Art Sets.

Brett Whiteley: birds

By the Art Gallery of NSW


ART SET BY Jane Lancaster, Teacher MLC School Burwood

VISUAL ART FOCUS AREA Brett Whiteley’s Landscapes


FORMS Drawing, painting, 3D constructions


In this unit, students will explore animals, as living things, with a particular focus on birds. They will sketch a bird from memory and paint birds using a variety of experimental painting techniques. Students will identify a variety of different types of birds, highlighting their unique characteristics.

Students will explore Brett Whiteley’s bird artworks as inspiration for their own artworks. Students will create a sculpture of a bird, using clay, feathers and mixed media materials.



Visual Arts has a significant role in how meaning is made in peoples’ lives. It offers students the opportunity for personal expression, enjoyment, creative action, imagination, emotional response, aesthetic pleasure and the creation of shared meaning. In the longer term, a visual arts education assists students in their lifelong learning, – encouraging them to participate in and contribute to cultural life and to become informed consumers of the arts and culture. (Board of Studies NSW 2000 Creative Arts K-6 Syllabus, pp.- 6-7)

In Visual Arts, students develop knowledge and understanding, skills, values and attitudes in Making and Appreciating by engaging with the concepts of artists, artworks, the audience and the world. In Making they learn how they can investigate the world through selected subject matter (eg. people, objects, places and spaces) and work with the forms (eg. painting, drawing, digital works) in expressive ways.

These investigations of subject matter and the forms are further developed in their appreciation of artists, designers, craftspeople, architects and their works. Learning in visual arts is most effective when learning experiences in making and appreciating are integrated in a planned and sequential teaching and learning process.

Teaching and learning experiences may begin with a focus on either making, appreciating, subject matter, a form, particular artists, selected artworks, audiences or the world – offering multiple approaches to the visual arts to enhance students’ learning.
(Board of Studies NSW 2000 Creative Arts K-6 Syllabus p.10)


The Visual Arts program is designed to enable students to gain increasing understanding and accomplishment in the visual arts. It also encourages an appreciation for the meanings and values that visual arts offers - personally, - culturally, and as a form of communication.

In Visual Arts, students will develop knowledge, skills and understanding by;

  • making artworks informed by their investigations of the world as subject matter, use of expressive forms, and consideration of the audience for their works
  • appreciating their own artworks and those of others, recognising the roles of artists and audiences and how the world can be interpreted
    (Board of Studies NSW 2000 Creative Arts K-6 Syllabus, p. 8)


Students in Early Stage 1 will learn to:
- think about themselves as artists in their art-making (within a limited understanding of the artists’ function)
- explore different kinds of things and experiences in their making of artworks
- make drawings, paintings, sculptures etc about things of interest to them and their experiences
- use a variety of media, techniques and tools to create different effects
- look at details within their own and others’ artworks and talk about associations with their own experience and the effects of the works

Students in Early Stage 1 will learn about:
- who artists are, what they do, what they make
- how their interests and experiences affects what they and others represent in pictures and other kinds of artworks
- the properties of drawings, paintings, sculptures etc, what they are about and what they are made from
- the properties of certain media, tools and techniques and how they can be used to create interesting effects
- who looks at art and talks about art

(Board of Studies NSW 2000 Creative Arts K-6 Syllabus p.52)


Assessment is based on the Visual Arts learning outcomes, as outlined in the Creative Arts K-6 Syllabus. A variety of assessment strategies are used to give students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and understandings about artists and artworks and the skills connected to the unit of work they have undertaken.

Anecdotal information collected during oral and written Art Appreciation sessions assists in the assessment of students’ prior knowledge as well as their visual literacy skills. The students’ preliminary sketches inform initial assessments ‘for’ learning. Interactions with students foster deeper insights into their capabilities, ‘as’ they are learning. The students’ artworks are testimony to their learning.

The analysis of their work samples, using outcomes and indicators, is the basis for the assessment ‘of’ learning. Summative assessment is based on rubrics for Art Making and Art Appreciating, which form the basis of formal reporting. Students are also encouraged to assess their own learning, making judgements about the qualities of finished works and works in progress based on the intentions of a unit of work, outcomes and indicators.


What were the strengths and weaknesses of the program?

How can this project be adapted for the future?





