Welcome to The Helpful Art Teacher, an interdisciplinary website linking visual arts to math, social studies, science and language arts.

Learning how to draw means learning to see. A good art lesson teaches us not only to create but to look at, think about and understand our world through art.

Please click on my page to see my personal artwork and artist statement: http://thehelpfulartteacher.blogspot.com/p/the-art-of-rachel-wintembe.html

Please contact me at thehelpfulartteacher@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Create a Character Sheet for your Original Cartoon (and invent a world that tests them in every imaginable way)


Creating original cartoon character drawings,
 using the random character trait generator:

It is human nature to want to tell our own stories and to create characters like ourselves. 

 But there is a danger in creating a character that is too much like you. If you become too attached to your cartoons, you'll be afraid to do anything bad to them. This could kill your story before it's even begun. 

If your audience is never worried about your characters, they'll also never start caring about them.

We also yearn to create characters that have admirable traits, failing to consider that what makes a character likeable and relatable are their imperfections.  

Using a random trait generator is a wonderful exercise for artists of any skill level. If you inadvertently generate a character with only positive traits, all strengths and no weaknesses, try again. 

Nothing kills a story faster than a character that is too perfect or a plot where nothing overwhelming or insurmountable happens. Your audience wants to see what your character does when they are destroyed and completely broken by impossible odds. How does your character deal with grief, tragedy or, at the very least, the knowledge that they messed everything up? If saving the day were easy, if anyone could do it, why does your story need your particular character to get the job done? 
Assignment: Create an obstacle course, maze or torture chamber for your character:
In this next exercise, create a drawing that throws everything bad you can possibly think of at your character. My character is very proud of his strength and he is overconfident in his ability to meet any challenge. I want to create an obstacle course that is going to shake him to the core. 

Imagine that you are creating a video game based on your character and his story. 

Create a drawing that puts your hero through their paces and don't forget to have fun doing it. As you draw you will develop more ideas about your character, who they are and what their strengths and weaknesses are. 

I created this short video to explain the process:

I did not realize that my character would be afraid of snakes and bugs until I started drawing the obstacle course. I think it would be fun if this phobia turns out to be his dirty little secret. He is very proud of how brave he is and doesn't want anyone to know his Achilles Heel.

Most of us cringe a bit when faced with creepy crawlies, but what about an imaginary bug that feasts on human flesh?

Carnivorous plants and imaginary spider bat monsters are always fun to draw

Finally, don't forget to provide a sliver of hope in your drawing. Your hero needs a reason to enter the maze and test his fortunes. What are his goals? Is he trying to find something? Rescue something or someone? Get to a better place? 

I am not sure I trust these 'doves' but I had to give my hero a reason to go through the maze. Maybe he is trying to escape a super villain's torture chamber? The church window with the beam of light shining through gives Floyd a goal and provides a sliver of hope for our hero.

Drawing an obstacle course/maze/torture chamber for your hero hopefully enabled you to discover new things about them. For instance, when I first created Floyd, I had no idea he would secretly fear snakes and bugs. 

I also added another plot twist as I was drawing: unbeknownst to Floyd, he will be unable to fly if his magic cape gets too wet. That should be fun to watch.

This brings us to another truth: What is fun for your character, will not be fun for your audience. What is fun for your audience will most certainly not be fun for your character. Recognize that they are two different things and you'll see the wisdom of not getting too attached. 

This does not mean you shouldn't eventually come to care about your character, it just means, let him earn it and don't make it easy on him. 

Now that you understand your character better, it's time to design a character sheet for them. 

Your character sheet should include a turnaround ,
a walk cycle and some poses that are emblematic of your hero's personality. You should also include a variety of facial expressions. The entire sheet does not need to be colored in or shaded. Just color and shade in one or two feature poses for now.  Then add in a description of your character. Include any powers, strengths and weaknesses that are pertinent to the story.
Let's talk about adding color, light and shadow to your artwork. I have created tutorials on this subject before so, for my students, the video below should be a review:

Here are some great references that I used in researching this art lesson:
This is a great video on Pixar storytelling from Bloop Animation:

Art of Looney Tunes is a treasure trove of Warner Brothers character sheets.

The Random Character Trait Generator is an indispensable tool. If you are looking for a little more autonomy, click here for a comprehensive list of character traits.

