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!



The Hay Wain by John Constable

This week we officially said goodbye to summer and hello to fall. Here it means that it’s time to look at either a back-to-school or a harvest painting!

I invite you to enjoy a last taste of summer and the importance of harvest time in The Hay Wain, a famous harvest painting, painted in 1821 by the English artist, John Constable.

Even though in the 1800s landscapes were near the bottom of the hierarchy of desirable art subjects, Constable specialized in painting scenes around his family’s farm northeast of London. He refused to paint landscapes in the dark tones others used and didn’t sell a painting until he was 39.

But first in France and eventually in England, his large landscapes became popular. Constable’s work influenced several later groups of artists, including the Impressionists. 

The Hay Wain hangs in the National Gallery in London. It is large—about 4’ by 6’ and can’t be missed! It is full of sunlight and shade and details of country life.

The wain or wagon, pulled by 3 black horses, is standing in a millpond, but will eventually join the haymakers in the meadow beyond. It’s hard to see in this small picture, but out there workers toil away, gathering and stacking hay high on another wain.

In the foreground on the left is a house where a lady leans down to fill a water jug. It was leased at that time to a Willy Lotts. A dog trots along the edge of the pond. You can almost hear him barking at the men and horses parked in his pond.

Ducks swim near the opposite bank where a boat is beached and a person pokes about in the bushes with a long pole.

The Hay Wain by John Constable, public domain

On the right is a low brick wall, which is all you can see of the mill the Constable family had operated for a hundred years. Both the house, the millpond, and the mill still exist.

For a long time no one knew why in this painting, originally titled Landscape: Noon, the wain is parked in the millpond. If you were taking a noon break, you might take a swim, especially if you were covered in itchy wisps of hay and chaff! But then you’d probably come out to eat and relax beside the pond.

Then a man from a rural area wrote the Gallery saying he remembered when people drove wagons into streams or ponds in the summer to soak the wheels. If they didn’t do this the wooden wheels dried and shrank in the summer heat. Wooden joints loosened and iron rims could roll right off. 

Constable was a stickler for accuracy in every aspect of his paintings, and painted only from close observations. He painted trees that can be identified by their kind, and the horses’ harness is correct, right down to the bright red fringe. Constable often went “skying” to study cloud formations for his paintings.

In many ways he anticipated the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists by using dots of red (the complement of green) on leaves to help energize the green. And he painted tiny dots of white on surfaces to reproduce the shimmering effect of light.

At this time, when the Industrial Revolution was taking many people from rural areas to the cities to work long hours in factories and live in squalid conditions, Constable’s paintings showed a quiet, peaceful country scene on a warm end-of-summer day. Sun shines on the hay field, while the wagon stops in a shady area to give the horses a break as well as soak the wheels.

Today we also work long hours. And though our living and working conditions are usually safer and more comfortable, we often must take work home and find it hard to put down our electronic devises to rest, relax and enjoy family times. We tend to ignore daily and seasonal rhythms that can help us unwind.  

Out in that field in this painting we’re reminded that harvest time is incredibly busy on a farm—it’s super important to get crops in before bad weather comes, but The Hay Wain also shows us that it’s important to take time for rest even when we’re at our busiest. The horses need a rest from their heavy work of pulling loaded hay wagons. The wagon must be taken care of too.

I hope this amazing painting will remind you of the beauty and bounty of God’s creation as well as the need for rest as fall schedules ramp up.

Looking ahead: we’ll explore the composition of this landscape, and how Constable created its great depth, so sign up to receive picture lady posts  in your inbox!

And speaking of fall schedules, I love to bring alive  great paintings and do fun art projects with groups of all ages! So head over to my website to see some of the topics I can cover and invite me to visit your group!

I can be found at

You can also comment here and give me ideas of paintings you’d like to see me discuss. I read all comments and will give serious consideration to any of your ideas!




A Non-Tail of Two Corgis

This is Piper, our first corgi. A lot of you mention Molly in your comments, so I thought I’d tell you a little bit about her and about Piper.

Molly was abandoned with no collar or chip when she was about 1 1/2 years old. Although we don’t know anything about her first year and a half, she must have been reasonably well-cared for. She’s bouncy and happy and healthy. She loves to chase her special spikey ball and she spins and weaves through my legs on command. She’s even learned to walk nicely on a leash! She’s been a great pal these last 4 years.






Piper, was also a tri-color female, and probably about 2 years old when we got her, but there the resemblance ends.

Piper had spent her first 2 years in a puppy mill having puppies, and she’d never been socialized or well-cared for. When we rescued Piper, she limped. At the first vet visit x-rays showed the limp was due to an old break that had never had proper care. The bones “healed” on their own to some extent, but not correctly. However, our vet didn’t recommend trying to fix it because there was already a lot of arthritis.

We had never had an unsocialized dog so we weren’t prepared for one that had no interest in people. But we worked with her and used lots of treats to reward her for staying around us. After much work, Piper eventually learned to sit and lie down on command. And she loved walks! She had probably never been on walks to see other sights and smell doggy smells!

