Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Matryoshka Doll Art Project

I'll start by showing you one of my 4th grader's finished matryoshka doll art projects.
I can't take credit for coming up with this lesson. The amazing art teacher at my school did it with my students. It took four 1-hour classes.

One of the things I love about the way Ms. G. teaches art is that she starts each new project by assembling a collection of pictures of the project's subject.

Here is her Matryoshka Doll picture collection:
Ms. G. always creates a warm up sheet for each art project. She chooses about 8 details that students will need to be able to draw, and she draws each detail using lines and circles and dots. She leaves an empty square next to each detail so that students can "warm up."

For matryoshka dolls, each student needed to be able to draw eyes, a nose, a mouth, a hairline, hands, etc.

Here is the warm up sheet she created:
If students are drawing a picture that has foliage, Ms. G. will give them different leaves. If they're making tigers, she will give them, among other details, close-up tiger eyes and tiger noses. She can anticipate what children will have a difficult time with ("How do you draw the..?") and she includes those challenging details in the warm up sheet.
Another thing I love is that she gives students two or three different examples of how they can draw something. She gives them choices, but not so many that they are overwhelmed.

Next, Ms. G. showed students how to make the shape of the matryoshka doll, and gave them the option of doing one doll, or multiple overlapping dolls.

(When beginning a drawing, it helps a child to imagine their subject on their paper, like a projector projecting an image on a screen. By doing this, a child is better able to fill their paper without drawing too big and winding up with part of the subject not fitting, or drawing too small and ending up with lots of white space. Beginning by asking the child to project their subject is easier for a child to understand than saying, "First, plan your picture.")
After students had gotten started, Ms. G. gave them black and white images of symbols they could use to decorate their matryoshka dolls.
One thing I'm very strict about is "studio time" vs. "gallery time." When students are supposed to be working, I call it "studio time." I tell them to imagine that they're each in a little room all alone. No talking. No asking, "Is this good?" (If a child asks that, it's because they know they didn't do their best, and they're looking to you to tell them it's "good enough" - which I don't do. A frustrated child does not ask you if their work is good; they tell you it's not.) During "studio time," there is no showing your neighbor. Your neighbor is in his own studio, and is focusing on his own work.

"Gallery time" is when they are finished with their work, happy that they accomplished something that - at first - seemed daunting. They persevered, they problem-solved, they observed closely. They can look at their classmates' work and say honestly that the work is good.

For the matryoshka project, students started with pencils and erasers, and then used markers (Sharpies) to outline and fill in. (This is a Monart technique for drawing with children.)
When they were finished, they used a mixture of glue and water, and paintbrushes, to apply small squares of colored tissue paper in the negative space.
Here are 4 steps you can borrow from Ms. G. to put together your own elementary art project:

STEP 1: Assemble a collection of pictures of your subject.

STEP 2: Ask yourself, what are the most challenging details here? Limit yourself to 3 or 4. Search for black line images of those details (or draw them yourself). Find 2 or 3 different black line images of each. Put them together as a warm-up sheet.

STEP 3: Have your child project their subject onto their paper, and begin.

STEP 4: Give your child "studio time" - with additional (simple) details as needed.


  1. Lovely. I'm sure your class enjoyed creating these. I'm going to use the idea of putting difficult details on a practice sheet. Thanks for sharing this beautiful project.

  2. They really enjoyed it. I'm glad the idea about the warm up sheet was useful. Thank you for the sweet comment.

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    Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.