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…
Grand Canyon Tempera Paint Art Lesson Gallery


What do you think?

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  • Victoria Lee Stark

    Aloha Deep Space Sparkle Teacher! I have really enjoyed reading your site! I even try a few of the lessons myself! You know…don't we ALL really want to be artists? Thanks for the inspiration!
    Victoria in Hawaii

  • K-Sue

    Wow! THese turned out great! We may have to try this one.

  • Jacquelien

    What a great lesson and the results are beautiful! I'll put in on my lessons-I-want-to-do-list!

  • Your Impact Matters

    These are beautiful! I stayed the night camping at the canyon about 8 years ago and we woke in the morning to the most beautiful colored landscape. These paintings are like slides directly from my memory!

    Your site is wonderful! I'll be using your lessons for my three little girls that I'm homeschooling. The eldest is in preschool right now, but she'll soon be ready for some of the kinder lessons, and I'm so excited for her! Our home is going to be filled with the most beautiful child-created art, thanks to you!

  • The Mom-tage

    These are awesome! We're doing a "Creative Summer Activities" blog hop. Would love for you to link some of your favorites up so we can send some traffic your way!

  • Ms. Julie's Place

    So, I have not been keeping up with my favorite art teacher blogs. Or my own for that matter- but golly jee, there's something to be said for staying away for a while. What a plethora of inspiration I have waiting to dive into! Thanks for keeping up during the summer. Looking forward to using some of these come the fall.

  • Rachel@oneprettything.com

    What a fun painting lesson! I love those canyon colors. Thanks so much, I'll be linking.

  • SnakDaddy

    I love the idea and tried it with my daughter who is 11. We just visited the canyon in June so I thought it would be a great way to create and share a memory. Funny thing is, she looked at the lesson and paintings and said " the lines of color should be horizontal, not vertical, then she brought up our photos and I'll be darned if she wasn't right. She also said that suguaro castus don't grow in the canyon because of the elevation. Again she was right. We did the lesson as you wrote it, but made our bands of color horizontal and left out the cactus. Don't you hate it when the kids are smarter than we are.

    Love your ideas, please keep them coming! They are fantastic.

  • Ginger Snaps

    These are just beautiful and they look soooo easy to do! I love it!

  • Kathy

    I really like your idea of this painting about the Grand Canyon. Thank you for providing the information about the winding and curved perspective for the rocky ledges. This is a lesson I'd love to try in my classroom if we cover the topic of American landmarks. Thank you for posting it on your blog.

  • Ramona

    I will be doing this lesson with a group of homeschoolers,. And we are going to put the paintings to the music of The Grand Canyon Suite. Hopefully, I’ll have some beautiful results to post. I checked out Wow! America to use as you suggest. I was pleasingly surprised at how similar your kids’ paintings are to the one in the book. Great resource! We are also incorporating geography and science into our art and music lesson. Thank you so much.

  • Denise Ferrell

    Patty.. This Grand Canyon lesson is a start. Our 3rd grade is doing the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. Each class will have kids working on one. I have mixed classes that puts 4 classes into 3 sessions. Any suggestions for books, ideas for organization or links with ideas? While I was searching I thought I’d check with you and others on this blog. Thanks!!!

  • Cherie

    I just found this site this morning and tried the Grand Canyon Art Lesson. We just drew today and plan to paint during our next art time. I read Grand Canyon: A Trail Through Time under the doc reader to get the class focused and related it to what we have been studying in class. Then, did guided drawing. Once they started drawing the vertical lines, they got so excited. Great fun and can’t wait to try more lessons…I am going to find a copy of Raptors, Fossils, Fins and Fangs.

    • Patty

      So glad you tried this lesson. There’s alot of learning going on in this lesson and it was so much fun for my 4th graders. They still ask about this lesson. Thanks for the book tie-in.

      • Robert

        All of your lessons are wonderful. Thank you so much for your time and effort. This is a great site!

  • Sykie Toles

    I will be moving to Arizona and taking a 3/4 grade class beginning this August. I found your Arizona unit on Pinterest and it is so helpful! Thank you for sharing!

  • jillhatcher2

    I would like to do this nice art lesson with my students. One of my students recently visited the Grand Canyon and she and her family were so impressed by the magnificent beauty. I am a Sparkler Club Member and would like to have a lesson format that I can print and then share with my students on Zoom. Is that possible? It looks like a great Here, Near and Far lesson.

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