Grades/Level: Lower Elementary (K–2), Upper Elementary (3–5)
Subjects: Visual Arts, English–Language Arts
Time Required: Short Activity
One hour
Author: The J. Paul Getty Museum Staff

For the Classroom

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About Impressionism

Lesson Overview

This is a one-hour guided drawing lesson in which students will gain knowledge about composition and line. Students will build a “personal drawing vocabulary” by experimenting with various tools to create their own unique lines and marks using traditional art media. Students will create two original drawings in a one-hour en plein air, or outdoor, session.

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
• explore and discuss composition in a drawing from the Getty Museum's permanent collection.
• create horizontal and vertical compositions.
• use different types of lines to create a drawing.
• look carefully at the shape of a tree to produce a contour drawing.


• Image of Forest in Boisrémond by Théodore Rousseau
• Turquoise art pencils
• Bristol board
• Viewfinders (3-X-5-inch cards with a 1-inch square cut out in the center of the card) or empty 35-mm slide holders
• Clipboards

Lesson Steps

1. Begin by giving an overview of the lesson. Explain to students that they will experiment with materials to develop an understanding of drawing materials and surfaces. Students will also create two 10-minute drawings outdoors, using many types of lines on both sides of their paper.

2. Show students an image of the drawing by Rousseau. Give them the background information about the drawing and the artist, found in the Image Bank. Inform students that from his boyhood, Théodore Rousseau passionately loved nature. His unswerving determination to paint pure landscapes directly from nature paved the way for the Impressionists.

3. Have students look closely at Forest in Boisrémond and discuss the following:
• What do you notice first? Where is it located in the composition?
• Identify an object in this artwork that stands out. What makes this area of the artwork stand out?
• Use the viewfinder to focus in on one tree in the composition and look closely at the types of lines the artist used to describe it. Notice how the artist uses multiple types of lines to describe the trees, landscape, and figure (small to the right of the two trees to the left) in this work of art.
• Look carefully at the background. What do you notice in the background?

After viewing and discussing Rousseau's work of art, inform students that they will have the opportunity to create their own portraits of a tree.

4. Material Exploration—Introduction to Mark-making
• Inform the group that they will be creating drawings with a variety of different kinds of lines, and experimenting with making marks on paper. Students will build a personal drawing vocabulary by experimenting with many tools and types of marks.
• Hand out turquoise art pencils. Ask students to take one minute to explore multiple ways of holding this drawing tool.
• Model a few different ways to hold a mark-making tool. One way is to have the thumb and first two fingers in a straightened-out position, palm facing down at one end of the tool. Another way is to hold the tool between the thumb and first two fingers. Remind students that while they may be used to drawing with the hand, it is usually better to draw not just with the hand, but with the entire arm, especially when one is standing to draw at a desk or table. This lends itself to a looser stroke and more variety in lines produced while working.
• Let students know that they will experiment with the materials in a warm-up exercise and then use what they discover to create some drawings.

5. Warm-Up Exercise
• Tell students that it is important to hold their drawing tools loosely in their fingers.
• Demonstrate the next step to students: take a blank page and divide it into thirds with two vertical lines. Show students that they will draw straight lines on one third of the page, curved lines on the second third, and on the final third they will explore varying degrees of light and dark marks. Remind students to be aware of how fast or slow they are moving the drawing tool. Mention that the amount of pressure they use with their tools will change the marks they create.
• Tell students they have one minute to spend on each third of the paper.

6. Contour Exercise
• Explain that a contour is the outline of a shape and that students can produce a contour drawing by drawing the outline of an object.
• Ask students to use their index finger to trace the shape of the tree in Rousseau's drawing. Ask students to point out details about the shape of the tree as they trace the outline with their finger.
• Instruct students to begin their own contour drawings based on the tree they just traced in the air. Model looking up at the subjects then down at your paper while drawing. Emphasize that drawing from observation involves constantly looking back and forth. Show students that when you are no longer looking at the object and only looking at the paper, that you are drawing from memory.
• As students draw, provide constructive prompts to facilitate close looking. What does the shape of the trunk look like? What is the angle of the branch—is it totally horizontal or slightly tilted?

