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Beginning with Bosch

Visual Arts, Language Arts
Grades 3–8

Application: Pixie®

Beginning with Bosch

Students use Pixie to explore Surrealism through a study of Hieronymus Bosch, learning to create Surrealist illustrations.

Special thanks to Julie Moses for collaborating on this lesson idea.

Authentic Task

Hieronymus Bosch was a Dutch artist who painted in the Surrealist style in the 15th and 16th centuries, 400 years before the Surrealism movement began! Bosch explored both the good and bad extremes of human nature, changing animals, people, and objects into fantastic new creatures, and inspiring later Surrealist painters like Ernst, Duchamp, and Dali.

After learning about Surrealism, students will develop their own Surrealist work exploring good and bad and write a rhyming verse that describes and expands on their artistic work.


Set the stage for the project by reading “Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch” to your students. In this story, Bosch’s housekeeper becomes tired of encountering Surreal objects and critters in the house, sharing:

“How can I cook for you? How can I bake?
When the oven keeps turning itself to a rake?
And a beehive in boots and a pear-headed priest.
Call monkeys to order and lizards to feast.”

Much of Bosch’s artwork may be inappropriate for young viewers; this book provides a fun introduction to his work while avoiding some of the darker themes.

The rhyming verse makes the story entertaining and helps students identify the main objects on each page. As you explore the pictures, have students try to find the other Surreal objects on each page.

When the story is complete, develop a definition for “Surreal” as a class. The American Heritage Dictionary defines Surrealist art as art that expresses “the workings of the subconscious and is characterized by fantastic imagery and incongruous juxtaposition of subject matter.”

Let your students know that they will be using one of their fears to help them create their own Surrealist art in the style of Hieronymus Bosch.

Return to the images in the book or explore some of Bosch’s other work. Ask students to name objects that make them feel fearful. Work with students to identify which of the object’s attributes make them feel this way. Use this opportunity to explore how the use of light and dark colors and soft or sharp lines make us feel differently about the objects we see in the paintings.


Let students know that they will begin exploring Surrealism by creating an image that juxtaposes scary with nice using a common fear as inspiration. To help them come up with different fears, have everyone share a fear anonymously on scrap paper. Ask each student to choose a fear they will use as inspiration for their Surrealist illustration.

As a class, brainstorm attributes and adjectives that will help them turn their fear into a Surrealist character. You could have students use the Character Traits template in the Pixie Language Arts Writing folder to help with this process. Label the center of this organizer with a description of the fear the student has chosen, such as a fear of heights, or of falling, or of being alone. Then, add adjectives and attributes in the surrounding boxes.

To create the scary/nice juxtaposition in their artwork, have students use the symmetry tool in Pixie to draw a squiggly line from the top to the bottom of the canvas. Have students use the Paint tools to transform the space on the outside of these lines into a character representing their fear and the inside of these lines a picture of themselves impervious to this fear in the middle of the image.

To practice writing and rhyming, have students write a quatrain or other rhyming poem describing their fear. A quatrain is a four line poem that includes rhymes on lines two and four. If they need inspiration, have them look to the examples by Nancy Willard in the “Pish, Posh, said Hieronymus Bosch” book. Have them record their poems along with their Pixie pictures.


Have students print their work to display in a Surrealism show. Collect all of their work into one location and use the Share feature in Pixie to create a video of their work or book you can place on your classroom web page. If they recorded a reading of their poems as well, these will automatically be included in the video or online html book.

Beginning with Bosch Sample

As you read the story, assess student reaction to the playful rhyme in the story. What is their reaction to the pictures in the book? How do they define Surrealism? Interact with students as they brainstorm attributes for their fear, helping them visualize and verbalize what they are feeling.

The student artwork will help you assess their understanding of how to use symmetry, their ability to use line and color for artistic impact, and their ability to imagine and develop a world from their imagination. Their poem will help you assess their ability to work with rhyme and meter.


Note: SOME of Hieronymus Bosch’s works may not be suitable for young children. Be sure to explore any images before introducing them to children.

Willard, Nancy. Pish, Posh, Said Hieronymus Bosch
ISBN: 0152622101

Gibson, Walter. Hieronymus Bosch – World of Art
ISBN: 050020134X

Hieronymus Bosch – The First Surrealist


National Council of Teachers of English
Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

National Standards for Arts Education
Visual Arts Content Standard 1:
Understanding and applying media, techniques, and processes.

Students select media, techniques, and processes; analyze what makes them effective or not effective in communicating ideas; and reflect upon the effectiveness of their choices.

Visual Arts Content Standard 4:
Understanding the visual arts in relation to history and cultures.

Students analyze, describe, and demonstrate how factors of time and place (such as climate, resources, ideas, and technology) influence visual characteristics that give meaning and value to a work of art.