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Mystery Prompts Mixed Media

This is one of my all-time favorite art assignments in Art 2!  I change it up each time and make the prompts different so the work is always fresh and exciting to me so that is probably why it’s a favorite!

The idea is simple.  I give them a series of steps to complete a mixed media artwork, but they only get to know one step at a time.  They never know what they will have to do next! I’ve found that it really frees them up to work more loosely and have fun! 

I typically have students begin by applying masking tape to a sheet of watercolor paper.  Next, they usually have to apply some kind of dirty wash watercolor to the background and then remove the tape.  This year, however, I changed it up and had students prepare the background with newspaper and/or book page strips similar to paper mache.  

Then, they had to create a template of an organic shape using tagboard.  They had to trace their template at least 5 times (overlapping is good!) on their newspaper/book page background.  

After the background is addressed, the next step I give is typically to find an object in the room to draw.  Usually, this is done with oil pastel.  Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly frisky I only allow them to select two colors of oil pastels.  I make a big deal about the color selection and then….

I make them trade a color with someone at their table! Hahaha!  You can imagine the reactions!  Other times, I leave the color choices up to them.  

After they draw their object from the room, the next step is always the same: They have to draw it again ten times larger!  They usually groan, but soon figure out that they don’t have to draw the WHOLE object and they make it go off the page.  This steps helps their composition and helps make it a successful artwork for everyone because they automatically have to use repetition! 

After this step, I usually walk around the room to get an idea of what the next step should be.  Usually, the next step will address selecting a focal point and figuring out a way to draw attention to it.  This year, their work needed some contrast so I had them decide on a focal point (they may already have a good one from their previous steps) and then draw more attention to it using at least 3 big, bold, thick black acrylic paint lines.  

Sometimes, I have them add some patterns to the background or paint splatters, etc.  Other times, (when they used a watercolor wash background) I have given them a book page and made them rip or cut it and collage it to their work.  Its really fun to change it up each time and keep them on their toes! Any way you can throw a wrench at them and challenge them helps them learn about composition!   

Almost always the last step is the same.  They must look at their work and make it a FINISHED work of art.  Usually this step involves adding some color to the background, balancing the darks and lights or continuing work to make the focal point work.  It’s a great exercise in understanding Unity, Variety, Emphasis, Contrast, and Balance.  I usually allow them to use any art media that we have studied up to this point.  That usually includes oil pastels, acrylic paint, charcoal, india ink, watercolor and colored pencils because I save this assignment for near the end of the semester.

Here are some examples of this same assignment from this past year and also from previous years where the steps have been different.

This assignment has been adapted from The Blooming Palette

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Hi, I’m Erin!

I’ve been a high school art teacher at a rural school in WV for the past 14 years. I teach Art 1, AP Art + Design, Art 2 and 3. 
I’m a little obsessed with my sweet husband. Together we have FOUR kids and a rescue dog named Boomer! 
I love a bad pun and terrible dad jokes. I spend time looking at MBTI memes, cooking, listening to serial killer podcasts and Harry Potter audiobooks on repeat. I also teach yoga and indoor cycling. Click the button below to learn more about me. 

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