Art Classes: Level III

Level III-Art Lesson 5: The Pacific Northwest Totem Pole

Learn to draw a totem pole and learn about formline design

The lesson is suitable for students in grade 5 through adult.


Art Lesson Description:

We usually think of a line as a plain, thin boundary between two spaces.  Native Americans living in the Northwest United States, however, have invented a different way of thinking about lines.  In their art, lines are interesting because of the varied thicknesses.  The lines have been called “formlines” to distinguish them from the plain lines we usually have used.  This lesson is an introduction to some of the rules of formline design.

The original totem pole includes four figures: the owl, the raven, the whale, and the coyote.  The lesson guides students in drawing their choice of one to three of these figures before adding the formline elements.

This lesson includes both POWERPOINT and VIDEO versions of the lesson plus 2 downloadable printouts: a warmup and a drawing of the totem pole.


List of Supplies for Each Student:

  • 1 totem pole warm-up
  • 1 sheet of 11” x 14” watercolor paper, cut in half to 5.5” x 14”
  • 1 fine tipped black magic marker
  • Acrylic paints in these colors: red, blue-green, black, and yellow
  • A #4 round watercolor brush

Suggestions for Cross-Curricular Connections:

Approximate Time to Complete the Art Class:

  • Introduction through guided drawing: 30 minutes
  • Finishing the drawing: 45 minutes
  • Total time: 75 minutes


Original Image
Original Image
How to Draw
How to Draw
A Finished Art Lesson
A Finished Art Lesson

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