Welcome to Dream, Draw Create!
This blog features art projects for children. These projects have been used in my classes. My lessons allow children to learn about all the elements and principles of art while striving to introduce them to many genres of art.

"It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Totem Poles Grades 7 & 8

This amazing lesson was inspired by the beautiful Totem Poles of the Native Americans from the Pacific Northwest.  We took a look at some examples of their work and discussed the meaning and symbolism used to create these beautiful art forms.  The medium we used was pastel and India ink.  It was a very involved process which required a lot of thought along the way.  Each students work is unique and different, enjoy!


  1. I have always enjoyed teaching my students about the Pacific Northwest Coast tribal design. Your student's totem poles designs are the finest I have ever seen. Nice work!

  2. These are awesome! Care to share the process a bit?

  3. We began this project by looking at samples of totem poles. We noted the bold geometric shapes and the layering of shapes. The students were encouraged to do the same with their drawings. They were also encouraged to choose some type of animal as their subject matter. Once that decision was made the students were given a 9"x12" sheet of white drawing paper. It was pre folded so that there were three sections. The middle section was the largest, the two side sections were left bland so the work could be rounded and folded back to create the 3-D form. I know that may be hard to visualize but I hope you will experiment and get the idea. The students drew their ideas for there totem pole on a separate sheet of drawing paper using pencil. When they were pleased with their design they placed it underneath their good paper, the pre -folded one. They students drew over the drawing with white chalk. We did not want the pencil lines to show through, this was the purpose for this step. The sloppy copy was set aside and the oil pastels were set out so that the students could begin filling in all of the spaces and shapes they had created. We did not color over the chalk lines. The final step of this process was to paint the entire paper with India ink, after it set for a minute or so the paper was rinsed in the sink and blotted dry. The ink was absorbed into the areas where the chalk was and any other areas not heavily colored with pastel. You would think that the students would be wowed by their work once the paper dried but for some the detail had been lost. Color choices that seemed right were sometimes dulled by the inking process. At this point the students were encouraged to take out a thin paint brush and a pot of ink and reinforce some of the detail and texture that had been lost. It really was a learning process which changed and evolved with each step. It took four forty minute classes. Thank you all for your nice comments. If you give it a try please share your results with me. Or if you have any questions please feel free to ask. It sure was hard to explain.

  4. Hi Janis,

    Thank you very much for sharing your art ideas. I am a new teacher and looking for some art ideas relating to First Nations culture (in particular, the Haida) and came across the totem pole art project - what beautiful work your students have done! I noticed that your students are slightly older than the group I am currently teaching (Grade 3/4) but hoping to adapt it to the younger grades. I am at home and don't have any of the supplies on hand, but had a few questions after reading your synposis and trying to picture the process in my head:

    1) After putting on the india ink, you mentioned that you rinsed the paper in water. Did you use thicker white paper? I am just picturing the regular white drawing paper being completely soaked in the water afterwards!

    2) Did you use coloured chalk? Did the students have difficulty drawing and seeing the white chalk on white paper, especially having to fill in the spaces with pastel?

    3) For your art display, did you reinforce the white paper with thicker paper underneath to bring out the nice curve? I'm looking at the photos and they look quite sturdy!

    Thank you again for sharing your art ideas. I will be sure to check back often!



  5. Those are all very good questions Jeannette.
    I used 70 lb.weight white drawing paper. We were real careful to not over rinse the paper. The students laid the art work on the bottom of the sink then gently rinsed them off. They lifted them up carefully and set them on a stack of paper towels then blotted off the excess water. We put them on the drying rack until the following class. One last note on that, the art work was supported on the rack by a thin sheet of cardboard to prevent any damage or tearing.
    In regards to your second question. I actually felt the same way about being able to see the white chalk on the white paper. I made two samples one with white chalk and one with yellow chalk. The results are different with each one and if you look closely at the students work you will see the difference. The original drawing which was done in pencil was then set under their good paper as I did not want the pencil lines to show through. The chalk was then used to trace over the original design. Some of the students went up to the windows with their work and used it as a light table so they could easily see and trace their drawing with the chalk. Some of the students chose white chalk and others chose yellow.
    Lastly when the work was complete I took the art work which was done on 9" x 12" paper and centered it on a sheet of 12" x 18" construction paper then rolled it and stapled it to form the cylinder shape.
    Good luck and if you should try this lesson I would love to see how it turns out.

  6. Hi Janis,

    Thank you so much for the tips! Hoping to do the project before spring break.
    Will definitely send you a photo if we end up doing them!



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