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.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Art of Doodling: How to never be bored again

Too bad this teacher hasn't read the latest research. Doodling in class actually helps students to better focus on the lesson and grasp abstract concepts.

A doodle by Brock University professor Giulia Forsythe explaining how doodling helps with learning. Courtesy of Giulia Forsythe.

Here are some studies that show that doodling in class actually improves learning:

Four benefits of doodling:

1)Doodling improves your focus and concentration. 

2) Doodling helps you see the big picture

4) Doodlers retain information better. 
On a personal note, I have some rules that I made for myself that allowed me to be productive as an artist. I share them here because they include recognizing the importance of my own doodling: 

1) finish every piece despite doubts or criticism. 
2) Accept that no piece will be perfect but you will learn from each piece and then apply that knowledge to the next piece. 
3) the piece you doubt the most is the piece that has the most to teach you. 
4) go back and finish pieces that you abandoned years ago. Whatever they had to teach you, you didn't learn because you abandoned them. 
5) if you need to stop working on a piece, because you are unsure how to finish it, that's okay. You can come back to it later. The piece itself will eventually tell you how it should be finished. Sometimes I rotate between several pieces and don't come back to a particular picture until months later. 
6) keep your mess ups, failures and ugly works. Why? Not sure. Something will come of them. I've even cut mine up and used pieces of them. 
7) Pay attention to the doodles in your sketchbook. These things you do 'just for fun' or because something catches your eye or because you get an idea. The stream of consciousness cartoons and doodles that you don't expect anyone to see, much less buy might hold the key to your next piece. Go through old sketchbooks and see what catches your eye. 

Doodling in the art room:

Here are some doodling ideas that I have used in my classroom:

Some of my seventh grade students doing the above assignment:

Variation: Fill the negative space with colorful patterns
Doodle drawing by an 8th grade student

Group Doodling, a great way to foster collaboration 

Sunday, April 17, 2016

On 'Messing Up', trial, error and the creative process

Trial and error is essential to the creative process. When I draw, my eraser is as important an instrument as my pencil. In the classroom I teach my students to work through their mistakes and never give up. 

If a student tells me they are dissatisfied with their drawing and they are willing to point out specifically the part that is frustrating them I will be happy to use every resource I know of in order to help them work through their difficulty. If, however, they throw their paper away or bring me a blank page I will send them back to try again because I don't know what they can do on their own. In other words, your mistakes and frustrations hold the key to your future learning. Don't throw away your 'mess ups', use them to learn. 

I'll let you in on a little secret: famous artists mess up too! They erase and they get frustrated as they try to draw new things. Instead of throwing their paper away they keep working until they get it right.  

Let's take a look at how well Vincent Van Gogh was able to draw in 1880

Now let's look at a drawing of his from 1882

Here is one of his paintings from 1887

And another drawing from 1888

There is no question that, over the course of those eight years, from 1880 to 1888, by drawing from life and copying from pictures every single day, Vincent Van Gogh's skill improved dramatically. Your drawings will improve too, if you never give up. 

 From 'The Natural Way to Draw by Kimon Nicola├»des

Before plunging into major projects or wasting expensive materials, most artists will develop their ideas by sketching. An artist may change his mind many times as his thoughts evolve. Take a look at these preliminary drawings from Leonardo da Vinci's sketchbook:

In the first picture, da Vinci plays around with the position of the horse's leg

The drawing above, from da Vinci's sketch book, shows the guidelines he used to determine the facial proportions. 

 The picture below has smears and finger prints on it but that didn't stop Leonardo from keeping his artwork. 

Leonardo da Vinci and Vincent Van Gogh both used their sketches to develop ideas for some of the most famous and beloved pieces of art the world has ever known. How are you going to use your sketches? Click here to explore the sketchbooks of other famous artists.

Some final thoughts:

Monday, February 22, 2016

This is not a box

Step 1
Break into groups of 3

Act out the story Idiot Box  in your group, each one reading your part aloud.
Each person in the group must choose a different part. You may be SpongeBob, Squidward or Patrick

Step 2: Fill in the blanks to tell the story from your character's point of view.

Compare your story with the other stories in your group. How are they all different?

Now it is your turn to transform a box. You will need to work as a group to figure out what you want to transform your box into. You will need to cooperate to get the job done.

Pretend you have $100 to spend to transform your box. In addition any member of your group can bring in items from home.
Plan your design. What will you transform your box into? Draw a sketch and describe your idea.
Print out the purchase order below, list your materials and plan your budget. Can anyone in your group bring in free items from home?
Many essential items are 'per day'. If you borrow all the items at once you may waste money. Draw up a schedule and figure out what day you will need to rent what item.
Leave extra money in your budget for unanticipated emergencies and unexpected repair costs.
Do you really need that? Look at your budget with a critical eye. How can you cut costs?
You may join with another group and combine budgets and boxes.
Points will be awarded for coming in under budget.

If you hit your budget limit you will need to supply items from home or your entire group will not be able to do the assignment.

Dividing up the work:
One person in your group should be the accountant. This should be somebody who likes math and is good at it. While you are all responsible for spending your money wisely and keeping within budget, the accountant will keep careful track of your costs and how much money the group has left to spend. The accountant will list the materials on the purchase order form and change the quantities as you use up more materials.

One person in your group will be the designer. While you all must work together to come up with a design idea that you can agree on, the designer will sketch the idea on paper. This should be somebody who likes to draw and thinks drawing is fun.

One person in the group should be the writer. While you will all be responsible for inventing the story behind your box together, the writer will be the one to write it down. They will also write a description of your idea for how to transform the box. The writer should be someone who is able to write neatly and is good at spelling.

Very useful information courtesy of

Working on the narrative

Here are some useful worksheets to help young writers to develop the narrative part of their 'This Is Not A Box' projects;

The only thing limiting the story you tell is your imagination but the worksheets above will help you to weave a tale that is both fun to write and engaging to your audience.

Final Presentation:

Once again you will need to work as a team. 

For this part of the project you will need to 

divide yourselves up into the following rolls:


The videographer works behind the camera 

and will be responsible for filming the project,

directing the students who are on screen

and zooming in on appropriate details. They 

will also be responsible for putting each day's 

filming into Drop Box so that the teacher can 

view it. All students will review and edit the 

presentation together using iMovie on the 

iPads but the videographer is expected to 

take a leading role. The videographer should

be someone who is comfortable using 


The Spokesperson

The spokesperson should be someone who 

speaks clearly and loudly, makes good eye 

contact and does not mumble. The 

spokesperson will be doing most of the 

narration of the video. Once the video is 

complete the spokesperson may need to 

record a voiceover using iMovie. Everyone 

will work together to develop the script

(the writer is expected to take a leading roll in 

this area) but the spokesperson is expected 

to make sure that the audio on the final 

iMovie is clear and easy to hear.

The Presenter

The presenter should be someone who is

comfortable on camera and able to follow 

directions. They should have good listening 

skills and be comfortable making eye 

contact. We all know someone who is 

dramatic, expressive, animated and  

 seems to 'talk with their hands'. These are 

ideal character traits for your presenter.

You may also take turns playing the different 

rolls since in many groups students will have 

overlapping strengths and skills.


After finishing up your box sculpture and 

completing your story you will create a short

video that tells the tale of your sculpture.

The only thing limiting the content of your

narrative is 1) Your imagination and 2) Your 

story must be 'school appropriate' (a story 

that can be shared, in a typical school 

setting, to an elementary school student).

Videos may be anywhere from 30 seconds to 

three minutes in length.