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Art Experiments for Science Class

Can science make you a better artist or help you create your next masterpiece? Put creative science on display with STEM experiments about art!

Easel with picture of flowers in a vase for Art Science - Educator's Corner Science Activities with Science Buddies

Art & STEM!

What does painting a picture, making a sculpture, or creating a mobile have to do with science? A lot! Science explains how colors mix and how different types of paint work on various papers and surfaces. Science explains how art materials are developed with specific properties, for example, how some paints are more viscous than others or how some materials have lightfast or waterproof properties. Science explains why some pieces of art last centuries and others fade away. Science can even help students better understand key principles of composition and design that can be applied to various mediums. Many of the techniques, tools, and materials used through the years to make art are possible because of science!

Our Educator's Corner series features high-interest STEM activities that work well with students in both formal and informal settings—in the classroom or at home. These activities are grouped in fun themes that make it easy for educators to pick and choose just-right activities for special days or special units. Each collection is hand-curated for fun, ease-of-use, simple materials, accessibility, and interest factor. To help educators bundle activities with additional classroom or out-of-class activities and reflection, we've included discussion questions, career connections. We've also included book suggestions to help educators tie science and engineering to English Language Arts.
Art STEM: Experiment | Watch Videos | Ask Questions | Dig Deeper | Explore Careers | Read Books

EXPERIMENT: STEM Experiments for Artsy Fun!

Fresco Painting with Oobleck

Students probably know Michelangelo did the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but do they know these paintings used a special technique called fresco? Fresco painting involves painting directly onto a wet layer of plaster. This technique has been around for thousands of years and was popular during the Italian Renaissance. With the fresco painting activity, students can learn more about fresco painting and simulate the process by painting onto Oobleck (rather than a ceiling!). How will their fresco masterpieces compare to paintings made on wet paper? Which technique creates the most vivid paintings? Which one has the sharpest lines and details?
The science: The technique of fresco painting causes pigments to sink into the wet plaster as the water from the paint is absorbed. Once dry, frescoes are more permanent than other forms of painting.

Marker Ink Chromatography

Are all blue markers the same? How about black ones? When it comes to ink (in markers or even in bottles used to fill fountain pens), artists often discover that inks of a specific color don't all look the same. When it comes down to how they are created, the actual color molecules used to make them, inks can vary greatly! With paper chromatography, students can test markers or inks of similar shades from different brands and watch the colors that have been used in the formulation of the ink separate out in a column on a piece of filter paper (or a coffee filter). You might be surprised what colors show up in your ink! For other paper chromatography experiments and resources, including an introductory video, see Paper Chromatography Science Projects & Experiments.
The science: In paper chromatography, a small amount of ink (or a sample solution) is placed on a strip of chromatography paper. The strip is then suspended in a solvent. As the solvent moves up the paper, the individual components of the sample solution separate out in bands of individual color.

Paper Marbling

What happens when you put food coloring on top of shaving cream foam? Students can find out with a paper marbling activity. As they experiment with mixing colors on top of the shaving cream and, separately, with what happens when they spray the surface of the shaving cream with water, they'll also be learning about surfactants and what it means for a molecule to be hydrophilic (water loving) or hydrophobic (water repelling). Can colors be mixed on top of the foam? Be inspired! See this family's paper marbling exploration.
The science: Shaving cream is typically made from soap. Soap is a surfactant, which means its molecules are both hydrophilic and hydrophobic. Liquid food coloring is hydrophilic. It interacts with the hydrophilic parts of the soap molecules but is repelled by the hydrophobic parts, so it doesn't soak into the shaving cream. 11 Lessons to Teach About the Chemistry of Mixtures and Solutions collection.

Index Card Flipbook

Use stacks of index cards (cut in half) to make simple flip books and discover how our brains can perceive sequences of still images as if they are in motion. After exploring with simple colored dots (that appear to move or bounce when the book is flipped), challenge students to create a more complex flipbook story. What else can they put in motion with this technique? What happens if the images on the cards are too far apart? How can you make a flipbook animation appear smooth? Tip! You can talk about cartoons, flipbooks, and stop motion animation at the same time as the concepts are similar in terms of how a viewer sees the resulting "animation."
The science: By experimenting with the placement of the image (or dot) on each card and the amount of change in the placement between cards in the sequence, students will better understand animation and the requirements for successful flipbook animation. As an optical illusion, this kind of "apparent animation" is a good example of how our brains may fill in missing information when presented with visual cues.

