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Untitled (Forest Interior, black, grey and white)

Untitled (Forest Interior, black, grey and white), c.1930
oil on paper
88.2 x 60.0 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
VAG 42.3.56
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery


Untitled, 1931–1932
charcoal, oil on paper
46.0 x 30.0 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
VAG 42.3.160
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery

Abstracting the Forest (Grades 3–7)


Students make an abstract work of art, using Emily Carr's paintings as an example.

Description of Activity:

Students reduce elements of a landscape to simple geometric forms and create a collage using black, white and grey construction paper.


1 session, 60 minutes

Background Information for Teachers:

At the turn of the twentieth century, many artists began to search for new ways of representing the world. They sought new styles, often moving toward abstraction. Characterized by an interest in simplified geometric shapes and colours, abstract art favours emotion, vision, light and form over realistic depiction.

Emily Carr began to work in an abstract manner after studying in France in 1910. The work of French Post-Impressionist and Fauvist artists interested her, with its loose brushstrokes and vivid colours. After returning to Victoria, Carr pursued these ideas in her own work, taking further direction from the American artist Mark Tobey, who also worked in Victoria in 1928. Influenced by Cubism, Tobey used geometric shapes to portray subjects from many different angles, a strategy Carr adopted during this period.

Read more about Carr's abstract paintings.

Preparation for Teachers:

Materials for Students:


  • As a group, make a list of geometric shapes.
  • Show students Untitled (Forest Interior, black, grey and white), c.1930, and Untitled, 1931–1932. What geometric shapes (triangle, square, circle, etc.) do they see? Talk about the absence of colour. What is the effect of Carr's decision to work in monochrome?
  • As a group, discuss the ways that different parts of the body can be imagined as geometric shapes. If a student's head were a geometric shape, what would it be? How about the neck? An arm?
  • Have students examine images of trees collected from magazines or posters. If they were to transform the different parts of the trees into geometric shapes, what shapes would they use?
  • Ask students to imagine the forest without colour. Where are the dark places? Where is it light?
  • Have students use construction paper and scissors to create geometric collages of the forest.


  • Display students' work. Have them discuss which shapes they chose to use in their collages. What other shapes could they have used? How did their choice affect the appearance of their trees? How did they show light and dark? Discuss.

Further Engagement:

  • Older students can explore one of the abstract art movements that influenced Carr. Use Ruthie Knapp and Janice Lehmberg's Off the Wall Museum Guides for Kids: Modern Art (Worcester MA: Davis Publications, 2000). Have students paint a tree in the style of the movement discussed.