Visual Arts

Through the visual arts—from animation to ceramics to painting—you’ll learn to express yourself creatively in form and space. 

Classes are taught by professional artists who have earned fine art degrees in sculpture, painting, printmaking, ceramics, fibers, digital art, and photography. These amazing teachers offer inspiration and serve as role models.

In our visual arts courses, you’ll have the opportunity to

  • Construct three-dimensional forms from a variety of materials, including clay, paper, and wood.
  • Work with water-soluble media such as acrylics, gouache, ink, pencils, and watercolors.
  • Take hands-on studio and production classes in animation, film and video.

Visual Arts Course Catalog

Middle School

Grade 6

Introduction to Visual Art

This is a class designed for all sixth-graders to learn the foundations of the Visual Arts program at The Northwest School. A variety of projects introduce students to the elements of art (line, color, texture, shape, form). This course pushes students to explore and develop ideas, and express themselves through drawing, painting, sculpture, collaging, photography, digital drawing and more. Sixth-graders complete daily drawing assignments in sketchbooks, learn new vocabulary and examine contemporary and historically relevant artists. The course culminates with a large group project. 

Grades 7 & 8

Ancient Egyptian Art

Learn about art from Egypt, three thousand years ago, in the time of the pharaohs.  Learn to write words hieroglyphs, the letter-symbols of the pharaohs. Make a paper-mâché sculpture of your personal shawabti, a servant in the afterlife. Create art inspired by tomb paintings of food the Pharaohs ate. Learn about the ancient goddess of cats. Look at lots of examples of paintings, sculptures, architecture and writing of ancient Egypt. Practice techniques for using a variety of materials, including acrylic paint, paper-mâché, fibers, colored pencils and oil pastels.

Art of the Portrait

This class explores various ways to create portraits of people. Students learn techniques for drawing and painting images of human faces, as well as exploring the visual concepts and designs of faces using wire work, paper-cutting, collage, painting and sculpture. The class also moves beyond just humans, as students create a pet portrait. Students study techniques for drawing realistic and abstract faces, drawing from examples of portraits from many times and places. 

Book Art: Making Comics

Learn how to write, illustrate, and appreciate comics. This course explores how to craft a comic story and how to create interesting and engaging characters. Students explore facial expressions, speech bubbles, character design, action, sound effects, panel layout, and writing stories. Students create characters and write an original comic book, while learning how to tell a story that takes readers on a journey using sequential panels of artwork. By the end of the trimester, students have better developed their creativity, imagination, communication skills, and drawing skills. Students can work on paper and using Procreate software on iPad Pros in class. No experience necessary!  


This class explores art projects and ideas about creating art with writing and letters. Students learn how to write with traditional Celtic and Gothic scripts using a special calligraphy pen. Other projects include a decorative “illuminated” letter, a letter sculpture, and a geometric pattern sculpture created with letters. Students also learn how to draw letters using one-point perspective. They will work with watercolor and acrylic paints, wire, cardboard, calligraphy pens, markers and pastels. For inspiration, the class looks at examples of both modern and traditional calligraphy from around the world.

Middle School Ceramics

This exciting and challenging hands-on ceramics course introduces students to the basics of ceramics and pottery. No experience is required, and students may take ceramics more than once in middle school. With each class, students embark on new, creative, diverse projects encouraging them to control the direction of their work. Students learn to employ the elements and principles of art and design as they create and explore the vast world of art. The course experiments with both ceramic sculpture and functional pottery (like cups, vases and bowls). The class offers more than 40 mesmerizing colors to glaze students’ masterpieces. Occasionally, students can integrate new materials into their artwork, including a bit of metal, wire and melted glass. Clay used in class easily washes off and doesn’t stain clothes. Students can keep whatever art they create or give it as gifts. Let’s get started and make our ceramic dreams come true!

Exploring Collage

This middle school class is being offered for the first time in 2023-24. Students learn about multiple forms of collage, “the assemblage of different forms to create a new whole.” Students explore the histories of collage and create experimental collage artwork. Students create exercises and projects featuring mixed media on paper, sound art, digital art, video and stop-motion animation. Students investigate how concepts of line, shape, form, value, space and texture apply to collage, as well as how artists use these concepts to tell original, multi-layered stories through their artwork. Students create all their work in the Sprinkler Lab, using a combination of both physical and digital art studio materials. In this course, students can use Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Rush, GarageBand, and Procreate software. No experience necessary!  

Map as Art

This class explores maps as inspiration for students’ artwork. Students create map-related artwork about actual and imagined places, as well as mapping processes and ideas. For example, how would someone paint a map of a great baseball swing or a delicious dessert? Students create sculptures, drawings, prints and paintings that incorporate map-making. Students learn and practice techniques for design, drawing, acrylic paint, watercolor paint, printmaking and embroidery. They examine contemporary and historic maps, as well as work by contemporary artists who incorporate maps into their art, such as Maya Lin and Shantell Martin. 

