Elements of Art and the Sketchbook

The first thing that I do in my classes every year is introduce the elements of art. I used to have the students take notes on the elements and then do projects based on each element. However, I have found that students seem to grasp the concepts better if they are introduced to most if not all of the elements first, then be expected to use them in a project that I set out for them.

For my traditional art class, I give the students a short introduction to each of the elements of art, and then have them do a short activity in their sketchbooks. For my graphic design class, I have the students do very similar activities in the Adobe Illustrator program. These activities generally take a class period or so to complete, and they are as follows:

Line: A line can be very expressive! Draw 20 different lines, all must look different. Once finished, go back and name each of them according to what they look like.

Elements of design sketchbook activity

Shape: Geometric vs organic. Divide the page into four squares. In the first two, create some kind of composition with only geometric shapes. In the last two, create a composition with only organic shapes. 

Elements of design sketchbook activity 2

Value: Create a value scale. Draw a rectangle that is 1” x 7”, then divide it into 7 parts. Using drawing pencils, black out the last square with the darkest pencil (6B or ebony). Then move to the 1st square and use the lightest pencil to make the lightest gray possible, moving the pencil in cross hatching marks to make the grey lineless. Then move to the other square, making each a bit darker than the previous. When finished, hold it out to arms length and make sure that each square looks different than the previous one.

Elements of design sketchbook activity 4

Form: Set a circular form on the table (in the past I have used balls, light bulbs, or pairs). Set a light on one side of the form so that there is a definite highlight on one side. Draw. Note that there are highlights and shadows and that all of the values from the scale on the previous page ought to be represented

Elements of design sketchbook activity 5

Texture: Use different colored crayons or colored pencils to rub textures around the room, outside, or in the hallway onto a plain white piece of typing paper. Cut these textures out and make some kind of composition on the sketchbook page. 

Elements of design sketchbook activity 3

Space: Cut out magazine images that represent each of the following techniques for showing depth: overlap, diminishing size, position, and linear perspective.

Elements of design sketchbook activity 7

Color: Make a 12 piece color wheel using quality colored pencil that will mix well (I use Prismacolor). ONLY use the primary colors, this way students need to actually mix to find the colors.

Elements of design sketchbook activity 8

As a last hurrah to the elements unit, I have the kids create a color wheel using colored icing and Nilla wafers. It may be a little juvenile, but most students enjoy the unexpected treat in the art room!

How do you teach the elements of art? Comment below!

Binder Ring Spine Sketchbook

This is the one I am going to try this year. I think that it combines the pros of each of the previous designs. Give me a few months and I will tell you what I think after the kids have had a chance to try them out.

(And by that I mean shove them into lockers, kick them across the floor, forget them on the school bus, or whatever else happens to anything that has touched a high schooler’s hands.)



MATERIALS:Binder clip spine sketchbook 2

  • Copy paper (or drawing paper cut to 8 1/2” x 11”)
  • (2) 8 1/2” x 11” sheets Cardboard or scrap Matt board
  • (3) office binder clips (at least 1”)

TIME: two 50 minute class periods


  1. Cut parts.
    • You can do this or you could have your students do this part. I like to let the students do it so that they have more ownership in the project.
  2. Punch holes.

    • Assemble.Binder clip spine sketchbook
      • Open the binder clips, place the cover face down to the left of each clip. Add the paper, then the backing, then close the clips.
    • Decorate.
      • Give those students a chance to show their creativity!
    • Add a rubber band around the cover if desired.


    • Pros
      1. Time. Very easy and fast to assemble.
      2. Versatile. Easy to add extra paper and worksheets.
      3. Durable. As long as the covers are nice thick cardboard or matt board.
    • Cons
      1. Cost Effective. It is not a major set Binder clip spine sketchbook 5back, but it does require the purchase of binder clips.

    This is the last sketchbook intractable that I am going to do at this point, if you try one out or if you have any suggestions, please comment below!Binder clip spine sketchbook 6

    Plastic Comb Binding Sketchbook

    This method is also very simple, but it requires the use of a binding machine. If you have access to one, this one looks a bit more professional than the previous Rubber Band Spine Cardboard one. Plus, you can get several fun colors for the spine!

    Again, you can do any size you like. I just like to do it larger so that students can add paper without difficulty.