7. En plein air Exercise
• Distribute viewfinders, sheets of Bristol board, and clipboards to students. Students will create two compositions, one on the front, and another on the back of a sheet of paper. Students will create the first drawing on the paper horizontally, in the landscape position. They will then flip the paper and turn it clockwise 90 degrees to draw a second drawing in portrait orientation.
• Allow students to take a few minutes to walk around outside and for each to select one tree for his or her portrait. Instruct them to use viewfinders to explore different compositions with their chosen tree as the main subject. Students can push and pull the viewfinder towards and away from their faces to alter the space around the tree. Remind them that they are each focusing on one tree in the composition.
• For their first, horizontal drawing, each student should use a pencil to create a drawing of his or her tree that includes elements of the background. Remind students to use a variety of thick and thin lines to depict various aspects of their trees and the backgrounds. Encourage older students to add details to the background.
• Once complete, each student should flip and turn his or her page to portrait orientation and create a detailed view of the same tree. This time, students should look closely at details, such as the space between the trees' branches. Students should attempt to draw both the straight and curvy lines they observe in the branches. Each student's tree should fill most of the space in the viewfinder and on the paper; therefore, there won't be as much space around the tree as in the first drawing.
• Have students work in pairs to check each other's work. Remind students that they are creating two portraits of a tree, each with a different page orientation and a different amount of space around the object.
• Discuss how the different uses of space and the paper orientation affect the overall composition. Which orientation do the students prefer?

Forest in Boisremond / T. Rousseau
Forest in Boisrémond, Théodore Rousseau, 1842


Assess students' contour drawings based on their accurate depiction of the details they observed and whether each drew only the outline of the tree. Students’ drawings will be assessed on whether they include a variety of thick and thin lines as well as curved and straight lines. Also assess students' participation in the critique—do their comments reflect an understanding of how variations in the use of space affect a composition?


Have students write an imaginative paragraph about all the things that make the trees they drew special or magical.

Standards Addressed

Visual Arts Content Standards for California Public Schools

Grade 2

1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Perceive and describe repetition and balance in nature, in the environment, and in works of art.
1.3 Identify the elements of art in objects in nature, the environment, and works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, texture, and space.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.1 Demonstrate beginning skill in the use of basic tools and art-making processes, such as printing, crayon rubbings, collage, and stencils.
2.3 Depict the illusion of depth (space) in a work of art, using overlapping shapes, relative size, and placement within the picture.

Grade 3
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.2 Describe how artists use tints and shades in painting.
1.3 Identify and describe how foreground, middle ground, and background are used to create the illusion of space.
1.5 Identify and describe elements of art in works of art, emphasizing line, color, shape/form, texture, space, and value.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.3 Paint or draw a landscape, seascape, or cityscape that shows the illusion of space.
2.4 Create a work of art based on the observation of objects and scenes in daily life, emphasizing value changes.

4.0 Aesthetic Valuing
4.2 Identify successful and less successful compositional and expressive qualities of their own works of art and describe what might be done to improve them.

Grade 4
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Perceive and describe contrast and emphasis in works of art and in the environment.
1.2 Describe how negative shapes/forms and positive shapes/forms are used in a chosen work of art.
1.5 Describe and analyze the elements of art (e.g., color, shape/form, line, texture, space, value), emphasizing form, as they are used in works of art and found in the environment.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.1 Use shading (value) to transform a two-dimensional shape into what appears to be a three-dimensional form (e.g., circle to sphere).
2.3 Use additive and subtractive processes in making simple sculptural forms.
2.7 Use contrast (light and dark) expressively in an original work of art.

Grade 5
1.0 Artistic Perception
1.1 Identify and describe the principles of design in visual compositions, emphasizing unity and harmony.
1.3 Use their knowledge of all the elements of art to describe similarities and differences in works of art and in the environment.

2.0 Creative Expression
2.2 Create gesture and contour observational drawings.
2.6 Use perspective in an original work of art to create a real or imaginary scene.
2.7 Communicate values, opinions, or personal insights through an original work of art.