This page is currently being constructed, one little bit at a time as I find great tips and ideas. The most recent comes from Rachel Hessing Wintemberg (The Helpful Art Teacher) ... she describes her paint center and clean-up procedures here:     

Here is an idea from Mary Vyktor Aarya Hansen on the Art Teacher's Facebook Group  - she found these plastic lidded boxes from a .99 cent store in her area: 

Below are some photos from my middle school classroom. To store the paint overnight, I leave the trays stacked so the paint doesn't dry out. I use plastic trash bags to cover the stacks over the weekend, after spritzing all the paints with a little bit of water. 

This is how I set up in the morning: 

(I have left the popsicle sticks in overnight with no damage to them, I just spread plastic over the trays without stacking them up. It can be more work than it's worth to rinse off the popsicle sticks every afternoon!)

Here is my classroom right before the first students come in. They have to leave it EXACTLY like this for the next class, and so it goes all day long. They stack the newspaper up neatly in the center of the table, fill rinse buckets with fresh water, etc. so that it is ready to go for the next class. Student helpers will get all the trays out first thing in the morning; I don't always do all this work! 

If you are interested in a more environmentally friendly solution for storing paint, lidded ice cube trays are now available - I will be on the lookout for them in stores but for now I think you can only buy them online: instead of throwing away the little plastic cups (or egg cartons) at the end of the painting unit, these could be cleaned out and re-used:

Charlene Lear says, "I use egg cartons for my tempera paint as I'm sure many of you do, but I was getting frustrated with it still drying out especially over the weekend. I lightly spray inside each carton before I place them inside a garbage bag where I spray again a light mist inside the bag. Twist the trash bags and it's good to go."
photo credit: Charlene Lear

Idea from Lauren Spearman Barron: using plastic egg containers (with lids!) for paint palettes...Keep an eye out for similar egg containers at dollar stores around Easter time - also, save your plastic cupcake and muffin containers from the grocery store! 

photo by Laura Spearman Barron
photo by Laura Spearman Barron

photo credit:

  • Cut up a "foot scrubber" bath mat, place pieces at the bottom of the water jar and use at the sink, too. The brushes will get super clean! 

  • To help with cleaning brushes, you can use a glue gun to create ribbons or dots of texture at the bottom of the water cup. This helps loosen paint in the brushes if students gently "paint" the bottom of the cup of water. 


  • Use old magazines, catalogs, or telephone books for disposable paint palettes - add a few dollups of paint, the kids mix their colors, then throw away at the end of class!
  • Use paper plates as disposable palettes, keep paint fresh inside a ziplock bag for the next day. You can "clam-shell" the plates to keep the paint fresh as well. 
  • Glad "Press n Seal" plastic wrap works extremely well to cover plastic palettes to preserve paint. 
  • Use ice cube trays for liquid watercolors, cover with plastic or aluminum foil overnight.
  • Plastic condiment cups (or clean apple sauce or Greek yogurt containers) work well on a tray or inside a muffin tin. 
  • Another idea for non-disposable palettes is this one from Dick Blick: It is a large plastic container with a wet sponge lining the bottom and palette papers that wick the moisture up to the paint.... you could design your own with lidded plastic containers (Rubbermaid or Tupperware sandwich containers), wet paper towels, and wax paper!
    photo credit:



  • Describe in detail everything the kids need to do, and show them the right way as well as the WRONG way to do it. A lot of students have never been taught how to clean up and they need the invisible made visible. 
  • For middle/high school: after teaching expectations, have the students write down all the steps. They sign it, like a contract, stating that they will take care of the supplies. 
  • Assign individual students jobs; one student can collect brushes and rinse them out, another student can rinse water containers and re-fill for the next class, and a third student can pass out wipes or wet paper towels for cleaning tables. 
  • The fewer students at the sink, the better. 
  • For middle/high school: number palettes and brushes and assign each student their own painting kit. Parents can sign a contract detailing how much they will be charged if the student destroys the brushes they have been assigned. 
  • Make a clean-up chart.
  • Make a video about how you would like things done, like this fantastic one from Jean Freer Barnett: 

  • Take a photo of your supplies stored the way you want them and display it in a visible place - the kids have to return the supplies exactly like the picture. 
  • Display non-examples, such as ruined brushes and palettes. I have an old brush that has dried red paint on it - a student failed to clean it a few years back. I let each student touch that brush so they have a better picture of what can happen when you don't take care of materials. 
  • Newspaper is a time-saver at the end of class. If kids have their paintings on newspaper during class, it saves the table from a whole lot of mess. Just toss the stuff in the trash when done! 
  • Using disposable palettes is much easier than the kind you have to wash. If you want an environmentally friendly classroom, just use biodegradable (or recycled) paper plates or even pages of telephone books/magazines. 
  • Set a timer so that everyone knows when it is time. They do not start cleaning up before the timer goes off. 
  • Veteran art teacher and TAB guru Katherine Douglas said, "You might consider organizing it like I did for my 6 daily classes of grades 1-3. 1. ice cube trays or egg cartons cut in half--you pour basic paints before class, stack the paints on trays so that you have as many as 30 trays ready to go. If it is tempera these colors stay moist a long time. Stack the trays on the counter as far from the sink as possible. 2. Organize paint for refills into flex flo dispensers (in art catalogues) and put those gallons away. Put the dispensers on one tray also far from the sink on the counter. 3. Have a bucket with clean slightly soapy water for palettes. Put that near the sink 4. Have another bucket with water for dirty brushes. Put that on the other side of the sink. Label those buckets if necessary. 5. Have a collection of coffee cans for water. Mark a space for them to be placed upside down on newspaper after they are emptied. Near the sink. At clean up time they put their brushes in the proper bucket, the palettes in their bucket (get rid of those huge ones or save them for later) their paint trays back on the trays that hold them do not wash, but squirt more paint in as needed. empty cans and put them upside down on the newspaper. You will notice that NONE of this requires the faucet be turned on. Last one finished grabs the green scrubber and wipes down the stainless steel sink to a shine. My 6-8 year olds did this after it was demo'd and the steps were written on a menu. What do you think? Try to keep your supplies uniform. I see too many sorts of palettes, too many sorts of paint containers--it is likely confusing even to those who are not slackers. good luck!" (from the Art Teachers Facebook group)

