Monday, September 15, 2008

How to Paint Fall Trees

Here is a good Fall painting project you can do with your kids.

Crayola sent me a Fall art project to try, however when I looked at it (thru my how to teach this to 20 kids eyes) I was skeptical. The original directions called for you to do the tree first and then add sky and leaf color. I immediately thought MUD. As soon as the other colors hit the tree it would become muddy.

Here is my version, my kids did the test this afternoon and I think it will be a hit at school.

Let's get started.


acrylic or tempera paint in Black and Fall colors, paintbrush,
paper (choose a heavy sketch pad paper, ie bristol with a little texture), a drinking straw,
newspaper to protect working surface, art shirt to protect little people's clothes
low tack masking tape (optional), gator or cardboard(optional)

Place a piece of paper on your work surface. If you want you can tape your paper onto a gator board or a piece of cardboard covered in wax paper.

At school we use Art Boards, I'll talk about them at the end of this post as I find them essential in a school setting.

We thinned down our acrylic paint to make it more like watercolor paint,( ie acrylic paint+water). Tempera will also work well but save your expensive watercolors for other projects.

Paint over entire surface with different Fall colors. We are trying to keep the colors somewhat separate. They can run together a bit but we don't want it to become one single mixed shade.

Let dry completely.

Take your black paint, (could also be ink ) and make it quite watery. Using your paintbrush or an eyedropper drop in some paint at the bottom. We wanted a strong trunk so the kids used the end of the straw like a brush and pulled the paint up a bit. You could also just use a paintbrush for this step.

Add more black paint where you want your branches to begin and blow the paint as far as you can. Try to get as many branches as you can. You can move your paper around if this makes it easier.

Keep blowing until you have the tree looking the way you want it to.

Let dry.

Remove tape if used and you have a great Fall Tree painting.

Finished Masterpieces

Allie, age 10

Jeff, age 5

Ryan, age 8

ART BOARDS - at school I have the kids work on art boards. I go to Home Depot and get a full sheet of Masonite ( its what clipboards are made of ) cut into desktop size. One sheet will give you 12 boards. I don't give them the measurements they use their handy cutting machine to do that. When I tell them its for an elementary school they do all the cuts for free, got to love those guys at Home Depot.
It's not very expensive and these boards can be used for years. I then take duct tape and tape around all the edges to protect those little fingers. These boards also fit perfectly into those wire drying racks the school has. Art boards have saved me from endless desktop cleaning and they help support the work while it dries in the rack.
I'll be getting some done up this week so maybe I can post a picture of one.

see you later


  1. These are awesome! I love it. I will be sure to try this with my boys! Thanks!

  2. Gail we are kindred spirtits and from the same school of art with children! I was planning this project for next week. I generally wait until the equinox to start my fall projects...just not ready to let go of summer completely! The leaf project is very similar to one I do each year...I love our similar projects with different twists! My leaves are also wax resist and get cut out, but I never have put them on branches before...looks so great that way! I grew up in my grandmother's nursery school (so to speak) and we used those very same masonite boards! I haven't thought of them for at home're brilliant!! Thanks for reminding me of their usefulness! Am I gushing? :)

  3. Hi! I found your blog through the Crafty Crow today. Great ideas!
    Could you give me a rough estimate of the dimensions of the art boards? I think these would be perfect...we homeschool and my kiddos would love this!
    Many thanks...

  4. Maya, Thanks for the comments and I really enjoy reading your blog as well.

    Heather, the board at Home Depot comes in a full sheet size 8'x4'. I get them to cut it into 12 pieces so each board is 2'x16". I got mine for $8.67 and then bought a $4.50 roll of duct tape. You'll find a multitude of uses for them.

    Good Luck with all the projects.

  5. this is so neat and so generous of you to share it. I am going to send my granddaughters here for a look and lesson. Thanks.

  6. I am excited to try this. I wonder if my four year old is old enough...

  7. Pecos Blue and teri c thanks for the great comments.

    Nutmeg, give it a try, I just taught a class of 20 in kindergarten and it turned out fine, some of them are only four going on five.

  8. You can't even tell these were done by children. You're a good teacher you know that? These are high quality art pieces if I do say so myself. Round of applause to you and the wee artists. This is really awesome.


  9. Beautiful pictures and a great idea with the board, I assume it would help the painting dry flatter.

  10. Hopped on over from Design Mom who showcased this project on her blog. I had to see the instructions so I can do this with my girls tomorrow. We homeschool and are doing an autumn unit study. This will be a fabulous art project to do with them!

  11. I love this - I plan to try it this weekend!! Great blog - found you via Design Mom.

  12. First time at your blog and I am hooked- love this project

  13. Thanks guys for more great comments. I hope everyone gives it a try as it couldn't be easier and the kids love it. I'm hoping the school will let me post a group shot as both kindergarten classes completed these and they are amazing as a grouping.

