The Faraway and Up Close: Mixed Media Works Inspired by Georgia O'Keeffe

Another of our week long summer camps this year was inspired by the artwork and ethos of the much beloved Georgia O'Keeffe. The following mixed media project was developed in order to explore more deeply the influence that photography had on O'Keeffe's work. From the beginning, O'Keeffe was moved to paint vast open landscapes of land and sky, a place that she called lovingly "the faraway." But it was from the rise of art photography and those artists working in the new medium, including her husband Alfred Stieglitz, that O'Keeffe learned the value of zooming in. Some of her most iconic works are the result of these up close studies. In this lesson, students take their cues from O'Keeffe and create their own vision of the faraway, while also practicing seeing what is up close. This project was designed for our 6-10 year old cohort but could be adapted for any age group. 


O'Keefe Parent Resource .png

Students will learn about and look at the work of Georgia O'Keeffe, noticing in particular her treatment of distance and proximity and how it relates to photography.

Students will learn to create compositions by zooming in or zooming out, first through a view finder, and then through the lens of a camera.

Students will create a full canvas painting of a "faraway" scene of their choosing.

Students will choose one of their own photographs, using contrast in color and texture as their guide, to use for the floating cow skull.

  • 9x12 or 11x14 canvas 
  • acrylic paint
  • paintbrushes
  • camera (phone, tablet, or digital camera)
  • computer
  • printer
  • copy paper
  • scissors
  • mod podge
  • chipboard 
  • foam core and hot glue or adhesive foam stickers
  • small paper or fabric flowers (purchased or made)
  • items to create a "Georgia inspired" still life (bones, flowers, shells, rocks, etc)
1. Arrange a still life (or two or three if you have a large class) made up of bones, flowers, shells, and rocks.

2. For each student, cut a small rectangle (approx. 2x3) out of a 5x7 piece of chipboard or cardboard to create a low-fi view finder.

3. For each student, cut out a bull's head shape (see resources for the template) from chipboard or cardboard.
Steps for Still Life Photography:
1. Begin by showing your student(s) some of Georgia O'Keeffe's works, including her landscapes, flowers, and the bones. Allow students the opportunity to make observations about content, style, color, form, etc. before giving them any information or direction.

2. Use an example of landscape to discuss O'Keeffe's love of the "faraway" and select one of her flower close ups to introduce the influence that photography had on her work. You can ask your students what it means to "zoom in." You could also share with them a close-up image taken by O'Keeffe's husband, Alfred Stieglitz, of the artist's hands. 

3. Give students their view finders and have them practice framing what they see. Introduce the concept of composition.

4. Allow the students time with the still life(s), using their view finders to practice making compositions. Talk about editing out "the noise" and zooming in so the still life objects occupy the whole frame. 

5. Once they have spent some time with the view finder, give them a camera (with instructions on how to use, depending on your age group). Explain the project so they know one of their images will be used to cover the bulls head. Allow time for students to make a collection of images. Wander around the room and give feedback and encouragement as students make their compositions.

5. Have students review their photos and favorite their top three picks. Print their picks on copy paper.
Steps for Painting and Construction:
1. Look at another group of O'Keeffe's paintings, this time concentrating on paintings with a lot of sky. Choose examples with different types of sky- blue, clouds, stormy, etc. Have the students make observations, comparing and contrasting the colors, textures, and techniques.

2. Provide students with a canvas and have them choose a color palette. Consider limiting their palette to 3 or 4 colors. Instruct them to create an image that is around 1/3 land and 2/3 sky. Give them ample time to create their "faraway."

3. While the paintings dry, give students the printed copies of their three favorite photographs. Have them reflect on which one will provide contrast with their painting- contrast in color, texture, and composition. If the sky is dark, for example, they may want to choose the lightest photo. Or if the sky is busy and filled with color, they may want to choose a photo with neutral tones and not a lot of texture.

4. Once they've chosen their image, have students cover their chip board bull's head with mod podge and lay the image down on top, face up. Once it dries, they can trim it up with a pair of scissors and add another protective coat of mod podge. For younger students, you may need to help with the trimming. You may also want to clean up all of the students' edges with an xacto.

5. Students can adhere the bull's head to the painting (once both are dry) using adhesive foam stickers. This gives the skull a dimensionality and makes it look like it's floating above the landscape. Alternatively, you can use pieces of foam core and hot glue.

6. Finish the work with a paper or fabric flower.

O'Keeffe and the Camera, a Photomoniter essay by Claire Holland- a short read on the influence photography had on O'Keeffe's work. This is for instructors as prep and for general knowledge, not for students.

How to see more and care less: The art of Georgia O'Keeffe, a video by Iseult Gillespie- A great Ted-Ed produced five minute, animated video about O'Keeffe. One caveat- right around minute four, there is mention of O'Keeffe's flower paintings being compared to "female genitalia." It's easy to look out for it and skip it if you don't want to have that discussion!

Georgia O'Keeffe, a video by Jennifer Costello- This is a short and very sweet video about O'Keeffe. It is silent with text and great paper puppet animation.
bullsheadtemplate 1