TREE SILHOUETTE – Warm and Cool Colours, Contrast

Students use tempera paint to mix warm and cool colours that they use to paint a background and then use black oil pastel to draw a tree silhouette on it.

Required Time

120 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 1 to Grade 6


Language Arts
Visual Arts


colour theory colour wheel cool colours primary colours secondary colours silhouette warm colours


Crayola Oil Pastels - Black Crayola Tempera Paint Crayola Marker & Watercolour Paper - 22.9 cm x 30.5 cm (9" x 12") - 1 piece per student Crayola Paint Brushes Pencils Paper Plates for Palettes Water Containers Paper Towels

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TREE SILHOUETTE – Warm and Cool Colours, Contrast - Step One

Step One

  1. Make several sketches of trees.
  2. Choose the one you like the best to use for your painting. 
TREE SILHOUETTE – Warm and Cool Colours, Contrast - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Put a small amount of the primary colours - yellow, red and blue paint on a paper plate.
  2. Follow the colour wheel to mix each of the secondary colours. (Downloads - ColourWheel.pdf)
    - Red + Yellow = Orange
    - Red + Blue = Violet
    - Blue + Yellow = Green
TREE SILHOUETTE – Warm and Cool Colours, Contrast - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Start painting at the bottom of the paper.
  2. Make a band of a cool colour such as blue or green.   
TREE SILHOUETTE – Warm and Cool Colours, Contrast - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Gradually change colours of paint moving from cool to warm.
  2. Overlap the edges of each band of colour so they blend together as you add new colours.
  3. Fill the page with colour.
  4. Place the painting in a safe place to dry. 
TREE SILHOUETTE – Warm and Cool Colours, Contrast - Step Five

Step Five

  1. Use a black oil pastel to draw your tree on top of your painted background.
  2. Have your tree sketch beside you and let it guide you as you draw.
TREE SILHOUETTE – Warm and Cool Colours, Contrast - Step Six

Step Six

  1. Fill the page with your tree and its branches.
  2. From time to time view your work from a distance to see it with fresh eyes.
  3. Add details until you are satisfied with how it looks.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • mix secondary colours from primary colours;
  • recognize and use warm and cool colours;
  • use contrast to create emphasis;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity; 
  • support their ideas with evidence found in the artworks.


Have students:

  • explore books about colour, for example, Monsters Love Colors, by Mike Austin; Color Dance, by Ann Jonas; The Day the Crayons Quit; by Drew Daywalt; and Vincent’s Colors, by Vincent Van Gogh and The Metropolitan Museum of Art;
  • create a colour book inspired by one they have read;
  • share their books with other students;
  • teach a student in a lower grade how to mix colours based on their own book.


  1. Prior to this lesson you may want to have students make a colour wheel using the Exploring Colour  lesson plan available on this site.
  2. Download and display the Colour Wheel poster available on this website.
  3. Download images from the Internet, or find pictures in books of examples of trees, for example,
    Maple Tree
    Weeping Willow
  4. Gather and make available books about trees, for example, Old Elm Speaks: Tree Poems, by Kristine O'Connell George; The Tree, by Karen Gray Ruelle; and Sky Tree: Seeing Science Through Art, by Thomas Locker.
  5. Have students do an inquiry-based study about trees in different seasons that includes poetry.
  6. Collect a variety of paint chips in warm and cool colours.
  7. Gather required art materials.


  1. View the colour wheel and review/introduce the primary colours and how they can be mixed. 
  2. Introduce warm and cool colours.
  3. Place students into small groups.
  4. Give each group of students a pile of paint chips and ask them to arrange them from coolest to warmest colours.
  5. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Mix secondary colours from primary colours.
  2. Recognize and use warm and cool colours.
  3. Use contrast to create emphasis.
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.
  5. Support your ideas with evidence found in the works.

The Process

  1. Make sure everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students, for example,
    I know I am successful when I have:
    - used my own ideas to make my painting
    - mixed secondary colours from primary colours
    - painted warm and cool colours so they blend together
    - drawn a tree with lots of branches
    - created strong contrast 
    - shared my ideas with others
    - kept the paper in good condition
  3. Guide students through the steps outlined in the lesson plan.
  4. Observe students as they work.
  5. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Display the completed paintings for a group discussion. Remind students of the challenge.
  2. Ask students to:
    Look closely at the paintings.
    - Choose one that interests you for some reason.
    - Share thoughts about the work.
  3. During the discussion include references to:
    - Contrast - how it emphasizes the tree and adds drama to the picture.
    - Movement - how colour and lines get the eye to travel through the whole space.
    - Colour - how the colours change from cool to warm.
    - Feelings the work evokes and why/how.



  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. (Download – TREE_tracking.pdf)
  5. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Download – TREE_self-assessment.pdf, TREE_PRIMARY_self-assessment.pdf))