Big Program – ages 8 and up, teens, adults

See a description of every lesson for the entire two years of Foundations. These lessons are the same for each age group, but presentation and some of the exercises are sometimes changed for younger ages.

We are currently on Year A

Lessons cover many areas, but each one has a primary focus, shown by the colors below. Months are approximate.





Year A of Two Years (2022-23)

1. August | Ink Animals

Students will learn how to create ink work with a dipping ink pen & metal nib. Animal photos are provided for reference, and the interior will be filled with expressive patterns, commonly called zen tangles. Creations students (advanced) will move more quickly into choosing subjects and doing special ink artwork. Classroom rules are introduced.

2. August | Color Crazed Cutouts

Artists are introduced to The Art Instructor Color palette and the basics of paint mixing. Then they begin the first week of a 2-week fun color collage project using a 3-color scheme and cut shapes similar to Matisse cutouts. It’s a great way to get into paint for the first time or after a long break. The work is finished next week. 

3. September | Design & Draw

In the first half of the lesson, students will finish the collage begun last week. They try several design ideas, which connects experimentation in composition with quick thumbnails using only big shapes. The second part is all about using Big Shapes and guidelines, but in the context of an artists’ choice pencil drawing, working from specialized reference of animal photos.

4. September | Accuracy Puzzles

Students will work on deconstructing a diagram of an image, working on it like a puzzle. Beginning with the Frame first, they learn how to work on the rectangular proportions, before moving to the second step, Big Shapes. Details are added last, completing the 3 Steps to Accuracy.

5. September | Landscape & Distance

Students will choose from a set of landscape photo references, and paint in acrylics on canvas. They’ll learn to show depth by using atmospheric perspective, working from farthest to closest, and top to bottom. Two color techniques are used: 1) mixing colors from other parts of the painting into each color for harmony, and 2) Color splitting. The lesson takes 2 weeks.

6. September | Finish Landscapes

Students will finish painting their landscapes with atmospheric perspective (depth) by working their way down the canvas, top to bottom, which is also distant to close.

7. September | Color Journal Yellows

Students learn how pigments affect each other. There are 4 starting mixes, and they add to each mix 3 more times to make a page with 16 different variations of yellows and oranges. Specific pigments are used from the ART INSTRUCTOR model, which produce colors that artists most often need to know how to mix

8. October | Many Minis

 Students will work on a series of very small works each using different combinations of media. There is opportunity for lots of freedom and self-expression, and artists learn to focus on one work at a time while doing many. The small size and having several works in a row, takes the pressure off of each work, so students really enjoy themselves and create some fantastic work as a result.

9. October | Artists' Choice

Since the holiday season is almost here, it’s time to take 2 weeks for a personal project and also finish up anything that is still in progress from this fall. This may become a gift, or just a great piece for the portfolio. Young art students are always asking to, “do what I want to do!” This is their chance. The overwhelming choice of “everything in the world” is narrowed by 1) requiring reference and 2) the use of several handouts to help you teach that making decisions about what to do can be fun and easy.

10. October | Pumpkin Painting Party

For this week, we have a fun party break, and your artists get to show their skills doing a 3D painting on an object. This is always very popular, and our students often dress up and bring party food.

11. October | Watercolor Rodeo

Students will learn how to paint with watercolor, using the drop-in method and our 4 watercolor insights. First they draw some autumn leaves, and after a demo, they will paint leaves using watercolors they’ve made from acrylic paints. Emphasis is on letting the watercolor work by itself and brush technique.

12. November |Animal Shadows

Students will learn about the basic nature of shadows using familiar round shapes as an example. Then, they’ll apply this information to a drawing & watercolor painting of an animal using photo reference.

13. November | Choice Continued

Because this is a continuation of last week’s artists’ choice, the lesson plan is brief. Students should enjoy the creative process!

14. November | Black & Blue Color Journal

Students learn how to mix colors and how they are affected by other pigments. Using a special page, they’ll mix and fill swatches for 16 colors (grades 3 – 5) or 25 colors (grades 6 – 12) in different variations of blues. The lesson continues with the Darks Color Journal using black, grays, and a few browns, in the same manner. The mixed colors use pigments from the ARTSquish program, and produce colors that artists often need to use when actually painting. Advanced students create an expressive acrylic painting on canvas from provided reference, that uses dark colors.

15. December | Color Wrap Up

Using color in shadows is essential to good artwork, and so is understanding how basic shapes like a cube are drawn. Since it’s the holiday season, we paint a red-wrapped, cube-shaped gift with a green ribbon and bow. Students learn the basics of cube shapes and accuracy, as well as mixing opposites, or compliments, to create shadow colors.

16. December | Recycled Ornaments

Used water bottles are transformed into colorful glass-like tree ornaments with acrylic paints.

