Painting Animals

Inspired by the work of Minnesota artist James D. Autio

Grade Level: Kindergarten to third grade
Time Required: Two to three 55-minute class periods
Lesson Overview: Students will explore the art of Minnesota artist James D. Autio (Ojibwe) and create paintings of animals that are important to the Ojibwe. This lesson was presented by James Autio to first- grade students in Minneapolis. You can adapt the ideas to suit your classroom needs.
Lesson Objectives
Students will be able to observe, identify, and describe characteristics of various artworks created by Minnesota Ojibwe artist James D. Autio. Students will be able to create unique paintings using prepared outline drawings of Ojibwe doodem (family clan) or spiritual symbols, or create their own painted depiction of a family symbol, such as a representative animal. Students will become familiar with the idea that certain animals are important to Ojibwe people.

    • Images of art by James D. Autio. Click here to download drawings for youth painters.
    • Promethean Board or projector to project images or printed reproductions of Autio’s work
    Outline drawings of Ojibwe animal clan or spiritual symbols copied onto art surface: canvas paper, card- stock, thin plywood, cardboard, etc.
    • Water-based paints
    • Paintbrushes
    • Optional literature resource for teacher or students: Jacobson, Mark Anthony. Ojibway Clans (Animal Totems and Spirits), Birchbark Books, 2012. (ISBN: 9781554762903)
    • Have a variety of artworks on hand for students to feel and touch, such as woodcut prints, painting on stretched canvas, charcoal drawings, etc.
Visual Art Standards
Benchmark: Identify the elements of visual art including color, line, shape, texture, and space.
Benchmark: Identify the characteristics of visual artworks from a variety of cultures including the contributions of Minnesota American Indian tribes and communities.
Benchmark: Create original two- and three-dimensional artworks to express ideas, experiences, or stories.
Lesson Steps
Introduce the lesson by telling students a little bit about the artist. An Ojibwe of the Owaazisii (Bullhead) clan who lives in Minneapolis, James Autio is a poet and visual artist. He uses a lot of different media to make art: acrylic paints, charcoal and pencil, printmaking, digital video, and photography. He also makes Ojibwe art, including pipes.
Explain that you will be looking at pictures of animals that are important to Autio’s Ojibwe culture. Invite students to share something important about their family background and culture.
1. Discuss images by Autio.
Select two or three pictures of animals by Autio (included at the end of the lesson) that will best inspire your students to look and talk. Project images and facilitate a discussion about each image by encouraging students to look closely and describe what they see. What do you see? What else? Name the facial features of the animal or animals. What kind of ears does it have? What makes this animal special? For images with humans and animals, ask the students to describe the relationship between the human and animal.
4. Paint animal symbol.
Provide students with water-based paints and paintbrushes. Demonstrate how to take care of the paintbrush bristles, how to load paint on the brush, and a few techniques for applying the paint dry or with water. Painting might take more than one class period.

Remember to allow time for cleanup!

5. Discussion
Invite students to share their paintings and talk about the animal, colors, or the symbol they chose for their own family.
James D. Autio artworks

Download Full Size Artwork PDF

Details of James D. Autio Artworks