Lesson Plan Aboriginal Bark Painting

Aboriginal Bark Painting

Submitted by: Teri S. Mason
Hutto Elementary, Hutto, Texas
Additional Aboriginal Art Lessons

Grade Level: 5th Grade
(From Jan Hillmer: 4th Grade idea using PC Paint (or other drawing software) at bottom of page.)

Objectives and Concepts:
Students will: Compare the characteristics of artworks in various eras and cultures, specifically the primitive cave art of 15,000-b.c. and aboriginal art of Australia.

Create a contemporary "bark painting" based on the Aboriginal "dreamings" and in the style of the cave artists and aboriginal people.



  • Primitive

  • Cave Art

  • Australia

  • Art History

  • Aboriginal

  • Bark Painting


Lesson One:
1. Introduce/define art history as all the art that has come before today. Art is believed to have begun with paintings created on the walls of caves. These primitive artists used homemade paints and pencils to create images that communicated ideas to one another. These are images found on a wall in a cave in Lascaux, France.  These are believed to be the oldest examples of cave painting ever found.  So if you were creating a time line of art history, this is what would be at the beginning. What kinds of materials do you think these primitive artists used? (Discuss) What types of subjects did they paint? (Things in their world.)

2. In other parts of the world, as art evolved in to many different styles, there were still primitive peoples that made art in the style of the cave painters. If you have ever seen a National Geographic magazine, you know that there are, even today, cultures of people that live primitively. In Australia, the native people are known as Aborigines. Some of the Aboriginal tribes live today as they did thousands of years ago. Like the early cave painters, Aborigines use art as a way to communicate. They use art as a way to tell stories, known as "dreamings." Dreamings are the aboriginal folk tales and myths that teach why things happen the way they do.



Alternate Lesson: See this done on Black Paper - very striking! (Archive)

3. I was lucky to get to travel to Australia and got to see some authentic aboriginal art.  What I noticed was that they very often chose animals as the subject of their work, just like the primitive cave painters. The work is very intricate, combining simple exterior animal shapes and insides patterned with intricate cross-hatching and line designs. Sometimes the bone structure or a baby animal could be found inside the animal.

4. The Aborigine artist often spends more time selecting and treating the bark and making his palette and brushes than he does on the actual painting process. Sheets of reddish bark are removed from trees during the rainy monsoon season.  Layers are carefully removed to reveal a thin fibrous red sheet.  This is cured by fire and flattened out on the ground with weights for several days. Bark painters work with the basic earth pigments: red, black, yellow and white. These are gathered from various deposits and ground into fine powders. Then they are mixed with a number of fixatives, such as bee's wax, honey, juices of orchid bulbs or egg yolk, depending on the effect desired. Brushes are made simply, mostly from strips of stringy bark or pliant green twigs. These are either whittled or chewed into shaped to make the bristles. The artist will use several differently shaped brushes for one painting.

5. We will be creating a version of the Aboriginal bark painting. You will choose an animal (or animals) as your subject and add decorative designs or bone structure to the inside of the animal. Or you may want to add a baby animal inside. You will create a border design to create unity among the parts of your design. You may want to add your own versions of flora and fauna (leaves or greenery, etc).

6. In your sketchbook, draw out your design. You may want to practice several different animals to see which you like the best or if you want to have more than one on your design. Practice the different styles of line and dot formations you saw in the examples. When you have practiced your design and feel good about it, you may begin on the brown paper. On the brown paper, students may trace their animal using a pattern.

7. As students work, read one of the Aboriginal "dreaming" stories.

Lesson Two:
1. Review information on Aboriginal art. Demonstrate using tempera paint and how to mix colors.  Students begin their bark painting on brown paper. As the design is finished, add color using tempera paint and small brushes. If a new color is desired, students may mix their own colors. 2 When painting is dry, outline entire design with black
Permanent Markers . . This may need to be done on another day.

Lesson Three and Beyond:
Continue production, if necessary, for third day.
Conduct a class critique:
-- What does my artwork show?
-- What do I like about my work?
-- What would I do differently next time?
-- What do others have to say about my work?


Can student identify characteristics of primitive art?
Did student participate in class critique?
Does student artwork contain an animal? Are there lines and details in the style of the Aborigines?




Book: Roughtail: the dreaming of the roughtail lizard and other stories told by the Kukatja. by Gracie Green, Joe Tramacchi, Lucille Gill - Illustrated with dot style paintings

Book: Pheasant and Kingfisher: Originally Told by Nganalgindja in the Gunwinggu Language. by Catherine Helen Berndt, Arone Raymond Meeks (Illustrator) Illustrated with x-ray style

Book: Koalas and Other Australian Animals (Zoobooks Series).

Book: Wonderful Animals of Australia. (National Geographic Action Book)
by John Sibbick (Illustrator), JaneR. McCauley, National Geographic Society (Corporate Author)


Unique Australian Animals - Lots of animals to check - compiled by Andy Readman,  Melbourne Victoria Australia- Australia has been isolated from the rest of the world by vast oceans. The animals and plants which were originally there no longer had contact with animals from other parts of the world. They evolved separately. That is why they are so different. See an Australian Animals Web Quest. See some animal print-outs.

ABC TV's Our Animals- looks at Australian animals, their physical features, food, homes and environment and social groups. Has cartoon-like line art as well as photographs of animals.

EdNA Online - (Archive) Education Network Australia. Enter Australian Animals in your search for WebQuests and more.

Zoos Victoria- A collection of Australian animals and their profiles.


Submitted by: Jan Hillmer
Aboriginal Art goes "High Tech" - PC Paint At my school, the kids are required to get Laptops in 4th grade (private school). They also study America - Native Americans, Colonial America, up to Civil War. So, I thought it'd be cool to connect ancient art of Australia, with symbols to tell of beginnings, with cutting edge technology - Paint program in their new laptops.


Submitted by: Jeryl Hollingsworth
Kindergarten Koalas and Bark Painting Kindergarten studied Australia in their core classroom. Jeryl read them some cute Koala books and then they did dry brush to make the textured Koala paintings. They painted along with Jeryl - step by step. We also did bark painting (crumpled paper bags dipped in water to soften - then painted with good old S.C. red mud. Q-tips dipped in white tempera were used for the dots. They drew their animals first with sharpies. Click image on the left for full size.



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