Circles and rectangles of multiple colors stamped onto a piece of paper.

Look outside your window and get inspired by the colors and patterns of nature!

We want to see your creations! Share on social media @hirshhorn with #HirshhornInsideOut.

Time: 15–20 minutes

Skill Level: Beginner

Topic: Art inspired by nature

Vertical rows of irregular rectangles, as if they were torn paper, fill the canvas. Each row of rectangles is its own color. We see warm red, orange, yellow, and pink with accent rows of greens, blues, black, and brown.

Alma Thomas, Earth Sermon – Beauty, Love and Peace, 1971. Courtesy of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, The Martha Jackson Memorial Collection: Gift of Mr. and Mrs. David K. Anderson, 1980.

LOOK CLOSELY

What do you see? Describe the colors, shapes and patterns. What does the painting make you think of?

Artist Alma Thomas named this painting Earth Sermon – Beauty, Love and Peace. Nature inspired Alma Thomas’s work. She preferred to create abstract works featuring repetitive shapes in vibrant colors that together form patterns. She said, “I looked at the tree in the window, and that became my inspiration.”

Look out your window. What inspires you?

A black and white photo of the artist in her studio. She wears a patchwork style dress and stands holding one of her paintings.

Alma Thomas in her studio, ca. 1968. Photo by Ida Jervis. Alma Thomas papers, circa 1894–2001. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution

Alma Thomas (1891–1978) was the first graduate of Howard University’s fine arts program in 1924, and spent most of her career working as an art teacher in Shaw Junior High, a segregated Washington DC school. After retiring from teaching, she devoted herself to painting. As a member of the Washington Color School, she created abstract art that celebrated pure color and form.

She faced many obstacles as a woman and an African American artist. Late in her life she reflected on growing up in Georgia as an African American: “One of the things we couldn’t do was go into museums, let alone think of hanging our pictures there. My, times have changed. Just look at me now.”
See more works by Alma Thomas in the Hirshhorn collection.


MAKE IT

Look outside your window and get inspired by the colors and patterns of nature! We took inspiration from the trees outside. Want a challenge? For artists ages 5+, we recommend using a mixture of smaller objects as stamps, which will allow more intricate and complex patterns.

Various paints, cork, bottle cap, and film canister sitting on a white surface.Through a window a tree can be scene with houses and cars in the background.Hand stamping green paint on a piece of paper with a cork.
  1. Gather materials. You’ll need a piece of paper, paint, and your stamping tools. For stamps, take a scavenger hunt through your junk drawer or a nature excursion. Gather small objects with flat ends such as marker caps, blocks, acorns, or sticks.
  2. Look out your window. What do you see outside that inspires you? For our sample project, we were inspired by trees outside our window.
  3. Paint! Dip your stamps in the paint. Stamp your paint in patterns. You might mimic the straight lines in Earth Sermon – Beauty, Love and Peace, or experiment with curved or wavy lines for your own unique composition. Try using different sides of the stamp or multiple stamps.
  4. Title your work. Alma Thomas loved to name her paintings after things in nature.