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Learning Art: Imitating the Masters

Tags: kid pop art style

Learning Art: Imitating the Masters (Facebook title image)

In many fields of study, we learn — at least in part — by imitating the masters.  Art is no different.  Although we can take the time to “independently” study principles and techniques, and we can explore freely just for the sheer sake of creativity, it can be both fun and educational to explore particular styles, techniques, subject matter, and so on by imitating what has been done before.

The following projects have been selected for their child-friendliness (no upper-level art skills necessary) and because there’s something about each one that’s representative of the artist it portrays.  This can be a fun way to explore both art creation and art appreciation.

NOTE: All project images are the property of their respective creators, and used here with permission.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to obtain permission for the use of photos for all the projects, so for some you’ll have to click through in order to see what they look like.

Leonardo Da Vinci

Leondardo Da Vinci may be one of the most famous artists of all time.  He’s well-known not only for his art, but also for his scientific observations.  He was something of an inventor, filling many notebooks over the course of his life.

One of the more famous Da Vinci pieces, the Vitruvian Man, captures both of these “sides” of the artist.

The Jo Jacks version lets young artists “become” the Vitruvian Man themselves.  (This two-part project will require that you photograph the child, so be sure to set aside the proper time.)

NOTE: the Vitruvian Man is naked, so be aware of that if you’re not familiar and planning to show it to kids.  It’s a technical drawing, though, so there’s nothing sensual about it.

Salvador Dali (Surrealism)

Salvador Dali epitomized surrealism, a 20th-century style of art that juxtaposes images in a nonsensical, dream-like fashion.  You can learn more about Dali and his fellow surrealists with the “Silly Pictures” activity at Raising Arizona Kids.

Want to explore surrealism even more?  Art Sprouts has some games and techniques for working in this style.  (These might be especially help for kids — or moms! — who are very “left brain” thinkers and struggle to make art that “doesn’t make sense.”)

M.C. Escher

The Preschool Toolbox - Tesselating Shapes
The Preschool Toolbox – Tesselating Shapes

M.C. Escher is known for art — usually in black-and-white — featuring optical illusions and tesselating shapes.

Escher’s tesselations are fairly complex, but this project from The Preschool Toolbox is an introduction to the concept which relies on simple shapes and is, therefore, suitable even for preschoolers.

Consider pattern blocks if your kiddoes need some hands-on inspiration.  And depending on what your children are and are not ready for, the simplicity of the designs in this project make it a prime opportunity for working with different types of color combinations.

Older kids can create their own unique tesselating shapes, as illustrated in this blog post about a fun Escher-themed party.

Wassily Kandinksy

Hello Wonderful - Kandinksy-inspired project
Hello Wonderful – Kandinsky project

Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles is a famous piece by Abstract artist Wassily (Vasily) Kandinsky.  (Some of his others bear a stronger resemblance to Miro’s pieces.)

The felt board project at Hello Wonderful is something of a recreation of this piece.  This project is good cutting practice, and it’s made from felt, which means not only is no adhesive necessary; it can be a “finished” art project, or it can be a set of manipulatives to use and reuse.  This is a great project for exploring the use of color and contrast.

If you prefer, you can, of course, use colored paper for the project instead.

Art Sprouts also features a project based on Color Study: Squares with Concentric Circles.  This one uses gouache (basically really thick/opaque watercolors) on xuan paper, and is probably better-suited to older students, as it may require more coordination than the littler ones can manage.

Paul Klee

Deep Space Sparkle - Klee Watercolor Castle
Deep Space Sparkle – Klee Watercolor Castle

Paul Klee is a difficult artist to categories.  Wikipedia describes as having a “highly individual style” which “was influenced by movements in art that included Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism.”

Deep Space Sparkle draws from some of his works that contrast warm and cool colors in this watercolor castle project.  It uses a fun combination of media that older students will probably enjoy; however, Patty points out that painting inside the shapes can be difficult for younger students.  If you’re working with children in the primary grades, you might want to adapt this activity to use a medium that doesn’t involve a brush, like pastels or colored pencils.

