Microscopic: Science and Art Elements

Lauren LaFontaine  •  STEAM Education

Science and art are so closely linked that it is natural to align them for arts integration. Microscopic images, in particular, can straddle the line between informative studies to works of art fit to hang on the walls of a gallery. When looking at nature close-up, it can resemble an abstract painting that addresses many of the Elements of Art in one slide.

When we look at microscopic examples, they can be beautiful, interesting, filled with tension, or include intricate patterns. (For example, the banner above is of crystals of vitamin C under a microscope!) They provide fantastic inspiration for abstract artwork that integrates the Elements of Art with scientific observation. Use these images as a platform for artistic expression by having students complete a work of art based on what they see.

How to Introduce: The Hook

Put together a slideshow or print out samples of microscopic images. Black and white images are fascinating because they provide fewer clues for the students to guess where the image comes from.

  • Conduct a See, Think, Wonder Arts Integration Strategy: Find out more HERE
  • Discuss and Identify the Elements of Art in the microscopic images.
  • Have the students guess what the image is of and reveal the answer after the discussion.

Ideas for Incorporating Microscopic Images

Make an Elements of Art Book

Use the microscopic images as inspiration for creating the pages of the book. Each element could be represented by drawings, paintings, or mixed media pieces using the microscopic images as guidance. Try paper punching a circle in the pages to show a portion of the next page like a Peek-A-Boo Book.

Digital Photography

Take samples of materials found in your school. Place them under a microscope and take a picture of what you see. Think about using the rule of thirds and artistic composition. Try to find samples that represent each of the Elements of Art.


Use a copy of a microscopic image and trace a portion of it. Use a light-box or the window in order to trace the image. Transform the image into something that exemplifies one of the Elements of Art. For example, use a microscopic image that has a distinct, confined pattern and trace it on the left side of the paper. Use that pattern on the left to transition into a creative burst of energy on the right with random painted shapes or texture.


Draw a replica of a microscopic image using crayons. Use watercolor and paint over the drawing to create a wax resist effect that is sure to excite the artists. Add iodized salt and let it dry for a chemical reaction. Find out more HERE.

Fiber art

Try sewing the microscopic images on fabric or felt the patterns, colors, lines, and shapes. Is you use embroidery hoops; the artwork may appear as if it is in a petri dish.

science and art example of a lily cell sea sponge microscopic science and art microscopic art bulletin board

The Elements of Art and Microscopic Connections

This is a list of the elements and the subject matter that resembles them under a microscope.

  • Line: Toothbrush Bristles, Bacteria, Fur
  • Shape: Fish Skin, Onion, Fly Eyes
  • Form: Blood Cells, Pollen
  • Value: Butterfly Wings, Salt Crystals, Snowflakes
  • Space: Human Eyelash, Thread in a Needle, Sea Sponge
  • Color: Orange Juice, Beetle, Peacock Feathers
  • Texture: Spider Skin, Football Jersey, Fortune Cookie

Art Links

  • Microscopic Quilts: HERE
  • The Art of Microscopy: HERE
  • Small Wonders: Science Meets Art Under the Microscope [Slide Show] HERE
  • Science Images that Border on Art from the Smithsonian HERE
  • Creating Abstract Art with a Microscope from TIME HERE
  • David Goodsell: Molecular Artist HERE
  • Michele Banks’s Painting of Cancer Cells, Inspired by Carl Sagan HERE
  • Rogan Brown: Paper Artist HERE
  • The most incredible microscope images of 2016 reveal a beautiful, hidden universe HERE

Using microscopic images for inspiration is a wonderful way to bring science and art together in the classroom. Use the Elements of Art to guide you through creation, discussion, and observation.

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