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The Values of Our Flag | Arts & Activities
Oct 2016

The Values of Our Flag

The Values of Our Flag

Each year, my school hosts a veteran’s appreciation day. Local veterans are invited to attend a luncheon in our media center, where they are entertained by our school band and honored by staff, students and administrators. I provide the decorations, which most recently included my students’ drawings of our nation’s flag.

The introductory-level drawings were done in oil pastels and provided a rich opportunity for students to not only learn about the history of our flag, but to strengthen their understanding of value, line and shape.

I’ve created a foolproof method for helping my students create drawings that are worthy additions to this honorable event. I believe you will enjoy implementing this lesson in your class, whatever the age or skill level of your students. The steps are concise and easy to follow, and will surely result in artwork you and your students will be proud to display.

The goal is simple: Draw a portion of the flag that contains all three colors. For each color, select a tint, shade and mid-range hue. Elementary teachers may wish to provide students with contour drawings of flags that they can fill in with color using the method described below. Or, they may consider having students draw the flag directly from observation or their imagination, without using the grid method.

Secondary teachers may prefer to use the method of observation described below to achieve successful results when drawing the contour outlines of the flag.

To begin, display flags by draping them over objects, such as gallon paint containers or orange traffic cones. Have students look through viewfinders to select an interesting section of the flag that contains red, white and blue, then take a photo of the section through the viewfinder. Include a small portion of all four edges of the viewfinder in the photo so you can reference size and proportion. Students can take photos individually or in a small group.

Print the image on plain copier paper in black and white. Draw crosshatch lines directly through the vertical and horizontal center of the printed image.

Next, draw crosshatch lines lightly through the center of the pastel paper. Draw the outer border, making sure it is proportional to the border of the interior viewfinder edge. For example, if the opening of the viewfinder is 2″ x 3″, you can make the border of the drawing  4″ x 6″ or  8″ x 12″, and so on.

Just as you would draw using the grid method, draw the flowing lines and distorted star shapes just as you see them, one quadrant at a time.


The “Value Guesstimator” is available for download on A&A Online.

Use the “Value Guesstimator” worksheet (available on A&A Online), or create your own (see diagram, above). On plain copier paper, write the words RED, WHITE and BLUE about 3 inches apart vertically. Below each word, students should make a series of six color swatches, ranging from light to dark.

Encourage them to think about exploring values using a variety of colors, not just red, white and blue. They should select two light, two medium and two dark values for each color. For example, a student may choose pale gray and lavender as their light blue values—primary blue and cerulean blue as medium values and indigo blue and dark purple as dark values. They should write the name of the color below the swatch. Make sure they write their name and hour on the Value Guesstimator worksheet.

Print the students’ colored Guesstimator worksheets using a black-and-white copier and return to them.

Students will be amazed to see the range of values when they are converted into grayscale using this simple method. They will be able to ascertain if their perception of light to dark was accurate. While it is not completely fail proof, this is an excellent method for helping students see value more accurately. Equally as important, this method frees the teacher from the time-consuming task of individual assessments and allows students to take control of their own learning through personal observation.

After comparing values, students will easily select the best three color choices for light, medium and dark values for each of the three colors of the flag.

COLORING THE FLAG All ages can effectively use this method. Because oil pastels are fairly opaque, they are an excellent medium to use on colored drawing paper. The colored paper will lend a warm, cool or neutral undertone to the drawing, thus providing a richness that white paper lacks. I prefer to use a textured paper specifically for pastels, but we have used construction paper as well. I also prefer to use oil pastels that are available as open stock so I can load up on popular colors, such as white, dark red and dark blue.

Instruct students to refer to the copier image of their flag and select one specific stripe that has a wide range of value. Using light pressure, they should color that stripe completely with the medium range color. Apply less pressure in areas that have a light value. Looking back at the printed image, discern which area of that stripe is the darkest and add the dark value on top of the medium base color.

Do the same with the light value. They will need to go back and forth between the three values until that one stripe looks just right. Finish the rest of the drawing one stripe, star or segment at a time.

A Thank you Last year at our annual veteran’s event, I was momentarily caught off guard when one of our elderly honorable vets picked up a student’s flag drawing from the centerpiece. He looked at me and cheerfully said  “This is such a beautiful flag drawing … my wife is going to love it and it will look beautiful in our living room. Thank you!”

Stumbling for the words to tell him this was just for decoration and not for him to take home, I caught myself in time and emphatically replied, “You’re welcome, Sir!  It’s the very least we could do to thank you for everything you have done for us.”

When I told the student what happened to his drawing, that student artist couldn’t have been more pleased. AAENDSIGN









Closeup of Parker’s flag.



Closeup of Maggie’s flag.

High-school students will …
• develop their ability to draw lines and shapes accurately using a grid.
• compare/contrast colors to recognize value.
• learn to layer colors to develop specific hues and values.
• learn some history of the American flag.
• discuss and apply the elements and principles of design.
• evaluate and modify their composition to seek balance and unity.

• CREATE: Refine and complete artistic work.
• PRESENT: Develop and refine artistic work for presentation.
• RESPOND: Perceive and analyze artistic work.
• CONNECT: Relate artistic ideas and works with societal, cultural
and historical context to deepen understanding

• U.S. flags (fabric)
• Viewfinders
• Pencils, erasers
• Oil pastels, tortillons (optional)
• Pastel paper
• Camera, access to copier machine

aa-finalbitton60ONLINE EXTRAS
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Debbi Bovio teaches art at Adams High School in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Visit her blog at theskillfulbee.blogspot.com




One Responses

  1. Stephanie

    Fabulous article. It was not only a thought provoking and inspiring. I am going to use the above ideas and enjoy my students coming up with their ideas and creations. Well done!

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