California Landscape- A lesson plan

Percy Gray (American, 1869–1952)
Watercolor on paper, 16 x 21 1/2 in. Crocker Art Museum, promised gift of the Marilyn Cummins Trust.

About the Artist

Percy Grey- Like many of his early 20th-century contemporaries, Percy Gray revered nature and its positive influence, clung to a belief in the virtues of the past, and was intent on maintaining a simple life in the midst of a complex age. For Gray, these ideals were exemplified by the Native Americans he painted, the principles of the American Arts and Crafts movement that he contributed to, and by his own desire to preserve California’s natural beauty, both in reality and in his art.


Students will plan, draft, and create a landscape painting

Students will be able to demonstrate observation and listening skills, analyze works of art, art techniques, and use a four-step process: Describe, Analyze, Interpret, Judge.

Students will be able to identify and describe the elements of art (line, color, shape, form, value, and texture), and intentionally use those elements when creating their own work.

Students will be able to reflect on their work and individual themes through a series of reflection activities.



Before starting this project, take some time to go outside and observe nature. Or, check out our Collections Page to view inspiring landscapes paintings.



Review the following terms:

Foreground: Refers to the area closest to the viewer, which will almost always be in the lower section of your picture.

Middle Ground: Refers to the area in the middle of the picture.

Background: Further up the picture plane, closest to the horizon. This dulling of color and decreasing of detail creates the effect of “atmospheric perspective”

Line: Is an element of art that refers to the continuous mark made on some surface by a moving point. It may be two-dimensional, like a pencil mark on a paper, three dimensional (wire) or implied (the edge of a shape or form).

Color: Is an element of art with three properties (a) hue is the name of the color, (b) intensity or purity, and strength of colors such as brightness or dullness. (c) value or the lightness or darkness of the color.

Shape: Is an enclosed space defined by other elements of art. Shapes may be two- or three-dimensional objects.

Form: Is an element of art that is three-dimensional and encloses volume.

Texture: Refers to the surface quality or “feel” of an object, such as roughness, smoothness or softness.

Value: Describes the lightness or darkness of a color. Value is needed to express volume.

Observation: The ability to notice things, especially significant details.

Composition: Is the arrangement of elements in a work of art.

Describe: Determine the subject matter and design elements that are in the artwork.

Analyze: Discovering how the Elements of Art are organized.

Interpret: Determine the meaning of the artwork.

Judge: Determine the meaning of the artwork.



  1. Plan. What kind of landscape are you going to create? Desert, forest, creek, lake, prairie, etc.?
    • Consider the different grounds: foreground, middle ground, background. Remember that the object in the foreground are much larger than the objects in the background.
  2. Sketch. Using pencil, sketch out the basics of the landscape.
  3. Color. It is time for the watercolor paints. Consider the different grounds: foreground, middle ground, background. Remember that the object in the foreground are much larger than the objects in the background. Consider your color choices. For example, use warm colors for an sunset or cool colors for mountains and water.
    • start by using warm colors (yellow, orange, red).
    • Then move onto cool colors (blue, green, purples).
    • When using brown and black, be careful not to blend them into your lighter colors.



  1. Clean up. Ask students to clean up and return all materials. Their artwork should remain at their desk for the “gallery walk” to conclude the lesson.
  2. Class and/or table group discussion. What did we learn? What was challenging? What felt familiar? Shoutouts to helpful neighbors?
  3. “Gallery walk”. Students will leave their artwork at their desk to be previewed by their classmates. (If they do not want to share, offer to turn over work). Invite students to line up behind you with their arms behind their backs. Discuss museum manners (hands to self, positive remarks). Slowly “snake” around the table groups so students may view the work of their peers.

Extensions and Adaptations

Reflect. Turn and talk, write, or create a digital report

  • Take a moment and share your work with a classmate . What materials and techniques did you use to make your landscape? Why is it important to learn about California Landscapes? Do you think the artwork has a benefit for others? Why or why not? If you could paint outside in nature, where will you go?
  • Review the elements of art (line, shape, form, color, value, texture, and space) and the technique you learned.



Elements of Art poster cards sample



California landscape paintings from the Crocker collection:

Arthur W. Best (American, born Canada, 1859–1935)
Oil on board, 15 x 23 in. Crocker Art Museum, Wendy Willrich Collection.

Gregory Kondos (American, 1923–2021)
Oil on canvas, 48 x 60 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of First Interstate Bank of California, 1991.30.1.


Julian Walbridge Rix (American, 1850–1903)
Oil on canvas, 20 x 36 in. Crocker Art Museum Purchase with funds from the Maude T. Pook Acquisition Fund, 1974.26

Percy Gray (American, 1869–1952)
Watercolor on paper, 16 x 21 1/2 in. Crocker Art Museum, promised gift of the Marilyn Cummins Trust.
Carl von Perbandt (American, born Germany, 1832–1911)
Oil on canvas, 30 x 50 in. Crocker Art Museum purchase with funds from Gerald D. Gordon, 2007.110.
Thomas Hill (American, born England, 1829–1908)
Oil on canvas laid down on cradled paper, 12 x 18 in. Crocker Art Museum, Wendy Willrich Collection.

CA Arts Standards for Visual Arts

Responding- Anchor Standard 9: Apply Criteria to Evaluate Artistic Work

2.VA:Re9 Use learned art vocabulary to express preferences about artwork

Creating- Anchor Standard 2: Organize and Develop Artistic Ideas and Work

PK.VA:Cr2.1 Use a variety of art-making tools

K.VA:Cr2.1 Through experimentation, build skills in various media and approaches to artmaking

1.VA:Cr2.1 Explore uses of materials and tools to create works of art or design

2.VA:Cr2.1 Experiment with various materials and tools to explore personal interests in a work of art or design

3.VA:Cr2.1 Create personally satisfying artwork using a variety of artistic processes and materials

4.VA:Cr2.1 Explore and invent art-making techniques and approaches

5.VA:Cr2.1 Experiment and develop skills in multiple art-making techniques and approaches through practice

Creating – Anchor Standard 3: Refine and Complete Artistic Work

PK.VA:Cr3 Share and talk about personal artwork

K.VA:Cr3 Explain the process of making art while creating

1.VA:Cr3 Use art vocabulary to describe choices while creating art.

2.VA:Cr3 Discuss and reflect with peers about choices made in creating artwork

3.VA:Cr3 Discuss, reflect, and add details to enhance an artwork’s emerging meaning

4.VA:Cr3 Revise artwork in progress on the basis of insights gained through peer discussion

5.VA:Cr3 Use art vocabulary to describe personal choices in artmaking and in creating artist statements.

Connecting- Anchor Standard 10: Synthesize and Relate Knowledge and Personal Experiences to Make Art

PK.VA:Cn10 Explore the world using descriptive and expressive words and artmaking

K.VA:Cn10 Create art that tells a story about a life experience

2.VA:Cn10 Create works of art about events in home, school, or community life


  • Paper for sketching
  • Watercolor paper (or very thick paper, cardstock, folder, etc)
  • Watercolor paints and brushes
  • Water cups
  • Paper towels


60 minutes

Grade Level



  • Visual Art


  • Art Elements
  • Drawing
  • Landscape
  • Nature/Environment
  • Painting
  • Watercolor


  • Paint
  • Paper
  • Pencil
  • Watercolor