Lesson 2: Exploring Shapes in Northern Northwest Coast Art


-Origins/Coalition [Painting], by Lyle Wilson
-Evolution of the Ovoid Shape by Lyle Wilson
-Orca toy, skate fish picture, skull model (If available) 
-Paper, pencils
-Coloring material.
-Ovoid symmetry activity
-Lyle Wilson’s Haisla Mee-Yuh Tracing Sheet

Students Will Be Able To: 

Describe the colours, lines, and shapes used in northern Northwest Coast design

Observe and create their own images that use techniques of simplification, abstraction, and symmetry

Develop hand, eye, arm and body coordination

Use shape, form and colour to express themselves

Lesson Introduction (Teacher Monologue and Questions):

Origins/Coalition by Lyle Wilson, 2011. Photo © Lyle Wilson.

“Northwest Coast First Nations’ art is usually outlined by a curvy black line that is thick and thin in places. This is called a formline. There are also special shapes that are used. An ovoid is a rounded, curvy rectangle. U-forms look like a wide, filled in letter “u.” S-forms look like a thick letter “s.” “T-shapes” can be seen splitting the u-forms. Sometimes, the elements of this art are called the “Northwest Coast alphabet.” Look at Origins/Coalition by Lyle Wilson. Can you point to an ovoid? Can you see a u-form, s-form, and t-shape?" (Look at Origins/Coalition Teacher's copy if you need assistance).

“The ovoid is a very special shape in northern Northwest Coast First Nations art. But where did the famous ovoid shape come from? There are a few ideas. Lyle Wilson shows some of them in his Origins/Coalition painting. Some people think it originally came from the outlined circles seen on the back of a skate fish. Others think it may be modeled after the white patch on an orca whale. Still, others say it had to do with the shape of the eye-sockets of a human skull. Point to the skate ovoid. Point to the orca’s ovoid. Point to the skull ovoids. You can also easily make an ovoid with your hands if you curve them and place your fingertips together.” (Show The Evolution of the Ovoid drawing by Lyle Wilson. Pass out models or pictures of a skate fish, orca whale, and skull for the children to examine, if available. Pictures could also be found online, or in a classroom library)

“Now we are going to try doing some ovoid drawings together.”


  • Invite students to look at Lyle Wilson’s Origins/Coalition. Ask them, “can you point out an ovoid, u-form, s-form, and t-shape?” 
  • "Practice drawing at least one of each shape in your drawing book free hand. Now, following the Ovoid Symmetry Activity, fold a paper in half and draw half of an ovoid on one side. Fold it over and scratch your drawing onto the other side. (For more drawing and tracing activities see: Simple Hummingbird Design and Haisla Mee-Yuh Tracing Sheet).
  • "Give students a printout of Lyle’s Haisla Mee-Yuh tracing sheet. Tell students “Can you find the ovoids in this drawing? Trace the ovoid” (pause for everyone to trace) “Now let us trace the u-forms.” (pause for completion) “What other shapes are there? T-shapes, that’s right. Trace the t-shapes.” (pause), “we learned about one other shape, but I don’t see any in this drawing. What other shape was there? That’s right, an s-form.”
  • Handout three sheets of paper and invite students to practice drawing. “Okay, let’s try drawing at least one of each shape on your paper free hand. Try to draw the shape of the ovoid.” 
  • Now, try tracing a couple of the ovoid designs from this sheet. Remind them to try to do the drawing in one flowing motion.
  • Once students have some practice with ovoid tracing, invite them to cut out the tracings carefully, and use them as templates. Have them randomly outline their ovoids, overlapping on a sheet of paper. Have them colour in the areas randomly. See example.

Lesson Closure:

Invite students to share what they think is their best ovoid or their ovoid abstract painting. Consider displaying.