Each lesson Plan focuses primarily on one of the 4 Cornerstones of Art:
Drawing | Painting | Color | Style


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.

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Grades 3 – 5

Week of February 7 – 11

1 Hour & 45 Minutes

Student Work

Lesson At A Glance

A brief overview of each step. Buttons jump to each section for detailed information.

15 Minutes – Warmup with clay shapes & vase

10 Min – Sketch clay still life from 2 views

10 Min – Story about life drawing

20 Min – Clay animal or face from 3D reference

10 Min – Realistic quick sketches

5 Min – Sketching to learn & sketch again

20 Min – Draw clay model

10 Min – If time, make 2nd clay thing to draw

5 Min – Everyone helps

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Each section is a different color. Read over once and then you can SCROLL & TEACH using any device you like. It’s designed to work best with your phone.

STEP 1. Warm Up

Students will warm up using their modeling clay
15 Minutes


Students know how to use modeling clay to sculpt


  • 11″ x 17″ Copy Paper
  • Modeling Clay
All materials are suggestions and may be modified as you see fit. We have tried many items, and these seem to allow the most versatility for the cost.

1.1 Print


Clay Instructions

Cut images apart and print enough for each student to choose from several.

Hand out reference prints. Set all of the images out on a table or counter, and let groups of students come choose what they want..


1 Page – Opens in new window

1.2 Prep

Have students set up work area and warm up their clay.

As students arrive, give them the instructions. Show them or use the pdf.

Before students arrive, place sheets of 11 x 17 copy paper at every seat. Write, “Clay must stay on the paper at all times” on every paper.

Alternatively, you can have them use a sheet torn out of their palette pad as the first thing they do. Give them a sharpie to write their name, and “clay paper” on it at the top. Draw a line all around the very edge to create a visual border.

Have students get their modeling clay out and explain that the clay needs to stay on the paper and not touch the table. This is to keep the clay clean, and also keep your table from getting oily.

“The clay must stay inside the border, even when you’re holding it!”

You can do a quick exercise where they hold they clay outside the border for a second, as you say, “no!”, and then inside and you say, “yes!” Go back and forth a couple of times for fun and to remember.

Everyone needs a quick “how to” for sculpting in clay. Provide instruction handouts if you want to.

  1. Twist – twist off SMALL pieces of clay to work with. Large pieces do not work.
  2. Roll – making snake shapes or worms will warm up the clay fastest.
  3. Press – pressing gently over and over is much better than mashing hard, or smearing.
  4. Pinch off – change a shape by pinching off some clay you don’t need.
  5. Add on – Stick new pieces of clay on your work to modify it.

And later, explain how this material is managed:

  • Clay must stay on paper
  • Clay never dries, so you can’t keep your creations for very long.
  • Clean hands by wiping thoroughly with a paper towel before washing (wipe/wash/wipe)

While they work, pass out the clay tools, which are for DETAILS only. Explain that these are plastic, and will break if you push them too hard. If you’re pushing hard, then you are trying to make big shapes. Tools are not for this.

Do not stab or attempt to cut clay with a tool. Only twist off small pieces to begin working.

1.3 sculpt

Have students do simple forms in clay.

As students finish preparing their clay and a few “worms” are ready, you can move them into the next step as a group, or individually.

Create a sphere and another geometric object; either a cube or cylinder.

  1. Start by making a ball, about the size of a ping-pong ball, or even a little smaller.
  2. Roll the ball at first, but then gently press all over it, with tons of tiny presses. This will erase creases and help you shape it more circular. This is actually a sphere.
  3. Make a second shape as best you can.
  4. Now make a little vase.
  5. A tall vase, with some kind of grass or sticks and lollipop flowers can look fun for a still life

Set up the 3 objects with lighting for a still life. You can use an upside-down plastic water tub to raise it up to a higher level so it looks more life-sized.

“Modeling clay is for making things as reference to draw, but it never dries or gets hard. So this clay is not yours to keep and nothing you make will last anyway.  If you make something really neat, you’ll want to draw it to save your idea or take a photo.

Clay feels a little sticky on your hands but it won’t wash right off. To clean up your hands after working with clay, use a paper towel to rub off as much clay residue as possible before you wash with soap and water. We wipe first, then wash, then wipe again to dry. Just like we do with brushes: wipe/wash/wipe!

Save each piece as you make it, and use new clay to make the next piece.

When you’re finished with your class today, you can destroy your work if you want, or save it to show at home.”

Teacher Talk

Read verbatim or paraphrase

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STEP 2. Draw Snowface

Students will learn about drawing in 3D by doing 2 sketches from side and front
10 Minutes


Students understand that things look very different from different viewpoints


  • 14″ x 17″ Sketch Paper
  • Ebony pencil or 6B
  • Something to set clay figure on (upside-down water tub)
All materials are suggestions and may be modified as you see fit. We have tried many items, and these seem to allow the most versatility for the cost.

