Explosion Books!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

These small, square books “explode” into a series of square and triangular pages when you open them. Each student constructed their own book with decorative papers, cardboard, ribbon, and construction paper. But… this lesson began as a mystery project! Before they even knew we were making books, students were asked to be spontaneous and free while creating a large, abstract piece of art that incorporated tempera paint, tissue collage, Sharpie line work, and even white spray paint. After the painting was completed, a sample explosion book was shown amidst cries of “ooh” and “ahh”, and students busily and excitedly set about cutting their beautiful paintings up into a series of squares and triangles. The goal in assembling the book was to arrange the colored pages in a way that suggested balance and unity, while also showcasing interesting sections of the original abstract painting. Gold or Silver metallic pen was added as a final, unifying element to these whimsical books.

TO SEE A VIDEO TUTORIAL ON HOW TO MAKE THESE BOOKS, CLICK THIS LINK: https://amslerartroom.wordpress.com/student-work/explosion-book-video-tutorial/

Any leftover or unwanted artwork can be reborn as an Explosion book! Here are some examples made after a unit we did on Galaxy Painting. Students learned various watercolor techniques and painted a total of six galaxy paintings. Their favorite was used for an optical illusion lesson called “Glimpsing Galaxies” and the other five were cut up and used inside an explosion book. Far out!

57 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. D'Colorex Art Lessons by Libia A
    Apr 28, 2015 @ 04:04:00

    I love your project, Would it be possible for me to use it with my students?
    Sincerely, Libia at dcolorexkidsprojectsart


  2. Raven
    Sep 29, 2017 @ 03:27:25

    Hello, I love this! Is there any chance you could send me a template on how to cut and fold these. Really lovely!


  3. Alisha
    Sep 29, 2017 @ 20:45:46

    These look amazing! I would love to use you lesson plan for this. Is there any way you could send me some of your resources?


  4. Eve
    Oct 26, 2017 @ 23:32:57

    have you posted the video yet? also is there a way to possibly get the template for this as well?


  5. uamsler
    Oct 27, 2017 @ 00:38:30

    The video is posted! Click on the “Student Work” tab and scroll down to “Explosion Books VIDEO TUTORIAL”


  6. janejisunsung
    Nov 19, 2017 @ 12:58:21

    Hi, I love this idea! I was wondering how big did the squares need to be from the students’ paintings. I want to give them a sample square so they could trace out of their painting. Thanks in advance!


    • uamsler
      Nov 19, 2017 @ 21:57:56

      You determine the square size based on your finished book size, but for this example: If your covers are 4.5″, and your black pages are 4″, then I generally make my painting template 3.5″. That way, there is a 1/4″ border of black page paper showing all around. It’s important not to cover ANY folds of the book when you paste in your squares and triangles, otherwise the foldability of the book will be compromised. Have fun!


    • uamsler
      Nov 19, 2017 @ 22:04:04

      Also, I generally cut the template out of tag board or a stiff paper or mat board—It makes it easier for the students to trace multiples. Remember: you need 11 squares total: 1 for the cover, four for the inside, and the remaining 6 get divided diagonally to become 12 triangles.


    • uamsler
      Oct 11, 2018 @ 00:09:36

      I do the same thing: It helps to have some templates made so they can mark perfect squares! I generally go 1/2″ smaller than the page: Example, These books have 4″ by 4″ pages inside, so I use a 3.5″ template, which will allow for a small border of the black paper to show around each piece.


  7. Danielle Young
    Feb 19, 2018 @ 16:45:55

    These are beautiful! Did you look at any artist’s work as inspiration for the paintings? I really love the abstract designs.


    • uamsler
      Feb 20, 2018 @ 02:02:49

      Not particularly, although Miro was the inspiration for some of the mark making: swirls, dot-to-dot, etc. Day 1: Tissue collage, Day 2: painting: (Two analogous colors plus white or two primaries plus white. I give them three dollops of paint on a little palette and the idea is to mix freely.. Day 3: We used a Sharpie to outline edges— could be literal edges of a painted area or tissue piece, or anyplace where there is a color value change.


  8. Patty OH
    Feb 27, 2018 @ 00:43:04

    Can’t wait to get the template for your explosion books!


  9. Audrey A Van Brunt
    Mar 17, 2018 @ 01:51:25

    How big is the abstract painting that you have them make? These are beautiful, looking forward to giving them a try.


  10. Carol Bowman
    Mar 26, 2018 @ 20:11:01

    Wow, this is amazing…can’t t wait to try this myself and also with kids . You are truly talented. I have been teaching art for 39 years and not too many things amaze or excite me. I have a fun unit called “You Cube” , let’s trade templates…


  11. Debbie
    Mar 16, 2019 @ 22:26:09

    What age(s) is this recommended for and how long would it take the children to make the books if everything is precut?


