Name of Project: Painting in Atmosphere

Grade Level or Age of Participant: 11-12 grade painting students

School, Teacher and Classroom: Perpich Center of Arts Education, Pat Benincasa, Painting / 11th-12th grade

MCAD Teaching Artist: Austin Eckstrom, Drawing & Painting Major, Teaching Artist Minor

Visual Arts Content or Standards

Strand: Artistic Process: Respond or Critique

Standard: Respond to or critique a variety of creations and performances using the artistic foundations

Benchmark: Analyze, interpret and evaluate works of visual art by applying self-selected criteria within the traditions of the art form.

Strand: Artistic Foundations

Standard: Demonstrate knowledge of the foundations of the arts area.

Benchmark: Analyze how the characteristics of Western and non-Western styles, movements, and genres in art contribute to the creation of, presentation of, or response to artworks.

Overview of Project

This painting lesson focuses on the quality of edges within a painting and atmospheric perspective. Complex edge relationships in paintings helps to build strong and interesting compositions and can create amazing illusions of depth in paintings. Teen artists naturally obsess over detail, use tiny brushes, and can struggle with “imperfection” in their artwork.

Beginning with examples of work that demonstrate traditional atmospheric perspective such as renaissance painting and moving to contemporary painting that uses atmosphere as an aesthetic tool, the lesson introduces depth and complex edges into 2D work, presents examples of useful mark-making techniques, and explains  how atmospheric qualities can activate negative space. 

After seeing multiple examples students observe a demo on how to use palette knives, large brushes to create complex edges and atmospheric mark making. Students are asked to complete one atmospheric painting using complex edge relationships based off landscape, portrait/figure, or still life.

Photographic Images are printed out and supplied to students. Supplying students with images for this short lesson uses time efficiently by decreasing time needed for ideation. By doing more “traditional” subject matter like portrait/figure, landscape, etc., students understand how interesting they can make a “simple,” or "traditional" painting using these techniques.

This is a two period lesson (2 hours each) consisting of a power point, demo, work time, and critique. Students are encouraged to use limited color palette, and well as palette knifes to make marks. 

 “Big Ideas”/ Essential Question(s)

Why do we perceive depth on a two dimensional picture plane?

What does breaking the rules of atmospheric perspective do to the perception and understanding of an image?

Student Outcome Objectives

Students will:

  1. Understand the use of atmospheric perspective in select master and contemporary painting.

  2. Apply the principle of atmospheric perspective to an original 2-dimensional painting of their own design.

  3. Identify the attributes of atmospheric perspective in master and student work.

  4. Analyze, interpret and evaluate one another’s paintings with a focus on atmospheric perspective.

Prior Knowledge

High school level Drawing 1 , knowledge of color theory, and some painting experience is preferred but not necessary.

Lesson Preparation Timeline

  1. Create lesson plan, edit and apply corrections needed

  2. Introduce the lesson to students the day before teaching.

  3. Prep masonite boards with three coats of gesso.

  4. Day of lesson. Print images and prepare materials.

  5. Day 1. Intro Ppt, demo, work time,

  6. Day 2. Refresh, work time and critique. Document student work and display.

Examples of Artwork

Leonardo Da Vinci, Virgin of the Rocks, 1483-86

Anne Harris, Head Study, 16" x 12", Oil on linen mounted on panel, 2013

Anne Harris, Portrait (2nd Angel), 44 x 30", Oil on linen, 2007

Anne Harris, Self portrait (with Jane's eyes), 24 x 22", Oil on canvas, 1998

Anne Harris, How to Draw Yourself Out of a Hole, #53, 12 x 10", Water color, oil, graphite on mylar over paper, 2005

Anne Harris, Nude Bending Over, 56 x 60" (approximate), Charcoal, graphite, pastel on dark ray paper, 2006

Susana Coffey, Moss Glen Monoprint, Monoprint, 2011

Ann Gale, Portrait with Orange Scarf, 14 x 11”, oil on linen wrapped Masonite, 2014

Ann Gale, Untitled, 19 x 19 inches, Oil on canvas over panel, 2013

Ann Gale, Midnight in the Sun Room, 18 x 24 inches, Oil on Panel

Jeremy Mann, Plumose, 18 x 24 in., Oil on Panel

Jeremy Mann, Winter, New York, 36 x 36 in., Oil on Panel

Jeremy Mann, Manhattan Nights, 48 x 48 in., Oil on Panel, 2013

Jeremy Mann, The Market St. Steamvent, 36 x 60 in., Oil on Panel, 2012

Jeremy Mann, Construction #3, 36 x 36 in., Oil on Panel, 2011

Will also show students my own personal work. Which can be found here


Participation and work ethic will be key in determining quality work. The work will not be graded, so this lesson is more of a workshop, or exercise. Thus students will have to engage with the subject matter and be active participants to get the most out of the lesson.

Quality student work will embody techniques discussed in beginning presentation: complex edge relationship, and atmospheric qualities.

Craftsmanship is always important to quality work as well.


12 x 16'' gessoed masonite board. Can use different surface if desired. Try to have some sanded smooth, and others with the texture of the brushstroke on them.

Paint (oil or acrylic)

  • If students are using acrylic, invest in some retarder for them to use. Wet into wet painting works better for the techniques they will be learning.

Palette knifes (at least one for each student, preferably metal)

Brushes (various sizes for each student to use. No smaller than 1/2 inch)


Gesso (for masonite)

Water source (for Acrylics)

Learning Activities and Timing 

Day 1

1. Intro. ppt. (15-20 mins)

2. Demo (10 mins)

2. Students work time (40-50 mins)

3. Cleanup (5-10 mins)


Day 2

1.Work time to finish up paintings (30 mins)

a.     Clean-up time for crit. (5-10 mins)

2.Observe, respond critically, and critique student work. (30-50 mins)

 Teacher Reflection

The lesson is very effective, and essential for young artists to experience. Every student who took part said they would apply these techniques to their own personal painting style, and some said they loved palette knife and would never use a brush again. As the instructor, try to find some place to display the work for other to see. Time management was no issue at all, most students finished before the end of work time on day two. As long as they knew they only had about one collective hour to make the painting, they were able to let go and be much more loose about their marks and techniques. View student work below.