17. December| Magazine Covers

Students will learn about design, illustration and lettering in a light-hearted magazine project. Older students use watercolors, and will not finish this week, but will continue with final line art outlines next week after the color has dried.

18. January | Balancing Act

Students will see how balance affects composition by using a drawn object and moving location and sizes. They will finish a color practice composition using acrylic paint over a drawing on paper. There will be a preview of next week’s cylinder lesson, and we will tap into students’ recent experience in creating magazine covers as well.

19. January | The Secret Plate

Students will learn how cylinders, one of the 3 most basic 3D forms, is drawn accurately. They’ll see that even famous old masters struggled with it, while doing an exercise that helps them understand and apply a new way of looking at it. The second half of the lesson is spent filling sketchbook pages with practice drawings they get to choose reference for: from cartoons to realism, all using cylindrical objects.

20. January | Still Life 1

In this 2-week lesson plan, students will learn the process of still life setup, and how to create thumbnail sketches for working on the composition. This week is spent mostly drawing and getting the canvas board ready. Next week is all about the painting.

21. January | Still Life 2

Students continue from last week’s drawing and preparations. They’ll get set up right away for painting, and review several insights as well as techniques. There are 3 techniques to use for this project, and a set of art terms is provided and discussed while students begin working. At the end of the lesson, there is a demo for creating a signature in paint.

22. February | Architecture Watercolor

Students will enjoy an easy drawing of architecture shapes that don’t involve perspective, from photo reference. A review or intro to watercolor techniques is next, and then they spend the rest of the lesson painting.

23. February | The Eye

This week is the beginning of our winter anatomy lessons on the parts of the face. Students will sculpt a human eye as they follow along with a video. They’ll learn to draw accurate eyes by understanding the form and structure of the eyeball and the skin around it. Lighting is demonstrated so that shadows are also understood. There is a “before” and “after” version of their work so they can see the progress from today’s instructions.

24. February | The Weird Nose

Students will make a clay model of the nose and then draw it. They will learn insights about the form of the nose and how to shade it. Then they’ll use reference to draw eyes and nose together.

25. February | The Mouth & Face

Students finish off a 3 lesson series on faces by drawing and discussing the mouth. Then, they will have fun creating an expressive face out of air dry clay that they will get to take home.

26. March | Face Sculpture

Artists get to create a face sculpture out of air-dry clay or salt dough that will be painted next week. They’re free to have fun with ideas to make the face anything, even an animal face. Before they work on the sculptures, young artist create a fun face warmup and then make practice faces in modeling clay. Older students finish their watercolor portrait and then move to the sculpture.

27. March | Painting Sculptures

Last week’s face sculptures have been drying all week. The first half of the lesson this week, is painting the sculptures with acrylic paints. The second half is artists’ choice with dreams: using the acrylics in an expressive painting of a happy dream.

28. March | Color Journal - Skintones

Students will warm up with face sketches and create a flesh tone Color Journal of 25 colors (only 16 for younger grades). Then there is a slideshow about the different color areas of the face and some exercises to practice making flesh tones work together. Young grades have some fun with alien faces too.

29. March | Acrylic Portrait

An underpainting in bright orange helps students create an easy portrait using acrylics and their newly learned skin tone color journals.

30. April | Acrylic Portrait 2

Artists will continue to work on their portraits from last week. The focus should be on the technique, but also to re-work areas that are not looking the way they want them to. Early finishers have Artists’ Choice.

31. April | Fun & Freaky Game Day

While older classes in grades 6 and up will continue with their portrait paintings, young grades and a few students will finish earlier. Signatures are demoed, and then there are fun artist games to do. Each game has a learning component.

32. April | Expressive Animals

We actually begin 2 different projects this week that will be finished in the next couple of weeks. The first is an expressive ink drawing of an animal. Next week students will add watercolor to these. The second project will span 2 more weeks and is a 3D panel sculpture made from cardboard. These will be primed with gesso and painted.

33. April | Blockheads

Continuing last week, where they began 2 projects, students will first add watercolor to their expressive animal ink drawings. Then they continue with corrugated cardboard to build their interlocking panel sculptures. Today they’ll finish building the sculpture, and then they’ll prime with gesso. Next week is finishing and painting the surface.

34. May | Head Painting

Students will finish their Blockhead cardboard projects this week. If they have not yet primed (with gesso), that will be the first thing they do. Then acrylics are used to paint the entire work, so that it is viewable from all directions. Early finishers can help others, or catch up on any unfinished projects.

35. May | Repeat & Focus

After a warmup of drawing vegetables from life, students will work together to compose a photo. The teacher prints the photo, which has no obvious focal point. Students will see a video profiling Andy Warhol and learning about emphasis and repetition as design components. They’ll draw and paint the veggies using one in an accent color to emphasize it, creating a Most Important Spot.

