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  • Writer's pictureRobin Murphy

10 Awesome Art Teacher Hacks

If you're an Art teacher, you're probably already pretty inventive when it comes to organizing supplies, creating lessons, and storing the crazy amounts of random stuff that your art room contains. Finding new ways to organize piles of odds and ends and inventing new uses for non traditional materials is just a way of life for Art teachers, especially if you're trying to stretch your budget. Over my few years of teaching, I've been collecting and organizing Art teacher "hacks" that I find on the many Facebook groups I belong to, Instagram, and various teacher blogs. Today I want to share with you some of the hacks that I really love and either have already implemented or plan to implement in my classroom when I can. (Disclaimer: some of these are better suited to an Art room operating outside of coronavirus times, but I'm hopeful that we'll return to relatively normal classroom activities eventually so I still wanted to share!)


1. Boon Grass

I came across this hack on the Facebook group "Art Teacher Life Hacks" and I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of this sooner (especially since I'm now very familiar with the boon grass drying racks thanks to my 3 month old)! If you've never seen these, they're a special type of drying rack that works well for drying baby bottles and other items, and the best part is the grass part can come off the base for easy cleaning if needed. This makes them extra handy in the art room! I can see so many uses for these, from drying paint brushes (though if you really want them to last, they should be dried on their side!) to the picture you see above where a teacher uses hers to store Sharpies (correctly-cap down!). I think this would also make an excellent drying rack for clay tools and other supplies. The possibilities are endless, and there are even different sizes for whatever space you have available!


2. Yarn Management

If you've ever done a project that required students to pick many colors of yarn and cut it to the right length, you know how quickly that can turn into a knotted disaster if it's not managed right. If you've ever struggled with this, then this hack from a teacher on Facebook is for you, and it might save your sanity! All you have to do is cut the yarn to the correct length strips, loop them over a coat hanger, and loosely tie with another piece of yarn. When students need a piece, all they have to do is grab one and lightly tug, If you need to refill, just untie the small piece, add the new strips, and retie. It's really that simple!


3. Air Dry Clay "Glaze"

This one comes from Ms. C on Instagram. If you're like me and don't have a kiln, you're probably used to having to be a little more creative when it comes to air dry clay projects. You're also probably really tired of little pieces falling off and paint not looking as bright as kiln-fired glazes do. This hack is a game changer when it comes to common air dry clay issues. Ms. C uses a combination of Elmers glue, water, and white paint (I use my cheap tempera paint and just add a little extra if I find it's not bright enough) as a primer layer before students paint their clay pieces. Not only does it help create a protective layer and keep pieces together, but it also makes a great base coat so that paint shows up nice and bright on top! My additional recommendation is to grab a big thing of acrylic glossy medium to apply as a finishing layer after painting (especially if you choose to use tempera). It makes the final piece shine almost like a kiln-fired glaze finish and helps seal it all in. I have small classes so I choose to do this step myself to save time, but you can absolutely have students do this step themselves too!


4. Egg Trays for Painting

I came across this great painting palette and storage solution by Ms. Mullins-Means on Instagram and I have to admit it's brilliant. Around Easter/Spring time you can grab these trays meant to transport or store deviled eggs for fairly cheap, especially after the holiday has passed and everything is on sale. They're a great way to pass out a lot of paint without worrying about how to store it between classes, and they even have a middle section that can be used for mixing or to hold a water cup! I love to use these to pass out paint for clay projects because its one time I definitely don't limit color choices, which means I need to be able to fit a lot of colors in one palette that can be easily shared. Between class periods it's easy to just pop the top on these and store them. If you're letting them sit for longer, I recommend throwing some plastic wrap over the paint before putting the top on. The absolute best part about this hack is that kids can't walk by these and stick their fingers in the paint with the plastic wrap over it because there's a plastic top keeping it all safe. If your classroom is used for childcare after you leave for the day like mine is, you know that's a problem worth solving!


