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Mar 2018

Painting the Bright Colors of the Rainforest

Painting the Bright Colors of the Rainforest

Bring out the paint and students are motivated! When I shared that we would be painting birds in the rainforest, students were eager to begin.

First, we discussed the rainforest and viewed pictures online. Most of the students were aware of the destruction of the rainforest, and expressed their empathy and concern for all living things in that area.

Students in grades two through five worked on this project for about three to four hours. If your students study the rainforest, this project could serve as an integrated art lesson. It could tie into social studies, science, or reading/literature.

THIS PROJECT BEGAN with drawing a tropical rainforest bird, which I guided on the Smart Board. Once that was complete, I stopped my drawing, as I wanted them to draw their bird design independently. Pictures of a variety of birds were available as a resource. I reminded students to sketch very lightly in pencil, so any mistakes could be erased more easily and thoroughly.Once the drawing of the bird was complete, students drew a branch under the bird, making sure the feet on the bird were on the branch.

Designing the bird offers students creative choice, as they added a variety of lines, shapes and patterns to the bird’s head, body, wings and tail. A second white paper was used for drawing the outlines of jungle leaves. These leaves were drawn from all four sides.

PROBLEM ENCOUNTERED! There was one problem with the guided drawing on the Smart Board. Most of the birds that the students had drawn were facing the same direction! Even though there was freedom of choice on design and color, I had hoped they would try to draw the bird in a variety of positions. The students worked very hard on their drawings, so I made a note of this for the next time I would teach this lesson. Self-assessment is not just for students!

I decided that students would do simple sketches of a bird in a few different positions, then choose one of them for their project and add details. It may take a little more time to do this, but will allow for more learning and creativity.

BEFORE STUDENTS paint their birds and leaves, instruction is given on watercolor paints. I remind them to be considerate of their classmates’ space so water and paint doesn’t splash or spill over. Extra newspaper and paper towels are close by in case of accidents. On a small piece of paper, they practice blending. I have found that many students are working with too dry a brush or creating puddles.

By practicing first, students better understood how to use watercolors. This was a great time to ask the Essential Question: How do artists and designers learn from trial and error? Even with practice, I observe their painting and guide them as needed. Students enjoyed blending colors. They remarked on how realistic it made their artwork appear. Paintings were allowed to dry completely. Paint sets may be cleaned by a quick rinse and brushes can soak for a brief time.

OUTLINING. Before using permanent markers (we use Sharpie®), students made sure their sleeves were rolled up, newspaper was covering their work area, and smocks were available. I encourage wearing smocks, because even the most careful student can have an accident. They can also use black crayon. I prefer to give them a new crayon with a good point. Students were asked to outline all of the pencil marks on the bird, branch and leaves. Lines were added to the leaves as well. Because the leaves will be cut out, smaller-tipped markers are good for interior lines, while broader tips are better for the outer lines.

SPRAY PAINTING. Students need supervision and assistance with this step. I mixed concentrated watercolor paint with water in two spray bottles—one was yellow and the other blue. The painting was placed on newspaper, and the bird covered with small pieces of paper towels or scrap paper. The paper was then sprayed with paint. A practice of a spray or two can be very helpful. At this point of the project, students do not want to “mess up.” It also helps to know how far away to hold the sprayer from the paper. If it is too close, there may be drip spots. The nozzle may need to be adjusted as well.

ASSEMBLING. The final step involved carefully cutting out the leaves. The leaves will really stand out if the black outline is maintained. Students were asked to place the leaves at the edges of the bird painting. At this point, spatial relationships were discussed. The leaves were in the foreground. The bird and branch were in the middle ground. The sprayed paint created a background, which students said could be sky or possibly plant coloring, because the yellow and blue painted created green spots.

Once in place, they carefully glued the leaves on. For gluing, I pour a small amount on a small paper plate that two students can share. Glue is brushed on with small paintbrushes. I’ve found this much easier than using glue bottles.

The finished artworks were beautiful. No two were exactly alike. Students were able to glue their paintings to larger colored construction paper to serve as a frame. When asked what they liked the most about the project: Painting and the bright colors! When you can “hear a pin drop on the floor,” you know that your students are really enjoying what they are working on. 







Mackenzie cuts and glues leaves to her foreground.


Nathan oulines his leaves before cutting.


Elementary students will …
• refine motor skills.
• gain knowledge of the elements and principles of design.
• make connections between science and art.
• use appropriate art vocabulary to discuss artwork.

• CREATING: Making art or designing with various materials and tools to explore personal interests, questions, and curiosity.Experiment with various materials and tools to explore personal interests in a work of art or design.

• Artists and designers shape artistic investigations, following or breaking with traditions in pursuit of creative art-making goals.
• Artists and designers experiment with forms, structures, materials, concepts, media, and art-making approaches.

• Pictures of the rainforest, rainforest birds
• 12″ x 18″ white paper
• Black permanent markers or crayons
• Watercolor paints, paintbrushes
• Spray bottles of concentrated watercolor or dye
• Scissors, glue

Suzanne Dionne teaches visual art at Rotella Interdistrict Magnet School in Waterbury, Connecticut. Currently, she is president of the Connecticut Art Education Association. Note: This lesson was adapted from Denise M. Logan’s “Dynamic Art Projects for Children.”


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