Lesson Plan — Environmental Drawings


  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • Drawing board (clipboard or cardboard sheets)
  • Colored pencils
  • Magnifying lens
  • Field guides



  • Observe the environment and the plant life that it contains


  • Discuss Mark Catesby’s careful observation of the natural environment
  • Create a drawing of a local landscape and record details of plant life

Crafting•NorthCarolina web site connections:

Early Glimpses of NC: Scientist, writers, and artists explore NC's flora and fauna


Early Glimpses of NC: 18TH century artist / botanist draws NC nature


Look@Gallery: NC landscape artist works with 4th graders to sketch environment








  1. Explain that in science and art, plants are often subjects of study and observation. In art, artists are inspired to create still lifes and landscapes from their observations. Why might artists want to observe nature carefully before creating an artwork about it?
  2. Look at artwork by artist and botanist Mark Catesby. Look at the details captured in "Carolina Magnolia." Point out the textures and colors that Catesby has captured in his work. Discuss Catesby’s mission in Colonial America. Why is his work important to us today?
  3. Discuss what type of art a landscape artist creates? Look at the landscape drawings by 4th graders in the Look@Gallery.


  1. Take students on an observational sketching activity around the school. Select an area with a view and a convenient place where students can sit on the ground and sketch. If possible, choose an area with lots of visual interest that looks out onto forests, fields, or a park. Involve parent helpers to act as guides and chaperones for this activity. It is highly recommended that the teacher or parents scout this area thoroughly before students arrive. Be on the lookout for poison oak and ivy, and other hazards that students might stumble upon.
  2. Pass out paper, pencil, and a drawing board to each student. Have students begin by sketching an overview of the landscape. Have them concentrate on specific shapes of trees and patterns of light and dark areas found in the landscape. Allow approximately thirty minutes for them to create a small drawing filling approximately half of their paper. Instruct them to save space at the bottom of their page for additional sketches when they return to the classroom. As students work, encourage them to make written observational notes along the margins of their paper. These notes will be helpful when recalling colors and details in the classroom.
  3. After students have finished sketching, ask them to walk into the landscape and select one plant form for detail -- wildflowers, weeds, leaves, pods, etc. Many items that they select will be found lying on the ground. If not, ask students to break off only a small sample of an object.
  4. Back in the classroom, have students observe their object from all sides. A magnifying lens is helpful for careful observation of tiny details. Ask them to describe how the object feels to the touch. Now ask them to try and create the feel and look of the object on their drawing paper. Students should concentrate on the texture of their object and try to capture shapes, variety of lines, patterns, and light and dark areas that they observe. Encourage them to add as many visual descriptions as possible as if they are visually describing their object to someone who has never seen it before.
  5. Have students use colored pencils to add color to their drawings.
  6. Finally, have field guides available to identify plant forms or to answer questions that may arise as students are working. If possible, have students label their drawings with scientific names.


  1. Display the sketches. As students look at them, point out how much information has been captured about the surrounding environment. Ask students what new information they have discovered because of their careful observations.
  2. Can students describe the environment and plant forms that are found around their school? Do students understand why artists learn to carefully observe objects before creating an artwork about it? Do students understand the importance of the work by early explorer-artists like Mark Catesby? Why is it important that artists continue to record the environment today?