Art Camp | Summer 2016

Last week ended our summer camp mania, and we couldn’t wait to share some of our art campers’ projects. These are just a few of the themes we explored – it’s difficult to snap pictures when covered in art supplies!

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movie masterpieces

Of course, we had to include Dory!

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These geodes were hand crafted by young artists from Crayola Air Dry Clay. Each one was so unique!


Some students experimented with printmaking techniques for the first time.





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4-5 year olds are always so eager to learn!


Stay tuned for our Fall Museum School schedule, coming soon!


Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS), Using Art to Deepen Learning

The season for Professional Development is upon us! AMoA will be participating in a VTS training workshop this August that will give teachers the opportunity to practice their new skills in a museum setting.

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Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) is a student-centered, research-based teaching method that uses art and photographs to build the capacity to observe, think, listen, and communicate. 

The art education world is ever changing, and it can feel hard to keep up! New instructional techniques and schools of thought are popping up here and there, and sometimes art instructors find themselves just trying to stay afloat.

VTS is one particular teaching strategy that the Amarillo Museum of Art has fully embraced, and uses regularly in tours, and outreach programs. It was developed over 20 years ago by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine, and is used in museums and schools nationwide. It is a great resource for our docents to facilitate conversations while conducting student tours without the need to have a large body of information on every work of art. The goal of VTS is not to teach the history of an artwork, but to encourage students to participate in an open dialogue, and explore their findings by using supporting evidence through observation. These discussions are the avenue to developing an interest in, and curiosity about art because they build on the viewers’ existing experiences.

Originally designed to make museum programs more effective, VTS has proven to develop the kind of self-directed learning that Common Core asks for. Art engagements enhance the experience of learning in a holistic manner, and inform sophisticated thinking. Thus, the techniques can be applied to classroom learning, and are appropriate for a wide range of subjects.

Through VTS discussions, students cultivate critical and creative thinking, inferential reasoning based on evidence, and communication skills meant to inform and persuade. VTS provides an engaging experience for students that jump starts contextual thinking while helping students broaden their vocabulary and language skills. VTS introduces students to “group investigation” of visual evidence. Students evaluate what they see, listen to ideas from their peers, assess the credibility of these ideas based on the evidence, and decide whether to incorporate their peers’ ideas into their own interpretations. Best of all, students are not even aware of all this cognitive development occurring – they’re just having fun exploring “what’s going on in this picture”.

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Dan Traverso. Jack in the Box — Museum Director. 1978. Colored pencil on paper. AMoA purchase with NEA matching funds. 

Getting started is as simple as picking an artwork to discuss that you think will engage students. It can be a painting, photograph, sculpture, or any media that has a visible narrative. The images you choose should increase in complexity as students become more familiar with VTS discussions, and can start to include non objective artwork. It isn’t crucial for students to “get it right” when making observations about art, as this is an approach that does not include right or wrong answers. Teachers are merely meant to facilitate discussions to support student growth.

Here is how it’s done…

After a few moments of slow, silent looking,

Teachers are asked to use three open-ended questions:

What’s going on in this picture?

  • When a student responds, teachers will point to the area of the image being discussed (which builds language acquisition, especially for ESL students).
  • After a student offers a comment, the teacher should summarize and paraphrase the vocabulary with slightly advanced grammar and sentence structure.20160616_103329

What do you see that makes you say that?

  • This question encourages students to back up their comments with what they see in the work of art.
  • Teachers should link comments to build the framework of the discussion (students become aware of how thinking unfolds and meanings are discovered). The conversation should be left open to other interpretations by students.
  • Teachers remain neutral, and non judgmental to encourage participation by everyone.

What more can we find?

  • This continues the conversation, and encourages students to look even further.
  • Let the discussion continue for about fifteen minutes, or until the students seem to have run out of comments. Thank them for participating, and let them know they did a good job looking at the image.
  • Avoid summaries; linking throughout is enough to show how conversations build.

