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Ten of My Favorite Paintings

Here are Ten of My Favorite Paintings (and it was hard to do just 10!)

Please follow this link to   to my guest post about how Art Benefits Children Cognitively, Socially, and Physically on Jean Matthew Hall’s blog, then come back here and look at ten of my favorite paintings and try some of the activities I suggest with your children.

The Lindisfarne Gospel, c. AD 700, made at the Lindisfarne Priory on Lindisfarne, Holy Island, off England’s northeast coast, the British Library, London

Chi Rhi page, Lindisfarne Gospel, public domain

The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan van Eyck, 1434, National Gallery, London

Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck, public domain

Puppy Playing with a Pheasant Feather, c. 1499, Yi Om, Korean, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Puppy Playing with Pheasant Feather, by Yi Om, public domain

The Hare, Albrecht Durer, 1502, Albertina, Vienna

The Hare by Albrecht Durer, public domain

The Philosopher in Meditation, 1632, Rembrandt, The Louvre, Paris

The Philosoper, Meditating by Rembrandt, public domain

The Milkmaid, Johannes Vermeer, 1658, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

The Milkmaid by Vermeer, public domain

The Oxbow, The Connecticut River near Northhampton, 1836, Thomas Cole, Metropolitan

Museum of Art, NYC

The Oxbow by Thomas Cole, public domain

Children on a Beach, 1884, Mary Cassatt, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Children on a Beach by Mary Cassatt, public domain

Rouen Cathedral, 1892-1893, Claude Monet, Rouen Museum, Rouen, France

Rouen Cathedral, Facade and the Tour d’Albane, Gray Weather, Claude Monet, Rouen Museum

Moonlight, Wood Island Light,1894,  Winslow Homer, Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Moonlight, Wood Island Light by Winslow Homer, public domain

This last one by Winslow Homer was painted in Maine–near where I grew up.

What are some of your favorite paintings?

How I Almost Missed Jesus Devotion plus a Christmas Art Project for the Family

I almost missed this painting of Jesus. Small and tucked away in an out-of-the-way gallery, it was overshadowed by the larger, more famous paintings at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy.

In this post the devotion is first, followed by an art project the whole family can enjoy together. Next is a very short bio of the artist Gerrit van Honthorst.  And last of all a couple of photos of Molly and me in the snow. I hope you’ll enjoy any or all of these.

The Uffizi, author photo


Like other famous museums, the Uffizi is crowded. People fill every gallery. Many are tired. Not everyone is polite. As we stood in front of one especially famous painting, someone in the crowd actually rested a camera attached to a selfie stick on my husband’s head! (selfie sticks are now banned in most museums!)


But to visit the Uffizi was a once–in-a-lifetime experience,

The Holy Family by Michelangelo, photo by author

so we persevered, even though we often had to wait and then stand our ground for space to gaze at great Renaissance art. I marveled at the rich colors of Michelangelo’s Holy Family and so many other beautiful paintings.




At the end of the day when we trudged into a small, plain gallery, my feet ached, and my head was on art overload (yes, even art teachers get there!) I collapsed on a bench, like this guy I photographed at the Louvre, and didn’t even look at the art on the walls.





So my husband saw it first—a small nativity painting by Gerrit van Honthorst that uses light and shadow to focus on Jesus. I had come to the Uffizi on a mission to see the big Renaissance artworks for real. It took a small painting by a relatively unknown artist to show me I was missing Jesus.

Long ago people had to go to Bethlehem for a once-in-a-lifetime experience of a Roman census. Crowds of tired people were on missions to find rooms. Not everyone was polite. Tempers flared, and children cried.   And most missed Jesus. He was small, like any baby, and He was tucked away in a stable behind one of those inns. No halos, crowns, or beautiful garments made Him stand out. Instead Mary had wrapped him in cloths and laid him in a manger.

But the shepherds stopped everything and hurried to see Jesus, because they believed the angels’ announcement:  “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:11-12 (NIV)

Adoration of the Christ Child by Honthorst, photo by author

They truly saw Jesus. They saw the One who created the stars lying humbly in a manger. They saw God’s most amazing miracle of all time–Immanuel, God come to dwell with us and in His great compassion save us from our sins. They worshiped Him with wonder and delight. Let’s make sure we don’t get so focused on our holiday missions of shopping and gift-wrapping, concerts and parties, that we miss Jesus, God’s greatest gift to us—Himself.

