By Mary Hannon, September 15, 2007

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Graphic Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Science

Lesson Time

Five to six fifty-minute class periods


In this lesson, students will examine historical examples of art with birds as the subject. They will also research two artists who have a connection to Louisiana.* This lesson requires students to approach a design imperative by first examining the underlying forms in the anatomy of birds, and the diversity of evolutionary adaptations. They will translate those forms to two-dimensional shapes, and create an imaginary bird and its habitat. Working with open-ended problems and designing solutions which employ lateral thinking are essential, critical thinking skills. By using historical perspective, observation skills, and by taking preliminary steps in the design process, students will produce imaginative, individual responses grounded in fact.
*This lesson can be done in any state, Louisiana is just an example.

National Standards

Standard 1. Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes Achievement Standard. Students apply media, techniques, and processes with sufficient skill, confidence, and sensitivity that their intentions are carried out in their artworks Standard 2. Using knowledge of structures and functions Achievement Standard. Students demonstrate the ability to compare two or more perspectives about the use of organizational principles and functions in artwork and to defend personal evaluations of these perspectives Standard 4. Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures Achievement Standard. Students identify intentions of those creating artworks, explore the implications of various purposes, and justify their analyses of purposes in particular works Standard 6. Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines Achievement Standard. Students synthesize the creative and analytical principles and techniques of the visual arts and selected other arts disciplines, the humanities, or the sciences
Standard 6. Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment Standard 7. Understands biological evolution and the diversity of life

Common Core State Standards:

Anchors for Reading

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.3 Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.6 Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10  Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4 Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.6 Acquire and use accurately a range of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when encountering an unknown term important to comprehension or expression.


Students will:
  • determine visual elements necessary to render birds
  • use the techniques of historical analysis to compare and contrast the work of two artists
  • determine the underlying forms in avian anatomy
  • postulate the habitat of birds based on their physical characteristics
  • create and design an imaginary bird by arranging shapes of body parts
  • verbally explain the correlation of their imaginary bird to its habitat
  • learn about the correlation of a bird's anatomy to its habitat and function


Examples of birds in art Ornithology Lab of Cornell University, including photographs and silhouettes Walter Anderson Museum with biography and examples of his work Biography of John James Audubon Illustrations from Birds of America Anderson, Walter Inglis. The Art of Walter Anderson. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2003.


Handouts with biographies, overview of work, and study questions for Anderson and Audubon Handout of bird silhouettes Handout of Rubric for Studio Art Paper such as card stock scraps or thin poster board Pencils Scissors Tape 12”x18” drawing paper Markers / Colored Pencils / Watercolors


Form-A three-dimensional object Shape-An area defined in some way by color, line, or negative space. Shape is an element of design Organic-Irregular, also called biomorphic Overlap-One shape in front of and hiding part of another Template-Shape used as a guide in making something accurately Border-Design around the edges of an area Proportion-The size relationship of one part to another Outline-Line showing the outer edges of a shape Contour Line-Line showing the outer edges and surface ridges of an object Picture plane-The flat surface of the drawing or painting Negative Space-Empty space Shading-The use of light and dark to show depth and texture Blending-Shading using smooth, gradual application of darker values; techniques of shading Hatching-Shading using a series of fine parallel lines; techniques of shading Cross-hatching-Shading using crossed lines; techniques of shading Stippling-Shading using dots; techniques of shading


