There has always been something about Aboriginal Australian art that draws me deeply into it. Maybe it’s the raw energy I feel when viewing their dot paintings or the way that their Dreamtime stories awaken my imagination. Whatever it might be, I wanted to share my love for their artwork with my fifth-grade art students.
The Lesson: A slide presentation led our initial discussion about the Indigeneous Australian people and how they have traditionally told stories and used symbols to create artwork about the Dreamtime, the time when they believe the world and everything in it was created. We also talked about their x-ray tree bark paintings, ceremonial sand creations and unique dot painting techniques.
To further reinforce learning, I transitioned students into table groups of three to four children per table, where they could view and discuss two different prints of Aboriginal Australian art. Fifth-graders jotted down what they saw in the artworks, using terms from my presentation as well as the elements and principles of art. We then came back together as a group to share some key points from what they discovered and to figure out how they could incorporate those same elements into their own projects.
The Project. Students looked at handouts of Aboriginal Australian symbols in order to help them brainstorm ideas for their own story. (You can find many printable handouts by conducting a search on Google, or you can create your own.) For students who had a difficult time creating their own stories, they were able to spark their creativity by closing their eyes and randomly putting a finger down on the symbol handout to see where it would land. After students wrote their original stories on computers, they shared the documents with me so I could print them out.
On construction paper, students drew the symbols that corresponded to their stories. They cut the shapes out, arranged them, then glued them onto a 9″ x 12″ sheet of Shinzen handmade paper. Next, the fifth-graders used the ends of paintbrushes and tempera paint to make dots on both the background paper and the cutout shapes. By varying dot size and layering smaller dots onto larger dots, students were able to create visual interest.
Once their dot paintings were complete, students chose a stick from a collection I picked up while on a nature walk. They then used a whole puncher and threaded yarn through the holes and around the sticks. so they could be displayed.
I did not give much guidance as to how they should attach their paintings to the sticks because I wanted them to do a little problem-solving themselves, and I wanted their finished pieces to vary slightly in how they hung.
With all of the art materials I used in this lesson, the main focus was on natural materials, to more closely reflect Aboriginal Australian art. While the construction paper, tempera and yarn were all earth tones, the stick proved to be the perfect finishing touch to make their pieces look authentic!
My fifth-graders loved this project as much as I did. It kept them highly engaged throughout the entire lesson. This type of art lesson can be taught any time of year and with a variety of grade levels.
For younger children, you could simplify it by having them cut out larger shapes, glue them onto a larger background, and have them write a sentence or two about the story. For older children, you could have them add a lot more detail to their compositions and stories.
Whatever grade level you teach, I believe your students will enjoy learning about the fascinating and beautiful Aboriginal art and will have fun creating a dot painting to go along with their storytelling!
Elementary-level students will …
• learn how the Aboriginal Australians used symbols in visual storytelling.
• learn how to create their own visual stories using symbols and dot painting in the style of the Indigenous Australian people.
• learn which colors are considered “earth tones.”
NATIONAL ART STANDARDS
• Creating: Conceiving and developing artistic ideas and work.
• Presenting: Interpreting and sharing artistic work.
• Responding: Understanding and evaluating how the arts convey meaning.
• Connecting: Relating artistic ideas and work with personal meaning and external context.
• 9″ x 12″ Shizen handmade paper
• Tempera paint, paintbrush handles, paint palettes
• Construction paper, glue sticks
• Yarn, natural wood sticks (approximately 14–16 inches long)
• Hole punchers
• Prints of Aboriginal Australian art
• Aboriginal Australian symbol reference sheets
• Dot painting
• Earth tones
• Natural materials
• X-ray images
Anne M. Hoffman teaches art and is the school secretary at Shabonee Elementary School in Northbrook, Illinois.
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