Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mini Landscapes- A lesson in Horizon Lines

Part of teaching art is dealing with concepts that can be "boring" for kids.  By this I mean all the guidelines for composition, color theory, tonal value, etc........So I'm always trying to find projects to teach them basic concepts but are a bit more fun.  When you deal with composition you are trying to instill that "artist's eye", that sense of proportion that captures attention.
One of the main guidelines for composition is the Horizon Line or if you want to get fancy "eye level line or line of sight".  I use Horizon Line as kids in Division 1 (Kindergarten to Grade 3)  quickly grasp what a horizon is, we just look out the window. (Horizon: where the sky and the earth meet)

If you ask a child to draw a horizon line, chances are they will take a piece of paper and draw a line horizontally smack dab in the middle or will use the bottom edge of the paper as their horizon line so everything tends to be "floating".

We want to teach them the rule of 3rds but me talking about it won't get their attention they need to see for themselves and this is where my mini landscapes come in.  Incidently this is an important concept for all you adult artists so give it a try.

Some of the things I collect for school are old calendars and mats.  You need both for this project.  You can also make a mat using paper strips taped together.  Take a good landscape image and ask each student to place the mat on the picture and find a good view.  Often kids choose a view with the horizon dead center.

Get them to move it around until they find a few good views.  At this point I'll bring up the "rule of 3rds", how the picture seems more captivating if the sky and land are unequal....  if the horizon is in the lower third or the upper third of the picture.  I also talk about putting an object of interest (like a tree, mountain) off center.                                                             Take some watercolor paper and divide into sections.  Here I'm using 9.5x11 paper so I'm just dividing into quarters....if your picture is larger you can have more sections.  Each area is only about 3x4 or so don't make them too large. (than it won't be a mini)

Using painter's masking tape, tape off your sections.
Select a view and start painting it.   Then move your mat around for a second view and paint it.

Keep painting 4 different views with the horizon in different proportion.  For really young kids keep it simple, blue sky, the ground, and maybe a tree.

Leave to dry fully and then remove the tape.  You can keep it as one page or cut into sections.  A good display is showcasing the series of mini landscapes with the reference photo.

After completion I ask the kids to pick their favorite view and lo and behold it is usually a horizon in the lower or upper third.  Give it a try and I'll see you next time.


  1. How very cool! You are a wonderful teacher.

  2. This is a great idea. Thanks for the lesson. I'll pass it on in my classes this year.

  3. Wow, I am learning too. Thanks for this, will def. use it xx

  4. love your watercolor project!
    You were mentioned on my blog site today! http://bartz-mrszwahl.blogspot.com/

  5. Wow I absolutely love this project. I've been following you for a long time. I am a stay at home mom and my daughter is home schooled. I many times apply your project to her lessons so that she understands what I am teaching. So, I wanted to say thank you for taking the time to post your projects!

  6. such a cool lesson! i love all your ideas and i'm so glad you share them.

  7. Wow... Admired your love with colours and u have a very creative minds. Keep it up! God bless.

    Rose Ragai

  8. This is an AWESOME, AWESOME idea! This teaches you how one thing can really be looked at so many different ways! I love how every small piece was based off one larger piece, but all looked SO different and set a different mood. I'm excited to share this idea AND share it with others. Thanks, AGAIN!

  9. Just found your blog. I'm very interested in learning how to watercolor paint, have been finding free tutorials online. I really appreciate your easily understood concept lessons - I don't remember my art teachers in school actually teaching them...I think in late 60's, early 70's they were into letting us "do our own thing" without the training we needed! What a disservice! I'll be pulling out some saved calendars and trying this!

  10. Fantastic,i'll be doing this this afternoon. I was looking for something to prepare them for plain air painting and this is simply perfect. Thank you,again.