Every art teacher could use a little boost

Issue 3 | January 2019

a mini magazine for subscribers of the art instructor


All content is on one page. Just scroll – or click a title to jump down.

1 | FEATURE | Simple Color Mixing

An overview about how to dull, soften, and darken all colors.

| CLASSROOM Talking Differently About Drawing

Anxiety about drawing is common, but instructors can help students learn to relax.

| ARTICLE | I Like Big Shapes…

And I Can Not Lie.

| MATERIALS The Drawing Pencil

Pencils seem so simple, and yet there are some mysteries surrounding them. Here are some facts you might not know.

| GRAPHIC Pencil Chart Poster

Help your students understand what all the different numbers and letters on their pencils actually mean.

LESSONS What’s Coming Up

This month’s lessons – overviews for each week.

Here’s a close up of our color star worksheet. Every pigment in the Art Instructor set of 10 colors has a place on the star.


Every pigment has a best pigment opposite. Some are perfect pairs, that result in true grays and blacks.

Here’s how this works and how you can use it in your art and your classroom.

Color mixing is a daunting subject. Young students just want to squeeze out a color they like, while older students want you to explain all color theory to them in the next 10 minutes.

There are no shortcuts, but there is a fairly simple method for color mixing: using pigment opposites.

Every pigment has another pigment or set of two pigments that is it’s best opposite for mixing. If you find out what those pigments are, then you can use them to always dull a color that’s too bright, or darken a color to make a shadow.

Opinion: Black paint does not do this very well. It’s like mixing charcoal into your colors to make them darker. The real world mixes color with light, so mixing dead burned things into your beautiful pigments doesn’t look like the real world. Just trust me on this. Ok, if you don’t trust me, then trust Henri Matisse, and all the impressionists. They used pigment opposites.

The beauty of knowing how pigments dull and darken each other is that any color you make on your palette is a combination of pigments. You can make an opposite mix of any color you’ve made.

Magenta has a pigment opposite in bright green (made with Phthalo green and yellow), while Pyrrol red (a bright warm red) has a perfect pigment opposite in Phthalo green.

Ultramarine blue has a perfect pigment opposite in Burnt Umber, while Cyan blue has a pigment opposite of red-orange (Pyrrol red with some yellow).

Say you have a bright green tree, and you want a shadow color for part of it. If you’re using a limited palette, then you should know what you used to make your green. We’ll use this bright green:

70% Azo yellow | 20%  Phthalo green | 10% white

To create this color’s pigment opposite, all you need is a bit of Magenta and a small bit of Purple (Dioxyzene is great).

There should always be some experimentation on the palette to find the color that’s best, but here is how we came to our opposite: Magenta is opposite to a bright green that is a mix of 50% Phthalo green and 50% yellow, and yellow by itself has purple as an opposite. So you need some of each in the same percentages (roughly) to dull and darken your bright green.

If you have a limited palette and you know which pigments darken and dull each other, then it’s just a matter of math.

It really works.

The most perfect pigment opposite pairing is Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber. These two pigments will create black when mixed, and are fairly easy to balance since they’re already darker than most pigments.

Surprisingly, bright blue pigments such as cyan, manganese, or cerulean, do not mix well with bright orange, but need more of a red-orange to reach a true neutral. bright orange and bright blue tend to make greenish brown colors. When you think about it, this tells us that we need more red. Green needs red, it’s opposite, to be more neutral, so if a color comes out more green than gray, then add some red.

You need to know the best PIGMENT for an opposite to MIX better colors. Just picking any old orange and any old blue, will not usually work very well and will create muddy brownish green colors. Our pigment list is selected for using pigment opposites, and our support materials like the Color Star, show students which pigments work best together.

If a color looks too purple, then add some yellow. If a color looks too blue, then add either red-orange, or burnt umber, depending on the blue pigment or combinations of them.

The pigment opposites are all you really need to know.

Our Supplies

Here’s a post in our EXTRAS > ESSENTIALS section that goes through our entire recommended supply list, including a detailed explaination of each of our 10 pigments of acrylic paints. There’s even a printable pigment list PDF for you.

A Different Way To Talk About Drawing


Anxiety about drawing is common, but instructors can help students learn to relax.

“Deep down, everyone believes that a drawing is either genius, or fraud.”

There exists today a huge misconception about drawing. It is so foundational that it pervades our discussion on a level that is below the most basic assumption. It is therefore invisible to us.

Deep down, everyone believes that a drawing is one of two extremes:

A drawing is either art, or it is worthless.

A drawing is either genius, or fraud.

This is totally false thinking. As instructors, we have a duty to lay waste to this bulwark of misunderstanding. It’s the root of fear for artists – one that prevents them from expressing themselves fully, and often leads to an artist casualty. You probably know more than a few adults who say, “I used to love to draw…” but felt like they were a fraud. Or were told something to that effect: “you’re not an artist”.

