A few weeks ago my students and I began studying Henri Rousseau, specifically his jungle paintings, and paintings by other artists bearing similarity. We tackled this complex landscape painting by breaking it into two parts: figures and background. First though we sat and talked about what we were looking at and why we were seeing what we saw.
I had the students sit and 'just look' for between three and five minutes which can be a long time for kindergarten through fifth grade. I asked them some questions related to the bloom's taxonomy way of looking at art and encouraged them to answer in their heads, not out loud. Then we went through these questions again and I took some of the answers. This was fabulous!
Next we moved on to drawing our animals in action. I had the older kids choose images from National Geographic, as close to drawing from life as we were going to get, and look at the basic shapes first, and figure out if anything is in a funny place, like the head of the bear being below his back!
Rousseau focused on drawing realistically and had a life-long struggle with realism. His paintings always turned out a little flat but this is the very thing that (I think) makes his artwork stand out in the history of art. He, just like my students, drew many times from pictures, not life, he never set foot in a jungle.
I had my younger students take a more simplified approach, we went through together how to draw any cat-like animal using shapes that we already knew, and they chose how to finish the animal to make it look unique.
We used the light blue construction paper to drive home the fact that oil pastels can be very opaque and cover the paper completely if you so chose. They then cut out the animals to be placed into the landscape.