HighSchool Art Room: instruction and providing choice to students

Painted Paper Illustrations in the style of Eric Carle


First graders have a fantastic time emulating the collage process of famous illustrator, Eric Carle, in these book covers. What’s also great about this project is that it fosters a cross-curricular relationship between literacy and the arts! Students write “pattern books” with their classroom teachers ala Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?  and then come to me to illustrate the cover with hand painted papers they craft themselves.

It begins with painted paper.  If your response is,  ‘Ugh, the mess!’ or ‘I have too many students for that’, let me offer you a few tips to make the experience easier.  

  1. Don’t clean up in between classes.

  2. Offer a variety of tools, but also limit them.

  3. Nix the water.

  4. Allow for movement.

Like many of you, I teach all different grade levels throughout the day.  I do not have the luxury of having all my first grades at once.  Although, I have to tell you, one year I did have all my third grades on one day and I ended up hating it!  Here’s how to make the multi grade level grind easier.  Cut a roll of paper, I use butcher paper, for each of your tables. You will re-use this for each class.  Prep a tray for each table with the paint and tools you want out.  Here’s my list:

  • Foam roller. If you can get the kind with all different patterns, bonus
  • Wooden stylus sticks (for mark making in wet paint)
  • Sponge stamps (simple shapes)
  • Brushes
  • Paint scrapers and/or Texture stamps


You can also include toothbrushes, plastic forks and anything that makes a nice “stamp”, Eric Carle is known for using bits of rug, etc. to create his textures.

Set Out a Fun but Limited Tool Selection

Regarding my second tip to provide different and yet limited tools, what I mean is to create novelty at each color station. I have two colors at each table (only five student tables total in my classrooms).  Keep it to analogous colors at each table because inevitably, tools will be mixed.  Put out one mass coverage tool, rollers for example, and a second mark making tool- a stamp or scraper. Try to put different mark making tools at each table. Kids will be excited as they move from table to table to try all the tools.  Aside, from the rollers, there’s really little to demonstrate as the students will figure out much by open experimentation.  Because you will not be using multiple colors at a table there is no need for water.  That’s tip number three! No water, means no spills and no watery, drippy colors.

Set a reasonable production goal for the period.

I have my students paint two 12 x 18 papers, which are folded in half.  They actually paint a different color on each side of the fold so in the end they have four colors.  If you can write their names ahead of time that also saves time and mystery papers! If not, just put a few loose pencils out on each table and remind everyone to start with this task. When my kids are done with one paper, they bring it to the drying rack and complete the second paper.  Some kids never get to a second paper. That’s ok! I don’t stress about it and I don’t let them worry about it either. In the end there will be plenty of painted paper to share.


I begin the class by showing a completed painted paper, one color on each side to explain how we will be  using the paper. I demonstrate the roller to show how to load it (the great thing about sponge rollers is how long they hold the paint so you won’t need to refill paint trays constantly.) and how much pressure to put on the roller. I also demonstrate one of the stamp tools and just quickly point out the other tools available.  What I’m looking for is a main color with another color stamped over it or rolled over it.  This means movement! Demonstrate how to pick up a painted paper and carry it.

Allow for movement

Do not have the children sit. They will be better painters, more apt to experiment and more free in their station movement if they stand. Also your chairs don’t get as messy!

Once kids are ready, they begin at the color of their animal. Remember the end goal here is create an illustration for their pattern book. The cover illustration will feature their first animal, as in, “Yellow Cat, Yellow Cat…”.  Students paint one side the color of the animal and add a pattern into it with scrapers, sticks or stamps. They are then free to pick up their paper move to another table.  You might think that it results in total chaos, but I have to say they all manage it very well. I have been doing this quite a few years and have learned these ways to streamline the process, but the children always perform beautifully. I think they take their jobs as artists that day very seriously.  

Set a Stopping Point and Stick to it

When they are done painting both sides of the paper, they bring it to the drying rack where I am usually stationed helping to load and at the same time, supervising the room.  After completing the second paper, they stop and wash their hands. Even if there is more time left in class!  This is key for managing this process in a short time period. I have forty minute classes and while I would love to have them stay and experiment all morning, I have learned to set a stopping point and stick to it. There will be a lot of cleanup today. By having students immediately start to clean when finished, you stagger the hand washing and it all goes more smoothly.  And by the way, I have only one sink in my room for all that hand washing.

Don’t Clean up in Between Classes

And our first tip becomes the last.  Ahh, so much clean up!, right? Actually I recommend not cleaning up, instead, stack all the tools back on your tray, spray with a water bottle to just moisten them and put all your trays into a plastic tote. I use the under the bed style ones a lot in my room. I am able to keep my tools going all week with this method with little clean up. The paper covering on the table get quickly rolled up and  I stick them on top of a cabinet for the meantime.  

My early finishers are sitting on the line by now, drawing with markers or just waiting and chatting with a friend. *Sitting* in line is an overlooked strategy. It really cuts down on kids physically bothering each other! I may call a few of them over to wipe off the edges of the table. And then they are usually walking out the door with big smiles on their faces, because they just had the best time being messy and free in this open ended painting experience!

Looking for a couple of good books of Eric Carle's art to share with your students? Here's a few I recommend. 

The Art of Eric Carle

You Can Make a Collage (with Carle pattern tissue paper samples-totally awesome!)

Eric Carle's Animals Animals