Homeschooling Art: Top Ten Tricks to a Better Experience

The school year is fast approaching.  You pour over catalogs, chat with fellow homeschooling moms on social media, go to those monster conventions, and make a vow to fit in Latin studies, ballet, music lessons, timelines and art projects atop of the regular curriculum.  You have seen the statistics.  Children who do art do well in math.   They are more fulfilled.  They are less stressed.  But if truth be told, you do not even like art.  It is messy.  It is time consuming.  It is a mystery too big to unfold.

I have been teaching art to my children as well as other homeschooling children for the past 13 years.  I have watched parents struggle and have struggled myself.  I have picked up a few nuggets along the way.  Here is my list of ten things to help make the experience of studying and creating art a “wow” experience rather than a stressful one.


     Yes, the art museum in the nearest big city is expensive.  Go there anyway. On your way home, look at the local graffiti.  Go to art galleries. Check out local art guild shows (most are free).  Visit art studios (mine is always open to anyone!). Watch someone blow glass or throw clay. Volunteer to sit as a model for local artists.  They let you peek at their work on breaks. Libraries have big art books.  Browse.  Ask any artist and they will tell you, when they get into a rut, they look at art.  It encourages, inspires, and spurs to action.  One of the most productive and innovative times in my art career was right after visiting the Van Gogh exhibit at the De Young museum in San Francisco.


     I admit it.  I have cut corners and gone cheap when it comes to teaching art.  It is not worth it.  It is too frustrating. The $2 paintbrush sheds hairs.  The $3 Crayola watercolor globs.  The cheap paper buckles.  My first art mentor gave me enduring advice.  She said to never buy “student” quality anything.  Buy “artist” quality supplies.

It is the difference in driving the clunker car or the Mercedes.  Teach your student proper care of supplies.  Teach them to conserve, but go ahead and buy the best you can afford. Your students will notice and appreciate it.


     Stock up on watercolor paper.  It is stiff.  It is versatile.  It is thick.  The “tooth” on it is exceptional not only for watercolors, but also for acrylics, pastels and charcoal.  You can buy it in a roll, in large individual pieces, or in a pad.  It comes in cold pressed and hot pressed and in varying weights. . Experiment.  See which is your favorite.


     Let’s face it, all work, no matter how simple, looks fantastic in a frame.  I have two piles of finished pastels in my studio:  1. Definitely has to be framed; and 2. Not worth a frame, but I may keep it for a while to learn from it.  I go through those piles frequently, paring down even more which ones are deserving of royal frame treatment.  Rejects end up in the trash. Save your student’s work.  At the end of the year, have him (not you) pick his ultimate favorite.  Take him to purchase a mat and frame. Frame it.  Hang it.  Enjoy it. A frame to any artist, whether professional or amateur, conveys meaning, value, importance.  I guarantee your student will paint more if his work is prominently and beautifully displayed.


     When I lived in a 1,200 square foot house, I had an art bin full of supplies for my homeschoolers.  We left it in the corner of the dining room.  When we wanted to do art, we opened the bin.  Then we moved to a 900 square foot rental while searching for a home with land when we moved to Georgia.  I had an “art corner” in a bedroom. I put my work on the walls in that corner.  Here it is:

Now I have a studio and have plenty of space for myself and my students!

The point is, make some space somewhere.  If you make it, little artists will come. Dedicate the area as the art center.  Display art there.  Make it a cool place to go. Don’t forget to stock it with crayons, paints, pastels, pencils, pencil sharpeners, paper, scissors, glue, etc.


     I have had budding orniculturists, reptile experts and video gamers as students.  They are thrilled when I let them draw what they love!  Why not?  I am not a landscape artist.  I love the idea of strapping an easel on my back and heading out in my hiking boots somewhere to paint.  When I get there, though I feel revived from the hike, I gravitate to the other artists with me rather than the mountain in front of me.  I love painting people!  I do well when I paint what I love.  So does your student.   


     For perusing art styles, the sky is the limit.  My favorites on Facebook are the following:  Pastel Society of America, American Impressionist Society and International Watercolor Society.  Every artist who sells their wares now has to have a website.  Look at a website a day for inspiration.  For art instruction, Youtube is wonderful.  Khan Academy has art history with insightful commentaries and clear images.  Most large art museums have online tours, so you can view art right there on your computer.  It is not the same as actually being there, but it does in a pinch. Click on the “Fine Art” tab at the A to Z Cool Homeschooling website.  The possibilities are endless!


