Make a watercolour painting

Students observe and explore natural history watercolour images from early Sydney and discover the artmaking techniques employed by artists of the colonial era.
Focus Artwork #1: 
The Ground Parrot of NSW c.1809 John W.Lewin


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 artwork

Background notes for Teachers

John William Lewin (1770 - 1819) was Australia’s first free professional artist, emigrating from England to Australia in 1800. Lewin was also Australia’s first printmaker and the first person to publish an illustrated book in the colony, Birds of New South Wales (1813).

In his new home of Sydney, Lewin focused on collecting specimens and producing naturalist art for publication. His artworks include etchings, watercolours and oil paintings which describe the flora, fauna and landforms of Australia. He learnt his painting skills from his father, William Lewin (1747 - 1796), an English pattern maker and natural history painter. John, along with his other siblings, assisted his father in producing the illustrated publication, Birds of Great Britain (1789).

John Lewin’s significance as an artist is primarily due to his innovative style of naturalist painting. He began adding environmental context to his subjects; a dynamic change from traditional naturalist art. His enthusiasm for exploration and discovery in this field contributed to his success in documenting the unique Australian world with skill and fresh insight.

Lewin considered Australia to be ‘the finest country in the world’. He typified the early Australian spirit of working hard to make a living in this land of opportunity. John Lewin passed away in 1819 but has left us a legacy of beautiful and significant images of Australia’s early history.

Student Activities

From shapes to substance

Students learn how to break down their subject into basic shapes to begin their watercolour painting. 

Number of set tasks: 1

Adding the colour

Students add colour, textures and features such as feathers, scales, fur or skin to their work.

Number of set tasks: 1

Activity notes for Teachers

Students will be assisted in:

  • discovering ways to create images in response to historical 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 a watercolour artwork. This guide is available as downloadable resource in Activities 2 and 3.

Materials needed for this art activity:

  • Cartridge paper – good quality – watercolour if possible
  • Lead pencils
  • Erasers
  • Watercolour brushes – medium and small
  • Watercolour tablets (preferable) or use thinned down regular paints

Additional Resources

Creative Arts Syllabus K-6

A student:

  • VAS2.1 Represents the qualities of experiences and things that are interesting or beautiful by choosing amongst aspects of subject matter.
  • VAS2.2 Uses the forms to suggest qualities of subject matter
  • VAS2.3 Acknowledges that artists make artworks for different reasons and that various interpretations are possible.
  • 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
  • provide opportunities for students to make artworks about real experiences that are natural and imagined and that are of interest to them (eg events, incidents, places and spaces; relationships with family members, friends; their pets and other living things; stories, fantasies)