MYSTERY PAINTING – Shape, Colour, Texture

Students use watercolour paint plus plastic wrap and salt to create a colourful textured painting. Once the painting is dry they examine it to find hidden objects that they outline and enhance with black fine line marker.

Required Time

80 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 4 to Grade 9


Language Arts
Visual Arts


colour contrast shape space texture


Crayola Watercolour Paints Crayola Paint Brushes Crayola Marker & Watercolour Paper - 22.9 cm x 30.5 cm (9" x 12") Crayola Fine Line Markers - black Table Salt Plastic Wrap Masking Tape Plastic Placemats - 1 per student Water Containers - 1 per student Paper Towels

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MYSTERY PAINTING – Shape, Colour, Texture - Step One

Step One

  1. Tape a single piece of watercolour paper onto a plastic placemat or piece of stiff cardboard.
  2. When the tape is removed it will leave a white border around the paintings.
  3. Be sure to use one long strip of tape for each side unless you want a broken border.
  4. Moisten the watercolour paints by dropping a brush load of water on each colour.
MYSTERY PAINTING – Shape, Colour, Texture - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Fill the paper with different colours of paint.
  2. Let the colours bleed together.
  3. Tap a paint filled brush over the paper to splatter some drops.
  4. Sprinkle some salt on the wet paper.
MYSTERY PAINTING – Shape, Colour, Texture - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Place plastic wrap on top of the wet paint.
  2. Scrunch it up and press it into the paint.
  3. Set the painting aside to dry.
MYSTERY PAINTING – Shape, Colour, Texture - Step Four

Step Four

  1. View your painting from all directions.
  2. Look for objects in the shapes and patterns of the paint.
  3. Outline your discoveries in pencil.
  4. Outline your drawings in black fine line marker.
MYSTERY PAINTING – Shape, Colour, Texture - Step Five

Step Five

  1. Paint a small amount of water into the marker lines.
  2. Gently pull the ink away to make a shadow on your shape.
  3. Put dark shadows beside light areas to make the objects stand out.
MYSTERY PAINTING – Shape, Colour, Texture - Step Six

Step Six

  1. View your work with fresh eyes.
    - What do you like best about the painting? Why?
    - What story does your painting tell?
    - How did you decide what each shape was?
    - What would you do differently next time?

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • create a watercolour painting using a variety of techniques to create texture;
  • use their imagination to find and draw recognizable objects in the shapes and patterns in their painting;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity;
  • support their ideas with evidence found in the artworks.


Have students:


  1. Download and display the Shape, Texture, Contrast and Colour posters available on this website.
    - review or teach the:
    - element of Colour – primary and secondary colours
    - element of Shape  – 2-d figure or object, positive and negative shapes
    - element of Space  – positive and negative space, foreground and background
    - principle of Contrast – juxtaposition of elements that are very different, e.g., light and dark colours
  2. Place students into groups so they can share ideas.
  3. Spread newspaper on tables for easy clean up.
  4. Provide paper towel, water containers and paintbrushes for each student/group.
  5. Download optical illusion images from the Internet, e.g.,
    Duck Rabbit



  1. View and discuss several of the optical illusion images focussing on how some people see one thing and others see another pointing out how negative shapes help us make sense of what we see.
  2. Ask students to share what they know about using watercolour paints.
  3. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Create a watercolour painting using a salt and plastic wrap to create texture.
  2. Use your imagination to find and draw recognizable objects in the shapes and patterns in your painting.
  3. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.
  4. Support your ideas with evidence found in the artworks.

The Process

  1. Ensure that everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students, for example,
    I know I am successful when I have: 
    - created a watercolour painting with different colours
    - used salt to create texture
    - used plastic wrap to create texture
    - identified a variety of objects in the shapes and patterns of my painting
    - outlined the objects with black fine line marker
    - created shadows to make my objects stand out
    - kept the paper in good condition
  3. Demonstrate how to tape the paper to the plastic mat.
  4. Demonstrate how to prime the paints by dropping a small amount of water in each colour.
  5. Remind students that they will need to clean their water once it gets dirty, because the dirty water will muddy their colours.
  6. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  7. Observe students as they work. 
  8. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Place students into small groups. 
  2. Ask them to: 
    - Compare their work and describe to each other something they find interesting and why.
    - Discuss the things that are especially effective and why.

    - Talk about their process for finding the various objects in their painting.
    - Suggest a story their painting might be telling.
  3. Share ideas with the whole class. 
  4. Ask students to tell how they felt about doing this project.


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting.
  2. Observe students as they discuss their paintings – speaks with a clear voice, looks at audience while speaking, points to areas in the painting, provides accurate information, answers questions from the audience effectively.
  3. Observe students as they listen – looks at presenter, asks effective questions, supports ideas with evidence found in the artwork.
  4. Use a checklist to track progress. (Downloads – MysteryPainting.pdf)
  5. Have students use reflect on their work in their sketchbooks/journals. (Downloads - MysteryPaintingReflection.pdf)
    What do you like best about your painting? Why?
    - Explain what you did to find the hidden objects in your painting.
    - What would you change or do differently next time?   
    - What story is your painting telling?
    - What do you see that makes you say that?