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Gustav Klimt

Kinder Art - Building a Klimt
Kinder Art – Building a Klimt

Gustav Klimt‘s style is distinctive — easy to recognize, although not necessarily easy to describe.  Kinder Art chose to focus on his affinity for the color gold and repetitive patterns in their “building a Klimt” project.

smArt Class used a different approach.  Where Kinder Art emphasized the elements of Klimt’s work, smArt Class more heavily emphasized the subject of one of his most famous paintings, Tree of Life.  This is another mixed-media project, made with (metallic) gold tempera paint, oil pastels, and paper.

Roy Lichtenstein (Pop Art)

Roy Lichtenstein is a bit controversial. You probably know him as the “poster child” for Pop Art — of the style that harkens back to comic books.  And therein lies the controversy.  Many of the older comic book artists complained that they did all the creating and Lichtenstein got all the credit.

Whether or not Lichtenstein is the proper recipient of the credit, this style can be fun to play around with.  A very easy way to do this is to use Pop Art techniques to color in a coloring page, like the free printable at Art History Kids.

Red Ted Art made the Pop Art experimentation personal by starting with photos of the resident artists.

However you choose to go about this, Pop Art presents the perfect opportunity to talk about primary colors, about printing, and (if your students are old enough to appreciate it) the differences between the “standard” primary colors and printer ink colors.

Joan Miro

NurtureStore - Joan Miro Project
NurtureStore – Joan Miro Project

Joan Miro, like Dali, is classified as a surrealist, but there’s a unique quality to his work.  Primary colors, geometric shapes, and simple symbols reminiscent of ethnic embroidery characterize much of his art.

The free printable from NurtureStore helps children construct their own Miro-esque drawings.

Piet Mondrian

Teach Beside Me - Mondrian-Style Fibonacci Art
Teach Beside Me – Mondrian-Style Fibonacci Art

The Mondrian-Style Fibonacci art from Teach Beside Me is the post that inspired this post!  I was actually doing research for an upcoming post about the Fibonacci sequence and the Golden Ratio when I stumbled across her project inspired by artist Piet Mondrian.  This project is a simple way to introduce the intersection of math and art.

It’s also another great opportunity for discussing primary colors.  (If you wanted to extend it, it would probably also be an easy foundation for discussing other color combinations.  Since the Mondrian work only contains three “color-colors,” it would be easy enough to swap out the three primaries for three tints or shades of the same hues, or for three analagous colors, etc.)

Another version of reproducing Mondrian’s style comes from Happiness is Homemade, where paintings on canvas are created with paint and black electrical tape.

Claude Monet

Deep Space Sparkle - Paint Like Monet
Deep Space Sparkle – Paint Like Monet

Most of us are probably at least vaguely familiar with the work of Claude Monet.  The first of the Impressionists, his are gentle watercolor paintings of everyday scenes — especially landscapes near his home.

smArt Class offers a kid-friendly depiction of one of Monet’s favorite scenes — the bridge and water lilies.  Using oil pastels and watercolors, it allows for a “blendy” effect in the water, and includes some very simple instruction about using size for perspective.

Another iteration of the bridge, from The Crafty Classroom, uses masking tape (or painter’s tape) and paint fingerprints.  (Some students might want to use the same masking technique, but pair it with a different painting technique.)

The project depicted above, from Deep Space Sparkle, is probably best for slightly older kids.  It provides practice for layering a background, foreground, etc.

Pablo Picasso (Cubism & more)

Pablo Picasso is probably among the most famous artists in the world.  He’s best known as one of the early cubists, but those familiar with his cubist work may not be aware of how broad his work really is.

When you look for Picasso-inspired projects, you’ll find more Picasso faces than anything else, and they come in a variety of styles.  A few versions include Arty Crafty Kids’ drawing project for young children (with mixed-media adaption for older kids), a collage project from Becker Middle School, and a folded paper (and paint) technique from Kathy’s Art Project Ideas, which I particularly like because it can also be used for other subjects besides human faces.

Another project, at Creator’s Joy, focuses on Picasso’s musical instruments rather than on human faces and figures.

