Arts and Crafts Explained: Beginning Colored Pencils, by Apryl


Colored pencil has to be my favorite medium to work with. I love the control and the feel of using them, and I love the results.

“Emma” colored pencil portrait.



What is a colored pencil and what makes it different from regular pencils?

For an interesting look at how colored pencils are made, check out this video from “How It’s Made.

What is the best brand of colored pencil?

Although individual preference can dictate which pencil will work best for you, there are some favorites among serious artists. Most often, Prismacolor pencils come out on top for quality and color selection, followed by Faber-Castell polychromos. Personally, I would recommend Prismacolor to start out with and then experiment with a few other brands. You can usually buy colored pencils from open stock at art supply stores, so you can experiment without investing in a full set.

What is the best type of paper to use?

While you can draw with colored pencil on just about any type of paper (and even wood!) some papers perform better than others. In order to layer colors and blend without marring the paper, you need thicker paper with a little bit of tooth. (Tooth is the rough surface of the paper.) I recommend using a heavy weight paper such as Bristol. Hot press papers will have a smoother surface, while cold press will be much more rough. My personal favorite is Arches Watercolor paper, 140lb Hot Press. It is smooth, but still retains enough tooth to allow several layers of color. I buy it in large sheets at the art supply store and cut it down into the sizes I need.

What do I need to start?

For a beginning artist who wants to seriously explore colored pencils, I would recommend the following:

Prismacolor Premier Colored Woodcase Pencils, 12 Assorted Colors/set. You can often find the larger sets on sale for half price, especially around Christmas.

Prismacolor Premier Colorless Blender Pencil, 2 Pencils

Strathmore 300 Series Bristol Pad – 11-Inchx14-Inch – 20 Sheet Pad

X-Acto Home and office Electric Pencil Sharpener (19210) Yes, I do recommend an electric pencil sharpener. Don’t go all out and buy the most expensive one, as colored pencils will be hard on your sharpener. That said, I’ve had an X-Acto similar to this one for several years now and it is still going strong.

Sanford Design Kneaded Eraser

Extras that are handy, but not essential:

Mini Dusting Brush, 10in for dusting off pencil dust without smudging your drawing

• Masking tape for taping off the edges of your work for a clean edge

• Rulers



Colored pencil can be hard to erase, so laying out your drawing beforehand is recommended. I often draw a sketch entirely in pencil, and then trace it lightly onto clean paper for my final colored pencil drawing. I will usually use a light gray or brown colored pencil to trace with, and use a very light hand. For easy tracing, tape your original drawing to a window or glass door and tape your clean paper over the top. The light will shine through, making the tracing easier. You can also purchase light tables for that purpose.

As you can see in this photo, I am working on top of a lightly sketched drawing.

Laying down color:

Colored pencil drawings are slowly built up by layering the colors one over another. You nearly always want to keep each layer of color light, adding more light layers to make it darker or to modify the color. If you color with a heavy hand, the wax of the pencil will build up too quickly and you will find that you cannot add more color. It will end up looking blotchy. So, when coloring in your drawing, use light even strokes.

Keep your pencils sharp. A sharp tip will fill in all of the little hills and valleys that occur in the paper surface. This results in an even coverage and fewer white specks showing through. When your pencil is blunt, it will skip over any small valleys in the paper, allowing the paper surface to show through.

You will also want to begin with the lightest colors first, gradually building up your drawing, and finishing up with the darkest colors.

Here you can see where I have begun to gradually build up color and shading.

more gradual color building

A very handy tool when using colored pencils is a colorless blending pencil. These pencils are just wax, and can be used to blend and smooth your colors. This should be done near the end of your project because it will lay down a layer of wax that makes adding more layers difficult.

Beginning to blend the skin tones more with a colorless blending pencil. The eyes and lips are also blended.

Lifting or erasing color:

Colored pencil can be very difficult to erase, and will rarely erase completely. However, you can use a kneaded eraser to “lift” color. You do this by firmly pressing a small amount of eraser onto the area to be erased and lifting it. Do not rub it across the paper. This technique will pick up small amounts of colored pencil. Be sure to use a different area of your eraser for each lift, so that you do not smear color back onto your paper.

You can also use an electric eraser. I have read that people can get good results from them, but I have not tried it.