    • uamsler
      Mar 16, 2019 @ 22:53:09

      I would say grade 5 and up, with more independence to be expected with increasing age. I do it with my 7th graders (and I do precut everything,) and we construct the book in a class and a half! Each class is 47 minutes. I’ve done it in a single class with the “right” groups. 🙂
      This, of course, refers only to the blank book construction and not the artwork that eventually goes IN the book.


  12. Rebecca
    Aug 05, 2019 @ 03:02:09

    This is absolutely amazing, and your directions in the tutorial are fantastic!! I work with developmentally disabled kids and I am going to try this with my 8th grade and high school level students. The comments also really helped clarify the abstract painting part. I really can’t wait to try it this year!! Thanks so much for sharing 🙂


  13. Emily Morrow
    Sep 19, 2019 @ 21:05:03

    Trying this with my 8th graders today! Starting with watercolor abstract paintings for the background. Your video and directions are PERFECT! Thank you for sharing this awesome plan. Do you have an instagram for your room I can tag you in when I post pictures? I will of course include your website link.


  14. Morgan Miles
    Jan 08, 2020 @ 20:59:17

    These are amazing! Just curious, how long did this lesson take from start to finish with your 6th graders?


    • uamsler
      Jan 08, 2020 @ 21:16:05

      Hmmm. It varies, but, based on 47 minute class periods, about 4 classes to make the painting, 2 classes to mark and cut your squares and triangles. 1 class to assemble the book, (If you pre-cut and prep everything, set up stations to choose materials and are VERY organized!) 1 class to glue the pieces in the book, one class to embellish. To be safe, plan on two weeks, if you meet daily.


  15. marie Johnson
    Feb 09, 2020 @ 19:39:34

    Good morning , love this lesson . So much to learn in the process. I do have a question though . What size are the squares that the children cut out from their abstract painting? Also how large is the paper that you used for the abstract painting? Thank you so much for this wonderful lesson.


    • uamsler
      Feb 09, 2020 @ 19:54:59

      Did you see the video tutorial? https://amslerartroom.wordpress.com/student-work/explosion-book-video-tutorial/
      This breaks down some of the sizes/techniques, but basically the page squares should be about 1/4-1/2″ smaller than the finished “page” of the book. I believe the sample shows 4″ squares. Size of big painting doesn’t matter as long as you have enough room to trace 11 interesting squares. I’ve seen people who have the kids paint long strips that are pre-measured to the correct width, and they just cut those strips into squares. (This option may go quicker, but leaves little “choice” as to the composition of each square.)


      • Marie Johnson
        Feb 09, 2020 @ 20:59:56

        Thank you so much for your quick response,
        Yes I did watch the video extremely helpful. I noted that you mentioned the size of the black paper as
        well as chipboard but not the the actual squares
        from the abstract.
        However having your clarification on size of abstract squares is perfect .
        Thank you again for a super lesson.

  16. Elizabeth Garat
    Sep 19, 2020 @ 03:26:39

    So fantastic. So you have them glue the pieces on after you glue the blank pages in ? Does that work better than assembling the inside and then glueing it in ?


    • uamsler
      Sep 19, 2020 @ 03:40:27

      Yes, It’s much better to assemble the “blank” book first. It would be really easy to glue the triangles and squares on the WRONG surfaces if you tried to to glue them on before finishing the book assembly. Also, when gluing in the squares and triangles, often the edges of the pieces will start to curl up before the glue sets. If that happens, close the book up and put a weight on it for a minute, then continue. (I tell the kids to sit on it!) It’s also helpful to close the book and weight it when you’ve finished assembly to make sure everything dries nice and flat. Did you see my video tutorial? It’s linked on the page!


  17. Mrs. Karin Louw
    Oct 15, 2020 @ 17:27:58



  18. Shannon
    Feb 16, 2021 @ 03:12:41

    Does the black construction paper need to be 8 by 8?


    • uamsler
      Feb 16, 2021 @ 20:07:48

      It can be any square size you want, but then the cover size and triangle/square page sizes need to be altered as well.


    • Teresa Coles
      Aug 18, 2021 @ 05:46:21

      Is the black paper card stock???


      • uamsler
        Aug 18, 2021 @ 18:17:49

        I use good quality black construction paper. It gets sturdier when you cut and glue in whatever you decide to use as the inside page decoration! Cardstock would be too thick when double-layered and folded flat. Check out my how-to video on my site! I go over all the needed materials.

  19. Kelli
    Sep 03, 2021 @ 22:33:33

    Your video is amazing! So very helpful! I am making my own right now and I can’t wait to try it with my students! Thank you!


