HMK third-grader Cooper Taylor displayed his acrylic painting at Canyonlands National Park's Green River Overlook. [Photo by Bruce Hucko]

Art teacher Bruce Hucko is teaching his young students not only to draw and paint, but also to really see where they live – recognizing, even, the geological formations that make up Moab’s stunning landscapes.

Over a period of days in September and October, Hucko (also known as Art Coach, where he teaches at Helen M. Knight Elementary School) brought third- and fourth-grade students to Arches and Canyonlands national parks to paint “en plein air.”

A reception for the kids’ “Look Where We Live!” art exhibit will take place at the elementary school on Friday, Dec. 9, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. for the third-graders, and from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. for the fourth-grade students. The public is invited.

“I’ve always taught landscape drawing and painting in school,” Hucko said.

He decided to take it outside because, “I think it’s important for kids to know where they live,” he said.

Students learned how land is created, and how to actually “see” what they were looking at, Hucko said. Third-graders learned about erosional sequences – and how to identify landforms, including plateaus, mesas, monuments, buttes, spires, balanced rocks, valleys and canyons.

Initially, students are taught to draw what they see using only vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines.

“I ask them to see and draw the shapes – don’t make things up, but they can leave things out,” he said. “They’re drawing for accuracy; in painting, they get to be creative.”

Hucko began teaching at HMK nine years ago, thanks to funding provided by the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Learning Program, named for a woman who felt strongly that art should be taught in the schools – during a time when art programs were being cut nationwide.

“The legislature has raised money (for the program) every year since – it was proven worthy,” Hucko said. “Attendance has gone up all over the state. Kids don’t want to miss art.”

Four years ago, Hucko approached Joette Langianese, executive director of Friends of Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, with the idea of bringing his students to the parks to paint outside.

“It fit perfectly with our mission of energizing youth outdoors, and fostering stewardship of public lands in southeastern Utah, specifically the national parks,” Langianese said. Thus, thanks to the Friends’ group and the Bates Wilson Legacy Fund, “we sponsor the program,” she said.

The 2016 project received additional funding from the Grand County Education Foundation and the HMK School Community Council, allowing for an upgrade in materials, including canvases and pre-cut mats.

“By being out in the park, painting, they really have to focus. It’s a way to get kids deeply involved with their surroundings, through art,” Langianese said.

The program integrates skills with elements of the third- and fourth-grade social studies curriculum. In addition to learning about local landforms, the students become familiar with terms that are incorporated into vocabulary and spelling lists, and writing assignments.

Third-grade students go to the Green River Overlook at the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands, while fourth-graders visit the Windows section at Arches.

“Half of our kids qualify for free or reduced lunch,” Hucko said. “Many parents are working multiple jobs, with no extra money or time for parks. Even some of the parents – it’s their first time visiting the parks.”

Teachers and parents bring two classes at a time to the parks, where they are then split up into three painting groups, led by pastel artist and teacher Sarah Hamingson, watercolors teacher Shannon Scherer, and Hucko, who teaches kids how to use acrylics. Two sixth-grade “junior art coaches” assist the teachers.

“The kids love showing their artwork,” Langianese said. “They take it seriously. They’re proud of what they do and that they got to come to the park. It’s a wonderful way to get our local kids outdoors.”

HMK student art exhibit on Dec. 9 showcases plein air paintings

What: “Look Where We Live” art exhibit – plein air paintings of Arches and Canyonlands national parks by Helen M. Knight Elementary students

When: Friday, Dec. 9; third-grade reception from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m., fourth-grade reception from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m.

Where: Helen M. Knight Elementary School, 505 N. MiVida Drive

Information:; 435-260-8300

By being out in the park, painting, they really have to focus. It’s a way to get kids deeply involved with their surroundings, through art.