Pop Art (Literally) to Build Observational Drawing Skills

Observational drawing can be boring and frustrating for students, if approached the wrong way. Without an engaging subject, middle aged students (4-7th grade) can be  unmotivated to sit and draw. So why do we throw very boring still-life subjects at them, expecting them to get all jazzed about it? Would you want to draw a vase or a flower if you were a 5th grader? Probably not. So, with the help of a colleague, I found something that was more engaging for students to draw- POP!

I use this quick lesson to introduce “Pop Art” to 5th grade, and to review the observational drawing skills that we started off the year with.. we LITERALLY make Pop Art (we drew pop!) the kids were really excited as I pulled out a huge box filed with empty pop cans. I was sure to tell them my horror story of “dumpster diving” to retrieve pop cans and bottles for them to draw out of the recycling bin in the teacher’s lounge. It made them smile.

The best thing about doing this project at the end of the year, is the modifications you can make as far as time constraints are concerned. With assemblies, field days and snow days to make up, the last month of school can be wild.  One of my 5th grade groups had three class periods to work on this lesson, while the others only had one.  What’s a teacher to do? Well, for the students with more time, I had them draw up one image, and I took it to the copy machine and made more copies (depending on how many days we had to work). Ideally, they would repeat the image 3 or 6 times.

I didn’t see the importance of making them draw it over and over once they’d done it once. Plus, the lettering was a great challenge for most of them, I was impressed with how they did. The copies drive home the importance of “repetition” that is so integral to Pop Art.


For the kids with one class period, it was a one and done. Draw one subject, Sharpie, Color, take home.  Of course, if I wanted to promote wellness initiataves, we could have drawn apples…  But that messes with the whole “draw pop for pop art thing”… maybe next year I’ll try Pop Corn.  Now I’m thinking!


What are other fun objects that you recommend students draw from observation to keep them engaged? 

PS. I wanted to share that Erica has decided not to write for AOE anymore, and focus on other priorities, but of course, we’ll still be following her adventures on Art Project Girl and look forward to connecting, always! Thanks, Erica, for your contributions! You are a great teacher and person. Best of luck to you!  Lots to share as the week goes on, in terms of writers. Stay tuned! 


Jessica Balsley

Jessica Balsley is the Founder and President at AOE. She is passionate about helping art teachers enhance their lives and careers through relevant professional development.


  • Arttchrjan

    I like the soda idea.  I have collected Happy Meal toys and have my fifth graders draw them.  It has a high interest rate.

    • Svnasiegs2

      I just saw a soda can drawing project like this that was colored, and the matting was made of the same soda can flattened box. I thought that was a cool finishing touch!

    • That is a good, creative idea, too!

  • When my first graders are studying healthy bodies, I bring in real fruits and veggies for them to draw. It’s an immediate attention grabber because they always ask if they can eat them! After we draw them, I cut them up and we use them for stamping. 

  • Kathy Olson

    We’ve drawn cupcakes and also donuts and then ate them.   Fun.

  • The Wendy Lady

    I always hated sitting theough days on end of still life drawing. i think observational drawing is a very important skill so i feed it to my kids in small bites. I have a large collection of unusual objects. twice a week students do a warm up observational drawing for 7 minutes. the person who gets there first gets to choose the objects for their table.

  • I love this idea, Jessica.  Thanks for sharing it!  I do an observational drawing lesson using popcorn (not for Pop Art, though!) which I’ll be posting on my site soon.  I also do a fun one with peanuts which I also need to post… I better get busy!  ;-)

    • Cheryl,
      When you post it, you’ll have to link it back here. I’d love to see!

  • Vivian

    Drawing candy with wrappers on is a great continuous line drawing exercise that I’ve done and was fun to eat the candy in the end.

  • Ryan Thomas

    APPLE PRINTS: In 6th grade, students get to eat their subject matter like some other ideas mentioned here. We make repetitive prints of an apple on paper that they have printed with bubble wrap. The bubble wrap prints (on 6 x 6 inch paper) give a rich texture to the paper, and are done in warm colors so that the apple prints (cool colors) will stand out.
    As their bubble wrap prints dry, students receive 1/2 an apple, a pencil, and a 6 x 6 inch piece of foam polyprint. First, they trace the apple onto the polyprint, being taught to draw on the correct side (as the other side has a sticker backing). Second, they get to eat their apple slice as they draw the details of the apple’s core and add line patterns in the negative space.
    Lastly, students ink their apple printing plates, rinsing them between colors, onto the bubble wrap prints, and the line patterns allow for the colorful bubble texture to show through. It’s an homage to Andy Warhol and Lichtenstein all in one!