Below is an example of a VTS lesson in action with fourth grade students. (See more videos here.)

In summary, the specific goals for students are:

  • To develop flexible and rigorous thinking skills, including observing, brainstorming, reasoning with evidence, speculating, cultivating a point of view, and revising
  • To strengthen language and listening skills, including willingness and ability to express oneself, respect for the views of others and ability to consider and debate possibilities
  • To develop visual literacy skills and personal connections to art, advancing one’s ability to find meaning in diverse and complex art
  • To nurture problem solving abilities, curiosity and openness to the unfamiliar
  • To build self-respect, confidence and willingness to participate in group thinking and discussion processes

The Amarillo Museum of Art partners with AISD and Region 16 to share pedagogy with educators in the Panhandle. We participate in teacher training, using our galleries for hands-on practice. We hope to be a resource for helping teachers realize the effectiveness of VTS, its low investment of time/cost, and to implement it in their classrooms.


The VTS method can be enhanced with a trip to the Amarillo Museum of Art. The strength of museums is access to objects that are not otherwise available. Children are invited to look at and think about these things firsthand. Our exhibitions rotate frequently, including historical and contemporary works. Self-led tours are free, but reservations are required at least 2 weeks in advance. Visit our website to find more information on tours. Consider visiting the museum in advance to see what is on display, if you are planning a self-led tour. Our staff is happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

Museum without Walls | AMoA Outreach

The Amarillo Museum of Art offers several outreach programs to schools within the Texas Panhandle.

As our Mission states, “The Amarillo Museum of Art is dedicated to enriching the lives of the diverse people of the Texas Panhandle area, bringing them together for the experience of art through exhibitions, education, and collections.”

Research shows that the study of the arts is linked to greater academic achievement, social and emotional development, as well as civic engagement. Involvement in the arts has also pointed to greater proficiency in math, reading, verbal skills, critical thinking and cultural understanding. Greater cultural understanding through the lens of visual art is the aim of the Amarillo Museum of Art’s ARTifact Case outreach program. This “museum without walls” experience involves specially designed traveling suitcases filled with art and artifacts that AMoA staff brings directly to students and teachers. Students can discuss, handle and examine these art works and artifacts with experienced museum staff – right in their own classrooms.

Native American displaye

AMoA staff works with educators and program directors to provide a 30 minute hands-on discussion session, followed by a 30 minute art activity designed to enhance greater understanding of the group’s discussion and the overall program content.

The ARTifact Case outreach program is currently offered as a school education program through Window on a Wider World (WOWW.)  Teacher feedback from all WOWW site visits confirmed that teachers are less able to take field trips and are truly looking for programs that come to their campus.

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Museum staff conducting ARTifact Case outreach programs have shared that the program opens students’ eyes to different cultures in a way that makes the students feel special, by encouraging dialogue about the artifacts brought to the classroom, handling the special artifacts themselves, as well as the outlet of personal expression through the hands-on art activity.

Another option, if you are interested in incorporating ARTifact Case material into your classroom for an extended time, is to check out a case on a weekly basis. Core Curriculum ties and TEKS connections are provided to educators with each ARTifact Case program. Each case contains complete case inventory and descriptions of each item, presentation highlights, lesson plans, art activity samples, and step-by-step instructions with links to sources for supplies.

Optional pre and post Museum tours are also encouraged for those  programs that represent particular collections strengths at the Museum.

The following ARTifact Cases are currently offered from AMoA to enhance student learning about world cultures:

Art of Ancient Egypt | The Myths and Magic: Explore the land of pyramids, how and why the pyramids were built, what a sarcophagus is and how it was made, the symbolism behind images of humans and animals, and the art of hieroglyphics. As a part of the hands-on activity, students will each create an ornamental scarab beetle necklace.


