Observational Drawing From Nature

Lesson submitted by teachers Michelle Anderson (5th grade), Susan Anderson (Art), and Jo Holen (1st grade) of Northeast Range School.

This unit starts with investigation of the land around the school and in our community. The students drew plants (mainly tree leaves) based on direct observation using contour drawing. This began our connection to the land and to Ojibwe cultures.

Materials Needed


Art Materials

Activity Process


Show students examples of Ojibwe beadwork from the Thaw Collection book. Note that the land they live on inspires the designs. Let's investigate our land and find out what kind of patterns and shapes we can create based on the plants in our area.


Demonstrate how to look at an object from nature and start your observational sketch by lightly drawing the basic shape. Observational drawing of basic shapes is called contour drawing. Contour means to draw the outline of the object to capture the key elements of shape, size, and proportion. It does not include details such as textures, shading, or colors. It helps to simply focus on the beginning steps of observational drawing, looking at the edges of the shape and outline of the object. Decide on a perspective at which you will look at your object and stick with that viewpoint. Try to not move the object or your positioning until you are complete.Tips for beginner drawing:- Simplify any complicated object/leaf into simple shapes. Is it made up of circles, ovals, squares or rectangles? Is the edge line smooth or bumpy? How many sections are in the leaf and how do they connect to each other?- Draw using loose and light lines as you look closely at the object.- Do not erase any drawings. If you do not like the way a drawing looks, leave it and begin again. Trial and error is an important part of sketching. The process of practicing and continuing to draw is how an artist becomes better. - At the end of each drawing session, look at all your drawings and notice the things you think turned out well and things you would like to continue working on. Continue to look over your drawing and see your progress as you sketch.


  1. Go on a nature hike through your school forest and draw leaves of trees. If a school forest is not available bring in leaves for the students to observe.
  2. Demonstrate how to draw from observation.
  3. Ask the students to draw what they see. Can they identify any of the leaves? We found some trees with berries and were able to identify them as choke cherries.
  4. Use resources to help identify leaves.
  5. Return to classroom for show and share.


In the classroom we will show and share the drawings from observation. In the next lesson we will play with taking these observational drawings and changing them into stylized patterns on graph paper for beading.


Were students able to identify through sketching different plant shapes?Did experiencing nature help students make any connections to their surroundings or the plants that live among us? An Observational Drawing Rubric was used.

Vocabulary Words


Taking photographs on the Ipad was helpful so we could review them later using the LeafSnap app to identify each leaf. Field photos were also a way for observations to be taken anywhere. This is also great for absent students to participate at a later date, or for students to review once back in the classroom.

Grade Levels


Primary Content Area

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards



Social Studies