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Adoptable Artwork

Goal: Students will recognize that shelter animals are individuals deserving of loving homes.

Grade Levels: 4st–12th grade

Time: 3 days

Audience Size: Best suited to smaller class sizes, such as 15–20


  1. Students will paint portraits of adoptable animals.
  2. Students will help in shelters by using art to draw attention to local adoptable pets.


  • Plain scrap paper or erasable white boards with markers
  • Pencils
  • Erasers
  • Art paper or canvas for each student plus a few extras
  • Acrylic paints (Have a good selection of both dog and cat colors and colors for backgrounds: brown, tan, orange, black, white, blue, red, yellow, and green are recommended.)
  • Assorted paintbrushes, including small detail brushes and large area-covering brushes
  • *Tracing paper and face-shot of adoptable animal (optional)*Students who have difficulty with free-hand drawing can use tracing paper to easily transfer the animal’s outline to the canvas.


There are millions of animals in shelters and rescues across the country. Each one is waiting for a forever home. Some of them are right here in our community. Even though you might not be able to adopt yourself, there are many things you can do to help, such as donate supplies and resources to care for them and help get their faces seen by more potential adopters. We are going to do an art project to create happy, beautiful portraits of some of the dogs and cats who need homes in our neighborhood. When people see your art, they will be more likely to give a shelter animal a chance. You could help a needy animal find a forever home!


Preparation before Day 1:

  1. Select photos of animals from a local shelter for your class. Your students will need the animal’s name and a photo to use as a reference. It will also help the student connect to the animal if you can get a short description for each one. Much of this information can be found by looking up your local shelter’s website or looking on an adoption website such as
  2. Familiarize yourself with simple steps on how to draw a dog or cat. Many children are natural artists, but you can look up guides on the Internet or in drawing books. Tracing paper is an excellent tool for this project.

Day 1 – Practice Drawing:

If needed, demonstrate the basic steps to drawing a dog or cat on a large board. Allow students to follow along on a scrap piece of paper, if desired.

  1. Pass out your reference photos and information to the students.
  2. Your students will also want to find a way to work the pets’ name into the picture.
  3. Allow the students to spend time practicing their drawings on white boards or scrap paper. Ask students to write their names on the whiteboards or scrap papers.
  4. Collect reference photos and drawing drafts to pass out on Day 2.

Day 2 – Final Draft of Drawing:

  1. Pass out each student’s papers from Day 1 and allow them some time to continue working on drafts.
  2. When they are ready, pass out canvases for their final drafts. Instruct your students to use their pencils very lightly when drawing their final drafts; this way they can easily erase if they make a mistake. Also, lightly drawn pencil marks are much easier to hide with paint.
  3. As your students are drawing their dogs and cats, tell them to start thinking about what background colors would complement their animals’ fur or collar. For instance, a black animal won’t stand out well against a dark background.
  4. Collect the final drafts to pass out on Day 3.

Day 3 – Painting:

  1. If you are teaching younger students, you should have each student’s work station set up before he or she arrives. Older students can set up their own areas. Each work station will need: at least one paper towel for wiping brushes, a container of water for rinsing brushes, varying sizes of paintbrushes, a paint palette with wells for different colors, and a flat palette or a plate for mixing colors.
  2. Pass out each student’s papers from Day 2. Because the students are seeing their drawings with a fresh eye, they may want to make alterations before beginning to paint.
  3. Walk around and give compliments and helpful advice to students as they paint. Refill paint wells as needed for young students.
  4. As students finish, place the portraits in a safe place to dry.


After the portraits are dried, display them in a local restaurant, library, community center, or even the walls of your school. You may want attach the original photographs of the animals’ to the corresponding animal’s portrait. Be sure to include contact information for the animal shelter where the dog or cat can be adopted. See news coverage of NHES’ Adoptable Artwork project:

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