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Negative Space Tree Drawings

6th Grade Drawings of the Trees in our Parking Lot!

This project is ideal for that time of year when the trees have lost their leaves and the new leaves haven’t sprouted yet.

Kids love any excuse to get out of the classroom, so if you can, go outside and have them do the first part of this project “from life”. If that’s not possible, or you don’t have any good trees nearby, some good reference photos will do.

1. Start by talking about positive and negative space. In this case, the positive space is the tree trunk and branches and the negative space is the area between the branches and around the tree.
2. Use a viewfinder to select the part of the tree you want to draw. You can make a viewfinder using two “L” shaped pieces of paper or you can even use your fingers. Close one eye as you look through your viewfinder, moving it around to find the most interesting composition.
3. Now d
o a contour drawing (edges only – no detail or shading), cropping it (have it go off the page) to add interest. Pay attention to the shapes created by your negative spaces…. this will help you draw the positive spaces around them.
4. Remind students to pre
ss lightly as they draw so they can erase as needed without leaving a “shadow” of the lines they don’t want.
5. Trace over your pencil lines with a black Ultra Fine Sharpie, then erase any pencil lines still showing.
6. Use markers to color the negative spaces. You can choose one color
for the whole drawing or several colors to give your drawing a “stained glass” look. Be careful to color all one direction!


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  1. Hi! You’ve just saved my day tomorrow. Been procrastinating about doing a lesson plan for a summer camp class tomorrow. Internet addiction had me wasting time on it instead of focusing on thinking about the lessons. Thought it should be from nature. (the room we’re using has no view so we’ll be outside, weather permitting). I’ll plump for the negative spaces from nature idea – it’s a mixed-age group – some a bit below, most above grade 6 level but with not much art experience. This will do fine (even though a similar lesson I gave my own grade 6 at school didn’t work out so well, some while ago).
    I think it will fit in with my theme of left versus right brain. Some did the usual lollipop tree with labels when asked to observe, so i have a battle on my hands – (to disguise the battle in the guise of ‘having fun’ with it….)
    Think I’ll add a few candles and turn it into a wax -resist technique thing. (Hope that works with watery acrylix).
    Next step – give the laptop to the neighbour’s kid, and start doing something more creative with my time off than being online the whole time…
    (really I don’t need all this extra information!!)
    Thanks again

    1. I hope your students will have as much fun with this as mine have, Paula! They always enjoy going outside to draw… I really should try to get them out there more often!!