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

Let’s build a diorama inside or outside of the box that the art supplies arrived in. 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.

Watch Out-of-the-Box Landscape

Collection Connection

This project was inspired by my painting, California Summer (2019), which in turn was inspired by Albert Bierstadt’s painting California Spring (1875) at the de Young. It shows one of my favorite hiking spots in the Oakland Hills. In my work, I emphasize the signs of human impact in nature as I celebrate the beauty of the California landscape. Can you find any clues of the impact humans have had on this landscape?

Another source of inspiration are the Piazzoni murals by Gottordo Piazzoni (1931) at the de Young. One of the panels, The Sea Mural, is presented on the west wall, just like the coast of San Francisco. Piazzoni painted these calm landscapes in a style known as California Modern. He has left out many of the details that describe the reality of being in nature. What sounds would you hear in this place? How would you feel in this San Francisco seaside scene? 


Questions to Consider 


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.

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

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.

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

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


Image credits:

  • Jill McLennan, California Summer, 2019. Oil on canvas, 35 x 47 in. (88.9 x 119.4 cm). © Jill McLennan
  • Gottardo Piazzoni, The Sea, 1931. Oil on canvas,144 x 80 in. (365.8 x 203.2 cm). Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Transfer from the San Francisco Art Commission and the Asian Art Museum through the Joint Committee to Site the Piazzoni Murals, 1999.196.1a–e. © Estate of Gottardo Piazzoni
  • Process photographs and animal drawings by Jill McLennan