Art Lesson Plan: Impressionism - Color Theory Painting

Impressionism Camouflage

Submitted by: Pam Wellington, Boiling Springs H. S., Boiling Springs, PA
UNIT: Color Theory - Science: Color spectrum
Grade Level: High School (examples are 9th - 12th)
Time: 80 minute blocks: 1 class for intro and demo, 2 classes for value scales, 8-10 classes for painting


Objectives: The Student will:

  • Create a value chart in ten steps creating tints and shades of all primary and secondary colors.

  • Create a value chart using three complementary sets in ten steps.

  • Learn how to mix colors to create a chosen value, hue and intensity.

  • Learn how to dull and darken colors by mixing complements.

  • Gain experience using various brush strokes and paint application techniques used by Impressionists.


16x20 inch (40.6 x 50.8 cm) Canvas Panels., good quality Acrylic Paint. (Dick Blick in jars), Acrylic Gloss Medium., and Pieces of heavy cardboard.


Click images for larger views This painting has two strips

impressionist painting impressionist painting impressionist painting
Camouflage strip Camouflage strip Camouflage strip


Lesson summary from Pam Wellington:

Cut strips from Impressionist paintings, including horizon line, sky and ground. Provide various color schemes for students to make their choice. Source of strips: calendars or internet images printed in color.


I teach high school painting. In my first level painting class for color mixing, I first have them do a mixing chart of value scales, 10 steps adding white and black from light to dark with each primary and secondary color. Then they do 3 value scales using complementary color sets: red and green, blue and orange, and yellow and purple. They start with pure red at the top, slowly add green, with the 5th step a neutral, then slowly add red into green with pure green at the bottom 10th step. After the value chart, I lay out cut small strips from color copies of Impressionist paintings. I try to include a horizon line on most strips. They choose one they like, glue down the strip onto a canvas using acrylic gloss medium. Then the job is to exactly match the hue, value and intensity of each color on the strip and apply it right next to the strip, (don't paint over the strip) then extend the composition out to the edges, using the same brush stroke technique as on their strip. I first saw this lesson years ago in a School Arts Magazine..


I have expanded on it and always use it in my beginning painting class because it not only teaches them how to mix color, but it produces beautiful original paintings. It is amazing how fast they learn this way. After one painting, they can mix any color they want to mix at will. Be forewarned, this one is frustrating at first, and difficult, and if you are not really good at color mixing yourself, don't try it. I have to rotate around the room assisting students in how to make certain values and intensities for the first couple of classes. You don't want to be struggling in front of your students. Also, encourage your students to keep the composition simple. I instruct them to do an under-painting by selecting a predominant color from the strip, like a warm yellow or cool green, and cover the white canvas with a wash of that color, to "kill the white". They will often turn a piece of a Monet into something entirely abstract. I get gorgeous landscapes out of this assignment as well. Discourage adding a lot of "stuff" to the painting, like buildings, rivers, etc. I tell them if a simple sky ground relationship was good enough for Van Gogh, it's good enough for them. Complementary mixes are the most important thing for them to understand when trying to make darker and less intense colors. The size is usually 16" x 20" (40.6 x 50.8 cm).


They keep the strip on. If they did their job well you will have a hard time finding the strip. Then they get to explain what they did to viewers who are amazed and highly impressed! But it is certainly an option to remove or paint over the strip when completed.


I cut vertical strips which include a horizon line, sky and ground - but not all. I also will include a few strips which have sections of color shapes if they want to do something more abstract. Then your students will have to deal with compositional issues related to abstraction.



Show various Impressionist works and discuss their use of color. Review Color Wheels. if necessary. Demonstrate color mixing, showing how to darken and dull colors using complements, how to tint using white, what happens to colors when black is used to shade.



Activity One:

Create a scale of color from dark to light in 10 steps by using white to tint and black to shade. Use all three primaries and secondaries.

Create a scale in ten steps using complementary sets of: blue and orange, red and green, purple and yellow. The fifth step on the scale should be a neutral grey or brown.


Activity Two:

Select a strip from an Impressionist painting. Glue the strip down to the surface of the canvas using acrylic gloss medium. All four sides of the strip must be on the canvas surrounded by white, not on an edge. Gently squeegee out excess medium with a piece of cardboard until the strip of paper is flat to the surface with no bubbles or folds. Select one predominant color that is on the strip and paint a wash of color over the whole canvas to "kill the white." The under-painting will give the whole painting a warm or cool feel. Match the colors exactly all the way around the strip on all four sides. Extend the composition out to the edges of the painting, continuing to accurately match colors and brush stroke techniques. Many colors will have to be layered to get the exact match. Colors must match hue, value and intensity exactly, so that the strip seems to disappear or is very hard to see. Make sure that the strip is not painted over. Encourage students to keep their compositions simple, without adding a lot of extra "stuff", such as rivers, roads, buildings, trees, etc.



How to Paint Like the Impressionists: A Practical Guide to Re-Creating Your Own Impressionist Paintings. - People have long sought to understand how and why the Impressionists created their paintings and how their techniques might be replicated. Susie Hodge reveals the answers to these questions by assessing the techniques and styles of the great masters of Impressionism and showing how artists today can use their methods.

120 Great Impressionist Paintings CD-ROM and Book (Full-Color Electronic Design Series). - Van Gogh's famous sunflowers, Monet's beloved waterlilies, and scenes by Renoir and Manet of sun-dappled leisure — all appear in this collection of the best and most popular Impressionist paintings. Additional contributors include Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, Pissarro, Cassatt, Seurat, and many others. Great for art, craft, and educational projects.



Class critique and self-assessment rubric.



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