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Process and Product: Painting

Explore activities, ideas, and artworks to learn more about painting techniques- and get inspired to create! This unit features a video with a contemporary working artist who makes paintings, image galleries of paintings from the National Gallery's collection, an explainer that dives into the basics of painting, and a lesson for beginner experimentation with various painting techniques. This resource is intended for grades 6-12.

Hear From An Artist About Her Work

In this video, artist Megan Lewis discusses her approach to painting and what subjects she likes to paint.

After you watch the video, discuss these questions.

  • From where does the artist draw her inspiration?
  • How does the artist incorporate her community into her work
  • What choices does the artist make as she paints?
  • What interests you about painting?

Paintings From the National Gallery of Art

In these groups of paintings, artists have depicted diverse subjects, both real and abstract, and have used different types of paint and various painting methods. Think about these questions as you look at each grouping.

  • How did the artist use scale, color, line, and shape?
  • Which materials were used to make a painting?
  • What preparation steps do you think the artist took before beginning to paint?
  • Where and how does the artist convey a sense of texture?
  • What feeling or story do you think each painting communicates? Why?
  • What surprises or inspires you about these paintings?


Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, A la Bastille (Jeanne Wenz), 1888, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, 1985.64.39

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Artist's Dog Flèche, c. 1881, oil on wood, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Collection, 1970.17.84

A man and two women standing near a bar nearly fill this vertical painting. Though made with oil on cardboard, the paint is applied in thin strokes, so parts of the painting look more like a drawing, and the tan of the cardboard is visible in many areas. Shown from the thighs up at the center of the composition, the man stands with his back to us, looking away from us to our left, almost in profile. The camel-brown of the cardboard acts as the color of his jacket and the skin of his face, which are otherwise delineated with cobalt-blue and violet-purple lines. He wears a dark bowler hat, and a white cigarette dangles in his lips. A few scribbled black lines could suggest a mustache. Hands thrust into his pockets, he looks down at the bar, which a runs along left edge of the composition. Squeezed between the man and the glasses on the bar, a woman wearing a teal-blue feather boa leans one elbow on the bar and looks back at the man from the corners of her eyes. Her skin is rose-pink and she has curly red hair. Her arched, thin eyebrows and snub nose are set in a round face with a double chin, and her crimson-red lips are pursed. She wears a ruby-red dress or coat and a turquoise-blue, wide-brimmed hat with bubblegum-pink ribbons or feathers. Two small, stemmed glasses sit on the bar in front of the man and woman. Behind the bar, along the left edge of the painting, a man wears a dark vest over a shirt with sky-blue sleeves. A light cloth lies over the shoulder closer to us and he has dark hair. The rest of his features are lost behind the woman’s hat. To our right, beyond the man’s shoulder, a woman stands with her body facing us as she tips back and looks off to our right. She wears a long, black tie over a pale blue, high-necked shirt. One hand is tucked into a pocket on the front of her jacket, which is streaked with mint green over the brown cardboard. Loosely painted vertical stripes below her waist suggests she wears a skirt, indicating this is a woman, though it might otherwise be difficult to tell. She wears a low, royal-blue cap with an emerald-green feather curling up from the back over a cloud of yellow hair. Only the gray bowler hat, ruddy skin around the ear, and a teal-green jacket of a fifth person are visible between that woman and the right edge of the composition. The wall at the back of the space is tan with shell-pink streaks, and a sign with a red triangle against a turquoise background is cropped by the right edge of the painting. The scene is sketchily painted so features are outlined with blue or brown and filled in with streaks of pale color. The artist inscribed the painting in the lower right corner, “pour Metenier d'apres son Alfred la Guigne HTLautrec,” with the HTL overlapping to create a monogram.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Alfred la Guigne, 1894, oil on cardboard, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.220

We look slightly down onto a stage, at a woman who dances at the center of this square painting. The pale, white skin on her face is tinged with slate-blue shadows and heightened noticeably with pink blush at the cheekbones. She wears crimson-red lipstick and her dark brown eyebrows are peaked over blue eyes. Two flaring pink flowers, each about the size of the woman’s face, are pinned in the woman’s flame-red hair. The black bodice of her dress has puffed, elbow-length sleeves and a low-cut square neckline. The lime-green skirt flares around her dancing feet to billow up and reveal layers of bubblegum pink underneath. Her body is angled to our left as she points her left, black-stockinged foot and holds her arms by her sides. Behind her, thirteen people dressed in sapphire-blue, ocean-green, and black costumes suggest a royal court, including a dark-haired man who wears a brick-red bolero style suit. He stands near the woman to our right, watching her dance.

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Marcelle Lender Dancing the Bolero in "Chilpéric", 1895-1896, oil on canvas, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Hay Whitney, 1990.127.1

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864–1901) developed serious health problems at the age of 13. He turned to art as an engaging way to pass the time. Many of the workers and performers seen in his paintings of the dance halls, cafés, concerts, and circuses he frequented in Paris would not typically have been the subjects of works of art in the late nineteenth century.

Scarlet-red dashes create loose vertical lines against a bright white background that fill this vertical abstract painting. Most of the dashes are vertical but some slant at an angle. The artist signed and dated the work with white paint in the lower right corner, “AWT 73.”

