3 Phase Artistic Process

Learn about scaffolding arts lessons to build the skills and mindset artists use to develop expression independently.
Group of students seated at desks working on drawn settings with colored pencils. This is an example of the Independant Artistic phase of the 3-phase artistic process for scaffolding arts lessons.

Why this 3-Phase Process?

This process was developed to help educators and kids create an artmaking practice within the school context. Phases 1 and 2 guide kids into the work process by offering inspiration and resources for phase 3, where they develop their ideas.

  • https://www.youtube.com/embed/4BAYLNgWG50
    Example: Explore & Describe Drawing with Pencil

    In this example lesson, a 3-phase artistic process is used to imbue a tool used every day in schools for mundane tasks with a sense of possibility, and to set students up to drive their own creative process.

    Phase 1: meet your magic pencil (warm up)

    Phase 2: Explore & Describe what a pencil can do

    Phase 3: Independent Artistic Work

    Learn more about Explore & Describe Drawing with Pencil


Phase 1: Warmup to inspire, engage and transition

The purpose of the warmup is to activate the imagination, senses and body, and make a transition into the artist’s work process.

  • A classroom teacher and her students standing at the rug and pretending to put on a backpack for their 5 senses journey.
    Create or Adapt warmup…

    How do we create or adapt a warmup that helps an artist begin their process?  A good warmup:

  • Brings a new energy into the room

    - Peaceful, playful, magical, whimsical, surprising
    - Activates the imagination
    - Builds community
  • Physical, multisensory

    - Engages the body and senses
    - Bodies valued as a source of information and expression
  • Shifts student-teacher roles

    - Lets students know that they will be the artists driving their own process
  • Easy, fun, no pressure

    - Large group;
    - No pressure to perform
    - Any way you participate is welcome
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    Warmups introducing content

    Some warmups introduce content that artists will explore later in the lesson.
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    Warmup rituals

    Some warmups support a transition to a new energy and focus, and are repeated in a similar way from class to class.
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    Play How You Feel

    Some warmups check in with your students while introducing them to the expression skills of your medium.

Phase 2: Explore and Describe artistic tools

The purpose of Explore and Describe is to introduce artistic tools so that children can begin to discover the kinds of choices that can be made with them. Children enter into the experimental mode that artists need in order to create.

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    Scaffolds learning needed for independent artistic work

    How do Explore and Describe lessons scaffold artistic process learning along with technical skills? How do they prepare artists to create expression independently in phase 3?

  • Engages kids as artists, not novices

    New technical skills are introduced in an interactive way to engage children as artists with ideas, rather than as novices of something hard.
  • Introduces new thinking skills

    Introduces thinking skills of the artist who finds their own connection to materials, using them to express something, not follow a procedure.
  • Tools are full of possibility

    Tools are introduced as full of possibility, offering surprises, rather than training in “ the right way” to use them.
  • Tools give ideas

    Medium and tools give ideas when you look at them, touch them, hear them.
  • Practice experimentation

    Explore and Describe allows children to practice the experimentation, playfulness and discovery needed to develop ideas.
  • Learn from other artists

    Students share different ideas and explore tools in many different ways, offering an ever widening palette of ideas and techniques.

Phase 3: Independent Artistic Work

Building on their explorations with artistic tools, children have the freedom to discover their own path to creating something. The classroom becomes an art studio, full of many different ideas and ways of working.

  • https://www.youtube.com/embed/KGFjuqE2ypw
    What are children doing?

    What are the different artistic work processes going on during Independent Artistic work? Review an Artist’s Work Process and use these boxes for a summary.

    An Artist’s Work Process
  • Experiencing the artistic work process

    Time to…
    - Find a starting place
    - Experiment and play
    - Try and fail
    - Solve problems
    - Get lost, frustrated, and find their way
  • Trying out tools and experimenting

    Time to…
    - Practice techniques they want
    - Try out what other kids did
    - Invent new techniques
  • Reflecting and considering

    Time to…
    - Ask themselves questions
    - Converse about the experience of creating
    - Share ideas, collaborate
    - Notice and listen
  • Discovering how they work

    Time to…
    - Create an expression that is authentic and deeply rooted
    - Find ways of working that feel good to them

Observe and learn

Take time while students are working to observe how they get started and develop their ideas. When you allow students to work freely and follow their own artistic process, they bring new strengths and sides of themselves into the classroom.


Notice, Describe & Ask

Support each phase and aspect of the Artist’s Work Process in your classroom by noticing & describing children and asking them to speak about their choices and process.

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    Make children aware of their artistic process

    Help artists become aware that they have a process, by closely observing and describing their artistic choices.
    Notice, Describe & Ask
  • Kindergartner admires the puppet head she made with a sad face and big eyelashes.

    Help them work with emotions

    Help students through the emotional highs and lows that arise in artistic work. Accept all emotions revealed in their process and content.
    Working with Emotions
  • Closeup of student sitting at his desk looking at a black piece of torn paper with his glue stick nearby.
    Grow students’ reflection skills

    Reflection moments happen throughout the artistic process, interspersed with choice making. Artists step out of the more internal choice making experience, to see how their work looks from a more outside perspective. To help students build reflection skills:

    • Describe artistic choices in detail
    • Model the questions artists ask themselves

Facilitate Process

Get to know these big ideas that explain the artistic process, so you can help your students shift into the thinking needed for developing expression.

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    Reveal the process to them

    Kids know the process. Your role is to bring their attention to it: “pull it apart and slow it down.”
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    Let students lead

    Make space for ideas that diverge from your plan.
  • Artistic choices are like stepping stones…

    Expression is an evolving process. Artistic choices might disappear or be visible in the final work. An artist doesn’t know until the work is done.
  • Since all choices grow and change as you work:

    - You can start anywhere, and see where it leads
    - Welcome surprises and “mistakes”
    - Trust artists will find their way
  • Risk big mistakes! Art is experimental

    Artistic process pushes us to discover things we haven’t seen before. Value surprises
  • Stay in process

    Prioritize their process over what you have planned. Build on what students are taking from your assignment.
  • Welcome outliers

    When children begin working in a way that seems “off task”, don’t redirect them, but stay curious and open: see how they make their own path.
  • Rebellious choice making

    Structure informs everyone’s work process. Some artists need to subvert structure, or push against parameters to get inspired.
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    “Mistakes” as Information

    In the artistic process, you discover your idea by making artistic choices.  Artists learn to rethink the “mistake” word, because all artistic choices provide information to the artist about what their idea is, including when the information: this is not what I want.

  • A child showing the long fingers that he has added to his collaged puppet body.
    Working with “Mistakes”

    Artistic ideas often come from sounds, marks, phrases we did not intend to make. Creativity requires surprises, and some “mistakes” help develop our work. Others show us what we don’t want, and need creative or patient responses.  Find out what kind of “mistake” a student feels they have made to offer an artistic process strategy: Scroll for Strategies

  • A child showing the long fingers that he has added to his collaged puppet body.
    Technical Challenges

    When an artist’s vision is challenged by their technical ability they can decide to:

    •  practice the skill a few more times
    • use their ingenuity/imagination to find a different way to express that content
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    When what the artist makes doesn’t look, feel or sound like what they had in mind…
    • Don’t decide if the piece is good or bad, it’s different.
    • Can you work with it anyway? It might give you new ideas you didn’t think of.
    • Unsure, or frustrated? Work on something else and come back to it. You may like it once you let go of the old thought.
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    “Feels wrong!” Loss of vision from a few wrong choices

    Artists use rooster’s frustration protocol to notice and describe the choices they like, and the ones they don’t like, so they can change the ones they don’t like