Pixar in a Box, introduction to storytelling:

Pixar in a Box: Character Development

Pixar in a Box: Visual Language:

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Create your own 'Skeleton Dance' Animation: Inspired by the 1929 Disney Animated short film


This animation lesson was inspired by the 1929 Disney animated short, The Skeleton Dance:

Click here for the link to the Google Drive folder with all the animation assets for this project. 
Below is the video I created with all the instructions for the project:

Due to the Pandemic my students will be at home doing this lesson on their Chromebooks using Photopea and the Wick Editor websites, however you may also complete this project using Photoshop and Adobe Animate instead. Here are the instructions for using Photoshop and the 'bone tool' in Adobe Animate to create a dancing skeleton or figure:

Step 1: Open up the 'animation assets' folder and download the layered Photoshop file.
Step 2: Open up Photopea, log in to your account and open the file in Photopea
Step 3: Experiment with moving the character to create a dance
Step 4: refer to this 'Walk Cycle Worksheet':

Create a walk cycle, a series of sequential PNG images, for your skeleton.

Step 5: open up each one of your walk cycle images in Photopea and copy and paste them into one PSD. Line the layers of skeletons up so that they are all stacked on top of each other and then crop the PSD to get rid of any extra space on the canvas.
Step 6: Export your the layers of your PSD. This will download as a zipped file, which you will have to extract. 

If you are unable to unzip files on your Chromebook disregard step 5 and 6. Instead, just open up each file in your walk sequence, trim it and then re-download it.

Step 7: Experiment in the Wick editor with making your skeleton dance.

Step 8: Create a storyboard. Invent a story involving a skeleton or skeletons dancing, walking or moving. The storyboard should have at least 6 frames and a beginning, middle and end. Be as original and creative as possible. 

Step 9: Figure out a setting that involves a foreground, middle-ground and background so that your characters can move through three dimensional space and not just from left to right. You may use my skeleton or draw your own. You may include other characters, that you create, in your story. 

You may include any character that you have previously created for my class, as long as the character is original and not based on anything that is copyrighted by another artist.

You may also work with other students (of your choosing) and share each other's characters and backgrounds.

If you work with another student you must EACH create one character and you must EACH create one background that you will BOTH use. You will not be allowed to create the same storyboard or story as each other. Instead you will each create your own episodes or scenes of a story involving both characters. You may collaborate on developing the plot of your story and each animate different scenes that will later be edited together.

If you decide to work collaboratively with another student I will create a breakout room for you to discuss and brainstorm plot and character ideas.

I strongly suggest that you consider reusing characters from previous assignment to save yourself from extra work. 

You may use the characters from your 'turnaround' project.

If you plan on applying to art school or majoring in art in college, I strongly suggest that you create your own cartoon skeleton drawing for this assignment.

Keep your drawings as simple and cartoony as possible for this project so that you do not get so bogged down in details that you do not have time to finish.

Here is a tutorial on using the shape tool in Photopea to design your original characters and turnarounds:


I created the landscape above using the Photopea website on a Chromebook.
All the landscape assets are original. I did not use any clip art.
I was able to create the image using the shape tool, combining shapes, rasterizing them, warping them and transforming them.
The videos below explain how you can create your own setting, step by step:

Part 1: Creating the haunted house:

Part 2: Creating the mountains:

Part 3: Creating custom brushes and assembling the finished composition:

Part 4: Creating trees:

Part 5: Designing an interior space:

Part 6: Create your animation using the Wick Editor. Below is a playlist of instructional Wick Editor videos: 

Student Art Gallery
Below is a compilation of Skeleton Dance videos created by my students at Perth Amboy High School:

Monday, September 7, 2020

Introduction to Animation: The Wick Editor, The 12 Principles of Animation and The Dot and the Line


For this project you will be using the Wick Editor on your Chromebook. You will not be needing any other materials other than your Chromebook to complete this assignment. 

First, watch this video on the first principle of animation, squash and stretch:

Now watch this 1965 Oscar winning animated short, The Dot and the Line. You will be creating a short animation, inspired by The Dot and the Line and the first principle of animation, squash and stretch.

Click here to view the video

Next, watch the video below for instructions on how you can create your own animated story about a dot and a line, using the Wick Editor. Your story is going to be much simpler and shorter than The Dot and the Line, only about 3 seconds long.

 In your animation, you must demonstrate an understanding of the principle of 'squash and stretch',how frame animation works and how to use layers.

In the bottom layer, the green background, don't forget to drag the frame out so that the background is visible underneath the entire story.

Do not export the video as a GIF. Export it as an MP4 video. Upload both your saved Wick Editor project and your MP4 into Google Classroom. If you use more than one class period to work on the assignment, you will need to save the Wick Editor project to your Chromebook, upload it to Google Classroom and then download it again the next day. 

Do NOT HIT SUBMIT until you have uploaded both your finished Wick Editor project and your MP4 to Google Classroom.

 I can see your progress for a class work grade if you do not hit submit until you are done. This project will probably take 3 class periods to complete but some of you might need to work on it on your own outside of class time in order to get it done by the due date.
Below is a playlist of Wick Editor 'How to' and 'Frequently Asked Questions'
Open the playlist in You Tube to search for the answer to your specific question.


Our "The Dot and the Line" experiments 

Animations by Perth Amboy High School students.