There are several ways to create white or “highlighted” areas in your drawing. If you are using white paper, you can leave the desired area blank. You can color it in with a white colored pencil (with no other colors beneath). You can “lift” an area of color with a kneaded eraser. Or you can use a knife or other sharp object to gently scrape the area clean of colored pencil. For very fine areas of light color (such as hair) I have used a needle or thumbtack to lightly trace the area, leaving an indentation. When you color over it with a darker color, the pencil will not hit the indented area, leaving it white.

Below I have used a combination of highlighting techniques. In the eyes, the light reflections were left uncolored until the end, and then I went over them with a white pencil. The forehead and cheekbones needed a little more highlighting to make them more rounded, so at the final stage, I went over the skin tone in those areas with a white pencil, lightening them slightly.

The finished piece. I left the background unblended.


In this project you will create a color wheel and learn how to blend colored pencils to create different colors and shades. If you would like to learn a little more about color theory, check out my previous article, “The Science of Color.

First download and print this mini poster onto paper. You can use regular copy paper, but you can also use artist paper cut to fit your printer.

For this project we will only use 3 colors: red, blue and yellow. I used Crimson Red, Ultramarine, and Canary Yellow. You can also use a blending pencil if you have one.

1. With your three pencils, color in the primary color wedges — red, yellow, and blue:

2. Color in secondary colors:

orange = yellow + red (because of the way colored pencils blend, I recommend laying down the yellow first. This will keep the orange lighter in color.)
violet = red + blue
green = blue + yellow

Remember, use a light, even hand and a sharp pencil when coloring.

3. Color in tertiary colors:

yellow-orange = yellow + yellow + red
red-orange = red + yellow + red
red-violet = red + red + blue
blue-violet = blue + red + blue
blue-green = blue + blue + yellow
yellow-green = yellow + blue + yellow

4. Now you can use these color mixing techniques to color in the pictures around the color wheel. Experiment using different combinations of the three colors to create shadows and contrasts. *

*Be sure to read “Pencil Control and Shading” for more on how to create realistic shadows and gain pencil control.

Below I have a photo showing the same image colored on two different papers. The paper on the left is just white copy paper. The paper on the right is Arches 140lb Hot Press watercolor paper. You can see the difference in vibrancy and that I was able to add more color depth. Also, if you look at the cherries in this photo vs. the cherries in the above photo, you can see where I have used the colorless blending pencil to smooth and blend the colors.

Have fun with your new colored pencil skills!


Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Our Chalk Walk Experience, by Apryl


Recently I, along with my daughter and niece, had the opportunity to participate in Knoxville’s Annual Chalk Walk. Each year they open Market Square to artists of all abilities to create a chalk creation on the sidewalks. This was our first year, and we learned a lot!

1.  Come prepared. They provided us with chalk. Anything else was up to us. We brought felt squares for blending and masking tape. I will post more at the end about what I plan on bringing next year.

2.  Have a plan. We had sketches of what we wanted to do. This was extremely helpful. It would be very hard to work on the fly with so many people watching you!

3.  Know some basic chalk techniques. This was my first time EVER working with chalk for drawing other than using children’s sidewalk chalk with my kids!

4.  Be prepared to shift gears. I had to redraw my sketch a bit for proportion. I also ran out of a color for the skin and had to improvise.

5.  Wear old clothes. You WILL get dirty!

6.  Have fun! We enjoyed ourselves so much, and cannot wait to go back next year!

This is the finished piece my daughter and niece worked on.

This is my finished piece. It was kind of unfinished, but my old bones had had enough of the cold concrete!

Here are some other beautiful works in progress:

Now, for what I would do differently.

First, I would definitely bring knee pads! That is what affected my artwork most of all. It is hard to work if you are in pain.

Bring extra chalk. Although they had a table for trading in chalk, the colors you wanted weren’t always there. So, especially if you know you will be using a lot of one color, bring backups!

Bring a chalk line and mark out a grid. Have your sketch on a grid. It is hard to keep the perspective correct when you are working on the ground.

Bring lots of paint brushes, some water, and plenty of felt for blending. The water allows you to “paint” on the chalk, and you can use paint brushes for detailed work. I had neither, and it was very hard to get much detail on the rough concrete.

