Sketchbook Project: Drawing the National Parks and Perspective

The Sketchbook Project #2: Atmospheric Perspective




The Sketchbook project: How to draw & paint atmospheric perspective + free worksheet

The Sketchbook Project is a record of how my sixth grade students used sketchbooks during their art class to record art information and create projects. Learn how I used sketchbooks instead of individual sheets of paper to teach art & creativity.

Week One: The Beginning

Week Two: Creating Value

Today’s Project: Atmospheric Perspective

Riding my bike to school offers a glimpse of our Santa Barbara mountain range. Mornings offer the most spectacular views as fog (or marine layer as we like to call it) casts a hazy glow over the foothills and the low lying mountain range.

Atmospheric perspective at its most beautiful.

Many of my students on route to school would notice this, too. They just need to look up. I couldn’t depend on this so I ordered a few National Park and California Landscape Posters from All-Posters. I sourced the posters that offered as much atmospheric perspective as possible without the image being too complex.

Building upon the information we learned in week one, Creating Value, we switched mediums and learned how to create value using watercolor paints.

Watercolors are a bit trickier as the results are far less dramatic and immediate. We practiced creating value using one color and adding drops of water to create a lighter hue. But before we dove into the lesson, we talked about the drawing.

The Sketchbook project: How to draw & paint atmospheric perspective + free worksheet

Drawing Landscape Perspective

This is my basic talking point on perspective that works for most elementary school kids:

Here: Objects closest to the viewer with darker or more intense colors. Mostly located at the very bottom of the paper but can be near the top.

Near: Objects in the middle of the picture and close to the horizon line

Far: Objects far away that diminish in size and appear lighter in color. Located at the top of the paper.

We used this strategy to break down 5-6 poster options that I displayed on the white board.

The trick with this lesson–and what differed from what I would have done the year before–was to offer the students the option to draw whatever scene appealed to them the most. Last year I would have narrowed the options down to about 2-3 scenes but all having the same basic structure. I still prefer this strategy as a teacher because it ensures that all students experiment with all of the art elements and techniques in the lesson.

But my intentions with the Sketchbook projects were different so this is what we did:

On the first day, I explained the basic concept of Here, Near and Far. I demonstrated the concept by drawing a few basic landscapes: rolling hills with some close-range element, a forest grove of trees, and a simpler version using Joshua Tree.

The second day, we explored how to create landscape colors that were light, medium and dark and how they would help distinguish distance.

The Sketchbook project: How to draw & paint atmospheric perspective + free worksheet

The rolling hills of Wine Country was a favorite choice of most students. The drawing was straightforward but had enough detail that most children could envision adding lots of color.

The Sketchbook project: How to draw & paint atmospheric perspective + free worksheet

The redwood were my favorite but only a few children opted for this drawing. I may have simplified the choice by making a teacher sample that was far too detailed and more nuanced than I could ever expect my students to do.

Stupid me.

First rule of art class: never show your samples. Or if you do, make sure they are at a kid’s level. Let’s face it, dappled light can intimidate kids.

The Sketchbook project: How to draw & paint atmospheric perspective + free worksheet

The Joshua Tree poster I purchased offered many students a simpler version of landscape perspective which in the end, turned out to be a wonderful choice and an art lesson itself. I loved how rich the sunsets looked. Plus the kids had fun learning a bit about these strange, prickly trees.

The girls were a bit surprised to learn that my husband proposed to me at Joshua Tree National Monument. 25 years ago, I didn’t value the beauty of prickles and rocks, but I do now.

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Missed the last installments of the Sketchbook project?

Intro:  The Sketchbook Project: The Beginning 

Week #1: The Sketchbook Project: Creating Value + Free Worksheet



What do you think?

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  • James Cassara

    I have to respectfully disagree about not showing my examples. The kids LOVE seeing that I too am an artist (as I tell them everyday they are) and rather than being intimidated by my examples they are curious as to how I created them. They understand that I have more than 30 experience teaching art and 50 years making it, and they are cool with that.

    • Katherine Plamondon

      I agree with James. I find my students are always excited to see that I do what I instruct them to do, make art. I always let them know that my finished pieces are the result of practice and often many “sloppy copies” which they understand.

  • kelsea3@live.com

    How do I order Sketchbook Project 2 about National Parks? I would like to purchase this.

    • Patty

      Hi Kelsea,
      This lesson isn’t for sale. It’s a free post. You can download a free worksheet though.

  • mhart

    Is the worksheet no longer available? When I click to download it says page not found.

  • kmathiesen

    I was wondering if the worksheet is still available? The link is currently not working.
    Thank you,


  • Erin

    Thank-you so much for taking the time to create these posts and lesson ideas. I am a homeschooling parent and was really stuck for art ideas to try at home. I have spent a lot of time today looking through your website and reading your posts and have found lots of inspiration 🙂

  • macula321

    I am the mother of a girl who likes to paint. She is ten years old.I have been reading these articles and I found that I can use it to teach my daughter, because in hangzhou ,china, I can’t find such a creative studio for my children.I want to buy some courses, but I haven’t paid for it yet. Will I send it to my email address after I pay?

  • debbiehoerst

    I don’t see any standards listed.

  • Christy

    I am looking for the worksheet that goes along with this lesson (I am super excited to work on this project with my kids this year! Thanks so much for sharing!)
    However, when I click on the link it says page not found. Is there another place I can access this?

    • Patty

      So sorry Christy. We’r din the process of fixing it 🙂
      Can you check back later on? Also, feel free to contact support@deepspacesparkle.com. They are quick to respond there 🙂

  • Erin CF

    Thank-you for your attainable and clearly explained projects. I love the balance you are striking between having clear expectations of what a project is supposed to help a student discover and yet giving them the freedom to find their own creative expression within it. I am excited to do this with my students.

  • Alex h

    Art is fun to draw and you can draw cool things by looking at them

  • ava erlenmeyer

    i love it because i love to draw things even doodling is fine with me

  • Seema+Shahzad

    amazing and very helpful art projects

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