Contour Line and Tissue Stain Still Life

As students become familiar with their natural surroundings, they will learn contour line drawing, a drawing technique designed to increase their observation skills.


Standards Addressed
Grades 5-8, Arts, Visual Arts — Connections, Relationships and Applications

05-08 Benchmark
A. Demonstrate the role of visual art in solving an interdisciplinary problem.


01. Demonstrate different visual forms of representation for the same topic or theme (e.g., expressive, graphic and scientific).


Grade 7, Science — Life Sciences, Diversity and Interdependence of Life

06-08 Benchmark
C. Explain how energy entering the ecosystems as sunlight supports the life of organisms through photosynthesis and the transfer of energy through the interactions of organisms and the environment.

Y2003.CSC.S02.G06-08.BC.L07.I03 / Diversity and Interdependence of Life

03. Explain how the number of organisms an ecosystem can support depends on adequate biotic (living) resources (e.g., plants, animals) and abiotic (non-living) resources (e.g., light, water and soil).


12x18-in. white drawing paper


Black Sharpie markers, fine and ultra-fine

Natural objects such as leaves, pinecones, rocks, sticks

Art tissue in a variety of colors, precut into approximately 3x3-in. squares

Water in containers such as large margarine tubs

Medium paintbrushes

Markers or watercolors to color the drawing (optional)


Just as naturalists venture into Cuyahoga Valley National Park and sketch on site, the students will get an opportunity to draw objects in nature found near their school building. When students actively study their physical environment and the myriad of natural objects to be observed, they are more likely to develop a sense of responsibility toward their natural world. It is hoped that this drawing activity will foster appreciation through observation.

When practicing contour line drawing, the artist focuses on the outer edges of an object and while visually following the outside shape, the artist draws one long outline on the paper. For this project, it is not necessary that the outline be continuous; drawing details of the interior of the object is encouraged. There are times when a blind contour (drawing without looking away from the object being drawn) can be useful as a practice for drawing more accurately. For this lesson, blind contour offers a great warm-up exercise. The tissue staining of the drawing will lend a colorful spontaneity to the artwork, adding to the success of the project no matter the skill level of the student.

In this lesson, students will accomplish the following:

  • Arrange a still life from natural materials including a variety of sizes and shapes as well as the use of overlapping
  • Demonstrate good observation skills through contour line drawing
  • Demonstrate the use of careful page design with a drawing that is large enough to run off the edge of the paper, includes interesting negative spaces, and shows attention to details in areas of emphasis
  • Follow directions for the successful application of transparent colored tissue to the drawing
  • Be able to identify three natural materials found in our local environment



  1. Have ready in the classroom collections of natural materials and a finished example of a contour line drawing.
  2. Discuss and demonstrate contour line drawing of plants, leaves, etc. If at all possible, take a walk outside — even a short walk around the building. Have students bring a paper and flat surface to draw on with their pencil.
  3. Instruct them to look for natural objects to practice drawing using a contour line, paying close attention to the edges of the shape. They will then add some details of the interior. They should not fill in or sketch with short lines, as this is to be contour only. Note: Students are not to damage or remove natural materials.
  4. Back in the classroom, students can select items from the previously collected natural materials. They should arrange an individual or collaborative still life that includes a variety of sizes, overlapping of materials and interesting negative spaces.
  5. Instruct the students to practice drawing their still life first with the blind contour technique. The artwork usually turns out hilarious-looking. This is a terrific way to reduce the uneasiness that students may feel as they learn to draw, while at the same time improving their observation skills.
  6. Students then draw their still life with a regular contour, concentrating on the outer edge of each object as well as some interior details. Encourage drawing largely enough on the page to allow some areas to run off one edge. Remind students to add more detail to the area of emphasis they have chosen for their drawing.
  7. Students trace their pencil drawing with black Sharpies, fine or ultra-fine as they choose. Stray pencil lines are erased.
  8. Demonstrate and discuss the application of tissue paper to the drawing:
    1. Wet the paper with a brush and water in a small (palm-sized) area.
    2. Tear or cut various colors of tissue to overlap (no more than three in one spot).
    3. Place the tissue on the wet area and then brush water over the tissue to ensure the transfer of color to the paper.
    4. The tissue should dry enough within one hour to fall off and leave a colorful stain on the artwork.
  9. Show how colors will mix when overlapped and how those that are opposite on the color wheel create some dull browns and grays, which may or may not be desirable, depending on the student’s vision for the project. Have students consider a background color scheme that will contrast with the foreground objects.



Task  Score 1-10
Student arranged still life with variety of sizes and overlapping.  
Student demonstrated good observation skills through contour line drawing.  
Drawing demonstrates thoughtful page design, including interesting negative spaces, details in an area of emphasis and part of the drawing running off edge of paper.  
Student carefully followed tissue application procedure and use of color transparency.  
Student can verbally identify three natural materials found in our local environment.  


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