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.


Positive Behavior Intervention Systems – 2018-19 PBIS Lessons

I am part of the school PBIS team.  Have you heard of it?  It’s a system a lot of school districts across the Nation are using.  It is a 3 tier system for identifying and correcting student behaviors.  We have had some hiccups and teacher buy-in is not 100%.  I feel overall student behavior on our campus is on an upswing.  I also think the PBIS system could be a long term fix for some of the mental health issues our country is facing.  If the system is worked right I think we are identifying people who need support early and offering them tools to live healthy lives.

At the bottom-tier, all students are engaged in school-wide lessons and a positive rewards system.  Lessons at this tier are for situations like walking down the correct side of a hall, how to approach a teacher about a grade, or the dangers of vaping.

At the second-tier, a site trained specialist steps in and counsels the students who need more individualized support.  One of the interventions that can take place is a check-in/check-out system.  Students meet with an adult at the beginning of the day who reminds them how to deal with the negative behaviors the student has a pattern of engaging in.  Each teacher signs off on the student’s behavior at the end of the period.  At the end of the day, the student checks-out with the same adult they saw at the beginning of the day for a pep talk depending on the logged responses.

Third-tier interventions are conducted by highly trained professionals for students who will probably struggle for the rest of their lives for one reason or another.  Oppositional defiant students usually fall into this tier.  The team of specialists develops a plan to help support this student and their teachers.

Link to: Student Handbook Lesson

Link to: Positive Tardy Sweep

Link to: Style (dress code)

Link to: Catch My Breath (vaping)

Link to: A-G Requirements 

Link to: Apathy

Link to: Cell Phone Addiction

Link to: Digital Citizenship

Link to: Common Courtesies Part 1

Link to: Common Courtesies Part 2

Link to: Mindfulness

Link to: Test-Taking Strategies

Link to: Earth Day

Link to: Bullying




This is the project that students (or their moms) stop me years later to let me know that they still have it hanging in their home.  When we start this project they have a solid foundation of skills and their confidence is high.  Confidence is definitely needed for a not so forgiving medium.

The main aspect I stress throughout this project is practice!  I have 2 x 2″ pieces available throughout the entire project and stress practicing before moving onto the real deal.  I never scratch on a student’s project, but I will play on a piece of practice paper to help problem-solve for a technique that matches what they are trying to emulate.

I have found my favorite scratching tool is an Exacto blade.  I like how sharp it is, but dislike how dangerous it can be.  I tell them a couple embellished gruesome horror Exacto blade stories and that usually keeps them on their toes.  I also have scratching tools available and some like them better.

I use peer critiques a lot throughout the year, but I really like using them during this project.  Sometimes I think they are a little more brutal than I am, plus I can’t catch every improvement suggestion like they can.

Link to web based lesson

Link to editable slideshow

Acrylic Self Portraits and Fair Use Laws

This project is a great way to introduce some basics about acrylic paint and hook them for future painting projects.  My main goal is to practice tints, shades, and color mixing.  It’s a great way to get them hooked and eager to create on their own.  I also link this project to Shepard Fairey as a way to talk about contemporary street art and fair use laws.  They love his graphic style and become passionate about the discussion.

Who would have thought teens would have such a hard time producing a favorite selfie!?!?!  It has to be one of my most frustrating moments in this project, but it’s worth it.  We use Pixlr Chromebook app to create the posterized effect.  Then they enlarge the image on a Google Doc and submit.  I use PDF Mergy to merge all of the documents together and print them in a batch per class.


The paint I supplied them with was a warm and cool: red, blue, and yellow.  Along with, white and black to create values.  I tried FIFO squeeze bottles this year and can’t say enough about how great they are!  Paper plates and plastic wrap are available for pallets.  I stress recycling and ideally no paint should ever go down the sink…. ideally.  I give them their own brushes to keep.  For the most part, they take better care of them if it’s their own brush vs. a class set. 

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Developing successful color schemes is a challenge!  Mixing light values is also difficult, especially due to colors drying darker.  I have a gigantic paint-chip book from Sherwin-Williams.  It’s great to compare values and play with color choices. The rest of the project is pretty straight forward.  It literally becomes a paint by number and takes the stress out of painting a portrait for the first time.

Web-based Slideshow

Editable Slideshow

Color Scheme Planning Sheet

Shepard Fairey Digital Notes


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 in 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 complementary 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 a little overkill, 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 artists and a fun little painting to teach.  These landscapes were 8 x 10″ and didn’t take longer than 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