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Lesson: Willow’s Creative Cats

November 29, 2015 | By Rachel Zink

Willow is just one of the books Arts For Life teachers are using this month, during Books and Book Arts Month, to inspire and help kids explore their creativity. Our teachers are wholeheartedly encouraging students to bring their wildest imaginations to life with these beautiful, whimsical cats.


  • Promote self-expression through reading and painting.
  • Improve drawing skills through repeated patterns.
  • Encourage creative thinking while exploring watercolor techniques.


  • Willow by Denise Brennan-Nelson and Rosemarie Brennan
  • Large watercolor paper—at least 11×17 inches, the bigger the better! (16×20 is best)
  • Oil pastels
  • Paint—watercolors or watercolor magic
  • Pattern design sheets for inspiration
  • Scissors


  • Read Willow. Discuss the book. Do you agree that you can paint objects with colors that are “unnatural”? What would it look like if we had wild colors and fun patterns on everyday objects that people know only to be a certain color (like a brown tree trunk and green leaves)? Let’s make our own wild and creative cat—imagine if cats weren’t just black, white, tabby, or orange. What if they had bright colors and patterns!
  • Use a black oil pastel to draw a large U in the upper left section of the paper. On either side of the U, draw a diagonal line down to make the ears. Draw a straight line across to connect the ears.
  • Continue using the black oil pastel to draw the body. From the middle of the U on the right side, draw a straight line across and then down. Draw a straight line down from the bottom of the U. Connect the two lines. Add the tail and legs.
  • Draw a nose, mouth, and eyes.
  • Use colored oil pastels to add patterns to the cat.
  • Use watercolors or watercolor magic to paint the cat with a wax-resist technique.
  • Dry. Cut out.

Tweak It!

  • Choose a different animal or object in nature!
  • Work smaller and paint a picture of your favorite park or a zoo filled with brightly colored trees and animals.
  • Make small versions of the cat and other animals, cut out, add a tab so they stand up, and create a 3D world of animals you can play with.

Photo: Crazy Kitties by Cadence, age 6

© 2015 Arts For Life