Jun 11, 2012

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Teach Your Students to Paint Like an Impressionist: Free Lesson Plan Download

Grade Level: 3-5 Art Education Lesson Plan

Art Elements: Color

Art Skills: Tints, Painting Techniques, Collage

Making Connections: Art History

* Get more free lessons like this, on our Lessons Page

Click to Download Free Lesson Plan

Click to Download Free Lesson Plan

Teaching art techniques to students can be easily forgotten, especially at the elementary level.  Teachers get so focused on introducing the lesson as a “project” or an “artist” they forget about using terminology to explain basic techniques, even to their youngest students.  Art teachers really shouldn’t teach “Projects” or at least not approach it to students this way.  They should, whenever possible, help students learn skills and techniques and then incorporate them into a project.

 Instead of saying: “Today we are going to do a project about Monet,” approach it differently.  

Try saying, “Today we are going to learn to paint like an impressionist.”

Why approach it this way?  Because students value content they can use again.  They want to know WHY they are learning something, not just a “follow me and you will have an impressionist patenting.”  Most importantly, students are capable (in a BIG way) of accomplishing much, much  more than we give them credit for. Can a 3rd grader develop their own style of brush strokes and mark making? You betcha. You just need to set them up for success.

How to Teach Your Students to Paint Like an Impressionist

1. First talk about the art style of Impressionism.  What does it look like? It’s identified by individualized brush strokes that do not blend together.

2. Emphasize that a brush stroke and mark making are unique to each PERSON. You develop the technique you want. Show how to hold the brush in different ways in order to make different sized marks.  There is no “How to Draw” or “Follow Me,”  just an open demonstration allowing the students to make marks that fits in with an impressionistic style.

3. Start at the horizon line and work your way down, filling the whole paper with brush strokes.  Be sure to leave some paper showing in between!

4. Talk in a funny French accent as you demonstrate how to make individual brush strokes on the paper. This is a must!

5. Talk about light. Impressionists used light from the outdoors as the basis of their paintings.

6.  After adding some blue and purple “brush strokes” in the water, demonstrate how to take white paint and go over your already wet blue paint to create a tint. Show where the light might be hitting the water when you add white.  Never wipe off or rinse your brush. The depth of color will be much better this way.


7. Next, you will use the exact same technique to create trees above the horizon line and reflect them below in the water. Add in white to show the light hitting the objects.

8. Design your own unique bridge using construction paper, and some construction paper water lilies and tissue paper,  and you have an impressionist painting!




Notice how no two paintings look just alike, yet all students had success at creating an Impressionist painting.  Now, students will be able to describe to their families WHY an Impressionist painting looks the way it does. They can replicate the technique in future pieces of artwork in school or at home. They don’t need your tracer, template, or demonstration in order to replace the technique.  They just needed the freedom to make marks, make the marks their own, and a few simple guidelines to work within!



In what ways do you teach techniques instead of projects? 

Any other successful Impressionist painting ideas out there?


This great Art Ed lesson plan is 100% FREE to download! Use it in your classroom and share with your colleagues. For more free lessons like this one, visit our Lessons Page and download them all!
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  • Amanda Heyn

    So funny you mentioned the fake French accent! I’ve pulled that out too :). Sometimes I explain impressionism as “blob” painting. Up close, it just looks like blobs, but from far away, you can see things! This helps give the students an idea of how much paint to lay down. The more blobs the better! 

  • Cassidy Reinken

    This makes me miss teaching elementary art!  I taught a similiar lesson but didn’t add the tissue paper lily pads- what a great way to add color and texture.  Great lesson Jessica!

  • Nancy Foxen

    LOVE IT!!!  Thanks for sharing.  Very cool look.  :)  

  • Jdavis

    I have taught a similar lesson using Monet as the example. There is great book/video called Linnea in Monet’s garden. The video is available through netflix.  My 2nd graders loved it and it seemed to aid in their understanding about when Monet lived and how passionate he was about painting.  I have used it at the beginning of a lesson and at the end .  It works well either way. 

    • Jessica Balsley

      I also love that video! I play it while the kids work, because at times it can be a little slow moving, but they get a lot out of it. I also show them photos from my trip to Paris and they really make a connection.

  • Christy Humpal

    I LOVE studying impressionism with the kids – I have first graders do this with the tip of a finger, instead of the brush, for a more tactile experience – I don’t do fingerpainting, pretty much ever, in the art room, so it is another one of those fun, break-the-rules type of experiences, since they are purposely putting their finger into the paint!  I am absolutely more of a process vs. product type of girl, but with this one, the product is as lovely as the experience is rich

  • Jessica Balsley
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