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Jason Messinger: Abstract Landscaping | Arts & Activities
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Feb 2016

Jason Messinger: Abstract Landscaping

Jason Messinger: Abstract Landscaping

Jason Messinger is a Chicago-based artist who likes to walk the line between representation and abstraction in his work.

I think it’s important for all ages to play with and practice these concepts as well. He has created numerous clay tile series that explore the landscape vocabulary of places around the world. This body of work is a great introduction to how an artist can create depth through overlapping, size change and value change while not having to make things look real.

When I share Jason’s art with my students, we identify how he works with shape and color value to create some 3-D space, while working with a minimal number of landscape elements. Our goal for this project is not to copy one of Jason’s works, but to be inspired by his vocabulary of shape and create something new.

For this lesson, I have my students do some preliminary work before starting their final drawings. First, they created color value scales. (I use different color schemes for different classes, such as—yellow and green; red and yellow; blue and yellow; etc.) We talk about how pressing hard or soft creates different values.

They then draw a few simple landscape elements—pine tree, cypress tree, setting sun/bush, stream/path. The third step is for students to put them together in an interesting way in two sketches. They needed to overlap at least once, and change sizes from big to small somewhere.

This year, I have been putting added emphasis on speaking and listening in my classroom to reinforce art content, to reinforce ELA standards, and to assist in developing critical thinking skills. With this lesson, when students finish sketching I have them think about which one they are more interested in and why. They then share their reasoning with a neighbor. Just as I model the visual steps, I make sure to model these verbal steps so students have a framework to work with.

Students receive a white 8″ x 8″ square of paper to draw on. When they have their chosen composition drawn, they can color it with any of the color values they made in their scales. The one rule is that shapes that share a side cannot be the same color.

To close the activity, students write about their experience—how they created depth, why they went with one sketch over the other, and a question they would ask Jason if they could.

A PERK TO FOCUSING ON LIVING ARTISTS is that you can share your students’ work with them. I selected a few student questions and sent them to Jason. He was kind enough to respond, and I then read them to the kids. This aspect is so cool: contact with the artist makes the content so much more real for my students.

Here are a couple of the questions I sent to Jason:

Q: Why do you make your trees flat? (Elsa, room 735)

A: I wanted to reduce the complexity of the images as much as possible, but still leave them recognizable.

Q: Why do you use clay for your art? (Nathan, room 43)

A: Clay is a great medium, you can do almost anything with it. Combine it with glazes and you have a colorful material that can be turned into anything you imagine.

This project is a hit with the kids. They dig Jason’s approachable way of creating landscapes, they like working with the oil pastels, and they get to talk to one another as part of the lesson.


Jason Messinger (American; b. 1966). Versailles, France. Modular clay mural. Ceramic tiles, 8″ x 8″ each. Image courtesy of the artist. Visit jasonmessingerart.com.





Each different class uses a different color scheme for their landscape drawings.





The finished work was grouped for display, similar to Messinger’s Versailles. Students enjoyed assisting with the placement of individual panels.


Elementary students will …
• learn about the work of artist Jason Messinger.
• revisit the use of abstract style in art.
• share why they prefer one sketch over another.
• practice creating value scales.
• depict the illusion of depth/space in a work of art, using overlapping, size change and value change.
• write about their experience.

• Creating: Discuss and reflect with peers about choices made in creating artwork.
• RESPONDing: Use learned art vocabulary to express preferences about artwork.

• Practice paper
• Pencils, erasers
• 8″ x 8″ white paper
• Oil pastels

A&A Contributing Editor, Don Masse, is a K–5 visual arts teacher at Zamorano Fine Arts Academy in San Diego, Calif.


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