Cheralynn Johnston – Artist and Educator

imageI’ve been teaching high school art since 2000.  I took a couple of years off and went to SCAD and earned an MFA in Painting.  I really thought I was going back to the classroom “for a year” to figure out life and finances after grad-school.  This Fall I will be starting my 7th year at Salinas High School and 17th year teaching.  Needless to say I truly love my job.

A few years ago Salinas High School District offered 1:1 chromebooks for our students.  At first I really didn’t know how this technology would be an asset to the art room, but I was eager to figure it out.  It’s put the spark back into creating lessons and totally changed the way I teach.

I am pleased to share with you what is working for me and my students.  If you have any questions please feel free to ask.  I love knowing I am not only teaching my students, but being able to share and collaborate with teachers around the world.


Watercolor Playing Cards

One of my teaching joys is overhearing students talk about or explaining to each other what we are learning in class.  During this project I heard students talking about watercolor techniques and color schemes left and right.  They love this project and it shows!  By far this is one of my all time favorite projects because they are confident in the techniques they have learned and proud of the composition they have created.

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Link to web-based slide show.

Link to editable slideshow.  

Watercolor Techniques and Miniature Accordion Books

It has taken me YEARS to figure out how to introduce watercolor thoroughly without creating total burnout.  For each set of techniques students create an accordion fold book showcasing what they learned.  The subject is totally up to them and the end result is extremely fun and beautiful work.

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Link to web-based slide show techniques #1

Link to editable slide show techniques #1

Link to planning sheet

Checklist techniques #1

Wet into Wet on damp paper, paper dam, salt, and bruising are the first set of watercolor techniques I introduce to my students.  Once they have mastered the techniques they create a miniature accordion fold book using a split complementary color scheme.  They also use a planning sheet to sketch and plan their composition.

When I grade this project I use a simple checklist rubric.  I personally talk to each student and use the checklist as we discuss their project.  I use this opportunity to give one-on-one demonstrations if needed.  I also give students a chance to make up a missed technique on the following book.

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Link to web-based slide show techniques #2

Link to editable slide show techniques #2

Checklist techniques #2

Gradient, glazing, plastic wrap, wet-into-wet on dry paper, and flat wash are the second set of watercolor techniques I introduce.  They have the choice of using one of the complimentary sets for their color scheme.

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Link to web-based slide show techniques #3

Link to editable slide show techniques #3

Checklist techniques #3

During the third set of watercolor techniques I introduce control bleed, masking, rubbing alcohol, hard edge bleed, and iridescent medium.  For this book they have the choice of using an analogous, triad, or monochromatic color scheme.  The end product for the third book is phenomenal because they have confidence in the medium and totally get the planning process.

Introduction to Color

This one might be little over kill, but they learn a lot about color!  I also think this is a great way to introduce watercolor.  In this unit they make a color wheel, create color swatch vocabulary cards, play Kahoot, apply terms to art reproductions, and learn some of the science behind color.  The daily repetition of the terms helps most of them prepare for the color quiz.  This is the only quiz I give during the year and I have to say a ton of work.  Most of my students do great and I am blown away by those who don’t.  I can’t say I don’t try my hardest though!

Link to Web-based slide show on color

Link to Editable slide show on color


Impressionism is a favorite style for most beginning artist and a fun little painting to teach.  These landscapes were 8 x 10″ and didn’t take longer than a a week and a half.  I had full intentions to film the demonstration process, but I was having so much fun painting I didn’t film… maybe next year!

After they finished their landscapes I gave them a 16 x 20″ canvas.  The only criteria was to try and paint the painting in an impressionistic style.  I like this project because it’s a great way to introduce the artistic process of: inspiration, research, planning, execution, and criticism.


Link to web-based slideshow

Link to editable slideshow


Pen & Ink, and a successful critique!

The days seemed to fly by in December!  My time frame to add another project was narrowing, but we did it!  I was impressed with the group for being able to literally accomplish this project in a little less than 2 weeks.  Introducing this medium with this slide show was great!  Using artists off of Youtube to show how to accomplish the different techniques was engaging and successful.  My students grasped each of the techniques and were able to apply them to their projects.

I have been playing around with critique tokens to guide the end of the project critique.  This time I made tokens with sentence frames to hold students accountable to the projects they were assigning the tokens to.  I felt the critique was more thoughtful and meaningful.  I am hoping by the end of the year they will be able to write their own tokens….. fingers crossed!

