Digital Art for Students: No Photoshop Required


Tux Paint

There are few students I have met that don’t enjoy art to some degree whether it’s full-on finger painting or just doodling in a notebook. The only question is what form that ‘art’ takes. It might be photography and selfies, sculpting clay, graffiti, or cutting up pictures in magazines. Most students also enjoy the concept of ‘photoshopping’ (sticking their head on Superman’s body) even if the process is beyond them.

In the ‘old days’ digital art meant simplistic efforts with Microsoft Paint or TuxPaint if you had it. With students district art often has to take on alternative forms due to physical or cognitive challenges. That doesn’t mean they can’t create quality art to display or discuss, in their way, the meaning behind it. It simply means it might involve lights and a surrogate.

Here though are a number of art resources that are simple enough to be used easily even by students with moderate physical challenges. They come in the form of computer apps, mobile apps, and software which should provide options for everyone. This is by no means an endorsement to ditch your box of crayons and markers, but rather an additional resource to supplement your students’ learning.

Online Resources

drawn-rainforest-collage-ks2-11.jpgThe National Gallery of Art maintains a collection of 15 web-based art tools that students can use to design and learn about various art, math, and language concepts. The applications can also be downloaded for Mac computers. Many of the NGA’s resources are also available for the iPad. Some of my favorite resources from NGA Kids Art Zone include:

  • Sea-Saws – Create abstracts by arranging man-made objects (like in Wonder Pets).
  • Faces & Places – Make animated portraits and landscapes.
  • Collage Machine – Create a digital collage using photos, words, colors, and shapes.
  • Wallovers – Form symmetrical decorations (like a kaleidoscope).
  • Pixelface – Which kid doesn’t enjoy smearing and messing up people’s images/faces?
  • Photopea – This is more of a photo editor that doubles as a sketch space.
  • Google Drawings & Jamboard – The Docs apps no one knows about. While they areon the basic end for the tools they provide, like all of Google they are collaborative, easy to use, and built to work with everything else they make.

Amina’s World will also give student’s a guided experience in art-making where they can start with a pre-made background and gradually add fabric, paper, shells, and more. If you are looking for a more open artistic experience there are Canvastic, Crayola Digital, Nick Jr.’s Free Draw, and ABCYa Paint. My favorite online open paint program is Bomomo which is simple but has algorithms that help create beautiful images. For simple digital coloring pages, there is also Scrap Coloring.

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.

-Pablo Picasso

Early Artist Apps

There are a number of great apps for beginning artists. Here are a few of my favorites.

  • animation-ish_for_mac-265177-1248486616.jpegAnimation-ish – FableVision Learning makes a number of great art apps, but this is easy-to-use animation app is scaffolded to help any student bring their art to life in varying levels of complexity. They also offer ways for students to publish their work.
  • Nick Jr. Draw and Play – The sheer amount of artistic tools this app has should make it somewhat complex, but it is so much fun and easy that I’ve been successful using it with students who have severe cognitive and physical delays. Kids get creative with their favorite Nick characters so it might not be suited for older students. They can create with standard brushes, crayons, and pencils. Then they move quickly to more exciting tools like splatter-tops, fireworks, and bouncing balls. Students can use pre-made backgrounds, coloring pages, and stickers. What I love most is the ability to import images from the camera, so students can paint on top of their photos of themselves. Find it on iTunes or on Android
  • Crayola Studio – There are a number of simple coloring apps for iPads, but this is one of the better ones.
  • Cause and Effect Sensory Light Box – This offers a full sensory animation experience where students paint with light.
  • Sketch Club – This is a really fun way to get students ready for more advanced digital art apps, but social art sharing and the way some of the art tools make drawing easy give this app appeal across the board.
  • Let’s Create Pottery – This virtual pottery allows you to sculpt your work, add features, fire it in the kiln, glaze, and paint it. By creating more complex and popular pottery you earn coins you can put towards purchasing various styles of art and design pieces to enhance your work. It is incredibly engaging for all levels. You can even get your pots 3D Printed.

Advanced Artistry

Yes, Adobe Creative Suite remains the standard of artists and creators, but the price, especially since they went to a subscription model, is beyond the reach of most teachers. So for a simple alternative, there is Adobe Sketch or Adobe Illustrator Draw. Some other great apps include ArtRage which feels as though you’re using real paint. Zen Brush 2 is a way to get zen while exploring Japanese calligraphy art. Inspire Pro feels like a high-end editing and drawing software while being incredibly fast and fluid. My go to for a while though has been Pixelmator which allows you to switch between the computer and the tablet. It feels like a more fluid and streamlined version of Photoshop. I used it to create the logos for my school and for #NYCSchoolsTech. Whatever you use, it is important that regardless of a student’s abilities you are able to give them a creative outlet. And Artsonia, while not an art creation tool, is a wonderful place to house student art 

4 thoughts on “Digital Art for Students: No Photoshop Required

Leave a Reply