Jacob Lawrence's Painted Stories

Jacob Lawrence's Painted Stories lesson plan

Storytelling meets visual arts in the style of Jacob Lawrence, African American artist and storyteller.

  • 1.

    Jacob Lawrence was an African American artist whose work was known for its emphasis on storytelling. He was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on September 7, 1917, and spent portions of his life in both Easton (the home of Crayola®) and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before moving to Harlem in New York with his mother and sisters at age 13. He received his artistic training at community art centers in Harlem, the easel project of the Works Progress Administration, and the American Artists School in New York.

  • 2.

    Jacob Lawrence's work focuses on the history of African Americans in the United States. Many of his screen prints, which are bold and graphic, include several panels that tell the same story, each in a different way. He includes scenes of everyday life, historical events, and the lives of African American heroes and heroines in his work.

  • 3.

    To create your own storytelling artwork, begin by thinking of a significant historical event in your life or to your ethnic group or family heritage. Write a story about this event with Crayola Colored Pencils. Include details such as important names, dates, and circumstances.

  • 4.

    Use Crayola Crayons on heavy paper to draw a portrait of the person featured in your story. Surround the main portrait with other story images, using bold colors and firm strokes. Fill in your drawings with color.

  • 5.

    Cover a table with recycled newspaper. Use Crayola Watercolors to fill in the background of your drawing. Dip your brush into water, then collect a small amount of paint on your wet brush. Apply this diluted wet paint to the background for a wash effect.


  • Students research the work and life of African American artist Jacob Lawrence.
  • Students draw parallels between the arts of storytelling and visual/graphic creativity.
  • Children create crayon-resist art to tell family stories in the style of Jacob Lawrence.


  • In a similar manner, illustrate an important event that you are studying in history or social studies.
  • Create a storytelling painting about an important event in your life. Include details about the event, and write the story of the event on a separate sheet of paper.
  • Choose one of Jacob Lawrence's powerful works, such as a piece from his series about Harriet Tubman. Research information about the scene portrayed, and present it to classmates.