     Don’t forget the coupons for Michaels and Hobby Lobby.  You can print them or download them to your phone.  Pull out your Declaration of Intent.  Most places give at least a 10 percent discount.  It never hurts to ask.  Ask frame shops for mat board scraps.  They are happy to unload for a good cause.  You never know what you will find at garage stores or thrift stores.  One of my online Facebook pastel friends just bragged to all of us that she found a box of top notch pastels from France and paid about $20 (value was well into the thousands).  We all were salivating.  I spotted some brand new brushes in an antique store the other day.  Homeschooling parents are very resourceful.  Keep your eyes open.


     I have had a few parents help out in my co-op classes, all the while hovering, nagging, hurrying along, prodding and making suggestions to their little artist.  I have them go wash brushes.  Creativity takes courage, independence, security.  Hovering squelches the mood.  Give them the tools, show them art, then stand back and watch from afar.  Encourage them to experiment.  If they don’t like what they see, say to them, “It is only paper.  Good going, you are thinking outside of the box and being creative!  Good for you to push it.”  Provide a safe environment.


     Let loose.  Chuck that paint!  (You may want to do this outside.)  Drop a marble into paint and then roll it along the paper.  Use a squirt bottle and watch the paint dance into the crevices of the page.  Slap a paint soaked string against a canvas.  Blow on it.  Turn it upside down.  Tell your students to break the rules.  Be wild and rebellious.  CAUTION:  This may cause your homeschoolers to be art lovers, freedom seekers and independent thinkers.

Here is to a school year full of color, wonder and freedom!



The Process

We meet at the steps.  We size each other up.  I am the third one to arrive.  A fellow carrying a large drawing board is behind me.

The new guy begins nervously.  He wonders aloud where the folks who run the museum are.  It is a quarter till.  We all compare notes as to who has traveled the longest distance.  I win.  One hour and twenty minutes.  They all look at me in amazement.  We don’t have this where I come from.  None have heard of my small Georgia town.

I have my money out.  The others are fumbling through their art supplies.  I head to the round room with a new exhibit.  I wonder if I can ever paint huge paintings that will prominently hang for crowds.  I hungrily search for the “perfect” point of view.  I greedily grab two chairs.  One for me, one for my pencils, charcoal, baby wipes, sharpener, conte sticks of portrait colors.

There she is.  Shucks!  I have painted her before.  The product hangs in my bedroom.  Workshop successes.  I wanted someone new.  I wanted someone younger.  Oh well.  She has props.  I don’t like props.  They make things challenging.

The announcer says we are running late due to traffic.  I sip my water.  An Asian woman sets up an easel and pushes into my personal space.  The deaf guy sits on the other side of me.  He smiles. He scoots his chair over so that I have a little more room.  He understands.

I don’t know anyone.  Stoic faces.  Game faces.  There are quite a few.  We assemble in a circle around the platform.  We gauge each other by art supplies.  Some warm up their arms and shoulders, like getting ready for a sports event.  I fold up a soft, artsy poncho to sit on.  I hate metal chairs.  I really need to invest in a cushion.  But then I would have to admit that I am old and have a bad back.  For tonight, I will forget about that.

The artist across from me sharpens his pencils.  I follow suit.  No trash can.  I empty the shavings into an extra plastic bag.  A large fellow to my left gets up and comes back with a trash can.  Artists need trash cans.

No one speaks.  We wait.

The museum director gives some instructions.  First drawings will be ten seconds.  Good grief.  Ready, set, go.  I go with a square stick, medium value. Gestural drawings.  Catch the whole body.  Just lines.  Curves.  Circle for the head.  Get the back bone line.  Sausage appendages.

Next pose.  Next.  Next.  She is good.  Used to be a ballet dancer.  Elegant hands.  Can’t capture the hands.  Make note about the small wrists.  Elegance.

The deaf guy makes child-like sighs.  It reminds me to breathe.  Ten second poses turn to 30 second poses, then one minute poses, then two minutes, then five.  We are getting warmed up.  Some smiles now.  We loosen up.  Athletic minds. There are only a few younger than me.  This is an old person sport.  I like feeling young. Next time I will bring my easel.  I am getting stiff in this metal chair.  Breathe.  Draw.  Stay loose.  Whole arm drawing.