And finally, practice! I plan on filling our driveway with chalk art this summer in preparation for next year.

Wondering what kind of chalk to use?  Try these: Pro Art Chalk Pastel Set, 36 Color

To see all of the beautiful artwork created, check out the Dogwood Arts Festival album on Facebook!


Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and aprylher three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Arts and Crafts Explained: Needle Felting! by Apryl


Needle felting is a fiber art that has been gaining popularity, and for good reason. It is fairly inexpensive to get started and not difficult to learn. Your creations are only limited by your imagination!


The basic supplies:

1. Felting needles.  These needles are barbed and come in triangle or star shapes. Common sizes are 36, 38, and 40 gauge.  40 are the thinnest and best for finish work. The lower the number, the thicker the needle. You can also purchase “pens” that hold multiple needles. This allows for faster felting of larger surfaces, and can be more comfortable to hold. Please be aware that the needles are very sharp. Accidentally stabbing yourself is nearly unavoidable, especially at first. Keep this in mind when allowing children to take up this project. It is really the only reason I would lean towards older children doing this rather than younger ones.


2.  Wool roving.  Roving comes in many different colors and textures. The rougher textured wool will felt more quickly and feel firmer. The finer silky roving takes longer to felt and has a softer texture. You can find everything from lower cost, mass produced roving at the larger craft stores, to beautiful hand-dyed roving from exotic breeds. I recommend using the lower cost roving at first as you learn.


3.  Foam block. The foam block is your work surface. It allows the needle to freely stab through the wool without hitting a hard surface ( or yourself!).


That is all you need to get started! You can purchase a starter kit like this Round and Wooly Turtles Needle Felting Kit that come with a needle, roving, a small block and instructions to make an animal. I highly recommend these as it will give you an inexpensive taste of needle felting without investing in a lot of different items. I do recommend buying an extra needle or two, because they break easily and beginners break them often.

These are the turtles my 13-year-old daughters made from the kit linked above. It was their first attempt at needle felting.


A quick search on Pinterest or YouTube will yield a plethora of tutorials from very basic to very advanced. Check out a few and then try it yourself!

Look for future articles in this series for more advanced techniques.


Apryl–Baprylorn and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

What Does Creativity Have to Do With Classical Education? by Briana Elizabeth


What if I told you everything?

Stratford Caldecott in his book Beauty in the Word renames the Trivium’s Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric as Remembering, Thinking, and Communicating. Or Jenny Rallens in her video The Liturgical Classroom and Virtue Formation uses Lectio, Meditatio, Compositi and talks about the idea of Compositi being ‘honey making’.

Both Communicating and Compositi are creative.

As I was thinking about these ideas and remembering Bloom’s Taxonomy, I was getting excited about creative projects I could bring into my homeschooling! I’m a creative person; I could totally think up projects for each subject that would segue well with what my kids were studying. Unit studies, lap books, crafts! But the more I thought about that, I started to wonder, is that really the type of creativity that Bloom’s Taxonomy is speaking about? Is that true Communication and Compositi?

If I make a project for my children to use with their homeschooling, who is being creative? Me? And am I dragging them through something that doesn’t add anything to their learning?

I had already done that a few times by following a few other curricula, and what I learned that no matter what the projects were, my kids forgot them. I came to the conclusion that the only person being creative in these situations was me. It was another moment for me to realize that homeschooling is not about me, what I want to do, or what I think is fun. It’s about what is best for them, how they learn, and even if writing out Latin words in Light Bright pegs on a rainy afternoon sounds like fun to me, my kids might not think so.

I had circled back to my first question: How do I foster this top tier of creativity in my children? Is this even compatible with classical home schooling? And then I thought about when I had seen it in my children. After a semester on poetry (and years of poetry copywork), one of my daughters started writing her own poetry, without any prompting from me. Another had written her own poem and made a cross-stitched picture of it. My sons loved drawing their own comic strips and I had seen what they had learned in our medieval studies making their way into the strips. Another son used what he learned in the poetry semester to write music and obtain a merit badge. All of this was totally unprompted by me.


What I had given them was the scaffold to be creative. I taught them the skills (rhyme and meter) and gave them the tools (hearing poetry and a deep well of ideas).

