Brushstroke Paintings 


After observing artwork by Alma Woodsey Thomas, second graders created a watercolor background and filled their painting with brushstrokes using tempera.

Art Lesson Videos: Brushstroke Paintings, Part 1 & Part 2 & Part 3

PowerPoint: Alma Woodsey Thomas


  • 9″ x 12″ poster board or watercolor paper
  • Brushes
  • Watercolor paints
  • Tempera paint
  • Scrap paper to create shapes

I was so excited to share Alma Woodsey Thomas’s artwork with my students! They had so many interesting observations to make about her paintings. This turned out to be one of those projects that really captured my students’ attention.


They started by creating a watercolor background using the wet-on-wet technique. This was its own special kind of magic! It is always fun to hear gasps of amazement when students are experimenting with a new material.


The second day we worked on the project, we looked at her painting “Starry Night and the Astronaut” again. (Isn’t that the best title!?) They noticed that the shape in the top corner was a different color than the background.

Create brushstroke paintings inspired by Alma Woodsey Thomas.
Starry Night and the Astronaut, Alma Woodsey Thomas

They tore a piece of paper into an interesting shape and traced it on their paper. Some students just traced it once and others filled their paper with shapes. In the process of tearing, a lot of kids created more than one shape that they wanted to use.


During the middle of class, I played a video demonstration about using tempera paint to outline their shapes with small brushstrokes and fill them in. I wasn’t sure how my second graders would respond to doing what could be seen as “tedious work.” They surprised me by how focused they were on painting their dots! I gave them large brushes so that it wouldn’t take too long.


On the last day of the project, they watched a video about filling in the background with brushstrokes. A lot of students wanted to experiment with mixing colors together on their artwork. I reminded them to wash their brush in between colors and they went for it! Some kids finished quickly and others still had a bit left to do, so we saved the paintings to finish on a Centers Day.


The paintings are so bright and cheerful and the kids had so much fun making them! It was a great introduction to tempera paint because it focused their energy. It was definitely worth spending three weeks on just one project!




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