Students learn about:
- Brett Whiteley’s curiosity about the natural world especially birds – he had lots of questions about them
- Brett Whiteley’s love of birds and how they feature in his paintings, drawings and sculptures, by observing reproductions of his artworks
- similarities and differences in Whiteley’s depictions of birds - different appearances (colours, shapes and special features), variety of positions (nesting or flying) and diverse environments (by the sea or in the bush)

Students learn to:
- connect to memories associated with different birds by using props to tell a story about a chosen bird, based on their personal experience
- identify the distinguishing features of different birds – colours, type of beak, size of eyes etc - by creating a picture chart to identify different features of birds
- identify what they find interesting about birds by observing photographs of birds and the illustrations in Animalium – discuss the things that they know about eg. a kookaburra’s special laugh, flamingos standing on one leg, a pelican’s ability to catch fish etc.
- observe Whiteley’s images of birds and imagine what they are saying or singing
- record sounds of birds using Keezy app on iPads eg. a kookaburra’s laugh, the call of a whipbird etc.


Bird figurines and collection of miniature 3D birds eg. chicken, turkey, owl
Animalium by Katie Scott and Jenny Broom
Photographs of a variety of different types of birds eg. kookaburra, flamingo, pelican
iPads (with Keezy app installed)




Students learn about:
- the symbolism of birds – Whiteley's appreciation of birds' ability to fly wherever they want - he imagined escaping from his own environment (especially the difficulties he faced) and finding somewhere new (to create a fresh start)
- Whiteley’s time in Fiji and how he enjoyed being in nature, away from the city - he thought Fiji’s fruit dove was the most beautiful bird in the world
- Whiteley’s visits to Taronga Zoo, where he closely watched the birds and other animals and drew what he saw
- techniques for drawing birds using simple circular and oval shapes connected to one another

Students learn to:
- listen to the story Edward the Emu to gain insight into Rod Clement’s illustrations and the textural effects created on the emus
- look closely at Brett Whiteley’s The lyrebird (1972 - 73) and observe the sweeping feathers and elaborate tail
- select a bird to focus on for their drawing, ensuring the whole bird is visible in the image
- paint an Edicol dye wash over an enlarged photocopy of sheet music to create a background to represent foliage or the sky
- draw the chosen bird onto sheet music and outline with permanent marker
- add colour to bird imagery with oil pastels, chalk pastels or watercolour paints
- use experimental drawing and painting techniques to flick the materials to create feathers and to add textural effects
- splatter or sponge paint additional features over the background to represent environmental features


A3 coloured paper, neutral or warm coloured paper
Photos of a fruit dove
Edward the Emu by Sheena Knowles and Rod Clement




Students learn about:
- the mixed - media materials used in Whiteley’s artworks
- Brett Whiteley’s fascination with birds and eggs, and his special egg collection, as remembered by his sister Fran who said “He was mad about eggs, loved their shape and symbolism”
- eggs as a symbol of new life
- techniques for preparing clay, eg.- kneading to remove air bubbles
- techniques for shaping clay, eg.- rolling into balls to create foundations for body and head of bird
- techniques for joining clay, eg.- scoring/cross-hatching, adding slip, blending
- techniques for creating designs in clay, eg.- carving with clay tools and poking holes with skewers to create texture
- methods for incorporating mixed media materials, ie.- inserting feathers, legs and beaks into birds with selected materials

Students learn to:
- knead clay prior to constructing a sculpture of a bird
- develop the basic shape of a bird by focusing on constructing the body from simple clay shapes eg. spheres, and then connecting these basic forms to one another
- join clay balls together by scoring pieces and addling slip, then blending in edges to create a smooth finish
- use toothpicks or skewers to secure head of bird to body
- insert feathers into the clay body of the bird to create wings and tail
- construct a beak by cutting packing tape or other mixed - media materials into small pieces – choosing appropriate colours and cutting the ends to create particular effects, eg. - pointy beak
- attach buttons or goggle eyes and pop-sticks for legs, to complete the birds’ features
- allow clay to air - dry in order for it to set


Miniature bird models and sculptures, clay, clay tools, water pots, toothpicks, skewers and pop - sticks, packing tape, joggle eyes or small buttons


Excursion to Taronga Zoo (Science)
Visit Taronga Zoo, or a local park, to study the birds closely and create observational drawings. Label drawings with features in the style of a scientific diagram. Investigate eggs of different types of birds and other animals eg. emu eggs, quail eggs, chicken eggs – compare sizes, colours and patterns

Bird calls (STEAM)
Create a call for a chosen bird and record it. Use Makey Makey/Scratch technology to activate the bird’s song when a sculpture of the bird is touched.

Memory box (Literacy)
Write a sentence or a story about a personal experience or memory of an encounter with a bird on a small piece of paper and roll it into a cylinder. Place the memories in a bird's nest for students to read.

Feather explorations (Visual Arts)
Select a feather from the collection and identify which bird it comes from eg. peacock feather, magpie feather, seagull feather. Experiment with painting by using a feather to apply paint.