    • MATERIALS:Plastic comb binding sketchbook

      1. (1) plastic comb binding strip (at least 3/8”, depending on how many pages you put in it)
      2. Copy paper (or drawing paper cut to 8 1/2” x 11”)
      3. (2) 8 1/2” x 11” sheets heavy poster board (I used 100 lb tag board
    • TIME: two 50 minute class periods
      1. Punch holes into the sketchbook paper with the binding machine.
      2. Decorate.
        • Again, I always have the students design their sketchbook covers, but you can do it however you like.
      3. Laminate the Cover.
        • Kids can be pretty rough with their things. Laminating them helps them at least last the year…I don’t know beyond that...
      4. Assemble.Image removed.
        • Place the cover face down into the binding machine, load sketchbook paper, lastly add the back poster board piece.
    • Pros
      1. Time. Easy and fast to assemble.
      2. Versatile. Easy to add extra paper or worksheets.
    • Cons
      1. Cost Effective. Requires a binding machine and plastic binding combs.
      2. Durability. The combs in the  plastic binding tend to break after a while. There were even a couple books that had the strip break in half before the end of the year.


    I tried this method last year and there were many things I really liked about the book and binding. But It was a combination of the spines continually breaking on some of the students who were...less careful, and the fact that our binding machine broke that made me switch to my last design.

    If you try it out and let me know what you think!

    Rubber Band Spine Cardboard Sketchbook

    This is a very simple method for a classroom sketchbook. It can be any size you want, but I always made mine about the size of a regular sheet of paper because this makes it easy for students to tuck extra worksheets inside the cover.

    However, a caution on that, sometimes, they find this to be a handy place to keep…everything! Math assignments, permission slips from two weeks ago, gum wrappers…you name it!

    This one is the first method that I tried and I love it because I can make this one without purchasing anything! All the supplies are already in my cabinets. And I can pick up FREE sheets of cardboard in the SAMs isles after they finish stocking.

    • MATERIALS: Materials
      1. (1) 12” x 18” sheet of cardboard
      2. (10 or 20) 11” x 17” sheets of drawing paper (or if you want to make things really easy, just use legal sized copy paper)
      3. (1 or 2) large rubber bands
    • TIME:
      1. two to three 50 minute class periods
      1. Cut parts.Rubber Band
        • Depending on the age of your students, you can either have all of these sheets cut before hand or you can have the students do it themselves. I teach high school, so I have always had them cut the cardboard part and provided the paper for them. This way they get to practice their ruler using skills, which sadly, I have found to be lacking in many students.
        • (Note on cutting the cardboard. One thing to Rubber Band 2be certain they cut with "the grain” of the cardboard. This makes folding the cardboard much easier.)
      2. Assemble.
        • Take the cardboard and make a score mark down the middle where the spine is going to be (at 9”). Take the stack of drawing paper and fold them all in half at the same time. Place the paper in the middle of the cardboard and then stretch one rubber band around the spine. Close the book and stretch the other rubber band around the outside to keep it closed.
      3. Decorate.
        • I always have the students design their sketchbook covers. Usually I just let them do what they want with the broad instruction to make it “represent them.” However, you could give them some kind of theme to follow if you wanted to.


    • Cost Effective. This can be made with items found in most art rooms.
    • Time. Easy and fast to assemble.
    • Durable. These puppies last all year long with the occasional rubber band replacement.


    • Versatile. It is not easy to add pages to the sketchbook, including any worksheets that I give out.

    If you try this one out, I would love to hear how it went for you or if you have any suggestions!

    3 CHEAP and EASY Techniques for Sketchbook-Making

    Three cheap and easy techniques for sketchbook-making

    I have never required my students to buy sketchbooks for my class. It is not that I have anything against purchased sketchbooks, on the contrary, one of my favorite smells is a freshly cracked spine of a new sketchbook.

    However, besides the fact that I live in a semi-poor school district, I have always liked the idea of students creating their own sketchbooks. They have a sense of ownership in the process of the creation. I have some students who have kept all four sketchbooks from each year that they have been in my class.


