Art Project: Rainbow Journal Covers

Rainbow Journals


This year, I’ve decided to give my students two journals: one for math and one for writing. Once I made this decision, I realized that something inevitable was going to happen: the two journals were going to get mixed up. No matter how many times I remind my students to record math work in their math journals and writing work in their writing ones, confusion will happen. I thought, however, that gussying up the covers might help them to remember. At least some of the time! Hence this project.

I considered a number of ideas for prettifying our writing journals (on the short list: collaging, sewing book covers and painting them), but I love color, brightness and using the mnemonic Roy G. Biv. Once I realize that, rainbow covers felt like a no-brainer. With this project, students could be as wild and crazy (or as careful and controlled) with their lines as they like and the outcome was stunning no matter what. It’s both expressive and visually attractive–a win-win in my book.

General art project tip: Try before you teach! I do this for two reasons: One, I like to have a sample art work for the kids to see. Two, trying the project before you teach it will help you to troubleshoot when you actually do the project with kids. In fact, it’ll help you figure out any kinks before you even run into trouble.


  • Pencils (but really only for writing names)
  • 12″x18″ white construction or art paper
  • Black oil pastels
  • Water colors, at least a 8-color set. It will be missing violet/purple or indigo, but these colors are simple to make.
  • Small (or at least fine-tipped) pain brushes. Larger paint brushes can sometimes encourage the students to be less careful with their painting.



  • Because this art project was not based on a famous piece of art, the only example I had on display was my own journal. I showed it to my students and asked them about the colors they saw and if they thought the pattern looked familiar. They immediately recognized it as the colors of the rainbow. I wrote Roy G. Biv vertically on the board and then went back and together we wrote the colors horizontally.
  • After that, we discussed types of lines. Students usually known a few, like curved/wavy, straight and zigzag. If it comes up with older students, I might mention that the way we talk about lines in art is different from the way we talk about lines in Geometry. I usually draw something like this on the white board, adding student suggestions as they come up:

  • Once we’ve discussed lines, I show them the paper they’ll be using and explain that they’ll be drawing their lines with black oil pastel. The black oil pastel will act like a barrier to keep the water color from spreading, so they need to press firmly.
  • Before I pass out the oil pastels, the students write their names in pencil on their papers and then flip them over. Then I demonstrate how to fold their paper in half horizontally. Now they’re ready to start drawing their lines!


  • As I said before, line drawing can be wild and crazy or careful and controlled. Remind students to make their lines run from one edge of the page to the other.
  • Students will want to draw pictures, but that should wait for another project. The only hard and fast rule is that they draw enough lines for all the colors of the rainbow. If they have more than enough–great! The rainbow can repeat as many times as it needs to.
  • It was usually easy to add lines if they hadn’t put enough since I directed them toward larger, emptier spaces between lines. Those were usually good places to add. It’s a good idea to make sure they have enough lines before they start painting.


  • Before painting begins, I either remind students how to use water colors or give them a quick lesson. With a paintbrush, they added water to the wells of the pigment to activate the color. Some students may need to be reminded to keep adding water to their paint.
  • For most students, it was easiest (and simplest) to start at the top of the page with the top of the rainbow. In some cases, I encouraged them write the letters Roy G. Biv (lightly!) down the lines so they remembered which color to paint where.
  • Another way for students to remember the order of the colors is to start with red. They might not want to (because their favorite color is blue or they wanted green at the top, near the line with those things that look like leaf shapes). However, I caution against this because students can become easily confused when they begin painting out of color order. Even if the order is written on their paper and the board, etc.
  • My students were using two different kinds of palettes with two different color selections: one had violet/purple and one had indigo. As always, it was interesting to see who shared and who preferred to make his or her own colors. If I had it to do all over again, I’d probably have everyone make his or her own indigo. I think color mixing is important!
  • As I mentioned earlier, if the student has enough lines to complete more than one rainbow pattern, I simply encouraged him or her to repeat.
  • Allow to air dry.


  • This part was all me. I could have had the students help me, but I wanted the journals completed for Parent Night.
  • Once the paint was dry, I took the journals home. I painted the paper cover (not including the fabric spine) with Mod Podge and attached the art work. Again, I let it dry.
  • photo (34)Once the Mod Podge was dry, I cut the excess paper off with an Xacto knife. I sanded the edges photo (32)with extra fine sandpaper to smooth any rough edges and painted the paper with high gloss to seal the black oil pastel and limit any smearing.
  • I pressed the journals under the weight of ten hundred cookbooks so the front and back would straighten again. The Mod Podge made the covers curl.
  • The journals went from this:

photo (31)

to this:

photo (30)

to this:

photo (33)I couldn’t be more pleased! The students were excited when they saw them, too!

Some additional thoughts:

  • Students do not have to draw or paint both sides of the paper exactly the same. In the first group, some of my students did this and some didn’t. The reason the paper is folded in half is because half the paper will be for the front of the journal and half will be for the back. If you’d rather not fold it at all, that’s up to you!
  • You can attach almost any art project to the cover of a composition book with Mod Podge, but my experience has been that wrinkles occur easily with this particular adhesive. I recommend an art project that won’t be marred by a bump or twelve.
  • Pages from inside the composition book will likely get stuck while gluing. I was easily able to separate them using the edge of the Xacto blade.
  • The initial inspiration for this project came from the following Pin.

Comments are appreciated and desired, so thanks for leaving one!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s