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Experimenting with Chalk: Vibrant Reptiles | Arts & Activities
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Feb 2019

Experimenting with Chalk: Vibrant Reptiles

Experimenting with Chalk: Vibrant Reptiles

This is one of my favorite lessons for introducing chalk. I have found that there are some students who have a difficult time using this color media. It can be a very messy medium, but if blended properly, can produce some striking effects.

I have taught this to grades 2–5. If your science teacher discusses reptiles, this can also serve as an integrated art project. It usually takes about four forty-five minute classes to complete.

We begin with a brief discussion on Wassily Kandinsky. Pictures of his artwork are displayed, as well as, a picture of himself. The term “nonobjective art” is introduced. Other vocabulary words include realism, abstract and relief.

Next, students are asked to observe a completed reptile relief and Kandinsky’s painting, White Zig Zags (1922). Several questions are posed for small group discussion: How is the reptile relief like Kandinsky’s picture? What is different? Students are also asked to use the terms non-objective, realism, abstract, and relief in their feedback.

STUDENTS BEGIN BY DRAWING lines in pencil on black paper. Curvy, wavy, and straight lines must all connect. Once this step has been completed, students carefully paint over the lines with white tempera. Acrylic paint can also be used. The thin pencil lines now become thicker lines. The papers are set aside to dry. Students are encouraged to paint a second coat of white paint, so that, the lines will appear solid and bright.

Nathan sketching turtle.


Kelly using pastels to color turtle.


Zoe applying last coat of acrylic paint to snake.


Mackenzie outlining abstract background with acrylic paint.


Myrella working with pastels on abstract background.


Serenity adding pieces of cardboard to create “pop-up” relief effect.


Next came the drawing of the reptiles. I made copies of the drawing instructions for a lizard, snake and turtle from the book, Dynamic Art Projects for Children (by Denise M. Logan), for students who wanted to use them, but many students preferred to draw their own reptile. It is helpful to remind students that they will be cutting these out, so they do not draw very small pointed edges that may be difficult to cut around. The reptiles are also drawn in pencil on black paper. They are painted in the same manner as the background paper with the lines.

When both papers were completely dry, I gave the students a demonstration on using chalk pastels and blending with fingers and/or paper towels. Tables were completely covered with newspaper. Excess chalk was removed by gently tapping the paper on its side. Fingers need to be wiped off before changing colors. Avoid coloring the white lines. Students were mesmerized by the blending of the colors. Several expressed how pretty the effects were.

Students were given a practice paper to experiment with blending. This was helpful for students who were not that experienced with working with chalk. This way they learned how to apply it without pressing too hard and making bold lines, which are difficult to blend. Also, it gave them the opportunity to see what colors blended together in a pleasing outcome.

Once the chalk application is complete, if the white lines have become messy with chalk dust, students can carefully apply another coat of white paint. When dry, chalk is sealed. I use hairspray to do this instead of hazardous fixatives. I take the papers outdoors. Hold the can about 12 inches from the papers and lightly spray the entire surfaces. Allow the spray to dry. Touch the chalk to see if it is sealed. If not, repeat. I usually spray at least two coats.

STUDENTS THEN CAREFULLY CUT out the reptiles. Then, in the final step, they glue small pre-cut rectangles and squares of corrugated cardboard to the backsides of their reptiles. This is done to create “pop-up” reptiles for a “relief” effect when placed on the abstract backgrounds. Allow the cardboard squares time to dry. Lastly, students put glue on the tops of the cardboard pieces, turn their reptiles over and place them onto the background paper.

These colorful projects make a stunning exhibit. If you are looking for a chalk project that students will enjoy, give this a try! It is going to be one of those projects that students are going to say, “Can I bring it home?” 









Elementary students will …
gain knowledge of the elements and principles of design.
examine the artistic works of others.
participate in discussion of various artisticworks.
use appropriate vocabulary to discuss artwork.
differentiate between a variety of media, techniques and processes.
make connections between science and art.

CREATING: Making art or design with various materials and tools to explore personal interests, questions, and curiosity. •Experiment with various materials and tools to explore personal interests in a work of art or design.
RESPONDING: Using learned art vocabulary to express preferences about artwork.

12″ x 18″ black construction paper
Graphite pencils, chalk pastels, white tempera or acrylic paint, paintbrushes
Paper towels
Scissors, glue
Cardboard, foam or other material that will create a “pop-up”
Optional: Kandinsky and reptile prints
Optional: Dynamic Art Projects for Children, by Denise M. Logan (Crystal Productions; 2005)

Suzanne Dionne teaches visual art at Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury, Connecticut. She is also the current past-president of the Connecticut Art Education Association.


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