    There are several different ways that I have tried sketchbook making in the past, and there are pros and cons to each method. When I started out looking for a method for making sketchbooks, I was mainly looking at 4 things:


    1. Cost Effective. This was the main reason for making them in the first place! I considered what materials would need to be bought versus items which could be found in my art room.
    2. Time. I didn’t want something that would take days and days to create. I feel that every second in the art room is valuable and I want students to be creating things in the sketchbook or in the art room more than the sketchbook itself.
    3. Durable. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t mean it can’t last the whole year! I had to consider the materials used, including the paper, in this decision. Cardboard is very good, but you could get away with a regular matt board as well.
    4. Versatile. I wanted something that could be used for a variety of classes (I teach both graphic and regular classroom art) and I wanted something that I could add paper to as we went along; ever the frugal one, I don’t like to see unused paper in a sketchbook!

    In light of these things, here are the three methods that I have either tried and the pros and cons of each:

    In the coming posts I will highlight each method. Let me know what you think in the comments below!


    Using Sketchbook to Balance Digital and Physical Art

    Sketchbook - Why it is so darned important

    The name of my website may be “Digital Art Teacher” but I feel that actually working with your hands is very important. Being the only art teacher of a small school, I teach graphic design, fine art, and photography. While there is definite satisfaction in creating an awesome graphic on my computer, the pride I feel in using my hands to draw or paint or make clay creations is a feeling that no mere computer mouse can give.

    Even if all I have time to do is sketch out a few ideas before I crack open the computer to work on something, that allows my brain to work through the ideas before the mouse hits the screen. That is what I ask my students to do as well.

    I feel that the sketchbook is vitally important. I have both my fine art and my graphic design class keep a sketchbook for this reason. Even if they were a complete computer junkies and only ever created digital art, I would still tell them that they need a sketchbook.

    It is my challenge every year to bring students to that conclusion as well. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t.

    The main thing that I have found to help students at least appreciate the sketchbook is time and repetition. I have them write down 10 different ideas of ways that they could solve the problem that I have set out for them, and then make 2 to 4 quick sketches of some of those ideas. Over time, they come to realize that their first idea is hardly ever the best idea.

    The other thing that I do is to keep a sketchbook myself and make it visible to my students. Again, I know how limited the teacher’s time is, but even if I only have an hour a week, 15 minutes here, 20 minutes there, it can make a difference. It also serves to fill up my creative storehouses, too.

    Do you keep a sketchbook? Do you have your students keep one? How do you manage the assignments you give? Comment below!

    Creative First Day of School Solutions

    1st day of school

    Every teacher and their dog has their “expectations” for the classroom, but there are a few things that I like to do on the first day of school to get the kids oriented to my art classroom.

    These tips are geared toward high school students, but some of these could be implemented for younger kids as well.

    1. Syllabus. Obviously, you have to go over your expectations for the year. Nothing could be more important then letting the kids know what will and will not tolerated in your class and how you will be grading them. 
    2. Name Tag. After the boring part of your first class is done, I like to let them do a little drawing on their drawer name tag. Some of them will really get into it, others will just write their name and call it a day. At this point, I do not push them. At this stage in the game, I don't judge, and I certainly don't grade!
    3. Drawing Game. There are several drawing games that I keep in my arsenal, but the one that I like to do on the first day is called, "Draw it, Pass it." I like to do this one because it works well with both large and small classes, and it is incredibly easy to explain. Simply give every student a piece of paper and a pencil, then set a timer for 30 seconds or a minute. Start the timer and tell the students to draw anything they want.  When the timer goes off, have them stop, pass the paper to their left, and add the the drawing. Continue drawing and passing until each person has their original drawing. View the results!
    4. Be yourself. This was one of the biggest mistakes that I made my first year. I wanted my class to know who was boss! Rules! Rules! Rules! I am certainly not saying that I am a pushover, my students know what I expect, I am just saying that you need to let them get to know you. Talk to them about your life, ask them about theirs. Whenever possible, be their teacher and their friend. 

    My first day of school was last week on Thursday (I cannot believe how early we start!) and we had so little time due to assemblies, so I did not get to do the drawing game. I was exhausted when I got home...but that is to be expected. Especially considering that I am up at 4 or 5 every morning with my 8 month old son.

    *sigh* Someday I will sleep in again...

    Did you have your first day of school yet? Do you have any special or different procedures that you follow? Let me know in the comments!

    What is Creativity?


    Creativity. It is to art (and life) as chocolate is to milk. If art lacks creativity, it's only a pretty picture to hang on the refrigerator. Pretty pictures are nice, but a creative artwork is worth so much more.

    Creativity is essential!
    Creativity is essential!