Take time with your children or grandchildren to look at this painting together. Ask them to tell you what they see and share with them the wonder of Immanuel, God with us.

Art Project—a pop-up card to help everyone see Jesus!


  •      pencil, ruler, scissors
  •      1 piece of medium blue cardstock, cut a little smaller than the white card
  •      1 piece of white or other light-colored cardstock
  •      small pieces or scraps of yellow and/or brown construction paper
  •      old Christmas cards with nativity scenes or scraps of white cardstock to draw on
  •      markers
  •      white glue and glitter or glitter glue

Directions (This is a fun project to do as a family—adults or older children helping younger children)

1. Score and Fold both blue and white cards in half

2. The blue card:

     A few inches from the top on the inside draw a wavy line for some hills and add a few small   buildings and palm trees. Leave room for the big star!! (look at towns on old Christmas cards for examples). Use blue marker to color the buildings and trees.  Leave some windows and doors to fill in with yellow marker after blue marker is dry.

3. To make the pop-up section on the blue card

Refold the card and on the outside at the fold, place a dot at the middle. About an inch on each side of the dot draw one line that extends 1 ½” up from the fold and with the card still folded, cut along the 2 lines. Do not cut across the top.

Open the card and poke the cut section through to the front. Scoring for the folds helps.

Crease along the two scored lines so the cut portion stands up like a bench.

4. The Star

In the sky above the little houses on the blue card, draw a large star and outline in glue. Make dots for small scattered stars. Sprinkle glitter over the stars and allow to dry.

5. Attaching the blue card to the white card

Turn the blue card to the back and thinly spread glue over its back, being sure not to get glue on the poked-to-the-front section. Center the blue card on the white card, lining up the folds and press to stick.


6. The Manger Scene

Cut out a manger scene from a Christmas card (You don’t have to cut out every figure—maybe just a shape that includes everyone). Or you can draw and cut out your own from another piece of cardstock.

Glue the manger scene to the front of the “bench” so when the card is opened, the manger scene will stand up. Cut yellow and brown paper into small, thin pieces and glue at base of manger for straw.

Place your manger scene where everyone can see Jesus!

If you’d like to send your card to someone, turn the card over to the white front and add a Christmas message about Jesus!  Decorate around your message with markers


A very short Bio of Gerrit van Honthorst, who painted The Adoration of the Christ Child:

Gerrit van Honthorst was born in the Netherlands in 1590. He studied art in Italy, learning how Carravaggio created dramatic lights and darks. While in Italy, Honthorst painted many night scenes, mostly religious. Although not very well-known today, Honthorst helped bring the dramatic Baroque art style to northern Europe, and influenced Rembrandt in the Netherlands and Georges de la Tour in France.      


 Molly and I wish you all a blessed Christmas celebrating the birth of Jesus.



Thank you for reading my blog this year, and we hope to see you back here for more great art, devotions, and fun projects in the New Year!





Easy and Fun Thanksgiving Art Project for Children

This easy and fun Thanksgiving art project for children will help decorate your Thanksgiving table and remind us all of our need for prayer, not just at Thanksgiving, but in all situations. It follows a brief outline of Albrecht Durer and his artwork, the Praying Hands.

Self-portrait, Albrecht Durer, public domain, wikimedia

The Artist
Albrecht Durer (1471-1528) lived in the German city of Nuremberg, an important center of the new technology of printing. Life was hard. The German states often warred with each other, and there were military threats from outside, frequent famines from crop failures, and recurring outbreaks of the plague. Durer was one of just 3 in his family of 18 children to reach adulthood.

Durer had 3 years of school to learn to read and write, and at 15 he apprenticed to a Nuremberg painter and designer of woodblocks for book illustration.

At 18 he traveled as a journeyman, making and selling woodblock designs to book printers. Twice he traveled to Italy to study the art of Raphael and da Vinci. Durer was one of the first northern artists to do this, and his work shows a mingling of the Northern artists’ careful observation of detail and the Italian concern with the rules of perspective and form.