Photography and Cinematography

Students learn essential skills to compose and edit digital photographs and videos. In the first half of the trimester, students create a photography portfolio consisting of portraits, landscapes, interiors and abstract compositions. Students can photograph on location in the school and on short walks in the adjacent neighborhood. In the second half of the trimester, students create an original short film that builds on the ideas explored in their photography portfolios. Students learn to manage digital files and can use use Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Premiere Rush in the Sprinkler lab. No experience necessary! This class is perfect for new photo and video artists and more experienced students who want to take their photo and video skills to the next level.

Middle School Sculpture

This class focuses on constructing three-dimensional art forms from a variety of materials. Students explore and design strategies for building and combining shapes and structures that stand up and balance. Projects include a human figure sculpture, a wire sculpture, a geometric wood sculpture, a paper-mâché sculpture, and a cardboard automata machine sculpture. Students also work with plaster wrap, cardboard, paper, wire, wood sticks and acrylic paint. For inspiration, students examine pictures and learn about sculptures from different artists, cultures and time periods.

Upper School

Ceramics & Sculpture


Through both hand-building (hands-on sculpting) and wheel-throwing (using the mesmerizing potter’s wheel), this class offers a year-long opportunity to learn many powerful ceramic art-making techniques. Students explore the vast palette of glazes, including experimenting with the unique process of fusing colored glass into and onto their artwork. Using a combination

of traditional and innovative techniques, they explore functional and abstract forms and focus on figurative sculpting, including realistic sculpting of a human head, animals, and masterpieces that defy description. Meanwhile, students continuously hone their pottery skills by producing actual cups, bowls, plates, vases, and more, that are practical, beautiful, and satisfying!

Sculpture and Materials Exploration

Students in this course focus on constructing three-dimensional art forms from such materials as plaster, wire, wood, and paper. Students experiment with these materials and how to use them to “think in the round” and create sculptures. For inspiration, students look at images of sculptures from different artists, cultures, and time periods. Students also examine design and engineering strategies for building and combining materials from nature. The students in this class learn how to carve, solder, fuse glass, and more.

Digital Art

Advanced Photography

This intermediate-advanced level course promotes discussion of photographic processes within the larger context of contemporary art, photography, and digital media. Workshops in the course introduce strobe lighting for studio applications. The course emphasizes the process involved in generating a portfolio of images, as well as a coherent body of work based upon a theme, concept, or selected subject matter. Students examine topics such as finding an individual voice, refining a working process, considering methods for presentation and distribution of photographs, and reflecting on current issues in contemporary art. Lectures and demonstrations include assembling a portfolio of photographs, submitting work for review, and preparing photographs for exhibition. Prerequisite: Beginning Photography.


In this hands-on studio workshop course, students work with a range of experimental animation processes to create short animations, develop dynamic stories, and design original animated characters. Animation introduces a range of software and technologies from Adobe Creative Cloud as artmaking tools. Students also learn to apply concepts from cinematography, drawing, sculpture, photography, creative writing, and video production to their animation work. Individual and group projects build creativity and critical thinking skills while establishing lifelong confidence to experiment with all forms of animation.

Film and Video Art

Film and Video Art explores cinematic and documentary filmmaking for social justice, storytelling, and video art. In this class, students get an introduction to cinematography, video editing, sound design, and video projection using programs like Procreate, WeVideo, SoundTrap, and Lightform Creator. Students produce short films, film documentary interviews, animate motion graphics, composite found footage, and create experimental video art as live performances and sculptures. This hands-on production course is supplemented with visits from guest artists and field trips to local art galleries and museums. The class is perfect for students who like making and sharing audio and video content with their phones and want to take their craft to the next level.

Graphic Design

This course explores the fundamental principles of graphic design through a series of studio projects and critiques supplemented by short readings, class discussions, and lectures. Students will develop skills, knowledge, and techniques to effectively use Adobe Creative Cloud applications including Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Students apply elements and principles of art and design in both hands-on and digital formats. Students investigate the use of communicative tools such as composition, color, hierarchy, scale, rhythm, and visual metaphor. Course topics include design process, typography, identity design, publication design, advertising design, and information design.


Students In this course explore a variety of photographic processes and concepts. Using big ideas in conjunction with the elements and principles of design, students work to master the fundamentals of good composition and quality craftsmanship relating to photography as an art form. Students’ creative exploration is founded on technical skills such as operating a manual SLR camera, film development, and important darkroom procedures. Students study the work of master photographers and other artists as sources of cultural and historical understanding and inspiration. Creative activities develop critical thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving. Students learn to welcome constructive criticism, to work hard, and seek new experiences.

Yearbook and Publication Design

This full-year course introduces students to the fundamentals of visual communication and the print world using Photoshop, InDesign, and Canva as they work together to produce the school yearbook. Students learn key concepts of photography as they document important events throughout the school year. Students develop their communication skills via reporting, writing, class discussions, presentations, and publications. Through a variety of narrative projects students learn how photography and the written word combine to inform society. The course culminates in the publication of the The Northwest School yearbook, documenting its community, memories, and events. While the yearbook is the major focus of the class, students also produce a zine-type publication in which they pursue their own creative interests.

