7 Paint Routines You’ll Never Regret Teaching

Let me start by saying that I know routines are extremely important, especially in the art room. However, it wasn’t until this year that I made an effort to really teach the routines below with my students. I honestly thought that it was easier if I did the distribution, maintenance, and clean-up on my own.

Boy, was I wrong! First, my students rock these routines. They love the added responsibility, and I’m sure they love less nagging from me. Second, all these “chores” get done just as well as if I did them myself. Third, the work is done during class! What could be better?

Here are 7 paint routines you’ll never regret teaching.


1. Getting Paint

paint pumps

Develop a system that will allow students to get their own paint. Consider pumps, bottles, or both. You’ll also want to decide what kinds of palettes will be available to students. Plastic, reusable palettes or disposable items like paper plates or magazines work equally well. Be sure to demonstrate the appropriate amount of paint to take.

2. Getting Water

sink with water cups next to it

This was the first thing I let my students do on their own. (Baby steps, right?) I have a stack of cups next to the sink and emphasize two key things. The first is holding the cup down in the sink to prevent the water spraying everywhere. The second is to only fill the cup halfway. In my room, students can refresh and refill their water as much as they need to.

3. Cleaning and Drying the Brushes

swish, wipe, and blot poster
image source

I use a poster similar to the one featured above. You may also want to try the catchy little number from art teacher extraordinaire, Cassie Stephens, that’s featured below. Inspired by the “Whip and Nae, Nae,” students “Dip, and Wipe, Wipe” their brushes!

In my room, I emphasize lightly pressing the brush repeatedly at the bottom of the water cup. This helps to “shake the paint loose.” These examples illustrate the fact that all teachers have different ways of teaching routines. Sometimes, it’s so helpful to see others’ examples! If you’re looking for more ideas, check out AOE’s class, Managing the Art Room where students regularly share ideas just like these.

4. Washing Brushes

paintbrush cleaning poster

This is a doozy. I have only taught my 4th-6th-grade students to do this. My lowest grades simply put their brushes and water cups in the filled sink to soak. The best (and most unfortunate) lesson comes when a student uses a brush that wasn’t properly cleaned. When this happens, peer pressure kicks in! I encourage my students to gently clean their brushes in the palms of their hands under running water. They wash until the water runs clear, fix their brush’s “hair-do,” then place their brush “hair in the air” in the dish drying rack.

5. Washing Palettes

I really didn’t like using plastic palettes because of the clean up. But, because I’ve taught my students to clean them, I don’t have to worry about it! I encourage students to hold the palettes sideways, at first, under running water. This prevents paint and water from spraying everywhere. Next, students use the sponge to wipe out each paint well. Then students rinse, do a once-over check, then place the palette in the dish drying rack.

6. Loading the Drying Rack

I have two big worries about my drying rack. One is running out of room. The other is that a student’s artwork may get ruined by an improperly placed item. But, I found these issues actually resolve themselves! You just need to clearly teach, model, and practice using the drying rack. Share with your students how to load each level of the drying rack so that it is full, but emphasize that no one’s work is directly on top of anyone else’s. I also encourage students to place their work on the “criss-crosses” where the metal bars intersect so that work doesn’t fall through.

7. Cleaning Up

paint clean up poster

Our paint clean-up routine is very similar to our normal clean-up routine. Because of this, students are already familiar with the general steps. With this specific clean-up routine, I like to work with a gradual release model. At the beginning of a paint unit, I model and we practice. Right before we actually need to do the routine, I review and give reminders. Then, once we get used to the painting routines, any errors generally just require a quick reminder.
As with anything, you need to find what works for you and your students. These are the routines that are working for me this year with the majority of my classes. These routines can be flexible and adapted to suit unique groups or age levels. Try introducing just one or two to start. And remember, don’t underestimate the value of modeling, practicing, and reteaching!

What is something that you have students do now that you used to be responsible for?

What is the routine that saves you the most time in the art room?

Alecia Eggers Kaczmarek


Alecia is an elementary art teacher in central Iowa who is passionate about teaching and reaching her students with an innovative and meaningful arts education.


  • Dawn Kruger

    A few routines I teach:
    First job is to move artwork to drying rack so that table is clear for others to clean. Clean floor spills immediately.
    Wash tables, but don’t dry them. Why waste paper towels? They will be dry by the time the next class finishes directions.
    Also, I buy a big pack of cheap washcloths every fall. They work so much better than paper towels for cleaning. So I teach students to rinse and hang them instead of leaving them wet and wadded up in the sink.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Excellent routines Dawn! Thanks for sharing! :)

    • Michelle Bianco Ekross

      I don’t find that they dry in time. Only my last class is allowed to wet wash. The others just wipe up any spills if necessary.

  • Martha Zellar

    I teach Art in a high school and have found it best to give students their own paint tray to use for the entire year. We put masking tape on the bottom and write their names on it with permanent marker. That way students are responsible for cleaning up and caring for their own plastic paint tray. I also have started buying gallon size baggies for them to save their paint in until the next day. This prevents a lot of paint from going down the drain. The baggies can be rinsed and reused several times before we have to throw them away.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Good solution Martha! Thanks for sharing!

  • Sarah R.

    How many sinks do you have?

    • Alecia Eggers

      Hey Sarah, I have three, the students use two of them because they’re lower, and more accessible.

  • Dan Bell

    Some suggestions on washing brushes: a gentle soap can be used to clean paintbrushes and it will get them cleaner than just water. I have the students use the foam soap that is in the soap dispenser by the sink (that the janitor refills!). Paint brushes should be laid down to dry or even tipped toward their bristles. If brushes are stood bristles-up water will pool inside the ferrule and can weaken the glue that holds the bristles. If you have paintbrushes with wood handles these might not dry well if packed together. I use cheap wire baskets that are made to hold paper and have students lay their washed brushes flat. I will re-wash the brushes and spread them out in several baskets propped up on one end so the bristles are downward. My oldest brushes have lasted for several years now.

    • Alecia Eggers

      Excellent tips Dan! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Rachel Duryee

    I have art jobs that are randomly chosen by “the picker” each day. these help tremendously!! I have the collector, who helps gather supplies, or bring everything to the sink (so there isnt 15 kids trying to get to the sink at once and knocking into each other’s palettes) Then there is the washer- who stands at the sink and washes palettes and brushes, the distributor- passes out supplies, listener- go to this person for help first, tree hugger- makes sure scraps get in the recycle bin, polisher- sweeps/wipes down tables, muffler- in charge of noise (I write NOISE! on board, the muffler erases a letter every time it gets too loud, when we get down to NO, there is no talking for one minute, after which the muffler can add one letter. -This is the MOST helpful job of all!)

  • Jodi Habr

    I have recently taught my students how to properly cut a mat and how to properly mount all different types of work so I no longer have to be responsible for cutting the mats for every piece for an art show. With my high school & junior high classes, I have established distinct consequences for not cleaning up properly which seems to really help keep them on track with the established cleaning routines. If they leave the art room, sinks and supplies in shambles and not properly cleaned up & put away they have to thoroughly clean up the entire room. This includes scrubbing the sinks, counters & desks; as well as recleaning & putting away any supplies.

  • Carly

    I’ve been using Piktochart to make posters for my room, then putting them everywhere! It may be overkill having 10 of the same poster in different spots around the room, but it does eliminate excuses. And laminating is essential for any poster near the sinks.

    • Great to hear these posters are in your classroom! We’re happy we are in your design toolbox :) ^@JackieMJensen

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