CANADIAN BACKYARD BIRDS – Positive and Negative Space

Students research local birds and choose one to work on. They identify the positive and negative space in a picture and use marker techniques to create a mixed media illustration that includes written information about the bird.

Required Time

80 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 2 to Grade 6


Language Arts
Visual Arts


detail negative space positive space texture


Crayola Broad Tip Markers - 16 Count Crayola Marker & Watercolour Paper - 22.9 cm x 30.5 cm Crayola Crayons - 16 Count Crayola Washable Glue Sticks Crayola Scissors Rulers Pencils Erasers

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CANADIAN BACKYARD BIRDS – Positive and Negative Space - Step One

Step One


  1. Use pencil to draw the bird so it fills the page.
CANADIAN BACKYARD BIRDS – Positive and Negative Space - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Colour some marker ink onto a plastic lid.
  2. Use the flat side of the marker.
CANADIAN BACKYARD BIRDS – Positive and Negative Space - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Dip your paint brush into some water and then into the marker ink.
  2. Paint the negative space with the watery ink.
CANADIAN BACKYARD BIRDS – Positive and Negative Space - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Fill in all the negative space.
  2. When it is dry use markers to finish colouring your bird.
CANADIAN BACKYARD BIRDS – Positive and Negative Space - Step Five

Step Five


  1. Use a ruler to draw a 3 cm wide border around a new piece of paper.
  2. Use crayons to colour it for a frame for your picture. 
  3. Think of where you might see this bird and make a design to suit that environment, e.g.,  
    - woods
    - garden
    - park
    - backyard
CANADIAN BACKYARD BIRDS – Positive and Negative Space - Step Six

Step Six

  1. Use a marker to write facts about your bird around the frame.
  2. Carefully cut out the frame.
CANADIAN BACKYARD BIRDS – Positive and Negative Space - Step Seven

Step Seven

  1. Glue the frame on top of your picture.
  2. Add more details to show what you have learned about your bird.
  3. View your picture with fresh eyes.
  4. What does your picture teach others about your bird?
  5. What do you like best about your picture?

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • identify the positive and negative space in a picture;
  • create a mixed media picture of a bird they have researched;
  • communicate information about their bird using words and a picture;
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity;
  • support their ideas with evidence found in the artworks.


Have students:

  • work with a partner to create a guessing game about local birds, e.g.,
    - create a set of 6 different cards with a picture of a local bird on one side and information about it on the back;
  • play the came with their peers;
  • compare their game with others.


  1. Prior to this lesson have students learn about common birds and choose one to research. 
  2. Download and display the Space and Texture posters available on this website,
  3. Download images of common birds from the Internet, for example,
    Blue Jay
    Downy Woodpecker
  4. Gather, and make available, books about  common birds such as, The Little Book of Backyard Bird Songs – Sound Book, by Andrea Pinnington, and Caz Buckingham; The Little Book of Woodland Bird Songs – Sound Book, by  Andrea Pinnington, and Caz Buckingham; National Geographic Kids Bird Guide of North America, Second Edition, by Jonathan Alderfer; Backyard Birds, by Karen Stray Nolting, and Jonathan Latimer; Feed the Birds: Attract and Identify 196 Common North American Birds, by Chris Earley; and What It's Like to Be a Bird: From Flying to Nesting, Eating to Singing--What Birds Are Doing, and Why, by David Allen Sibley. 



  1. View and discuss some of the images of common birds focussing on the colours, placement in the picture plane and details of each bird. 
  2. Have students share some of the information they have learned about their chosen bird and make connections to the images they are viewing, e.g.,
    - Blue Jays have a crest - the crown of feathers on top of their head
    - it is flat when they are calm
    - it is fully raised when they are excited or aggressive
  3. Discuss the difference between positive and negative space,
    - the positive space is the bird and any objects such as trees 
    - the negative space is the area around the bird such as the sky
  4. Ask students to think about what they want to communicate about their bird through their drawings.
  5. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Identify the positive and negative space in a picture.
  2. Create a mixed media picture of a bird you have researched.
  3. Communicate information about your bird using words and a picture.
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.
  5. Support your ideas with evidence found in the artworks.

The Process

  1. Make sure everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students. For example,
    I know I am successful when I have:
    - created a mixed media picture of my bird
    - added details that communicate accurate information about my bird
    - filled the negative space with watery marker ink
    - measured the width of my frame accurately
    - created visual texture
    - written several facts about my bird on the frame
    - cut out the frame in one piece
    - glued the frame onto the picture so it is flat and smooth
    - kept the paper in good condition
  3. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  4. Observe students as they work. 
  5. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


Display the paintings as a ‘body of work’.

  1. Ask students to gather in front of the display and look at the works thoughtfully.
  2. Ask them to find 3 things they find interesting about any of them.
  3. During the discussion include references to:
    - composition - placement of the bird in the picture plane
    - details - things that accurately show what kind of the bird it is

    - textures – how textures have been created 
    - communication – what they learn about the bird from the picture
    challenges they may have had and how they solved them
  4. Ask them to tell how they felt about doing this project.


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting.
  2. Observe students as they discuss their pictures – speaks with a clear voice, looks at audience while speaking, points to areas in the picture, provides accurate information, answers questions from the audience effectively.
  3. Observe students as they listen – looks at presenter, asks effective questions, supports ideas with evidence found in the artwork.
  4. Use a checklist to track progress. (Downloads – MixedMedaiBird_tracking.pdf)
  5. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Downloads – MixedMediaBird_self-assessment.pdf)