How to Run a Colored Pencil Bootcamp to Help Develop Students’ Skills

I hate wasting time. When I teach a new skill or technique I want my students to learn it as quickly as possible so we can get to the good stuff – applying new learning in open-ended challenges.

Enter the Bootcamp.

Bootcamps are short and intense bursts of instruction and guided practice, perfect for teaching new skills and techniques. This type of teaching is great for helping students increase their familiarity and skill level with different media.

How to Run a Colored Pencil Bootcamp

student working on finished piece

1. Conduct a Pre-Assessment and Do a Demo

Time Needed: 1 Class Period

Start your colored pencil Bootcamp with a little test to get a good idea of your students’ skill levels. Set a timer for 15 minutes and ask them to draw whatever they’d like in colored pencil.

As they draw, observe the work. Look for how they use color. Are they layering, blending and building up to burnishing, or simply applying a light coat of color? Take note of where the class is overall and also notice students who might need extra help.

After drawing time is over, ask kids to write short responses to the following two questions:

  • What colored pencil techniques do you know?
  • What do you want to learn about using colored pencils?

After the pre-assessment is finished, tell kids regardless of where they currently are the Bootcamp goal is to “level up” – to improve on their current skill level. Ask students to try to learn more and become more skilled than they currently are instead of comparing their work to other students. This mindset is hugely important for achieving growth.

Quickly demonstrate a series of colored pencil techniques using an anchor chart for reference. (Download 7 Cool Colored Pencil Techniques here.) As you show students how to do each technique, model your thinking by talking through your decision-making process out loud.

Have students try each technique in a small area to keep this part of the unit short. A sketchbook or visual journal is the perfect place to practice. As they work, give students feedback about how they are applying what you talked about. Now is the time to correct misunderstandings, not when they’ve worked for hours on a drawing.

2. Practice New Learning

Time Needed: 2 Class Periods

Now ask students to practice the techniques they’ve learned. One fun way to do this is with a “Texture Challenge.” Have everyone find three images from magazines that show texture, cut them out, and glue them to a large piece of drawing paper. Challenge them to replicate each texture as closely as they can over the course of two class periods.

student practice

3. Apply Concepts

Time Needed: 4 to 5 Class Periods

Now that students have learned a range of techniques and have had a focused time to practice them, it’s time to apply new learning in self-directed art. Ask kids to plan and create a high-quality drawing that shows what they’ve learned about working with colored pencils. To see what they really know, give them the responsibility of selecting their own subject matter and techniques.

finished student work

4. Reflect

Time Needed: 1 Class Period

Have students share their work and what they’ve learned. This could be through presentations to the class or through a piece of writing like on a student blog. 

Consider asking questions such as:

  • What colored pencil skills or techniques did you learn during this unit? How did you apply them in your work?
  • How did you plan and create your final drawing? Write about your process and your finished work. What do you like about your work? Why is it successful?

5. Demonstrate Growth

To finish the unit, ask students to do the same task they did for the pre-assessment: draw anything they’d like in colored pencil for fifteen minutes. After they finish, have students evaluate their work and celebrate their growth.

The great thing about running a Bootcamp is it can apply to almost any medium. The next time your students need to build skills, try out this method and see just how much your students grow!

What strategies do you have for teaching students about working with colored pencils?

Do you run Bootcamps in your classroom? Do you have any tips to share?

Melissa Purtee

Melissa teaches at Apex High School in North Carolina and is the author of The Open Art Room. She’s passionate about supporting diversity, student choice, and facilitating authentic expression.


  • Brenda McC

    What brand of colored pencils do you recommend?

    • The work here was done with prismacolor’s scholar brand. They’re expensive, but the results are stunning!

      • Brenda McC


        • C Gideon

          Melissa, I love this boot camp idea! Thanks. Wondering about the clips you have used to display student work! can u direct me to a source?

          • They are actually taped to a bulletin board in my classroom!

  • Sarah Thorpe

    Is there a printable copy of this lesson? I would love to have this in my “Teaching Toolkit”.

    • Yes! Print using the print option on the left hand side of the browser. That will get rid of all the “extra stuff” except the article on the page.

  • Jessica Miroglotta

    For my beginning Pottery classes, I’ve run “bootcamp” when the students are learning to throw on the potter’s wheel. Since there are about 15 students in each class, and 8 wheels, they work with partners for 2-4 days, rotating between the thrower and the coach. There is zero expectation to make anything worth keeping–only to learn how to be successful with the process. It’s been a pretty helpful process, and they are then able to finish their actual pieces with more confidence and efficiency. Definitely a big fan of bootcamps!

    • Oh, sounds awesome! Kids really need the opportunity to learn by experimenting and I love how you talk about using partners.

  • Zoe Kyriacou

    Thank you Melissa for another great article. I wondered if you show any artist references as part of your bootcamp and if so, whose work you use? I thought the work of Lui Ferreyra?
    A modern day take on the Impressionists and a really good example for pure observation without the narrative??

    • Ohhhhhhhh! I LOVE her work! I normally just focus on technique and show examples in the form of artists working, but showing some finished work is a great idea.

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  • Maria Eck

    Thanks so much for this – looks awesome! I definitely want to try the ‘boot camp’ approach. What grade level created this work you’re sharing?