Saturday, February 2, 2013

Cave Art Paintings

Here is one of my favourite lessons: Cave Art. These were created by 6th grade students. 

 We looked at the famous Caves of Lascaux, in France and watched a Youtube video about them.
 These paintings are estimated to be 17,300 years old. They consist mostly of primitive images of large animals, most of which are known from fossil evidence to have lived 
in the area at the time. The images include bison, bulls, horses, mammoths, etc. 

The caves were discovered by chance in 1941 by French teenager Marcel Ravidat, and his three friends. They found a hole in the ground while exploring a forest and Marcel  climbed down into it- this tunnel led to the caves. The boys initially kept the caves a secret, but soon told their teacher about it, as they knew him to be interested in archaeology and prehistoric art. From then on, the caves became famous around the world.

The original caves are now closed to the public (due to deterioration of the paintings cause by too many visitors), but the French authorities have recreated the caves nearby which are supposedly very realistic. You can visit an excellent online version here:
(You get to take a virtual tour through the caves and listen to soothing music too! lol)

I hung up large cave art posters for the kids to refer to. They are called "Lascaux Cave Art Prints" which were ordered from the company Crystal Productions. It also comes with a DVD. What I find so fascinating about these caves is that you can see extinct animals such as the mammoth and animals not typical for the area today (hyenas, lions, panthers, woolly rhinoceroses, in France!)

Lascaux may be one of the more famous sites for cave art in the world, but of course, there are many others including the '"Cave of Swimmers" in the Sahara Desert and the Chauvet Cave in southern France. A documentary called "Cave of Forgotten Dreams", by Werner Herzog, was recently made about these caves. There's also the Cave of Altamira in Spain.

Here's an interesting video of the rock art found in the 'Cave of Swimmers' (made famous in the movie "The English Patient".) These painted caves in Egypt were 'discovered' (the local Bedouins already knew about them) by the Hungarian explorer László Almásy in October 1933. They are unusual in that they depict many human figures swimming, which shows that the Sahara Desert once had lakes and water.

To recreate cave walls, we used brown butcher paper and scrunched it up a bunch of times to make it nice and textural. We also added transparent washes of brown-ish tempera paint to give it even more depth. Then, using chalk pastels, we added more texture lines (cracks, irregularities on the cave walls) using dark brown and black chalk.  Blend, blend, blend.

Then students made a stylized stencil of an animal(s) out of cardstock. They freehand drew these and looked at the posters for inspiration. Then stencil (use a pouncing up-and-down motion with a round brush) these onto the background paper using natural colored tempera paint. Paleolithic artists have five main colors at their disposal: yellow, red, brown, black and white. White is more rare, but it is seen at Lascaux cave. The colours used were produced from ochre (reds and yellows), manganese dioxide (violet and black) and charcoal (black). These minerals were pulverized on stone palettes and mixed with animal fat to moisten them before they were applied with the fingers, bone spatulae or brushes. (source)

Here's an example of an animal stencil- just use scrap card or old file folders.

(My kids use paper palettes as they don't require cleaning afterwards!)

Nice variety of colours and use of overlapping....

Great sense of motion in this one!


  1. are they using scissors or xacto knives to cut out their stencils?

  2. Mrs. Art Teacher- they used scissors. The stencils are large enough that they poke their scissor tips through the middle and cut from there.

  3. Beautiful examples of cave art.
    I love the accuracy of colors

  4. Hi Miss

    I love the rough look of the background. So cool that the kids designed and cut their own stencils. Love the overlapping animals in different colors.

  5. hello, my name is Rosa's childhood craft blog I would like to contact you via email

  6. Rosa: here's my email address:

  7. Thanks as always Chesterbrook and Rina! :)

  8. Great work, I am greatly inspired by cave art, it is one of my favourite styles in which to paint! :) My work can be viewed at!cave-art-gallery/c14z0

  9. I really like these! Thanks so much for sharing. My third graders are learning about this period right now in their danish and history lessons and I would love to make something similiar with them. I am their art teacher too. ;-)

  10. wat ik zocht, bedankt