Now, how can I more purposely build a scaffold, and foster even deeper creativity? What kind of schoolwork is making the creativity for them, and what type of schoolwork is giving them the ability to create with the skills and tools they’ve learned? What type of schoolwork enables them to behold glory and represent that glory in their own medium?

Something I am going to be trying is Charlotte Mason’s Book of Centuries. I recently read one of the best books on Charlotte Mason’s practices that I have ever read, aside from Charlotte’s own series, titled  The Living Page by author Laurie Bestvater. It is a book I am going to tell everyone about. What seemed like a murky idea in Charlotte’s books that I never quite understood, Laurie has teased out with a lot of research and devotion to her task, and she writes about it with eloquence.

Why the book of Centuries, The Nature Notebook, a Commonplace Book, and a Timeline Notebook? Because they are scaffolds. Here are the tools and here are the directions, but the end product is fully up to the student. It is about what they have assimilated through their reading and learning,  and taken as their own to be expressed on paper as only they can.

As an artist, a blank canvas can be intimidating. How much easier if the art teacher tells you to draw a still life in monochromatic colors, or complimentary colors? The notebooks have rules to follow which give the child support, and parameters. Freedom to create comes with parameters.

If you do narrations with your children, you have provided the skills, and the tools, you built the scaffold, and the narration is the creativity. The picture narration your child draws is the creativity. But you have also given the scaffold. You have read a story — the child is supplying an oral narration on that story. Or the child is giving a picture narration of the story. You’re not handing them a blank page and telling them to create. You’re not creating for them, and asking them to somehow ingest that lesson as their own.

This is something that I am going to be checking myself with from now on. Have I given them the skills? The tools? Have I built the scaffold? Or have I created something for them and asked them to fill in the blanks? I need to keep reminding myself that this is not about me, this homeschooling journey is about them. My job is to build the scaffold.


Briana brianaElizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

Inspiring Creativity at Our House, by Apryl


Inspiring creativity in our children can be intimidating for some families. Many have no idea where to begin, or believe that since they aren’t artistic or crafty themselves, that they have no way to pass creativity on to their own children.

It can be done, and should be done. It will look differently in every home, but it begins with the same idea: exposing your children to the creative side of life.

This is what it looked like in our home when our girls were small.

Outdoor free play was important. Sometimes it was making a train out of lawn chairs.  Sometimes it was filling buckets full of earthworms or cardboard cities in the back yard.


Music was vital. We listened to all types of music, sang songs and danced around. They made noise, played on instruments, and made up songs. Growing up, they knew the sounds of Bach, the Wiggles, the Beatles, Union Station, Guns and Roses and Norah Jones.


Our home was imagination friendly. As long as they weren’t overly destructive, or in danger, they had the freedom to play. As you can see in the photo below, we had all sorts of things accessible, even as toddlers and preschoolers. The desk and drawers were full of paper, glue, markers, scissors, paint…you name it. And they were allowed to use them. They were allowed to empty closets of blankets and pillows to make forts. They were allowed to drag baskets of books under the table to read.


Yes, sometimes their creativity ran away with them…


But even then, it was an opportunity to learn about personal responsibility, caring for your home, and how to clean up.


We had toys that had no specific purpose. Simple wooden blocks that provided years of entertainment and learning, marbles and balls, nameless dolls, boxes of odds and ends for inventing; all were available for play.


We let them take some risks, like climbing trees, and playing in creeks. Yes, they fell. Yes they bled. And oh, did they get dirty! But they made some wonderful memories, and can still recall the elaborate dramas they created in their minds as they played outside.


They used real tools, like scissors. Yes, hair got cut occasionally. It grew back.


Sometimes, paint got eaten. (Non-toxic, of course.)


Sometimes it was actual food…they learned how to cook and use real kitchen appliances. A real oven was used instead of an Easy Bake.


They even had places to go for quiet contemplation or just to be alone.


And plenty of opportunity for complete silliness.


Their adventures led them to all sorts of imaginary places.


And sometimes even turned up an Oompa-Loompa.


The point is, creativity doesn’t have to be a beautiful work of art. It is often messy and a little wild. It is simply the freedom to let your mind play.


Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself,apryl and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.


