Bold & Bright in Harlem

Bold & Bright in Harlem lesson plan

Explore the Harlem Renaissance then create a bright, bold drawing illustrating everyday stories of people in your community.

  • 1.

    William Henry Johnson was born in South Carolina on March 19, 1901. As a teenager, he moved to Harlem, where he enrolled in the Art School of the Natural Academy of Design. He studied in France for 3 years, then returned to New York. Disillusioned by how he was treated as a young black artist in the United States, Johnson moved to Denmark, where he met and married a Danish artist, weaver Holcha Krake. After several years in Norway, they returned to New York in 1938. Johnson taught at the Harlem Community Arts Center, where he began to take an increased interest in the black experience in New York City. This interest, shared by other African American artists, such as Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence, began the Harlem Renaissance movement.

  • 2.

    Johnson's art includes people actively engaged in their everyday activities. He depicts communities that interact and share common experiences. His paintings are clean and strong. Each picture seems to tell a story.

  • 3.

    With Crayola® Erasable Colored Pencils, write a story about activities you and your friends enjoy doing together. Vividly describe the people and places.

  • 4.

    On white paper, use Crayola Washable Markers to illustrate your story. Fill your drawing with bold, bright colors. Keep the figures strong and simple.

  • 5.

    Cover a table with recycled newspaper. Use a wet Crayola Paint Brush to blend the washable marker colors. Dry.


  • Students explore the creative style of artists who founded the Harlem Renaissance movement, including William H. Johnson, Romare Bearden, and Jacob Lawrence.
  • Students define the idea of community by writing a descriptive story about experiences and places they share with their friends.
  • Students create a bright, bold graphic image in the Harlem Renaissance style.


  • Collect oral histories from important people in your community. Interview them and then illustrate them engaged in a typical situation with their closest friends or associates.
  • Research the work of Romare Bearden and other contemporary African American artists. Compare their work to William H. Johnson's creations. List similarities and differences in their work. Create art which integrates the similarities.
  • Research the history of Harlem. Find out what the area is like today. How has it changed? What has stayed the same? How has Harlem been affected by the Civil Rights Movement?