The Skittles 8-Bit Portrait Project

Why skittles!art in the classroom? Well, why not? Candy is a ubiquitous material in student lives. Art is all about getting people to think differently . . . Why not combine the two and make something awesome? This project easily lends itself to focuses on math, science, consumerism, pop art, composition, color, and socially-minded themes. Hopefully, the tips and tricks below help you to embark on your own skittles!art journey in your own classrooms.
Teacher Preplanning
Skittles!Art isn’t for the easily intimidated. This project takes an extensive amount of preplanning on the parts of both the teacher and the student. However, the preplanning makes the ultimate process of creating with skittles (an already daunting task) manageable. I strongly recommend having several groups of students working on the skittles!art portraits while the rest of the class works on another project. Then, as groups finish their portraits, you can cycle another group into beginning their portrait. That way, everyone gets an opportunity to create a group-based artwork, and you keep the skittles chaos down.
1.       Determine how many skittles!art portraits you intend for your classes to create.
a.       The average 2 foot x 2 foot skittle portrait (the best size for pixelated images printed on 8 inch x 11 inch paper) consists of 2,304 skittles.
b.      I recommend purchasing the 41oz size bags of skittles as this size offers the best price per skittle.
c.       The 41oz skittle bags sell for approximately $7-$11 per bag.
d.      I did a bit of math, and the 41oz bag of skittles has approximately 1,120 skittles in it.
e.      Depending on your school culture, you can also encourage students to purchase skittles.
2.       Determine how many students you will put in each skittles!art portrait group
a.       For middle school, group work is best
b.      I recommend groups of 3-4 students (3 is ideal)
3.       Determine what project the students not currently working the skittles!art portraits will be creating.
Introducing the Project to Students
1.       Define 8-bit Art and demo the project by showing the skittles!art PowerPoint presentation.
2.       Show students the video demonstrating how to pixelate and skittle-ize an image.
3.       Discuss what kinds of images might be most interesting visually and thematically to skittle-ize.
4.       Assemble students into groups.
5.       Have students source/create base images for the skittle!art.
6.       At the computer, ask students to use Pixlr or Adobe Photoshop to pixelate and skittle-ize their image.
7.       Print the image in color on an 8 inch x 11 inch sheet of paper.
Student Preplanning
1.       Get the skittles sorted by color & store in 2.5 gallon ziplock bags (you’ll have a ton of volunteers for this!)
2.       Have students use a ruler and draw a grid over their printed pixelated image.
3.       Have students complete the “Skittles Art Preplanning Sheet”
a.       This sheet helps students make connections to preplanning and math
b.      This sheet helps students determine how much money they need to create their artwork
4.       Have student use information from the worksheet to cut a piece of cardboard and create a grid of the same proportions based on a 0.5 inch square (the size of a skittle).
5.       **optional** Have students use colored pencils/markers to color in the cardboard grid according to the skittle colors.  
Skittle-izing the Image
1.       Provide the students with hot glue and white school glue (both work).
a.       Hot glue=instant gratification, but it dries quickly (sometimes too quick) and leaves “spider webs” all over the work.
b.      White school glue=longer drying time, but it leaves no weird “spider webs.” But, if students apply to thickly, the skittle color will run and pool (it looks super gross).
2.       Allow students to problem-solve on their own how best to get the skittles onto the cardboard grid. This skill is closely aligned to the STEAM engineering problem-solving process.
a.       My students discovered it worked best if the printed color picture was folded over to only show the “line” of the grid currently being assembled.
b.      One student would count out how many of each colored skittles were needed and in what order.
c.       Another student would gather those colors.
d.      Another student would glue the skittles down.
e.      You can see a video of my students engaged in this process here:
3.       Each approximate 2 foot x 2 foot skittles!art portrait my students created (in groups of 3-4 students) took 12 hours to complete.
Finishing the Work
1.       Seal the work using a plastic-based resin. I have –in all honesty- not done this yet. But, after a bit of research, I found that plastic-based resin has been used by other skittles!artists, and is used to cover food used for props in dramatic enactments.
2.       Have students complete the “Skittles Selling Your Artwork” worksheet.
a.       This worksheet helps student to understand how artists price their work.
b.      It connects the project to the career of artists.
c.       This is also a STEAM-based connection, as part of the engineering process of STEAM asks students to make connections to the real-world market.
Secondary Project
1.       While my small groups were working on the large-scale skittles!art portraits, I had my other students create 8-bit artworks using skittles at their tables.
2.       They had an inspiration-based hand-out wherein they could examine 8-bit art.
3.       Students created the 8-bit art at their tables, and they could option to glue it down, or to keep it temporary.
4.       Once completed, students were asked to take a picture of their artwork using a mobile device and upload it to twitter or Instagram using the hashtag, #skittlesart (if they had an account).
Last Thoughts
My students and I had such a blast creating these artworks. It was tons of fun. Here are a few of my lasting thoughts:
1.       No, students didn’t eat up all of the skittles. Once I explained just how many people had touched the skittles, they were pretty repulsed. A social stigma developed about eating the skittles; I definitely encouraged the stigma of “it’s gross to eat these handled skittles!”
2.       I gave each student the equivalent of a “fun-size” bag of skittles (from a fresh, unsealed bag) on the last day of the project. They knew they were going to get this; it made the whole “don’t eat these skittles!” thing a bit easier to manage.
3.       There will be skittles e v e r y w h e r e. Embrace it, and get some brooms. Make sweeping up skittles a regular part of this process.
4.       While the skittles are sorted according to color, my students found it easier to keep a small cup of the color they were currently using near them. Think of it as putting paint from a large container onto a paint palette.
5.       If you lean on top of the skittles!art, the skittles will get crushed. We learned this the hard way.
6.       If you make a mistake, you just tear up that skittle and put another down.
7.       The purple-colored skittles (the color used for darkest values, outlines, and blacks) goes the fastest. We had 40lbs of skittles, and we were picking up half-crushed purple skittles up off the floor to use!

8.       How did I, a Title I school teacher, afford this project?! Simple, I was asked to be a camp counselor for the STEAM camp at my school. I agreed to be a camp counselor if the school would provide me with the funds to this project (which I closely aligned to STEAM). The school was happy to do that! I’ve been waiting THREE years to do this project. Now that I have a positive, proven, outcome. . .I intend to collaborate with math and science teachers to share the funding burden and to seek out some grant funds. 

2 thoughts on “The Skittles 8-Bit Portrait Project”

Comments are closed.