  • Allow plenty of time to clean up, especially the first day or two of painting so the kids get accustomed to the procedure.
  • "When I say, 'Go!'" is a handy phrase! Otherwise, the kids will start getting up as soon as you give one direction. They need to be reminded to wait until you are finished giving directions before they start swarming all over the room to clean up. 
  • Only allow one or two groups at a time to be up out of their seats. 
  • Monitor, monitor, monitor! Don't sit at your desk while the kids are cleaning up - this is a recipe for disaster with any age group. 
  • Let the groups compete to see which table can clean up the fastest, or let them compete with another class.
  • Play music during clean-up.
  • If you don't have wet-wipes, have a spray bottle ready to spray down the tables - just put a tiny bit of soap inside. Then, the kids use paper towels to wipe the tables clean. 
  • If you are pressed for time, have the students put their dirty brushes or palettes into a soapy water container at the sink. Have a student volunteer clean them out. 
  • For middle or high school, have the kids pass the "Tissue Test." They have to wipe their clean brushes on a white tissue to prove they actually cleaned their brushes! I will stand in one spot while the kids are cleaning their areas, watching the activity (ahem, chaos!). I hold the tissue, and the student has to come to me to pass the tissue test. If color comes out, back the student goes to clean the brush again! They learn very quickly to do a good job the first time because I will not dismiss them until everything is cleaned up to my specifications.  
  • Watch the kids like a hawk! Try to stand in one place (preferably by the sink) while you remind, praise, correct, point out things on the floor, etc. 
  • Occasionally, provide surprise incentives for the kids who are going above and beyond the call of duty. 
  • Thank the students who do what is expected, tell them they did well. I like to tell my 6th graders to give themselves a "little pat on the back!"

  • Do not allow students to leave your classroom until everything is restored to order and you are satisfied. This is a huge motivator for middle and high school students to take responsibility and do a good job. Do not issue a pass to the next class.
  • Their "exit ticket" to the hallway is a tidy classroom! 
  • The first table/group to clean up well gets to leave first. 
  • If they make a mess of your classroom and fail to follow procedures, take a whole class period to re-teach and practice the procedures. They get to clean up the mess they made the previous day - save it for them if at all possible. 
  • For middle and high school, the students can be graded for materials management and clean-up. They can lose participation points if they let other people do all the work. 
  • If a group of students will not take responsibility for cleaning up properly after they have been trained in clean-up procedures and they have been re-taught (warned), assign a consequenceThey don't have to use the paint; if they can't take care of the painting supplies then they can use crayons or research about an artist! Also, they can copy the painting expectations/rules instead of painting. 
  • Stephanie Perample Butler says, "My students were
    photo credit: Stephanie Perample Butler
    trying to be sneaky by leaving dirty brushes in the sink, or sandwiching dirty palettes behind clean ones. After I check and count each tables' tools and supplies, I ask the next class to double check the previous periods' work at each table. If they pulled a fast one, the entire table from the previous class gets detention! The clean ups are far more thoughtful and purposeful because of this. It takes the ownership off of pleasing Mrs. Butler, and focuses it more on keeping the studio running well for everyone to use."


Printable Color Wheel - Mr. Printables

Paintbrush Care and Practical Tips For Easy Painting Clean-Up, Phyllis Levine Brown, There's A Dragon In My Artroom..Phyllis says to have kids draw a 1" border on their papers before painting. This gives them something clean to hold onto when carrying them to the drying rack, AND it keeps the tables clean because the kids aren't painting past the edges!

Help! My Students Are Wasting So Much Paint!

A Brilliant Way to Stop Wasting Paint, by Abby Schukei,

The Art Room, A Beautiful Mess, Amanda Heyn, The Art of Ed

7 Paint Routines You'll Never Regret Teaching, Alecia Eggers, The Art of Ed

Organization Crush, Mini Matisse

20 Great Storage Tips For Art Rooms , by Creatubbles

The Secret To Perfect Transitions in 5 Simple Steps, Michael Linsin

Art Room Sound Effects, by Cassie Stephens (for transitions, motivation, and attention getters)

Editor's note: Managing student behavior involves far more than discipline techniques. In order to create an environment for student success, the teacher needs to provide quality instruction as well as appropriate motivation. Most importantly, the teacher needs to have the right attitude for leadership in the classroom. Finally, having a solid classroom management plan with rules and procedures set up from the beginning of the year is also extremely important - students need to be very clear about what the teacher's expectations are.

disclaimer: These are a set of ideas about being proactive in teaching based on classroom experience as well as various education authors. Many times there are circumstances in the classroom that are beyond any teacher's control, especially when serving at-risk populations or in environments where those in administration fail to provide effective leadership in a school. Sometimes, regardless of the prevailing theories about teacher responsibility, the teacher is not to be blamed for out of control students. Finally, we do NOT recommend that you put any of these strategies into practice if your administration disagrees with them. 

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

1 comment:

Casey Gillespie said...

This is a great post, Anna! I have been trying to figure out the best way to manage supplies during painting. Thank you for posting. Can't wait for more updates!