Watercolor Chemistry- A lesson plan

VOYAGERS IN SPACE, 1971. Gordon Onslow Ford (American, born England, 1912–2003)
Acrylic on canvas, 80 1/4 x 48 1/4 in. Crocker Art Museum, gift of the Lucid Art Foundation, 2008.113.


Students will experiment with four techniques to create a watercolor painting. Students will choose one technique and create a final water color piece of art.


Part ONE: Testing sheet

1.Students will fold their paper into four squares. Following the fold lines, use blue tape to create a “t”, dividing the paper into four sections (quadrants)

2.In each square, students experiment with a solvent:

    • White oil pastel – oil and water create a resist – draw some shapes and lines with white oil pastels. Using really wet watercolor, paint over your drawings. What happens? Why?
    • Salt – Fill the next square with watercolor. Sprinkle salt on the colored puddle. What happens?
    • Rubbing alcohol – Wet another quadrant. Using qtips, squeeze or drip dots of rubbing alcohol into the wet paint. What happens? Why?
    • Masking – Rip little pieces of masking tape. Place pieces on one quadrant of the paper. Use water color to paint on and around the tape. Carefully remove tape. What effect did it have?

Place quadrant paintings to the side to dry. Tidy workspace.

Part TWO: Final creation

Students will apply their skills learned at the beginning of the lesson to create a larger piece of work inspired by Voyagers in Space. 

  • Once the students have a clean and dry workspace, distribute one sheet of 8.5 x 11 watercolor  paper
  • “We’re going to use the new techniques to create a nighttime sky scene.” Show Voyagers in Space
  • Using tape, mask off some star shapes.
  • Draw one or two more stars with oil pastel.
  • Use some of the new techniques and paint to decorate the night sky.



  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? Shout-outs 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.


Visual Arts

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

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

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.


  • Watercolor paper – two sheets per student – 8.5 x 11 or larger
  • High quality dry watercolor
  • Brushes
  • Water cups – one per two students
  • White oil pastels
  • Colored oil pastels
  • Salt
  • Rubbing alcohol and qtips
  • Blue tape – one roll per two students
  • Paper towels


90 minutes

Grade Level



  • Visual Art


  • Painting
  • Watercolor


  • Watercolor


Crocker Art Museum