Plugged Into a Different Creative Outlet, by Lynne


My favorite gift as a child was a banker’s box filled with art supplies. I couldn’t imagine anything better than a box full of colorful paper, crayons, glue, sequins, and glitter. My sisters each received one of these boxes too, and we spent hours making glittery creations at our kitchen table. I was never a great artist, but I did find joy in creating things.

These days, I spend my free time scrapbooking and making other paper crafts. I enjoy making things to give to other people and making things to embellish my home. I’m also a creative cook. I like to figure out new and interesting dishes, especially when my CSA box arrives. Combining foods to display their colors and textures always feels like creating a piece of art to me.

A delicious palette of colors

For some reason, I don’t think of my kids as creative types. This is, however, completely untrue. My kids are very creative, just not in the way I traditionally think of creativity.  We have lots of art supplies in this house. I always imagined that my children would love cutting up paper and using pom poms and glitter and pipe cleaners and watercolors the way I did. They don’t. Most of our homeschool art projects are forced by Mom.



What am I supposed to do with this, Mom?


I did get them to do one Pinterest idea. It only involved gluing strips of pre-cut paper, so they were good with it.

Since I am a scrapbooker, though, I get to revisit our lives when I create pages about certain events or activities. This has caused me to look through hundreds of photos that I’ve taken of my children and to marvel at the creativity that does shine through in so much of what they do. I think this creativity can be partially attributed to the fact that I’m pretty laid back about messes. For example, one sunny afternoon, I went outside to see my boys and my niece smashing boxes of sidewalk chalk with croquet mallets. Instead of  being angry that they had destroyed all the chalk, I commented on the beautiful rainbow  of dust all over the driveway. It also helps that I’ve exposed my kids to many different types of creative outlets. We’ve taken them to children’s museums, art museums, stage productions, concerts, etc. They’ve both attended theater classes and briefly took music lessons.


Colorful chalk mess



Home made slime mess


Getting creative with Potato Head parts


In the children’s discovery area at the Cleveland Museum of Art

My older son has been creating comic books for a few years now. He has made up his own characters and has literally filled hundreds of pages with these comics. The drawings are very simplistic, but he spends hours and hours coming up with plots for his books. They tend to be disgusting and violent, but I’ve given up trying to get him to tone them down.  His favorite character is Hamy Mommy, and he created his own birthday decorations and dictated how I was to decorate his cake for his 8th birthday.


This cake was totally his design.


He drew characters and other items on each goodie bag.

This same son has inherited my creative cooking gene. He likes to experiment with ingredients to see what will happen. I can tell you that popcorn pancakes are not very delicious. He does make a scrumptious granola cake and has contributed good ingredient suggestions to some of my recipes. My younger son made a “vinegar cake” one time, and that was not so tasty.  BLECH! That was the end of his cooking career.



Cupcakes they made for our annual Harry Potter Film Marathon

My kids are also creative when it comes to their appearances. I never thought I’d be the mom who allowed her nine-year-old to have a mohawk, but he was so adamant about it, I decided it wasn’t a hill to die on. This led to several whacky haircuts, the strangest of which was a poof of hair on the top right side of his head, which we had to dye orange. The day he came down with the blue tattoos all over his arms, combined with the haircut, I was speechless.


Then, my younger son decided to wear a third eye for a few weeks. He went everywhere with a googly eye stuck to the middle of his forehead. My mother would never have allowed us to go out in public like this, I’m sure of it, but I’ve decided that it is fostering their imaginative sides. (Or, at least, that’s what I tell myself!)


Yes. He wore this everywhere.

I’m always astounded by the creativity of their play, too. Almost none of their toys are used for their original purpose. The Beyblade arena is turned into a hot tub for the stuffed animal spa. The swords and light sabers are laid end to end to create boundaries for an imaginary house. Their video chairs are turned on their sides and pushed together to create a hideaway. Their socks are turned into sleeping bags for their Zhu Zhu pets. One day, I walked into the master bedroom to find stacks of boxes with a “throne” on top where one stuffed animal was holding court while all the courtier stuffed animals were paying tribute on the floor below. Another day, I came home to find the Harry Potter chess set pieces circling the Lockrobot population on the floor. It made me laugh.




They save all their Halloween costumes and then rearrange the pieces to create some very comical effects. I have several scrapbook pages of the weird costume combinations. My favorite were the Dalek and Cyberman costumes they fashioned out of stuff they found in their room.