If you’re afraid that a bad drawing means that you’re not a real artist, then the effort isn’t merely worthless, it becomes a tragic mistake; a confirmation of dreams shattered; an offense. 

So the risk is often greater than a student can bear  

Many young people are actually told to quit art instead of practice. I wonder if Vincent Van Gogh would have become a casualty if he had started drawing much younger than he did, and experienced the judgement he received as an adult, before he had such tenacity and determination.

Professional artists often support this idea. I once went into an artist’s studio and said that I thought her practice drawings were very good. She bristled and stated that she had never had any need to practice. I had touched a nerve. I wondered why she had drawn the same thing over and over then? (but not out loud).

Salvador Dali said, “Drawing is the honesty of the art. There is no possibility of cheating. It is either good or bad”.

I don’t think he was saying that he hadn’t made his own bad drawings, but the assumption people make is that the artist is either good or bad.

So… “Back to the drawing board”.

This expression we hear often means that drawing is an experimental endeavor. It’s a journey of discovery; of learning. Why is it not perceived that way to young artists?

“Drawing is like making an expressive gesture with the advantage of permanence.”

-Henri Matisse

Matisse likened drawing to an expressive gesture — isn’t dancing just that? We dance freely at home by ourselves (well I do!), but in front of people? It seems like we are taking a huge risk. The artist, who is often already shy and self-concious, has a hard time moving their gestures to such a frightening permanence as paper.

But it’s just paper. We use paper to take a drink, hold our sandwich, and wipe our butts. Why is drawing paper so much more special? Why can’t we just throw our drawing away if we don’t like it, and just try again?

I think it comes from the idea that art is either genius or fraud. Put it a different way and you have what all young artists dread:

A drawing is made by an artist, or someone who can never be an artist.

Artists are under the tragic impression that if they don’t draw great art every time they try, then they are not really artists. This stems from the idea that to be any kind of artist, you have to be born with a magic gift. You are either creative genius, or you are not.


*So where does talent fit into this? I prefer the term gifts rather than talent. Artists have combinations of gifts that allow them to excel in different ways. Visual analyzation is one such gift. Inventiveness is another (creativity). Many times, the lack of a gift can be overcome by practice. Just compare The Potato Eaters to Van Gogh’s later works. He learned a lot about color by practicing. His biggest gifts were fearlessness and wonder. These allowed him to discover new ways to paint and use color. He learned to draw well enough by practicing. By contrast, Monet had a gift for seeing color. Some artists can draw what they see easily. Others will have to practice more.

To that, I say, “Bunk!”*

Drawings can be both good and bad. The amazing thing is that every artist must make drawings that are both good and bad. The bad drawings are not keepers, but they are not a waste of time. Bad drawings are the path to good drawings – the ONLY path to good drawings.

Drawings are also good for everyone. Read the article link at the end of this section to get another perspective on this. If we allowed everyone to draw their ideas without ridicule, and without the requirement that it become art, then we would have many levels of use for drawings. Drawings would be about many different things:

  • Learning
  • Practicing
  • Experimenting
  • Communicating
  • Meditating
  • Organizing
  • Clarifying
  • Listening
  • Thinking

If we embraced the idea that artists can experiment, learn, think, and organize with drawing; to redraw over and over; to discover more and more about the world, then we’d be on to something. We would have less fear, and fewer casualties.

So we incorporate this viewpoint into our lessons and our teacher talks on The Art Instructor. But it’s most effective if you practice changing your own thoughts. Even if you already understand this, be on the lookout for ways that this basic assumption is reflected in your teaching and critique. It’s an on-going battle because it’s such a pervasive idea in our society.

Here are some ways to talk differently to students:

Student: “My art never looks right!”

You: “That’s not true, this part right here is perfectly accurate. But there are parts of this drawing that don’t look accurate yet. If you’re trying to be accurate, this is a step on the way, or a “learner”. Just try drawing it again. Keep after it until you learn this subject.”

“It’s just a piece of paper. It was only a few pennies! You didn’t ruin it, you used it to learn more about drawing. That’s a great use for a piece of paper!”

“You had to make that drawing to get to where you want to be. You can’t skip learning.”

“All artists make a lot of practice drawings to learn each subject.”


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I like big shapes and I can not lie


Simplifying your subject is essential to drawing accurately.
Big Shapes help.

By Dennas Davis

One of the thing I like to do is decipher how artists who are intuitive, actually think. This is how I created one of the core lesson concepts you see in The Art Instructor: The Three Steps to Accuracy.

