AOE’s Ian Sands Wrote a Book! Read All About It!

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An Excerpt From Project Flop – Chapter 5: Skittle Art

“My personal preference for using nontraditional supplies to create art often extends into my teaching curriculum. Obviously, balloons, mud and birdseed are not the typical art room supply closet staples. While it can be fun to experiment with non-traditional media, it can also be difficult to determine how much of a particular material will be needed for a lesson. With traditional materials, I can determine the amount of product needed based either on my own previous experience or by asking a fellow art teacher. With non-traditional materials, this simply is not the case. I learned this the hard way when my class attempted the creation of expressive Skittle portraits.

Since every aspect of this assignment was taken from a previous lesson, completing this project successfully should have been a walk in the park. I previously taught this same lesson using oil pastels. We would exchange the oil pastels with a few Skittles. No problem. I asked everybody to bring in a bag.

Day one was a blast. Bags of Skittles were opened and poured into trays for easy access. References were displayed side by side of the large sheets of cardboard where the final masterpieces were to be completed. With glue bottle in hand, the process was one Skittle on the board, one Skittle in the mouth. Time flew by and the next thing we knew class was over. I looked at the boards expecting to see half finished portraits. To my surprise I found that most students had only completed a row or two. To make matters worse, everyone was out of Skittles. I stopped by the Food Lion on the way home and purchased a few small bags.

The next day went exactly the same. Only this time we had a few visitors. The word was out that Sands’ class was making Skittle art. Under the guise that they wanted to see how the project was going, little bands of Skittle thieves raided the room. If this project was going to be successful we would need to keep the door locked. We would also need more Skittles. That night I went to Target and purchased several 2.5 pound bags.

The project dragged on over the rest of the week. Though I could see the portraits starting to come together, the students had a difficult time seeing it. Their inability to see results only lowered expectations for the project which was already on a roller coaster of emotions. Sugar highs at the first half of class were followed by sugar crashes during the second half of the class. When Skittle trading deals, generated by the need for one color over another failed, arguments erupted. All the while we were constantly running out of Skittles. Furthermore, the stores were running out as well. I had already depleted Food Lion and Target of their entire stock and was now working my way though Walmart’s supply.

At the end of week two, the project had created a class full of students weary of gluing rows of candy, a bunch of angry moms tired of their kids asking them to purchase Skittles, and a hungry mob that circled the trailer waiting for any chance that the door might open. Still, the portraits were actually starting to work out. Up close they looked like rows of colored circles but a photograph of the works revealed how well they were coming along. Upon seeing the photographs, many of the students became reinvigorated. Though a few decided to give up entirely, most went on to finish their pieces. Some even took their work home to make sure it was completed. We displayed the completed portraits in the media center on a high shelf just in case any bandits had ideas about eating our art. Though in the end the assignment turned out really well, I vowed never to do this project again.

Several months later I saw a lesson plan contest online. Since it was still fairly fresh in my brain, I decide to enter the Expressive Skittle Portrait project. I laid out the objective, the materials needed, the process, the history… you name it, it was in there. The lesson plan won the contest and I received a class set of Prang markers.”


Remember, for more insight from Ian, click here to get your copy of Project Flop!

So tell us, do you have any lessons that were complete flops?

What lessons have you learned from bad projects?


Ian Sands

This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • Kristen

    …started reading the book last night on Kindle. LOVE IT! What’s hilarious is that I was planning to do the skittle portrait lesson with my Art 1 students this year, and had told them in advance to buy a big bag of skittles. Well, bad idea to have them purchase the skittles in advance! They’ve pretty much all either eaten their bags of skittles, or their bags of skittles have mysteriously gone missing. They’ve been asking about doing the project, but at this point, I was feeling bad about having their parents buy MORE skittles, when the first batch of giant bags were either eaten or stolen.

    …and then I read about it in your book. So…I think we are going to skip that project this year. Great idea though…but many different issues arise from using edible (and super tasty!) materials in art. Lesson learned.

  • erica

    I’m so upset Ian! I want to read your book but this weekend was just crazy with grades, illness, and unexpected jobs! I cannot wait to download it later. CONGRATS on taking on such a big undertaking! Looking forward to having some down time to read it. You are always entertaining and thoughtful. Not many people write books, are full time artists and teach full time! Inspirational

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