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Lesson 3: Drawing from Observation


Students will observe and identify the lines, shapes and textures of a natural object, and translate these into a drawing.

Grade Level



Drawing / Oil Pastels

Theme/ Big Idea

Artists make drawings using both observation and imagination. Artists also use observation to inspire ideas for imaginary drawings.

Essential Question

How can I create my own imaginary plant from what I imagine and what I observe? How can I use oil pastels to create lines, shapes, colors, textures and details to create my own imaginary plant?

  • Unit & Lessons
  • Teaching Tools

Case Studies

Materials and Tools

  • Natural objects with texture: rocks, leaves, pinecones, bark, wood pieces, seed pods, seashells, etc. or photos linked here
  • White charcoal pencils
  • 9×12” black or blue construction paper
  • *Alternative materials: Ebony drawing pencils and 9×12” white drawing paper


Step 1:

Hello artists! In the last lesson, we used oil pastels to mix new colors. In this lesson, we are going to do something a little different and draw whole natural object from observation. 

What does the word “observation” mean? What comes to mind when you think about this word?

Observing is looking closely and noticing details. Observation helps us gain information to understand or learn more about something.

Why do you think it’s important for artists to observe things?

Step 2: Observing an Object with Our Senses

Let’s begin by exploring one of the natural objects we have today. (Or use the photos liked here.)

If you have the actual object, start by feeling it with your hands. If you don’t have an actual object, look at one of the images and try to imagine the answers to these questions.

  • Have you seen an object like this before? If so, where?
  • How does the object feel? 
  • What texture does it have?
  • Is it heavy or light?
  • Does it make a sound? 
  • Does it have a smell?

Now, let’s look closely at the object.

  • What is the largest shape of the object? 
  • Is it made up of different shapes put together?
  • Is the object tall or wide? Which parts are larger and which parts are smaller?
  • Where do you see lines? What kinds of lines are they?
  • What kinds of lines, shapes or patterns show the texture?
  • What other details do you notice?

Step 3: Drawing from observation

Now, let’s get ready to begin your drawing. Put your object in front of you where you can clearly see it. Try positioning your object in a few different ways and choose the most interesting position to draw. What do you think makes one position more interesting than another? 

Take out your drawing paper. Think about the following prompts to plan your drawing:

  1. Do you want your drawing paper to be vertical or horizontal?
  2. Where on your page will you draw the largest shape of your object?
  3. How big do you need to draw your object to fill your paper?

Then, trace the shape of the object on your paper with your finger. Make a mark with your pencil where your object will hit the edges of your page.

Look at your object and begin drawing the largest shapes that you see. Start by lightly drawing the shapes of your object. What kind of lines make up the edge of the shape? Are they thick or thin?

Once you draw the lines that best describe your object, go over these to make them darker. You don’t need to erase anything.

Keep drawing slowly. When artists draw from observation, they spend just as much time looking at the object as they do drawing it on the paper.

After drawing the large shapes of your object, add any smaller shapes.

What details do you notice? Add these to your drawing. Draw the textures that you see.

Remember, every artist draws differently. An artist’s drawing expresses their personal way of seeing, and it will always look different from the object itself.

Step 4: Reflection Questions for Discussion (10 minutes)

Questions for Individual Artists

  • What shapes did you notice in your object?
  • What lines did you notice?
  • What details did you draw?
  • What textures did you draw?

Questions for Whole Group

Compare/contrast to share how different artists draw the same object differently:

  • How did each artist choose to draw their object on the paper? 
  • What shapes did each artist use to draw their object?
  • How did each artist show the visual texture of the object? 
  • What details did they add? 




Liu Dan, The Sunflower, 2007, Ink on paper, 75x75cm

Artwork by Liu Dan: http://www.asiaartcenter.org/asia/portfolio/liu-dan/?lang=en

Examples of textures


For Multilingual Learners

  • Explore objects with the 5 senses, pairing vocabulary with experience.
  • Have students who want to draw the same object sit in a group and share their observations about the object with the group before drawing.
  • Connect to prior knowledge—ask students to share if they’ve seen natural objects like these before and what they know about them.


Explore Observation Through Touch

Place objects in individual paper bags and have students reach inside to feel them. Have students describe the shapes and textures that they feel before seeing the object.

Draw Your Natural Object Using Different Drawing Tools

Try drawing your natural object with different kinds of drawing tools: pens, markers, crayons or oil pastels. Use watercolor and a paintbrush to paint your object. How do the different materials change your drawing?

Explore the Expressive Qualities of Fruits and Vegetables

Observe and draw the shapes, lines and textures of different fruits and vegetables. 

The Plants Around Us: Art and Science Lesson

Learn about plants, and drawing plants, from observation using contour lines: https://www.educationworld.com/a_lesson/plants-science-and-art.shtml