5. Refilling Glue Bottles

It's probably safe to say that refilling glue bottles is no one's favorite activity. It's messy and annoying. Though this hack won't necessarily make it more fun, it does make refilling glue bottles a whole lot cleaner. This comes from another teacher on Facebook who recommends keeping the foil seal on the big jug of glue and puncturing it with a pencil. He says this creates an easy pour spout so you don't have to worry about the glue all rushing out at once. Honestly, mind blown. I can't believe I've been using a small funnel that takes forever to fill a bottle and then trying to clean all my spills afterwards. This is so much easier!


6. Project Supply Setups

I started using this hack with my painting class last year, but was just reminded of it by another teacher on the Facebook group. No matter how many times you tell students what they need, they're going to forget something or miss the directions in some way. With this hack, all you have to do is create a sample setup with a list of supplies and project it on the screen so students can see exactly what their station looks like. This teacher did a great job with her setup and directions. The best part about this method is that the students can look at this display from anywhere in the classroom, so they can double check that they've gathered all of their supplies while they're up then make sure they're laid out correctly when they sit down. It's a simple solution, but it makes such a difference. My students got so used to this that I could put this up on the projector and they would start gathering stuff and be ready to work by the time I finished submitting attendance, and I didn't even have to say a word!


7. Paper Towels

This hack has been around for quite some time, but if you haven't seen it I hope this helps! If you need a lot of paper towels for painting and all you have is a big industrial roll like this, just use a box cutter to run down the side. Boom, individual paper towels. This is especially useful if, like me, you only have automatic paper towel dispensers. Just the thought of having students line up to wave their hand in front of the dispenser or me having to stand there and do it myself ahead of time is enough to drive me crazy. So save your sanity and try this instead! Bonus: If you're only using paper towels to dry brushes, try switching to sponges on a tray! They're reusable and in my opinion are way less messy.


8. Take-Home Art Portfolios

Another great idea from Facebook, take-home portfolios! I usually try to do everything I can to convince students not to take their work home. Partly because I know the likelihood of ever seeing it again drops significantly as the days go on and partly because work often gets ruined or lost between school and home. Part of my students' grade is based on craftsmanship and how they care for their work. Footprints from falling on the floor of the bus or water marks from being carried through the rain can really damage a great project. This teacher on Facebook recommended getting some cheap portfolios for students to carry work home in and I'm totally on board. You can find them pretty cheap at walmart and even sometimes the dollar stores, but you can also order them from Blick or other art supply catalogues. My favorite thing about them is that they're so big they're (almost) impossible to lose. I'll definitely be investing in some of these so my students can get their work finished at home when it comes down to crunch time and I don't have to worry about the safety of their artwork.


9. Color-Coded Paint Organization

Another incredibly-simple-but-so-genius hack from a teacher on Facebook. Use strips of construction paper to organize individual cups of paint! Now students will know exactly where each color goes and it won't end up in a messy pile on the counter. I can also see how smaller strips like these would encourage students to stack the cups neatly because there's no room on the strip to pile them in a jumbled mess. I mean, we all know students will find a way to make a mess regardless, but this is a start! I can also see this being a great way to organize palettes or other supplies from different classes. Just assign each class a color and that's the spot they put their supplies back. No more shuffling through piles of stuff from different classes. Well, at least not all the time. There will always be that one student that manages to mix their project or supplies in with the wrong class...


10. Individual Brush Sets

I'm all about giving students their own set of supplies so they can learn to be more accountable for what they use. In the past it hasn't been an easy task because I mostly have class sets of supplies. Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, I'll be looking for more ways to create individual sets. I loved this idea from Whitney on Instagram and at lookbetweenthelines.com (go check her out, she has some great resources!). She took a brush tube (but you could use a variety of different containers) and stuck on a label to help keep track of the brushes inside. This helps build accountability for the students and the label can also serve as a great reference for the names of different types of brushes! If you want to grab the same label she uses, head to the TPT link in her Instagram bio.


I hope you enjoyed this collection of Art teacher hacks! I'm constantly saving the hacks I find on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest so I'm sure I'll have more to post in the future and more advice on what works best in my classroom.


What are some of your favorite hacks? Feel free to post them in the comments or connect with me on Instagram!

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