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Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 2 of 10 | Arts & Activities
Sep 2015

Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 2 of 10

Building a Strong Foundation / Lesson 2 of 10

Lesson 2 of 10
Visualizing Vocabulary
by Debi West

Elements! Principles! Media! Art History! Techniques! Careers! In Gwinnett County, art educators have so many objectives to teach students that it can often feel daunting, especially when we consider the vast amount of art vocabulary they are required to master by the time final exams roll around!

With this in mind, I developed a lesson that springboards nicely off of the Sept. 2015 issue’s “Name Designs” that requires each student to design an artwork that defines and illustrates a visual-art vocabulary word.


The word “Pigment” is clearly communicated in this student’s work.

After seeing the skill level of each intro 2-D art student, I assign them a vocabulary word from the list of words they need to know. Some of the words are simple and some are more complex and challenging. Our visual art vocabulary list is as follows, but you can certainly add more to this list depending on what your district requires:

aesthetic / analogous colors / architect /artist / balance /calligraphy /caricature/ cartoon / chalk /collage / color / complementary colors / composition / contour line / contrast / cool colors /crosshatching / design / elements of design / emphasis / fashion designer / figure ground / foreground / foreshortening / form / genre / graphic designer /harmony/ hatching / hue / implied line / intensity / interior designer / line / linear perspective / mosaic / movement / negative space / neutral colors / one-point perspective / opaque / optical mixing / organic shapes / outline / pattern / perspective /photography /picture plane /pigment / positive space / primary colors/ principles of design / proportion /radial balance /repetition / rhythm / saturation / secondary colors / shade / shape / space / split-complementary / subject matter / tempera / texture / three-dimensional / tint / triadic color scheme/ two-dimensional / two-point perspective / unity / value / vehicle / variety / warm colors / wash


The student work is beautiful and well thought out.

Once students have been given their words, they have to do a bit of research. They have to find the definition, as they are required to creatively add the definition somewhere in their final piece. They need to see how the word is used in the context of visual art and they need to brainstorm ways they can turn the word into its meaning visually to help us build a type of “study guide” word wall in our art hallway.


Each year, our word wall display gets stronger and stronger.

I love the excitement in the room after students have received their words and they quickly get to work, looking them up and searching for interesting images they can manipulate to graphically illustrate the meanings. The initial sketches are always fascinating to see. After learning about media in their first lesson, and experiencing success with their Name Designs, the students are confident and excited to explore. They really rise to the challenge of this lesson and are ready to WOW!

They have a week to research, plan and create their final piece, which is done on 12″ x 18″ white drawing paper. Each student knows that most of these works will be hung in a semester-long exhibit, becoming a part of the “study-guide” word wall, which motivates them to work extra hard. They are hoping for that acknowledgement and pat on the back every student deserves when they give their best

Each year, our word wall exhibit gets stronger. And, due to these beautiful and well-thought-out works, our county assessment scores have risen. I believe our students learn and retain more when they learn it, create it and then SEE it every day. These visual vocabulary artworks are amazing, and the best part is that language arts teachers have come to us and asked us to help them teach this lesson to their students to prepare for the SAT! Just another great reason why the arts should be integrated into each and every subject!

Next up … Creative Contour Line Studies!

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT, is Art Department Chair at North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Georgia. She is also an Arts & Activities Contributing Editor.

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