Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Emily Carr Lesson Plan, Grades 2-5

Thank you for your interest in Art-in-a-Box!  Below you will find the lesson plan and project for grades 2-5.  If you are volunteering for kindergarten or 1st grade, that lesson plan is available here

Emily Carr Lesson Plan
Grades 2-5
Fall 2010

Read the lesson aloud to the class, showing the overheads when directed. Questions, vocabulary and information for class discussion are highlighted in blue.

Introduction: How many of you remember the winter olympics last year in Canada? One of the most important artists from Canada was a woman named Emily Carr. She loved the big trees, big skies and big spaces in Canada, and she painted them in a way that had never been painted before.

She isn't as well known in the United States as she is in Canada, but many artists who paint the landscapes here in the Northwest are inspired by her paintings from almost 100 years ago. In Canada, children learn about Emily Carr in school, and you can even visit the house where she grew up, in Victoria.

Show Overhead #1: Map of Canada
This is a map of Canada. Emily lived on the western edge of Canada, on Vancouver Island. Canada is just north of Oregon and Washington. Point out where Victoria is in relation to Oregon.

Show Overhead #2: Emily Carr House
This is a picture of the house that Emily Carr grew up in. She was born in 1871 (139 years ago). She was interested in art from a very young age, and her parents paid for her to have art lessons. Back then, art was considered a good hobby for girls and women, but it wasn't considered a job or a way that they could earn money. Emily wanted more than anything to make a living as an artist, and when she was a teenager she asked her family to let her go to art school in California.

Show Overhead #3: Emily at age 21
This is a picture of Emily during the time she was studying art in San Francisco. While she was there, she learned skills in drawing and watercolor painting. She didn't have enough money to stay there, so she moved back to Canada and taught art classes to children in her barn. During this time, she made trips by boat to the north part of Vancouver Island because she was interested in drawing the villages and art of the native people of Canada.

Show Overhead #4: Cedar Canim's House, Ucluelet, 1899
This is a watercolor painting of what she saw in a village called Ucluelet (Yu-clue-let). Everything she painted was something she actually saw in person; she did not draw from photographs. She liked to do plein-air painting. Does anyone know what plein-air painting is? It is a painting made outside in the open air, rather than inside a house or studio.

She earned enough money from teaching art classes to go back to school and study art in England. In England, she practiced more plein-air painting, and had a teacher that encouraged her to paint the woods that she loved so much. She worked so hard, that she got very sick, and had to rest in bed for a year and a half.

Show Overhead #5: 5 am
She was not allowed to paint during this time, but she convinced her doctors to let her raise some songbirds by hand. She wanted to take them back to Canada because there were no songbirds where she was from. Here is a sketch she did of feeding the birds when she was sick. Even when she could not go outside to paint, she still always drew in her journal.

Show Overhead #6: Totem Walk at Sitka, 1907
When she got better, she went home to Canada and did more plein-air painting. She took a trip with her sister to Alaska and saw the great carved totem poles on the Totem Walk in Sitka. A totem pole is a carved wooden pole placed inside or outside of a house that tells the story of the family that lives there. Emily thought it was very important to paint the totem poles, because in her lifetime many of them were old and falling down. She admired the culture of the First Nations people in Canada, and wanted to help document their art. "First Nations" is the name given for the indigenous peoples of Canada. Does anyone know what "indigenous people" means? Indigenous people are the first known people who lived in a place.

She could paint well, but she didn't feel like her watercolor paintings captured how big and grand the trees and totem poles were in real life. She heard about a "new art" in France that used bright colors and brushstrokes to capture the feeling of a place, so she traveled to France to learn about the technique.

Show Overhead #7: Trees on a Hillside, 1911
In France, Emily learned that a painting doesn't have to look exactly like it does in real life. She met artists who were called the Fauves (foves). "Fauves" is french for "wild animals" and the Fauves were named that because of their wild use of bright color in painting. What colors do you see in this painting? (bright yellows and greens) Emily went back to Canada, ready to paint what she saw in Canada using bright colors and bold brushstrokes.

