The Dot

Lesson Plan


Inspired by Vance Kirkland’s Blue Mysteries Near the Sun, No. 4 and Peter H. Reynolds book The Dot, students will use unusual tools to discover, experience, and explore unique methods for making marks with paint.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • recognize the artist’s use of dots in his painting;
  • identify at least one technique for making marks with paint; and
  • experiment freely with paint and unusual tools to obtain different visual effects.


  1. Warm-up: Read The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds to the students.
  2. Show the students Kirkland’s painting Blue Mysteries Near the Sun, No. 4.
  3. Ask the students: How do you think Kirkland made dots like that? What do you think the painting would look like without the dots? Would you like it? What do the dots remind you of? Allow for lots of imaginative ideas and make sure each student knows you value his or her contributions.
  4. Explain to the students that Kirkland used some unusual tools like paintbrushes with the bristles cut off, wooden dowels, and twigs to make the dots in this painting.
  5. Provide multiple colors of paint and a variety of unusual painting tools (twigs, old pencils, broken rulers, plastic flatware, etc.) for the students to experiment with.
  6. Briefly show the students how to dip the tools into paint and make a mark on paper with it. Do not demonstrate too much, however; give the students the opportunity to figure out for themselves how to use different tools. Remind them of what the teacher tells Vashti in The Dot, “Just make a mark and see where it takes you!”
  7. Invite the students to fill their page with as many marks as they can. Allow them free range to experiment with the paint and with various tools.
  8. When the students are finished, ask them questions such as: What was your favorite tool to use? What other tools would you like to try using to make marks? What kind of mark do you think it would make? What was your favorite mark to make? What was your favorite color to use?


  • One copy of The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
  • Paint mixed to a thick consistency
  • Assorted tools to paint with (twigs, old pencils, broken rulers, plastic flatware, etc.)
  • One or two 12 x 18 inch sheets of paper or blank newsprint for each student
  • Newspapers or other materials to cover work areas
  • Containers with water to wash mark-making tools
  • Paper towels or rags to dry off tools between different colors
  • About the Art section on Blue Mysteries Near the Sun, No. 4
  • One color copy of the painting for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
    • Envision and Critique to Reflect
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art

Blue Mysteries Near the Sun, No. 4

Blue Mysteries Near the Sun, No. 4


Vance Kirkland, United States

Who Made It?

Vance Kirkland made more than 1,000 paintings during his 54-year career, although he got off to a bit of a rough start. Born and raised in Ohio, Kirkland attended the Cleveland Institute of Art where as a freshman he failed his watercolor class. His professors complained that Kirkland’s colors “fought” each other and did not exist in natural landscapes. After graduating, he moved to Denver, where at the age of 24 he was invited by the University of Denver to establish an art school. A few years later, he left the university and founded the Kirkland School of Art on Pearl Street in Denver, which is now the site of the Kirkland Museum. Kirkland was an active supporter of the arts community in Denver. He died in 1981.

Kirkland spent the early part of his career painting traditional landscapes. His paintings soon began to take on a more mystical appearance as he began incorporating imaginary forms into nature. Kirkland switched gears again in 1954 and spent the rest of his painting career imagining the visual possibilities of space. He said, “I think it is the unknown things that fascinated me all the way along—to visualize what might have happened billions of years ago as things exploded in the universe.”

What Inspired It?

In 1954 Kirkland began painting what he called his “Energy in Space Abstractions.” At the time, much remained unknown about the conditions and quality of outer space, which left Kirkland free to depict space any way he could imagine: “My idea of trying to visualize all the things that have been happening in space over 25 billion years gives me the freedom of imagination without being tied down to any exact image of reporting nature. It may come from nature but it’s not the nature we are sure of. It’s a guess kind of nature. These are imaginary events that might have happened, not actual events.”



Kirkland liked to use contrasting colors. He chose vibrant colors that he felt captured the movement and energy that he imagined to be in space. He said, “I limit myself to those color combinations which seem to vibrate and can, therefore, form illusions of floating mysteries of explosions of energy in space.”


The cloud-like forms that Kirkland scattered across the canvas are irregular in color and shape. They might represent the aftermath of an explosion or clouds of gases floating in space.


Irregular shapes and varied color may suggest sudden movement or expansion. Areas of green that seem to seep in on the left and lower right edges might appear to some viewers as a scattering or joining of gases or energies.


Kirkland tried to create the effect of many layers, or fields of energy, in his depictions of space. Red, white, blue, orange, and yellow dots are layered over the cloud-like shapes. Kirkland kept a collection of unconventional tools, such as wooden dowels, twigs, and paint brushes with the hairs of the brush cut off, to create precise dots of contrasting colors. To paint these precise dots, Kirkland fashioned a sling that he suspended above the canvas he was working on. Lying in the sling, he hovered over the painting, moving the canvas (which he placed on top of a skateboard) beneath him so he could reach any section of the painting he wished to work on.


Kirkland’s paintings are like little universes within themselves, with no fixed points of reference, and they leave room for countless interpretations. In fact, some of Kirkland’s paintings, like this one, are not signed, while others have two signatures, so that the painting can be hung in multiple ways. Which way is up? Which way is down? How far away are we from the cloud-like shapes? Is direction even relevant in space?

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.