Through an examination of Theodore Waddell’s Motherwell’s Angus, students will look at colors to understand how artists use them to create sensations and help portray shapes. They will then imagine they are in the painting and write a creative piece about what they experience.
Intended Age GroupElementary (grades K-5)
Length of LessonOne 45 minute lesson
Standards AreaLanguage Arts
Students will be able to:
- list at least five visual details in the painting;
- identify different colors and shapes used in the painting;
- describe what is meant by cool colors;
- feel comfortable using their imaginations to write a creative piece; and
- work in a small group to peer edit and make revisions based on feedback.
- Preparation: Read the About the Art section on Motherwell’s Angus, in particular the “Details” information. Set up the projector and internet link to the digital image, or photocopy the full image and detail images. You may also want to review the information found in the following article titled “Is Snow White? Maybe, or Maybe Not”.
- Warm-up: Have students imagine they are in the hot desert. Ask them to write down five words that describe what they “see” and “feel.” Repeat the process having them imagine they are caught in a rain storm, and finally, playing in the snow. Have students share their words with a partner and compare words that are similar and different. Ask the students: How well do these words capture each of the experiences? What words did they use to describe the snow experience? Begin a list to record the “snow” words students share.
- Show students Motherwell’s Angus. Have them write down at least two other words that come to mind as they look at the painting. Call on volunteers to share their ideas and add these words to the snow list.
- Give the students 2-3 minutes to share with a partner anything else they notice about the painting. Call on volunteers to share their ideas.
- Ask the students: What colors do you see in the painting? What shapes or animals do you see? After this initial look, zoom in on the projected image of the painting (or use the color copies of enlarged sections of the painting). Ask the students: What colors do you see now? Are there any pure white sections? For older students, you may wish to teach them about cool colors: blue, purple, and green.
- Invite the students to imagine they are in the painting. They can be one of the cows, a person near the cows in the snow, or a snowflake. Have them write a 5-7 sentence paragraph about what they might see, smell, hear, or want to do in that setting.
- Give the students time to share their writing in groups of 3-4. Ask the groups to provide feedback to their classmates, and then allow some time for editing and have students rewrite their piece.
- Call on volunteers to share their final written pieces.
- Pencils and paper
- About the Art section on the Motherwell’s Angus
- Color copies of the painting for students to share, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen. Projecting the image would be ideal, since zooming in will help students see colors more clearly.
- Visual Arts
- Observe and Learn to Comprehend
- Relate and Connect to Transfer
- Language Arts
- Oral Expression and Listening
- Writing and Composition
21st Century Skills
About the Art
Who Made It?
Theodore Waddell is a third-generation Montanan who has deep roots in both the West and American art. His pioneer grandmother moved west in a covered wagon, and his grandfather was an acquaintance of notable western artist Charles Russell. Born in Billings, Montana, Waddell grew up in Laurel, a small railroad town on the Northern Pacific line about 15 miles west of his birthplace. His father painted railroad boxcars and enjoyed working on paint-by-numbers during his time off. One of Waddell’s earliest memories is the smell of oil paint on his father’s clothes, and his love of the medium continues today.
Although Waddell set off for Eastern Montana College (now Montana State University-Billings) with an interest in architecture, he flunked a math test which derailed his plan of study. Instead, he enrolled in a studio art class offered by western landscape artist Isabelle Johnson, a decision that he cites as one of the most important and influential of his career. Within a month of meeting Johnson, Waddell decided, “I didn’t want to be alive and not make art.”
Waddell spent a year in New York City in the early 1960s, attending art classes at the Brooklyn Museum Art School and immersing himself in the work of abstract expressionism that artists like Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and Clyfford Still had developed in the 1950s. The energetic splashes, drips, and fields of oil paint on their canvases added to his lifelong love of the medium.
Despite the excitement of New York, home beckoned, and Waddell returned west to complete his degrees in studio art and education. He taught for several years at the University of Montana, and from 1976 to 1996, he settled down as a rancher, making art alongside his ranching duties. He would rise out of bed at 3:30 a.m. and paint until 8:00 a.m., when his ranch work began. During the winter—calving season—he would check on the cows at 2:00 a.m. and stay up to paint!
What Inspired It?
Waddell feels a strong connection to his home, saying that “Montana has caused me to be who I am, and I love this place,” and “I have to be where I am to paint what I paint.” He also loves animals and has spent decades of his life surrounded by cattle, sheep, horses, dogs, and other furry friends. He sees the animals and landscapes that he paints as inextricably connected; the cattle “give a focus to the landscape that can’t be perceived any other way.”
Winter is one of Waddell’s favorite times to paint. In winter, the landscape changes quickly and the snow reflects colors of light that are rarely found naturally in other seasons. Waddell also recalls that winter was one of his most productive artistic seasons when he was a rancher. Though he did need to check on his livestock, his fields required less attention during winter, giving him more time to paint.
Waddell often titles his paintings in honor of artists who have inspired him. While living and studying in New York City in the early 1960s, abstract expressionist artist Robert Motherwell was Waddell’s “all-time favorite.” Waddell was drawn to the flattened surface, textured application of paint, and abstracted forms of Motherwell’s canvases. Waddell completed a total of 25 paintings of cows in homage to the artist. This canvas is #6 of the series. Other homages to artists include Monet’s Sheep and Vincent’s Angus (after Vincent van Gogh).
At first glance, the dark blotches of paint scattered across the canvas might not look like any recognizable form or figure. A closer look reveals the legs, heads, and torsos of cows emerging from and disappearing into the painted landscape. Waddell wasn’t interested in depicting individual animals—none of the cows have specific features, nor are they painted with any detail. Rather, he was interested in painting the impression of a cow.
Waddell applied white, light blue, and lavender paint to the canvas to create the feeling and appearance of a cold winter landscape. These cool colors bleed into one another throughout the work and are visible up close.
The cold winter landscape covers the entire surface of the canvas. Without any horizon line or use of perspective, the winter prairie stretches as far as the eye can see. The expansive view also comes from a lack of a focal point, which encourages the eye to roam across the picture plane. The cows are scattered about asymmetrically, at times even coming to the edge of the canvas.
From afar, the black paint of the cows contrasts sharply with the white and pastel-colored paint that makes up the winter landscape. Up close, however, the black paint blends into the lighter colors with subtler gradations. This painting technique adds to the snowy, hazy feel of the image.
Waddell uses masonry trowels and specially modified brushes originally intended to apply tar to roofs to create a heavy build-up of paint on the surface of the canvas. Some areas of paint are so thick that the texture looks like frosting!
Waddell feels that “there’s a magic to oil paint that is unsurpassed by any other medium or activity. The notion of loading a brush with a big dollop of paint is about as good as it gets. The sensation of developing a line or shape with this material is wonderful.”
Motherwell’s Angus measures six feet square. Waddell likes to paint his works on large canvases, giving him plenty of room to play with his paints, and suggesting the vastness of the Montana landscape.