Drawing, Painting & Printmaking


For students who believe they can’t draw, this is the perfect class; students of all skill levels find this class helpful and inspiring. They begin with the basics: line, negative space, and proportion. Later in the year, students work with value (black, white, and grays), “shading” to create a sense of depth, and finally, color. Projects include still-life drawing, portraits, collaborative drawings, scratchboard paper work, and an extended series of four in-class self-portraits.

Painting and Printmaking

Students learn techniques for using acrylic paint to make representational paintings such as portraits of people and pets, cityscapes, and natural landscapes. Students also learn such printmaking techniques as collagraph prints, color monotype prints, and carved relief prints, all while studying historic and contemporary visual art for inspiration. Students in this course paint from life, photo sources, and imaginations, ultimately creating art that combines painting and printmaking techniques.

Watercolor and Related Media

This course suites both beginners and more experienced artists, focusing exclusively on water-soluble media, including watercolor, gouache (opaque watercolor), Sumi color, India ink, and aquarelle pencils and markers. Students create both non-representational and carefully observed “realistic” works. Given technical and conceptual prompts, they write short artist statements for each project. Students gain experience with a variety of critique formats, including self-assessments, written reviews, small group discussions, and roundtable sharing. They collaborate in groups, explore such issues as environmentalism, social activism, personal narrative, and formal abstraction, and learn about historical and contemporary artists who use water-based media to investigate similar issues.

Intermediate & Advanced Visual Art

Advanced Art

This course for dedicated visual art students with at least one Upper School visual arts class offers the opportunity to develop a personally meaningful body of work to be shown in a final exhibition with an accompanying publication. Working with the instructor, students construct a work plan allowing for exploration of their own interests and materials. Students develop project proposals and participate in regular group feedback sessions; some may choose to build a portfolio, construct a large work or installation, or explore one theme all year. Students deepen their skill sets and their artistic voice, with a focus on matching concepts with materials. Students will have an expansive sketchbook practice, researching work by professional artists for inspiration. Students are assigned individual studio workspaces in the Summit Building to allow for concentrated studio practice. These spaces are converted into show spaces at the end of the year for students to share their work in a final exhibition. Students also work on drafting artist statements and applying for ongoing arts opportunities outside of school. Admission to this course is through an application process that includes a portfolio review and submission of an artist's statement.

Intermediate Media Art

Intermediate Media art can be taken as a prerequisite for Advanced Art or as a standalone class. In this workshop class, students apply digital art-making skills to create a series of fully developed, portfolio-ready artworks. The class incorporates skills and concepts from animation, comics, digital illustration, film and video art, photography, installation art, graphic design, wearable art and book art. Student projects in the course address a range of themes, including humor, the body, time travel, sustainable architecture, protest, and technology/technophobia. Students develop daily sketchbook practice, write personal artist statements, and research work by professional artists for inspiration. Each student develops a unique visual vocabulary for their personal art practice. While the course emphasizes digital art production, students are encouraged to incorporate studio art skills from drawing, painting, and sculpture. Based in the school’s Mac Lab, this class offers students the opportunity to use programs in the Adobe Creative Suite (e.g., Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Premiere Rush, Premiere Pro, After Effects, Animate, Acrobat). The class can provide students interested in 3D modeling and animation with a variety of resources to pursue their interest. In addition to the Adobe suite, students on iPad Pros can also explore Procreate, Osnap Pro (Stop Motion), Garage Band, and more. Taking this class does not require students to move on to Advanced Art. While this course has no prerequisite, instructors suggest students take one course, such as Upper School Animation, Video Art, Graphic Design or Photography, or have equivalent experience.

Intermediate Studio Art

Intermediate Studio Art can be taken as a prerequisite for Advanced Art, or as a standalone class. In studio-based projects, students experiment with a diverse assortment of materials and learn new (or revisit) techniques related to studio art practices, including drawing, painting, sculpture, wearable art and book art. Students explore a variety of conceptual themes, including storytelling, mark-making, personal identity, and mapping. Each student develops a visual vocabulary unique to their personal art practice. Students develop a daily sketchbook practice, write personal artist statements, and research work by professional artists for inspiration. The course ends with students creating five final art pieces related to each other, forming a "body of work." Taught in the school’s Drawing Studio, students engage in a full range of studio artmaking practices. including drawing and painting, screen-printing, relief printing, watercolor, acrylic painting on canvas, working from still-life, drawing from live models, and working with experimental materials. While this course emphasizes studio art production, students are always encouraged to incorporate media art skills from animation, graphic design, and photography. Taking this class does not require students to move on to Advanced Art. While this course has no prerequisite, instructors suggest students take one course, such as Upper School Animation, Video Art, Graphic Design or Photography, or have equivalent experience.

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