Create a Colorful Autumn Tree with Contrasting Warm and Cool Colors

Older children will enjoy the challenge of creating an autumn tree with contrasting warm and cool colors. Jasper Cropsey used contrasting warm and cool colors in his painting, Autumn on the Hudson, and this activity extends the learning from that post.  

 In this art activity older children will:

  • Learn how to draw a tree
  • Practice using a ruler and compass to draw squares and a large circle
  • Choose 3-4 colors from the warm group and 3-4 colors from the cool group to color in the squares
  • Experiment with several different mediums to decide which best fits their vision for their project
  • Learn about 2 Principles of Design—focal point, and repetition

This art activity can help your children in these other areas of learning:

  • Measuring with a ruler and using a compass will help improve math skills.
  • Opportunities to make choices with color and different mediums enhances problem-solving skills.
  • Discussing their choices as they work aids in vocabulary and conversational skills.


  • heavyweight white drawing paper or construction paper, 9” X 12” size is best, making it easy to measure and divide into 3” squares
  • pencils, ruler, compass (If you don’t have a compass, trace around a medium-size plate or bowl)
  • colored pencils, markers, crayons, and watercolor paints
  • brushes of various sizes
  • scrap paper to experiment with colors and mediums
  • small containers for water


  1. Using the ruler, divide the paper into 3” squares
  2. Using the compass or a plate, draw a centered circle where the tree’s leaves would be
  3. Starting at the bottom of your paper draw the trunk of a tree that extends up into the circle
  4. Draw branches that extend only to the edge of the circle
  5. You will paint or color the squares within the circle with warm colors. Warm colors are red, orange, yellow, and mixtures of these. These colors remind us of the sun, fire, and autumn leaves.
  6. You will paint or color the squares outside the circle with be cool colors. Cool colors are blue, green, purple, and mixtures of these. They remind us of the sky, water, and faraway mountains.
  7. Decide whether you want to use watercolor, marker, colored pencil, crayon, or a mixture of these.  To decide, draw some squares on scrap paper and try the different mediums to see which you like best. Watercolor and colored pencils can give softer color. Markers are brighter, and crayons can give more texture. Left to right in the photo are watercolor, colored pencil, crayon, and marker. (I chose watercolor, but outlined each square in a matching crayon color, making it easier to keep the watercolor within the square)
  8. Once you have made your choice, choose 3 or 4 warm colors and 3 or 4 cool colors
  9. Scatter each color around the boxes so that boxes of the same color are not next to each other
  10. Use whatever medium you would like to add color and texture to your tree. I wanted give an idea of both, so tried different techniques on another paper.

Then I drew pencil lines so it would be easier to fill in the various colors.

Now you have a colorful autumn tree with contrasting cool and warm colors that will look great on any fridge!

 2 Principles of Design children can learn from this art activity:

  • Focal Point or Emphasis: Most paintings have a focal point or the place they want you to focus on. In this painting the warm colors, the interesting patterns of the tree’s branches, and the almost central position of the circle, make it the focal point. (often artists use red to indicate a focal point)
  • Repetition:  At the same time, by scattering and repeating your colors around the painting you’re helping to keep a viewer’s eyes moving around to notice other sections of your work.

Helpful Hints:

If possible, before starting this project, go outside and look closely at some trees to observe the following:

  • All the colors and textures in the bark, especially before deciding what way to add color and texture to the tree.
  • How the branches get thinner as they get farther from the trunk
  • How leaves may have mixtures of greens and yellows or reds, as the chlorophyll is no longer being produced.

Molly hopes you’ll hang your Colorful Autumn Tree with Contrasting Warm and Cool Colors on your fridge or in your room to remind you of all the beautiful colors God has given us!

We’d love to hear what your favorite part of this project was!

Join Molly and me in just 2 weeks for a Thanksgiving Art Project for Everyone!!


6 thoughts on “Create a Colorful Autumn Tree with Contrasting Warm and Cool Colors

    1. Kathy The Picture Lady Post author

      Thank you, Jeanne! When the Lord combined my years of classroom teaching with my art education, I found my niche, and I’ve loved teaching art ever since! I can’t wait to try this project with my elementary students when we’re back to in-person school!



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