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Black History Art Project: Draw like W. H. Johnson

Below you’ll find an easy step-by-step tutorial for a black history art project — learning to draw like artist W.H. Johnson. There’s much to learn about some artists that didn’t always get more attention while they were still around.

Draw like W. H. Johnson

Who was William H. Johnson?

William Henry Johnson was born in the segregated south in 1901. He ended up studying at the National Academy of Design in New York City, working with Charles Webster Hawthorne. He later lived and worked in France, where he learned about modernism. This black history art project was created to help students see what it’s like to draw in the simple folk art style that Mr. Johnson came to embrace in his later years.

If you have a chance to look at a few of Mr. Johnson’s paintings, you will notice that they are all look very flat. All the of the trees and buildings and fences look like simple cut out shapes. This is one of the features of folk art. It isn’t trying to make things look realistic, just portray them in the easy way that perhaps a child might draw them.

Teachers might also point out that the hands of the men and the women in Mr. Johnson’s paintings are consistently large in proportion to their bodies. It is thought he wanted to portray the strength that he saw in them.

This tutorial is designed to help students draw either a man, or a woman in William H. Johnson’s style. In doing so, they can hopefully come to a deeper appreciation for the amazing body of work he created in his lifetime.

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Johnson Man Coloring Page

A Black history coloring page, available as a free download.

Johnson Woman Coloring Page

A Black history coloring page, available as a free download.

W.H. Johnson Collaborative Mural Project

Make a 50″ x 40″ classroom mural, in Mr. Johnson’s style

Materials for a Black History Art Project

Note: This post contains affiliate links.

  • Drawing Paper. Don’t substitute it with copy paper or construction paper. The surface will get fuzzy, erasing might cause holes, and the colors will generally not look as bright.
  • Stabilo Markers. The large pack provides lots of fun color choices, several shades of each color, including a few choices for skin. The tips are perfect for coloring, and there’s even a promise that they will work after being uncapped for 8 weeks!
  • Pencil. The Ticonderoga brand are the most reliable, make nice dark lines when you need them, and are the easiest to erase.
  • Eraser. Large ones you can hold in your hand do a much better job than just the pencil tips. Stabilo Markers. They have the best colors, the best tips, and last the longest.
  • Black Sharpie Marker. These fine point permanent markers are great for making a crisp outline to your drawing. Use them when you want your outline show up, but not be so heavy that it detracts from other things.

Step by Step Directions

Time needed: 1 hour

Draw like the artist William H. Johnson

  1. WOMAN: Draw the head and neck.

  2. Fill in the face and hair.

  3. Start the shoulders.

  4. Add arms and large hands below.

  5. Draw a simple background.

  6. Trace and color with markers.

  7. MAN: Start the head and neck.

  8. Fill in the features. Add a hat.

  9. Draw the shoulders and arms.

  10. Finish the pants. Add buttons.

  11. Draw a simple background.

  12. Trace and color with markers.

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And thanks for wanting to bring more step-by-step, no-prep art lessons to your classroom!

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