Although a great painter, Durer was one of the first to make the major part of his income from woodblock prints and engravings, which were affordable by all. In these Durer used fine lines to produce life-like details and shading. One project, 15 large woodblock prints from Revelation, instantly became a bestseller, making Durer famous throughout Europe. Some were later used in Luther’s German New Testament.

The Great Piece of Turf, Albrecht Durer, public domain, wikimedia

Wherever Durer traveled, he studied and painted ordinary places and creatures with the interest of a naturalist. He painted dandelions, hares, and crabs he saw in the fish markets of Venice. Once he tried to see and draw a beached whale, and it’s believed he contracted malaria from that excursion, and later died from it.

Praying Hands by Albrecht Durer, public domain, wikimedia

The Artwork
The Praying Hands have become an enduring symbol of faith. They were done as a study for a large painting that was part of an altarpiece for a church.  We know the painting only from a copy, because the original was destroyed by fire in 1729.

The Praying Hands study was drawn with a brush on a greenish blue paper. They show careful observation, but go far beyond mere recording, to illustrate humble faith and trust in God.

Durer followed Luther’s writings closely, often requesting copies of new pamphlets from Frederick the Wise’s secretary. When Luther was “kidnapped” Durer was in the Netherlands. He, along with most others, thought the kidnapping was real and that Luther might be dead.

This quote from Durer’s journal shows his worry as well as his desire to understand the ways of God. “Oh God, if Luther be dead, who will henceforth expound to us the holy Gospel with such clearness? What might he not have written for us in the next ten or twenty years?”

This well-educated, hard-working, spiritually-seeking artist, who loved to investigate and depict the simplest things of God’s creation, shows us in The Praying Hands a wonderful symbol of our need for prayer. Perhaps as an artist, he realized more than most how wonderfully made the hand is, and what amazing tasks God has designed it to be able to do.

Which brings us to the EASY and FUN ART PROJECT:

This project can be done very simply in about 20 minutes with crayons while everyone is waiting for dinner to be ready.

At the end I’ll show an extra step you can do if you wish. It’s a little messier, but fun if you’re game!

Materials: basics–brown, white, or Thanksgiving-motif paper lunch bags, scissors, pencils, a little glue, and crayons or markers. Add poster-type paint and a largish brush, if you want to do the extra step. And some paper towels!!

20151124_1442261. Place a folded paper bag flat on the table with the folded bottom of the bag facing up. Have the child place his or her hand flat on the bag with finger tips pointed toward the top of the bag and their wrist at the upper edge of the folded bag bottom.

2. With a pencil, trace around the child’s hand.

3. Keeping the bag folded, cut in from the sides of the bag (just above the folded bag bottom) to the child’s wrist. Then cut up and around the traced hand (through both thicknesses of the bag) and out to the bag’s other edge on the other side of the hand.20151124_152726

The child may then decorate or color the hands.


20151124_144928The extra step: before opening the bag, fold the two hands away from each other and the bag bottom. Spread a thin layer of paint on the child’s hands (too much paint just smears and doesn’t show the lines of the hand. If you’re not sure how much to use, have some scrap paper handy and do a couple trial prints)

20151124_145709Then help the child to make hand prints on what will be the inside or palm of their praying hands.

20151124_145718They need to hold their hand still and just press down gently.

They will also need to do each hand separately so thumbs and fingers match. (To cut down on the mess, as you finish printing with each of the child’s hands, fold a paper towel around and into their hand so they have the towel to hold until you get them to wherever you’ll wash up)

20151124_152705I like to do this additional step if possible because when children see their hand print, it’s a great time to talk to them about how wonderfully made they are and that they are so special to God that even their finger prints are different from anyone else’s.

Last step: Whether you do the printing part or just the coloring, now open the bag. To form the praying hands, glue the tips of the fingers together. (just a little glue so you can still put things into the bottom of the bag)20151124_153112

Whichever way you do these, it’s fun and a great reminder of what Thanksgiving is all about!! At the Thanksgiving table guests may write prayer requests or things they are thankful for on slips of paper and put these in the bag.

May you have a wonderful Thanksgiving with time to relax and remember the Lord’s love for you and His many blessings!

Interview with Jean Matthew Hall, Author of the Picture Book, God’s Blessings of Fall

I’m happy to welcome Jean Matthew Hall as a guest on my blog today. She and I share a love of God and His creation, and her debut picture book, God’s Blessings of Fall, has recently been released by Little Lamb Books.

