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Create a textured, abstract design

Students explore the qualities of naturalistic and realistic images and use ideas from selected details of colonial artworks to create an abstract design.
Focus Artwork #1: 
Australian wood or Maned duck, 1790’s, artist unknown
Focus Artwork #2: 
Rainbow Lorikeet, 1797, artist unknown - TAL& Dai-ichi Life Derby Collection


MAKING: Students learn to:

  • select and explore different aspects of subject matter in particular ways in their making of artworks

APPRECIATING: Students learn about:

  • how artists, including themselves, can interpret the world in particular ways in their artmaking

Background notes for Teachers

The First Fleet left England in May 1787, with almost 1500 people on board 11 ships. The long journey to New South Wales took more than eight months. The Fleet arrived first in Botany Bay on 18 January 1788, before settling at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788.

 Of the 1500 passengers on-board approximately half were convicts all heading to a strange, unfamiliar land. Sharing a fascination with the natural history that surrounded them, both convicts and colonists began describing and recording their impressions in journals, letters and drawings. This material provides an invaluable record of the early days of the colony.

The State Library holds an extensive collection of material relating to the establishment of the colony and has an unrivalled collection of original natural history drawings from the earliest years of the colony. 

Looking closely at these images, the observational skills and patience of the artist is evident in the fine details they contain. The artists may have first seen these creatures in the wild, but most relied on working from taxidermied specimens to get an accurate likenesses. These images were then transported back to England and Europe to share the findings of the new and wonderous land and the creatures that inhabited it. The finer detail of the artworks and the techniques used to create them are the focus of the accompanying activity. 

Student Activities

Wood duck in close up

Inspired by a watercolour painting of a wood duck, students use a step-by-step guide to create a textured, abstract design using pencil and watercolour pencil. 

Number of set tasks: 1

Rainbow Lorikeet close up

Inspired by a watercolour painting of a rainbow lorikeet, students use a step-by-step guide to create a textured, abstract design using watercolour pastels. 

Number of set tasks: 1

Activity notes for teachers

In this activity, students will be assisted in:

  • discovering ways in which subject matter is given particular emphasis in artworks
  • exploring drawing and watercolour materials and techniques
  • applying this knowledge to begin an artwork of their own

Students will use a step by step guide to make an abstract watercolour design inspired by these images. This guide is available as downloadable resource in Activity 2 and 3.

Materials needed for this art activity:

  • Watercolour paper– cut into square shape to match the section being observed in closeup - eg. 15x15cm or 20x20 cm square.
  • Watercolour pencils or pastels OR
  • Watercolour tablets
  • Watercolour brushes (soft bristled)
  • Water tubs
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Scrap paper to test colour mixing – if desired 

Creative Arts Syllabus K-6

A student:

  • VAS2.1  Represents the qualities of experiences and things that are interesting or beautiful by choosing among aspects of subject matter.
  • VAS2.4 Identifies connections between subject matter in artworks and what they refer to, and appreciates the use of particular techniques.

Typically teachers of Stage 2 students will:

  • discuss the concept of intentionality with students and consider how artistic intentions affect the choices that artists, including themselves, make.
  • have students talk about their own reasons and others for making art.