2.1 Draw

Students sketch the sill life from two viewpoints.

Use your pencil or charcoal to sketch this tiny still life as if it were larger, but still made of clay. Don’t worry about the creases and tiny imperfections in the clay, but do get the lumpy and sometimes saggy shapes, so that it’s clearly the clay you’re drawing, not an idea of what the clay “might” look like if it were normal objects. Never draw what you can’t see.

After one sketch, try to do another quick sketch from a different viewpoint. Just turn whatever the still life is sitting on.

2.1 Learn

Show the two slides and read captions.

1. Here’s a snowman with a long carrot nose, from the front. It’s really difficult to imagine what the nose is like. It could be a dot with a spot.

2. Here is the same snowman with shadows. In real life, shadows and our 3D vision tells us what is really going on. Learning to draw shadows is very important!

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STEP 3. Story

A story about how drawing things we make is helpful
10 Minutes


Students understand that there is a connection between what our eyes see, what our mind is familiar with, and what our hands feel.


  • Modeling Clay

3.1 Listen

Tell everyone this story, and make the important point that our experiences and senses are all connected. Using touch and familiarity helps us draw more accurately and more easily.

Kids can fiddle with their clay and make things while you talk.

When Mr. Dennas was about 9 years old, he met a friend who also liked to draw. His new friend, Jon, was very good at drawing, so good that young Mr. Dennas felt like he had a lot to learn! Jon grew up to be one of the most important artists at DC comics, and was responsible for drawing Superman comics for years.

Mr. Dennas eventually learned to draw as well as Jon, but it wasn’t as easy for him and it took many years of practice. He wondered if his friend had been born with some kind of talent that he had not.

When Mr. Dennas went to art school, they taught him the importance of drawing from real life; things he could see in full 3D right in front of him. This really changed things, because he had only learned to draw from books and photographs, which were flat. Drawing from real life improved his work very quickly.

Later, when Mr. Dennas had a son who also loved drawing, he wondered if there was some kind of learning that his friend Jon had experienced, and if that could help his son draw like Jon could at such a young age.

Mr. Dennas had his 3 year old son draw from real life. Not only did he draw from real life, he drew the dinosaur toys that he played with and clay sculptures he had made.

Mr. Dennas had read how young people can create connections in their brains when learning, and he thought maybe the familiarity with real life objects and even creating them, could make those extra connections. He suspected maybe Jon had done this on his own when he was young.

It worked! Mr. Dennas’ son, Evan, could draw everything much easier and more like real life at a much earlier age than Mr. Dennas could. He could draw things with an understanding of the 3D world, in the same way that Jon can.

You may have seen Mr. Dennas’ dinosaur tattoo on his arm. His son drew it to commemorate the lessons he had, using his dinosaur toys.

That’s why were going to make clay sculptures and draw them today.

Always draw things you are familiar with, and things you can see in real life, in full 3D. It makes a huge difference.

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STEP 4. Clay Animal

Students create a clay animal for reference
20 Minutes


Students know how to sculpt a figure in clay.


  • Modeling clay
  • 3D references of animals
  • 3D head sculptures
  • 3D hand sculptures

4.1 build

Have everyone choose animals or heads. You might sit people doing heads closer together so they can use one bust instead of two. Set the object nearby and use it to recreate it as a smaller clay model. The clay model will be different, and that is actually what we want. We don’t need accuracy, but we do need a model that we made ourselves.

“It’s ok to make the model more of a cartoon if you want. Several small models can be made if you want to.”

Animal references (tap any image to open viewer)

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Students will sketch their clay creations
10 Minutes


Students know how identify shapes to sketch from life


  • 14″ x 17″ Sketch Paper
  • Charcoal
  • Ebony pencil
  • Sharpener
  • Stretchy Eraser

5.1 sketch

Assist students with sketching their clay sculpture.

Prop the animal up or place on the riser to view and draw. The point is to draw the clay, not an idea. Check the lighting so there are decent shadows.

Shadows can be hard for people to see. Point out where the shadows are using a pencil as a pointer. This really helps students see them better. It’s ok if a young students doesn’t do much with shadows, but do encourage trying.

Students can use charcoal or an ebony pencil to sketch their clay sculptures from observation. Have everyone place their large 14 x 17 sketch pads in a bathtub position. Draw a line from top to bottom in the center, dividing the page into two sections. There may be time for more sketches but they can make more on another page. Each sketch should be on half a sheet of paper in the sketch pad.

Teens can sketch any way they want.

“While you want to draw what you see, don’t worry about clay creases or tiny things. Just draw the bigs shapes first, and add details that are important to you.”


2-minute sketch – no worries on this one. It’s just to learn.

