Make a painting

Learning Activity
Schools & Teachers
Stage 3
Visual Arts: Year 5 and Year 6
Creative Arts

Students explore the visual qualities of line and shape within the built and painted landscape, and learn about how artists are inspired by their environment in preparation for making a painting.

Key inquiry question #1

Pyrmont Expressway 1984 by Margaret Ackland 1984

Key inquiry question #2

East side of Circular Quay showing wool stores and warehouses - photograph by Ted Hood – c.1930’s

Content summary

MAKING: Students learn to:

  • interpret subject matter which is of local interest in particular ways in the making of artworks

APPRECIATING: Students learn about:

  • how concepts and materials are thought about, organized and assembled, and serve different ends in artworks that they and others make

Background notes for teachers

Pyrmont Bridge 1984 – Margaret Ackland

The painting shows the newly constructed Western Distributor which is the big road on stilts that leads traffic into the city past Darling Harbour and out of the city onto the Anzac Bridge. The snaking lines of new roadways were so dynamic that Sydney-based artist Margaret Ackland was inspired to create this high-energy painting. The lines draw your eyes into the image and then encourage them to move around the entire surface, giving the impression of the movement and activity of traffic and noise that is evident in the city environment.

Strong lines have been used for the bridge with high contrast between the white of the roads and the black of the outlines. It is very loosely painted – sweeping brush strokes and bold colours that dance together on the canvas.

This is quite an abstract and modern painting and the details have been painted in very simply and probably quite quickly.

So why is it here? It shows the changing face of Sydney in a very modern way, and as such, it is a record of the history of Sydney. Even though it doesn’t show the smaller details of the buildings and roadways as photographs do, it is certainly giving a lively picture of the area and the development of this urban space in the 1980s.   

In her preparations for creating Pyrmont Expressway 1984 Margaret Ackland would have researched the area perhaps by visiting the site, making sketches of the scene, taking note of the shapes, lines and colours of the area and most certainly taking photographs.

All of these recording methods help artists to identify with and understand their subject better and of course they are a great reference when the artist has moved away from the site. They give a feel for the place and provide ideas for the artist to work with and make into a new creation that represents the sights, sounds and energy of the place.

This painting was purchased by the State Library from Wagner Art Gallery, May 1985.

East side of Circular Quay showing wool stores and warehouses – Ted Hood –  photograph from 1930’s

This photograph shows the eastern end of Circular Quay in the mid 1930’s. The northern pylon of the newly opened Sydney Harbour Bridge can be seen on the left, and to the right, the snaking tram tracks down the middle of the road past numerous multi-storey warehouses. This photograph captures a bygone era and a snap shot of an area that has undergone a great deal of change over the years.

The construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge attracted great interest from photographers and the resulting pictorial record of the process captured by them is a rich source of imagery to use for making art. Strong elements of shape and line are evident in these images and can be used as a focus for artistic response of many different types.    

The photographer Ted Hood captured many views of 1930’s Sydney and there are many fine examples in the collection of the State Library of NSW collection.

Student Activities

Activity notes for teachers

Students will be assisted in:

  • discovering ways to create images from their own personal stories
  • exploring the dynamics of line and shape using painting materials and techniques
  • applying this knowledge to begin an artwork inspired by Pyrmont Expressway 1984 by Margaret Ackland

Make a painting:

The step by step guide for making a painting in the loose style of Margaret Acklands’ painting is available in Activity 3.

The State Library has many images of Sydney Harbour through its changing history. Photographer Ted Hood’s image of Circular Quay in the 1930s is the reference point for the artmaking activity outlined in the above guide.


Materials needed for this art activity:

  • Cartridge paper - heavy quality for painting
  • Lead pencils and erasers
  • Paint brushes - A variety of sizes - large, medium and small
  • Paints - primary and secondary colours and white
  • Charcoal sticks - to define the lines and shapes
  • A copy of Pyrmont Expressway 1984 Margaret Ackland to work from -  IWB image OR printed copy
  • A rectangular viewfinder - cut out from cardboard (recycled is fine)
  • Multiple copies of the image provided from the State Library collection - East side of Circular Quay showing wool stores and warehouses, Ted Hood photograph
  •  …OR you could use aerial images of the local area instead. Look your area up on Google Maps!

Additional resources

More photographs from the State Library Collections:

Sam Hood photographic examples of Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney from the State Library of NSW collection:

Creative Arts Syllabus K-6

A student:

  • VAS3.1 Investigates subject matter in an attempt to represent likenesses of things in the world.
  • VAS3.2 Makes artworks for different audiences, assembling materials in a variety of ways.
  • VAS3.3 Acknowledges that audiences respond in different ways to artworks and that there are different opinions about the value of artworks.
  • VAS3.4 Communicates about the ways in which subject matter is represented in artworks.
  • provide opportunities for students to analyse and interpret the qualities and details of selected subject matter using various methods to assist them in their investigations in making and appreciating, and futher consider how artworks are made as representations.