    You know you have made something creative when people actual stop to look at your work, rather than glance at it, then walk past it to look at the next pretty picture. When they bring a friend over to talk about it, you may have made something creative. When you have put part of yourself into the artwork so that you actually don't want to part with it, your creativity shows.

    I feel that creativity is essential every artwork that I make, in the decisions I make, even in the way I approach each day. My goal in life is to live in a way that makes people wonder. I want them to wonder why I do what I do, and depending on my mood, I either tell them or I cock my head to the side and say, "What do you think?" (It's a teacher thing.)

    I am not saying that making something pretty is a bad thing. I am saying that it is definitely not as good as creating something that shows how one feels and thinks. And it is my passion to always create with this in mind. Yes, it takes more time. True, it is not always easy, but it is always, always worth it!

    Everyone can benefit from being a little more creative, no matter what they do or want to do. As an art teacher, creativity a major grade I give. I feel that if I can inspire a creative thought in another person, then perhaps I can open a door to some locked vault inside them. I know that sounds corny, but that’s how I feel.

    I expect students to be creative in the work that they turn in, and I expect nothing less of the teacher! I have started this blog and website to create and produce tools that will help teachers and students become more creative and to have discussions with others as to how to inspire creativity.

    If you don’t have creativity, there’s no use in creating anything!

    Join me in exploring this fascinating topic. I plan to make sketchbooks/workbooks, read books about creativity and write reviews, and I am hoping to have conversations with like-minded people that will help me become a better teacher and a more creative artist.

    As I gear up for the school year to start, I have been thinking a lot about how to inspire creativity in my students. I have created a creativity journal which I will be sharing on this blog soon. It is a carefree exercise which I have not even decided if I am going to grade yet. I don't want them to feel obligated to make things perfect to get the grade...but at the same time, I do want them to do it! I will let you know what I decide when the time comes.

    Comment below if you have a sure-fire way of inspiring people to become more creative.

    Be Creative Today!

    1 Minute Illustrator Overview


    Don’t make Adobe Illustrator this big ugly hard thing that you can’t do because you don’t understand it. Like all things worth learning, it is going to take some time to learn all the nuances of the program.


    But here is a quick introduction to help you on your way that may make the learning curve shorten a bit:

    1. Tools - The tools are the core of the Illustrator program. The tool that you choose will determine what you are going to do on your open document. When something is not working the way you think it should, check the tool that you have selected. When you find a white line across the middle of your design, it may be that you have the Eraser tool selected when all you were trying to do is move an object from the left to the right of your document.
    2. Option Bar - This is related to the object that you have selected. For example, if you have a text box selected, then the option bar will give you options to modify your text (i.e. font, size, alignment, etc.). If you have a shape selected, then the option bar will give you options to modify your shape (color, stroke or outline, opacity, etc.).
    3. Palette - Think of the floating palette as a painting palette, only this one is customizable. Instead of just finding and selecting colors, you can also control stroke size, make gradients, store brushes and specific colors you are working with, and much more!
    4. Menu Bar - The menu bar is similar to the menu bar in many other software programs. This is where you go to open, save, and create new documents, but you can also find many of the same functions that the floating palette or option bar hold. Illustrator (and PhotoShop) tries to make it easy on you by having about 20 different ways to complete any given task you are trying to accomplish.


    In the weeks to come, I will be diving into each of these topics in greater detail, stay tuned for more great content!


    What do you think? What is confusing you about Illustrator?

    Illustrator Menu Bar, the Nuts and Bolts

    illustrator menu

    The menu bar is like the nuts and bolts for the Illustrator program. You can find some of the same functions in the menu bar as well as you can in the option bar and the floating palette.

    However, the menu bar is the only place that you can save, save as, open, create a new document, and all the document set up that you may need.

    When you get more comfortable with illustrator, you may not even need to use the menu bar. If you look to the right of many of the menu items, you will find a keyboard shortcut. This can be really helpful when you are doing repetitive tasks.

    Illustrator Menu Bar

    This is the LAST blog post in my 1 Minute Illustrator Overview series (although, it may have taken you more than a minute...). These are the things I wish I knew when I was getting started.


    If you want a more comprehensive Illustrator rundown, check out my free Graphic Design in Illustrator introduction video tutorials.

    In the coming weeks I will be releasing my first 9-week set of lesson plans! I am really excited and hope that you will check them out! Pre-order now for a 50% off price:

    Pre Order My Graphic Design Lesson Plans