36. May | Seven Steps

Students have a day of Artists’ Choice, but learn the 7 steps to making art in doing so. A structured approach to creativity allows for freedom of expression and choice of subject without floundering through a lot of false starts and frustration.

Year B of Two Years (2021-22)

1. August | Start Drawing!

Students are introduced to some simple rules and practice with drawing and shading using graphite pencils from varous sources.

2. August | Start Painting!

Students will learn and work with alike colors (analogous), and practice simple brush techniques using arcylic paints. A colorful background and bold line-based designs are used for their first painting of the year. The rules are reviewed and explained in more detail.

3. September | Underpainting Landscape 1

Students will begin the first of two lessons, where they create a landscape in acrylic paints, using the classic red underpainting technique.

4. September | Underpainting Landscape 2

Students will continue working on their red underpainting landscape in acrylics until finished.

5. September | Three Steps to Accuracy

Students will be introduced to, and have a chance to practice, Dennas’ 3 steps to accuracy method, which is based on the way professional artists analyze what they see so that they can reproduce it accurately in the artwork. There is also a paint-mixing game, and some time to finish landscapes if needed.

6. September | Ink and Air

Students discover (or rediscover) the good, bad, and beautiful qualities of India ink. They create a black and white ink drawing of tools, while also reviewing the 3 Steps to Accuracy, and learning about Air Shapes, the Art Instructor term for the traditional (and more abstract concept), negative shapes.

7. September | Inaccurate Painting

Because accuracy is not always the goal, and students need to break free from boundaries, we’ll take a fun break from the structured lessons, and enjoy the freedom of self-expression.  We also learn about the Most Important Spot, (or emphasis).

8. October | Shading and Blockiness

Students learn or review the basic techniques involved in pencil shading using various textures and movement. Blocks and cubes are looked at, as an introduction to artist’s perspective and understanding of one of the 3 basic geometric forms.

9. October | Ink-spiration

Students can begin by finishing the inaccurate painting from 2 weeks ago or creating another experimental work with acrylic paint. Pen and ink is used to copy the work and/or technique of another artist’s ink drawing that they choose. If time allows, early finishers can work with sticks dipped into ink for drawing gritty and dramatic line art of animals.

10. October | Viewpoint Drawings

 Students will use the simple form of a cube to learn the basics of artists’ perspective, which have been reduced to three innovative, concrete, and simple concepts. Several visual tricks and analogies help the lesson be informative, understandable, and interesting.

11. October | Birdhouse Drawings

Students will create a detailed drawing of an old weathered birdhouse. If possible, the birdhouses used should be real-life objects, but photos are provided. Steps for preparing, using the 3 steps to accuracy, making guide-lines, and pencil techniques are all practiced to create a finished work. A few fun short projects for early finishers are also included.

12. November | Little Patches Watercolors

Students will work for two weeks to create a square-shaped watercolor painting that is divided into a grid design. Each smaller area in the grid (rectangles and squares), becomes a tiny little painting, drawn and painted in watercolors. This will employ the small glaze technique, and makes it easy since there are no large areas to worry about. Each painting is made from patches: several patches of smaller paintings, and those paintings are smaller patches of color.


13. November | Patch Painting

Students will finish the little patches watercolor they began last week. As students finish, they’ll begin work in charcoal, warming up with quick sketches and using several photo references. Oil pastels are introduced to create a black and white mixed media.


14. November | Artists' Choice

Students will have a day of artist’s choice, where they can do whatever they want. Anyone who is not finished with the little patches watercolor should do that before they move into their artist’s choice. Total freedom can be hard to handle, so there are plans that help students stay on track and not become overwhelmed with options.

15. December | Gifts of Art

Everyone loves to get art for the holidays, so we’ll create Christmas (or other holiday) gifts for friends and family. Small works on paper are fun and easy to create, and make personal connections that are remembered for many years. Students create a drawing for a small piece of line art and then create a duplicate, or mono-print, using the original as both artwork and a printing plate. Then they paint both to make each one unique.

16. December | Gingerbread Houses

Students will all bring candy to create a huge candy “store” that everyone can “shop” at for their houses. A half-gallon paperboard milk carton is cut in half to make the house, which is glued to a small cardboard base. Icing and candy cover the entire house! Kids love creating this holiday tradition.

17. December | Color Journals ( Reds + Greens)

Our first 2 Color Journals of the year are Reds & Greens. These color journals are fun and easy for students, because they just follow the instructions to mix a lot of very useful versions of one basic color. They’re designed to help students understand the process of mixing and the effect that colors have on each other as opposed to just following formulas and using them as a limited palette. The colors can’t just be remixed following this as if it were a guide. The goal isn’t even to get a specific color, but to learn how pigments behave. The pages should be printed on cover stock so they can be saved in a binder for reference.

