Tree of Life Acrylic Painting Lesson Plan

Tree of Life Acrylic Painting Lesson Plan

TESTING SEASON. One of the most dreaded words in a teacher’s vocabulary. Testing completely throws off any routine or schedule we’ve worked hard all year to maintain! For my school, we completely flip-flop schedules and have SILENT transitions and SILENT lunches. Silent is not in a 10-12 year old’s vocabulary.

During test seasons, I try to teach a lesson that is so interesting and engaging students forget they spent all morning taking a standardized test. I want it to be hands on but not something that has to be really mind bending. Something that is hard enough but has a lot of repetition so they can master a basic technique…

I decided to teach basic acrylic painting techniques using repeated tints and repeated shades. I knew that 5th graders loved (and respected!) acrylic painting, so I revised the lesson I usually teach, Monochromatic Night Landscape, to something a little more testing brain friendly.

Day One: Art History Discussion & Tree Drawing

Finding an artist that incorporates trees in their artwork is easy. There are hundreds of artists to look at. I try to always include a diverse mix of artists and the following artworks are what I select from for my art history discussion prompts. Throughout the unit, we look at an artwork and describe what we see, ask an artist question, make an evaluation statement, interpret the meaning and compare and contrast two works of art. One day I will make a post with all of my prompts. They really help encourage real art criticism and tie in all of those art history and criticism standards.

I usually introduce Gustav Klimt’s artwork first and then students follow the steps for Part One: Tree Drawing. I’m always surprised at how tricky students find this step. I remind them to not worry too much about their pencil lines, acrylic paint will cover that right up! It’s important that each branch goes completely off the page or connects to another branch. This is a more abstract work of art and we need nice contained areas to master our acrylic painting technique. Most kids won’t finish this in one day, but will have enough sections filled to move on to painting the next class period.

Day 2-3: Mixing Tints

The first day we paint is ALWAYS hectic. It doesn’t matter how organized I plan to be, it always takes forever and there is always a little confusion with getting materials and clean-up. Finding a routine for getting materials to and from students without making a giant mess is one of an art teacher’s daily magic tricks.

I show this tints & shades tutorial before students get materials and that keeps their focus on instruction and NOT on the messy materials in front of them. I try to remember to ask for clarifying questions before students get up and start moving so they don’t tune me out!

Once materials have been gathered, I sit down with my Elmo document camera and we each step-by-step mix our first tint. My rule is no one can raise their hand until they have mixed paint and filled a section. Once I’m finished with my tint, they paint along with me, I get up and visually check their work. “Great job!” “Ohhhh, that’s a pretty tint!” and a cheerful thumbs up goes a long way with hesitant newbie painters. An honest “try to wipe more of the water off your brush” and “looks good, next one try to not get paint inside you branch” is appreciated too. Students are always pleasantly surprised when I offer timely and specific feedback. Most students think their art teachers lie to them and just tells them everything looks good. I guess I didn’t get that memo…

The first day of painting tints is mostly discussion of how to get paint supplies and how to clean them up. I break this into two 45 minute class periods and the second day is just a review of the procedures and painting technique.

Day 4: Gradients

Once students have plenty of practice we “level up” by painting a gradient with our tint. I model how to put the base color in the corners and blend the white in the middle and out to the base color again to make a gradient. This is asking a lot from 5th grade students and I tell them this up front. I make sure they know this technique takes practice, and it’s the baseline for making anything look three dimensional with a paintbrush. I am always SO impressed with how advanced a 5th grade artist can be, and I give grace to students who struggle.

Day 5: Shades

I introduce how to paint a shade after students have had time to experiment with tints and gradients. I want to still limit their colors to just their base color and white so their palettes stay organized. Once I know students have the hang of it, we introduce a second base color and black for mixing shades. I explain how black and white make gray, and although it’s not wrong, mixing a tint with black will gray it out to a very neutral color. I emphasis a clean and organized palette and keeping each color clean and only mixing in one space.

I also explain that some colors aren’t as “pretty” (subjective, I know) as other shades. Yellow makse a funky green, orange turns really brown etc. Students can pick whatever base color they want, but this lesson could totally be revised to include a monochromatic color scheme, complimentary colors, split compliments etc. Students could also mix their own secondary and tertiary colors too! It’s whatever you have the time and gumption for, depending on your grade level. I would totally do this assignment in a high school Art 1 class (with a little bit of a stricter rubric 😉 ).

Day 5-7: Tree Painting

I really struggled with what to do with the tree. I thought about painting it solid white or black, but I wanted a little bit more of a challenge. I decided this time to do gray trees so they could continue their practice of making gradients and playing around with darks and lights. This takes a least two class periods for students to completely finish. I usually spend the third day reminding students about craftsmanship and how to pull a paint brush to create a smooth line. I don’t require that students outline each branch, but I show that as a technique to cover up any “oopsies” from their paint mixing.

After each technique has been reviewed, I give students the choice about which one to focus on for the day. Some students want to do one at a time and others want to bounce all over the place.

Day 8: Assessment

After some time for make up work, it’s time to turn these bad boys in! I always do a gallery walk with my students so they can look at their classmates art. Sometimes we vote for student choice awards, sometimes we write a compliment for another student, sometimes we do a peer critique (two stars and a wish, typically).

Once the fun stuff has been done, then we go over the rubric one last time and they fill in their grades and comments. I ALWAYS have students grade themselves first. It gives them ownership and accountability. It makes it much easier for me to grade and it makes students completely aware of their strengths and weaknesses.

This artwork was such a relaxing and time consuming way to spend our dreaded testing days. Students could come in to class and confidently get to work on an artwork that was engaging after spending all morning taking a test. Students told me this reminded them of stained glass, feathers, camouflage and peacocks. And they loved learning about such a broad range of artists.

What are your go to acrylic painting lessons? What do you do to survive testing seasons? Who is your favorite landscape artist?

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