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Ed Flood, Aluminum Floater #2, 1974. Acrylic on Plexiglas with aluminum frame, 31 7/8 x 24 5/8 inches. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. The Bill McClain Collection of Chicago Imagism.

Lesson Plan | Ed Flood: Multilayered Paintings – MMoCA


Aluminum Floater #2, 1974, acrylic on Plexiglas with aluminum 


Visual Art, Language Arts, Social Studies 


Evy Thuli, art educator 

Essential Questions

  1. Why do some artists follow or break from established art traditions?
  2. How does refining an artwork affect its meaning to the viewer?
  3. How do the presenting and sharing of artworks influence and shape ideas, beliefs, and experiences? 

Grade Level



  • Students will learn about the art of the Chicago Imagists, specifically the sculptural work of Ed Flood. They will discuss the composition of space within a landscape including foreground, middle ground, and background. Students will create an original, imagined multilayered piece of art inspired by the work of Ed Flood. 


Share with students some brief information about the Chicago Imagists. Ed Flood, considered a member of this group, created elaborate sculptures of carefully constructed layers of reverse painted Plexiglas housed in meticulously crafted boxes. He liked the machine-made quality of reverse painting. Flood was inspired by the slick surfaces of pinball machines and other mass produced advertising. Has anyone ever played on a pinball machine (show images of pinball machines)? Notice that the images that decorate pinball machines are crisp, clean, and full of energy. Vacation postcards from the 1960’s and 70’s also inspired Ed Flood. One can recognize swaying palm trees and glimpse tropical paradises in his earlier works. His later sculptures became more abstract as he simplified and repeated shapes. (It is recommended that teachers make a PowerPoint to show examples of Flood’s work over time, to see his development and to better understand Aluminum Floater #2.)

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your first impression of this work of art?
  2. Does it remind you of anything? How did Flood create this piece?
  3. What might the shapes represent?
  4. Can you see any connection to his earlier work?
  5. Some of Flood’s later works take on a sinister feeling. How might world events have influenced his change in style?


Step 1: Information and Research
Show students some images of Ed Flood’s work. Have them describe what they see in terms of line, color, shapes, and subject matter. Tell them that Ed Flood was fascinated with the shiny, slick finish of pinball machine surfaces. To achieve this effect in his work, he painted his imagery on the back side of Plexiglas. Review the concepts of space, including foreground, middle ground and background in a real-world setting. Have students point out what is closest to them and how big the object is. Next, notice something across the art room by measuring it with their fingers. Notice how small the object is, and that some objects overlap. The important concepts of “near” and “far” can be shown in a work of art by adjusting the relative proportions of objects in the foreground, middle ground, and background. Have students research images such as holiday resorts and vacation spots, tropical flowers, cartoon landscapes, pinball machines, and fictional island paradises. These images could be saved on their laptops or printed and brought to class.

Step 2: Sketching and Planning
Students select some of the pictures that inspire them and begin thumbnail planning sketches of an environment, such as a landscape, seascape, or imaginary place. Ask them to consider how they will simplify and choose what images to work with, and whether their environment will be safe and joyful, dangerous and foreboding, or embody other qualities. Tell them to include enough details in their compositions to express a sense of place; like Flood, keep it simple. Have students work out the scenes in pencil. Review landscape design concepts of foreground, middle ground, and back ground, and encourage them to include these elements in their sketches.

Step 3: Dividing into Foreground, Middle Ground, and Background Layers
Explain that, in a picture, objects low on the picture plane or directly in front of us are perceived as closest to us and are therefore in the foreground. They are larger, clearer, and brighter than those “behind” them. Objects at a medium distance are perceived as mid-ground; they are in the middle of the frame. Objects farthest from us, in the background, are usually higher in the picture; they seem less clear, and their colors are less intense than those in both the foreground and middle ground.

Using their selected sketch, help students divide their drawing into foreground, middle ground, and background layers. Overlapped objects should be completely developed when drawn. Tracing paper is helpful and can be erased as necessary. Number each layer 1, 2, or 3. When the layers are reassembled, they should form a complete image of the selected sketch.

Step 4: Outlining
Remind students that Flood used a product called Plexiglas and carefully placed the layers into a wooden frame. Plexiglas looks like glass, and is very shiny. [Plexiglas is quite expensive to purchase; use transparency film sheets instead, which can be cut in half to save on materials costs. Most school offices would have this material or purchase some from an office supply store.]

Demonstrate reverse painting. To achieve a “slick” surface, the students will paint on the back side of transparency film. Whatever is placed first on the film will show on the front; subsequent layers may or may not show through. Each student will need at least three pieces of identically sized film. Students should lay the film on the “foreground,” the sketch marked as number 1, and trace an outline of each shape with a bold black Sharpie pen. Continue tracing the “middle ground” (second layer) of their design onto another piece of film, and finally trace the “background” (third layer) onto the last piece of film.

Step 5: Reverse painting
Using acrylic paints, students color in the areas. On the first and second layers of film, they should leave some areas free of paint so the lines and colors show through from below. The third or background layer may be completely painted. They should be careful, and allow the paint to dry between steps. The paint will scratch off easily from the shiny, somewhat fragile surface of the transparency film.

Step 6: Finishing and presentation
When all three layers are dry, they can be turned over and placed in order from front to back. Remind students to carefully and neatly put their artwork together. Provide pre-cut mats or black construction paper “frames” for students to place on finished work. Layers can touch, or strips of corrugated cardboard can be added at the top and bottom edges of each layer to create a space between. Secure all edges and attach a name label for presentation. (A sheet of white paper placed behind the work will enhance the effects of the colors.)

Have students name their “place.”  Then have students write a letter to a friend or family member that describes a trip to their imagined landscape; include the date, a greeting, the descriptive text, and closing remarks, and their signature. Use any of the questions below to help compose the letter:

  • What would you see in this landscape?
  • What would you smell?
  • What would you hear?
  • What might you touch?


Drawing paper, pencils, erasers, black Sharpie markers, tracing paper, acrylic paints, brushes, palettes, water cups, paper toweling, transparency film, construction paper or mat board, corrugated cardboard, cut into ½-inch strips, glue, clear tape, sample of Plexiglas 


Chicago Imagist, Plexiglas, foreground, middle ground, background, overlapping, placement, scale, space 


Language Arts, Social Studies 


Wisconsin State Standards

Art and Design: A.8.1, A.8.2, A.8.4 / B.8.1, B.8.3, B.8.5 / C.8.5, C.8.6 / D.8.6 / E.8.5 / G.8.1, G.8.2, G.8.4; Language Arts: C.8.3 / D.8.1; Social Studies: B.4.4, B.12.7 / E.8.2

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