Show Overhead #8: House Posts, c. 1912
She wanted her paintings to show how special the totem poles were in real life, so sometimes she painted them bigger or brighter than they really were. When she had about 200 paintings of the First Nations totem poles and villages, she held a show of her artwork and tried to sell her paintings to a museum. Some people liked her paintings, but most people on the west coast of Canada had never seen paintings in that style before, and they expected paintings to look more realistic like a photograph. Some people thought her colors were too bright, and the paint was too thick. The museum didn't buy her paintings, so she had to do something else to earn money.

Show Overhead #9: Woo
She built a house that she called "The House of all Sorts" where she rented out rooms and raised sheepdogs, chickens and rabbits to make money. She loved animals, and even had a pet monkey named "Woo." She didn't do as much painting during this time, but she made rugs and pottery. Then, in 1927, she was invited to show her paintings, pottery and hooked rugs in an Exhibition of Canadian West Coast Art. At the exhibition, she met a group of Canadian artists called The Group of Seven, who were famous in Canada for painting colorful landscapes with simple, smooth shapes. They liked Emily's work, and encouraged her to continue painting the land of Canada with more expression and less detail. She went home, excited to start painting again.

Show Overhead #10: Big Raven, 1931
This painting is called Big Raven. What shapes do you see in this painting? She used curving shapes to get a feeling of movement in the picture. Instead of painting all the branches on the trees, or all the details on the statue, she painted smooth shapes without adding a lot of detail.

Show Overhead #11: Zunoqua of the Cat Village, 1931
What do you see in this painting? This painting is called "Zunoqua of the Cat Village." This village was overgrown with bushes, and she said that she was followed by cats, purring and rubbing everywhere she went. It is interesting that she didn't put the statue in the middle of the picture; it almost looks like the statue is walking out of the painting.

Show Overhead #12: Red Cedar, 1931-1933
This painting is called "Red Cedar." Can you see the brushstrokes in this painting? Brushstrokes are the way an artist puts the paint on the paper with a paintbrush. She painted wavy, curvy lines to add a feeling of liveliness to the tree. Emily is best known for her many paintings of trees.

Show Overhead #13: Abstract Tree Forms, 1931-1932
Can you tell that this is a tree? This is called "Abstract Tree Forms." Abstract art uses color and shapes to show ideas and feelings, and doesn't try to show things the way you would see them in the real world. What shapes did Emily use here to represent trees?

Show Overhead #14: Tree, 1932-1933
Here is another tree where she used wavy, curvy lines and long brushstrokes to add movement to the painting. If she was painting this out in nature, where do you think she was standing?

Show Overhead #15: Untitled Charcoal 1930-1931
One of the interesting things about Emily Carr is that she liked to make her art BIG, to help show what it felt like to look up at the big trees in Canada. But paint and canvas were expensive, so she painted with thinned down paint on big pieces of cheap paper, and did lots of charcoal drawings. That way, she could practice and paint as much as she wanted. She would try to draw or paint at least once every day.

Show Overhead #16: Untitled Charcoal 1930-1931
This is another charcoal drawing done on big yellow paper. Can you see the way she drew the curved lines of the branches?

Show Overhead #17: Wood Interior 1932-1935
Do you see how the tree trunks are a little big bigger at the bottom than they are at the top? This helps give a feeling of perspective, like you are looking up at the tree. Perspective is a way to create a feeling of space and depth by making objects that are closer appear larger than objects that are farther away.

Show Overhead #18: Sombreness, 1937-1940
This painting is called "Sombreness." Somberness is a sad or quiet feeling. She tried to express not just what trees looked like, but also what it felt like to be in the trees. One of the ways she did this was by putting light into her paintings. How did she put light into this painting?

Show Overhead #19: Swirl, 1937
This painting is called "Swirl." Her trees and skies often had a swirling feeling to them. This almost looks like there is wind moving through the trees. What colors do you see in this painting? She used many different shades of greens and yellows and browns in her tree paintings.

Show Overhead #20: Strait of Juan de Fuca, 1936
She also painted skies that had a swirling feeling. This one is titled "Strait of Juan de Fuca." Can you see the yellow paper showing through the paint? Sometimes she did that on purpose, and sometimes that is because the thinned paint she used didn't last over time.

Show Overhead #21: Laughing Bear, 1941
This painting is called "Laughing Bear." When she was old, she couldn't take trips into nature like she used to, so she painted from old drawings and wrote stories about her times visiting the First Nations villages. In one of her books she wrote "There was a wooden bear on top of such a high pole that he was able still to look over the top of the woods. He was a joke of a bear-every bit of him was merry. He had one paw up against his face, he bent forward and his feet clung to the pole. I tried to circle about so that I could see his face but the monstrous tangle was impossible to break through."

Show Overhead #22: Self-Portrait, 1938-1939
This is a self-portrait of Emily Carr when she was 67 years old. She worked very hard her whole life to be a painter, and even though there were times when she was too sick or too busy to paint, she never gave up. She succeeded in being an artist when most women were not able to. She studied hard and learned what she could from school and other artists of her time, and then developed a unique style of her own. Most important to her was that she painted a sense of movement, light and feeling into her paintings. She loved the nature and native art of Canada, and helped introduce new types of art to the remote area where she lived. A huge bronze statue of Emily Carr is going up this fall (October 13th) at the Empress Hotel in Victoria to honor her life and work.

Show Overhead #23: Cedar Sanctuary, 1942
Now we are going to draw a tree in the style of Emily Carr!
This lesson was written by Sara Lehto.
Please contact at sara at sitkacoast dot com
for any questions or comments

Project: Emily Carr's Trees
Grades K-5

Project: Students draw trees in pastel using the techniques of Emily Carr

Project Goal: To inspire children to “think big” like Emily did, by filling up the whole paper. To encourage children to have fun exploring new materials and techniques. To promote fine motor skills, imagination and expression.

Key Concepts:

-Students explore concepts of size and space by practicing filling up the entire paper
-Students develop an awareness of line, shape and color by drawing
-Students gain vocabulary as they learn about the artist, materials and techniques


Colored Pencils
12x18 manila colored tag board
landscape colored pastels (we are using Blick non-toxic pastels)

Project Steps:

1. Hand out one piece of newsprint and colored pencils to every student.

2. Ask, "Have you ever looked up at the big pine trees in Drake Park or before? What do you see when you look up at a big tree?" (the trunk, branches, needles or leaves, the sky)

optional: Have the students all stand up, and pretend to be a giant tree. Have them reach their arms up into the sky like branches, and pretend to feel the wind moving through their branches.

3. Have the students practice drawing trees.  Suggest that they could start at the bottom with the trunk, and draw the tree to the top of the paper. Encourage the children to fill the entire paper, top to bottom.

Demonstrate or talk about what drawing is: "There are many different marks you can make on paper. You can make lines, dots, or wiggly lines. You can draw big, or you can draw small. You can press hard, or you can press light. Emily Carr used wavy lines, or long curved lines to show movement in her paintings."

4. After 10 or 15 minutes practicing with the colored pencil and newsprint, hand out the tagboard and pastels. Students can share the pastels, 1 box for every table or every few students.

5. Have the children place the paper the tall way, and sign their name in the lower right-hand corner.

Things to talk about:

"You can draw one tree, or a whole forest of trees."

"Remember that it doesn't have to look exactly like a tree does in real life. It can be a tree like one you have seen before, or any tree you can imagine."

"If you want to, give a name to your tree."

"Remember that Emily used long, curving lines and smooth shapes to draw her trees."

"Use as many colors as you want to for your tree. You can draw light shining through the branches by adding yellow."

"If you get a lot of pastel dust built up on your paper, you can gently tap it off on your desk, or blend it in with your fingers."

6. When the children are done, make sure each drawing is signed. Have the children wash the pastels off of their hands. Tap the excess pastel off the paper, then lightly spray the drawing with fixative outside the classroom and away from the children. Place the included label on the back of the drawing. Staple the drawings up for display.

Additional Resources:

To help you prepare for the lesson, please watch this short film called "I Can Make Art ... Like Emily Carr" by the National Film Board of Canada.  It gives a great overview on the life of Emily Carr, and will help give you a better sense of her to share with the class.

Another great site to get familiar with the works of Emily Carr, is The Vancouver Art Gallery.  They have an extensive gallery of works by Emily Carr, along with biographical information and educational resources.

Resources and Recommended Reading

Though I have researched the subject of Emily Carr thoroughly, and every effort has been made for accuracy, if you feel that information is in error, please contact me at sara at sitkacoast dot com

Books by Emily Carr:

The Heart of a Peacock. Vancouver, British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre, 2005.

Pause: A Sketchbook. Vancouver, British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre, 2007.

Klee Wyck. Fitzhenry and Whiteside. 2003.

Growing Pains. Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 2004.

Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of Emily Carr. Vancouver, British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre, 2007.

The House of All Sorts. Vancouver, British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre, 2004.

The Book of Small. Vancouver, British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre, 2004.

Biographical Books:

Doris Shadbolt, The Art of Emily Carr. Vancouver, British Columbia: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd., 1979.

Anne Newlands, Emily Carr, An Introduction to her Life and Art. Ontario Canada: Firefly Books Ltd., 1996.

Jo Ellen Bogart, Emily Carr, At the Edge of the World. Toronto, Ontario: Tundra Books, 2003.


Special Thanks to The Vancouver Art Museum's online site for Emily Carr, including Featured Works, Biographical Information and Educational Resources: http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/EmilyCarr/en/index.php

I Can Make Art ... Like Emily Carr, a film by the National Film Board of Canada: http://www.nfb.ca/film/i_can_make_art_like_emily_carr/

Pictures and Paintings:

Map of Canada; Nations Online Project, www.nationsonline.org

Emily Carr House; City of Victoria, Steve Barber, 2004.

Photo of Emily at age 21; British Columbia Archives

Cedar Canim's House, Ucluelet, 1899; Newcombe Collection, Provincial Archives of British Columbia

5 o'clock am; Emily Carr, Pause, Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, 2007

Totem Walk at Sitka, 1907; Collection of the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

Trees on a Hillside, 1911; The Vancouver Art Museum

House Post, c. 1912; The National Gallery of Canada

Woo; British Columbia Archives

Big Raven, 1931; The Vancouver Art Gallery

Zunoqua of the Cat Village, 1931; The Vancouver Art Gallery

Red Cedar, 1931-1933; The Vancouver Art Gallery

Abstract Tree Forms, 1931-1932; The Vancouver Art Gallery

Tree, 1932-1933; The Vancouver Art Gallery

Untitled Charcoal, 1930-1931; The Vancouver Art Gallery

Untitled Charcoal, 1930-1931; The Vancouver Art Gallery

Wood Interior, 1932-1935; The Vancouver Art Gallery

Sombreness Sunlit, 1937-1940; The Province of British Columbia, Provincial Archives

Swirl, 1937; Private Collection

Strait of Juan de Fuca, 1936; McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Laughing Bear, 1941; Private Collection

Self-Portrait, 1938-1939; Private Collection

Cedar Sanctuary, 1942; The Vancouver Art Gallery


  1. Hello, I'm a Grade 5 teacher and am planning a unit comparing different artists. I love what this lesson has, however the pictures are very small. would it be possible to email me the photos in a larger size so that I could create a powerpoint? Thank you! Janine vanmarenjanine@gmail.com

  2. I would actually love the pictures in a larger size as well if that is at all possible. This is amazing and I cannot wait to use it with my students! melissa@magliaro.com