10 Artist-Inspired Projects Your Students Will Love

Who was the first artist you remember falling in love with? The first who, after learning about them or seeing their work, you knew would forever hold a special place in your heart? I’m not here to tell you some gushy artist love story, but aren’t these the experiences we want our students to have?

I find projects that allow students to experience techniques and processes directly related to specific artists are the best way to fall hard. That’s why, in my classroom, we do something called “Art History Fridays.”

On each Friday, (you guessed it) we explore a new artist together. I introduce the artist, and then the students create an artwork based on that artist either individually or collaboratively. These sessions are great because they allow students to take a break from other projects and can also serve as options for early finishers.

Here are 10 artist/activity pairings to sweep your students off their feet!

1. Jen Stark / Colorful Collaborative Drawing

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Jen Stark has a versatile body of work ranging from sculptures to animation. Because of her use of vibrant colors and exciting designs, students flock to her work. It’s a wonderful way for students to explore pattern, shape, and color. Using simple drawing materials, students can create artwork individually and arrange it as one large collaborative piece.

2. Kristin Farr / Rings and Rectangles

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Artist Kristin Farr’s work is inspired by Pennsylvania Dutch Folk Art. The use of color and pattern creates an experimental result your students can’t resist. Exploring her artwork is a wonderful way for students to study color vibrations and math to form an amazing result. Take a peek at the flipped Rings and Rectangles lesson I use with my students. Feel free to use it with yours!

3. Kehinde Wiley / Non-Traditional Portraits

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Let’s face it, for some students, portraits will just always be boring. That’s why Kehinde Wiley’s work is so interesting. Students find his juxtaposition of background and subject striking. Sharing his work with your students might allow them to take a different twist on their traditional portraits as they explore his ornate and decorative backgrounds.

4. Thank You X / Op Art Cubes

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The large-scale geometric work of street artist, Thank You X, will inspire your students to become cube and op art masters. Using the work he became well-known for on the streets of LA, challenge your students to create their own cube designs. Display them together for a dizzying effect.

5. Joanna Wirazka / Leaf Paintings

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Polish artist, Joanna Wirazka, will leave (or should I say leaf) your students fascinated. This 17-year-old is already developing a name for herself by creating detailed paintings on leaves. Your students will find her age inspiring while exploring the connection between art and nature.

6. Kelsey Montague / Collaborative Ballons

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The artwork by public artist Kelsey Montague is taking social media by storm. Her body of work #WhatLiftsYou is inspiring and relatable. Your students will love exploring her work as they think about what lifts them. Have each student create a small piece related to something that lifts or rises. Balloons or feathers are popular choices. After each student creates their piece, display them together to create an interactive piece.

7. Carly Waito / Crystal Paintings

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The artwork by Carly Waito is mesmerizing. The Toronto-based artist uses crystals and minerals to create hyper-realistic paintings. She explores the connection of geology, light, and geometry. Although your students might not yet have the skill-set to create realistic works like these, having a few exciting props, like real crystals, will excite them! This project is also a great time to introduce or review watercolor techniques!

8. Heidi Annalise / Miniature Paintings

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Artist Heidi Annalise explores nature and art in a new way. Instead of painting on a traditional canvas she creates miniature paintings inside tins, like small Altoids containers. She is an excellent artist to share with your students as they think of unconventional surfaces on which they might want to create art.

9. Keith Haring / Collaborative Haring Figures

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Students will gravitate toward the exciting way Keith Haring took his art to the subways for all to see. Even though Haring only had a short time to share his gifts with us, the footage of him at a young age speaks volumes and allows students to relate to him. Although you might not be creating art on the subway walls, collaborative Haring-inspired people will spark interest for your students. Break students into groups, have them trace a body shape, and fill in that body shape in an interesting way. Make sure you display these, so your whole school can enjoy them!

10. Dale Chihuly / Coffee Filter Sculpture

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There’s something about the glass sculptures of Dale Chihuly that fascinates students. Although they’ll probably be a little disappointed when you tell them they aren’t blowing glass, you’ll find excitement nonetheless. This collaborative Chihuly-inspired project takes the idea of his Macchia form, but replaces the glass with coffee filters. This is often an individual project, but is stunning when placed together. Check out a video explaining the process right here.

The next time you’re looking to infuse more artist-inspired work in your classroom, share the artwork of one of these artists with your students. Whether working collaboratively or individually, your students are sure to be inspired!

What artists do you love teaching in your classroom?

How much time do you spend talking about artists and art history?

Abby Schukei

Abby is a middle school art teacher in Omaha, NE. She focuses on creating meaningful experiences for her students through technology integration, innovation, and creativity.

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  • Tammy Scott

    Hi! My elementary classes have done a Kelsey Montague feather project and we loved the collaboration! Thank you for sharing all these great artists!