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 draw. 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:


Suggestions for Cross-Curricular Connections:

Social Studies:


  • Read about Raven (#ad) a hero of Pacific Northwest folktales.
  • Read Coyote Stories  (#ad) by Mourning Dove. The collection gets very positive reviews, and the tales are told well.
  • Read three stories about Owl, in Animal Lore & Legend: Owl. Three traditional tales are retold by a native writer, helping youngsters to understand the connection between storytelling and the natural world.
  • Read Native American Animal Stories (#ad) by Joseph Bruchac tells 24 Native American stories about Whale and other creatures.
  • Read Whale in the Sky (#ad) a story about how Whale came to live in the ocean and not in the stream.

Writing: What figures are most common on Northwest totem poles?  Can you find totem poles with any colors you did not use?  Find out and write about what you learn.

Science: Totem poles are usually made from cedar trees of the Northwest United States.  How are cedars different from other evergreen trees?  Why are they prized in Northwest Native American culture?


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

Purchase Lessons

1-Year License*: $6.00

Add to Cart ›

Bundle This Lesson

Bundle III-A (Online Art Lessons for Kids | ArtAchieve)
ENTIRE Level III (Online Art Lessons for Kids | ArtAchieve)

*Purchased Items will be made available for viewing on the website for 1 year past the purchase date.

‹ Back Order Music Here F.A.Q. Tips for Teachers Need Supplies?