Impressionism and Colors- A lesson plan

The Arroyo Seco, Pasadena, Circa 1918. Franz A. Bischoff (American, born Austria, 1864–1929). Oil on canvas, 24 x 40 in. Crocker Art Museum, Melza and Ted Barr Collection, 2009.19.


Students will evaluate pieces of work by Impressionist artists in an effort to explore how complementary color works. Students will use oil pastels to create a landscape scene using what they have learned about impressionism.


Impressionism: a 19th-century art movement characterized by relatively small, thin, yet visible brush strokes, and an emphasis on accurate depiction of light in its changing qualities. 


Impressionists often used contrasting colors in their paintings. Complementary colors sit on opposite ends of the color wheel; as blue & orange, red & green and violet & yellow. When placed next to each other in a composition they make each color appear more vibrant. We can see this in many of Monet’s works, where his use of contrasting color draws the eye into his work of art. Their interest was motivated by the emerging science of color theory and their interest in new sciences & technologies such as the camera.

There are many interesting components of the Impressionist movement, especially when it comes to color. Inspired by the emerging science of color theory, in many respects the impressionists were working in scientific exploration, in an attempt to understand and capture the world around them.

One of their interests was in plein air painting, and how light & color was perceived outside. Many of their techniques include using a light background, using primary colors, colors close to the light spectrum, and creating compositions using contrasting or complementary colors.


Opening Discussion

  • Review elements of art: line, shape, form, color, value, and texture.
  • Review the color wheel with students and discuss the importance of using light values before dark values.
  • Introduce and demonstrate impressionist techniques by only using natural colored oil pastels to capture an outside scene.


  • Students will be given pastel paper and a small container of oil pastels. Using brush like strokes, students must create an outside scene using natural colors.
  • Students can start by sketching out their scene. Encourage them to cover the entire paper and to work slowly.
  • Once they have their sketch down, have students color in their scene with oil pastels, using light colors first, then dark. Remind them to use very little white and to capture the natural colors.


Clean Up

  • Students may place their finished work up at the front of the room. They must put their name on their work.
  • Students may clean up their area and return any materials. Have students look under their table just in case they dropped oil pastels.
  • They may wash their hands when they are done cleaning.




CA State Content Standards

Visual Arts

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

Creating—Anchor Standard 3: Refine and Complete Artistic Work


Kinder: K.G.2 Correctly name shapes regardless of their orientations or overall size; K.G.3 Identify shapes as two-dimensional (lying in a plane, “flat”) or three-dimensional (“solid”).

2nd grade: (with math integration extension) 2.G.1 Recognize and draw shapes having specified attributes, such as a given number of angles or a given number of equal faces


Kinder-2nd grade: Because there is always more than one possible solution to a problem, it is useful to compare and test designs. (K–2-ETS1-3)


Color wheel collage



  • Paper
  • Oil pastels
  • Pencils and erasers
  • Reproductions of focus artwork


60 minutes

Grade Level



  • Visual Art


  • Color


  • Oil Pastels
  • Paint