Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Northern Lights Winter Landscape Art Lesson

I would love to see the Aurora Borealis someday, but for now I'll settle for teaching it!

I think the kids will really enjoy the freedom of this project, although we will learn about Aurora Borealis and look at photos, ultimately they will create their own colors in the sky.

Black Paper
Chalk Pastels
Oil Pastels
Pencils and erasers
Paper towels

I was inspired by these photos:

I'll also show them this video:
Which is a gorgeous film of the Aurora Borealis 

Then we'll talk very simply about what creates the magical lights in the sky.
Energetic particles (Solar Storm) are released by the sun and travel to earth's atmosphere where they get caught in the earth's magnetic fields.  These magnetic fields grab the particles and bring them to the North and South Poles of the earth.  When the particles combine with Oxygen (greens and blues) and Nitrogen (reds, purples) gas in the thin upper atmosphere of the polar regions they glow.  Greens are the most common and closer to the earth, Reds are usually higher in the sky. Although Auroras happen during the day too - they are only visible at night.  Just the opposite of a rainbow.
The Northern Lights are called Aurora Borealis and the Southern Lights are called Aurora Australis.

I'll start the lesson by demonstrating and then having them draw a line horizontally across their paper about an inch above the bottom.
Then I'll draw the hills and so will they.

I'll outline each area so there is a black space in between to define the shapes.
At this point they will watch me demonstrate the oil pastel drawing at the bottom.
I didn't use any white for this only a few greys, blues and purple.
The area at the bottom can be either a field of snow or even a river filled with chunks of ice, and mountains in the background.

After they do their own oil pastel portion I'll demonstrate the chalk pastel and have them do some guided experimenting before turning them loose to create.  I'll hand out some paper towels for the students to wipe their hands since these materials are messy.
They should start with just a few lines drawn in pencil to guide them with the Aurora Borealis.
First lay down an area of dark blue using the side of the chalk pastel - press lightly and keep the area just above the mountains empty/black.

 I used Greens and Blues - mostly on their sides at first and drew with an upward motion, trying to show movement in my sky.  I will give my students another piece of black paper to experiment on, and emphasize how the direction they use to draw with the pastels will create movement within their landscape.  I will also emphasize pressing very lightly with the pastels on the paper - putting the color on where they want it and leaving it alone.  They should work dark to light.  That's how they get the colors be seen separately and not all blended together into one muddy area of color.  
I'll give them a few minutes to experiment on another piece of paper.
I didn't use any white for the Aurora - I 'feather lightly' used some blues, then purple and finally a little red in the top ones.  I added some light green and yellow to try and get them to glow like the photos.
I used my finger to blend the lower edges of the Aurora - I will demonstrate this for the students and have them try it too.

The biggest challenge for this project is going to be getting them to stop every now and then to look at their drawings and decide if they are finished.  It is very common when students are using new and/or unusual materials to get caught up in the activity of experimenting with them, losing sight of how the composition looks and overworking it.  
The layers of color go on very quickly - so I'll be stopping them a few times and asking them to access their progress.
Once they decide they are finished it's time to add the stars to the sky.  I experimented with both chalk and oil pastels - I think the oil pastels worked best.  They should use varying sizes of stars/dots - some tiny and some larger, and just look at it as they are working to see if they have a balanced amount of stars throughout the sky.
A great winter landscape project with Science and Art combined.

1st Grade Student Work:


  1. Wow! This is fantastic - I'll try this with my kids within the next few days. Great art/science combination, thanks so much for sharing!

  2. Beautiful project! Thank you for sharing. I work with grade four students and I'm thinking they will have a great time making these paintings. I'm lucky to live in the north where the aurora dance across the sky every winter, I too hope one day you will experience them.

  3. for stars, I have found splatter painting to be very effective. I just water down tempera paint and monitor so they don't overdo it! These look fantastic. I was surprised such young artist created them!

  4. Kathy, I am a parent volunteer at my son's school and I teach a lot of art since art classes have been cut from the curriculum. I plan on doing this art project with my son's 4th Grade class (3rd, 5th & 6th too.) Thank you for posting this, it's a good one.

  5. Thank you for posting the steps of your beautiful art project! I'm going to try this with my kindergarteners! I think they can do it :) Love the video you shared, too. Thanks!

  6. Most valuable and fantastic blog I really appreciate your work which you have done about the fete des lumieres,many thanks and keep it up.
    fete des lumieres

  7. A wonderful inspiration for art to try with grandchildren and YMCA kids.

  8. Thank you for sharing this! My kids (4, 7, 8 and 10) made ones based off of your picture!


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