Grand Canyon Painting Lesson
Here is another lesson inspiration from the book, Wow! America! by Robert Neubecker. A journey across the United States brings us to the great Grand Canyon. Layers of rock, canyons and eroded arches appear endless, broken up only by the slight variations of colors. This lesson focuses on creating depth in a picture. The concept here, near and far can be used or simply the foreground, mid-ground and the background. The results are quite graphic and dramatic–just like the Grand Canyon!
12″ x 18″ white paper
Pencil and eraser
Water containers and brushes
Tempera Paints: Mix up some desert-like colors in blues, browns, terra-cotta, yellows, etc.
Black tempera paint (watered down) and small tipped paint brush.
Photographs of the Grand Canyon
Neubecker’s book, Wow! America!
Drawing the Canyon:
Starting at the bottom of the page, draw a line that will represent the edge of a cliff. The line should be about a hands-width from the bottom of the page and should contain curved sections and sections that bend into one another.
Draw vertical lines where the lines bend in together. This creates the illusion of depth.
Next, draw the “pancake” like plateaus. It helps to keep the top part of the pancake relatively flat and then round the bottom. Draw as many “pancakes” as you would like.
Add the vertical lines that will turn the “flying pancakes” into plateaus. Encourage lines that bend slightly.
Draw a straight horizon line near the top of the drawing. Add rock formations, clouds, the sun, etc.
Once the canyon is drawn, students can now return to the foreground and add cactus, rocks, etc. Because the students are using pencils, they will have a tendency to draw these items small. Strongly encourage bigger items as this will make the painting easier.
Erase all unwanted pencil lines. A clean, concise drawing makes painting easier.
Painting the Canyon:
I find it’s helpful to paint the canyon in stages. Chose a color for the foreground and paint this area plus all the plateaus this one color. Some kids will find it very hard to stay with one color and I don’t force them. Rather I explain that sticking to one color makes it easier for the eye to pick up the plateaus. This is a great lesson for teaching color consistency for better composition.
After the plateaus are painted, paint the sky. Bring out all sorts of paints for this. I set out some blues, whites, pinks and let the students mix and play until they got their own personal sky color.
After the plateaus and sky, it’s time to paint the canyon. This is when the painting starts to look chaotic and messy. Students will fuss, balk and complain that they strongly dislike their painting. Encourage persistence! Suggest limiting the canyon colors to 2 or 3 tones and paint with up and down brush strokes instead of back and forth. This will make a big difference.
For the final and most important step, outline all original pencil lines with a small brush dipped in black tempera paint. The lines might be hard to see, so paint where colors meet.
Third and Fourth Grade Results…