It encourages children to use all their senses to experience and celebrate the blessings of that season, while pointing them to the Lord! It’s a great read-aloud with lots of fun sound words to delight readers.

It’s also a book that will help you and your children celebrate God’s blessings this Thanksgiving!

Hi, Jean! Welcome to my blog.

Q: Please tell us a little about yourself and your writing journey.

A: As a child I enjoyed drawing and designing more than writing. As an adult I found myself writing many articles and handbooks for my job. It became fun. Then, when I started writing stories it really became fun!

I started writing for publication around 2007. I’ve been studying and having some success since then. God’s Blessings of Fall is my first picture book to be published. This manuscript was one of the first I worked on. I wrote the first draft in 2009.


Q: What inspired you to write this story?

A: I am enamored with God’s created world. I enjoy observing the changes in the seasons. So, following the adage “write what you know” Watching my four-year old grandson running around the yard chasing leaves on a crisp autumn day was the spark for this story.


Q: God’s Blessings of Fall has lots of fun words and sensory images for readers to savor. And I know you’re a mom, a grandmother, and a teacher like me. Any suggestions to help parents enjoy these with their children?

A:  Kids love the “sound” words. They love to be the ones to read those words aloud. Also let them try to think of other words that start with the repeated consonants on the pages of the book. Or play a game of finding things around the house that have the same sounds as the words on the page. Second and third graders can “borrow” those words and create their own stories using them.

Q: Tell us about your illustrator

A: Olya Badulina lives in Russia with her husband and two children. She used her favorite medium for God’s Blessings of Fall watercolors. She has illustrated books for authors around the world. I love all the adorable animals she created.


Q: How can parents use these beautiful illustrations to help tell the story?

A: Again, using the illustrations (like the words) as bridges to things in the child’s everyday world works well. If you live near a wooded area, or a wildlife museum, go on an animal hunt. If that’s not possible do it at the library! Find books about the animals on the pages of God’s Blessings of Fall. Olya’s illustrations are water color, so it’s great fun to let your kiddos create their own illustrations, or animals, using their watercolor sets. Hey! If parents would like to take photos of their activities and post them on my FB Page that would be awesome!

Q: What would you like children to take away from God’s Blessings of Fall?

A: That God is our loving Creator and Designer of this beautiful world and of us.


Q: Where is your book available?

A: Parents can order it from,, or They can also request that their favorite local bookstore order it for them.


Q: I understand that God’s Blessings of Fall is the first in a series of four books. Can you tell us a little about the rest of the series?

A: Two more books in the series should be available in 2020. Then the last book in 2021. I’m not sure which book, Summer, Winter, or Spring, will be next. They are about basically the same animals and their activities and habits in each season. The lyric language carries through all four books. I think I’m most excited to see the Winter book, myself.


Q: Where can we learn more about you and your upcoming projects?

A:  My website and blog are at

My FaceBook page is JeanMatthewHallAuthor.

My twitter account is Jean_Hall.

And the most fun place to catch me online is at Pinterest at JeanMatthew_Hall. I have boards about crafts for kids, recipes, gluten-free recipes, crochet patterns, picture book reviews, and even advice for parents of young children. Sort of eclectic!

Thank you, Jean, for sharing with us about your new book, God’s Blessings of Fall! You’ve given parents lots of good ideas for sharing your beautiful book with their children!

Thank YOU! It’s a joy to share on your blog. Blessings!




Devotion for The Hay Wain

The bright red on the harnesses draws your attention right to the hay wain  and the three horses pulling it. It’s the focal point of the painting, and it’s where I’m focusing these devotional thoughts, too.

But first, don’t miss the two related study suggestions especially for homeschoolers at the end of this post. One is a literature study and the other is a Christian history study. Both are related to the time period of this painting and would be good to introduce or expand on a study of the Industrial Revolution.

Now on to The Hay Wain and the three powerful, black horses that made it possible to quickly bring in more hay than men and women on their own could have done.

They were likely descended from Friesians, black horses that originated long ago in Friesland, a northern area of what is today the Netherlands.