One strange thing about Piper is that she never barked. And that is strange indeed for a corgi–it’s part of how they herd.

Instead one time when we came into the house both Amber, our golden retriever, and Piper came to meet us. Because Amber danced and barked, Piper had to wait a little until we could wade through a golden’s exuberant joy. But suddenly we heard a strange vocalization coming from around our feet.  We looked down to see Piper with her nose raised, singing. It sounded like a doggy version of a flute. She didn’t sing for us often, but when she did, we knew Piper was happy.

Because Piper had had such a hard life we only got to love and care for her for a couple years, and we were heartbroken when we had to have her put to sleep. But we learned a lot from her and I wrote the following to family and friends at the time: 

    We’ve been thinking a lot about Piper this week. Losing her has left a corgi-shaped hole in our hearts, but we’ve also been appreciating all that she taught us.

Rescuing Piper took us way out into the Oklahoma countryside. We bumped over narrow, country roads to find her, but that was nothing compared to how much God loves each of us, and the amazing lengths to which He goes to find and save each of His children!

Caring for Piper, we saw her come out of her shell and come a long ways in learning to love us back. She never became a golden retriever like Amber, but she always came and lay near us wherever we were and often came out to greet us when we came home–especially if it was near dinnertime!

This reminded us of how God continues to lovingly work with each of us, growing and sanctifying us. He never gives up on us even though He knows we’re not going to love or obey Him perfectly in this life–often only coming to Him when we need something.

Loving Piper, we often felt bad that she had not had a good start in life. In consequence she had physical and mental problems which we couldn’t completely fix. As she got older we put a ramp out back so she could get up the step. We scoured thrift stores to find an older carriage that was long enough for her so she could still enjoy some walks.  But we had to just watch and cringe as she stumbled more, even on flat surfaces.

It sure reminded us that because of the Fall we all have physical and mental limitations and difficulties that won’t be completely healed in this life. It must be even harder for God who loves us even more than we loved Piper, to see us stumble over and over again

Now that we have a healthy corgi and can see how active and loving they are, we are reminded that someday when we are with God, He will heal us completely and we will be perfectly healthy and whole, able to be and do all God meant for us!!

We learned some great lessons from Piper! She was a good dog!


A Stormy Year Along the Front Range

Along the Front Range of the Rockies, it’s been a year of storms. A blizzard in March  broke records and stranded thousands in their cars for hours. The National Guard had to come to their rescue.

In May one of the latest snowfalls on record brought heavy snow to already leaved-out trees, snapping large branches and whole trees. Clean up crews had work for weeks.

Summer finally arrived and we planted a rock garden in our back yard (see my recent post about rock gardens). Everything was growing well and even blooming more than I would expect for a first year.

Then the thunderstorms began. They follow a usual pattern—morning starts out sunny, soon a few puffy clouds peep up behind Pike’s Peak. These grow and multiply and seem to march across the sky in rank after ever bigger rank. Other times they produce streamers that seem to pull bigger clouds along behind them.

Soon we wrap Molly in her thundershirt and bring potted plants under cover.

By 1 or 2PM thunder rumbles closer, rain begins and lightning flashes. Hail pounds on the roof and punches holes in leaves. Bigger hail recently stripped the leaves right off plants. Water pours off the hill behind us and into the street where it deepens and finally swirls into the big storm drains.

The marshy retention area below us has stayed filled and ducks and Canada geese paddle around an area that is often dry by now.





There’s been so much water this year that some pipes in our neighborhood couldn’t handle it. Lots of head-scratching men arrived and eventually brought in tons of heavy equipment to put in new pipes.

Not an unusual summer pattern for the Front Range, and good for reservoirs and fewer fires, but like everything else weatherwise this year it’s gone on longer than usual, and  bushes look bedraggled and sad.

Here are before and after pictures of the butterfly bush.

I wondered if they could possibly recover before frosts that are just a couple months away.

Then my husband urged me to take a closer look at the butterfly bush. And right next to broken branches and leaves covered with holes, I saw new growth! I’m so excited and encouraged.

Storms come into all our lives at various times and often we just see the dark clouds and listen only to the threatening thunder. The rain and the hail seem to take over and blot out all else. But even in the midst of such storms, our heavenly Father is there to love us, encourage us, and grow us in ways that we only see when we look closely.

When difficult times come, do you, like me with my butterfly bush, just see the destruction and fail to look closely to see how God encourages and grows us through those times?

Easy Summer Art Project for Kids

Here’s a fun and easy painting project for children. Just right for a summer afternoon!

It uses the same crayon resist and watercolor technique as the flower bouquet project in my Mother’s Day post. This garden stands up and shows the roots underground, illustrating the Parable of the Sower (Matt.13:23). For more on that, see my previous post.

Supplies: Supplies include a square piece of sturdy white paper. It can be 9X9, 11 X11, etc. The ruler and pencil are only needed if you need to measure and cut your paper into a square.