  • Locate examples of bird paintings and prints from various cultures and eras, and photographs or images of various bird species for classroom use. Depending on the technology resources available, these can come from magazines and books, coloring books, or from Internet resources used to create Power Point presentations.
  • Prepare an anatomical rendering of a bird, with underlying shapes shown. This can be as simple as a coloring book drawing of a bird.
  • Prepare a handout with pictures of various species.
  • Prepare a handout with a brief overview of artists who have a substantial body of work with birds as subjects, preferably those with very different styles and content. This can include such diverse examples as Roger Tory Peterson and Jiang Tinxi, or artists who have a local connection, whether professional artists or not. Include study questions to direct students to the specific objectives of this part of the lesson. The lesson below references the art of Walter Anderson and John James Audubon.
Class One Motivation:
  • Introduce the lesson by asking students to name some of the birds they have seen. Explain that there are over 10,000 different species, including about 925 in the United States, and that birds have been the subject of artwork and design for hundreds of years.
  • Show examples of birds in art, including realistic, stylized, and abstract works from different cultures and historic eras. Discuss similarities and differences in the renderings, focusing on what is essential in describing a bird visually.
  • Show examples of the work of Walter Anderson and John James Audubon, two artists with connections to Louisiana. Discuss the differences in style required for natural history illustrations vs. an emotional response to nature.
  • Pass out handouts on Anderson and Audubon, and allow students to work in groups to answer study questions relating to each artist’s purpose in creating the art, characteristics of his style, and cultural influences on his style. Ask the students about their personal response to the artworks. NOTE: The handout on Walter Anderson addresses his use of the seven motifs of design, previously studied.
Day Two
  • Explain the difference between a three-dimensional form and a two-dimensional shape, and that birds, as real objects, are composed of forms, while drawings of birds translate those forms into shapes.
  • Show a schematic image of bird anatomy with ovals, cylinders, and triangles superimposed. Point out that the shapes are not pure geometric shapes with hard edges, but are softened, organic shapes.
  • Show images of birds and bird skeletons and discuss the underlying shapes of the body, head, wings, beak, and legs. Ask students to identify these shapes in the images, and nudge the discussion so that they see that the body and the head are egg shaped -- curved organic shapes. The head and body are connected by a neck, which is slightly curved. The beak and the tail are variations of angled organic shapes. The wings are combinations of both angled and curved organic shapes. The legs are combinations of egg shapes and cylinders.
  • Pass out a handout with pictures of a variety of species, such as a flamingo, eagle, woodpecker, and grosbeak. Have groups of students note the adaptations of the legs and beaks, theorize the habitat of each, and report their findings to the class.
  • Discuss what other anatomical changes might occur in different habitats, including imaginary ones. You could also tie this into natural selection. Encourage students to speculate about fantasy worlds, where creatures whose bodies share the underlying forms might live, and how they would look.
  • Explain that in the studio project students will design a bird based on those forms and the birds imaginary habitat. Emphasize that the birds can have unrealistic proportions, that they are intended to be expressionistic renderings rather than realistic illustrations (Anderson rather than Audubon), and that there will be an element of chance involved. Also explain that the habitat of the bird should influence the design of the bird and the way the bird would move through the world. The form of the bird’s body parts should reflect their function.
Day Three and Four
  • Pass out needed supplies. Remind students of the shapes found in birds’ bodies – variations of curved and angled organic shapes.
  • Students will: -Design four different heads, four different beaks, four different bodies, four different tails, and four different wings of birds, varying the shapes and the sizes. -Cut all parts out, and experiment with combinations by mixing and matching. Try different proportions – small bodies with large heads, long legs with huge beaks. -Create three preliminary templates by taping the parts together. -Choose the best design, refine the outline as needed, trace around it on poster board, and cut out the final template. Students should also keep in mind which habitat the form of the bird would be most beneficial. The habitat should affect the design of the bird and various aspects and capabilities of the bird’s body. For example, a bird that lives in a habitat with tall trees and bushes may have a long neck so that it can reach its food, etc.
  • To create the final design, students should: -Draw a border at least one inch wide on all four sides of 12”x18” paper, and use the seven motifs to create a design. -Use the template to draw the outline of the bird at least three times. -Overlap at least one of the birds. -Create a habitat suitable and reflected by the bird’s shape. -Add details and color.
  • In creating the composition, ask the students to consider these possibilities:
-You can outline the figures and add contour lines in black marker or a contrasting color, or you can use solid blocks of color for the figures. -Parts of your figure can be outside of the picture plane. -You can repeat the figure more than three times. -You can use any color scheme; consider monochromatic--one color and its tints and shades. -To shade with markers, you can use hatching, cross-hatching, and stippling. You can also blend with colored pencils and watercolor. -The negative space may be colored or left white. -Your colors can vary in intensity. -You can use a combination of media. -Avoid suns in the corner, lollipop trees, rainbows and m & m birds. -Do not let pencil construction lines show in the finished product. -Fill the color evenly and carefully without scribble lines. Day 5-6 Wrap-up:
  • Hold a class critique of the projects.
  • Students should orally present their projects, explaining the design of the bird and the correlation between the bird's physical appearance and its habitat. Each student should explain why they made different design choices when creating their bird.


  • Quiz on the style, purpose, and influences on artists Walter Anderson and John James Audubon
  • Vocabulary quiz
  • Rubric for Studio Art Project Design Quality Craftsmanship Originality Effort
  • Specific Requirements: At least three possible templates created Bird overlapped at least once Bird shape repeated at least three times Border uses 7 motifs of design No visible construction lines No suns in the corner, lollipop trees, rainbows, etc.
  • Rubric for Oral Presentation

Enrichment Extension Activities

Science teachers could expand this lesson, spending more time on specific anatomical features. A bird feeder could be erected on school grounds, and species logged and graphed, enhancing math skills.
Art students could go on to create a papier mache model or wire sculpture of their bird, thereby translating shapes into forms, reversing the original problem.

Teacher Reflection

Students are usually successful with this project. It is introduced early in the year to Art I students. By assembling different parts of the bird, along with the notion that the bird is imaginary, students are freed from the fear of being unable to draw. The requirement of a border assists students in arranging their composition; for some reason the empty paper is intimidating, and the border gives it structure.

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