  • As early as AD 122 records show that the Romans brought Friesians and their owners to Britain to help build Hadrian’s Wall.
  • In Medieval times Friesian mercenaries rode their large, powerful horses into battles in Britain and elsewhere.
  • In the 1500s more Friesian horses came to the eastern parts of England (where Constable’s family later lived and farmed) with Dutch engineers to help drain the marshes.
  • In the 1800s Friesians were sought after as coach horses, and were often used to pull hearses for funerals.

Because of this, the all-round Friesian horse has contributed to several large and small horse breeds originating in England, including the largest, the Shire horse.

At the time of this painting, although the Industrial Revolution was under way, Friesians and other horses were still indispensable.

Steam may have powered the engines for railroads and machinery in factories, but the coal to produce steam had to be mined. In those mines thousands of small ponies, called pit ponies lived underground and pulled coal carts through the tunnels.

Above ground, railway companies in Great Britain still owned thousands of draft horses to make local deliveries and even shunt engines and cars around in railway yards. In London, over 11,000 horse-drawn cabs took people to work, to theaters, and to railway stations.

Wherever there were canals horses pulled barges and small boats. Here’s another of Constable’s large landscapes that shows a horse leaping a barrier as it pulls a boat along a canal near where Constable lived.

The Leaping Horse, John Constable, wikimedia

The 3-foot barriers kept cattle from straying, so canal horses had to be strong and well-trained to not only pull a barge, but leap the barriers along the way.

Even as more machines were developed to speed up planting and harvesting, large teams of horses had to pull the machines.

Of course people also rode horses everywhere, and livery stables existed for people to rent a horse the way today we rent a car.

Little wonder that we still use the term “horsepower” to determine how much power an engine can produce.

James Watt, whose steam engine helped power the Industrial Revolution, came up with the term “horsepower” to describe how much power it took to raise 550 pounds 1 foot in 1 second. He based the measurement on the work of ponies in mines.

For thousands of years the power of horses has carried armies into battle, allowed people to hunt large game such as bison, taken people to settle new areas, and once there, pulled plows to grow food and wagons to get products to markets.

Yet in Psalm147, we see that God warns us not to put our hope in even that great power.

      His [God’s] pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,

             Nor is His delight in the legs of a man;

       The Lord delights in those who fear Him,

              Who put their hope in His unfailing love. Ps. 147:10-11.

As we put our hope in God’s love, the Lord can use even our weaknesses for His glory!

As Paul says, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Cor.12:9.

Have you experienced a time when God used your weaknesses for His glory?


Ideas for Homeschoolers studying the Industrial Revolution:

1. Literature study: Read Black Beauty. Anna Sewell wrote the story in the 1800s about a gentle, black horse that worked in many of the capacities I’ve written about. When horses filled city streets and toiled in mines, they were often overworked and abused. Sewell wanted to encourage people to treat horses more humanely, and the book did succeed in bringing better treatment to horses. Today we read it mainly because it’s such a good story, but it can still spark a discussion about kind treatment of all animals or introduce a study of that important historical period.

2. Christian history study: Learn how the revivals of the Wesleys and George Whitefield helped the many people who had left rural life for jobs in factories. Children and adults worked long hours in unsafe conditions and went home to unsanitary slums. But many Christians who came to faith in the Wesleyan revivals worked to better the conditions of poor working people. The Sunday school movement began because working children only had Sundays off.  Others worked to end child labor in mines or start orphanages. They worked to improve hospital and prison conditions.


The Hay Wain: Tricks Artists Use to Catch and Hold Your Attention

Using The Hay Wain, this post will show you tricks artists use to catch your attention and then move your eyes around to take in all the details—often without you even realizing it!

Here is a link to the National Gallery page where you can look at and enlarge different sections of The Hay Wain so you can get an idea of how this very large painting has so many spaces and things to explore.

First–getting your attention:  Most paintings have something the artist wants you to notice first. It may be the face of the sitter in a portrait or a particular flower or object in a still life. Landscape artists may choose to focus on a tree or a sunset, or haystacks as Monet did in his haystack series. Whatever it is, it’s called the focal point.

In The Hay Wain Constable has used red to focus your attention on his focal point–the wagon and horses. The horses’ harnesses have bright red fringe. Artists use red for this purpose so often, that you can often just look for that color to find the focal point of many paintings.

