VanGogh Sunflowers

Can you believe that a First Grader created this wonderful piece of artwork? I have had much success with this project simply by having the students follow me step by step and by relating the shapes of the flower to other things.

I begin this lesson by showing them the video "Getting To Know The World's Greatest Artists- VanGogh" by Mike Venezia

Afterward, I read to them the book Camille And The Sunflowers by Laurence Anholt, a story of a young boy who befriends the "Sunflower Man" (VanGogh).

Then, I have the students practice drawing sunflowers using chalk. This is an exciting thing for them, because it is a brand new medium to explore. I have to remind them not to put their fingers in their drawings and to draw over mistakes instead of trying to erase them with their fingers.

Usually at this time of year, the sunflowers are in full bloom in the country near my school. I can usually get a big bouquet from at least one of the students by simply asking. We observe them before drawing.

I use different colored constrution paper for each class to make them easier to pass back! Burgandy, navy, forest green, and violet are all great colors for this exercise with the white chalk.
Drawing a sunflower step by step:
1. Make a donut or fried egg shape in the center of your paper about thi size of your fist. This area will become the seeds of the flower.
2. The petals are shaped like long bunny ears or surf boards I demonstrate "Mr. Wrong" on the board by drawing petals that are done incorrectly (long and pointy instead of curved or short like teddy bear ears) and then demonstrate "Mr. Right". I also show them that it is necessary to turn their papers as they draw their petals around the center.
3. A second row of petals, or bunny ears, are added in between the other row. Again, we observe the actual flowers so they can see that the petals are stacked.
4. A leaf is added to the corner(s) that has the most room. We look at leaves and I point out the midrib and the veins. I have them start on one side of their flower, draw to the corner to make a point, and go back up to the other side of the flower. The midrib is added by starting at the point and going back up the middle of the leaf. Snaky veins are last.

It is at this point that we go on to their final paper. I typically use a nicer pastel paper for these because they do turn out so nicely and many parents will want to frame or save them. The size is 12" X 12".

After choosing their paper, we again follow the steps above to draw the sunflower. Then, the real fun begins! It is time to add the color. About four years ago, I bought some pastel sets that had only landscape colors in them and they are perfect for this project. We are still using those same boxes.
We begin by adding yellow to the main petals, following the shape of them, making sure that no dust is made. "If you are making dust, you are pressing too hard!" If they do make dust, it is important to remind them not to rub it, but to blow the excess dust away. I also stress that we will be blending the chalk later, so it is not important to cover every bit of the paper.

Next, they use a yellow-orange piece of chalk to add color to the second row of petals because they are behind the main ones and need to look like they are shaded. I then have them choose another shade of yellow and add it to the yellow-orange to give it depth.
Br own is used to shade from the center of the sunflower out on the petals. I also have them add one quick, long brown line down the center of each petal. Again, we observe the real sunflowers to see the creases in them.
The leaves are colored using two shades of green- lime green and grass green work well together. If they accidentally cover their vein lines, they are encouraged to redraw them using the white chalk.
Finally, the center of the sunflowers is colored using chocolate browns and black. I encourage them to color following the shape of the center, in a circular motion.

When it is time to blend the pastel, I joke with them and say that I have a very expensive, super secret tool that we will be using. I then pull out the Q-Tips. and they all laugh. I pass one out per student; no more. Beginning with the yellow petals, they begin blending the chalk, following the shapes. Still using the dirty end of the Q-tip, they go on to blending the second row of petals.
At this point, I tell them to flip over the cotton swab to the clean end and blend their leaf sections, being careful not to erase their vein lines. Finally, they blend the center of the flowers. They throw away the Q-Tip and get a piece of black chalk to add seeds to the center of the flower. Make sure to demonstrate adding small dots and not large circles or you will end up with polka dotted flowers!


A great song to have them listen to while adding color is "VanGogh (No Stereo)" by Greg Percy from Songs In The Key Of Art, Volume I.
I typically erase all of the stray fingerprints using a kneaded eraser and then fix the drawings with cheap hair spray. The cheaper, the better!
We always get so many compliments on these when they are hanging in the hallway and parents will cherish them.
To see more drawings, visit my Artsonia gallery.


  1. Wonderful blog! Thanks for sharing... Elementary art teachers are few and far between in my area (northern ND and MN)so I look for inspiration and ideas on the web...


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