Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Atmospheric Perspective Watercolor and Acrylic "Studies"

I am really proud of my sixth grade students who followed through with this challenging assignment. Our schedule was very broken up right before the holiday break, so even though I started this with all students, only a few finished. This was a challenge not only for the students, but for me. After each class I needed to reflect and take note of what worked and what didn't work. As I suppose I should with any lesson, but this one in particular needed extra thought.

There have been multiple pins floating around lately of assignments using the basic concept of value to define space. One of the units in the sixth grade curriculum focuses on nature, so to continue our study of trees, I thought this would be a nice follow up and addition. I was inspired by this pin:

from Pinterest

I made sure to test the materials before I started this assignment. I like to try my assignments first so I know what might be frustrating for students and have some tips ready. The trickiest part of this painting was the timing. For the background we used watercolor which needed to dry before applying the acrylic layers of gray and black.
  1. We started out viewing a completed work and talked about what we saw. Kids picked up right away that it looked "3D." I would ask why and list things like overlapping and shade on the board. I wrapped it up by talking about atmospheric perspective. I knew that in science students had recently learned about atmosphere so I explained that a way to remember atmospheric perspective in art, is that there is more atmosphere between us and the farthest horizon. Therefore it looks hazier, the atmosphere starts to blur the details. 
  2. Students then decided what colors they wanted to use to describe the time of day in their painting and used watercolor to fill a 9x12 page. I challenged students to blend at least two colors. I also showed them how to use paper towel to create texture (and in some cases pick up excess/too much paint).
  3. If there was any time left in the first class period, students planned the placement of their trees and horizon lines on newsprint.
  4. The next class began by talking about value and a review of atmospheric perspective. Each student was given a small palette and brush. Tables shared water cups and had a small container each of black and white acrylic, which could be scooped onto their palettes with pop sticks.
  5. Thankfully, I have a document camera, which after a disastrous first class, I realized I should use for the following steps. First of all, I was able to show them what their work station should look like, including about how much paint should be on the palette. Next, we drew the farthest horizon line and small trees, like their sketch, right over the watercolor painted page from last class. 
  6. Using the document camera again, I explained how to make a very light value that would be used for the trees and land farthest away. 
  7. After a few minutes of working, I would ask for ideas about what we would do next. Remembering atmospheric perspective, most student understood that the next layer would be a little darker. I again modeled with the document camera. At this point, the students understood the patterned and worked independently.

I find it really interesting the wide range of brush "techniques" student used. I think in order for this to be more successful, I need to go back to basics. I made the assumption that sixth graders would know how to hold a brush. I also made the assumption that after drawing trees for an earlier assignment, students would know how to paint the silhouette of trees. Overall, the complete images are really beautiful (and already caught the attention of their homeroom teachers) and I would try this lesson again.


  1. These are really beautiful! Some have a slightly haunting kind of feel- really into it!

  2. Really cool project and I have also seen this pin on Pinterest and loved it. Thanks for all your detailed steps and your kids did a great job! Do you find you use your document camera alot in Art class? I've debated getting one for a couple of years now....

    1. I probably use it at least once with every assignment. Its been awesome to teach perspective and other techniques. With this particular lesson, I tried to go without and what I was saying just wasn't making sense. The camera is great even to just display artwork really large.