NORTHERN LIGHTS – Colour, Contrast, Space

Students use oil pastels, black tempera paint and glitter glue to create a mixed media landscape featuring the Northern Lights.

Required Time

80 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 1 to Grade 3


Language Arts
Social Studies
Visual Arts


aurora borealis colour contrast landscape negative space positive space silhouette space


Oil Pastels Black Tempera Paint Sponges Glitter Glue Paint Brushes Drawing Paper 22.9 cm x 30 cm (9" x 12") Black Construction Paper 22.9 cm x 30 cm (9" x 12")


NORTHERN LIGHTS – Colour, Contrast, Space - Step One

Step One

  1. Start with 2 main colours you might see in the Northern Lights, for example, green and blue.
  2. Fill your black construction paper with the colours, overlapping them where they meet.
NORTHERN LIGHTS – Colour, Contrast, Space - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Choose more colours that you might see in the Northern Lights, for example, yellow, violet and orange.
  2. Add colours and use a sponge to blend them together,
  3. As you add a colour change direction with your strokes to give the feeling of movement.
NORTHERN LIGHTS – Colour, Contrast, Space - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Make several thumbnail sketches of possible landscapes.
    - let the land fill about one-third of the page
    - place trees on the land in a way that moves your eye from one to the next through the whole space
    - balance the positive and negative space
NORTHERN LIGHTS – Colour, Contrast, Space - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Choose the idea you like the best, or combine several ideas into a new one.
  2. Use black tempera paint to paint your landscape over the oil pastel.
  3. Make sure you apply enough paint to make a solid silhouette.


NORTHERN LIGHTS – Colour, Contrast, Space - Step Five

Step Five

  1. Spread some glitter glue onto a plastic lid.
  2. Use a paint brush to apply a thin layer of glitter glue to add some sparkle to your sky.


NORTHERN LIGHTS – Colour, Contrast, Space - Step Six

Step Six

  1. Hang your picture and view it with fresh eyes.
  2. Imagine you are in the picture somewhere seeing the amazing Canadian Northern Lights!

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  1. Create a mixed media scene that shows the Northern Lights;
  2. Use colour to create movement;
  3. Use contrast to create areas of emphasis;
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment; and
  5. Support their ideas with evidence found in the works.



Have students:

  1. Research tourism related to the Northern Lights.
  2. Make a brochure or poster to advertise their own imaginary Aurora Borealis tour package.
  3. Imagine they are selling their tour package and present it to the class in order to persuade them to buy their tour. 


  1. Prior to this lesson introduce and have students investigate the Northern Lights.
  2. Gather and display a variety of picture books. For example, Aurora: A Tale of the Northern Lights, by Mindy Dwyer; The Inuksuk Book, by Mary Wallace; Northern Lights: the Soccer Trails, by Michael Kusugak; SkySisters, by Bourdeau Waboose; Northern Lights: The Science, Myth, and Wonder of Aurora Borealis, by Calvin Hall, and Daryl Pederson; Auroras: Fire in the Sky, by Dan Bortolotti.
  3. Download images of the Aurora Borealis from the Internet, for example,
  4. Place students into small groups so they can share materials.




  1. View several images of the Aurora Borealis and create a chart list of their characteristics, asking students to think of ways to describe them to someone who cannot see them.
  2. Demonstrate how to blend oil pastels so they cover the paper, and change direction to give the feeling of movement.
  3. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Create a mixed media scene that shows the Northern Lights.
  2. Use blended colour to create movement.
  3. Use contrast to create areas of emphasis.
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment.
  5. Support your ideas with evidence found in the works.

The Process

  1. Ensure that everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students, for example,
    ​- colours are blended
    - lots of colour covers the whole paper 
    - colours change directions to show movement
    - contrasting shapes create emphasis
    - the sky looks like the Northern Lights
    - 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.


  1. Once all the pictures are complete display them for a group discussion. 
    Look closely at the pictures.
    - Choose one that interests you for some reason.
    - Share thoughts about the work.
  2. During the discussion include references to:
    colour – How do contrasting colours contribute to the effectiveness of the overall design? 
    - shapes – How does the placement and size of the shapes contribute to the effects of the sky?

    - technical accomplishment – How does the condition of the paper affect the finished work?


  1. Observe students as they work  – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting
  2. Observe students as they discuss the art works – active listening, insightful contributions, supporting ideas with evidence found in the artwork and from personal experience.
  3. Use a checklist to track progress. (Downloads - NorthernLights_tracking.pdf)
  4. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Downloads - NorthernLights_self-assessment.pdf)