In art, color is often used as a tool to convey the time of the day, to create a theatrical effect, or to create different moods. In some paintings it evokes a feeling of loneliness and fear, while in others it can be a celebration!

"It is because I love you I give you for your birthday present the aurora borealis." So begins this never-before-published poem by American poet Carl Sandburg in Not Everyday an Aurora Borealis for Your Birthday: A Love Poem. Anita Lobel's illustrations in this book evoke the styles of masters such as Vincent van Gogh and Georgia O'Keeffe. Lobel pays homage to Vincent van Gogh and his famous painting The Starry Night (1889) in this book. While van Gogh's painting was rendered in oil on canvas, Lobel did hers in gouache on paper. Nevertheless, it evokes the same feeling. Vincent van Gogh painted this painting while he sought respite from his emotional suffering in the Saint-Paul asylum in Saint-Rémy, in southern France. He continued to make art while there. Describing his inspiration for one of his best-known paintings, van Gogh wrote this to his brother Theo, “This morning I saw the countryside from my window a long time before sunrise, with nothing but the morning star, which looked very big.”

Based on:

Not Everyday an Aurora Borealis for Your Birthday: A Love Poem illustrated by Anita Lobel


  • Pencil or charcoal
  • Oil Pastels
  • Black construction paper


Students will gain appreciation for and familiarize themselves with Vincent Van Gogh and the artist’s works of art. They will use line and color to draw a scene and create movement in the sky inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s work The Starry Night.

Going About Your Artwork
Sketch your scene using a pencil or charcoal on to a black contraction paper. Apply first layer of pastels using loose, quick strokes. Use line and color with bright pastels against the black night sky (paper) to depict the scene. Create the shapes of trees with a sleepy town in the foreground. Spray with a casein fixative. This milky solution can be bought at any art/craft store. This will stop the pastels from smudging. To layer, you can apply another layer of loose, quick strokes. This effect is called layering.

Extension Activity
Study the other artists that Lobel has paid homage to in this book. Try experiment in the artists medium and or style to gain deeper understanding.

Image © 1889, The Starry Night, Vincent van Gogh, Oil on canvas This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright is the author's life plus 100 years or less.