Thursday, November 4, 2010


Every summer I spend a couple of weeks with my brother and sister-in-law in Montana.  This is the view from their back yard. I packed my traveling watercolors last summer and spent some time with my sketchbook looking at this scene and recording the sight.  I  remember thinking about how I would paint the background with all those trees fading off as far as the eye could see.  

Since we've spent some time drawing and shading bamboo in art class this week, I want to have the kids transfer that lesson to some other cylinders, so I plan to use this photo (and a few others I got from Google images) as a springboard for our forest watercolor. We'll focus on what colors you see behind all the trees and how the trunks are shaded.

The first part of this lesson will be to discuss and model masking the trunks with Scotch Painter's Tape (I got the kind for delicate surfaces).  It is important that the kids NOT press too hard on the tape as they are applying it. Once the trunks are taped, students will use watercolors to quickly paint the background colors, working on keeping the watercolors fluid and loose.
Next, the students will remove the tape carefully.  Even if it sticks a bit, that's OK because it will give the trunks more texture and a more uneven contour line.
When the watercolor has dried a bit more (10 minutes in our warm weather!!), children will again use watercolors to paint the trunks, mixing complementary colors to make the browns.  I would like them to try all 3 sets of complements so they have experiences with the various browns they can mix. (red/green, orange/blue, purple/yellow) While each trunk is still wet, they will mix a teeny bit of black with the brown used to paint that trunk to create a shade to drop in on the side of the trunk away from their light source, giving the illusion of 3 dimension.

Our next project (about Dale Chihuly) will be working with complementary colors used next to each other to create contrast, so I want this lesson to look at complements with another purpose in mind.
Students can add some extra texture on the trunks using crayon and a few skinny trees in the background, if they wish. We'll lightly sponge tempera paint to give the illusion of foliage as a final step. 

This is a fun project to do and there are many images on Google images to share with the class for reference as they are working.  

CA Content Standard 2.1 Use shading (value) to transform a two-dimensional shape into what appears to be a three-dimensional form


  1. I really like this. I think the students will be pleased with the results. I like that idea of using different complimentary combinations to yield different browns. We might have to borrow this one - in 2011!

  2. I like the complementary combo as well, I just did a version of this with my second grade and used bleeding tissue paper on the forest floor for the leaves. We also looked at Klimt's birch trees for inspiration.

  3. These are wonderful! I love them! I like the idea of the tape. I was thinking about using too for a water color project. You reminded me that I should!

  4. This is beautiful! Fourth grade is when I begin to work with complimentary colors as well so I think I will try this in class. I saw during an art convention a few years back something similar with masking tape; a winter wash in the sky and instead of painting inside the trees browns they did the "black eyes" for the Aspen trees. It was a much more simplified version for third graders, but also beautiful! Nice idea!