Looking back over all these pictures helps me to envision creativity in a whole new light.  So, I probably will never get to do all the fun homeschool art activities I’ve pinned on Pinterest, because my kids have very little interest in that particular kind of creativity.  I’m content to pursue my creative outlets and to let them pursue theirs.


LynnelynneLynne has enjoyed homeschooling her two sons for the past three years, after their brief stint in the local public school.  Her older son is a humorous fellow with high functioning autism who thrives in a home education environment.  Her younger son is a sensitive soul with a great deal of patience. The boys, Mom, and Dad, along with the two guinea pigs, live in Northeast Ohio.  Lynne holds a Master’s Degree in French Language and Literature.  She is also a Harry Potter fanatic, enjoys line dancing and Zumba, spends hours scrapbooking, and loves organic vegetables.  You can visit her soon-to-be revitalized blog at

Arts and Crafts Explained: Clay! by Apryl


If, as a homeschool mom, you have ever considered going beyond Play-Doh for teaching your kids a little about sculpting,  you may have noticed that there are a lot of choices out there for clay.


The type and brand of clay you choose ultimately depends on the desired end product. If you just want to sculpt some objects and let them dry on their own, then you will do best with an air dry clay. If you want hard, cured sculptures but don’t want the hassle of using a kiln, then polymer clay may be what you are looking for. If you want to go all out, buy a kiln and fire your work, then natural clay is where it’s at. This post is going to explain in a little more detail the differences between these types of clay and even mention a few of the best brands.

Air Dry: 

There are a wide range of possibilities in air dry clays. Many of them aren’t even technically clay at all.

As a first step beyond Play-Doh, I would recommend Crayola Model Magic Modeling Compound. Model Magic is a fun starter sculpting medium for kids. It is easily mold-able and quickly air dries. The finished sculptures are extremely lightweight and feel kind of like Styrofoam.  It is paintable, and we have also had success coloring the clay using markers.

Not to be confused with Model Magic, Crayola Air Dry Clay is another option. It is a bit more dense than model magic, and will take longer to dry. It is closer in texture to traditional clay. After drying it can be somewhat brittle and is prone to cracking. This medium can also be painted.

AMACO Air Dry Clay is a natural clay that can be air dried or kiln fired. If left to air dry, the pieces will be very fragile. There is the tendency to shrink and crack when air dried, as well. This clay can be used for pottery or for sculpting and handles just like any other natural clay. This can be a good transition for working with kiln fired sculptures.

Polymer clay:

Polymer clay is a plastic based product that is heat cured. This clay will stay pliable until it is baked. Since it is a PVC product, it is recommended that you use a dedicated toaster oven to cure the projects in. Undesirable fumes can linger in your oven after baking and can permeate any food cooked in it afterwards. You can usually pick up a used toaster oven for a few dollars at a your local thrift store or garage sale.

I recommend using the Sculpey III Polymer Clay brand if possible, as it is the easiest to work with. Other brands will take more conditioning before use. (Conditioning is the act of rolling out and gradually warming the clay to make it more pliable.) A quick way to condition polymer clay is by using a pasta rolling machine. Again, use one that is dedicated to use with clay and will not be used for food again. Craft stores also sell them as clay conditioning machines, but they are really the same thing.

Polymer clay can be painted, and it also comes in a wide variety of colors.  (Paint AFTER heat curing!)

Natural Clay:

There are many brands and varieties of natural clays, but they all require kiln firing which is beyond the scope of this article. If you want to work with kiln fired clay, try looking for pottery classes in your community.


To begin sculpting, all you really need is some clay and your hands. However, there are many tools available that can add to your enjoyment of the process.

A starter set like this is a good place to begin: Sculpt Pro 11 Piece Pottery and Sculpting Art Tool Set. These tools allow you to easily cut away, smooth, pierce and shape your sculpting projects.

The best way to get started is to choose your desired type of clay and just begin to play.  Practice making balls, ropes (or snakes), coils, and other shapes. Use old cookie cutters or press things into the clay to make different textures. Aluminum foil, floral wire and other objects can make great armatures (foundations) to build your sculptures on. Be sure to use non-flammable/non-melting armatures for any clay that will be heat cured.

Most importantly, have fun!