Native American Art | The Legends and the Land: Your class will explore the great cultural diversity of the American Indians, from the Acoma Pueblo potters of western New Mexico to the stone carvings of the Inuit people of Alaska and Canada. Art is an integral part of their culture, with many contemporary artists still being trained by their family and community. Students will each have the opportunity to decorate their own acoma clay pot in traditional Native American designs.

Native American

Art of Mexico | Mayan to Modern: Students learn about the ancient and modern art from our immediate neighbor, Mexico. Artifacts like masks and sculptures will teach your students about the ancient tribes such as the Mayans and the Aztecs. Modern artifacts such as nichos and retablos will be used to teach students about Mexican folk art and its popularity worldwide. Students will be making their own nichos using images of iconic American people, to help them understand the relationship between a culture of people and those who inspire them.


The Art of Japan | A World of Art, A World Apart: Students begin their journey in the early Edo Period and travel through the marvelous land of the Samurai. Your class will be exposed to the myths, beliefs, and cultural practices, including the Japanese tea ceremony and the world of multi color woodblock prints that depict popular subjects of the day. Students will create an ornament through the ancient art of Japanese marbling.



The Art of India & Southeast Asia | The Dynamic and Divine:
India is one of the world’s oldest civilizations, and is rich with a variety of customs and broad range of beliefs. Explore the symbols and philosophies behind Hindu, Jain and Buddhist sculptures, along with the myths and stories that surround these works of art. From dancing Shiva and elephant sculptures, to a silk sari and bindi jewels, students take a tactile journey through this ARTifact case. For the hands-on portion of this case, students will create their own vibrant Rangoli sand painting.


Through the generosity of of Dr. and Mrs. William T. Price, AMoA has acquired a considerable amount of art from India and Southeast Asia; therefore, recommended to be paired with a tour of AMoA’s Asian Art Collection.


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Another option that brings AMoA staff into your classroom are AMoA Art Experiences. These programs are specially designed to discuss monumental movements in art history. Much like the ARTifact Case experience, our education staff will visit your school and provide a presentation followed by an immersive creative project designed to reflect the art and culture highlighted in the lecture.

Impressionism | The Science of Light and Color: Students will learn about the history of Impressionism through the 17th and 18th centuries. Spontaneous and bold, the artists of the Impressionist movement were considered the rebels of their time. They studied light, color, and optics to to improve their ability to capture a “moment in time” with paint. During the lecture, your class will discover the science and techniques behind this Impressionist style of painting, and then create original works of art for each student to take home.



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Modern Art | A 20th Century Movement: We’ll talk about the history and drama of the Modern Art movement in the early 20th century. Influential in the creation of art today, Modern Art is one of the most difficult forms of art to understand. Your class will journey through the social, political, and emotional drive behind the art, as well as the many creative techniques. Then, students will each complete an individual work of art to keep.

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Andy Warhol collage

“Because works of art give form to fundamental beliefs and feelings they serve as conduits for culture; they are, in effect, culture carriers.”

 Ronald H. Silverman, Ed.D.,
Professor Emeritus of Art, California State University

To book an AMoA outreach experience, visit our website, or contact Deana Craighead at 806.371.5052,

What’s Going on in Museum School? (Clay)

20160329_144448The AMoA offers clay classes to young students ages 6-11 in the fall and spring sessions of Museum School. This is a favorite with children, because it gives them the opportunity to create with a medium they may have never experienced!

The kids work with hand building skills (slabs, coils and pinch pots ) to build pots, tiles, and whimsical sculptures. They discover the ‘ins and outs’ of working with clay and pottery tools, how to apply textures, and glazing techniques. Students learn how to join pieces of clay together and how to apply interesting details to their creations.

In addition to the hands-on creation, students also learn the vocabulary associated with clay and glazing, and about firing methods.


These fantastic little creatures were built by forming two pinch pots, and joining them together. Students use tools to model the features and details of their pieces, adding lots of quirky character!

Above are slab pots, with many different textures imprinted onto the surface. The edges are turned up to create a scalloped look on some, and bright, fun colors were glazed over the pieces to finish them.


