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By Mary Erickson, Ph.D., Education Consultant and Professor of Art
Ellen Meissinger, Artist and Professor of Art

Copper is a three-lesson unit plan designed in conjunction with the TCA Biennial: Copper exhibition at the Gallery at Tempe Center for the Arts. Both elementary and secondary projects are included.

Preview the Biennial Copper exhibition PowerPoint


  • Theme in Life: All of us have our own ideas about who and what is valuable in our lives.
  • Theme in Art: Artworks can be expressions of the values of an individual or a culture.

Key Questions

Lessons approach the themes through key questions.


How are elements organized within a circular format?

What subtle variations of color do I see? 


How can I organize elements within a circle?

How can I use subtle variations of color in my artwork?


How can I express an important value in my artwork?


What does this artwork say about value?


 Community Connections

  • In addition to being the "Grand Canyon State", Arizona is also known as the "Copper State."
  • Children in Arizona learn that the first of the state's "5 C's" is copper -- followed by cattle, cotton. citrus, and climate. Even the star in the center of the Arizona's state flag is copper in color.
  • Since before Arizona became a state, copper mining has been an important industry. Historic towns like Globe, Bisbee, Jerome, and Bagdad, got their starts as mining towns.
  • Open pit copper mining continues today. The Morenci mine in southeastern Arizona expects to produce approximately 225 million pounds of copper in 2014.

Estimated Time

  • Previsit Lesson =  30-50 minutes
  • TCA Visit Lesson = Field Trip
  • Postvisit Lesson = 150-250 minutes (depending on your selection of medium)

Lesson One
Lesson One: Copper: A Marvelous Metal

Copper: A Marvelous Metal PowerPoint
Juried Biennial: Copper Exhibition Preview PowerPoint
Sample copper items, such as a copper pot, a piece of electrical wire with insulation pulled back, a scrap piece of copper pipe, or pennies prior to 1983 (after which pennies have been made from copper plated zinc).
Materials with many uses, such as a sheet of unlined paper, a scrap of wooden board, a paint brush, etc.
Copper: A Marvelous Metal T-Chart Worksheet PDF

Lesson Two
Lesson Two: Exploring Copper at the Tempe Center for the Arts


Questor Questions about Copper in Art worksheet PDF
Biennial: Copper Exhibition Preview PowerPoint


Lesson Three
Lesson Three: A Penny for Your Thoughts

A Penny for Your Thoughts PowerPoint
Plastic lids, dishes, or other circular objects for tracing circles, or pre-drawn circle template
Sample Penny Designs in Watercolor and Alternative Media PowerPoint
- FOR WATERCOLOR: sketch paper, pencils, watercolor sets, watercolor brushes, watercolor paper, OPTIONAL: Mixing Copper Colors worksheet
- FOR CRAYON DRAWING: pencils, crayons (metallic, if available) and drawing paper
- FOR MARKER DRAWING ON COPPER-TONE PARER: pencils, markers (metallic, if available), copper-tone paper and scissors
- CONSTRUCTION PAPER COLLAGE: orange, green, brown, blue and yellow construction paper, pencils, scissor glue sticks
- COPPER-TONE PAPER EMBOSSING: 80 lb. copper-tone paper, sketch paper, scissors, Styrofoam (such as Styrofoam plates), ball-point pens
Mixing Colors of Copper Worksheet (pdf)


Drawing paper, crayons, chalks, pastels or colored pencils


  • Mary Lyverse, Arizona State University faculty associate, for inviting us to present our watercolor lesson in her class
  • Anthony Banayat, Sara Drury, Cheryl Juracich, Caitlin Kaiser, Katherine Loh, Soyang Moeng, Emeralda Piza, Spencer Simmons, and Brianna Voran for permission to reproduce their watercolor designs
  • Russell Erickson, for access to his international coin collection
  • Lena Hubin, for access to copper objects from Africa
  • Nancy Egly, Roy Erickson and Luhan Monat for editing and consultation on the qualities of copper.

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