Tree of Life (5th)

5th graders viewed the work of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt this week. We talked about his use of gold leaf in his paintings and his abstract style. I was surprised how many 5th graders still didn't really understand what the term "abstract" refers to.. so I explained it by comparing it to its opposite - realistic. I asked my students to imagine they had a camera and took a photograph of an object with it. The photograph would look EXACTLY like what the camera saw when it took the picture - this is realistic - it is exactly what the object looked like in real life. I explain that "abstract" is like the opposite; it is not realistic like a photograph, but instead, just looks similar to to the object. In abstract art, the artist often cares more about color choices, shape, lines, etc... than about trying to copy the way something looked exactly. Oftentimes they use objects symbolically as well.. so they are only trying to capture the essence or the idea of the object.

The students who are still confused typically catch on after I show them Klimt's "Tree of Life."

For this project I had students use liquid watercolors to paint a background. Once that dried, they used pencil to draw on their swirling trees and then used sharpie to color them in. Afterwards students had the option of apply colored foil for decoration (just like how Klimt used gold)!

I really like how these turned out.. and the kids really liked their results as well! Nice relaxing project! :)

To see how this project evolved over the years, check out this art lesson inspired by artist Natasha Wescoat!


  1. Beautiful! I love the pastel-y backgrounds contrasted with the dark, dramatic trees. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nice work...but Gustav Klimt was from AUSTRIA not Australia....

    1. Oh wow! Don't know how I didn't catch that! Thanks!!