Abstract Art with Nancy Graves

 Creative Challenge
Abstract color field painting.

Look closely at Stratus by Nancy Graves, an artwork from the Museum's Collection. Then, follow along with the prompts below to learn more and create an artwork of your own! 


  • What do you see? 
  • What does this painting remind you of? 
  • How do you feel when you look at this painting? 
  • What shapes can you find? Trace them with your finger. 


  • This painting is an abstract artwork. Instead of representing something from the real world, abstract artworks use colors, shapes, lines, and textures. 
  • The artist who made this, Nancy Graves, worked on many different kinds of artwork including sculptures, paintings, drawings, prints, and films. 
  • Nancy Graves took weather and moon maps made by NASA, traced them to find their most basic patterns, and then used those patterns to create the abstract lines and shapes we see in paintings like this one.


  • Why do you think the artist used maps from NASA as her starting point? 
  • Why do you think Nancy Graves chose to make this painting abstract rather than realistic? 
  • Imagine that this painting could make noise. What do you think it would it sound like? 
  • Use your body to act out the mood and energy of the painting. What kind of movement does it inspire? 


  • Create your own abstract artwork! You'll need a sheet of paper, a pencil, and something to color with. 
  • Start by choosing an image that you'll make abstract (like Nancy Graves with the NASA maps). Your image could be a map, a chart, a photograph, or even a page from a book. 
  • On a sheet of paper, use a pencil to sketch the basic lines and shapes of your image. 
  • Next, add color to the lines and shapes. Be creative-- you can choose whatever colors you would like! Notice how the image has changed.  
  • Choose a title for your artwork and share it with a friend, classmate, or family member.

Image Credits

Nancy Graves
b. 1939 Pittsfield, MA; d. 1995 New York, NY
Stratus, 1977
Oil and encaustic on canvas
71 x 53 inches
Accession date: 2001
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Martin Gurrentz
© Nancy Graves Foundation, Inc./Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY