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Seeing Feelings

For Grades 3–12

Table of Contents

Featured Work
Part I: Drawing Preparation
Part II: Discussion of Color, Line, and Expression
Seeing and Feeling Part I: Descriptive Color—Seeing
Seeing and Feeling Part II: Subjective Color—Feeling
Seeing and Feeling Part III: Critique
Adaptation Suggestions for Grades 6–12
Additional Suggested Activities
New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

Featured Work

Vincent van Gogh
(Dutch, 1853–1890)
La Maison de la Crau (The Old Mill), 1888
Oil on canvas
25 1/2 x 21 1/4 inches (64.8 x 54 cm)
Collection Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Bequest of A. Conger Goodyear, 1966
Background Information for Educators


  • Through observation, discussion, and interactive exercises, students will learn about brushstroke and descriptive v. subjective color
  • Through observation, discussion, and interactive exercises, students will become familiar with Vincent van Gogh’s The Old Mill
  • Students will make works of art using descriptive color and subjective color
  • Students will categorize their drawings
  • Students will compare and contrast their drawings


  • Image for class display
  • Paper and pencils (for writing and sketching)
  • Markers (paint for older students if you would like)
  • Pieces of colored construction paper
  • Access to a copy machine


  • Have each child draw in PENCIL his or her own composition that consists of the following: a tree, the ground, a cloud, a building, and an animal.
  • Photocopy the drawings so that each child has two identical copies. (If you do not have access to a copy machine, ask them to draw as exact a replica as possible.)


  • Hold up the various colors of construction paper. Ask students how each color makes them feel and why, if they can. (It is ESSENTIAL to remember that ALL answers are correct, since this is a subjective exercise.)
  • Ask students to come up to the blackboard and draw lines that express various emotions: happy lines, scared lines, angry lines, etc. It is important that they draw more than one line in each case, in order to prepare them for using their markers as paintbrushes in upcoming exercises.

Looking at Van Gogh’s The Old Mill

  • Explore what students see in the painting before you discuss the use of color and brushstroke.
  • Using the background information as a guide, lead students through van Gogh’s use of color and brushstroke.
  • Ask students to look at van Gogh’s colors and try to figure out how he may have felt about the scene.
  • Have them look at certain areas and determine how the brushstrokes were applied. Ask them to copy the brushstrokes of the following areas on a blank piece of paper with markers (tell them to pay attention to both the placement and width of the marks):
    • The purple fence at the left center
    • The trees behind the fence
    • The stream at the bottom of the painting
    • The green sky
    • The stairs to the building


  • Have the children, on another piece of paper, list the objects in their drawing.
  • Next, ask them to write down one or two colors for each object that are descriptive (colors that the objects are in real life).
  • Have them use markers to color the copy of their drawing based on their list. Encourage them to use their markers like paintbrushes, making a variety of types of marks (as they learned in the previous activity).


  • Assign each child a mood, making sure to include a variety: e.g. happy, sad, frightened, excited, bored, confused, worried, thoughtful, etc. Tell each student to keep their assigned mood A SECRET!
  • Have the students copy their list of objects.
  • Ask them to write down one or two colors for each object that match their assigned mood (these colors should NOT be descriptive).
  • Have them use markers to color in the second copy of their drawing based on the list, as above. Remind them that the types of marks they make can also help to express their mood.


  • Collect the mood drawings and display them for the class.
  • Have students guess which mood each drawing represents and put them into categories (all the happy together, etc.). Discuss similarities and differences in how each category was interpreted. (Are there paintings that look different even though they represent the same mood? Are there paintings that look the same that represent different moods? etc.)
  • Collect the descriptive drawings and compare them to the subjective ones.


  • Substitute paint and brushes for markers.
  • Allow students to draw any type of scene they choose.

Additional Suggested Activities

  • Draw your school or house. Add color, with the stipulation that nothing may be represented in its actual color (including the sky, grass, building, etc.).
  • Make a pencil drawing of any subject you choose. Cut small rectangles (approximately 1/4 x 1/2 inches) out of magazines or colored paper. Make a large pile of each color for use as a palette (all shades of blue in one pile, shades of red in another, etc.). There should be enough of each color that no more need to be cut while you are working and use the rectangles as brushstrokes, similar to Vincent van Gogh’s technique. Use glue sticks or Elmer’s glue to “paint” your drawing (it should be covered completely)—shapes can be overlapped if necessary!

New York State Learning Standards and Core Curriculum

  • New York State Learning Standards for the Arts (Visual Arts, including the museum visit) 1, 2, 3, 4
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Language 1, 3
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11 (New York only)
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
  • College and Career Readiness Anchor Standard for Writing 10


  • Audio for Younger Students

  • Audio for High School Students

  • Audio Description