Kids Artists - Monochromatic Painting
Kids Artists – Monochromatic Painting

Picasso also had a “Blue Period” and “Rose Period,” during which he worked primarily with colors in those families.  (The Blue Period was more distinctly monochromatic.)  The monochromatic painting project from Kids Artists provides an opportunity to similarly experiment with reliance on a single color family.

His simple line art drawings are among my personal favorites.  “Continuous line drawing” is a common drawing exercise that you and your students can enjoy trying.  You’ll find additional inspiration by putting that phrase into a Pinterest or Google Image search.

Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollock-Inspired Process Art by Stir the Wonder
Stir the Wonder – Jackson Pollock Process Art

Jackson Pollack was an Abstract Expressionist painter.  His paintings were made by pouring and/or splattering paint onto horizontal surfaces.  You can make art the same way with this process art activity from Stir the Wonder (which uses more kid-friendly materials than what Pollack used).

It could also be fun to try this one with homemade paints on snow.

Georges Seurat (Pointillism)

Georges Seurat is known for his use of pointillism, a technique which uses many tiny dots to give the impression of color-mixing.

Using paper punches is a great option for exploring pointillism, especially with littles!  Use larger punches for younger kids; smaller punches for older kids.  You can punch your dots from paint swatches, cardstock, construction paper, etc., and either have the kids do the punching or just choose from a selection of pre-punched dots.  (Construction paper doesn’t always punch smoothly — test it with your punch(es) first.)

There are other options, as well.  Teach Beside Me uses cotton swabs with paint.  The Crafty Classroom uses new pencil erasers.

Very young kids might use Do-a-Dot markers and just make theirs oversized.

Louis Tiffany

Buggy and Buddy - Faux Stained Glass
Buggy and Buddy – Faux Stained Glass

Louis Tiffany was famous for stained glass work — like lamp shades and windows.  Stained glass is not a very kid-friendly project and uses specialized equipment, so it isn’t an ideal medium to reproduce at home (especially not as a one-off project!).  But you can make faux stained glass in honor of Tiffany.

The Buggy and Buddy project uses inkjet transparencies and highlighters, so light really can pass through it like glass.

I also really like the look of faux stained glass made with aluminum foil, clear plastic, and permanent markers, even though it isn’t actually translucent.

Vincent Van Gogh

completed example of Van Gogh-style art project
Titus 2 Homemaker – Van Gogh-Inspired drawing

Vincent Van Gogh was a Post-Impressionist painter.  Post-impressionism has much in common with Impressionism but is less concerned with making color, lighting, etc. appear natural.  So it’s similar in terms of brush strokes, but begins to get more creative with the palette.

Most of the projects I could find involved reproducing Starry Night, but I wanted something different, so I created my own Van Gogh-style art activity, which focuses instead on the way the artist used a series of lines to create something almost akin to a pointillist painting.

Andy Warhol

Still Playing School - Warhol Art
Still Playing School – Warhol Art

Andy Warhol is one of the most modern artists on this list.  Like Lichtenstein, he was considered a Pop Artist, but he’s better-known for repetition of portraits and commercial object images than for comic-style artwork.  Some of his better-known works involve repeating portraits done up in unexpected (some might even say garish) colors.

I probably wouldn’t use flags, but I love that Teach Beside Me chose something other than faces to reproduce this style of art by Warhol.  Use any simple image and fill it in with the medium of your choice.

Still Playing School used self-portraits in a more conventional project.

Older kids can also try reproducing this style with image editing software, rather than as a manual art project.


One final fun option — especially for those who have trouble with inspiration — is to use Roll-a-_____ dice games.  This Pinterest board contains a huge variety, and while many of them are just fun (like roll-a-superhero or roll-a-robot), you’ll also find a number of famous artist-inspired games, like roll-a-Picasso, roll-a-Magritte, and roll-a-Theibaud.  (Note that some of these are free downloads, while others may be paid products.)

Learning Art: Imitating the Masters (pinnable image)Learning Art: Imitating the Masters (pinnable image)

Learning Art: Imitating the Masters (pinnable image)

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Learning Art: Imitating the Masters


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