February Picture This! Jacob Lawrence – 2019

Jacob Lawrence


Jacob Lawrence was one of the most important artists of the 20th century. He was an American painter, born in Atlantic City, New Jersey but was raised in a New York City neighborhood called Harlem. There Jacob attended an after school arts program where one of his teachers saw that he showed great promise as an artist.  He loved to draw crisp patterns with crayons using blacks and browns along side vivid colors.

Lawrence’s paintings tell stories. They tell stories of people leaving their homes to make a better life for themselves and their families. They tell stories of people who fought to defend our Country during WWII. And they tell stories of people using tools and working hard to learn, like the Library painting we are looking at today.

When he was just 24 years old he became the first African – American artist to have his art shown in a New York gallery. He called his style of work Dynamic Cubism, meaning he was interested in simple shapes, bold colors and patterns. But he is mostly known as an Expressionist painter because he painted to express his ideas. He mostly painted using water based paint on paper.

He also painted murals for the Harold Washington Center in Chicago, the University of Washington and Howard University, as well as a 72 foot mural for New York City’s Times Square subway station.

From 1971 to 1986, Lawrence taught as a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle. In addition to teaching he continued to paint for the rest of his life.

Key Words

Murals – A piece of artwork painted or applied directly on a wall, ceiling or other permanent surface.

Expressionist Art – Conveys emotion and meaning rather than reality. Often uses distortion or exaggeration and vivid, sometimes shocking colors to express ideas.

Project – Using Color and Geometric shapes to express an Idea

Let’s look at our painting:

  • What are all the people in the Library doing?
    That’s right. They are reading. We talked about Jacob Lawrence painting about people using tools to make their life better.
  • What kind of tools can you think of?
    What tools do you see here?  Books are tools too. They help us to learn and make our lives better.
  • Why do you think Jacob Lawrence believed that Libraries were so important?
    Because all people no matter if they are rich or poor can go to Libraries to learn.
  • Are most of the books in this painting opened or closed?
    They are open.
  • Why do you think Jacob Lawrence chose to have them open?
    He wanted to show the people wanting to learn and learning.
  • What Geometric shapes can you find in this painting?
    Show circle, triangle, rectangle, etc.

Using shapes and bright colors draw a picture of a person reading a book.

Use some of the geometric shapes to help wth your drawing. Color in with brightly colored markers.


  • White paper
  • Colored markers or crayons.
  • Paper is in packet (schools have markers or crayons)

Encourage students to make colors bright and crisp.