  14. You're a genius!

    We're going to do these this weekend. I'll let you know how it goes.

  15. We had fun with this!
    We used a brush instead of a straw and applied the black paint heavily.

  16. Yay, we did this today! We used heavy Watercolor paper (it was really heavy--only 12 sheets in a pad). I'm not an artist, so I didn't know if that would be okay, but I figured since we were watering down the acrylics...

    They did buckle a bit but I hope they flatten out as they dry. They are still taped to the table.

    My kids and I loved this project (unfortunately I'm kind of a control freak art "teacher" so they frustrate me when they deviate, but really their finished products look great).

    In the future, is there a way to avoid, ahem, spit dripping out of the end of the straw? My 3 and 5 year olds had this problem. I think they were blowing too exuberantly. ;)

  17. I LOVE IT!!!! I am going to do this with my 8th graders!!!!! thank you for the idea

  18. With all the blowing through a straw this would be a wonderful project for speech therapists! They love projects with forcing air through puckered lips! I will try it with my son :)

  19. Great fall tree idea and I don't need leaves with this tree,the autumn colors say it all. I will try it this week with my class. Thank you

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  21. HELP! Planning to do this project with my son's 5th grade class on the 30th...they have set aside a one hour time block...can I blow dry their base layers so they dry and can move onto the tree?!

  22. Hey Mima, yes you can blow dry the backgrounds.
    Good luck!

  23. Could you tell us how to paint summer trees as well?

  24. Thanks Gail. I did this project with my class on Friday and it looks excellent. The children were thrilled. As was I! Thank you :o)

  25. Thanks so much for this activity, I run out of school programmes in New Zealand and am always looking for activities to do on mass that appeal to a range of ages and abilities this is a wonderful project I can’t wait to do it with the children next holidays. thanks again

  26. It's the wonderful technique. I'll try it with my children!

  27. Have any of your students sipped the paint?

  28. Hey Lesley,
    I've been doing this project for 5 years, with around 100 kids at a time, (Grade 1 and 2) and I have not once had a kid who sipped the paint. I think the bead of paint is too small to sip up and most straws are a bit transparent, so the kids can see if the paint is climbing up. You will have a bit of spit, depending on the kid, but this will dry and not be noticable in the final piece.
    Hope that helps and enjoy the project, the results are always stunning!

  29. Hi Gail, I just noticed your copyright policy. Is it okay to put this on my weekly art projects board on Pinterest? I have attributed it to you. Let me know. Thank you for the inspiration!

  30. Hey Susan, You can pin the projects as long as the picture links back to the original post when you click on it. Thanks for asking.

  31. I Love this idea and want so badly to do it with my 2nd graders, but I cannot get it to work! I don't know what I'm doing wrong. I can't get the paint to stretch up into the long branches you have. I don't know if my paint is too thin or thick, or if I'm using too much or too little, or if the problem is the straw? I'm just getting big black blobs when I blow. Any ideas?

  32. Hey Michelle,
    The paint has to be watery, an ink like consistency. We paint in the trunk with a brush, then use an eye dropper to place a bead of paint at the point where you want the branches to go. The bead of paint is about the size of cherrio. Use a bendy straw, hold it at an angle, so your head is down low to the paper. Sometimes it's a problem when you are blowing directly down, you want to be at an angle so the air gets behind the bead of paint and goes in the direction you want. You then have to move the straw, following the bead of paint, until there is no more to blow. Add some more paint in the areas where you want more branches. It helps to turn the paper, I get the kids to do branches on one side and then the other, always angling upwards. I use disk tempera. I put the black disk in a seperate container and add 1/4 cup of water to it. I take a paintbrush and mix up the paint to get it going so i have good colour but still that inky consistency. Eye droppers work the best to get that bead of paint right where you want it.
    Hope that helps. It is a very successful project so it should work for you. Good luck :)

  33. Hi Gail -- What a great blog I've stumbled upon!
    I was very interested in the art boards you're using. I wanted to share a suggestion, instead of using tape around the edges. Get an electric sander (or just sandpaper, if you want to get a workout!) to file the edges down.

  34. Hi Gail, what size paper did your students use for this project? I like the long skinny look of it.

    1. Hey Anonymous,
      The longer pieces are about 6"x18" or so. I take my usual paper and cut it in half the long way.

  35. I love the warm colors of your project! Great work!

  36. Im a educator in Quebec and I did this project with my students, I would like to translate and post this project on my blog with a link to your blog. Also, i would like to use the picture when the child blows the paint with the straw, if you approve. We had a blast and the results were amazing. I can send you a picture of our art if you would like. Thanks, Anne-Marie