Third steps to painting a rainforest mural with kids: Animals

Here is the third of the promised posts describing the step by step, week by week progression of art work that built up to the mural. Please note that each weekly session was generally one and a half hours long. This post covers the fourth session with a focus on rainforest animals and bridging the gap between water colours on flat paper and acrylics on a wall.

To read The first steps to painting a rain forest mural with kids, click here.

To read The second steps to painting a rain forest mural with kids, click here.

My Learning objectives.

I rarely tell the children what they are learning in a formal way such as a LO because I like to avoid too much teacher talking time during art. I feel that the more of an art lesson that is spent in right brain activities the better. A formal LO also implies that someone must be successful at it, in order to achieve that LO. This is inappropriate for creative flow and confidence building.  However, I’m always  very clear of pupil learning targets, and often share these with pupils in order to help them improve.  I find it is very important to clearly explain what is required of them and why, as this sets the scene for the lesson.

Learning objectives: Session 1

  1. To observe, touch, feel, hold, engage with live rainforest animals.
  2. To sketch from memory, having observed an animal first hand.
  3. To understand that memory is not fully reliable, to use photographs to assist in the recollection process.
  4. To understand the difference between water colour paints and acrylic paints, and the different techniques required for each one.
  5. To begin to understand the process of painting a mural, understand how to build up layers of paint.

The Animal Man

We asked an animal man to come in with his rainforest animals and spend an hour with each class of 30 children. I briefed the children first to get them into the zone. I encouraged them to remember to get their artist’s eyes out while they enjoyed holding the animals. I said that I would be on hand to photograph any small detail of any of the animals they were inspired by. I reminded them that children look at the animals and find them cute, scary, fluffy etc. But artists look at the animals and notice tiny details that other people often miss, and it was their chance to look with artist’s eyes. They liked this and many of them remembered to do this during the animal man session. Here are some of the photographs we took.

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As you can see, many of these shots are of tiny details of part of an animal. Throughout the session the children often pointed out to me things that they observed, making comments such as: ‘look at the snake’s eye, it’s like a bead’ and ‘The pattern under the snake’s body changes’. I would take a photo as evidence for later.

Memory sketching: sketch books

As soon as The Animal Man experience was finished, the children began the art lesson by first taking two minutes to visualize in their minds with eyes closed, the animal they most enjoyed holding. They then began to sketch any part of it, or all of it, in their sketch books. I asked them to write notes next to the sketches recording colours, shapes, or any adjustments or struggles in memory they found. While they were busy doing this I quickly printed all the photos I had taken in The Animal Man session.

Having completed some very successful sketches from memory we highlighted the fact that our memory serves us well up to a point. I handed out the photographs I had printed off and asked the children to now have a look at any parts they could not get right from their memories and adjust it now, using the photographs to help them. There were a couple of children who chose part of an animal to draw that I did not have a photo for. They simply used the photographs to draw from instead.

Prepare cereal box background

I had previously asked the children to bring in cereal boxes. These I cut up to give me two large rectangles of card. On these we created a ‘splodged’ background of green using fat brushes. I asked the children to do this and then put it under their chair for a couple of minutes to dry while I explained the process of painting a mural. I also explained the difference between the water colour paints which we had been using up to now and the fact that acrylics are thicker, need no water to be mixed in with them and need to be built up in layers.

Painting with acrylics/thick paint on card

Ideally this part should be done with acrylics, however these paints can be very expensive so we used the thick all purpose ready paint (primary colours and white only) instead and did not use water except to wash our brushes out.

The children were asked to choose from some of the photographs and paint the part of the animal in the photograph. Here are some of their pieces. These were completed in about 30 minutes.

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As the children were drawing these in pencil first, I guided them through techniques such as drawing curved lines on a surface to show that it is a round 3D surface. Or putting a little light in the eyes to show life and aliveness. Juxtaposing dark with light colours/shadow to give depth.


This was an incredibly satisfying session to teach as the animal experience was so fresh in their memories. The work was smooth, easy and full of focus and inspiration. No one struggled because they had actually seen the animals for them selves, touched them and engaged with them. The photographs were invaluable in assisting their memories. The change from water colour to acrylic type paint was much easier than I thought and as long as the children kept their brushes dry with a tissue after washing, there were no issues. The card board was an effective wall like representation to paint on and actually gave an interesting texture and feel to the art work, as well as giving a good rain forest/paper saving message.

There will be one more post to follow explaining how to prepare the wall for the mural.

Do read the post about SEN, Art and The Animal Man here.


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