Step 1 Fold your square paper into fourths.

Step 2  Cut along one fold line just to the center. This will allow the paper to stand up at the end, but you will want to work on it on the flat.

When it comes time to stand your garden up, you will re-crease the folds and slide one of the cut sections over the other.

Step 3  With crayons draw dirt, stems and leaves. Add roots with white and light pink crayons.

Step 4  With crayons, draw different shaped flower outlines. Don’t color them in. You don’t have to be very exact. Think Impressionistic!






Step 5  Use watercolor paints to color the flowers.

(To mix watercolors so they are bright: Using your brush, place a little water on the cover of your water color set and then with a not-too-wet brush, keep adding pigment until you have enough bright paint to paint all the flowers of that color. When changing to a new color, rinse your brush and repeat the mixing process with your new color)

The crayon lines will help contain the paint, but it’s okay to go outside the lines!

Step 6  Now you can add beneficial insects to your garden. Bees and butterflies help cross pollinate flowers. Lady bugs kill off harmful pests. Ants and worms (which I forgot!) help keep soil healthy. Caterpillars aren’t so great since they eat leaves, but they turn into butterflies, so I couldn’t resist adding a couple! I’m sure you can think of other creatures to add!

Each insect just takes a few easy steps, which I’ve illustrated. Use paint or markers for the blobby parts.

One round yellow or red blob for bees or lady bugs.

Three small black blobs for ants. Several any-color-you-want blobs for caterpillars.

A black or brown long slender shape for butterflies.












Step 7  Add the spots, stripes, legs, antennae, etc. with a pen or thin marker. You may want to use paint for the butterfly wings. I did plain wings, but I’m sure you can be lots more creative! Let everything dry.

Step 8 Last of all re-crease the folds to stand your garden up. Color some more brown for the underground you just created and add more ants and worms.

Enjoy your colorful garden and be reminded to read your Bible regularly so God’s Word will grow and flourish in your heart!


Rock Gardens and Deep Roots for Spiritual Growth

This summer we actually went shopping for rocks! As you might expect, it’s not hard to find rocks here along the Front Range of the Rockies. In fact a lot of landscaping is done with small rock to conserve water and with larger rock, known here as river rock, for those areas prone to run off in sudden mountain thunderstorms.

But I wanted rocks with character for a small garden area with perennial flowers, a birdbath, and bird houses. Hence the actual shopping and payment of $. We found some medium-sized rocks with lichen, brought them home and placed them in pleasing arrangements, then planted day lilies, daisies, cone flowers, and a butterfly bush.






Not long afterwards, Molly and I walked along a path where rocks had spilled over from some construction work. It was a dry area with no irrigation or sprinklers like parks or our back yard.

Here I discovered God had thought of rock gardens way before us and created some wildflowers that could survive in the dry, rocky soil. Even with their shallow root system, this year’s abundant rain has made these yellow and pink flowers a refreshing sight and reminded me of the diversity of God’s creation. (The colors are pretty hard to see in the photo, but they were there!)

But soon the rains will mostly end, and at this altitude of about 5, 000 feet, the sun will sear these plants as if they were on a grill at a summer cook out.

A rainfall will revive them, but they will never grow tall.

Not so in our garden. We dug deep holes so our plants would have room for their roots to grow deep to provide support and sustenance when rains are sparse and hard winds blow (which is most of the time around here). The plants are already tall and bright.

Here again is Durer’s painting the Great Piece of Turf, and if you look closely, you’ll see he has allowed some roots to show at the base of the plants. Perhaps he was thinking of the Parable of the Sower when he did that.

A Large Piece of Turf by Albrecht Durer, public domain

In that parable (Matt. 13:1-23) Jesus compares different kinds of soil to the hearts of different people and how they receive God’s Word.

He said that like plants in rocky soil that don’t have deep roots, people without deep roots in God’s Word will fall away when trouble comes.

And trouble will come in this broken world—the strong winds of personal loss, the drought of being without a job, the searing heat of a difficult relationship—and at those times our hearts need God’s healing words and promises deeply rooted to sustain us.

Just as in our garden we dug deep so our plants could develop deep roots, that’s the best way to begin to develop deep scriptural rootsdig deep into God’s word on a regular basis. When we study God’s Word regularly we see how He cares for His people in tough times.

Most of all, we see Jesus, who came and lived among us, experiencing all this world’s troubles, but without sin. We see God’s love for us when Jesus died on the cross so we can be forgiven and become part of God’s family. We learn that Jesus, who understands our weaknesses, intercedes for us before the Father, and the Holy Spirit helps and comforts us.

What are some ways you can help your heart become good soil for God’s Word to take deep root?

What are some rocks you may need to roll out of the way just as the angel rolled away the rock from Jesus’ tomb so His disciples could see and believe in His resurrection?


Here’s Molly in our garden and Molly sitting among the rocks and plants beside the path. What a difference deep roots make!










Next post: a painting and printing project for children relating to wildflowers and gardens. Don’t miss it! Sign up to receive my posts by email.