s page, and sent her a private message asking her if I could use her work as reference and inspiration (citing her of course) for my upcoming project that would eventually end up in my TpT shop.
This is where the major shoutout to Ms. Shryack happens. This woman is a class act. Her exact words were, “Go for it!” and I cannot thank her enough. Not only were the kids inspired, they were engaged the entire time and everyone finished with amazing success.
I have done projects based on the work of Margaret Morrison, Karen Appleton and CJ Hendry. These artists are all gracious and kind in supporting the work of my artists. Margaret Morrison and her husband actually drove 3 hours one way to spend an evening at our school art show featuring Acrylic Master Studies of her paintings. Then she drove home afterward. Another 3 hours. This lady is also a Class Act.
I’m getting off track….as usual.
Back to the Disco Ball Paintings for Art 1.
The entire unit took 3 weeks – it was supposed to be two and a half. We had two days with threats of school violence that pushed our due date back a bit…welcome to teaching in 2021. Sadly the new reality.
We began with a weeklong series of mixing exercises, familiarizing the students with the various secondary and tertiary mixes with warm and cool primaries. Short, not too intimidating exercises that focused on mixing ratios, tinting, toning/shading.
Side Note: I rolled out a new method for distributing supplies tied to their final grade and I got back 36 paint brushes clean as a whistle. Not once was there a mess in my sink. Not once did I find open paint tubes or dried up palettes on the counter. I’ve lost many a paint brush and palette to abandonment so I considered this a Major Slam Dunk.
The following week I introduced the disco balls as the final project, reflecting on the success of the mixing exercises we had just completed and using Ms. Shryack’s work as inspiration. I had not let them in on exactly what they would be painting until that day. I had been building excitement all week during the mixing exercises, telling them they were going to love the final project.
I wanted them to show off their color mixing skills in a way that would be fun but not too stressful as we would be doing this the two weeks prior to Christmas break. Way to go Mrs. Fox, roll out a painting project when everyone is already on break in their mind…ha!
To begin, students viewed a presentation and a video tutorial (created by me) of the entire disco ball painting process. With a class of 36 it’s easier to view this together as a class and discuss the expectations and tips for success. I passed out the poster board and the kids got out their paint kits.
And then the fun began…full focus and 100% engagement.
It’s no secret that without student focus and engagement, this job can be a nightmare, especially with 36 people in the room. That’s a lot of moving bodies and loud voices. I need full buy in. I really try hard to find that place where kids possess the confidence for the task at hand combined with a challenge that is attainable but not so easy they become bored. This can be difficult at times.
This is how I knew it was a true hit. With the holidays fast approaching the kids were excited from the very start to paint these disco balls. The presentation got them fired up – especially when they saw Ms. Shryack’s work. Once they saw the tutorial they were ready to get started.
The Disco Ball Painting Payoff
The kids spent 7 class periods (90 min. block) painting the disco balls.
Everyone finished on time.
Everyone did a great job.
All paint brushes came back clean.
No mess on my supply counter.
This is a lesson that would be appropriate for upper elementary through high school.
For all skill levels.
It has endless possibilities for color combinations, various finished sizes and makes a beautiful common area or hall display.
I can say with all certainty that you will not be disappointed and your kids will love it.
This painting lesson will be a staple in your painting curriculum for years to come.
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**Check out our Pinterest MrsTFox Resources for more project ideas.
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**Check out the Fabulous work of Sari Shryack.