Ivan Shishkin. An Ode to Beautiful Forest. Sponge Painting Technique.

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Nicholas, 10

The leaves are about to change, but we are still enjoying warm weather and play outside a lot. Spending time in the nature touches the strings of your soul and gives you inspiration no matter what you do. This week we have learned about the artist who spent one third of his life in forests creating his outstanding masterpieces. His name is Ivan Shishkin and, not surprisingly, he is called The Forest Singer.

At the time Ivan Shishkin started his artistic journey, people thought of landscape as commonplace paintings. Artists adorned their canvases with happy little trees and happy little bushes without any hope that they will be called professionals; they just did what clients wanted for walls decoration. Well, they did not see what a young man from Elabuga, Russia was capable of because when he showed his painting A Rye Field at the exhibition, the art history changed. It was like he opened a new gate and all artists and critics, and people slightly interested in art, thought, “Oh, landscape painting is Art!”.

This one. It changed landscape painting history.

Ivan became very famous and worked a lot to keep up with high demands for his works. For some time he lived abroad but  always wanted to come back to Russia, where he had his most inspirational ideas.

View on the Outskirts of St. Petersburg

He bought a house close to St. Petersburg and went deep up to his neck to work and there, not surprisingly, he painted his most wonderful works that are the depictions of seasonal changes in nature, birds and animals… About the animals, though.


Interesting fact for you my friends: the painting you see above is called Morning In a Pine Forest but people generally refer to it as Three Bears which is funny because there are four bears if you can count. One possible explanation for that mistake is  that the reproduction of the painting was used as a wrapping for chocolate candy where three bears were visible on the front and one bear was bent on a side. So people saw only three bears at a glance, hence the name of the painting was reinvented.

In addition, Shishkin was not the one who painted the bears. He painted the forest and left some room for his friend Constantine Savitsky to render the animals. At the end he asked him to put his signature on the canvas, considering that, you know, it was only fair.  Except when  he brought the painting to the Tretiakov gallery, Tretiakov (the parton and famous art collector) was furious. He had some personal dislikes for Savitsky and hated the idea of putting his work on the wall in the gallery. He ordered to remove the signature and display the painting as Shishkin’s work only. Nowadays, not that many people are aware that this painting is a two artists effort.  I can talk a lot more about fairness in the art world, but lets get back to the class.

If you plan your class in the evening, any relaxing music will do. We enjoyed listening to Rachmaninoff, starting with this piece – A Tribute to Forest Fairies.

For the project you will need:

  • A sturdy acrylic paper or canvas paper like the one we used.
  • Brushes of two different sizes
  • Sponges

When you bring up the  sponge technique expect some lost of interest in the original painting aproach. The kids want to start working with sponges immediately, so I suggest that you keep this information until the tree trunks are ready.

We started with a horizon line and painted sky and grass as a background. Younger artists wish to paint the background around the sketched trees which makes a painting chaotic and somewhat unappelaing. Avoid it by explaining that the background comes first and do not do inot too many details.

Next, go on and paint the tree trunks. Again do not go overboard with brunches as you can add them later, picking through the leaves.

And then come the sponges. I like to use this Martha Stewart craft sponges but, I guess, any irregular sponges will do. Gloves are perfect to this job. For the reason that we did not wear any, we had to run and wash the hands immediately after we finished. Here, I warned you, it could be messy. 🙂

The foreground secret is no secret at all: we used the same sponges and without any pressure made vertical strokes to create the glass and then put some red dots as flowers.

Ladies and gentlemen, soak up the beauty.

Alexandra, 6
Mia, 6
Anna, 5
Maria, 10
Victoria, 4
Emma, 7


The project took about 45 minutes. In the beginning of the class we talked theory and ate some cookies. Everybody mentioned that all Shishkin’s paintings looked like photographs and I agree. He probably spent hours perfecting every single piece. The question remains, when he was working on this one:


Wasn’t he cold? I know what winters are like in Russia and can’t imagine working with fine brushes polishing a work while your tail is freezing off… Apparently, this is an example of a true devotion and drive, and perhaps, some really warm clothes.

Have a great class, I’ll talk to you soon.


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