Apryl–Baprylorn and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country with her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.

Student Spotlight: Botany Studies Through Drawing, by Sydney

Art and Science Collide

My name is Sydney, and I live in the rural area of southeastern Ohio. In addition to my daily studies, I’m also involved in a local school of martial arts. I plan to finish high school this spring and join CollegePlus in the fall.

I’m the proud owner of two ponies and two dogs. My hobbies include my pets, sketching in my spare time, and reading books. Old books, sappy books, exciting books, historical books, mystery books; I love them all!

The Science of Color, by Apryl

Art and Science Collide


To understand color, first we must understand how we see it. Our eye is much like a camera. It contains a lens that focuses the light, an iris (aperture) that controls how much light is let into the eye through the pupil, and the retina (the film or the image sensor). The retina lines the inside of the eye and receives the light that comes in through the pupil. It is made up of photosensitive cells called rods and cones. The cones are the cells that allow us to see color. Cones vary in their response to light, with over half responding most strongly to red light, a third responding most strongly to green, and a very small percentage responding most strongly to blue.

When light enters the eye, the retina and its combination of photosensitive cells detect the light waves which vary in length depending on the color. Information that the cells detect is then passed through the optic nerve to the brain, where it is then perceived as color.

With only three different types of color receptors, you may wonder how we can see such a wide range of colors! When light enters the eye, it will stimulate different receptors at the same time. All the colors we see are simply combinations of three primary colors. For example, if you see magenta, then the lightwaves are stimulating red and blue receptors, but not green. When all of the cones are stimulated equally, we perceive white.

How do light waves mix to form colors? Light is made of waves of energy that are grouped together in a spectrum. Our eyes can only see a portion of the light spectrum. At the shorter end of the visible spectrum, the light waves are perceived as blue. At the longer end of the visible spectrum the light waves are perceived as red. Green is in the middle, and all other colors we perceive fall in between. Light waves that fall outside of the visible spectrum are not visible by the naked eye, but may become visible with aids such as night vision goggles or x-ray machines.

When mixing colored light, you are essentially starting with darkness, or the absence of light, and then adding in light that falls along the visible spectrum. For example, green light plus blue light gives you cyan. All three primary colors of light mixed together will give you white. This is called the additive color system, and this is how all image capture devices (such as cameras, video, etc.) handle color.

When creating artwork, it is important to know how the light spectrum works, and how the additive color system used in controlling light color differs from the subtractive color system that is used in mixing pigments for paint and ink.

Objects, photographs, and artwork all express color by absorbing some light wavelengths and reflecting back others. For example, a white sheet of paper appears white because it is reflecting back the entire visible spectrum of light waves. A sheet of black paper appears black because it is absorbing the entire spectrum. To illustrate the example further, picture a white sheet of paper. It is currently reflecting back all the light waves. When you add a circle of cyan paint, it subtracts the cyan light wave from what it is reflecting back to you, essentially absorbing the cyan light wave. The eye perceives this and interprets it as a cyan colored dot. If you layer a yellow dot directly over the cyan dot, it is subtracting cyan and yellow from the light waves that are reflected, and your eye perceives green. In theory, overlaying the three primary pigments cyan, yellow and magenta would absorb the entire spectrum of light waves and you would perceive black.

Often, when mixing paints, the colors are not pure and the results are muddy. This is why when mixing paints or inks, pure pigments are needed to get accurate results. Also, since light itself is color, your light source will change how different paints and inks are perceived.

Try your hand at mixing colors in this virtual color mixing lab:

Here is a beautifully designed App from the Exploratorium called Color Uncovered


O’Haver, T. (2001, January). In Living Color. Retrieved February 19, 2014, from Inform.umd:

Pappas, S. (2010, April 29). How Do We See in Color. Retrieved February 19, 2014, from livescience:

unknown. (n.d.). Understanding Color. Retrieved from RGB World:

Apryl–Born and raised in Tennessee, Apryl is a southern girl at heart.  She lives out in the country aprylwith her husband and her three daughters. After having an unfulfilling public school education herself, and struggling to find peace with the education her girls were receiving in the public school system, she made the choice to homeschool.  When they began their homeschool journey, the girls were in the third and sixth grades.  Now she is happily coaching three teenaged daughters through their high school years.