Great Waves: Inspired by Hokusai (June 2013)

This was a drawing project for 4-6 year olds, inspired by the 19th century Japanese master printmaker, Hokusai. His most iconic work is the woodblock print, Under the great wave off Kanagawa, which dates from around 1832 (pictured below).

Hokusai Great Wave MMA

Each child was given a copy of the print to refer to, and we started the session by looking closely at the shapes of Hokusai’s waves, the way he depicts the white foam, and the boats almost hidden within the surf. Several children noticed the mountain at the centre of the picture – Mount Fuji – which looks tiny compared to the crashing waves. One of Hokusai’s waves is similar in shape to the mountain, making a direct reference to its colossal size. I also pointed out the stripes of light and dark blue underneath the waves, which help to show the dynamic movement of the water.

DSCF5425 DCThe children used black pens to draw their own waves, and then added boats and people in the water. If you look closely at their drawings, there are boats riding the tops of the waves, surfers, and people being thrown out of their vessels or jumping out with smiles on their faces!


Colour was added using oil pastels in just three colours – white, blue (a range of shades) and yellowish-brown  – which reflect Hokusai’s palette.


I encouraged the kids to try and recreate the energy and movement of the waves swelling and crashing by drawing with lots of energy and movement!


Peter Lanyon, Lost Mine, 1959, Oil on canvas (Tate, London)

Some of the drawings ended up looking really abstract, such as the one pictured above.

This child’s drawing reminds me of the prominent British mid-twentieth century painter, Peter Lanyon (1918-1964), whose gestural, abstract paintings referred to the sea, the sky and the weather around the Cornish coast where he lived.

Pictured to the right is Peter Lanyon’s 1959 oil painting on canvas, Lost Mine, which is in the collection of the Tate in London.


To finish off, some of the children signed their names in a vertical line, to emulate the Japanese characters of Hokusai’s signature.



Watch the slideshow below to see all of the children’s Great Waves:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


  1. Dear Hannah, this is so beautiful! Each one of your projects is unique. May I blog about this on ? I will link to this post. Thank you so much for what you do. Everything is so inspiring. Now I feel like painting waves and signing my name like this:



    • I’m glad you like this one. I was very proud of the children when they produced these lively artworks. I love Hokusai’s print, but his waves look so static and stylised in comparison with the expressive energy found in the children’s interpretations of the same subject! Of course you may write about the project – the kids will be delighted to know that their art is becoming so famous!
      And now I want to sign like Hokusai too!

  2. Hannah I also love the idea of doing this with my kindergarten class next year. I’m pinning this to my Pinterest so I can access it when I need it.

  3. Such a lovely project with beautiful results. 4 to 6 year olds? Amazing!
    You might be THE best art teacher I have ever come into contact with! Bravo!!

  4. Thank you for the link Esther, your children’s drawings are wonderful! And I love your very atmospheric presentation of the pictures with the sound of waves crashing in the background. Thank you very much for sharing them with me and the world!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s