Based on the painting The Great Wave off Kanazawa by Katsushika Hokusai, kids draw and paint their own version of Mount Fuji and the great wave.

The Great Wave Art Project




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.

Based on the painting The Great Wave off Kanazawa by Katsushika Hokusai, kids draw and paint their own version of Mount Fuji and the great wave.

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

Based on the painting The Great Wave off Kanazawa by Katsushika Hokusai, kids draw and paint their own version of Mount Fuji and 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.

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.

Based on the painting The Great Wave off Kanazawa by Katsushika Hokusai, kids draw and paint their own version of Mount Fuji and the great wave.


What do you think?

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  • Virginia

    What a great plan for the end of the year when beach is on all our brains!

    • RemeiGG

      I was thinking the same exact thing! Hahah. Teachers minds think alike!
      Thank you Mrs. Palmer! Amazing inspiration as always!

  • Miss R

    Great pictures – love the colours and link to music! I wrote a post a couple of days ago about The Great Wave and how it was connected to our class novel. If your pupils are into Michael Morpurgo or are doing a novel in class, Kensuke’s Kingdom is worth a look – art is a recurring theme and Hokusai and The Great Wave are alluded to on several occasions!


    • Patty Palmer

      Thank you for the resources! As I learned about Hokusai, I unearthed so many learning resources. It’s a great piece of art.

  • Jeanine

    This is a very inspirational post Patty! Thank you for sharing the musical experience you had. I don’t teach art but share in it at home learning with my children. The music playing during our art projects, is actually just becoming an additional importance. I will use this in our next art sitting ..

  • Ali

    Our volunteer parent-run school art program did this project with grades K-5 and even the kindergarten students’ were able to execute it with lovely outcomes. We integrated a bit more about Japanese culture, Mt. Fuji and the sea into the lesson. The primary grades did a group-reading of The Great Wave, which they loved. Great parent and teacher reactions. I highly recommend this project. Thank you, Patty, for such a wonderful resource.

  • Glaucia

    Hi Patty! Just wondering if the full lesson plan and the video of this specific project is availble for free if you are part of the members club. If so, how can I download it? Thanks!

    • patty.palmer@deepspacesparkle.com

      Hi Glaucia, It will be in a few months. I think I have Asian Art Scheduled for January.

  • xandra.conrad@gmail.com

    Hi I just signed up for membership but all the lesson plans say Join the waiting list when I want to download what is included in the membership….?

    • Patty

      Hi Xandra The Members Club is hosted on a separate website. here’s the link: https://www.deepspacesparkle.com/tmc/
      Make sure to login to your DSS first and then when you click the link, you’ll be able to access all of the resources. make sure to take a tour of the site by clicking the yellow box on the membership page then start enjoying!
      Glad you’re a Sparkler!

  • kirstenorourke

    Ummm…I purchased this lesson last night and received an email without any ckear indication of how to access it. In other words, where is the video?

    • Patty

      Hi Kirsten,
      The email should have contained a link to download. If you didn’t see it, you can visit your My Orders page and see all the lessons you have downloaded. I’m not the customer support so my instructions might be too vague. If you need help finding your My Orders page, can you contact support@deepspacesparkle.com. Shannon will gladly walk you through the steps. Thank you and enjoy the lesson! Patty

  • SHowArt

    Hi – I like this plan, but I’m confused by this phrase: “as stated in Massenot’s book, Hokusai was inside by French composer, Claude Debussy.” I thought maybe it was a typo and should have said “inspired by” but Hokusai died in 1849 and Debussy was born in 1862. Can you clarify?

  • jocefiesta

    I have this bundle but can’t seem to locate the video. The zip file does not include the video nor does the art resource for this bundle. I am excited to do in my class, but would like to see the video. Help!

  • Michael Methot

    The kids I am teaching did a unit on Van Gogh’s Starry Night last year in Grade 4. A mural of their work is still up.
    I was listening to CBC and they were talking about new research that shows that Vincent may well have been inspired by a print of Hokusai that his brother sent him.
    I came here thinking that my Grade 5’s could learn a bit about how different art cultures can merge to make whole new masterpieces. and I find that Hokusai may have been inspired by western music!

  • Raven

    Awesome! I’m an art teacher that follows more of a TAB style (Teaching for Artistic Behavior) so my kids are creating pieces inspired by The Great Wave.. Just wanted to share that my students LOVED THIS video about HOKUSAI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cebBWjgGAAQ

  • Annette Laing

    Where is the link to the video?

    • Hannah

      Hi Annette, this video is inside the Sparklers Club membership for art teachers. 🙂

      You can learn more about the membership by signing up for our waitlist here:

      -Hannah (Team Sparkle)

  • Dana

    If I don’t have drawing paper, would you suggest construction paper or watercolor paper? Thanks!

    • Bethany

      Hi Dana! Great question. Watercolor paper allows the paint to stay wet longer on the paper, which will intensify some of the effects. If you don’t have drawing paper watercolor paper would work great.

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