Artists also use other things to call attention to the focal point.

  • A central position
  • Larger size
  • Up close
  • The title of the painting!!
  • People in a painting may all look toward or even point to the focus
  • Bright colors or pattern in addition to, or instead of, red
  • Light and shadow contrasts

Activity:  Which of the above techniques did Constable use in addition to red to facus your attention on the wagon and horses?

Second, once you’ve noticed the focal point, artists use more tricks to move your attention on to other parts of their work.

The Hay Wain by John Constable, public domain

1. Related or similar colors throughout a painting draw your eyes onward

Activity: What object in The Hay Wain has colors related to red?  Yes, the roofs of the cottage, which may have actually caught your attention first. But it’s kind of a back and forth thing between the roofs and the wagon and horses, so your attention goes back and forth, too.

2. Similar shapes can move your eyes around also

Activity: Notice how the large tree shapes lead your eyes back to the smaller trees in the background. They seem to march from large trees on the left, to medium ones in the middle, to small ones in the background on the right, but all have  a similar shape, so they create movement around the painting.

3. Lines can move your eyes around, and stop you from wandering off the canvas.

Activity: Follow the diagonal line of the wagon and horses as it points toward the left. Do you see how that could take your attention right out of the painting? Now trace with your eyes the curve of the pond and see how Constable has used the curve to move your attention back to the center. Try not to follow it. You can’t!!

4. Speaking of that curve. Landscape artists often use a curving path, road, or stream to lead your attention back into their painting. Here Molly and I are following a path, and you can see how your eye follows it with us.

Activity: In the Hay Wain notice how the millpond narrows and curves back into the scene. Some of it curves around the house, but the lighter, more noticeable, section curves toward the far field. It’s as if you could walk along that path right into the painting!

5. Light and shadow also move our attention around. The sunlit parts of the pond move our eyes to the light on the house and back to the sunlit field.

                         Though this series of posts about The Hay Wain painting hasn’t had a hands-on art project, here are some more Molly-recommended activities to enjoy with your children!

(Some are specific to landscapes, while others can be used with many subjects)

1. Strap on your backpack and take an imaginary walk or boat ride into the painting. What would you need to wear or take for the weather?

2. While on your walk or boat ride, tell what you would see, smell, hear, feel, and if appropriate–taste!!    (warm sun, bees buzzing, scratchy hay, cool water, soft grass, etc.)

3. How does the painting make you feel–happy, sad, peaceful, excited, afraid, etc?

4. What kind of colors does the painting have? warm or cool?  calm and peaceful or electric and exciting?

5. Have children go on a scavenger hunt to find things in the painting: colors, textures, certain people or objects or other creatures. Find a curvy, wavy, straight, or zigzag line. Find circles, rectangles, triangles, etc. (these don’t have to be mathematically perfect shapes. This is ART!!)

6. Look at the lady getting water, the dog, or the person in the bushes and make up a story about them.  Do any of them live in the house? Are there any children, and if so, what sort of jobs would they have?

7. Tell a story about the duck family.

8. What animals will the hay feed over the winter?

9. What are some other ways people in the painting are caring for their animals?

10. What are some things we see in this painting that show how God cares for our daily needs?

I hope you have fun exploring The Hay Wain yourself and with your children! Let me know which activity you or your children especially enjoyed.

For all those out there who love horses as I do, the next post, a devotion for this painting, will center on those three patient and powerful black horses! Don’t miss it! Sign up now.

How Artists Create the Illusion of Distance: The How To and Activities based on The Hay Wain

John Constable’s The Hay Wain, is a great painting to show how artists create the illusion of distance.

Here is the how-to and activities to help you (and children, too) understand How Artists Do It!!

If a landscape artist does it well, as Constable has, you feel like you could take a walk right into the painting!

Helpful terms:

Horizon line: where the land (or sea) and the sky meet.






In The Hay Wain there’s a lot of sky on the right so we have a low horizon line. On the left the tall trees seem to block the sky, but we know from real life that the sky and horizon line extend back behind these.

Activity: trace your finger along the horizon. Do you see little bits of it behind the trees?

Foreground (close up stuff—here it’s the wagon, house, dog, etc.)