18. January | Line & Design

Students will create simple artwork in oil pastels using only colored lines. Then they’ll examine their efforts and learn the 6 design principles. Students will apply principles to modify their work and improve their overall design before finishing it.

19. January | The Color Star

Students will use a printed work-page to create a modified and expanded color wheel model. Our Color Star model applies the actual pigments that we use to the color wheel, and makes much more sense to artists than general color theory models. This is a great learning tool.

20. January | Wild & Crazy!

Students will learn how to push their ideas and think creatively. Several exercises are used, along with dialog, to understand how to get outside the normal boundaries and use their imaginations along with their pencils. After idea thumbnails and sketches, an acrylic painting is begun.

21. January | Opposites Color Journal

Students learn how to mix darker and muted shades with every tube-color on their palette. Using opposites, or complementary colors on our printed work-page, they’ll use small amounts of colors in combinations that produce the most vibrant and realistic shadow colors and neutrals.


22. February | Ketchup Day

There are many projects that have been in the works. Students will tackle each one until several are finished. If no projects are left, then it is time for self-expression with artists’ choice.

23. February | Clay Face Sculpture

Students will learn about the structure of the face before sculpting a small version of it in re-usable modeling clay (not to keep). After they’ve made their own 3D model, they draw it. This connects two sensory experiences of the same thing in the brain: the tactile knowledge of the subject in 3D, and drawing it in 2D. The result is better drawing abilities.

24. February | Portrait in Color

This is one of two lessons about portraits. Today everyone will work on accuracy, while also learning how observation helps accuracy more than anything else. There’s a memory drawing game and an oil pastel copy of a Van Gogh portrait. 

25. February | Self Portrait

Warmup today begins with cartoon faces. Then artists will draw a pencil self-portrait using mirrors to observe themselves. First, though, there is a lesson about shadows, reflected light, and practice drawings with soft edges using an egg.

26. March | Complemented Animals

Complementary colors are used for a 2-week project: a colorfully expressive animal painting in acrylics on canvas. Students will choose an animal, draw it, and will then use expressive complimentary colors to paint bright and unusual work. The colors may be natural compliments, such as a brown (orange) animal and a blue sky, or unnatural compliments, such as a red and green zebra.

27. March | Complemented Finish

This week everyone will continue on their animal paintings using the complimentary color schemes and mixing opposites for shadow colors. Paintings should be finished this week. There is a fun drawing in the round game for early finishers.

28. March | Colors Under the Knife

Continuing with painting, students will learn how to use the palette knife technique before working on a landscape. There are specific colors that must be mixed and used side by side. This helps artists see how expanding your colors to several variations enhances the final painting.

29. March | Treasure Hunt

Everyone gets a chance to use learned skills and freedom to choose what to do with an exciting “Treasure Hunt” for different elements of art. It’s also a great day for finishing existing works such as the complimented animals or palette knife paintings.

30. April | Robots vs Skeletons

Students will learn about the skeletal system and how it affects the way an artist draws the human form. There is also a fun game as well as a robot project that helps them understand the proportions of the human figure.

31. April | Mid-Tone Still-Life

Students create a still life painting using an acrylic technique that begins with a mid-tone of a warm neutral color. Then they will paint the dark shadows throughout, before finishing with the light areas. It’s a fast and easy method that yields awesome results!

32. April | Finish & Color Journal

Everyone should work to finish their mid-tone still life painting, and then if there is time, move into the last color journal of the year – neutrals. Some students will be finished with the journal before class is over, so there is also an exercise for early finishers.

33. April | Creative Collage

Students will use pages and clippings from magazines to create collage images that tell a story about themselves. They are also given the choice to work on a detailed pencil drawing with freedom to choose their subject matter.

34. May | Journal Painting 1

Combining a sketch, writing, thinking, and painting, all on one canvas, this technique appeals to everyone. Students will draw and sketch on the canvas with their colored pencil (other colors may be used if available, but we use a dark gray that mimics graphite.) Anything can be drawn or written, just like in the page of a journal or sketch book. Washes of color are added for a soft visual effect. This lesson will continue and be finished next week.

35. May | Journal Painting 2

Students will continue working on their journal paintings from last week. Early finishers will work on any paintings or color journals that are not yet finished. If all is done, then they’ll have artists’ choice.

36. May | Big 3D Installation

A Bunch O’ Boxes project completes the school year program. Everyone must work together as a team and combine a few boxes into a 3D sculpture and/or installation that has a theme and incorporates everyone’s efforts and style into one final work. Classes are divided into teams of 5 or less so that everyone can work at once. Boxes are covered in white paper and painted for display all summer or for an art show. It’s also a fun day for an end of year party!