Stormy Finger Painting

Children will explore wind and water movement in a painting.


Lesson Objective

Children will explore wind and water movement in a painting and will make finger paintings.


What You'll Need

  • A large color reproduction or digital image of Ships in a Stormy Sea Off a Coast by Ludolf Backhuysen – from the North Carolina Museum of Art website
  • 11" × 14" watercolor or finger paint paper – 1 sheet per child
  • Finger paint (see Lesson Tips): black, white, blue, green, and purple – 1 bottle each
  • Foam plates – 1 per child
  • Stormy music (see Lesson Tips)
  • Audio device to play music

What To Do

Note: Prior to the activity, cover tables with butcher paper or newsprint. Place a half dollar–size amount of blue, green, and purple paints on foam plates (1 per 2 children). Put small amounts of black and white paints on separate plates (1 per 2 children), and set them aside.
  1. Display the painting, and discuss what is happening in the painting with the children (see Guiding Student Inquiry). 
  2. Point out the light and dark colors in the painting. Have the children describe the light and dark colors, and have them discuss how the colors they see in the painting make them feel.
  3. Have the children pretend they are sitting on a boat, and have them act out what happens when the wind starts blowing and a storm is happening.
  4. Tell the children they will be making stormy paintings using their fingers (see Lesson Tips).
  5. Have the children hold up their fingers and make stormy gestures. Have them make gestures for a calm, sunny day and compare the difference.
  6. Distribute a sheet of paper to each child, and place a plate of blue, green, and purple paints between 2 children. 
  7. Tell the children to make stormy waves on the water and stormy clouds in the sky.
  8. Once the children have a good amount of paint on their papers, stop them and demonstrate how to blend colors to create light and dark colors using the black and white paints.
  9. Distribute the plates of black and white paints (1 per 2 children), and have the children begin.
  10. Monitor the children so their paintings do not turn all gray or all black.
  11. Place the paintings in an area to dry where they will not be disturbed.
  12. Display dry paintings, and discuss with the children how they were able to combine colors and the motions they used to create stormy waves and clouds in their paintings (see Guiding Student Inquiry).

Guiding Student Inquiry

  • Describe the water in the painting: How do you think it might feel? Would it be cold or warm? Is the water calm or rippling?
  • Describe how you know there is wind in the painting: How do you think it might feel? How hard is it blowing?
  • Describe the clouds in the painting.
  • Explain what you think it might be like to be on one of the ships.
  • Explain how to make your fingers move like stormy clouds and waves.
  • Tell me what you did to make your painting look stormy.

Explore, Extend & Integrate

  • Listen to stormy music while painting. Search the internet for music such as Ride of the Valkyries by Richard Wagner; Summer, from The Four Seasons by Vivaldi; the storm scene from Barber of Seville by Rossini; or any other music selections you find that sound “stormy.”
  • You can demonstrate the movement of water with a bottle of water with blue food coloring in it. Make gentle movements to make the water slosh around. Then, move the bottle to make bigger and stormier waves in the bottle. Have the children discuss what the water looks like; encourage them to use vocabulary words such as “still,” “ripple,” and “wave” to describe the water.
  • Brainstorm feeling words associated with stormy weather; move around like ships in different types of weather.
  • Create a stormy dance; what movements would you make?

Check for Children’s Understanding

  • Could children explain the stormy water in the painting?
  • Could children describe how they could tell there was wind in the painting even though they could not see the wind?
  • Could children describe the clouds as stormy?
  • Could children explain the difference between stormy finger gestures and calm, sunny gestures?
  • Could children explain how they combined colors and motions to create a stormy effect in their paintings?


Did You Know?

Storms can bring strong winds, heavy rain, and thunder and lightning. Storms at sea frequently have strong winds that move the water around. When there is no wind, the water in the sea stays flat and even. When the wind blows across the water, ripples form in the water. As the wind picks up speed, waves form. Waves continue to increase in height as the wind speed increases.

Ludolf Backhuysen was a Dutch painter who lived from the mid-1600s to the early 1700s. He painted many images of the sea. Many of his paintings are of ships in rough seas and are noted for their realism. Backhuysen frequently went out to sea in an open boat to study the effects of stormy seas. His goal was to accurately capture images of a storm at sea.

Vocabulary: Child-Friendly Definitions

  • painting – a picture that someone has created with paint.
  • pretend – to imagine or make believe.
  • stormy – characterized by violent weather.
  • gestures – actions that are meant to show feelings.
  • calm – not moving; peaceful.
  • blend – to mix completely so there are no separate parts.

Lesson Tips

  • Children should wear smocks to protect clothing.
  • Explain to the children they will need to be extra careful to keep their paint on the paper and to be sure that their stormy fingers do not rip their paintings.
  • Finger paint can be made by adding liquid tempera paint to a cornstarch mixture (½ cup cornstarch dissolved in 2 cups water).


  • The Storm Book by Charlotte Zolotow
  • Wave by Suzy Lee
  • Time of Wonder by Robert McCloskey
  • National Geographic Readers: Storms! By Miriam Busch Goin

Home School Resources

Home educators: use these printable lesson PDFs to teach this lesson to your home schoolers. They're available in English and Spanish.

Home/School Connections

Las Conexiones a la Casa

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Content Provided By

Common Core State Standards Initiative – These lessons are aligned with the Common Core State Standards ("CCSS"). The CCSS provide a consistent, clear understanding of the concepts and skills children are expected to learn and guide teachers to provide their students with opportunities to gain these important skills and foundational knowledge [1]. Visit the CCSS