  1. Frame
  2. Big Shapes
  3. Details Last

The intuitive artist analyzes everything – all the time. You’ve seen movies where the machine intelligence looks at something and all kinds of things are being recognized and analyzed with graphic overlays. Click click click… whizz, whirr… Bam. Well that’s what is going on in an artist’s head when they have a gift for accuracy. They don’t realize how much their brain is looking at everything at once instead of one simple part of what they see.

These artists’ brains are looking at the frame and seeing how everything fits.

They are also simplifying all the Big Shapes so that they see how they fit together.

Every picture can be simplified into 4 or 5 Big Shapes that fit inside the frame.

Here are some shots of our new Instagram account: @DrawHandChallenge where we show the big shapes, air shapes, and more. 

Share this account with your older students so they can practice drawing hands as well as learn how to visually analyze what they’re seeing.


Drawing Pencils

We use them all the time, but do you really know all you need to know about the simple drawing pencil?

You can tell a drawing pencil from a writing pencil by the missing eraser. Writing pencils assume you are a bad speller, while drawing pencils assume that you have a preference for a certain type of eraser.

FYI: The pink erasers on a writing pencil are hazardous and should never be allowed near drawings. They are abrasive and often stain the paper. They also deteriorate over time, becoming harder and less effective.

Hard pencils in the H scale are made for drafting. A soft drawing pencil in the B range is preferred for making sketches. The light lines made by a hard pencil will encourage artists to press harder. It’s difficult for young artists to learn to draw with a light touch, but having a soft lead is the best way to do so because with a very light touch, you can still see the lines it makes.

Clay is added to the H scale pencil lead to create the harder, lighter results. A high hardness of 4H to 6H can feel like a marker that has run out of ink.

The lead is actually graphite, and the more you know about graphite, the better. A graphite pencil will scrape across the surface of paper and leave granules behind. If the paper is pressed with a pencil, the paper fibers are mashed down while the pencil tip moves across it. Then the particles of graphite become embedded inside the surface after the pencil moves on and the paper fibers spring back. These particles are trapped inside the paper and can never be erased. This is why pressing on the paper make lines that always leave an image even after erasing very diligently.

Artists must learn to draw lightly without pressing the paper. This is the only way to erase and redraw without leaving marks. Using a soft pencil is the best way to practice drawing lightly.

The Art Instructor recommends 2B, 4B, and 8B (Ebony) pencils.


Poster PDF

How many times do you find yourself answering the question, “what’s the difference between a 2B and a 2H Pencil?” Now you can just point to your cool poster on the wall. This is an 8.5″ x 11″ poster or graphic handout.

Our January curriculum


Read an overview of this month’s lesson plans below.

If you’re not already a member, tap the buttons to view sample lessons and learn more about how The Art Instructor can save you time and make the art classroom more rewarding for everyone.

Hand-crafted by the folks at The Art Instructor
Like a three-legged stool, our art room curriculum has been built as a complete foundation for students, using three deeply connected principles.


Connect the Mind

Lessons provide understanding


Connect the Hand

Lessons show application & movement


Connect the Heart

Lessons for fun & self-expression



KidsART is for grades 1 & 2

Foundations has two versions:
grades 3 – 5 and grades 6 – 12


Week 20: Balance

Students will learn (or review) symmetry and how it relates to balance. They’ll stand on one leg to experience balance, and then create two artworks; one with vertical symmetry and one that’s horizontal. First they’ll draw and color an animal face using a step-by-step guide, and then a boat with a reflection. The reflected part is smeared with a white pastel to make a watery effect.


Week 20: 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.




Week 21: Green Day

Students have fun mixing up a bunch of variations of greens. They learn that colors are not simple and basic, but that there are thousands of versions of just greens alone. A geometric abstract design is drawn, a mixing game is played, and then the colors are used to fill in the drawing with all kinds of greens.


Week 21: 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.




Week 22: Faces & Fishes

We start out with looking at the symmetry of a human face from the front. Then we move into a fun project where students all make a hangable painted fish to turn the room into a giant aquarium.


Week 22: Still Life 1

Students will learn the process of still life setup and composition, by observing 3 still life setups and viewing 3 or 4 cropped versions of each one. They will choose one of the compositions and begin the process of creating a monochromatic painting using a color from the toned-down Color Journal and it’s opposite. This lesson will take 2-3 lesson sessions/weeks, depending on age.




Week 23: Radial Balance

Students learn about radial symmetry and how we see it all over. Then they’ll make spiral designs with markers and a radial design too. These are cut out and put together later to make a rolling moving artwork that animates! They also create a fun page of circles with radial symmetry using oil pastels.


Week 23: 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.

Working to make the art classroom more rewarding for teachers and their students.

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Brentwood, Tenneessee 37027

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