Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Leaf Abstractions

I picked up this lesson at a KAEA conference workshop 2 years ago (I think led by SRA). I've taught it to 2nd graders the last 2 years- would you have guessed?
I think they did a phenomenal job. Last spring we wanted an art project to pair with an Earth Day book "Gilbert Goes Green" by Diane deGroat before she visited. I suggested this leaf lesson. I photographed the steps of my example to create a handout for the classroom teachers since the project would be created in their home rooms. After I presented an overview to all the 100+ 6th graders shoved into the library, it was handy to have a visual reminder to send with them. The 6th graders did a pretty good job, but I honestly prefer the 2nd graders' projects! Since I wasn't there, I'm just guessing that some of the 6th graders either tried to do too much then rushed through it or just plain over-thought it. Having said that, I think this lesson could be tweaked for any intermediate-secondary grade level.  I actually want to make a large painting using this process.
To begin the lesson, I have the students choose a leaf to observe. (6th graders were responsible for bringing their own and 2nd graders chose a leaf that I brought in.) We talk about the shape, the lines of the veins, the textures, and look for specific details like holes. We talk about what the veins in leaves are for, and if teaching the lesson in the fall, what makes leaves green then what makes them change color. 
These drawings were completed on colored construction paper. 
BEFORE THE STUDENTS START TO DRAW: explain to them that abstracting an image means you are starting with something real but altering it. This means that the drawings do not have to be exact copies of the leaves, the leaves are just a starting point for the lines and shapes.
The first step is to identify the "primary" vein that starts from the stem and carries through the to the top of the leaf. This line is drawn from top to bottom of the paper. The students' first choice can have a big impact on the final composition. They have to choose whether to make the vein centered or off-center, more or less vertical, or at an angle. I usually suggest that they make this first line a little thicker so it's easier to keep track of.
Next, look for the "secondary" veins that, depending on the type of leaf, will start from the base where the stem connects, or start at the primary vein and go out to the sides. It's a good idea to stretch these lines to the sides of the paper to make sure the space is filled. Thirdly, add more veins and negative space- where the edge of the leaf shows. Make sure the veins extend to other lines to form shapes. The last step for drawing is to add other details like cracks, holes, etc., then trace all the pencil lines with a sharpie.
We saved color for the 2nd class period. The students used a mixture of construction paper crayons and regular crayons. I demonstrated pressing hard to outline the shape, then coloring more lightly in the center to create value. I ask the students to think about their color choices (ex: analogous colors might help create harmony) but I don't restrict them other than asking that the same color not be used in shapes that are side by side. It's also a good idea for students to use a new color for the negative space behind the leaf. 


  1. Why if abstract means to simplify, I always find it hardest to explain well? Thank you for your clarity in this lesson plan I will definitely be using this process.

  2. Thanks for sharing, these are great : )

  3. These are awesome! Your students did a great job! Thanks for sharing them! :)

  4. Fantastic lesson! Your students did a wonderful job!