For Valentine’s Day, clay students made heart tiles with lots of love inspired decoration! These were ready just in time to take home for the holiday.

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(more pictures to be added soon, so please check back!)

What’s Going on in Museum School? (Art Adventure)

Art Adventure is a class we offer for young learners, ages 4 & 5. Students are introduced to materials, methods, and ideas that are applied to a variety of projects throughout the 8 week session. Color, shape, texture, and line are explored through painting, drawing, clay, collage, and printmaking techniques.


We began this project by creating the background for these adorable snowmen. Students used white oil pastels to draw snowflakes, and then painted over the top with liquid watercolor, to achieve a water color resist. Many “oohs and ahhs” were heard, as they noticed the white snowflakes “magically” appearing through the paint!


To create the snowmen, students learned how to draw circles for the heads and an arc to create the shape of the body. Then, they cut them out and pasted them onto the (dried) backgrounds. For many children, this is their first experience with using scissors. The hand-eye coordination is a tough thing to master but by the second or third lesson that requires scissors, they have improved immensely through guided assistance!



The results are always completely unique!



This fun “relief sculpture” project was an adaptation from a lesson by famed art ed blogger, Cassie Stephens. Although the lesson contained some advanced techniques, these little artists were excited to use new, and unfamiliar materials, such as sharpies and tin foil.

We painted lines on the background, with neon paint to really make this project pop! This project fell during the week of Valentine’s Day, so as a class we learned how to draw hearts. Next we glued string to them, and then placed tin foil over the hearts and smashed it down to make the string reappear. Because this was very tactile, the students were concentrating, and excited to rediscover their designs.


These preschoolers never cease to amaze!


We believe strongly in teaching the fundamentals of art. These little art adventurers are already beginning to learn color theory by mixing primary colors to create secondary ones.


We walked through all the steps together, as students mixed their own paint and then created a color wheel umbrella.




In this next mixed media / drawing lesson, our little artists learned about jellyfish, and then created an underwater scene. They used chalk pastels to make the jellyfish appear see-through, and oil pastels to draw spindly seaweed. (lesson inspired by Deep Space Sparkle)




The last step was adding white splatter paint to make bubbles!

This next lesson was also inspired by Deep Space Sparkle. Our goal is to send students home with a wide variety of artwork, letting them explore mixed media over the 8 week session. Although students had used chalk pastels before, we used this lesson to introduce them to warm and cool colors. Plus, bright pastels against black paper is a “win win” for any project!


The pastels were divided into two tubs, making it easier for students to find the warm and cool colors.

We talked about “warm” colors reminding us of things like the sun, fire, and cozy blankets, and how the “cool” colors are like rain, and igloos and grass.

We also talked about landscapes, and the students had fun imagining that the mountains in these were gumdrops, and the sun a giant lollipop!

Even though these children are only 4 and 5, they can grasp art concepts that are not normally taught at such a young age, because vocabulary and techniques are built upon each week. Students work at many different levels, but we feel that these projects are interactive and enjoyable for each child!


And finally, my favorite lesson so far. Many of the ideas and teaching techniques behind this project were also borrowed from Cassie Stephens, and let me tell you – they really worked!


Students used their new-found knowledge of sculpture to create these bright and fun paper line sculptures. In the demonstration, we talked about the difference between two and three dimensional art, and I showed students how to make the paper strips stand up by giving them “feet”. They really loved that one (Thanks Cassie)!!


Students stayed engaged the entire time, and built some pretty amazing paper sculptures!




What’s Going on in Museum School? (Painting & Drawing)

Our students have been immersed in a variety of colorful projects this semester.. here are just a few examples.

Color Mixing:

Students ages 6-11 learned to mix their own secondary and tertiary colors from primary ones. Then they created masking tape designs on canvases as the starting point for a non-objective painting. Students filled in the shapes with the colors they had mixed and painted patterns on top, as the finishing step. The end results were so colorful and fun!