Middle ground (just what it says—here it’s the field on the other side of the pond)

Background (again what it says—here it’s the far trees and hills that meet the sky at the horizon)

Activity: Name things that are in the foreground, middle ground, and background.

The Hay Wain by John Constable, public domain

Here are the major ways that artists create the illusion of depth:

1 point perspective: what are actually horizontal lines slant back toward a single point on the horizon line called a vanishing point.

If you’ve ever been on a path or road or seen a photo of one going back into the distance, you’ve seen this in real life. The sides of the road seem to meet in the distance. We know they don’t, but our minds also know that when this happens, it means distance. Artists have seen this, too, and that’s why they use it!

In the Hay Wain notice the horizontal lines of the nearest roof. To create depth they are drawn to slant back towards a single point on the horizon behind the big trees.

Activity: Use a straight edge to figure out where that point is in The Hay Wain.

Size We all notice that as things get farther away, they appear smaller to us, so artists take advantage of this to show distance in their paintings. We perceive larger things like the trees right behind the house to be up close, while the small ones along the horizon seem to be far away.

Overlapping: Speaking of the large trees “behind” the house. If you look at a coffee cup in front of a pencil container on your desk, you can tell the coffee cup is in front, because you can’t see all of the pencil container. The coffee cup overlaps and blocks out parts of the container, telling you it’s behind the cup.

So artists take advantage of this to give an illusion of depth. Those things in a painting that are supposed to be closest overlap and block out parts of things that are supposed to be farther away.

Activity: In The Hay Wain tell where different trees are in relation to the house. In front of? Behind? Beside? Besides some small plants, what is the “closest” creature in this painting?

Activity: Which partially blocks or overlaps the other? The wagon or the team of horses? So which is “closer”?

Activity: Look at this other harvesting painting, and find examples of overlapping.

Harvesters Resting by Jean-Francois Millet, wikimedia commons

Detail: In real life we can see more detail in things that are closer. At close range we can tell a person’s hair color and facial features, but at a distance, we may only be able to tell that it’s a person. Having observed this, artists show fewer details of distant people and objects. In addition, outlines tend to be less sharply defined.

In The Hay Wain we can see the facial features of the men in the wagon and even what their hats look like. Although those figures way out in the field are recognizable as people working, we can see little detail, so it helps the illusion of distance.

Activity: The dog is close. Describe its size, colors, type of ears, what you think it’s doing.

Color: Two things about color:

     Distant colors aren’t as bright, so artists tend to use more muted tones for distant objects.

Aerial Perspective. If you are able to gaze way into the distance, you may have noticed that landscape objects, especially hills and mountains look hazily blue, gray, or even purple, depending on the time of day. The more distance, the more air to cause this bluish look. So artists use these colors to help further the illusion of distance.

Constable doesn’t have any real hills in this painting, but if you look carefully you’ll see that the farthest trees, the ones that follow the horizon, are a bluish green.

Activity: Look at this haystack painting by Monet, and you’ll see he takes full advantage of aerial perspective to create the far hills “behind” the hay stacks and houses.

Grainstacks-Late Summer, Giverny by Claude Monet

Height in the Painting: Last, but not least is the observation that when you look into the distance, the various distances look higher the farther away they are.

Activity: In The Hay Wain which area is the lowest—foreground, middleground, or background?  Which area is the highest?

Note: Large things in the foreground can and do stretch up and across all three distances, but as explained in the size section, this is what we see in real life with close up objects.

So much of art is about careful observation, and that observation has led artists to know how to create the illusion of distance. Of course, these observations also show how wonderfully made we are by God so that our eyes and brains work together to tell us whether something is close or far away.

Have you ever had the opportunity to notice any of these things (1 point perspective, overlapping, detail and color changes such as blue in the distance, and height in the picture) in real life or in a painting? Tell about it in a comment.

The next kathythepicturelady post will use The Hay Wain and more activities to help children understand and appreciate landscapes. These activitie are great for home schoolers and anyone who wants to understand great art! The next ones will also show how artists move our attention around a painting to notice every part of a painting.

If you’re new to this blog, you might want to go back to the series on Monet’s haystacks and cathedrals, which includes some great painting projects for kids!

Molly loves art activities, and she thinks you and your children will, too, so sign up today to receive these posts by email!