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Old and New Forest

Old and New Forest, 1931-1932
oil on canvas
112.2 x 69.8 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
VAG 42.3.23
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery

A Rushing Sea of Undergrowth

A Rushing Sea of Undergrowth, 1935
oil on canvas
112.8 x 69.0 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
VAG 42.3.17
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery

A Sense of Place


Students investigate ways in which Carr expressed her personal relationship to the landscape.

Description of Activity:

Students compare a literal description of a place to a description that is interpretive, meaning that it relates to experience and emotion. Students then consider this same approach to Emily Carr's paintings, building on their writing skills in the process.


1 session, 60 minutes

Background Information for Teachers:

Emily Carr was both a visual artist and a writer. In her artwork and her books she explored her deep love of nature, in particular the forests, mountains, seas and skies of British Columbia. Using words and paintings, she tried to communicate a sense of the powerful experience of being in nature. In her paintings she uses strong, bright colours, solid forms and waving lines of colour in the earth and sky that create a sense of energy. In her books she uses descriptive words and metaphors to share a sense of energy and growth. Here is a short passage from her journal, published in 1966 under the title Hundreds and Thousands:

…go into the woods alone and look at the earth crowded with growth, new and old bursting from their strong roots hidden in the silent, live ground, each seed according to its own kind expanding, bursting, pushing its way upward toward the light and air, each one knowing what to do, each one demanding its own rights on the earth. Feel this growth, the surging upward, the expansion, the pulsing life…

Reading Carr's works enables us to see her paintings in a new way, and looking at her paintings can help us to understand her words.

To read more about Emily Carr's interest in the landscape of British Columbia.

Preparation for Teachers:

Materials for Students:


Part I

  • Invite students to choose a personal, special place as the focus of their work. This place can be real or imaginary.
  • Ask students to create a precise written description of that special place, describing it literally, explaining exactly what we would see there.
  • Have students describe why the place is so special to them. Encourage them to use specific, expressive, descriptive language that conveys experiences and feelings. Ask them: What is it like to be in your place? How does it feel? How do you feel when you are there? What do you think about? What do you see, smell, hear and touch?
  • Ask students to compare the two pieces of writing, focusing on how one is a record of a place, whereas the other is a reflection of how that place makes them feel.

Part II

  • Invite students to look at reproductions of Emily Carr's work and to repeat the writing exercise, focusing on what she is trying to show literally (the sky, water, the forest) and then describing what they think made the place important to Carr.


  • Discuss the way that Emily Carr tried to combine these two types of descriptions in her art and writing. She captured not only the look of a place, but also her experience of that place.

Further Engagement:

  • Have students read an excerpt from Carr's journal, published in 1966 as Hundreds and Thousands: The Journals of An Artist, to see if their interpretation of Carr's paintings is similar to what the artist wanted to communicate with her work.