Home » All Grades, Teacher Concerns » Tempera = Mess. Or Does It?

Tempera = Mess. Or Does It?


Sometimes I feel like my life as a teacher has been 15 years of searching for ways to not make such a huge mess.

Art is messy, but after hours at the sink, chapped hands and paint everywhere I dream of ways to streamline. I won’t tell you I have it all figured out, but with tempera I do have a system that works pretty. I thought I’d take the next few posts to share my strategy.

To begin with – here’s the “lay of the land”:

Sinks are closed. “What??” You say… “No sinks during tempera????”  I find that kids take SO MUCH time washing hands, brushes, standing in line, dribbling wet sponges all over, flicking water, you’ve seen it.  Everything can be accomplished without the sinks. How? Hang with me.


Pre-moistened (by me) sponges. Rags for drying. Kids can use these anytime for spot cleaning and hand wiping. When full of paint, I rinse and wring them myself so I know they aren’t drippy.

Wash buckets: One per table half filled with water and a glug of fabric softener. Half filled so they don’t slop, fabric softener because it makes the bristles nice. (No kidding! Try it!) Used only at the end of the class. (Bossy old hide, aren’t I?  I’ll show you why.)

 Big cup or soup can (24 oz size) with four paintbrushes, some pencils and a rock on each table:  Rock goes in the yogurt cup to keep it from tipping.  Pencils for names.  Sometimes it’s nice to have more brush sizes, but I always start with one and work up from there.

Newsprint “Placemats” that stay at the table and are re-used by each class forever.  Or as long as I can.

Paint table: This is my exclusive domain. Paint lives on this table to be dispensed by Yours Truly. (I hide the colors that are not in play so kids don’t beg.) Palettes come and go from here according to what grade level is working. Everything in quarts except white – I buy that in gallons, but refill it into quart size squeezers.


Drying system: I couldn’t live without this baby. Actually, I have lived without it – you can get creative with clothes lines, strips of floor around the perimeter of the room etc. But the rack is a Godsend.

Storage totes: These came with a cubby system we bought and they seal pretty tightly when stacked. If I didn’t have those I’d get some flat Rubbermaid boxes.  Or open tubs with Press-n-Seal.

The “Job Wheel”:  Letters correspond to letters drawn on tables with permanent marker. I re-write the letters every couple of weeks as they wear off, but it’s better than tape, and our super-strict fire marshal won’t let me hang anything from the ceiling.

Okay – that was a lot of setup! It’s worth it, though. Now for the action:


Skill #1. Paint until the brush is “thirsty:  This is the key!  This is the skill that will make your tempera unit a pleasure to teach. Show kids how to lay down a color and spread until the brush scumbles. I teach kids that the brush is now thirsty.  Now you can dip into another color without contaminating it. The colors will blend from what’s left in the brush, but that’s fine, because blending is the skill we’re working on. Kids practice changing color only when the brush is thirsty and blending wet into wet. I have everybody work on blending for a week or so.  You’ll be amazed at how clean the colors stay once kids get it.  (Except Kindergarten. They’ll get their own post. Stay tuned.) Only when kids have mastered this color change do I introduce brush washing between colors for the older kids.  The blending all happens on the paper, and not in the palette or paint cup.  It’s great!

Now for cleanup!

Skill #2. Cleanup according to the Job Wheel:

Paper Chief puts art in drying rack and stacks the placemats.

Tool Master washes all brushes in the bucket at the table and returns them to the cup “hairdos up!” I can’t remember what blogger I learned “Sweep in the deep, swish like a fish.. wipe, wipe, squeeeeze.” from, but that’s how I teach cleaning. “Sweep in the deep” means to rub the bristles on the bumpy bottom of the bucket.

 Space Captain uses the pre-moistened sponges to wipe anything that needs wiped. I have them only “spot clean” because sometimes the sponges are dirtier than the actual tables and they make things worse. It’s also hard to keep the placemats dry if too much enthusiastic wiping is going on.

Social Directer puts palettes in the tubs and does any errands I put them up to. (Generally I say the Social Directer is in charge of helping others and keeping positive energy flowing, but sometimes they have a job too.

That seems like a lot (and it is the first time you introduce it.) but I think it’s worth it.  My kids LOVE tempera, and now I look forward to getting it out.  Later I’ll show you how I differentiate for the various grade levels and how I build up the skills over the years.

Go forth and paint!












One Response to Tempera = Mess. Or Does It?

  1. You are able to search out language partners via web pages like Preply .
    I even have a number of tutors via preply
    Bless you

Leave a Reply to tutor marketplace Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.