4-minute sketch – take a little more time with this one, but don’t worry about the details too much.

TIP: it’s good to have some desk lamps to create some dramatic lighting. A strong light will create great reflected light from the table up into the shadows. Point this secondary light out to your students.
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STEP 6. Point

Students understand the difference in sketches and drawings
5 Minutes


Students know how to identify that a sketch is not the same as a drawing


  • 14″ x 17″ Sketch Paper
  • Charcoal
  • Ebony pencil
  • Sharpener
  • Stretchy Eraser

6.1 learn

Students discuss their sketches
“Look at your sketches. Do you see anything you don’t especially like on one of them? Ok, that’s good. That’s very, very good. The point of making sketches is not to create artwork to keep. Nope. The reason that artists sketch is to prevent all of those things we don’t like, from getting on our final work. You will always need to learn about your subject. You’ll always have at least some erasing and changing on your final artwork, but sketching puts most of it on other papers. Imagine all of these sketches together, one on top of the other, all on one piece of paper. Now pretend you have to erase them all and then draw on top of the dirty messy page. That does not sound fun at all. Instead, we don’t even have to use our eraser at all. If we don’t like a sketch, we can just throw it away! Then we get a clean sheet and we have all that learning in our heads. We are much more ready to draw because we sketched first!”
Teacher Talk

Read verbatim or paraphrase

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Students will create a final drawing of their clay model
20 Minutes


Students know how to made a detailed drawing


  • 14″ x 17″ Sketch Paper
  • 2B Pencil
  • 4B Pencil
  • WhiteEraser

7.1 draw

Students draw a careful, detailed rendition of the clay model.

It’s always good to practice short strokes of hatch shading on a sketch page before you flip to a clean page for your drawing. Use a fresh page in the sketch book and use all pencils and erasers available. A 2B is lighter than a 4B and should be used to begin.

Steps for drawing accurately:

  1. Frame – We do not have a frame, so the animal drawing can float on the page
  2. Big shapes – Use guide lines, or “tickle lines”. Barely touch the paper to get a sloppy copy type of shape of the clay. You can draw some points or lines where the main features will be placed. Erase and modify as needed until everything looks like it’s in the best spot. Do not shade or add details. These guide lines will be under your real drawing.
  3. Details last – Draw over the guide lines, adding more and more details. Add shading at the end. Have fun!
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Students have fun making their own clay designs
10 Minutes


Students know how to use their imagination to sculpt


  • Modeling clay
  • Clay paper to work on
  • modeling tools
  • references

8.1 sculpt

Artists’ Choice in clay.

Try to get students to finish their first animal drawing before moving on to artists choice in clay.

Try really hard to get them to spend 5 minutes sculpting, and another 3-5 at least, on drawing that same sculpture. This is a drawing lesson.

But having fun is important too.

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STEP 9. Clean Up

Students help clean up
5 Minutes


Students know the importance of cleaning up.


  • Paper Towels
  • Cleaning wipes
  • Sink
  • Waste baskets
  • Well-lit spot for photos
  • Camera or phone-camera


Students set up their work area.

  •  Place clay back into the clay bin, baggies, or whatever containers you use. 
  • Wipe/Wash/Wipe method to clean hands after using clay
  • Put art supplies away
  • Wipe tables & toss trash
  • Remove any smocks (last)
  • Check for items on floors and tables


Try to get photos of your student’s artwork. Find a good spot for quick lighting without highlights or shadows from your hands and device. Ideally in-between two strong lights on each side.


  • Practice and improvement using clay, pencil, and charcoal
  • Understanding how the face is very round, not flat
  • Accomplishment in modeling a clay face
  • Fulfillment by beginning & ending the day with artists’ choice


Fighting the clay – Students want to be able to mash clay vigorously, like you can with play dough, but it is just too hard for that. They will resort to several ineffective  techniques that you should direct them away from:

  • Smearing the surface
  • Pounding on or throwing down large chunks
  • Leaning all your weight on it

Warm clay droops – We work with clay in the winter so it doesn’t melt. Still, you can work it so vigorously that it warms up to the point where the shape will not hold well. For the faces this shouldn’t be a problem, but you just have to let it cool down a bit when this happens.


Sketch – A rough version of drawing or painting that is done quickly in order to learn more about a subject before moving to a final drawing or painting.

 Drawing –  A work of art that is usually made with a stylus, such as a pen or pencil, or a stick of conte crayon or charcoal. Technique is very important on a drawing, and pattern in the shading technique can enhance the look greatly.

Modeling clay – an oil based non-drying clay that artists use to create their own models to draw from.

Today we are looking at our own work and practicing our techniques.



Have a bunch of amazing supplies ready, and cut a few things apart before-hand in a way that make you look amazing.

Print all of your PDFs from the lesson plan and cut any references apart as needed.