The model requests a break, but all of us need one, too.  We get up. I guard my work a little.  Some put theirs in plain view.  I put mine on the chair so that another walking around may view it if they work for it.  Newby speaks to the model.  There is always one who gets a little chummy.  The rest of us keep our distance and think of her in terms of shapes and shadows.  Lady across from me loudly mentions she is an art teacher.  There is always one who spouts the resume.  She shows her abstract work to any who will look.  Impressive.  She brought her pastels. Color trumps black and white.

The deaf guy points to his work,  He speaks a little to me.  I give a thumbs up back.  He smiles.

Back at it.  She is so comfortable.  All great poses.   I like this back shot.  Reminds me of a Thomas Eakins painting.

Think shapes.  I can do this one.  Easy pose. I glance to the left.  Asian artist going to town with charcoal. Covering the page.  Using a brush.  She looks at my charcoal layer and kneaded eraser and says, “You going negative?”  “Yup,” I say.  We are communicating now.  Past success.  It is working again.  Yes.

Shoot.  Next pose she is facing us.  Deaf guy looks at me and rolls his eyes.  “Hard,” he mouths.  I nod.  She is twisted up.  Focus.  Think shapes.  I lose some resolve.

After the torture of that pose, my neighbor and I are friends.  We show each other our work and motion with sign language that it was a grueling pose.  Model thinks so too.  She takes a break.

I am gonna need fuel.  I reach for my second half of peanut butter sandwich after wiping the charcoal off my hands.  I wonder if I have charcoal any on my face. I like eating poor man food.  Van Gogh.  I get the nerve to compliment the Asian lady.  I get a grunt. I pass by the middle aged, tennis-shoed gal who had come in late on the way to the bathroom.  We smile at each other in an unusually long gaze–both too shy to strike up a conversation, though we would like to.

New pose.  Time for new technique.  I abandon my security blanket of smearing charcoal everywhere.  Layers.  Yes, I will do layers.  Conte light brown.  That gives me courage.  Charcoal next.  Tentatively at first.  Getting braver with each stroke.  Red for being wild. I am making it out.

Home stretch.  Pressure to produce.  No.  Just think process.  Keep getting sucked into production.  Will I have something to show for tonight?  Sheesh. Just work. Enjoy this once a month excursion.

Next pose, a Degas!  Unflattering pose.  A past her prime ballet dancer holding her slippers.  Definately Degas.

Wimps leave early.  It is distracting.  I keep on.  Worth every mile driven.  Worth every penny.  A live model. Almost sacred.

Museum lady breaks in and gives the one minute warning.

Time to pack it up.  Deaf guy waves at me goodbye.  Relief.  Artist high.  Exhaustion.  I smile at a few fellow sojourners.  They smile back.

As I pull out of the parking lot, I have a strong sense of accomplishment.  I also have the feeling that I need to do this a thousand more times to have complete satisfaction.  But for now, it is enough.  Until next time.




Ideal View


12X16 original pastel on Pastelmat paper, $325, framed, plus shipping

Some of my best friends have been other “mom friends”.  If our kids are friends, then we are friends.  We look out for their kids and they look out for ours.  We stick together.  We scour museums and zoos together.  We give each other baby showers.  If we are pregnant together, we are friends for life.  Now that I do not pack totes containing medical supplies, juice boxes, crackers, extra little clothes for emergencies, I am not really sad.  I have moved on. Instead,  I carry a sketch pad, camera, charcoal and kneaded erasers.  In fact, the other day my daughter told me that she can always tell that I am an artist because if she borrows a jacket, she will find a graphite stick in one of the pockets.  Since I now have older children, I still observe those who are in that exhausting but satisfying stage of motherhood.  It brings back memories of juggling bags and little reaching hands.  It also reconstructs memories of my “mom friends” who were along side of me.



6X9 original pastel on sanded La Carte paper, $75, framed, plus shipping

I am not a landscape artist.  I don’t paint trees.  I tell this to my best friend.  She doesn’t believe me.  Okay.  I take that back.  I do paint trees that are interesting to me.  I find some so compelling that I do have to paint them.  Some are like people.  Texture.  Interest.  Bold.  Personality.  So, yes, I do paint trees on occasion.