Fun with Fractals

Fractals refer to patterns that infinitely repeat, often at smaller and smaller (or larger and larger) sizes. If you zoom in or out, you can see the same pattern again and again within the same object. In the Mesmerizing Fractals activity, students use finger paint and plastic CD cases to create prints that may reveal fractals and repeating patterns. What objects in nature also demonstrate fractal patterns? How can math help explain the patterns in a fractal? What kinds of shapes are common in fractals?
The science: Fractals appear naturally in the world around us, in objects like trees, snowflakes, lightning, shells, and ferns, as well as in fruits and vegetables like pineapples and Romanesco broccoli. The characteristic of fractals having patterns that repeat at different scales is referred to as self-similarity.

Balance a Mobile

Whether the objects are paper, wire, dimensional objects, or even spoons and forks, when it comes to making a hanging mobile, understanding the physics behind balance is essential. All objects have to be in balance for the mobile to hang properly. In the Balance the Forces Within a Mobile activity, students experiment with using straws, thread, and physics to balance paper shapes on a homemade mobile. How many objects can be balanced? Does the size of the objects (relative to one another) matter? What other lightweight materials can be balanced in a mobile? This can be a great activity for using lightweight recycled or junk-drawer materials! Be inspired! This student's mobile was almost as tall as the front door!
The science: By adjusting the length of the string and/or sliding the hanging elements along the straws, students can experiment with the positioning of the items until everything balances and the mobile hangs properly.

Principles of Composition

Should the subject of a piece of art always go right in the middle of the frame or canvas? When students first start taking photos or making their own art, they often learn about the "Rules of Thirds" and the "Golden Mean" (or the "Golden Ratio"). Can these math-based principles of composition make a difference in how effective a piece of art is? In the Compelling Compositions activity, students lay transparencies on top of photographs (or pieces of art) to see how these principles appear in famous works of art as well as in their own art. Extending the activity, students might first create a sketch or painting without using either principle and then repeat the same sketch or painting deliberately using one of these principles of composition to see if and how the art changes. Tip! Have students draw a simple border to mark the perimeter of the work on the paper. This will help them more clearly see the boundaries of the space.
The science: The Rule of Thirds divides the space horizontally and vertically into thirds. The Golden Mean, on the other hand, divides the space using a ratio of 1:1.618. Placing objects (or horizon lines) along these planes can result in a balanced composition. Not all art follows these principles, but when looking at a wide range of art through history, students will see that many great works involve compositions that demonstrate the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Mean. By creating their own drawings with and without attention to one of these principles, they can evaluate firsthand how the artworks compare. Make connections: The Golden Ratio is related to the Fibonacci sequence and appears throughout nature. You can find examples in shells, flower petals, spiral galaxies, and more.


There are many scenarios in which artists (or engineers) need to reproduce a drawing at a different size. Redrawing it freehand isn't a good solution when there are details that need to be precisely drawn. You can use a copy machine to make a drawing larger or smaller, but you can also experiment with scaling a drawing using a pantograph. In the Duplicate Your Drawings with a Machine activity, students make a simple pantograph machine that can be used to make a larger or smaller copy of a drawing. Can you explain how the pantograph works and predict whether the drawing will be larger or smaller based on how the pantograph is set up? In geometry, what does it mean to say that two figures are "similar"? How does this relate to the drawings created by a pantograph? What type of simple machine does a pantograph use?
The science: The pantograph uses two levers. Drawing with the pencil pushes and pulls on the levers, which makes the whole pantograph move, and the marker creates the duplicate drawing.

WATCH: Videos

Introduction to Paper Chromatography | Theory and Practice
The Science of Frescoes – STEM Activity
Paper Marbling – STEM Activity
Build a Mobile Sculpture – STEM activity
Explore Flipbooks
Draw with a Pantograph - STEM Activity

ASK: Questions

Use these questions to prompt conversation and reflection about the science behind these Art Science activities:

  • Why would an artist need to understand science? Can you think of an example?
  • Can you think of an experiment you could do to test and compare two approaches to making your favorite kind of art?

DIG DEEPER: More Lessons and Activities

For additional lessons and experiments related to the activities above, see these curated Teaching Science Units collections:

PROJECTS: Independent Student Projects

Students interested in art and design may be inspired to do independent science projects like these:


After trying Art Science experiments, students may be inspired to learn more about these science and engineering careers:


Example of chromatography strips showing colors of dye in markers or candy Sample piece of art with LED lights added to light up using Raspberry Pi kit

The following Science Buddies Kits fit in with the Art Science theme. These science and engineering kits provide the specialty materials students need for engaging independent science experiments:

READ: Books

Pair books like these with Art Science explorations.

Boy Who Drew Birds cover Girl who drew butterflies Rosie Revere Engineer Iggy Peck cover The Dot cover 30-Minute Sustainable Science cover Ish Cover Frida Kahlo Animalitos cover The Day the Crayons Quit cover Noisy Paint Box cover Made by Maxine cover Michelangelo

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