de Youngsters Art Party: Out-of-the-Box Landscape

By Jill McLennan, senior teaching artist

January 22, 2021

De Youngsters Out Of The Box Landscape

Let’s build a diorama inside or outside of the box that the art supplies arrived in. This project was inspired by the de Young’s Piazzoni murals and my painting, California Summer (2019), which in turn was inspired by Albert Bierstadt’s California Spring (1875). Choose a place, a landscape, or an ecosystem that you want to focus on—some examples that we have here in California are the coast, the mountains, the forest, and the desert.


  • Watercolor paints
  • Paintbrushes
  • Watercolor paper
  • Water
  • China marker
  • Pencil 
  • Colored pencils 
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Glue 
  • Cardboard container, such as your Art Box
  • Optional: pictures of animals, birds, fish, plants, and trees
  • Optional: papers painted with homemade paints  

Questions to Consider 

  • What are the dominant features of your environment? 
  • What are the dominant colors in this landscape? 
  • What types of animals and plants live in this place?


1. Choose your landscape theme, collect your materials, and gather any reference images that might help with your drawings.

2. Paint 2 sheets of watercolor paper with the motions, movements, and textures of your landscape environment. For example, you can paint a furry texture for an animal or a watery area for the ocean or river. Try painting dark to light, blending colors, or repeating motion lines. Another option is to use the handmade paints and painted papers from the previous project.

3. Using the china marker, draw an animal that lives in your ecosystem. Cut out the drawing loosely around the edge and add detail with colored pencil. Next, draw outlines of different landscape elements (such as mountains, rivers, or hills) onto some of the painted papers. Continue making animals and plants from your region by cutting them out and adding details.

4. Make stands for your pieces using the extra paper. Cut out a small strip of paper, fold it into an L-shape and glue or tape one half onto the back bottom edge of the element. Then arrange the different parts of your ecosystem as a diorama in your Art Box. 

5. Use your imagination to create stories about your ecosystem and all the parts interacting within it. Challenge: create a story or extra pieces for your ecosystem that respond to one of the reflection questions below. 


  • How will the ecosystem change during day and night or throughout the seasons? 
  • How might humans help or hurt this ecosystem? 
  • What message does your art tell about the environment? 


We would love to see what you make too, so please tag us on any social media platform with #deyoungsters or email us your creations at

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