Skip Navigation
October 4, 2015 | 21st Tishrei 5776

Experimenting with Art Materials No 2, 5768

Al sh'loshah d'varim haolam omed:
Al haTorah, v'al ha-avodah, v'al g'milut chasadim.

The world depends on three things:
on Torah, on worship and on loving deeds.
- Pirkei Avot 1:2

This year each issue of V’shinantam will be written by Cantor Cheré Campell, Educator at the Brooklyn Heights Synagogue. This series will focus on incorporating the arts into your Jewish classroom.

V’shinantam is organized around the three pillars of Torah, Avodah, and G’milut Chasadim. In the Torah section you will find an essay, in Avodah, applications for your classroom, and in G’milut Chasadim additional resources.

Process over Product

In the context of religious school, it is most important for students to enjoy the process of making artwork and for them to learn and express themselves through it. It is far less important for the artwork to be realistic, functional or look like a professional artist’s work. While students may feel frustrated if they feel they are not “good at art,” they can be liberated when the teacher emphasizes the aspect of creating art that is experimental and expressive. In fact, the students may be surprised to find that they have the ability to create very beautiful works of art, the result of expressing themselves freely through creative use of media.

Encourage students by explaining that artwork does not have to be realistic, praise their unique expressions and enthusiastic involvement, and emphasize experimentation and interesting use of media. Use samples that are simple and inspire creativity, rather than complex ones that may intimidate students. Demonstrate the variety of ways to use materials and encourage them to explore. Discourage competition among students; rather praise individuality and creativity. Allow students to appreciate one another’s work.

Every student has his or her unique perspective to bring to the art. Use this mindset in describing the project, encouraging the process, and in praising the final result. Creating art means taking risks. As you ask each student to express him or herself through art, respond to the art with the respect each student deserves.

How to Use Materials and Media in Your Art Lesson

Here are some suggestions for how to guide students in using materials while at the same time giving them the freedom to experiment and express themselves.


Materials affect the timing of your lesson, especially if they need to dry or set. Projects can be contained within one class, or they can have several components to be completed in different sessions. If you want to continue the project over several sessions, consider breaking the project into distinct steps, each of which can be completed in a given session. You will also need to consider storage in between sessions, and make sure students put their names on the projects so they can identify their project in the subsequent sessions.


Cover the tables with large butcher paper or with plastic drop cloths. Tape the edges down with masking tape and make sure that the surface is flat and not wrinkled. You may set out supplies on a separate table in the order students will use them. Or, set each place with all of the items a student will need for the project. You can also space materials around the table between every two students. If students are sharing paints, give them each their own space for mixing colors (aluminum foil, paper or plastic plate). They can share a sturdy container of water that won’t tip over easily for rinsing brushes. (If the water gets dark while students are working, change it for clean water.)


Make an example of the completed project. Do not make it look so perfect or expert that the students will feel discouraged or will simply try to imitate it. Your experience making the project will give you a good idea of what works and what doesn’t and what kind of guidance the students need.

Have books with artwork and symbols that students can look to for inspiration. For example, if you are making a ritual object, show pictures of the object from throughout history or in many different styles. If you are illustrating a story, show other artists’ illustrations of that story. You can use a variety of examples, from children’s storybooks to renderings by well known artists.

Also provide samples that show how materials behave, such as a color wheel that demonstrates how colors mix and different tints and hues. Clay tiles show how glazes will look after they are fired. A simple piece of paper can be used to show the many kinds of lines a pencil can create: heavy, light, thick, thin, smudged or sharp.


Outline the parameters of the project: the size, materials, technique and tools as well as the question or concept the students should address. Beyond these criteria, students should feel free to express themselves and experiment. For example, everyone might be using chalk on construction paper to portray his or her image of an ideal Shabbat celebration, but the chalk lines might be thick or thin, heavy or light. The chalk might be smudged, blended with other colors or smeared over a wide area. All of the art will be different, even though the materials are the same. As students are working, some may ask if they are making the art correctly; tell them that within the parameters of the project, any expression is “correct.” Focus on the content of their pieces and the expression of the concepts.


Experiment with the materials ahead of time. As part of your demonstration in class, show the students the variety of ways to use the materials, and how they behave. Model the behavior you’d like to see in your students—when paint drips or colors merge, affirm that is all right. Emphasize that each student’s work will be unique, even though they are using the same materials. Think creatively about the use of media. For example, take a look at some of the many different ways to use paint:

  • Paint on wet paper.
  • Drop colors onto wet paper.
  • Paint with a dry brush.
  • Paint in layers: let one layer dry and then paint over it. With watercolor, you will be able to see the underlying layers of color.
  • Paint a wash of a very light color. Let it dry, and then draw over it with colored pencil or ink.
  • Draw in crayon or oil pastels, and then paint a wash over it. The paint will adhere to the paper and resist the crayon/pastel areas.
  • Make a painting using only warm colors, such as those associated with fire (reds, oranges, yellows) or only cool colors, such as those associated with water (greens, blues, purples).
  • Choose a favorite color. Make an entire painting with just that color in different values and intensities.
  • Paint only with your fingers. Draw by using your fingernail. (You can make tempera into finger-paint by adding cornstarch.)
  • Paint using the hand you do not usually use to write.
  • Tape your paintbrush to a long stick, stand tall, and paint onto paper that’s taped to the floor.

Clean Up

When the project is over, assign each student a job to help clean up, such as gathering materials, washing materials, picking up scraps or cleaning tables. Plan ten to fifteen minutes at the end of class for cleaning up. The students will get used to this routine and enjoy it as part of their art project. Incorporating time for cleaning up sends an important message about respecting the space and materials and about the process of creating (which includes cleaning up!). You might play music during this time, or use music as a cue. When you put on a certain song, students can learn that they have until the end of the song to finish what they are doing and begin cleaning up.

Additional Resources

For examples of Jewish symbols and artwork

Drawing Your Way through the Jewish Holidays by Eleanor Schick (URJ Press, 1997)

The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols by Ellen Frankel and Betsy Platkin Teutsch (Jason Aronson, Inc., 1992)

Does your synagogue have a museum or cases that display ritual art? Take the students on a tour. Or, visit browse the collection of photos on the URJ’s Sacred Space and Synagogue Architecture site:

Illustrated Judaica text books and children’s books will also have examples of Jewish images for students to browse. One example is My Synagogue Scrapbook by Hara Person and Fay Tillis Lewy (URJ Press, 2006).

Jewish calendars, greeting cards and coloring books often contain wonderful and inexpensive examples of Jewish art and ritual objects.

For exploration of different types of media

Creative Puppetry for Jewish Kids by Gale Solotar Warshawsky (A.R.E., 1985)

Cut and Color Paper Masks by Michael Grater (Dover Publications, Inc., 1975)

The Artist's Handbook by Ray Campbell Smith (DK Adult, 2006)

The New Artist's Manual: The Complete Guide to Painting and Drawing Materials and Techniques by Simon Jennings (Chronicle Books, 2005)

Artist's Color Manual: The Complete Guide to Working with Color by Simon Jennings (Chronicle Books, 2003)

Comments left on this website are monitored. By posting a comment you are in agreement with Terms & Conditions.

URJ logo

Donate Now



Multimedia Icon Multimedia:  Photos  |  Videos  |  Podcasts  |  Webinars
Bookmark and Share About Us  |  Careers  |  Privacy Policy
Copyright Union for Reform Judaism 2015.  All Rights Reserved