ARTSEDGE Lessons for Elementary School

An American Scene Painter

In what ways was artist Charles Burchfield inspired by nature?


Key Staff

Classroom teacher with opportunities to collaborate with the visual arts teacher, librarian, and technology coordinator.

Key Skills

Making Art: Producing, Executing and Performing, Analyzing Assessing and Revising
Developing Arts Literacies: Understanding Genres
Creative Thinking: Creativity and Innovation


Students learn about American artist Charles Burchfield and his style of painting. Following Burchfield's example, students capture information and sketches in a personal journal, then use these ideas to create an original watercolor.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Become familiar with the artist Charles Burchfield.
  • Record observations in a personal journal.
  • Create a watercolor painting based on the style of Charles Burchfield.

Teaching Approach

Comprehensive Arts Education

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Visual Instruction
  • Studio Practice
  • Independent Practice

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
  • Internet Access
Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Note: This lesson works well when conducted as a collaboration between an art teacher, classroom teacher, and media specialist. However, the lesson can also be taught in its entirety by the classroom teacher.

Teachers should be familiar with the work of Charles Burchfeld as well as with the art of watercolor painting. More information about watercolor painting can be found at the following sites:

Teachers should be able to demonstrate various methods of watercolor painting, such as wetting the paper, dry brush, scratching into a wet surface, and adding detail after the paint has dried. Teachers should also be able to demonstrate how to prepare paper for watercolor painting. For more information about how to properly prepare watercolor paper, read this tutorial.

Prior Student Knowledge

Students should have experience writing in a journal. They should also be familiar with

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction
  • Individualized Instruction


The classroom will suffice but access to the art room would certainly be helpful. Test internet connection and make necessary photocopies.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Begin by asking students to review the five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and hearing.

2. Ask students to look out the window and write down as many specific observations as they can. Note: If you happen to be teaching this at a time when the weather is warm enough and you are able, take the class outside to make their observations, allowing them to incorporate other senses in their observations (e.g.: smells, sounds).

3. After giving students enough time to make notes, ask for volunteers to share their observations. Record these on the board or on chart paper.

4. Ask students how the senses are related to art and how artists show each of the senses in their work. Discuss how artists’ observations are incorporated into their work.

Build Knowledge

1. Review with students the art of watercolor painting. Describe the materials needed and the methods used. Some background material can be found at the following sites:

2. Introduce students to American artist Charles Burchfield. Burchfield (1893 – 1967) was a watercolorist whose career focused on the regional life, architecture, and landscape of the Midwest. An avid observer of nature, Burchfield captured notes and sketches in elaborate journals that provided inspiration for his paintings.

3. Distribute copies of the Background on Burchfield worksheet. Students should use the Internet to gather information about Charles Burchfield and his paintings, and record their findings on the worksheet.

4. Show your students examples of Burchfield's work. A gallery of his work is available in the Resource Carousel.

Additional resources on Charles Burchfield can be found online in the DC Moore Gallery, which includes images of Burchfield's work and information about his life.


1. Distribute copies of the 'Journal Making Guidelines', located within the Resource Carousel, to students. Tell students that they will be tasked with keeping a personal journal for one week, in which they will record their observations of weather, music and art. These journals will serve as the inspiration for original watercolor paintings.

2. Allow students to create their own personal journals. Review with students the steps for making a journal and distribute the Journal Assignment Sheet:

  1. Select the wallpaper for the journal cover.
  2. Cover the back of the cardboard with a thin layer of white glue. Spread the glue evenly.
  3. Place the cardboard in the center of the wallpaper and smooth it down with your hand.
  4. Fold the top and bottom edges of the wallpaper into the "inside" of the book cover. Glue the edges.
  5. Cut a slit at each corner of the wallpaper. Fold over the two edges and glue.
  6. Smooth all glued areas with your hand or a paper towel.
  7. Glue a piece of construction paper inside the cover of the journal to hide the wallpaper edges. Smooth the construction paper. (This can be a little tricky; students may need individual help. with this step.)
  8. Make two holes on the cover of the journals using a hole puncher.
  9. Gather 20 pieces of blank paper (cut to fit the inside of the journal). Attach these papers with yarn and a knot.
  10. If desired, add beads to yarn for decoration.
  11. Use permanent markers to draw or write on the front cover of the journal. You may choose to have students simply write their name or you may have them decorate the covers according to your specifications.

3. Discuss the types of observations you will be looking for from students. Remind them that they should consider the effects of their observations on all of their senses.


1. Tell students that they will use their journals to draw their sketches for their final painting. Students should gather around a central table for the demonstration and then go to assigned tables to do their painting.

2. Provide a demonstration illustrating how to tape the paper onto the table so it does not curl up, and various methods of watercolor painting, such as wetting the paper, dry brush, scratching into a wet surface, and adding detail after the paint has dried. For more information about how to properly prepare watercolor paper, visit this tutorial.

3. Have students recreate their drawing on large watercolor paper. Tell students that they should incorporate their knowledge of watercolor techniques and Charles Burchfield's style of painting in the creation of their painting. Work with students on an individual basis as needed.

Each group should be responsible for its own clean-up. Artwork should be moved to drying racks at the end of the session. Finished work should be displayed on a large board for class critique and evaluation. Work-journals should be displayed alongside the paintings.

4. Ask students to write a poem about their painting, using observations recorded in their journals.

5. Have students use the Artist’s Statement worksheet, found within the Resource Carousel, to write an artist’s statement about their work. They should address the following questions:

  • In what ways did nature inspire you?
  • Did you see something you see all the time in a different way?
  • What did you find most difficult to show artistically?
  • What are you most proud of about your work?


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
National Standards in Other Subjects



Daniella Garran
Original Writer

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