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I taught this unit during the spring of 2016 at Lucille M. Brown Middle School, my secondary student teaching placement. This unit was taught over the course of 100 minute art classes every other day for six weeks. The students were International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program students; and homework, sketchbook pages, and consecutive studio days were part of the classroom culture.

Unit Overview

Artists use the structure and format of books, as three-dimensional art objects, to communicate an idea and invite specific interaction from the audience. Artists’ books play with the traditional trajectory through a book. In this unit, students study the development of artist books as art objects and explore the many structures artist books can take. Students analyze how audiences interact with books as objects and complete sketchbook pages visualizing their thinking. Students create black-out poetry, which then inspires their own artist books.


Throughout this unit, students take a critical look at the everyday objects around them. Students analyze interactions with art objects and manage discussion about conflicting interpretations of intent. Students practice adapting to unexpected circumstances and letting a personal artwork unfold as it is worked on. Students are reminded of the importance of maintaining a visual journal and reflecting upon their work throughout the process.

Big Idea


Key Concepts

  • Change

  • Everyday Art Objects

  • Audience

Essential Questions

  • How do artists transform materials and objects in unexpected ways?

  • Why do artists consider audience interaction when creating a piece?

  • Does form inform content or vice versa?

Target Student Group

Sixth grade class; IB students; urban; school (Lucille M. Brown Middle School)

Specific Unit Objectives

Lesson 1 - Just a Book?

Objective - Students work collaboratively to define ‘books.’ Through an art history presentation and table groups, students compare and contrast ‘books’ and ‘artist books’ and review the origins and development of artist books. Students will complete a sketchbook page for homework visualizing major movements in artist book history.

Lesson 2 - Challenge of Change

Objective - Students discuss their current study in Life Sciences about life cycles and the changes that occur during those. They will make connections between their science studies and artist books that depict cycles and changes. Students then create black-out poetry from non-fiction texts. Through the completion of a sketchbook page, students use that poem to inspire and plan out an at least six-page-long artist book.

Lesson 3 - Form/Function

Objective - Students interact with a handful of different artist book structures including pamphlets, accordion books, and carousel books. As a group, students will analyze different ways the artist manipulates and anticipates the audience’s interaction with the books and what the structure of the book contributes to the content on the pages. Students think critically about the content of their artist book and write a proposal describing what structure they will be making their book with and how that interacts with the content.

Lesson 4 - Book Craftsmanship

Objective - Students learn the tools and vocabulary associated with book making and practice safe handling of book-making materials. Students sit in groups based on their chosen structure to assist each other with the book making process. Students conduct independent studio practice building their blank books.

Lesson 5 - Print It

Objective - Students will be challenged to create collagraph texture plates to add to their blank book pages. Students experiment with additions, subtractions, mark making, and materials before building their printing plates. These printing plates can be detailed and precise or more fluid and abstract.

Lesson 6 - Putting It All Together

Objective - In this multi-day lesson, students will finish up their artist books. Students share their artist books with their table and conduct an in-progress critique before working further on the pages. Students will use drawing supplies to add imagery on top of their prints, incorporate the text of their black-out poems into their books, and create a cover.

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National Art Standards

Anchor Standard 2. Organize and develop artistic ideas and work.

Anchor Standard 3. Refine and complete artistic work.

Anchor Standard 4: Select, analyze, and interpret artistic work for presentation.

Anchor Standard 7: Perceive and analyze artistic work.

Anchor Standard 11: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural, and historical context to deepen understanding.

Virginia Visual Art SOLs

6.1 The student will use, and record in a sketchbook/journal, steps of the art-making process, including brainstorming, preliminary sketching, planning, reflecting, refining, and elaborating, to create works of art.

6.2 The student will exercise increasing skill and control in the use of media and techniques.

6.8 The student will use modeling, assembling, or carving to create three-dimensional works of art.

6.13 The student will explain the relationship between art-making processes and finished products.

6.14 The student will use critical inquiry skills when describing, responding to, interpreting, and evaluating works of art. 

6.15 The student will describe ideas and emotions expressed in works of art.

6.19 The student will explain the means by which works of art evoke personal sensory, emotional, and aesthetic responses.

Virginia Core Subject SOLs

English 6.9 The student will find, evaluate, and select appropriate resources for a research product.

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