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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.

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Sunday, March 29, 2020

Digital Art Online during a Quarantine: Using Chromebooks, Cell Phones, Pen and Paper

I created these online lessons during the global pandemic of Covid-19 in March 2020. My students and I are all quarantined in our homes but we need to keep on learning. I sent all my students home with drawing paper, a pencil and a Sharpie marker. Some students, if they were absent on the last day before the quarantine, might only have lined notebook paper at home. They all have Chromebooks and Wifi access.

We started out by inventing imaginary animals using the website Switch Zoo.

Next, students drew their favorite new animal on paper, photographed it with their cell phone and sent it to me.

After that, my students found three photographs online of interesting landscapes that could function as biomes for their imaginary animals. 

We discussed the elements of a landscape after I showed them this video:

Their next job was to find all the landscape elements in the three images they downloaded. I wanted them to understand that images could look completely unique but still have backgrounds, middle grounds, foregrounds, overlapping, horizons, atmospheric perspective etc. 

Finally, students used something from each of the three images to create an original drawing of a biome where their new animal could live.

Finally, we are ready to create some digital art. After some research I have decided that the best online digital art editing website is Photopea. It works beautifully with a Chromebook because you don't have to download anything. I found that the website Background Burner worked the best for removing the backgrounds from photographs. They request that you create a free account (I did) which you need to verify via a working email address. The video below explains how I used both websites together to create an entirely new image:

You may want to save a layered file in Photopea so you can keep working on it the next day. How do you do that on a Chromebook? This tutorial shows you how.

Unfortunately the size limit is 10MB. If you have a larger file, I suggest you save each layer separately as a PNG and then reassemble the PSD into layers the next day. Not idea, but that is the best workaround I can think of.

Illustrating a Story

Now it is time to create your story. You are an explorer. You travel to a distant and unfamiliar environment (your biome drawing) where you discover a new animal, that has never been seen before by humankind. 

You will be using Background Burner and Photopea to create your images but you will be putting your visual story together using the website Storyboard That

After experimenting with a free trial teacher membership on the Storyboard That website, I have decided to pay a nominal fee to extend my educator account until the end of the school year. The company was very gracious, given the circumstances of our quarantine, and the cost was very reasonable. The video below gives all the details about how to use Storyboard That if you have a full educational membership:

Week 1

Objectives: Students will be able to use  the website Switch Zoo to create  original and unique imaginary animals

Students will be able to use these images as inspiration and create unique drawings of their new animal.

Week 2

Students will be able to use internet images to gain an understanding the elements of a landscape and how those elements manifest themselves differently in each picture.

Students will be able to synthesize visual references and create an original drawing of a biome for their invented animal

 Week 3 (March 30th-April 3rd, 2020)

Students will be able to use the websites Photopea and Background Burner to create PNGs (Portable Network Graphics) of  landscapes and characters that can be used to illustrate original stories.

Students will be able to digitally synthesize their own original photography and drawings into new imagery that illustrates their stories and conveys their ideas.

Week 4 (April 6- April 9)

Students will be able to use the website Storyboard That to create an original visual story (at least 6 panels) about an explorer, an unfamiliar environment and a newly discovered animal.

For this week: Make sure your animal and Biome drawings are done. If you skipped anything, go back and do it now.

Watch the video explaining how to use Photopea and Background Burner.

Use Background burner to edit a photograph of yourself. Remove the background and save it as a PNG. Upload it to the assignment 'Background Burner' in Google Classroom.

Use Photopea to create an image that includes your biome, your imaginary animal and yourself.
Export your image and save it to the assignment 'Photopea' in Google Classroom

For the week of starting April 6th:

Combine your own photographs and drawings to create an original story, using Storyboard That.
The story should be about yourself, an explorer, travelling to an unfamiliar environment and discovering a new life form. Your story must include backgrounds and characters and have a beginning, middle and end. 
You must create at least 6 panels. Your story may be longer than 6 panels.

Please follow the link I have posted in your Google Classroom and create a Storyboard That username and password under my teacher account. This will give you full access to the website.

Download your storyboard and attach it to the assignment called:
'Imaginary Animal Adventure' in Google Classroom.


  1. Do the kids have to download the switch zoo app to invnet and save the animal?

    1. No. If you are on a Chromebook you just use the full website. If you are on an iPad or phone the app is helpful