Printing with Ferns

There’s something so enchanting about the combination of nature and art.

If you’re taking a nature walk this summer, take the time to collect a few fern fronds in different sizes. With a little paint you can create a gorgeous and easy work of art that’s totally frame-worthy!

Materials Needed:

  • Ferns
  • Acrylic paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Heavy paper (watercolor paper or cardstock)

Prepare the Project:

Take a nature walk and collect fern fronds of varying sizes and shapes.

Set the fronds out along with the thick paper and paint brushes. Squirt your paint colors of choice onto a palette or paper plate. Using the same paint color in varying shades makes for a stunning and cohesive result.

Make Some Art:

  1. Use the paintbrushes to brush the color of your choice onto a fern frond. Experiment with using the front and the back of the frond- you’ll find that you get slightly different results.
  2. Gently turn the frond over onto the blank paper and press down. Very gently run one finger along the blades to achieve a complete print.
  3. Slowly peel the frond off the page from bottom to top.
  4. Repeat with fronds of varying sizes. Use lighter and darker shades of the same color, or experiment with complementary colors to create a beautiful work of art.

Extensions:

  • What other leaves and foliage can you use for printing?
  • Overlap different colors to mix a new third color in the overlaps.
  • Start with a colored piece of paper and print with white for a striking negative effect.

Pssst… have you signed up for your FREE art project download yet?

Pinned Butterfly “Specimen” Project

If you aren’t quite ready to take the plunge into pinning real actual butterflies, why not try this butterfly specimen project instead?

I am a big fan of natural history, and of incorporating nature into art at every chance. With summer just around the corner, we get the urge to spend as much time as possible in nature, and to save and catalogue the treasures that we find. This project scratches that itch with just a few materials, none of them actually dead.

Materials Needed:

  • Pencils
  • Watercolor paper
  • Watercolors and brushes
  • Butterfly books (for reference)
  • Thumbtacks
  • Cork sheets
  • Scissors
  • Frames (optional)

Prepare the Project:

  • If necessary, trim the cork sheets down. This is an optional step; butterfly specimen frames come in different shapes and sizes, so there’s no right or wrong way to do it. When I did this project with a summer program class of elementary kids I cut 12×12 sheets of cork in half to make sure I had enough to go around.
  • Draw and cut out butterfly shapes from watercolor paper for younger artists who may struggle with this step.
  • Set out your watercolors, water, brushes, and water color paper. It’s helpful to have a few books strewn about with pictures of different types of butterflies for reference. Printed photos work well too- laminating them may extend their life. Check out my Pinterest board for lots of ideas!

Make Some Art:

  • Fold the watercolor paper in half, and with a pencil draw half of a pair of butterfly wings on one side. Make as many butterflies as you can all the way down the sheet. This step ensures the wings are symmetrical when you cut the butterflies out.
  • Cut out the butterfly shapes.
  • Lightly with your pencil, draw whatever designs you want on the wings- or if you feel like freestyling, jump right into the next step!
  • Paint those babies!
  • Allow your painted butterflies to dry fully.
  • Once they’re dry, pin the butterflies to the cork.
  • You can place your cork inside the optional frame if you wish; this will give it a gift-worthy finished look!

 Extensions:

  • Use this project to learn about the differences between butterflies and moths, create some of each to pin on your cork board.
  • Identify the Latin name of each butterfly and write it on a thin strip of paper. Glue the paper beneath each butterfly.
  • Older kids will enjoy trying to make their butterflies as realistic as possible- encourage them to mix colors to match their reference butterflies as closely as possible.
  • Why limit yourself to butterflies? Do a pinned beetle project, or even spiders (but I will not be making an example of those, *shudder*)

Pssst… have you signed up for your FREE art project download yet?

Spooky Milk Jug Monsters

We’ve got a ways to go until Halloween, but you can make these spooky milk jug creatures year-round (and a simple change in mouth shape can easily change their mood). This project is incredibly simple and translates well across age groups.

Materials Needed:

  • Empty, clean milk jugs
  • Spray paint primer
  • Acrylic or tempera craft paint
  • Googly eyes
  • Craft foam or cardstock
  • Feather boa
  • Tinsel
  • Hot glue gun

Prepare the Project:

  1. Cut out a gaping mouth shape toward the base of the jugs with sharp scissors.
  2. In a well-ventilated area, spray the jugs with a coat or two of primer (this is an important step! The paint will not apply well if you leave this step out.)

Make Some Art:

  • Paint the jugs however you like. Some kids go for as many colors as possible while others prefer a theme like pumpkin or bat.

  • Allow the jugs to dry. A hair dryer is useful here to speed this up, especially if the paint is thick in places.

  • While the jugs are drying, trace the kids’ hands and feet onto the craft foam and cut them out. One of our art camp kids did wings instead of hands! Love it!
  • Draw and cut out tooth shapes from craft foam or cardstock.
  • *This is a job for the adult* Using a hot glue gun, attach the googly eyes, the teeth, and the hands/feet. You may try standard liquid glue here in place of a hot glue gun, but in my opinion it’s too much of a hassle to hold everything in place until it’s secure. And just when you think they’re attached, you turn around and next thing you know an eyeball is sliding down the face.

  • Now add the accessories- we used tinsel for “barf” but it could also make some funky hair. You can also snip small sections of feather boa for hair, or perhaps create a spooky bird creature and line it with boa feathers!