  20. Karen Ray
    Oct 20, 2021 @ 07:11:25

    THESE WERE A HUGE HIT! Amazing Directions! Wow! I would like to post and credit you and link to your stuff on me and my sister’s art blog. Just lemme know if that’s okay or not! Seriously…Awesome! https://2soulsisters.blogspot.com/


    • uamsler
      Oct 22, 2021 @ 16:30:58

      That’s fine! Glad they were a hit. My students always love the lesson. Please credit my blog AmslerArtRoom.wordpress.com and my name, Ursina Amsler, Middle School Art Teacher at Masconomet Middle School, Boxford, MA


  21. Mary Ann Athens
    Feb 23, 2022 @ 06:07:21

    Where did you get the galaxy stickers in the photos???


  22. uamsler
    Feb 23, 2022 @ 20:03:51

    I googled “earth” and “planet” and “comet” pictures, etc. I made my own clipart sheets and let the kids choose the images they liked! They cut them out and attached them with glue stick.


  23. Cecily
    Mar 17, 2022 @ 20:48:55

    What kind of chipboard did you use (how thick) for the covers?


  24. Cecily
    Mar 17, 2022 @ 22:07:43



  25. Eileen D
    Apr 13, 2022 @ 00:27:52

    Do you have any information about how you made the abstract piece originally? This is so beautiful!


    • uamsler
      Apr 13, 2022 @ 01:33:49

      > Day 1: torn paper collage. Tissue works great, or mix in some patterned paper. NO SCISSORS. Use watered down glue and a brush to apply.

      > Day 2: Tempera paint: three analogous colors plus white. No water, No more than 1 brush: just let things mix spontaneously. I demonstrate different mark making techniques, i.e. spirals, large dots connected with a wandering line, “seeds”, (random, short lines), “rays”, (parallel lines radiating out from another shape, like a piece of tissue) “ripples”, (lanes that radiate around a shape). They will be annoyed that they can’t wash their brush, because they want to keep everything one perfect color, BUT THE MIXING IS WHAT MAKES IT INTERESTING! I use disposable paper plates on this day to maximize work time and minimize clean up.

      > Day 3: watercolors: more of the above mentioned techniques, and or fill in gaps.

      > Day 4: Thick Sharpie: outline any edges, which might include the literal edge of a piece of tissue or splotch of paint, BUT it can also be where you see a perceptible color/value change within the paint, where colors mixed. (This might take 2 classes)

      > OPTIONAL: watered down white tempera as a final “spray” effect here and there.

      > Once they’ve selected their best areas and made their triangles and squares for the book, we also go in with metallic silver or gold for more edge work!


      • Megan
        Aug 02, 2022 @ 23:43:20

        This is AMAZING as are all of the lessons I see on your blog. You are a total inspiration to me. I have finally gotten my school to include are with our 7th and 8th grade. I am hoping this project really grabs my 8th graders and gets them excited about art class this year. I see your directions you used for the abstract multimedia and was wondering if you use 90lb paper or a thicker watercolor paper for the multimedia painting. Thank you so much for sharing all of your beautiful ideas and student work with us.

      • uamsler
        Aug 04, 2022 @ 02:58:59

        Any lb. can work, as long as the paper is thick enough to withstand moisture!

  26. Eileen D
    Apr 13, 2022 @ 18:56:13

    WOW! Thank you for replying so swiftly! This is such a beautiful project!


  27. Mandie
    Jun 03, 2022 @ 05:47:33

    LOVE THIS! Do you happen to have a rubric or project expectations for the students?


  28. Sam Rausch
    Sep 23, 2022 @ 22:16:27

    Hi there! I work with Nasco Education and would love to feature this amazing lesson in our Teacher Resource Center! This is a paid opportunity. Please reach out if you are interested!


  29. Tina
    Oct 01, 2022 @ 09:47:53

    I absolutely love this project! I did this 4 years ago and am doing it again this year with 4-6 grade. Our painting was inspired by Joan Miro’s work and we used crayon, watercolor paint, tempera paint and markers. I use a clear plastic square template (using Shrinky Dink sheets) for them to trace the squares on the front of their painting so they can see exactly where the square will go. My students love how their projects end up and it is my favorite project to do with my students! Thank you so much for coming up with this and making the video! I had not done this the last time I taught this, but this time I am directing my students’ parents to your sight. Many of them have asked about it. Again, thank you!


    • uamsler
      Oct 01, 2022 @ 16:31:53

      Thanks Tina! There are so many fun variations to be done with this lesson. I am glad your students are having fun with it. By the way, that Shrinky dink film idea??? BRILLIANT!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: