Inspired by the book “The Great Wave: A Children’s Book Inspired by Hokusai” by Véronique Massenot and Bruno Pilorget and the painting The Great Wave off Kanazawa by Katsushika Hokusai, my fourth grade kids created the most beautiful paintings.
I was hesitant to create an art lesson inspired by Hokusai’s The Great Wave. As a girl who loves Matisse and Van Gogh, Hokusai’s colors are rather bland and subdued. It wasn’t until I picked up Massenot’s picture book that lead me down a rabbit hole of Japanese art and wood cuttings.
In the end, I wanted this project to inject color theory and personality. My goal was to introduce a piece of art that told a story. In fact, as stated in Massenot’s book, Hokusai was inside by French composer, Claude Debussy. He happens to be my favorite composer so as I was creating this lesson, I listened to DeBussy. The music and the art was a bit of a mis-match to me as DeBussy’s music is so ethereal and The Great Wave is so powerful. I wish I added this musical element into my art lessons as it would have been interesting to see what the kids thought.
Onto the art project…
What You’ll Need:
- 12″ x 18″ white drawing paper
- Black oil pastel, pencils or your choice of mediums. I don’t use pencils for this reason.
- Cake tempera paints
- White liquid tempera paint (watered down just a bit)
- Brush & water
Drawing the Great Wave
This drawing is broken up into three sections:
- Foreground (first two waves)
- Middle Ground (main wave)
- Background (horizon line and Mt. Fuji)
We started by looking at a poster of Hokusai’s Great Wave and broke down the painting into the three sections. We drew the first wave first, then added the second wave and finally added the main wave. Drawing the waves was very easy and intuitive for almost every single child. If you eliminate the fuss of all the whitecaps, the kids can see how the shape of the wave is very simple.
The biggest wave should extend almost to the top of the paper. Once the main lines of the waves are drawn, the children drew the whitecaps. This is easier than it looks. We practiced drawing scribbles just below the waves. Some kids used curly, wavy lines while others preferred a jagged look.
Next the kids drew the stripes inside the break of the wave. This is part of what makes Hokusai’s woodcut unique.
Last, the children drew a horizon line and Mt. Fuji.
You can purchase a full version of this lesson in the Shop. It includes a video drawing tutorial, The Great Wave coloring sheet/drawing guide, book details, artist bio, artist statement, student galleries and teaching tips.
Painting the Wave
To keep this project simple, I placed two trays of cake tempera paint on each table. I just happen to have two different sets of temper paints and the combination of the two yields three different colors of blue. The children painted their waves with a combination of the three blues, left the waves white then painted their sky however they wanted.
Warm and Cool Colors
This is a great project to talk about warm and cool colors. I always have a simple color wheel chart on my whiteboard to refer to. Looking at the color wheel really helps most kids differentiate warm colors from cool colors. It’s not as intuitive as you might think, so don’t make you 4th graders feel badly if they can’t tell the difference.
The kids LOVED this project.
The 4th grade teachers LOVED this project.
I LOVE this project.
It was such a huge success. And by that I mean the kids were completely engaged. All but just a handful of kids completed it and it introduced a style of art they weren’t used to seeing in the art room.