Open Thursday: 12:00 PM - 6:00 PM

Close Menu
Gladys Nilsson, Some Other Tree, 2001. Watercolor and gouache on paper, 40 x 25 inches. Collection of the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art. The Bill McClain Collection of Chicago Imagism.

Lesson Plan | Gladys Nilsson: Vignettes and Watercolor Paintings – MMoCA


Some Other Tree, 2001, watercolor and gouache on paper; Sites Unscene, 2001, hard ground etching with aquatint on paper 


Visual Art, Language Arts 


Andrea Maxworthy O’Brien, Professor Emerita, University of Wisconsin–Whitewater 

Essential Questions

  1. How do women tell their stories through art?
  2. How do artists create works of art that effectively communicate?
  3. How does learning about art impact how we see the world?
  4. What can we learn from our response to art? 

Grade Level



  • Students will discuss the content and style of Gladys Nilsson’s work by comparing and contrasting two examples. Students will create a watercolor painting based on an original written composition in response to Gladys Nilsson’s paintings. 


After a discussion of Some Other Tree and Sites Unscene by Gladys Nilsson,students write a vignette based on one of the art works, applying at least two of the characteristics of Gladys Nilsson’s artistic style. Using their written composition to inform their painting, students will portray their vignettes in watercolors with attention to the style and content of the work of Gladys Nilsson. The teacher can choose to do either the writing or the art activity first. Summarize the characteristics and style of Nilsson’s work from references, discussion and viewing. Examples: watercolor or gouache, highly stylized, saturated color, refined technique, “weird, funny, creepy, screwball, sexual, unabashed and impolite,” “figures are irrationally exuberant.”

Optional: Read an article describing Gladys Nilsson’s work. See resources.

Discussion Questions

  1. (Some Other Tree) Describe the figures in the upper frame. Describe the relationship between the man holding the flowers and the woman in red. What emotions are suggested by their facial expressions? Is the tiny woman part of the window frame narrative or separated from the couple? What seems to suggest that? How does Nilsson employ color and scale in this frame?
  2. (Some Other Tree) Describe all of the figures. What is the relationship of the figures to each other? How is this shown through color, scale and the position and posture of the characters? Does each figure tell a different story or are they part of the same narrative? What seems to suggest that? Are the larger frame and smaller frame part of the same narrative or a different vignette? Why do you think that?
  3. (Some Other Tree) Describe the vegetation. Does it separate or unite the figures?
  4. (Sites Unscene) Describe the main figure looking through the telescope. What do you think she sees through the lens? Why might she be pointing?
  5. (Sites Unscene) Describe the picnic by the river. How are the figures dressed? What are they eating? What is the mood of the picnic vignette? What is the role of the woman carrying the sausages? What does her posture, position in the painting, and facial expression suggest?
  6. (Sites Unscene) Who are the two women sitting unmoving in the boat? What are they saying to each other? Look carefully at the woman fishing. What can you learn from her facial expression, position at the front of the boat and the curve of the fishing pole?
  7. (Sites Unscene) What might be the function of the frame or trellis that the vines wrap around in the etching?


Writing Activity
Students will write a vignette or snapshot in words by choosing one of “characters” or group of figures in either the painting or the etching. The goal is to create an atmosphere not a story, painting the imagery with words. The vignette should be between 100-800 words. Note: A vignette is a short impressionistic scene that focuses on one moment or character and gives an impression of the character, an idea, setting, and/or object. It is a short, descriptive passage, more about evoking meaning through imagery than about plot. See website which includes examples.

Art Activity
Using their written composition to inform their painting, students will portray their vignettes in watercolors/gouache with attention to the style and content of the work of Gladys Nilsson. Depending on the familiarity of students with watercolors, the teacher may demonstrate basic watercolor technique such as washes and brush strokes.



Watercolors, gouache, paintbrushes, watercolor paper 


Gouache, etching, narrative, vignette, watercolor wash 


Language Arts, Social Studies 


National Core Arts Standards

VA:Cr3.1la /, VA:Re7.2la / VA:Re8.1la

Common Core State Standards

English and Language Arts: CCSS.ELA.W.9-10, CCSS.ELA.W.11-12.3

Wisconsin State Standards

Art and Design: A.12.6 / G.12.1, G.12.2, G.12.3, G.12.4 / I.12.1, I.12.2, I.12.3 / J.12.10; Language Arts: B.12.1 / C.12.1

Related Teaching Page