Experimenting with Three Styles: Realistic, Impressionistic and Abstract: High School Art Lesson

Experimenting with Three Styles: Realistic, Impressionistic and Abstract: High School Art Lesson
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Objective: Students will make artistic choices with their own paintings based on observation of and experimentation with popular styles of painting.


  • Sample artwork
  • Several sheets of art paper per student
  • Reference photos
  • Drawing and painting materials (charcoal, pastel, oil pastel, paint, etc).

Lesson Procedure:

Step one: Focusing on a particular subject, teacher will post examples of interpretations of the subject as painted by artists known for different styles. For example, the teacher may choose to focus on figures, and post works by artists such as Winslow Homer, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, and Pablo Picasso to show different styles of painting figures. Teacher will ask students to identify elements that make each type of painting successful.

Step two: Students will choose a photo to use as a reference for three drawings or paintings. For a class with less experienced students, it may help if all students use the same theme (for example, if all students choose to focus on still life, or landscape, or a portrait).

Style 1: The Realistic Approach

Step three: Teacher will guide students through first style: realism. Students will attempt to create a painting or drawing that is as close to the original photo as possible, using components such as hard and soft edges, difference in value, blending and shading, overlapping, or any other characteristics of realistic drawing and painting that students are comfortable using.

Blue Impr

Style 2: The Impressionistic Approach

Step four: After completing a realist work to the best of their abilities, students will complete a second piece in the “looser” style of impressionism, focusing less on line and edges and more on the overall lights and darks in the composition.

Blue Abs

Style 3: The Abstract Approach

Step five: For the last phase, students will create a piece in the abstract style, identifying basic shapes in the reference photo and using them as the focus of the drawing or painting. Encourage students to exaggerate shapes and features for emphasis.

Assessment: When students have completed all three phases of painting, teacher will ask students to post or lay pictures out for comparison. Teacher will ask students to identify which stage of the painting was most pleasant for them, and why. Students will also analyze the process of painting and decide which process they think had the most successful outcome, and how they might use this painting experience to make future decisions in their creative experiences.

Use this activity to build students’ confidence; if students did not find any of the three styles enjoyable, help them list other approaches they can take to creating their art.