Watercolor Techniques:

We love seeing creativity in action! Here, students explored hands-on watercolor techniques, that can be applied in so many interesting ways. They experimented with a different method on each piece of the collage and then brought them together to create an abstract landscape. We used liquid watercolors so that the colors would stay bright and saturated.


Abstract Portraits:

In this quick lesson, students learned to draw facial proportions correctly, and then built on that to create an abstract portrait. Oil pastels were used to create patterns within the drawings, and then liquid watercolor was painted over to create a resist.


Students really enjoyed the freedom this project allowed!

Gesture Drawing:

Keith Haring’s cartoon-like, action packed artwork was the inspiration behind this gesture drawing lesson. Students learned about his background, and the symbols he used in his drawings and paintings. Then they were prompted to pair up, and pose in a silly position for one another, while the other partner created a loose, gesture, or silhouette drawing. This was achieved by dipping a paintbrush into india ink, and working quickly and fluidly to finish the drawing.


The final step was using acrylic paints to bring these bold, gesture drawings to life. Children were encouraged to use colors that would “pop”, like in Haring’s artwork. The finished projects were stunning!


(more pictures to be added soon, so please check back!)

Folksy Winter Animal Plaque

A step-by-step guide, with pictures, to create this folksy winter clay project!

You will need:

  • Amaco self hardening clay (view here)
  • Clay tools (needle, stylus, water, rolling pin)
  • Paper cut outs of forest animals
  • Mod-Podge
  • Paintbrushes
  • Glitter
  • Acrylic paint
  • Twine, or leather strips to hang plaque


Before you get started, keep in mind that the clay will stick to your table, making it hard to pick up and move around. Try working on a piece of flat canvas, or wax paper.

  1. Gather a chunk of clay and roll into a ball. The more clay you have, the larger your plaque will be.
  2. Roll out a clay slab with your rolling pin. It should be about half an inch in thickness. (If it’s too thick, it won’t dry very quickly).
  3. Use your stylus or needle to cut out a square or rectangular shape. Don’t worry about making it perfect, the variation in your shape gives this project character!
  4. Make two holes at the top with your stylus to hang the plaque. Remember not to make them too close to the edge.
  5. Find photos of forest animals online, and print them in varying sizes. Then, cut them out to use as stencils.
  6. Choose your animals, then roll out clay slabs for each of them, making them slightly thinner than your rectangle slab.
  7. Trace / cut out your animal with the needle tool.
  8. Remember, to attach your animal, you must score and slip the back of the figure. To score, you create small hatch marks with your needle all over, and to slip, use your finger to wet the surface. This will bind the two pieces together.
  9. Now, use a joining tool to press the edges of the animal into the slab tile. This will give it a smooth appearance.
  10. Add minimal, winter trees using this same method. Or, draw snowflakes into the background with your stylus.

  11. To decorate the plaque, we have used white acrylic paint in the background (but feel free to use whatever color you choose… midnight blue, or purple would be charming too), mixed with Mod-Podge. This keeps the paint from flaking off of the clay. 20160128_135005-1
  12. Then it’s time to add glitter to the animals! You can add as little or as much as you prefer. What’s neat is that the red of the clay still shows through, and gives this piece a folksy look!
  13. Mix the glitter with Mod-Podge, and use a small paintbrush to cover the animals.
  14. Don’t worry if it looks cloudy, the Mod-Podge dries clear!

    15.  Once the paint in the background is dry, apply a layer of Mod-Podge, and add the glitter! Choose whatever color you like, we’ve used both turquoise and white in our examples. 20160128_145901-116.  Once painted, cover your tile with plastic (a grocery sack works well), and let dry thoroughly. This may take a few days.
    17.  The final step is to tie a piece of twine, or a leather strip through the holes so your plaque will be ready to hang!

    Project created by Julie Talley, AMoA’s Curator of Education