Pathway: Expressive Painting

Pathway for Years 1 & 2

Painting, Sketchbooks

Key Concepts:

  • That artists sometimes use loose, gestural brush marks to create expressive painting. 

  • Expressive painting can be representational or more abstract.

  • Artists use impasto and sgraffito to give texture to the painting.

  • Artists sometimes use colour intuitively and in an exploratory manner.

  • That we can enjoy, and respond to, the way paint and colour exist on the page. 

In this pathway children are introduced to the idea that they can use paint in an intuitive and exploratory way. 

The pathway starts with an introduction to artists who use paint and colour to create exciting gestural and abstract work.

Children explore primary colours and secondary colours through expressive mark making, connecting colour, mark making and texture (of paint) through abstract work.

Pupils then explore the brush work of two old masters when we focus in on details of paintings to understand how they built the work.

Pupils then go on to draw from a colourful still life, finally making expressive and gestural paintings with acrylic paint. 

Sketchbooks are used throughout to record, experiment and reflect. 

Acrylic Paint, Paper

Artists: Marela Zacarías, Charlie French, Vincent Van Gogh, Cezanne

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primary colours sketchbook page
Variety of mark making tools
deatil: Wheat Field with Cypresses (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh. Original from the MET Museum.
Detail: Houses and Figure (1890) by Vincent Van Gogh. Original from the Barnes Foundation.
ages 5-8

A PDF of this pathway can be found here.

Teaching Notes

Find the Zoom CPD session introducing this pathway here.

See the recording of the Zoom CPD session exploring Colour Mixing.

Curriculum Links

Geography: After looking at the expressive landscapes by Van Gogh and Cezanne, be inspired by your local landscape (United Kingdom) and use gestural brush strokes to paint a scene you know or see, or explore weather, habitat, river or sea.

I Can…

  • I have seen how artists, contemporary and old masters, sometimes use paint in an expressive, loose way to create paintings full of life and colour. 

  • I can start to share my response to the work of other artists.

  • I can use my sketchbook to fill full of colour and brush marks, inspired by other artists.

  • I can recognise primary colours and mix secondary colours. I can experiment with hues by changing the amount of primary colours I add.

  • I can use various home made tools to apply paint in abstract patterns. I can be inventive.

  • I can make a loose drawing from a still life.

  • I can see colours and shapes in the still life.

  • I can use my gestural mark making with paint, and incorporate the colours and shapes in the still life to make an expressive painting. 

  • I can share my experiments and final piece with others and share what I liked and what went well.

  • I can enjoy the work of my classmates and I can see how all the work is different. I can share my response to some of their work. 

  • I can take a photograph of my final piece, thinking about focus and lighting. 


This pathway takes 6 weeks, with an hour per week. Shorten or lengthen the suggested pathway according to time and experience. Follow the stages in green for a shorter pathway or less complex journey.


Soft pencils, handwriting pens, a selection of ‘found tools’ such as old shoe brushes, string, wire, rags, thick strips of card, cardboard (for pallets), acrylic or ready mixed paint, a selection of bright still life objects eg plastic blocks, cups, balls, colourful mugs etc, cartridge paper.


Pathway: Expressive Painting

  • Aims of the Pathway

    The aim of this pathway is to enable children to explore expressive use of paint. This includes exploring colour, colour mixing and intention behind mark making. 

  • Week 1: Introduce

    Marela Zacarías & Charlie French

    Begin the exploration by introducing children to the work of Marela Zacarías and Charlie French. 

    Charlie French

    Use the free to access “Talking Points: Marela Zacarías” resource and the free to access “Talking Points: Charlie French” resource. 

    Use the questions on the resources to help guide a class discussion to explore the different ways artists might use colour and mark making to make art. 

    Have sketchbooks open and make time during the exploration for Making Visual Notes

    They might for example use colour to note down the colours in the artists work, or try to copy the kinds of marks the artists use in their work. 

  • Week 2: Explore

    Expressive Painting & Colour Mixing

    yellow and blue on red

    Use the “Expressive Painting and Colour Mixing” resource to explore primary and secondary colours and mark making. 

    The resource explains how to explore on paper and then transfer to sketchbooks as a way of consolidating learning and reflecting. 

  • Week 3: Explore

    Brush Work of Van Gogh & Cezanne

    Wheat Field with Cypresses (1889) by Vincent Van Gogh. Original from the MET Museum.

    Use the free to access “Talking Points: Brush Work of Van Gogh & Cezanne” resource to enable an exploration of the way the artists used thick paint and loose brushwork to create expressive work. 

    Use sketchbooks for “Making Visual Notes“. For example make time for the pupils to use similar brush marks in their sketchbooks, or invite pupils to try to capture the colours in Cezanne’s work. 

    Invite children to create their own mark making tools. Take inspiration from the “Experimental Mark Making Tools” resource.

  • Week 4 & 5: Explore & Create

    Gestural Mark Making with Acrylic Paint

    Gestural Mark Making with Acrylics

    Use the “Gestural Mark Making with Acrylic” resource to enable an exploration of making gestural and expressive paintings. Children begin by working from a still life of colour and form, and progress to making abstract paintings. 

    If you are pushed for time miss out the collage step midway through. 

  • Week 6: Present & Share

    Share, Reflect, Discuss

    Repeated Acrylic Paint Finger Paints

    Time to see the work which has been made, talk about intention and outcome.

    Invite children to display the work in a clear space, and walk around the work as if they are in a gallery. Give the work the respect it deserves. Remind the children of their hard work.

    If you have class cameras or tablets, invite the children to document their work, working in pairs or teams. 

    Use the resource here to help you run a class “crit” to finish the project. 

See the Pathway Used in Schools...

Stourfield Infant School, Year 2
Stourfield Infant School, Year 2
Stourfield Infant School, Year 2
Year 6
Year 6
Year 6
Year 2
Year 2
Year 2
Year 2
Year 2 Whitchurch Primary School
Year 2 Whitchurch Primary School

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