Family First Workshop: Homage to Georgia O'Keeffe

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Family First Workshop: Homage to Georgia O'Keeffe

By Julia Hood, Education Coordinator |@LearnReynolda
Right now at Reynolda House we have five different artworks by abstract American artist Georgia O’Keeffe on view. This past Sunday in our Family First workshop, we looked at two of these artworks for inspiration. Follow along our journey and make your own O’Keeffe inspired artwork at home!
Note: If you can visit the museum, you may want to print out the questions below as starting point for conversation with your child. If not, you can look at the artworks online.

[An example of a pastel drawing of a yellowing ginko leaf.]


First, we explored 2 Yellow Leaves (Yellow Leaves), an oil painting on loan from the Brooklyn Museum. Take a look at the artwork. Zoom in. Consider the following questions:

  • What do you notice about the artwork? 
  • Why do you think the artist painted these leaves? 
  • What colors did the artist use? How did O’Keeffe use color to show where one leaf ends and the other begins? How does she use color to suggest the 3-D form of the leaves? 
  • What do you notice about the places where the leaves and background meet? Are the edges sharp? Blurred?
  • What kind of leaves do you think these are?


Next, we explored a pastel that is in Reynolda House’s collection: Pool in the Woods, Lake George. Take a look at the artwork. Zoom in. Consider the following questions:

  • What do you notice in this artwork?
  • What do you imagine about it?
  • What kinds of colors did the artist use? Are they mostly dark? Mostly light? Cool? Warm? A range?
  • Look closely at the borders between the colors. Are they sharp? Blurry? Smoothly blended?
  • Find a spot in the drawing that looks smooth. Find a spot in the drawing that looks rough. How does this artwork make you feel?


After we looked at these artworks, the workshop participants returned to the studio to learn a little bit about chalk pastels and create their own drawings. Like Georgia O’Keeffe found inspiration from nature, we looked at leaves or flowers and drew them larger than life onto our papers.

[Workshop participant looks for an object to inspire her drawing.]


If you want to create your own pastel drawing, collect the following items:

  1. Chalk pastels. You may also use crayons, oil pastels or other media, but these instructions will be for using chalk pastels.
  2. An object to inspire you. Take a walk and look at the plants on the way. Is there a leaf that looks particularly interesting? A flower blossom? In winter, you might want to look at old calendar pictures or magazines. Maybe you have some silk flowers to draw. We used a photocopier to enlarge some leaves by 300% to help us draw them on a large scale.
  3. Paper with a little tooth/texture to it. Fine art drawing papers intended for pastels are good (Canson, Fabriano and Strathmore are some brands that have paper designed for pastels). You can also use rough construction paper. Paper that feels smooth (like copy paper) will not hold chalk pastel very well.
  4. Soft brushes, a tortillon/blending stick, or Q-tips optional. 
  5. A covered work surface.
  6. Fixative. This is a clear spray, kind of like hair spray, that helps affix the chalk pigment to the paper. Art suppliers like Dick Blick, AC Moore Craft and Michael’s would carry different options

On extra paper, play around with the pastels. Use the tip, the corner of the tip, the side edge of the tip and the side of the chalk to draw.

[Participant uses her fingers to blend colors in her drawing.]

[Participant uses a brush to smooth out her pastels.]

Make sure to also draw a background. You can draw right along the edge of your leaf, flower, or other drawing. Is there a shadow under your object? Find a color (perhaps blue, grey or purple) to draw a shadow. Are there any bright, shiny highlights on your object? You can add these in with white or another light color, depending on what you see.

When you finish your drawing, tap off the excess dust into a trash bin. Take the drawing outside and spray it with fixative, according to the instructions on the can.

Here are different stages of drawing an oak leaf:

Use a light color to draw your object. Layer your drawing, beginning with light colors.


Draw your object. Add layers of color.


Blend in the colors with your fingers or a soft brush. Add other details with darker colors.


Don’t forget to add a background! A shadow offered a final touch for this leaf.


This is a great activity idea. My daughter is a little young for it right now, but I've bookmarked it for later!

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