Link to web-based slide show

Link to an editable slide show

Link to critique tokens

One Point Perspective Boxes


The first time I taught this was the year I student taught.  I was using a chalk board with a gigantic 90′ triangle.  It was a total disaster.  The day resulted in a completely deflated first year teacher and a room of equally confused students.  I am sure the only trauma caused was my own because I remember the day like it was yesterday.  Thankfully this lesson has gotten to be a lot easier to present and has evolved over the years.  If you are using 1:1 devices this lesson is going to be a breeze!  Students will teach themselves and you will have the freedom to float around to assist those in need.  For the years before 1:1 devices entered my room I went through the slide show step by step on the overhead projector, this was good too!

At the beginning of this slide show I show 3 different ways to go about completing this lesson.  Everyone does things a little different and by offering a few ways to accomplish this task it gives students a choice to use what is comfortable for them.

One of the things I really like about the online community is being able to collaborate with teachers in cyberspace.  Are you following “The Helpful Art Teacher“?   Rachel Wintemberg is from the East Coast and teaches at Perth Amboy High School in New Jersey.  She is one of my favorite teachers to follow because she is friendly and has a wealth of information.  You will find her amazing how to video on slide #4.  I love that she is teaching in my room right along side of me!

I have a ton if ideas for this lesson next year.  I want to include Prisma Color pencil techniques and talk about shading with a light source.  The lesson evolves and teaching has definitely gotten easier and less deflating!


Link to Web-Published Hyper-Doc: 1 Point Perspective Boxes

Link to Google-Slide Presentation (you can edit and make it yours): 1 Point Perspective Boxes

Link to the criteria handout in English and Spanish


Charcoal Flowers – Padlet – Flip Grid – Critique Tokens

Am I nuts or what???  I went to Oaxaca for Dia De Los Muertos and had a sub deliver a charcoal project!  My room needs a serious scrub down, but their work looks fabulous.  I meticulously planned this lesson so my students would be busy and productive while I was gone.  For the most part the plan worked, but of course I do have several students who might as well have been on vacation with me.

The first step is to draw two contour line drawings of fresh cut flowers.  The room looks so cheery and fun with flowers placed on all of their desks.  I just love it!  I also like that their time is limited due to wilting and manhandling.

Next, they learn about Georgia O’Keeffe.  I used Padlet and FlipGrid to collect their responses.  For this assignment I ask them to post an art image and a fact about O’Keeffe using Padelt.  Padlet is like an online bulletin board that is great because the learning is student driven.  I review and pull important facts from the bulletin boards as I give my spiel on O’Keeffe’s life.  I ask them to respond to a couple questions about an O’Keeffe quote using FlipGrid.  FlipGrid is a video recording program that I like because everyone (well, everyone who actually does it) participates in feed back.  What I don’t like about FlipGrid is our students are camera shy… go figure, right!?!?!  I tell them it’s an important platform due to our world becoming cyberspace based for job interviews and business meetings.  I give them a day to reply because some students feel more comfortable responding from home.  When we talk about their responses as a class the overall discussion is more lively because they have had time to think about what they are going to say.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s composition techniques are used to introduce the criteria for the next part of the assignment.  They design a composition by cropping their favorite flower sketch and start the charcoal process.  I have created a video that documents this process and have incorporated it into the slide show.  I feel this project works because I have scaffolded it to be delivered after the “Introduction to Charcoal” and abstract project. Once they have completed their flower masterpiece they add a page to their digital portfolio documenting their work.  Finally, we have a class critique using critique tokens.

I’ve been using critique tokens during our gallery walks to facilitate a group critique. The first exercise of the year is a little rough, but as we advance in projects there is a noticeable improvement.  I give them a sheet of paper with 9 squares. Each square says something different. Some examples for the comments I gave for this particular assignment are “this project has the best craftsmanship out of the room” or “this project has a nice range of values.”  As a class we talk about why each remark might be assigned to a project.  I ask them to cut their tokens out and put their names on the back of each.  We then do our first gallery walk where they can not put their tokens down.  On our second walk through they place their tokens next to the project they feel deserves the critique comment.  Once everyone has returned to their seats and have looked through their tokens I ask who has received “xyz” token.  Hands go up, and I try to pick a project that I agree deserves that token.  Once the assigning students name is revealed he or she is asked to explain why they made their comment.  Sometimes I have to coach them on expanding past “I just like it” by asking leading questions.  In time, as we do more critiques I will limit the amount of verbiage on the tokens, have them fill in the blank or write their own comment.  It might feel like pulling teeth at first, but it’s a great tool to facilitate a meaningful class discussion.

Link to web-published version of the slide show: Web-published Charcoal Flowers

Link to editable Google Slide show: Google Slide Show Charcoal Flowers

Link to critique tokens: Charcoal critique tokens