Visual Arts: Painting a Story

Lesson Plan: Painting a Story
Grade level: 2-4
Duration: 3+ x 60 minutes
Media Type: Acrylic Paint
Subject Integration: Social Studies
National Standards for Visual Arts: (see below)
Objectives: To compare/contrast the work of Duluth artist Carolyn Olson and the work of William H. Johnson and Jacob Lawrence

(website for help with writing rubrics)


4 - Standards are exceeded
3 - Standards are met
2 - Standards may be met at a very low quality or with some exceptions
1 - Standards are not met

Vocabulary (elements/principles):

  • color
  • shape
  • line
  • texture
  • balance
  • unity
  • proportion
  • form
  • value
  • space
  • contrast
  • emphasis
  • movement
  • pattern
  • rhythm

Materials and Procedure:

Day 1:
Discuss Duluth artist Carolyn Olson and the work of artists Jacob Lawrence and WIlliam H. Johnson. Show examples. Compare and contrast. Ask students to tell you what they see. “What do you see?” “What parts of these paintings stand out to you?” “Why do you think these artists painted this way?” “What is the artist trying to tell you?”

Show PlayList video of Carolyn Olson. Briefly discuss. Show video examples of Jacob Lawrence’s and William H. Johnson’s work. Discuss.

Pass out paper and pencils for students to draw their own rendition after being inspired by the above three artists. After sketching out a rough draft, have students use acrylics or tempera paint to complete their work. Encourage writing to go with their artwork to describe what is happening in each painting.

Day 2:
Working on drawing / painting.

Day 3:
Complete drawing / painting + more time as needed.


Books about Jacob Lawrence:

Books about William H. Johnson:

Carolyn Olson website:

National Standards for Visual Arts:

Grades 2:
VA: Cr1.1.2a - I can brainstorm collaboratively multiple approaches to an art or design problem.
VA: Cr1.2.2a - I can make art or design with various tools and materials to explore personal interests, questions, and curiosity.
VA: Cr2.1.2a - I can experiment with various materials and tools to explore personal interests in a work of art or design.
VA: Cr3.1.2a - I can discuss and reflect with peers about choices made in creating artwork.
VA: Re9.1.2a - I can use learned art vocabulary to express preferences about artwork.
VA: Cn10.1.2a - I can create works of art about events in home, school, or community life.

Grade 3:
VA: Cr2.1.3a - I can create personally satisfying artwork using a variety of artistic processes and materials.

VA: Pr6.1.3a - I can identify and explain how and where different cultures record and illustrate stories and history of life through art.
VA: Re7.1.3a - I can speculate about processes an artist uses to create a work of art.
VA: Re7.2.3a - I can determine messages communicated by an image.

Grade 4:
VA:Cr1.1.4a - I can brainstorm multiple approaches to a creative art or design problem.
VA:Re7.2.4a - I can analyze components in visual imagery that convey messages.
VA:Re8.1.4a - I can interpret art by referring to contextual information and analyzing relevant subject matter, characteristics of form, and use of media.
VA:Cn10.1.4a - I can create works of art that reflect community cultural traditions.
VA:Cn11.1.4a - I can, through observations, infer information about time, place, and culture in which a work of art was created.

National Visual Arts Standards link:

Funding for this program is provided by the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Click here for more information or visit the Minnesota Legacy website.

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