In the Spirit of the Masters: Paint Like Monet in the Garden
Students will create paintings with a focus on using broken color, small brushstrokes and an emphasis on light to create impressionistic garden paintings.
- Paper (suitable for painting or pastel)
- Painter’s tape
- Paint boards
- Painting medium of choice (acrylic, watercolor in tubes, soft pastel or oil pastel)
- Reference photos if needed
- Reference paintings by Claude Monet, such as "Irises in Monet’s Garden," "The Iris Garden at Giverny" or "The Garden Gladioli"
Step One (Introduction)
Introduce students to the works of Monet, with a focus on pieces painted at his home in Giverny. Encourage students to look not only at the artworks as whole compositions, but also to focus on their individual brushstrokes, so that students can see the small strokes of broken color, which blend together to create the illusion of mixed color when viewed from far away. Students can discuss some of the challenges of working with broken color. Lead a discussion on the emphasis on light in Monet’s paintings, touching briefly on the method of painting plein air (outside, directly from nature), and some of the challenges an artist painting outside might face.
Step Two (Presentation of painting method)
Students should have paint boards ready with paper taped down and painting mediums available. Guide students in creating a simple palette (for example, using only primary colors to start), which will be used to paint along with the teacher as a beginning exercise. (Students using pastel should select a few color sticks to use as their color palettes).
Provide a brief example of Monet’s painting method by creating a demo piece before the class. Students can paint along to get a handle on using small brushstrokes with broken color to create an impressionistic look. You may want to stick with simple subject matter (such as a piece of fruit), so that students can focus on the technique rather than the subject. This activity can take as long as needed, with repeat sample paintings if students need more time to grasp the technique.
Regularly give students the opportunity to prop up their sample paintings and stand about 10 feet back from them, so they can see the effects of the technique they are using.
Step Three (Creating painted sketches)
Using either reference photos of garden scenes or taking students outdoors to paint on location, students will create loose sketches of their final paintings. Students should have new paper taped to their boards, and can select up to six colors to create their color palettes for the final painting. Students will begin sketching their compositions with their brushes or pastels, focusing on placing shapes and filling in light and dark areas with a medium-value color.
Students who are uncomfortable sketching with paint can use soft pastel (not oil pastel!) to sketch; the paint will go over the soft pastel just fine as long as a medium-light color is used to sketch.
Encourage students as they work, helping them keep compositions simple and making sure there is a clear focus on the light source for the subject of the painting.
If students are having trouble seeing the lights and darks they are supposed to paint, they can squint at the subject matter—this will reduce the subject they are painting to fuzzy shapes, and the lights and darks should stand out. If students are working from reference photos, a black and white photo also helps reduce the subject to lights and darks, making it easier to see light, middle and dark values clearly.
Step Four (Final painting)
Once students painted sketches are dry, students are free to try out the broken color technique, using small brushstrokes to cover areas of the painting. Students should be encouraged to work the “whole painting” rather than trying to complete one area of the painting at a time.
Remind students to focus on large forms, rather than individual items. For example, students painting a bush with flowers should concentrate on the overall shape of the bush and use flecks of light and dark color to create the foliage and flowers, not going into detail on small objects.
Encourage students to stop frequently and view their pieces from afar, so they can see if they are achieving the desired effects of using broken color to create the illusion of mixed colors. Once students have completed their paintings, they should be displayed for others to observe, so they can discuss the advantages and challenges of using broken color technique.
Students should self-assess whether they were able to emulate Monet’s techniques in their own paintings successfully.
Students can try the broken-color technique with different subject matter, such as seascapes or still life, to see if they achieve the look and feel of Monet’s other famous works.