Lesson 3: Prehistoric palette (Original scheme)

After experimenting with the colours and effects that can be created using natural materials, pupils make their own paints using spices and objects found on a nature walk.

Learning objective

  • To experiment with the pigments in natural products to make different colours

National curriculum

Pupils should be taught to:

  • Improve their mastery of art and design techniques, including drawing, painting and sculpture with a range of materials [for example, pencil, charcoal, paint, clay]
  • Develop their techniques, including their control and their use of materials, with creativity, experimentation and an increasing awareness of different kinds of art, craft and design

Success criteria

  • I can identify and collect coloured natural items to paint with
  • I can describe which natural items made the most successful colours, giving reasons
  • I can create paints using all natural ingredients as prehistoric artists did

Cross-curricular links


  • Learn about changes in Britain from Stone Age to Iron Age

Before the lesson


  • Teacher video: Prehistoric palette (free video)
  • Pupil video: Prehistoric palette (free video)
Teacher video: Prehistoric palette (free video)

Pupil video: Prehistoric palette (free video)

Have ready

  • Sketchbooks
  • Natural products to supplement what the children find
  • Coloured spices such as turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, nutmeg
  • Flour
  • Water
  • Brushes
  • Plastic pots or cups
  • Palettes for colour mixing
  • Thick paper or card (one sheet per pupil)
  • Couscous, bulgur wheat, lentils, coarse flour, seeds, sand or modroc
  • PVA glue

Attention grabber

Recap the colours used in prehistoric art and why the colours are limited.

People living in prehistoric times didn’t have access to paints, so they had to use natural objects to create marks and shapes, e.g. crushed berries, burnt wood, plants and animal fats mixed with natural pigments.

Show some of the cave painting images from the Lesson 1 Presentation: Prehistoric art again and, if useful, keep them displayed throughout the activity.

Presentation: Prehistoric art

Display on your interactive whiteboard

Natural colours walk

Take the children outside to look at different colours found in nature, or collect some items yourself before the lesson. Ask them to find things they could draw or paint with (green leaves, mud, twigs, grass, petals from flowers, fruit). You may wish to remind your class not to pick berries without checking with you first.

Main event

Back in the classroom, children experiment with the natural objects they found, using them to make marks with white paper and discussing in groups which work well and which don’t. Get them to think about why this is. E.g. It’s too dry, the pigments aren’t strong enough, etc.

Show them the Pupil video: Prehistoric palette (see ‘Before the lesson’).


Natural paint

Next, they are going to make their own paint from natural products. Start by creating a base (a liquid medium to hold the colour) from flour and water mixed into a paste the consistency of paint. Model how to add a pigment, such as turmeric or paprika, to make a different colour.

Give pupils a palette with some flour and water mixture. Ask them to experiment with mixing their own colours from the spices and things found in their walk.

Note: Try to provide colours that are only found in prehistoric art, such as yellow, red, brown and black – even purple. Green and blue don’t really feature in cave paintings because they were hard to make and find.

The children can now experiment with this new paint in their sketchbooks, making a mark with it, then writing next to it how they made it. They could try painting some simple shapes, patterns and symbols.


Creating a cave wall

Explain that although we usually work on smooth paper, prehistoric artists would have to paint on the walls of caves. The children are going to make a ‘cave wall’ ready to paint on in the next lesson.

Show the different materials that they could use to recreate the rough texture of a cave wall, demonstrating how to stick down objects, and then paint over the surface when dry.

Pupils create textured backgrounds, either by using modroc dipped in water or by gluing down couscous, bulgur wheat, lentils, coarse flour, seeds or sand, etc to strong card. They can paint over the rough surface using their natural paints or natural coloured poster paint, ready for lesson 4.


Key questions 

  • How is modern paint different to prehistoric paint?
  • Where does the colour in paint come from? (Pigment, which means the natural colouring in an object)


Pupils needing extra support: Might need help mixing colours and extra support finding successful solutions. Some children may not enjoy handling the natural materials to make paint so could work with a partner in the role of ‘collector and evaluator’ instead.


Pupils working at greater depth: Challenge them to make more advanced colours by manipulating the natural products to suit their own intentions and by applying their knowledge of colour mixing.

Wrapping up

Ask pupils to share their work, showing the different coloured natural paints they were able to create. As a class, discuss how the most successful colours were made and why this might be.

Get them to consider what they like and dislike about their natural paint and whether they think it’s better or worse than the paints the usually use.

Assessing pupils' progress and understanding

Pupils with secure understanding indicated by: Demonstrating a good understanding of colour mixing when using the natural pigments, evidenced by the record of mixed colours in sketchbooks. Being able to discuss the differences between prehistoric paint and modern paint.


Pupils working at greater depth indicated by: Showing a wide range of experimentation and mark making when exploring the natural paints and demonstrating advanced colour mixing and blending of pigments to create new colours.


  • Prehistoric

  • Cave drawings

  • Pigment

Created by:
Paul Carney,  
Art and Design specialist
Paul has 22 years experience of teaching art as a specialist subject in both Primary and Secondary schools. He is a council member with the National Society for Education and his expertise has led him to deliver CPD for leading…
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