Sharing Art
Western Reserve Public Media
Abstract Watercolor Project


Regional Artists: Bette Elliot, North Canton
Featured Museum: The Butler Institute of American Art
Featured Artist:  Paul Jenkins
Featured Work of Art: "Phenomena Heat of High"
Featured Teacher: John Hoyt and Dianne Volak-Ullis, Canton City Schools

Lesson Overview:
Students will create a nonobjective acrylic and watercolor painting in the individual expressive style. Focus is on balance, emphasis and movement. These paintings will use color (warm and cool, primary colors), shape, form and value. Students will transform ideas into painting by allowing the paint to flow, move or “speak” to them as they are working.



Students will:

  • design and use procedures to test the suitability of various tools, techniques, processes and materials for different purposes and effects of a watercolor painting.

  • communicate information about ideas of composition and balance through the use of color.

  • examine various works of nonobjective paintings to discover common components in balance and composition.

  • examine the similarities and differences of how various art forms express an idea.

  • understand realistic, abstract and nonobjective artwork.



  • Elements of color

  • Warm colors

  • Cool colors

  • Primary colors

  • Texture

  • Composition

  • Shape

  • Form

  • Movement

  • Balance

  • Realistic

  • Principles of design

  • Abstract




  • Video interview with Bette Elliot

  • Visuals of realistic, abstract and nonobjective artists’ work

  • Visuals of color theory, elements and principles of design

  • 12 watercolor sets

  • 24 brushes

  • 6 sea sponges

  • 6 spray bottles

  • 18 squirt bottles

  • 50 sheets of 12" x 18" heavy 80# white paper

  • Acrylic paint (red, yellow and blue)

  • 6 rolls of both toilet paper and paper towels


Organization of supplies

In short boxes or trays have thefollowing supplies ready for each table:

  • Squeeze bottles with red, yellow, and blue thinned acrylic paint

  • Four brushes, water container, sponge, toilet paper, paper towels, spray bottle with water

  • Two watercolor sets per table


Assignments for student monitors and distribution of supplies

Each table has four people, each person with a number 1-4:

  1. sets up the box of supplies for the table and returns it during clean up time.

  2. retrieves water for containers and keeps them filled with clean water

  3. distributes paper and places it on the directed drying area daily

  4. wipes table clean with damp paper towel at the end of the period




Day 1:
Introduce the new media of acrylic and watercolor. Show the
Sharing Art video, “Abstract Watercolor.” View and discuss realistic, abstract and nonobjective art. Discuss elements and principles of design, specifically color, texture, balance and movement.

Day 2:
Distribute materials and begin activity. All assignments should incorporate white areas into the painting, not just around the edges. Students should try each strategy:

  • use a wash (transparent/opaque), have a hard edge to contrast against white area or wash, and use primary colors.

  • use warm colors, texture (salt, fingers, scraping, toilet paper) and balance colors.

  • use cool colors and light washes; re-enter painting when dry to work with neutral colors/hard edge and contrast.

  • use cool colors (at least one cool color as a wash and at least one cool as dark contrast) and use texture.

  • use warm color wash, contrast with dark neutrals and at least one bright warm and one dark cool color.

  • use cool color wash, use two cool and one warm color and tilt the paper to move the paint.

  • balance shapes, use neutrals, use two warm and one cool color and use texture.


Day 3:
Hand out dried paintings and critique by verbalizing the elements and principles of design. What merit does the composition have? Compare and contrast with other class members’ paintings.

Day 4:
Re-enter the painting, adding to areas that will benefit from texture, interest and movement or balance.

Day 5:
Assess by writing in sketchbook about the merits of the piece, its elements and principles. Add a title.


Lower Grade Level Project

Day 1:
See “Procedures.”

Day 2:
Choose four of the Day 2 assignments (see above) and have students produce them on separate pieces of paper.

Have students label each assignment (principles of color used, textures, etc.)

Day 3:
On a new sheet of paper have students listen to two samples of music and paint their visual impressions in a nonobjective design of how the music sounds.

Day 4:
Have students write and present a description of their work employing the vocabulary used for the lesson.


Higher Grade Level Project

Begin by following the main (middle grade) lesson. Have each student create a nonobjective visual impression of a poem that he or she has written, using colors in an expressionistic way. (Teacher should review the poem for appropriateness.)



  • Student self-assessment should follow the criteria agreed upon before beginning the painting project.

  • Students will document the process, thoughts and title of finished work and describe their success and learning experiences.


Lower Grade Assessment

  • Use the assessment procedure from the main (middle grade) lesson.


Higher Grade Assessment

  • Use the assessment procedure from the main (middle grade) lesson.

  • Have students present their poem and their artwork to the other class members.