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Red Cedar

Red Cedar, 1931
oil on canvas
110.0 x 68.5 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Gift of Mrs. J.P. Fell
VAG 54.7
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

Above the Trees

Above the Trees, c.1939
oil on paper
91.2 x 61.0 cm
Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Emily Carr Trust
VAG 42.3.83
Photo: Trevor Mills, Vancouver Art Gallery

Bringing the Outside In (Grades 3–7)


Students learn about Emily Carr and how she represented the forests of British Columbia.

Description of Activity:

Students imitate Carr's process by sketching outdoors and painting indoors.


2 sessions, 60 minutes each

Background Information for Teachers:

Emily Carr was born in Victoria, British Columbia, in 1871. From an early age she had a deep love of nature, which can be seen in her landscape paintings. She had a particularly keen interest in capturing the forests that characterize this region, and she preferred to observe her subject first-hand by travelling to the forest and working there. Sometimes she worked close to home, at Gold Stream Flats, approximately 18 kilometres from Victoria. Other times she went further afield, to places like Pemberton.

Wherever she worked, Carr's intention was to study the intense colours and textures of the trees, foliage, lakes and sky, and to observe the way that light, wind and weather affect how we see the world around us. She represented the landscape from many different perspectives: some of her paintings show the great cedar trees from a point of view directly below their branches, while others show only the tips of the trees, with the sky above as her main focus. Carr would sketch her subject, sometimes making numerous sketches of a single scene, then rework them later in her studio, using them as a basis for paintings.

Learn more about Emily Carr.

Read about how Emily Carr represented the forests of British Columbia.

Preparation for Teachers:

  • Look at Red Cedar, 1931, A Rushing Sea of Undergrowth, 1935, and Above the Trees, c.1939.
  • Consider how Carr depicts the landscape, focusing on her perspective or point of view: where does Carr position the viewer in relation to the scene depicted?
  • Read the following excerpt from Carr's journal (see Appendix) in which she discusses the importance of observing her subject first-hand.

Materials for Students:


Part I

  • Show students two or three of Carr's landscapes.
  • Have them describe what they see. What is Carr painting? From what perspective does she represent her subject?
  • Choose an outdoor area that is contained but diverse enough for students to spread out and sketch in different areas, such as a park or green space.
  • Assign students a variety of subjects and perspectives to sketch from: a single tree; a single tree sketched from below, looking up through its branches; a group of trees that fill the drawing surface so that no sky appears; a view in which the sky takes up more space than the land.
  • Have students make several sketches of their subject.

Part II

  • Have students examine the sketches they made and pick one that they like.
  • Invite students to use this sketch as the basis for a painting.
  • Display students' sketches and paintings together.


  • Ask students to describe their experience of sketching outdoors and painting indoors. What was it like to sketch outdoors? How was it different from painting indoors?
  • Ask students why they chose the sketch that they did for their painting. How did the different materials affect the way they treated their subject?

Further Engagement:

  • Have students sketch a single scene outdoors at different times of day and in different types of weather. Discuss the ways that light, atmosphere and weather change the way we see.

Appendix: Carr's journal