Watercolor Conversations

Number of Players
2+ (even numbers work best)

Watercolor materials (paint sets, brushes, paper and water cups) or some other materials for mark making (colored pencils or markers)


What Is It and Why Use It?

Watercolor conversations helps students build community and explore the components of dialogue through artmaking. This strategy is great as an icebreaker or to preview conversations about collaborative learning before making a community agreement at the start of a school year.


Begin by discussing the elements of art we will be working with in this strategy: line, shape and color. Explain that these elements can be used by artists to illustrate how they are feeling even if they are painting in an abstract or non-representational style. Depending on students’ level you may want to show them some examples of abstract art with expressive lines, shapes, and colors to discuss (Henri Matisse, Julie Mehretu, and Helen Frankenthaler work well).

Ask students to take a minute and silently check-in with themselves. What is their mood today? If their feelings could be a color, what color would it be? What kind of line could show excitement? What kind of shape could show sadness?

Next, explain that students will be making abstract paintings of how they are feeling with a partner (preferably someone they do not know very well). Divide students into pairs and sit them across the table from one another. Tell them that they will be having a conversation with the person across from them, about their mood, but instead of using words and recognizable symbols (no hearts, smiley faces…) they’ll be using colors, lines and shapes to express their feelings. Remind them of few conversation guidelines:

  • Just like in real conversations it is impolite to talk over someone, so let your partner paint while you watch (or “listen”)  

  • Also, like in real conversations, try to relate and interact with each other’s marks. Don’t paint on separate sides, add to each other's work, embellish, paint over.  

  • Since there is no eraser in watercolor, you must accept everything your partner puts down and find a way to build on it. Say yes, and…

  • Because we are focusing on our visual communication skills, this will be a silent activity

After giving the directions pass out a paper, paint and a water cup for them to share as well as an assortment of paint brushes (for younger students you may choose to only give 1 paintbrush to encourage taking turns). 

Play instrumental music while students paint for 2-4 minutes then ask them to make their final marks and put all brushes back in the water cup. If there is time you might invite students to have a watercolor conversation with a second partner.


Begin by reflecting with their partner directly after painting to chat about their experience watercoloring together. What was it like communicating only through watercolors? What was communicated? What was lost?

After sharing out (you may choose to carefully hold up the images while students share their reflections) transition to whole group reflection on the activity.

  • Describe: How did you express your mood through line, shape, and color? What did you find easy or challenging about this activity?

  •  Analyze: How did you and your partner(s) build on each other’s offerings throughout your conversations? How did your way of communicating change with different partners?

  • Relate: What role does conversation play in_______________? What connections can you make between communicating with watercolors and the way we want to communicate in our class community?

Possible Side-Coaching

As students are painting educators might circulate to remind them to experiment with their brushes, vary the pressure of strokes and mix new colors. Students may also need some reminders about the conversation guidelines (adding to each others' work, taking turns etc.)

Possible Variations/Applications

Literacy: Students could create a watercolor conversation to explore the mood and tone of a poem or story, or to consider how a character might have been feeling at a moment in the text.

Social Emotional Learning: Students who need a calming activity may benefit from painting about their feelings with a trusted adult or peer.