Extensions:

  • Create names and stories for the creatures. Where do they live? What do they eat? Are they scary, or nice? They make an excellent creative writing prompt.
  • You can easily begin your art session with a simple primer on color mixing. Provide only the three primary colors and help the kids experiment with mixing new colors. When we ran this project as a three-hour art camp, we spent the first hour just exploring with the paints and mixing colors. We also used this exploration time to learn what happens if you add water to your paint.
  • Use a piece of posterboard to paint a spooky backdrop for your creature, and then display them together. It makes delightful Halloween decor!

Pssst… have you signed up for your FREE art project download yet?

Stunning Watercolor Feathers

Craft feathers are delightful. But they’re so light that they fly everywhere, they’re hard to glue, and they tend to shed. Enter the watercolor feather! I discovered these last year while running a summer program for 1st-4th graders. Although I’m not sure who loved this project more… me or them! They’re so much sturdier, and while not 100 percent realistic they are absolutely stunning. I’ll share a few of the uses we found for them below, but really the sky is the limit with these beauties.

Materials Needed:

  • Cardstock, posterboard, or heavy watercolor paper
  • Watercolors
  • Scissors
  • Pencil

Prepare the Project:

Draw as many simple feather shapes as you can fit on the paper, including a pencil line down the center of the feather. Older kids may be able to do this themselves.

Make Some Art:

  • Paint the feathers! Don’t worry about going outside the lines, you’ll be cutting them out.
  • Experiment with designs, patterns, color mixing, and using more/less water. You really can’t go wrong.

  • Cut out the feather shapes.
  • Cut the barbs with short downward strokes toward the center of the feather. This is the trickiest part and can take a bit of practice to get the hang of; depending on the age of the kids you’re working with they may or may not need your help. (If you accidentally cut straight through a feather, just tape the back and keep going!)

  • Revel in the beauty of your feathers!

As for what to do with them… here are a few projects we made:

This is an archeopteryx from a dinosaur unit. A year later I still have this hanging in my office!

A simple hanging mobile with a found stick and some twine. I may do a separate tutorial on this one, which I also still have hanging in my office. I’m a little obsessed with these feathers. ;)

If you do this project, please take photos and share them with me! I would love to see, and I’d love to start a gallery with submitted photos of art projects.

Pssst… have you signed up for your FREE art project download yet?

Terracotta Garden Lighthouse Project

This project comes from my 7 Wonders of the World summer elementary program curriculum, which I will be sharing more about soon! The topic at hand is the Lighthouse of Alexandria, a marvel of the ancient Egyptian world. After reading a few books about the lighthouse and making a study of lighthouses in general, this is a fun collaborative project for a variety of ages that results in a beautiful piece for a schoolyard or garden.

Materials Needed:

  • Terracotta flower pots in three sizes- small, medium, large.
  • Two terracotta plant saucers- large and small
  • Acrylic paints- you’ll want genuine acrylic and not washable tempera if you intend to keep your lighthouse outside. Otherwise tempera should be fine.
  • Paintbrushes
  • A small solar-powered garden light
  • E6000 epoxy (or similar heavy-duty adhesive)

Prepare the Project:

  1. Lay down butcher paper or newspaper to protect your work surface.
  2. Set out paintbrushes.
  3. Squirt paint into small cups or onto trays (paper plates are my go-to).
  4. Space the pots (upside-down) and saucers out around the workspace so they’re easily accessible by everyone participating.
  5. It’s helpful to spread some photos of different kinds of lighthouses around the work space for inspiration.

Make Some Art:

  1. It’s as simple as painting the pots however you like! This can be a great exercise in collaboration if you’re working with multiple kids. Are they all going to cooperate to keep consistent colors/patterns, or will it just be a free-for-all? Some kids like to add windows and doors to give the lighthouse a realistic look, and others like to cover it in dinosaurs and dragons. :)
  2. You may need to clarify which parts of the pots need to be painted- the inside of the pots won’t be visible, so you can leave them plain. Make sure your artists understand that the pots will be displayed upside-down. The “tops” (actually the bottoms of the pots) will also not be visible. The outside rim and the top of the small saucer will be visible, and only the outside rim of the large saucer.
  3. Leave the pots to dry- anywhere from 2-24 hours depending on paint thickness.
  4. In a well-ventilated area, place a thin line of E6000 epoxy around the bottom of the rim of the large pot, and place it firmly over the large saucer.
  5. Place a thin line of epoxy around the inside rim of the medium pot, and place it firmly over the top of the large pot.
  6. Place a thin line of epoxy around the inside rim of the smallest pot and place it firmly over the top of the medium pot.
  7. Place a thin line of E6000 epoxy around the top rim of the smallest pot, and place the plant saucer on top.
  8. Glue the solar light on top. How you accomplish this may vary depending on what kind of light you find. We found small garden stake solar lights at the Dollar Tree, and we were able to easily pop the light off of the stake and glue it onto the plant saucer.
  9. Make sure the epoxy has set well enough that the lighthouse won’t fall apart, and leave it to cure in an undisturbed place.

Extensions:

  • Draw up “plans” first for how the finished lighthouse should look. Get your group collaborating ahead of time so they begin the painting portion with a plan in mind.
  • To teach a more thoughtful process, have the kids pencil their designs onto the pots before painting.
  • You can easily make individual mini lighthouses with single small pots- use a medium saucer for the base.

Pssst… have you signed up for your FREE art project download yet?