Middle School Studio Lesson
Madison, grade six.
Art educators know all too well that teaching kids how to “see” the world around them and render life as they see it is a monumental task. Many stu- dents, when left to their own devices, even at the sixth-grade level, still draw familiar symbols for common objects because it is in their comfort zone to
do so, and because it is easier and faster. The famous “lollipop tree,” a green circle shape
attached to the top of a brown stick, is a fine example. Kids are always in such a hurry!
This lesson slows them down and expands their knowledge at the same time.
We began by looking at actual trees
outside. Students noticed their half-buried, gnarled roots and sturdy
trunks near the ground, and compared
those to the daintiest outermost limbs
at the tops of the tall oak trees in our
neighborhood. They noticed, too, that
if trees are nearer, they look larger
and more detailed than trees off in the
Back in the classroom, we discussed key terms related to this
activity: foreground, middle ground,
background, realistic landscape,
abstract landscape, value, contrast,
overlapping, solid, and textured. We
then looked for evidence of these in
works of art. We defined perspective
as the method of showing the illusion
of distance on a flat piece of paper.
Students put their understanding of
perspective into practice by placing a
piece of paper in a horizontal format
and lightly drawing three horizontal
lines indicating three levels of ground
on the bottom third of their paper.
These would eventually become the
foreground, middle ground, and background in the final composition.
On scrap paper, students practiced
drawing a simplified and abstract version of a tree using the letter “V” as
the branching off point for each limb.
Yes, this too is a symbolic way of
drawing trees, but I used this activity
as a bridge between the lollipop tree
mentality and the higher-level direct
observation of actual trees. Experience has taught me that as students
grow they become more aware of
their surroundings, and when they
frequently draw from observation, the
gap between symbolism and reality
Drawing a Landscape of Trees
I asked students to return to their
larger drawing paper and lightly pen-
cil in a landscape that included a min-
imum of three trees, one each in the
foreground, middle ground, and back-
ground. As the drawings progressed,
tree limbs reached out to each other,
sometimes overlapping, and the com-
positions became full and interesting.
Once the trees were drawn, students
outlined their pencil lines with ultra-
fine black permanent markers.
Value and Contrast
Next, we discussed value and contrast. Value is the balance of both
light and dark areas in a work of art