Inspiring children one color at a time

Gustav Klimt Art Project

By on Aug 23, 2012 | 21 comments

Despite the detailed elegance of Gustav Klimt’s “Tree of Life” painting, this quick, calming art lesson can be completed in under an hour.

You’ll need metallic paint for this project. I used Sargent Metallic Tempera paint but other brands work just as well. There is a quality to the metallic paints that makes the paint glide over the paper. It’s quite lovely and the children enjoy the process.


Start by painting the trunk of the tree. Some children will have a tendency to draw the trunk quite straight, so make sure to show them how to paint the trunk in fluid motions by drawing the sides swaying as opposed to drawing straight lines. Extend branches from the center and use swirls at the tips of each branch.

Use some white tempera paint (I neglected to add that supply in the list!) and paint over the gold paint. Let these areas dry completely and then the children can paint over these patches of white with black paint to make patterns or designs. Some of my students used oil pastels to add designs which I thought was a good addition.


The final step is to use black paint to outline all of the tree branches. I think this makes the piece. Some children are hesitant about using black paint and a brush, so it may be a better option for them to use a thick black marker. Make sure the gold paint is dry before adding marker or you will ruin your marker.

This lesson is a great way for children to use their own creativity and style to create a piece of art all their own. Klimt’s example is beautiful but what’s even better is seeing how children use the piece as inspiration. Try not to give too many instructions while drawing the tree; there isn’t a wrong way and the children might surprise you with their interpretations.


Sixth Grade Tree of Life Paintings… 


 Here’s a handout that may help your students with the drawing.



  1. These are just beautiful. I especially like the branches overlapping the trunk. I’ve been wanting to do a Klimt picture for ages, and this is it! The handout is great too! Thanks so much for sharing.

    Elizabeth - Dreampainters

    August 23, 2012

  2. Wow. Awesome. Thanks for sharing all of this. Thanks for the post.
    Come visit me at toddlersthroughpreschool anytime and leave some feedback!
    Cathie J

    Cathie J

    August 24, 2012

  3. These are very nice! I may try this with my thirds this year. thanks for sharing! :)

    Tery Castrogiovanni

    August 24, 2012

  4. Thank you so much, Patty. Your post always get me going on a lovely tangent. The extent of my teaching will BE expanding this next school year, and I really want to find ways to mix writing with art in an afterschool program. This idea gave me a whole new vista for a way to explore, and I am as always grateful for your inspirations.

    Currie Silver

    August 24, 2012

  5. I love this project, Patty! I never thought to do it in reverse, with a gold tree on brown paper. The kids LOVE working with gold paint, so this will be a fun project to add this year. Thanks for sharing so many great ideas!!

    Cheryl Trowbridge

    August 24, 2012

  6. I am checking everyday to sign up for the class. I was so disappointed to just miss signing up for the last one. Do you know when you will allow us to begin signing up?

    Terri Foley

    September 5, 2012

  7. This lesson is fantasic! I did gold trees on dark brown cardboard, and silver trees on a gorgeous silvery charcoal coloured card that I had. The kids chose which one they wanted to do and I had about 50/50 of each colour.They both looked equally spectacular and so many compliments were received by teachers, parents, and other classes! Your ideas are so easy, yet so inspirational! Thank you!

    Sue Docker

    September 17, 2012

  8. It would be so helpful to have rubrics also attached to the deep space sparkle lessons that are posted! I just finished this lesson with my special education students, and don’t have time in the day for creating rubrics, and I need to post them on every bulletin board. Thanks!!!

    Heather Benazzi

    October 17, 2012

    • Hi Heather,
      I don’t do Rubrics. You’ll have to come up with this on your own!


      October 17, 2012

  9. I REALLY want to try this out with my students. Where do you find brown sulphite paper? Is there something else that can be used? Also, how much paint would you say a class of 35 would need? 8 ounces? 16 ounces? Etc.

    Thank you so much for posting such lovely lessons!


    October 21, 2012

  10. I did this project with my students. The results were extraordinary. We used construction paper crayons on brown construction paper with my lower grades. My middle school students used paint on mini panels. I left an enlarged detailed image on the screen during the entire class session for each class. I received a note in my mailbox from a student thanking me for the project- that it was the “best one” he had ever done.

    Thank you again for your wonderful site. Thank you also for being such a light in a world where in many places the arts are not taken seriously or with any heart.

    Patty Lee

    January 5, 2013

  11. You are amazing! Thank you!


    May 3, 2013

  12. We did a version of this project 2 months ago…1st Graders. We used metallic gold on BLACK. And then I let them decorate the tree using geometric scraps we had left over from a mosaic project AND 3D jewels, and scrapbook printed paper punches of owls and birds. They were AMAZING! And it was one of those magical projects that the kids really blossomed while doing it. They LOVE this tree. Easy and yet so artistic. THANK YOU FOR THE IDEA!!!


    May 10, 2013

  13. Thank you for the project Patty.


    September 9, 2013

  14. For what grade level did you do this project with?


    March 20, 2014

    • Sixth grade but you could do it with grades 3 through 6 with as much success.

      Patty Palmer

      March 24, 2014

  15. This is WONDERFUL! I’m going to adjust the task so I can do this lesson with JK to grade 4. Thank you so very much for sharing :)


    December 5, 2014


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