Students use acrylic paint to explore composition and pattern as they create 4 small artist trading cards.

Required Time

180 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 5 to Grade 9


Language Arts
Visual Arts


colour composition contrast element line pattern texture


Paint Brushes Acrylic Paint Water Containers Paper Towels Bristol Board - 6.4 cm x 8.9 cm (2.5" x 3.5") - 4 per student Glitter Glue Fine Line Markers


PATTERN AND COMPOSITION – Artist Trading Cards - Step One

Step One

  1. Write the design vocabulary across the top of your paper.
  2. These are the elements you can combine to make lots of different patterns.
  3. Get creative and see what patterns you can make using different combinations of:
    - dots
    - circles
    - teardrops
    - waves
    - loops
    - right angles
    - crosses
    - squiggles
    - spirals
    - curves
  4. Fill the page with your designs.
PATTERN AND COMPOSITION – Artist Trading Cards - Step Two

Step Two

  1. You will be creating 4 different cards using a different way to organize the space in each one.
  2. Begin by organizing the space on one card by repeating horizontal bands of colour.
  3. Vary the thickness and colours of each band.
  4. Set this card aside to dry.
PATTERN AND COMPOSITION – Artist Trading Cards - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Continue preparing each of the other cards. Organize the space on these cards in the following way:
    - repeat concentric circles
    - repeat blocks of colour
    - repeat parts of s-curves
  2. Remember to vary the colours and sizes of these shapes.
PATTERN AND COMPOSITION – Artist Trading Cards - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Paint patterns on top of the prepared compositions.
  2. Vary the elements as you fill the space. 
PATTERN AND COMPOSITION – Artist Trading Cards - Step Five

Step Five

  1. When you have completed all four cards, place them beside each other and compare them.
    - How does the organization of space affect the work?
    - How are the designs the same?
    - How are the designs different?
    - Which card do you prefer? Why?

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  1. Create 4 artist trading cards;
  2. Create a variety of patterns with acrylic paint;
  3. Create balanced compositions using 4 different ways to organize space;
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment; and
  5. Support their ideas with evidence found in the works.


Have students:

  1. Apply what they have learned in a large painting based on and extending one of the card designs.
  2. Research ATCs and then organize and participate in an Artist Trading Card event.


  1. Gather required art materials.
  2. Gather some Artist Trading Card books, for example, Artist Trading Card Workshop: Create, Collect, Swap, by Bernie Berlin, 1,000 Artist Trading Cards: Innovative and Inspired Mixed Media ATCs, by Patricia Bolton
  3. Download some images of pattern in art from the Internet. For example,
    Water Pattern
    Ornamental Band
    Art Nouveau
  4. Download the Elements of Design posters available on this website.
  5. Precut the art cards – enough for 4 for each student, size 6 cm x 9 cm (2.5" x 3.5")
  6. Create 4 samples of prepared cards showing organization of space – repeated horizontal bands of colour, repeated blocks of colour, repeated concentric circles, repeated segments of s-curves.


  1. View the art images and analyze the use of line to create pattern. You may want to refer to the Elements of Design posters as you discuss the images.
  2. List and draw on a chart paper the elements of pattern viewed in the examples. Locate the following elements: 
    - dots
    - circles
    - teardrops
    - waves
    - loops
    - right angles
    - curves
    - crossed lines
    - squiggles
    - spirals
  3. Display the chart paper where students can see it while they are working.
  4. Introduce the idea of artist trading cards. Explain that:
    - ATCs, as they are known, are miniature works of art.
    A Swiss artist came up with the idea of creating art and trading it in 1996.
    - A Canadian, Don Mabie, introduced the idea in Calgary in 2000. 
    - Today artists from around the world participate in Artist Trading Card events.
    - The important thing about ATCs is that they must always be traded, never sold.
    - Also, they are always handmade, individual works of art.
  5. Explain that in this lesson they will be exploring pattern and composition by making 4 small artist trading cards, but that they may not actually be trading the cards.
  6. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Create 4 artist trading cards.
  2. Create a variety of patterns using acrylic paint.
  3. Create balanced compositions using 4 different ways to organize space.
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment.
  5. Support your ideas with evidence found in the works.

The Process

  1. Ensure everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students, for example,
    I know I am successful when I have:
    - repeated horizontal bands of colour 
    - repeated blocks of colour
    - repeated concentric circles 
    - repeated segments of s-curves
    - used a variety of patterns
    - planned carefully
    - used the elements of design to balance the compositions
    - kept the cards in good condition
  3. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan. 
  4. Observe students as they work. 
  5. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Place students into small groups. 
  2. Ask them to discuss each others' cards and to answer the following questions: 
    - How does the organization of space affect the work?
    - How are the designs the same?
    - How are the designs different?
    - Which card do you prefer? Why?
  3. Share ideas with the whole class. 
  4. Invite students to do a walk about to view all the cards.
  5. Ask them to tell how they felt about doing this project.


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting
  2. Observe students as they discuss the art works – active listening, insightful contributions, supporting ideas with evidence found in the artwork and from personal experience.
  3. Use a checklist to track progress. (Download - ATCs_tracking.pdf)
  4. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Download - ATCs_self-assessment.pdf)