5th Grade – Dot Painting inspired by Australian Aborigines

5th Grade – Dot Painting inspired by Australian Aborigines

Description of the Unit – Students will observe and discuss examples of aboriginal dot painting, from very early examples to the art produced by the culture in present day. Students will use what they learned about color, pattern and symbol in their observations to create their own dot paintings, expressing scenes from nature. 

5th grade student dot painting of a shark.
5th grade student dot painting

Activity statement – In Aboriginal culture art making is a fundamental form of communication. According to an article by Artlandish, there is no written language for Australian Aboriginal People  (click this link for the full article: Aboriginal Art). Nevertheless, Aborginal people have been creatively conveying the stories and histories of their culture to newer generations for millenia by weaving symbols and icons into their artwork. According to the aforementioned article by Artlandish, “The use of symbols is an alternate way of writing down stories of cultural significance, teaching survival and use of the land. The interpretations of the iconography differ depending on the audience.”Aborigine’s earliest documented artwork, found on rocks and done in rich ochres, dates back more than 20,000 years. Below you can see some of the symbols in some Aboriginal art.

A key of Aboriginal symbols used in dot paintings.

According to various articles, it was around the 1970’s that Westerners first viewed Aboriginal art, and encouraged the artists to use canvas and other Western materials to express their incredible work. When their artwork began to be acquired by Westerners, Aborignes began to “hide” their imagery and symbols through the use of dots. This is because the stories expressed in the artwork are considered sacred and belong only to the specific Aboriginal group to which it belongs, therefore the need to hide their meanings from the eye of others. As such, dot painting is not as old as one would imagine.

A photograph of an Aborigine applying the dots to a painting.
An authentic Aboriginal dot painting in ochres, oranges, reds, whites and browns, and using Aboriginal symbols for people and waterholes.
When viewing a variety of Aboriginal dot paintings I like to ask students to use the symbols key to identify different symbols within the paintings.
An authentic Aboriginal dot painting in ochres, whites and browns, and described as Wandjina spirit beings come from the Kimberley aborigine.
This is according to Artlandish (see link above to visit article): “The Wandjina spirit beings come from the Kimberley. In particular Kulumburu.
An incredibly intricate Aboriginal dot painting in earthy browns, pinks, purples and blues, with some white.
An incredibly intricate Aboriginal dot painting.

Objectives for students – Breaking down images into collections of dots gives students another way of thinking about how to express line, contrast, pattern as well as how to create a balanced composition. I ask students to notice and comment on the types of colors use, and the ways in which they are used together, perhaps for contrast or to express harmony or unity; I ask them to find patterns, not just in the direction of the dots and the shapes they create but also the various sizes of the dots; finally, I ask them to find symbols within the examples of dot paintings, and try to interpret them using the key. This is just a fun experiment that gives them the sense that they are cracking a code or solving a mystery. 

Goals – Students should…

Understand:

  • Why and how Aboriginal people used art work to communicate.
  • What themes are represented within Aboriginal dot paintings.
  • How complementary colors create contrast
  • How like colors create harmony

Know:

  • The meanings of the following terms: line, contrast, pattern, shape, texture, composition, harmony, unity and balance

Be able to:

  • Recognize Aboriginal dot paintings.
  • Describe the origins of Aboriginal art
  • Render images and symbols through the application of different colored and sized dots.

Resources and materials – 

  • Examples of Aboriginal artwork
  • A key to Aboriginal symbols
  • Acrylic paint
  • Multi Colored construction paper
  • Dowels in different sizes
  • Palettes
  • Cups
  • Tablecloths
  • Paper towels

Questions – (While looking at examples of authentic Aborginal art)

  • What do you notice?
  • What kinds of colors are used?
  • What do you notice about the way in which color is used?
  • Are the colors complementary or are they in the same family?
  • Can you find patterns? What are they? How are the patterns made?
  • What do you notice about the dots? Are they different sizes? Are they close together or far apart?
  • Using this symbols key, can you find any symbols in these paintings? What do they stand for? 
  • What do you think of using symbols to express imagery?
  • What do you notice about how positive and negative space are used?
  • Is this a balanced composition? Why or why not?
  • Is it a symmetrical composition? Why or why not?

Evaluation – 

FORMAL – Did students:

  • Recognize color contrast?
  • Recognize patterns?
  • Use complementary and like colors deliberately to create contrast and/or harmony?
  • Create patterns?
  • Thoughtfully organize the various elements of their painting into a deliberate composition?

INFORMAL:

  • Group discussion
  • Oral responses to essential questions
  • Classroom observations
  • One finished piece, (use of time and effort)
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a colorful snake set in front of patterns in vivid colors.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a peacock on a branch set against circular patterns.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a turtle in vivid colors.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a bright red and orange dragon.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a dolphin among colorful floral patterns.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a tiger in bright yellows and oranges.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a gecko set against circular patterns in vivid colors.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a shark set against a pattern of yellows and blues.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a bird on a branch set against a sky of bright colors.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a large fish in vivid rainbow colors.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of two turtles in cool colors.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a flamingo among vivid patterns.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a sea horse in a variety of vivid colors.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a wolf among bright patterns.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a rabbit surrounded by flowers.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a fox in warm colors.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a turtle in earthy colors.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a volcano in vivid colors.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting
5th grade student's Aboriginal-style Dot Painting of a raccoon in vivid colors.
5th grade student Aboriginal-style Dot Painting

2 thoughts on “5th Grade – Dot Painting inspired by Australian Aborigines

  1. Anita, these are amazing! I’m so impressed with the variety of subject matter, the vast array of styles – even though they’re all in dots, and the beautiful colors! Great lesson! I’m looking forward to presenting mine (dot painting lesson) this way. I’ve just had the students paint an aerial view of their own house and landscape, like an Aborigine’s map.

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