Alma Thomas, Red Rose Cantata, 1973, acrylic on canvas, Gift of Vincent Melzac, 1976.6.1

Alma Thomas, Tiptoe Through the Tulips, 1969, acrylic on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Vincent Melzac), 2015.19.145

This nearly square, abstract painting is filled with circles within circles, like nested rings, each of a single bright color against the ivory white of the canvas. Each ring is made up of a series of short, rectangular dashes, and some bands are narrower while others are a bit wider. The majority of the rings are crimson and brick red, and they are interspersed with bands of lapis blue, army green, and pale pink. One of two pumpkin-orange bands is the smallest, innermost ring at the center. There is one aqua-blue colored ring just inside a pale, shell-white ring, which is the first to get cropped by the edges of the canvas. A few red, green, and blue rings beyond the white band are only seen at the corners of the canvas.

Alma Thomas, Pansies in Washington, 1969, acrylic on canvas, Corcoran Collection (Gift of Vincent Melzac), 2015.19.144

Alma Thomas, Autumn Drama, c. 1969, acrylic on canvas, Corcoran Collection (The Evans-Tibbs Collection, Gift of Thurlow Evans Tibbs, Jr.), 2015.19.211

Alma Thomas (1891–1978) was an artist and art teacher who taught in the District of Columbia Public School System for 35 years. She painted in an abstract style and was often inspired by nature and music. Thomas experienced discrimination in the art world as an African American and a woman, but she and her colorful paintings were celebrated later in her life.

This vertical portrait painting shows the head and shoulders of a person with pale peach skin and an auburn, cheek-length bob hairstyle. The person has high cheek bones, deep pink lips, and an angular, pointed chin. The head is cocked to our left, and almond-shaped eyes are nearly blacked out. The black jacket has lapels over a white, collared, buttoned-up shirt with a crimson-red necktie. Shown against brick-red and black background, the portrait is painted with areas of relatively flat color but with loose brushstrokes that create a textured, mottled effect. The artist signed the work with black paint in the lower right corner: “modigliani.” 

Amedeo Modigliani, Madame Kisling, c. 1917, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.175

A woman with peachy skin and dark auburn hair is shown from her chest up sitting in a wooden chair in this vertical portrait painting. Her body is angled to our right, and her left arm, farther from us, rests on the back of the chair so the fingers of that hand rest alongside her left cheek. Her face is angled to our right but her dark eyes cut back to look at or toward us from the corners of her almond-shaped eyes. She has thin, gently arched brows, a long, sloping nose, and her burgundy-red lips are closed. Her features are outlined with delicate, dark gray or black lines. Bangs sweep across her forehead, and her hair looks like it might be pulled up and back. Her rust-brown garment has a square neckline, and a lighter strip of smoke gray and sky blue runs along her right shoulder, closer to us. She sits in front of an indistinctly patterned wine-red wall, with a lighter, tan-colored rectangle in the upper right corner. The background, her clothing, and the hand by her face are painted with areas of mottled color but the skin of her face seems smooth. The artist signed the painting with bright red letters at the upper right, “Modigliani.”

Amedeo Modigliani, Adrienne (Woman with Bangs), 1917, oil on linen, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.171

Shown from the lap up, a cleanshaven man with black hair and dark clothes faces us as he sits with his hands resting together in his lap in this stylized, vertical portrait painting. The man's features, clothing, and the room are painted with areas of mottled color with visible brushstrokes, so many details are indistinct. The man has peach-colored skin, and his facial features are outlined. He has dark eyes that look at us or slightly up, under thin, arched brows. One eye is a little higher than the other, and the two halves of his long face do not quite match. He has a wide nose, and his full, dark rose-pink lips are closed. His hair is parted down the middle and is brushed down to meet his ears. He has an elongated neck, and his narrow shoulders slope down. He wears black pants and a black coat over a dark teal-green vest. A white shirt is visible along his neckline, and an area of black could be the knot of a tie. He holds the fingers of one hand in his other, both hands resting in his lap. A loosely painted, brown table sits next to the man to our right, and an area of slate blue and white could be a glass on the table. A vertical line in the background behind the man, to our right, probably indicates the corner of the room. The walls are painted with strokes of smoke gray, ocean blue, and some parchment white. The artist signed the work in dark letters in the upper right corner, “modigliani.”

Amedeo Modigliani, Chaim Soutine, 1917, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.47

Shown from the lap up, a woman with peach-colored skin sits leaning sideways against the back of a wooden chair with her head tilted to our left on her long neck in this vertical, stylized portrait. The painting is done mostly with areas of mottled color outlined in delicate black lines. The top of her head and her left elbow, on our right, are slightly cut off by the edges of the canvas. Her copper-red hair is parted in the middle and puffs down and around her hears. Her elongated oval face and delicate features are simply drawn. Pencil-thin, nearly straight, grayish eyebrows float above almond-shaped eyes entirely filled in with black. A faint gray line forms her elongated nose. Her small rose pink, pursed lips are slightly darker than the faint blush on her cheeks. Her jet-black, long-sleeved dress has a high waist and a wide, diaphanous gray collar at the rounded neckline. Her left elbow, on our right, drapes over the top of the spindles making up the back of the chair so her hand rests near the gray collar. Her other arm rests by her side. The background is a foggy swirl of sage green and elephant gray. Two faint, thin, parallel, horizontal gray lines that run across the background may suggest a baseboard.

Amedeo Modigliani, Woman with Red Hair, 1917, oil on canvas, Chester Dale Collection, 1963.10.176

Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920), an Italian artist, developed a personal style of painting portraits of individuals with elongated bodies and narrow, neutral faces. He was greatly influenced by African art, specifically sculpture.