Lesson 3: How the Art Is Made

Materials You’ll Need:

-Photo of paint and paintbrush
-Photos of painted belongings.
-Small bowls for mixing and newspaper for covering desks
-Oil, charcoal, rocks for grinding charcoal
-Brushes for painting

Students Will Be Able To:

  • Develop hand, eye, arm and body coordination
  • Use shape, form and colour to express themselves
  • Experiment with colour and texture

Lesson Introduction: Teacher Monologue and Questions

“Northwest Coast First Peoples paint designs on many items. Who can remember some of the things Northwest Coast People paint?” (After they have answered) “Let’s look at the pictures we saw before to remind us.”  (Show pictures of painted belongings).

“What colors do you see in the paintings? The main colors used in the past were black and red. Black was the main color, used for the outline, or formline. Red was used for the inner shapes. Green-blue was also common. White, and yellow are seen in use as well. Paint was made by mixing ground up colorful materials with salmon egg oil and saliva. Black was made by mixing in charcoal dust. Red was made using red ochre, a clay like material. Green, or green-blue was made using glauconite or celadonite.”

Ground pigments typical of the Northwest Coast painter's palette. CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT Red ochre, charcoal, green earth, vermilion, Reckitt's Blue, and umber or yellow ochre. Paint brush and pigments made by Lyle Wilson. Photo: Bill Mclennan. From McLennan and Duffek. 2000. The Transforming Image, Douglas and McIntyre, P. 91.

“Look at this picture of a brush and paint set.” (Show picture) “Where do you think an artist got their paint brushes from in the past? The store? What do you think artists would have to do to make paint brushes and paint?” (Listen to answers.) “Yes, paint brushes were carved from wood. Brush tips were made of hair, usually porcupine hair, and they were tied to the handle of the brush using cedar twine (string made from the roots of the cedar tree). The brushes were also cut at an angle. Why do you think brushes were cut at an angle?”

“We are going to try making paint today. Since we can’t really go out and hunt a porcupine, cut down a tree to carve a wooden handle, or even burn wood for charcoal, we’re just going to have to do an activity that gives us a small idea of what it might have been like to make and use paint before you could buy it at a store. Imagine you have chopped down a tree that you used for many things, but also you used a tiny bit to carve your brush tip. Imagine you harvested cedar root, and made twine from it, and wrapped it around porcupine hairs from a porcupine your family member hunted. Imagine you have taken charcoals from the fire, and crushed salmon eggs to get the oil. Now you have your paintbrush, oil, and charcoal. You are going to mix it all together with your own saliva to make paint!”


  • Take time to explain that this is an activity that must be executed respectfully, and that spitting be done carefully and with consideration for others- that it be done only into their own bowls for their own use.  Model the activity for students before letting them begin, then review the steps and write them on the board.
  • Hand out the materials to all the students and draw their attention to the steps written on the board.
  • Have the students grind charcoal into powder with rocks.
  • Invite the students to put the ground charcoal in a bowl.  (This is best done with a small piece of newspaper used as a shovel of sorts). 
  •  Then ask students to carefully add some spit.
  • Circulate and dispense a small amount of oil to each bowl.
  • Invite students to mix it around until it forms a smooth paste.
  • Then, ask them to use the charcoal mixture to paint one of their ovoid sketches from last lesson.
  • When the students have had a chance to try one or two ask them to clean up.  Remind them to use soap to clean out their bowls, brushes and also their hands. “Be sure to wash your hands and clean your workspace well afterward!”

Lesson Closure:

Invite Students to write a journal entry about the lessons they have had sharing what they have learned, what they have done and how they felt about it.